Deadpan Is One Expression. Not the Whole Movie.
And Not For Every Character.
A factory owner is dead and his wife suddenly finds herself in practically penury. Their son returns from boarding school for the funeral and begins suspecting foul play. Alas, the super slowness of the film kills any interest you may have in the unraveling of the plot given away ten minutes into the film.
Manoj Bajpai and Smita Tambe seem to have a troubled marriage. They eat in silence for five minutes.
‘Ooh! Artistic!’ you think.
‘Looks like this marriage is in trouble!’ you think.
But she goes to bed and he goes to bed and then she wakes up and he wakes up and he showers and gets ready to go to work.
‘I’ll be late,’ He says.
‘Ok!’ She nods.
Her mother who had served them food the night before, who chose to not eat with two surly, unhappy people asks the question we are asking,’What is going on with Manoj Bajpai?’
We’re told he will come back after everything is better at the factory. And that it’s okay for him to stay away from home every couple of nights…
Just when you think he’s having an affair, we see him play chess with his dad. She calls. He says he will be late’. Thankfully they show her going to bed or we would have had to watch mother and daughter eat in silence for ten more minutes.
Is Film Ka Rukh Kidhar Ko Jaa Raha Hai?
Where is this film going, you wonder.. What is the ‘Rukh’ (direction) of this film unless it is to show the mere banality of existence? You have great expectations from the film rumored to be in competition with Newton, to be India’s entry to the Oscars.
Thankfully Manoj Bajpai dies in a car accident. Phew! something happened! The son comes back from boarding school for the funeral, and along with a tonsured head, he now sports a surly expression that does not change through the film.
Then you realise everyone (different characters show up at/after the funeral) is now suddenly acting mysterious. No wonder the son thinks there’s something wrong. The camera stays with his silky face for lingering minutes. You are supposed to figure out what is going on with him.
Nothing a tight slap would not have fixed, you begin thinking…
But this cinema is desperate to be in the art space, so everyone now speaks in half sentences just to keep the suspense going. Erm… Didn’t they give away the secret after the chess scene? The factory owner, one Muslim factory worker, one hot-headed Hindu factory worker, the factory accountant, a South Indian henchman in his black car, the police inspector and the truck driver who hit and run are all needlessly speaking in clipped sentences.
The TV show Crime Patrol has better plots (and more coherent dialog) you think. Then the back-story of how the surly son beat the heck out of a school bully and was then sent away to boarding school pops up. Instead of empathizing with his teen angst at being sent away, you now wish the lad was the one in an accident instead.
The lad tries to find out why and how his dad died but his expression doesn’t change. You wonder if the teen angst film Udaan is on Netflix or Amazon Prime… By the time the lad figures out how his dad died, you are bored out of your wits.
(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com )
Jia Venkatram and Jia Garewal set off for a shared trip to Sweden. One drinks too much and smokes too much and generally behaves like the worst kind of tourist, and the other is more organised (you think) but then she too becomes the weird tourist. One Jia wants to die and the other is dying and before you come to the ‘Babumoshai’ moment you loved in Anand (Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan), you have plotted their demise several times over.
The film claims boldly that it has been made in collaboration with Sweden and you begin to list out some of the wonderful Swedish films that were released in the last ten years: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Everlasting Moments, Eat Sleep Die and so on…
What we see though is so ghastly you hope they never release it in Sweden. Indian and Swedish masters of cinema would die twice out of shame.
Jia Venkatram has insufficient funds for a single person’s trip to Sweden so she clicks on a share the trip option. She discovers that Jia Garewal is her travel partner.
Jia Venkatram (Richa Chaddha) is organised and sober, and Jia Garewal is shown to be free spirited and happy go lucky. So Jia Venkatram is shown to be packing woollens meticulously (as you’d think you would need in Sweden) but Jia Garewal (Kalki Koechlin) is shown throwing flimsy clothes on her bed, stuffing them into a backpack, all the while dancing to show how ‘free spirited’ she is. Of course she tries out hats in front of the mirror making kissy faces, waves bras about as if she just discovered them (Oooh! How emancipated! The film-maker showed underthings in Hindi cinema!). And just when you wonder how old she is supposed to be, she spits out everything from her mouth out of the window while brushing her teeth. Ugh!
