Monthly Archives: November 2018

Review: Girl In The Spider’s Web

The Ducati Is Good, The Rest Is Predictable Hollywood

1.5 stars

Mini Review: 

Lisbeth Salander is now a known hacker, and saves women from abusive husbands and boyfriends and brothers and fathers. She chooses an assignment to delete a defence program and gets into all kinds of trouble. The programmer is dead and his child knows the password, so the child needs to be protected. But Lisbeth is in mortal danger too. Can she save herself? 

Main Review:

Lisbeth Salander, international hacker and Michael Blomkvist the journalist you met when you watched Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. You loved how she was a misfit. You wanted to be as single minded as him. The book taught you how to read the many Swedish train station and introduced you to names with the letter  'e' written funny and 'o' with a slash through it, and the ever present umlaut... I even searched for 'Swedish language classes in Mumbai' after having read everything written by Larrson. I promised to not laugh at the names spelt funny which in India sounded like they were 'fixed' by a numerologist... The book Girl In The Spider's Web is different from the film. But we're talking movies, so here goes...

I have loved Rooney Mara so much as Lisbeth Salander that I expected Ryan Gosling to show up and get Claire Foy (his wife in First Man) back home. 

In the film this Lisbeth Salander is shown to be someone who simply goes into situations like a bull in a china shop. Not right at all. She's supposed to be sharp and intellectual and someone who has all her moves planned. If you know there are bad guys who are going into the safehouse where your programmer and his son are holed up, and they're killing everyone without remorse, you don't just barge in and be taken in by the bad guys from behind. You want to say, 'Look behind you!' more than once! She's meant to be smarted than Sunny Deol! And Sunny Deol can bludgeon anyone who thinks they can attack him from behind. Sigh. This happens too many times in the film...

The only time she is the Lisbeth Salander we loved in the books and the first film, is at the airport, where she hacks into the control systems and corners the American NSA agent into doing her bidding. You want to hi-five an imaginary friend at that time.

And you've seen the bike action in the trailer. It will make you want to move to colder climes just because you like Ducatis. Yes, yes, it reminded me that I'm too short to ride this one, but oh what joy to hear it in the film!

This is a good action film, but has such crigemworthy obvious mistakes by characters that it does not become great, even though Lisbeth's companions kill the bad guys with the help of the heat signatures from the outside. The brilliant kid (supposed to be autistic in the book, is normal but introverted/quiet in the film) knows that his father is dead, but answers the phone... Yaar! Even annoying kids in Hindi movies don't do that!

So the story takes Lisbeth to her past and Ms.Foy does a good job showing Lisbeth's vulnerability. But is it enough? You want more of her connect to Michael Blomkvist, but here he's no more than a bystander and collateral damage, really. You wish the story had him do more than discover who Spiders really are. And the daddy issues seem to be just too easy a way out. 

Those who are telling you that the film is 'edgy', have never seen a girl on a bike. Or a seen a girl as 'hero'.

It's an okay watch because action set pieces are well done, but you have so many amazing Finnish, Swedish and German shows on Netflix, that you miss the meat on the story. 




What The Heck Did I Just Watch?


Mini Review:

Sunny Deol is Bhaiyyaji, a gangster whose wife, Preity Zinta has left him in a huff. He decides to woo her back by making a movie. It’s funny if you are a masochist.

Main Review:

Hard to believe that we’re still making slapstick movies. This movie has been made at least six years ago and has attempted a release ever since it got made. But if you stop groaning through all the awful acting and ridiculous where-is-this-going plot, you will discover silliness that is unexpected and fun.  

Sunny Deol and Preity Zinta (sometimes they look exhausted and older and at other times look charming, really) are Gangster Bhaiyyaji and Sapna Dubey, married to each other. Why Bhaiyyaji is called 3D no one really knows, perhaps it is a joke that did not translate well from page to screen. But some do:

‘He is a writer, someone who doesn’t get paid…’ The director of the film says as he snatches the money away from the writer.