The two land up on a flight where Jia Garewal wangles an upgrade in the stupidest manner. Why does she not stop talking, you wonder? Thankfully we are spared of her drinking her guts out. That is reserved for later.
Sweden the land of bridges and islands and Aurora Borealis and ABBA is shown so tackily you know it is stock footage from some tourism video which has nothing to do with the story itself.
They have to drive through Sweden (why? You might ask?), and then why drive a camper if they’re going to stay in motels? Shouldn’t they rent a car like everyone else?
You wish someone would drop a piano on Jia Garewal’s head because of the non-stop chatter, and run over Jia Venkatram because she sulks so much. Just when you think their makeup and clothes are beyond help, and simply atrocious there arrives a ghastlier character on the scene: a drunk lad whose name is Vasu Krishna Bergman.
No! You silently scream into the darkness of the theatre. Bergman! Bergman? Why would you name an unkempt morose, drunk lad who says he’s the no-good son of a rich dad, Bergman? The dead filmmaker would roll over in his grave had he known his name would come to this.
So Vasu is played by someone called Arsalan Goni and he’s unforgettable because he’s a terrible actor. The two Jias and this lad sing some forgettable song on what is called the Vodka Island. Oh, Jia Venkatram we know by now is plagued by flashbacks of ruining her father’s business empire and wants to kill herself. And Jia Garewal wants to live it up before she too dies of liver cancer. By this time you wish your were dead several times. And the film is only 92 minutes long.
If death is what both wanted, shouldn’t they have chosen the picturesque Panchgani (that one shot of the small hill town in India is shot brilliantly as compared with all the shots of Sweden) instead? Cheaper by far!
Soon Jia Garewal and Vasu Bergman are shown making out in towels, and decide to get married. While returning from the church where Jia Venkatram murders the Dev Anand-Asha Parekh song , ‘Jia o, Jia o jiya kuch bol do’ on the church piano, Jia Garewal falls faint. She is going to die of cancer. Jia Venkatram runs out, (she is shown signing up of organ donation in a quick flashback), purchases a lethal injection from the local medical store and injects it so her liver can be ‘Fitted’ (their words, not mine) in Jia Garewal and she can live happily ever after with Vasu Bergman. Jia Garewal wants to live and Jia Venkatram has nothing to live for. You watch with horror as they utterly disregard logic and show us the 2017 version of Anand’s famous ‘Babumoshai’ speech… By the time the credits roll, you have thrown all the popcorn at the screen and are ready to murder the people who resurrected this film from the cans (it was shot four years ago and did not find a release!) to vomit it all across our screens.
(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com )
A little girl with dreams of becoming a singing superstar has to deal with life as a daughter of a wife-beating Muslim man. Her loving mother has given her a life where she can dream but tells her that she cannot forget boundaries. How she becomes a burka-wearing YouTube sensation is the story. But the cliches drown what could be fun and frothy into sentimental molasses.
Tirth Sharma: Everyone’s First Love Should Be Like Him
There is a genuinely sweet love story of a young girl Insiya, and her classmate Chintan (Tirth Sharma is the find of the year!) buried inside the cliches. He gives her chocolate, is there when she feels sad and angry, helps her with class notes, will not be insulted…
‘I sent you a Friends request on Facebook,’ he says.
‘Are we friends?’ she asks.
‘Oh! Aren’t we?’ he reacts.
And at that moment, you know that no one can teach this ‘react this way’. It is plain talent. Your collective hearts melt.
Apart from this gentle love story, everything else is just cliches.
A Superstore Of Cliches
A Muslim man who beats his wife, berates her for not putting any salt in food, throws the food, threatens to beat the wife when she forgets to pack his bag, who thinks nothing but getting his 15 year old daughter married off, threatens and breaks off his daughter’s guitar strings, orders her to throw her laptop out of the window, is applying for a job in Saudi Arabia.