Then there are unintended moments of laughter. Jaideep Ahlawat is the bad guy called Helicopter Mishra, who wants to be Bhaiyyaji instead of Bhaiyyaji. He too has a gang of guys with guns and evil glares following him around. He hires bad gals to sidle up Bhaiyyaji inside a temple (Bhaiyyaji is singing a Shiva song with men and women in black are dancing with him) and then fake sadhus attack Bhaiyyaji. Bhaiyyaji of course handles each goon with punches and kicks and breaks their bones while his bunch of hanger ons nod approvingly. The sequence has great action for Sunny Deol fans. There is a car chase sequence where someone overtakes Bhaiyyaji, and there are other guys trying to stop bhaiyyaji from reaching (who knows where!) and for a while you think it’s just going to be a Rohit Shetty style car blow up sequence, out comes what could only be described as a Gatling gun! Before you can collect your jaw from the floor, you realise that you actually enjoyed that excess.

Speaking of excess, the entry of Sunny Deol (certain whistles and whoops among the fans) has a full ‘paisa vasool’ scene where he smashes his fists (yes, both!) into a pushcart full of tender coconuts and when he raises them, woah! He now has boxing glove like devices, tender coconut in each hand! He uses them to smash baddies, of course.

But the story is something terribly lame. His fiesty wife Sapna Dubey has left him because she just doesn’t feel compliant and also because some woman was hugging him in gratitude. She dresses in shiny sarees (and those sarees look really good on Preity Zinta) but she shoots at him happily. The first bullet goes past his head and she says, ‘I did not want to be a widow, or the bullet would not have missed.’ And to top that, the second bullet misses his groin, she gets to say, ‘I want children, so I missed deliberately!’

If you can stand this, and don’t care that her face looks really weird in some scenes (surgery?), then her awful broken English will certainly make you cringe. She speaks bad English with a city accent. Thankfully there is a host of really good actors who are hamming it up (as though they were told you are so good, just go out there and do your funny thing), which makes Preity Zinta’s overacting seem a-okay. The list will surprise you. Pankaj Tripathi, Brijendra Kala, Sanjay Mishra. Not to be outdone, there’s Shreyas Talpade, Hemant Pandey, Mukul Dev, Arshad Warsi and in a cameo, Ranjeet! Of course, there’s Ameesha Patel too. She’s the female lead in the movie Bhaiyyaji is making to woo his wife back (ends up making her jealous and angry). Wait, that’s the story?

Everything and everyone is overdoing everything all the time, it is easy to ignore the over the top sets of Bhaiyyaji’s palace. Does the whole thing matter at all? The final showdown between Bhaiyyaji and Helicopter Mishra’s gang is jaw-droppingly good. It happens in a train yard. An unconscious Preity Zinta gets to slide down a coal slide and gets caught in Sunny Deol’s arms. An explosion brings her back to cough out the water she has swallowed when her car went over the bridge into the river (yes, that happens). She then gets run over by an SUV and gets jammed under it on train tracks. Helicopter Mishra drives a train engine at speeds meant for Ferraris, but Sunny Deol lifts the SUV and saves his wife and they get off the track because he catches a giant crane hook which his double (don’t ask!) is driving. Then after many punches, Helicopter Mishra drives off with Preity and Sunny Deol jumps on that runaway truck and the truck goes off the cliff and dangles by a a hook where Bhaiyyaji and Mishra have a last fight. Of course Bhaiyyaji wins, and Mishraji falls off the cliff. But instead of falling straight down as gravity would demand, he floats off.

Wait! What?! But all’s well that ends well and they have an end scene where Mishra is in hospital and cannot identify a banana. Why? Do you care? You make a beeline for the exit, unable to meet the eye of other people who are asking the same existential question as you. Did I laugh in there or did I facepalm?

(this review appears on )

Review: Ralph Breaks The Internet

Ralph's Neither For The Kids, Nor For GrownUps

1.5 stars

Mini Review:

None of the kids today have seen arcade games, so this whole concept of arcade game characters getting into the Net (literally) seems odd. There are moments of course, that make grown ups smile, make you feel overwhelmed with emotion, but they are so few and far between that you sort of pass out...

Main Review:

All is not lost movie nerds! There are enough references in the film to keep you from falling asleep. Enough self-deprecating jokes to keep you grinning into your popcorn and chuckling. 

But this movie will drive the kids restless and whiny. There are too many conversations about life. And Sunrises. Why would a six or even an eight year old want to look at two animation characters talk about watching the Sunrise in real life versus life on the Net where the Sun does not set and it is neon lit all the time?

The best part of the movie is when Vanellope meets all the Disney princesses. Yes, it is better than the silly nerdy fan who asks a long-winded question to the character. All the Disney princesses are there, and the conversation is sparkling, brilliant actually. Who'd have thunk that Disney would laugh at themselves, with every princess needing to be 'rescued by a man' and that each princess discovers her mojo when staring at some sort of water. 

The kids sitting in the row behind me were restless with all that talk, and they began to kick the seats in front of them (that's me) - one positively wailing when they saw the mean looking virus - and then crying when many Ralphs form one gigantic King Kong like gorilla, climbing on to a building with Vanellope in his fist. 

There is more conversation about letting go that made me tear up, but out of emotion. But the kids were stuffing more popcorn in their mouths and wailing because they were bored.

Yes, I came away realising that we cannot hold on to people and that you have to let go of friends who want to live their own life that does not include you, and it broke my heart. But Ralph did not break the Internet.   

Review: A Private War

For Journalists In The Thick Of War

3 stars

Mini Review:

Marie Colvin, the foreign correspondent with The Sunday Times died on the job to show us the horrors of war and to bare the truth that Assad's war is really on people - men, women and children - rather than armed militants. She was there for the truth. It's a film that makes you come home and read her reports and see the videos and pictures, and realise what cowards we are.

Main Review:

I never thought of myself as a coward. I know many journalists and activists who work with unpredictable politicians (and their goons) who could turn violent at any time. Journalists who have been threatened on social media with rape and murder. And I know women who work with at risk children, children who live in so much poverty, and crime they need that intervention from outside agencies, they need rescuing. I know women who work with really under-privilged children and educate them in order to help, create self-confidence, give them an opportunity to blossom.

Compared to these brave men and women I know, my life is pathetic. Boring almost. I watch movies for a living, and teach cinema and communication theory and cutural studies to media students. The biggest fear I face daily is the fear of being sideswiped by a car when I'm in an autorickshaw. It's a safe world.

That's why A Private War was tough to watch. Not because she was so gutsy, going out there and reporting, asking tough questions to Tamil Tigers and all that, but watching her question herself, her motives for wanting to being there amid the horror of tragedy, that drive which borders on insanity almost, that was a tough watch.  

Marie Colvin was driven by something else. And she did not walk into danger because her 'back story' as movie call it was a tragic one and she needed to 'be a hero'. In fact Rosamund Pike who plays Marie Colvin in the film shows us that she was more human than the rest of us. 

'This is not a bra, this is a La Perla!' she explains to her photographer, 'Imagine wearing bad underthings when they pull out my body from the rubble somewhere...' 

We've read Cosmo too, but this was so unexpected from someone covering war, that it showed us that she was still a woman underneath the flak jacket.

Her recurring nightmares, her denial about PTSD, her need to get back to conflict zones are all beautifully balanced in the film. There is a Hindi word that describes this. It is called, 'Zid'. A cross between passion and obstinacy, between childishness and craziness, the word 'drive' does not come close to it. But you can experience it all in the film.

Of course the stories told in the film about the people whose lives are changed by conflict are just too real and you will want to avert your eyes away from the screen. Very few mainstream movies can do that to you. I was stunned and moved and shocked. But when I came back home, it made me look at Anderson Cooper's full interview with her on CNN on YouTube. It made me read the reports she had written from the war zones. It made me realise that every day there are brave, undeniably brave journalists who risk their own lives to show us the true face of war happening somewhere else while we go about our routines unaware of tragedies around us.

Review: PIHU

50 Ways To Kill A Toddler

1 star

Mini Review:

What could happen if a two year old is at home with her mother? Nothing, unless the mom ODs on sleeping pills and then everything turns into an almost disaster for the child. An open balcony, a fridge, kitchen with knives, appliances, electrical sockets and more entice the child to certain death. Unfortunately, instead of the story, the headache inducing camera angles which can be best described as toddler cam offers unintentional horror. This simply exploits the kind feelings people have towards children. And fails.

Main Review:

It becomes an exploitative film when the filmmakers put a child in harm’s way, making everyone in the audience hold their breath. But when the film has nothing more than watching a two year old move from one part of the house to another where ordinary everyday things turn into a death trap because of creepy music.

Will It Be Caramel Or Cheese?

Is she going to slip when she’s trying to climb to up a reach a milk bottle? Or fall down just like her dolly off the balcony? You are forced to choose your favorite death trap while munching on mixed popcorn. Obviously they choose a wide eyed kid Myra Vishwakarma to make you feel that same feeling you get when you watch animals in distress but rescued videos on FaceBook. But the videos are less than three minutes long and you watch and are relieved when the rescuers arrive. This film goes on and on for over an hour and a half.