The mother is loving, but she’s a cliche too: she tells her daughter, ‘You’re allowed to dream only this much and no more’, which reminds you of Farida Jalal in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. Even Farida Jalal let her daughters sing and dance, but when Amrish Puri comes home, the daughters and mother pretend to be sober and pious. That is from more than 25 years ago. The loving mother who does for her kids, gets beaten quietly, apologising for her existence, has no spine until the last fifteen minutes of the film…
The talented daughter wants to be a singing superstar. As if television is not clogging the airwaves enough with shows for finding kids and grown ups who can sing and movies about small town bands who dream about making it big have been done to death. A teenager who calls her mother stupid and yet has a great relationship with her is different no doubt, but then the singing sensation, the adulation on social media, the melodramatic ‘I love my sacrificial lamb of a mother’ speech is horribly been-there-seen-that…
Aamir Khan who shows up as a caricature judge of song contest, a has been music producer has a fabulous over the top role. And he brings great laughs to what is otherwise mawkish sentimentality. You’ll love his expression when he hears the little girl sing. A mark of a true artist that.
Super Manipulative, So Super Boring.
Nobody is going to come out and say that a film about loving your mother is terribly cliched. But it’s festival time in India, where everyone is drowning in mithai (sweetmeats). If that is the case, go ahead, enjoy gold encrusted cliches dunked in sugar syrup.
Lots Of Slaps And Schtick. But Second Half Funny.
Gopal, Laxman one, Madhav, Lucky and Laxman two are at it again. Slapping one another, hating each other in newer and un-funnier ways. But there’s Khushi, Anna the ghost whisperer and the regulars: the snake man in a new avatar, Inspector Dande, Vasuli Bhai and Babli bhai. Prakash Raj gets to play the baddie along with Neil Nitin Mukesh. The jokes are funny in the second half and some ghostly goings-on make you laugh. But it’s loud and lurid and you come away with a headache.
If you like to watch grown up men slap each other accompanied by comic background score and ear splitting slaps, then watch the film. Because it will make you laugh. And people do laugh out loud because Gopal (Ajay Devgn, looks like he overdid the tanning machine) who is bulkier is still pissed off at someone pointing fingers at him. This time, he is shown to be afraid of the dark. But don’t worry, this is a Rohit Shetty film, there are plenty of night scenes where they forget he’s afraid of the dark. The other characters – Madhav (Arshad Warsi), Lucky (Tusshar Kapoor), Laxman one (the lisper, Shreyas Talpade) and Laxman two (the deaf one, Kunal Khemu) – are the same ole, same ole. The first half of the film shows us their history and we wonder where this is going. Nostalgia isn’t getting anywhere, so they show atta falling on Arshad Warsi and then the tin, Finolex pipes being thrust into crotches (such a horrendous advertising placement!), Kunal Khemu being thrown into a gigantic washing machine (Intex, the brand gets an ad, but safety-wise, a terrible idea!)
So the five have to come together and save the orphanage they grew up in. Erm… Why do they take so long? The audience seems to be happy with the lowbrow slapping and hitting, but the story, the real meaty part begins ten minutes into the second half. This is where we get real laughs!
‘Balak balak! Paneer palak! Alakh Niranjan! Daant mein manjan!’ is inspired nonsense. Spoken with madness, the snake man (Vrajesh Hirjee) is back in a super funny role of Nag Baba. I have to say that Rohit Shetty keeps the franchise going by using the same characters well.
Vasuli Bhai is now a real estate wheeler dealer and Mukesh Tiwari does a good job (especially with a picture of Sanjay Dutt on his table! Good detailing that!).
Sanjay Mishra tends to be rather over the top with his terrible spellings (‘Piss spells Peace’, ‘Booty is Bhoot’) and it wears on you but then it’s better than seeing the lurid pink and green in the songs…
Parineeti Chopra seems like she’s having fun, but I wish she had taken Kunal Khemu’s advice: Baba is blind, you could change your clothes, no?
I wish the writers had used the incredible comic talent of Ashwini Kalsekar better (we saw her in the funny Poster Boys directed by Shreyas Talpade). She barely gets a line in, and that is not funny at all.
Prakash Raj’s encounter with Nag Baba is hilarious. The two win the stars for the film hands down!