Anyone who has had a child will know that childproofing a home is the first thing you do when you bring a baby in the world. Starting with who buys glass milk bottles these days, you ask why is the iron still in the socket? This home looks like it was deliberately set out to be a disaster. Evil demons in usual horror movies will be insulted if you make it so easy to die.  

Inspired By Videos Of Naughty Kids On The Net

Then the filmmakers watch more videos of babies who turn their homes into disaster zones and now take Pihu into the kitchen. Yes, the sitting in the fridge wasn’t cute enough. Of course the roti is going to burn, of course the flames are going to be on high and by now the supposed Shakespearean milk of human kindness in your heart is dry. You are bored beyond belief. You want the real life mommy (Prema Vishwakarma) who is pretending to be dead in the movie to be slapped hard for putting her child through such nonsense.

(This review appears on


This Ghat Story Is Gutless

1.5 stars

Mini Review:

Benaras has attracted all kinds of people to its ghats. Those looking for God and those looking for ganja. The film is full of quirky characters that attempt to build an exotic India. The focal point of these characters is Pappu’s tea shop where everything from lifestyle to politics is discussed. Sunny Deol plays a priest who is a stickler about tradition and the film shows how his breed is vanishing… If only the quirkiness wasn’t tiresome and the film offered something concrete to share with the world, this film would have worked.

Main Review:

The film opens with a wonderful piece of Indian classical music (a Dhrupad composition) that is an invocation to Shiva, the resident deity of Benaras. The starting credits say that a poem (rather political in nature) by India’s finest poet Kashinath Singh is included in the film. That is classy indeed, and one is forced to sit up and take notice. But it doesn’t take long for beautiful opening shots of the city waking up to descend into the commonplace when we see a smooth-talking motormouth tourist guide Ginni (played wonderfully by Ravi Kishan) pick up tourists from the railway station and bring them into town.

The film was stuck at the Censors for six years, and you soon know why: there is politics of the temple (a politically charged kindling if you talk against it), there is the unfortunate aftermath of the breaking down of the mosque at Babri (the hero believes sentiment about the birthplace of Lord Ram is more important that the law), and the rational beings discussing these things over tea are no longer relevant. The attempt to cling on to traditions is good, but the only way the film shows the new as bad is to show foreign tourists desperate for sex, show them throwing dollars at anything Indian, and Indians so greedy for money, they will lie and cheat and cook up schemes to satisfy their needs…

The banality of the events in these tourist trap places is horrifying. A character dressed up as the God Shiva (played by Daya Shankar Pandey) takes hundred rupees for posing with tourists and 200 if they should want a stream of water flowing from his hair. The hairdresser gathers information from people he shaves as to where a ‘foreign’ woman could find decent accommodation near the Assi Ghat (the Southernmost Ghat in the city, a famous landmark of Benaras, popular with tourists and worshippers alike). The cops hapless in front of the teashop regular, literally standing on a bench pontificating about how Bhang was not a drug, but a tradition of Benaras and a religious right, because Shiva consumed it…

By the time the story comes around to saying something, you are bored. Even though they use the local virulent word for ‘bastards’ as though everyone in the film was Samuel L Jackson. And that includes the women. It was not even funny to begin with, and then it gets tedious. You wonder why they chose Sunny Deol to play Dharam Nath Pandey, a traditionalist, a priest happy to teach Sanskrit to kids for a pittance. Though Sunny is adequate in the tough guy act, the language does him in. He has worked hard on the Sanskrit diction but the whole thing seems pointless in the end. Sakshi Tanwar is the stereotypical wife, praying to the Gods and cooking for the family. The end where the adamant Pandit has to accept the non Hindu Marlene as a paying guest in his home (and hence God has left him) brings back a new Shiva home… Everyone lives happily ever after is like a nothing burger.

The ensemble cast of Tiwari-ji, Upadhyay-ji, Chaturvedi-ji, Chaubey-ji and others are played by veteran actors Saurabh Shukla, Srichandra Makhija, Rajendra Gupta and Mukesh Tiwari. But all that posing and pontificating comes to nothing. Except that you do not wish to go anywhere near religion and righteousness in a film, ever.