Johnny Lever goes berserk mostly, and tries hard. Tabu tries hard too, but when she’s given dialog like, ‘Hreem Breem Cold Cream’, you wish the writers had tried harder. Sigh. You are reminded that it’s a Rohit Shetty film, so don’t expect anything but slaps and schtick.
The really funny bits need to be searched for in the mayhem. The best moment? Blind baba (Sachin Khedekar) gets up to leave and the lads move the settee out of his way…
(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com )
The Inner And Outer Worlds Of Replicants Remains As Fascinating As Ever
This visual masterpiece takes off from where the story left us in 1982. Philip K Dick’s post apocalyptic world of acid rain and metallic wilderness and flying cars remains the most fascinating piece on philosophy on creation. Do humans have a right to control the destiny of android life forms they create to be slaves? Should they evolve, do they become an enemy? Ryan Gosling thinks all these questions and more in this leisurely film that leaves you sighing with satisfaction. Of course Harrison Ford shows up and chews up everything in sight by being fabulous.
In 1982, Blade Runner Rick Deckard left us wondering whether he was a replicant himself, obeying orders when he was hunting down rebel replicants. Racheal and Roy have made him think and Pris’s madness has revealed to him how replicants can also feel, that they are not mere marionettes. They have evolved.
The Denis Villeneuve version of Blade Runner is shot at a relaxed pace (yes, the flying cars are also slow and easy for LAPD Blade Runner K played by Ryan Gosling to fall asleep). You take in the pollution, the incessant acid rain, the destroyed terrain, the city and yes, the Chinese food stall made famous by Harrison Ford and James Hong’s Hannibal Chew is also there.
The origami unicorn is missing, but there’s sheep! Fans want to see the unicorn, but when Gaff (Edward James Olmos) hands Ryan Gosling an Origami sheep, you are sort of saddened, and you add a salty tear to your caramel popcorn.
Ryan Gosling’s Blade Runner, during a routine culling mission of out of date replicants stumbles upon a secret that will change the world for ever. And when ‘Madam’ (Robin Wright who looks like she just stepped out of House of Cards to shoot this film) asks him to pursue the secret to its logical conclusion things happen rapidly.
Yes, rapidly. Not in the physical sense, but metaphorically. The film seems to slow down time so much so that you can hear the restless shuffling of people used to a tad more action. But those of you who enjoy seeing wound heal slowly, will love the quiet contemplation of the subject.
This is where I began to miss the Vangelis score. The Vangelis score gave us the feeling of hope amid hopelessness, it offered us a glimpse into a dystopian world…
If you happen to have no patience then this film is not for you. The trick is to not think ahead, because it will inevitably be wrong. You can sigh at how much they make Ryan Gosling walk. But remember how Deckard ran and ran as well in his film… Some things in the film really annoy you: you never see where humanity has gone, you don’t understand motives of some characters, you don’t know why some characters betray, you don’t understand why there’s no security at the places you’d think there should be, you hate the fact that a lovemaking scene in the film is actually funnier than they intended, you don’t understand why Harrison Ford…
Yes, Harrison Ford shows up in the last part of the film and just owns it. Whether it’s drinking whiskey from that square bottle (I so want to buy the bottle if they manufacture it!) or telling off Ryan Gosling about the dog…
And if the last shot of Ryan Gosling resting on the steps as snow falls does not make you want the film to go on, then you should probably watch the song and dance Bollywood flicks.
If This Film Were On Masterchef Australia, It Wouldn’t Win An Apron!
A remake of Jon Favreau’s film by the same name, this film is more of a kitchen disaster than a chef’s signature dish. Like the original, chef Saif Ali Khan gets into an argument with a customer in New York and ends up running a food truck and traveling with his son. But that’s where the similarity ends. The food they make is so awful you will not believe he’s a three Michelin star chef. Unappetising!
Jon Favreau’s film Chef was full of food scenes – the buying of fresh produce, the preparation of the food, the cooking, the presentation as well – and they were delicious, colorwise and otherwise. If you watched onions being caramelised, you could almost smell them as well as taste the sauces being poured over protein. The sizzle, the smoke and the presentation of the foods is so amazing, you emerge from the theatre, hungry. A simple thing like the cheese sandwich Chef Casper makes for his son makes the audience drool.
The Hindi version starts out similarly where Saif Ali Khan punches a customer and loses his job as a chef of a New York restaurant. We don’t know what dish it was, and why the customer hated it. You remember Jon Favreau take that Lava cake and lose his temper at the food critic.
Saif Ali Khan then goes home and makes pasta. If you’ve ever watched a TV show called Masterchef Australia (or for that matter Masterchef USA where even the kids make their own pasta) you’d have a heart attack watching a supposedly three Michelin star chef open a ready made packet of pasta. You begin to shake your head but hope the film will turn out to be as delicious as the American Food truck Adventure.
Yes, there’s a son who needs his dad and his dad need to find his lost mojo by figuring out what is it that he really wants to cook, but when the misery of the chef goes on and on and on and the word ‘Interval’ shows up on the screen, you have seen no sign of food, you begin to get restless. No amount of references to Saif’s role in Dil Chahta Hai works on an audience waiting to see food. Yes the chef is offered a double decker bus to use as a mobile restaurant by the ex wife’s supposed paramour, just as in the original movie. Milind Soman is that paramour and his easy charismatic presence offers some visual relief. The chef in the meanwhile has cooked nothing.
It’s only when he suddenly loses his temper at his son, when he steps into a beautiful old fashioned wood fired kitchen with a bowl of veggies/meat with gravy that he makes roti and spreads the veggies, grates Amul Cheese (yes, this film has many brands shamelessly endorsed!) over the veggies and slaps another roti over it, cuts the roti sandwich in four parts and serves it to the son (again, drooling over the cheese sandwich the chef in the original film makes for his son). And voila! He decides that is what he’s going to serve people as they drive from Cochin in Kerala to Delhi in the North. Before you facepalm, you remember how Chef Casper figures out he is going to make Cubanos.
All of a sudden, the child (who you wish pinned his long hair if her were working anywhere near a kitchen) tells Saif, he uploaded the video and has geotagged the vehicle so people will line up for the roti sandwich. Really? That unappetising looking quarter of a roti? Whilst the original gave you reason to visit (in real life) the places they showed on film to taste the foods (for example, the beignets in New Orleans), this film is just a poor shadow of the original. Such a waste of an opportunity, because you hope the chef will serve the tomato chutney he makes at the dhaba in Amritsar to his customers at the food truck. He doesn’t.
The movie comes at the back of a Bengali film called Maacher Jhol that has a very similar plotline (a chef flies back to Kolkata and his mother who is diagnosed with a brain tumor requests him to make a fish gravy dish called ‘Jhol’, and he makes the curry again and again in order to please his mother looking for the perfect taste) which has been made so wonderfully, even vegetarians look at the food scenes on the screen longingly, and laugh and cry with the emotional connect and the lack thereof with his family. Here, Saif Ali Khan just does convince us that he loves cooking, or his food truck team care about anything. The whole effort is bland and unappetising.
(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)
Title Chhodo, Film Bahut Acchi Hai!
Five friends who play football on the beach every Sunday get into trouble when their ball hits a petty politician. Each friend has a unique reason to escape his home. And even though they seem stereotypes – a Muslim, a gentle Parsee, a henpecked Gujju, a Catholic lad and the Hindu hero – the dialogue, the acting of the supporting cast, the lovely music, the situations that the characters are pushed in are simply wonderful. You begin to care for the characters and enjoy the film.
In the hustle and bustle of the metropolis of Bombay, there is no place to play. And if there is, most places are taken by Cricket, that seems to be a national pastime. So when you watch Arjun, Rashid, Domi, Jayesh, and Mehernosh play seek a place for their game of football, you know that the movie must be more to the movie than just an open place for their game of choice.
And how this film surprises you!
The language is Hinglish – a smattering of English thrown in rather naturally. And you like that. Because that’s how Urban India speaks. Each character, speaks in his own unique voice and you don’t hate any character, not one. That’s a miracle, especially because there have been really terrible movies this year.