(This review appears on


Dregs Of Hindostan

1 star

Mini Review:

It’s 1795 and the British are taking over Indian principalities mostly by cheating their way. In one such instance a young princess escapes with the help of a loyal servant, grows up and avenges the death of her parents. They introduce a cheat who double crosses not only the freedom fighters but also the English. The story is straight from the bottom of the creative keg, and they take 164 minutes to bore you to death. This attempt to pirate the Caribbean franchise fails so badly, it does not blow up, the audience kicks itself to death.

Main Review:

The single star given to this film is for having the chutzpah to sell such a ghastly idea to Yash Raj Films.

Imagine if the only reaction the film gets out of the audience is the gasp when Katrina Kaif displays her shimmery backside in a Dussehra number, and the rest of the time they are too bored to even crunch popcorn loudly. Let us count the cliche ridden story:

All British dudes are bad, and their Hindi is hilarious. Clive, the very bad British dude gives speeches about the ritual of killing Ravan every year in a desperate Anglicised Hindi. When did they start caring about Indian festivals? We know he is bad because he drank tea and said, ‘Is chai mein barood ki boo aa rahi hai!’ People got paid to write this!

And they wrote and they wrote for Aamir Khan to overdo the smart talker who betrays anyone for money. They wrote so much that Amitabh Bachchan (in chains, inside a prison) actually says, ‘Bol ke maaroge kya?’ (Will you kill us with so much dialog?).   

Aamir Khan plays Firangi, a burro riding smooth talker who betrays anyone for the right amount of money. Obviously never short of surma, his exaggerated eye-popping act becomes annoying within minutes. But it’s an obvious ploy the audience can see from a mile. He infiltrates the good guys to betray them and the big good guy changes his heart. This is such a tired plot, you forgive them for putting Amitabh Bachchan in a character that is a cross of his Eklavya role mixed with Jhoom Barabar Jhoom character! This is what happens when an art director is allowed to run amok with costumes.

Of course the director is enamored with the idea of a donkey riding character, they even try and give him a little scrubbing effect on film that a DJ does when he scratches the vinyl back and forth. Three times in the introduction and I prayed that they did not do this every single time Aamir showed up on screen… Thankfully they forgot about this special effect. They had many to take care of… And horribly. The eagle that appear every time Amitabh Bachchan appears, the small burning boat that rams the big ship, the fires started by burning cannonballs, the rifle fires, the burning baddie, and of course the sets - the ships as well as the fort - look so fake you are reminded of the movies of yore when big rocks tumbling down would just bounce off because they were glorified craft projects…

So the Brits are cruel and ruling over Indians who mostly cower and hand over lagaan (I mean something like that) and there’s a bunch of freedom fighters called Azaad (yes, yes, we know it’s an idea that cannot die!), they hide all the way in Krabi and attack the Brits and steal their ships. A miracle they did not show the ships kept away as in Moana (Disney animation film 2016)… That they borrowed heavily from the Pirates of The Caribbean franchise is a given, but how badly, you have to see to believe it.

The princess Zafira (Fatima Sana Sheikh) grows up to be a country cousin to Bahubali’s princess Devasena who is awesome with bow and arrows. Thankfully she has little to show when it comes to acting, because she fails even when she avenges her parents. She blubbers into Amitabh Bachchan’s able chest, and we are saved from seeing bad acting. There goes trope of strong woman…

The other woman in this big production is Katrina Kaif who plays Suraiyya who dances and the Brits love her. So blah, you wish they had quietly slipped in a bald Sanjay Dutt nodding in approval to her ‘Chikni chameli’ redux, just to stir the audience. And as all paint by numbers movies have it, there’s a medicine woman who fixes Aamir Khan’s wound. I wished for Homer Simpson like epiphany (from Simpsons The Movie) from Aamir, but they missed that opportunity of overacting…

Khuda Baksh aka Amitabh Bachchan is given lots of opportunity to seethe and snarl and overdo it too. When they show him tied up to lethal looking contraption like Dharmendra in Sholay and Katrina dances her dussehra dance, you want to scream, ‘Basanti! In kutton ke saamne mat naachna!’ but this is not Sholay alas. There are more choreographed fight sequences danced to never ending music.     

In the end the bad Brit dude meets his end, the fort is won back and is handed to princess, the bodyguard is still alive and the smooth talking chap escapes with the ship (which is self navigating in the computer generated seas). Of all things Katrina shows up as stowaway and demands that they steer the ship to Calcutta where she wants to buy a dupatta, if you please. That is all the audience can take. Thankfully. The great Indian pirated film is over.  

(this review appears on