So Dominic or Domi (played by Vishal Malhotra) is a typical Catholic lad who lives with his mother (She’s so good, you want to step into her home and hug her!). The mother, played brilliantly by Rama Joshi speaks Konkani and English and Hindi to manipulate her sons, sometimes with tears, sometimes by scolding them and even resorting to emotional blackmail at other times. She serves food as she cajoles her son into coming to church, get married, yells at him for staying out late and then showers her love on him. Who will not love her?
Rashid played by Avinash Tiwary is the motorbike lad, who gets all the girls and seems to be doing a-okay until you see his home. It’s cluttered with his past and a four legged pest… You may not be the Rashid in your set of friends, but you know someone like him.
Jayesh escapes with football because his household is so noisy, he cannot think. You want to invite him over to the quiet of your own home for a cuppa because you will be aghast when you hear the decibel levels of his life. Jay Upadhyay does a fine job.
Mehernosh is a quiet Bawa – a Parsee who lives among neighbors who are fighting each other all the time. He’s an accountant in a firm where the boss is a nasty man, picking on a girl Mehernosh likes but is unable to say anything. Played by Nakul Bhalla you begin feeling pity for the harried man, but you smile when you know how wicked he can be…
Last but not the least, there’s Arjun, who has a fancy degree and used to have a job, but has given up everything to stay with his sister and runs a small consultancy firm but mostly likes to do nothing. Played by Barun Sobti (known for his roles in TV soap) you are almost jealous of his ability to play by his own rules. But is he perfect?
Shahana Goswami is a marketing professional who meets Arjun because her dad literally bumps into the football five. She’s so comfortable in her skin, you like her instantly. Then there’s Rasika Dugal who lights up the screen, and maanvi Gagroo…
This group discovers so much about their lives and you sit popcorn in hand, laughing at the on screen jokes, nod your head at situations that run a parallel to your own life, and know that you will call your friends once the film is over. The film sags a tad in the middle, but then the rest of the film makes it up. The laughs, the meltdowns, the fights, they are all worth. And you know, that the Director Milind Dhaimade has struck gold because in scenes where the football playing cop needs to report for duty and then in doing that duty, reverses the jeep and asks for the football as ‘evidence’
The film has been through the festival circuit and yet, it does not feel aged. There are some glitches, but you forgive them simply because you want this life with friends. All in all, this movie is a delightful watch.
(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)
Predictable Rape Victim Tale.
A rich commodities trader who beats his wife and sexually exploits women labourers rapes his very young niece. This traumatised child grows up and witnesses a rape. Will she speak up? Why does the aunt not speak up against her trader husband? Why do common people not defy the exploitation?The film is award winning, and despite the stunning cinematography of the countryside, it remains an extended TV show like Crime Patrol and Savdhaan India. Who also claim their stories are based on true incidents.
The screenplay sets the story back and forth between Mumbai and the village and a small town. Even though it’s a good use of flashback, the characters we see on screen are mere tropes: a lascivious film casting director in Bombay, movie extras (Junior artists) who given in because ‘such is life’ and ‘you have do such things to survive’, a defiant young girl who knows she will get into trouble but still raises her voice, the village bumpkin who sells candy floss in order to make a living for his daughter and himself, the innocent daughter, the exploitative trader who is rich enough to buy a hundred sacks of chillies and rice and what have you, his pathetic sad wife who he beats up ever so often, the women labourers who are raped and then their wages given…
There are so many stereotypes, you are so frustrated as you watch the film. Great shots like the little girl watching her candy floss seller dad fish in the lake are stunning and will soothe your disappointment. But is it enough?
The story of the exploitative trader reminds you of all the rapist zamindaar stories you have seen in Hindi movies with Ranjeet, Amrish Puri and other villains cast in similar roles. In Marathi films too Nilu Phule and his ilk have raped and pillaged women from the villages. So what’s new here? Even the drumming monkey toy that the child uses in the godown where she is raped is a such a tired device.
Amruta Patil plays the browbeaten wife of the trader (played Nagraj Manjule) who toys with the idea of adding rat poison to her husband’s tea. Even this is not unique. And she thinks about it so much you wish you could reach into the screen and dump the poison in the tea yourself.
Raghubir Yadav plays a simple village bumpkin who sells candy floss to send his little girl Chini to school (grows up to be Mugdha Chaphekar). He is earnest in his portrayal too.
The trouble with this film is the subject. It is so tired, that no matter how much the actors give of themselves to the roles, the result is boringly predictable.
The Two Are Delightful, The Film Isn’t.
The story of an unlikely friendship between Abdul Kareem, a clerk from India and Queen Victoria is fascinating because his diaries were discovered recently and give us a glimpse on her stubborn resolve to learn Hindi and Urdu and his strange devotion to her. Judi Dench and Al Fazal make the friendship look easy in its defiance of the Queen’s courtiers who just hate Kareem’s influence on the Queen.
The Hindoos Are Here!
Just as India has Anglophiles, the British probably did have just as much fascination (Exotic India is still being written about!) for India. After all, they found cotton, indigo, spices and gold and jewels in India. They ruled India for 200 years and it was during the Queen’s Jubilee year (1887) that someone at court had a bright idea of issuing a commemorative gold mohur in honor of the Queen. To give it a fitting setting, a tall clerk in Agra’s prison was chosen to travel to England to present the Queen with the mohur at one of the banquets. The Clerk, Abdul Kareem (played with wide-eyed wonder by Ali Fazal) finds himself fascinated by the Empress and the Empress (the brilliant Judi Dench) finds joy in this obvious adulation and soon a deep friendship develops between the two.
As unlikely as the friendship may be, the subject makes for a fascinating film with the fawning courtiers and the Prince who begin to hate the audacity of someone who should have been a compliant slave.
Judi Dench Is Marvelous
Yes, you cringe when you watch Ali Fazal kiss the feet of the Empress breaking protocol (he’s supposed to never look her in the eye, just present the coin and leave without turning his back to her), but you see a sparkle in the bored queen’s eyes and you know Judi Dench is better Queen than the real Queen could ever be.
When you see the dressing ladies wake her up, lift her like some marionette and dress her as her secretary reads out her schedule, you sorry for the ageing Queen. So the devotion the ‘Hindoo’ shows her makes for a joyful interaction. Plus he speaks English with such an interesting way, telling her about how the bird woven in the carpet is imprisoned forever in the weave or how after death you go to a great hall of eternal bliss…
Judi Dench is so amazing that you can actually see her resolve turn into steel. You see the friendship turning a bored, fat monarch turn into a Queen who orders a Durbar Room created for her, a Queen who begins to take interest in the day to day things (thereby creating ripples among her complacent courtiers) and begin to learn Urdu and Hindi from the ordinary clerk.
Judi Dench has played the Queen before in ‘Her Majesty, Mrs Brown’ where another ‘servant’ John Brown from the highlands (Billy Connolly) who drags her out of mourning after the death of her beloved Prince Albert. The story has many parallels with this film and ends with the death of the Queen instead of Mr Brown.
Ali Fazal’s Curious Devotion
As audience you cringe when the young clerk literally kisses the Queen’s feet, especially because the film is set 30 years after the 1857 mutiny. It is doubtful that a 24 year old was not unaffected by the stories of defiance against the British. But then there are accounts of strange servility, so his initial devotion seems more fascination than servility. The language he uses is odd and that makes the conversation between him and the Queen rather fun.
The Rest Of The Film
The courtiers, the prime minister, the royal physician, Prince Bertie (who inherits her as Edward vii) and even the other Indian are all such cardboard cutouts, you can actually bunch them as one annoyed mass who spy on the Queen when she’s interacting with her ‘Munshi’. Their plotting and planning seems to be like that you have seen in high school plays.
The interiors of the palace look like a set rather than real, but the outdoor locations are stunning.
Abdul Kareem’s wife and mother-in-law are dressed in this Talibanesque black burkhas which seem rather strange. And why does she have to be so extra large? I watched with as much fascination and curiosity as the Queen had when she watched Mrs Kareem unveil. And even though you want the movie to be authentic (maybe she was large in real life), you wish she would look like Deepika Padukone instead (no disrespect meant to the actor who plays Mrs Kareem).
Yes, the rest of the film is blah. But watch it because you love Judi Dench.