Tag Archives: Vicky Kaushal

Sanju: Flawed and Zany, But Not a Terrorist

I love Sanjay Dutt. The cool Indian rockstar superstar with heart. An impossibly flawed hero who has failed many times, and repeatedly mustered up the strength to pick himself up, and face his demons.

No doubt the actor has been wed to trouble all his life. Yet he also showed up, every single time, bigger and better with rock-solid performances. After a confidently tentative debut in Rocky (1981) and the grounding comeback with Naam (1986), his graph has been consistent through the years with Saajan (1991), Sadak (1991), Khalnaayak (1993), Dushman (1998), Vaastav (1999), Mission Kashmir (2000), Kaante (2002), Munnabhai MBBS (2003), Parineeta (2005), Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006) and PK (2014).

He is the king of bad personal choices, has worn his faults openly, like badges almost, and carelessly. Quite amazingly, he, or rather his wife Manyata, have now convinced an A-list director to tell his story, and an A-list actor to play him.

No mean feat this, specially since Rajkumar (Raju) Hirani is known for being discerning in his work, questioning the paradoxes in the social fabric of our society. No one else but Ranbir Kapoor could have played Sanjay Dutt. He is so flawless that I had to remind myself this is Ranbir, and not Sanjay in some of the scenes. Mannerisms, walk, tone of voice, unhinged addiction, emotions, awkward bait, the wild spirit… he absorbs all of it.

I couldn’t help but smile at the Nargis and Raj Kapoor connection. Her son and his grandson, decades after, creating magic in a different way. Genes in full glory to perfection, with hard work and practice thrown in for good measure. Ranbir rehearsed for six months, watched Sanjay’s videos, and called him before some important scenes to understand his exact emotion.

There is also the reality that unlike the reticent Salman Khan, who had a similar journey and went into ‘fix-it’ mode with good films and social work, Sanjay has been publicly emotional, vocal, and explicit about most details. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can access the whole story, which is well-documented and easily available. Sanjay’s legacy is complicated by celebrity parents, with his pampering mother Nargis, who adored him, and a strict father Sunil Dutt, who took him to task. How he was affected by her cancer, Rocky’s debut and instant stardom, drugs, rehabilitation, second comeback, success, superstar status, losing it again with the AK-56 possession, spiraling life, criminal history, court case, sentences, jail visits and returns, struggles, love affairs, marriages, friendships, family, feuds… all of it is there.

No doubt Sanju is heavily tilted towards the controversial actor’s perspective of not being a terrorist. At the same time, Raju unreservedly portrays his flaws. They appear twice as magnified on screen, despite the countless number of print and online pages devoted to him. Any director would have probably made five sequels off those. There’s just so much of the actor, and person. His survival story is unique, incredible and mind-boggling: a mammoth job to capture in words, or on screen.

Co-writer Abhijat Joshi and writer-editor-director Raju cleverly focus on Sanjay’s emotional state of mind, and his relationship with his father Sunil Dutt (Paresh Rawal, at his most poignant) and friend Kamlesh Kanhaiyalal Kapasi (Vicky Kaushal, first-rate), during two prominent, ugly phases – his drug addiction and gun possession. They chart Sanjay’s story from a biographer’s point of view (Winnie Diaz, sincerely played by Anushka Sharma) – directly addressing questions many of us have around those events. In that sense, the movie is revealing and relevant for both his fans, as well as others.

Where Sanju misses the mark is on the gun track. It rushes into completion – almost as if the duo didn’t want to delve into it. Perhaps he acquired the guns as impulsively as he did the drugs. It leaves out some relevant, crucial aspects, like his first foray in jail, camaraderie with inmates, and court appearances. Blame is placed on external factors such as the drug peddler Zubin Mistry (Jim Sarbh), incessant media hounding and the underworld pressure a tad too conveniently, which rankled. The sexist judgment of a woman’s morality, not cool. The drugs phase, failing relationship, and mother’s cancer degeneration parts were excellently portrayed and sad to watch. The father-son song games were warm and fuzzy – especially the last one.

Jim aces it but please, can someone cast him in a romantic role and do justice to those sexy eyes? Diya Mirza, who played Manyata was effective but miscast. (Perhaps Kangana Ranaut would have captured her fire and zing better?) The voyeur in me also felt cheated on the details of his colorful love life: understandably that doesn’t relate to the film’s narrative. The tiny appearances, of Ruby (Sonam Kapoor, superb and spot on) and Pinky (Karishma Tanna, charming), did whet some of that appetite. We all know Ruby, I am still trying to crack who the Pinky character is. Hmmm.

The songs are d… d… dazzling, with varied composers. Main Badhiya Tu Bhi Badhiya, voiced fabulously by duo Sonu Nigam and Sunidhi Chauhan, is all kinds of fun visually, with Ranbir’s version of crazy and Rohan-Rohan’s vintage music. Vikram Montrose creates the inspirational Kar Har Maidan Fateh (Sukhwinder Singh, Shreya Ghoshal) and fun surprise package Baba Bolta Hai Bas Ho Gaya (guess who appears in end credits, tap dancing with Ranbir). A. R. Rahman breezes in to work his musical magic with the richly evocative Ruby Ruby (Shaswat Singh, Poorvi Koutish) and seductively haunting Mujhe Chaand Pe Le Chalo (Nikhita Gandhi, awesomely come-hither).

Ravi Varman’s cinematography, which brings this emotional spectacle together, is superbly aesthetic; intimate, lively, and visually stunning.

Watching Sanjay Dutt’s life is moving in parts. The spotlight is on redemption, without an attempt to hide his faults. The movie entertains, but falls short on awesomeness.

So what’s the verdict? It’s definitely worth a trip to the cinema, especially for the Ranbir experience. Watching him in Sanju is a double treat. Two actors come alive on screen, and it is hard to tell who is better. Check, and double check.

Score: 4 out of 5

Sanju (2018). Director: Rajkumar Hirani. Writers: Abhijat Joshi, Rajkumar Hirani. Players: Ranbir Kapoor, Diya Mirza, Vicky Kaushal, Paresh Rawal, Sonam Kapoor, Karishma Tanna. Music: AR Rahman, Rohan-Rohan and Vikram Montrose. Theatrical release: Vinod Chopra Films, Rajkumar Hirani Films.

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women and social equity.

 

Raazi: Spy on me

“Trust your instinct. It won’t fail you,” Khalid Mir tells Sehmat Khan, a college girl, as he prepares her for an exceptional journey she is about to take. The sound suggestion comes after training her for just a month. Her assignment? To spy on her husband’s family during the India-Pakistan war in 1971

Director Meghana Gulzar’s Raazi is mostly remarkable for the fact that she treats Sehmat as an ordinary girl caught in extraordinary circumstances. She doesn’t hesitate in making her flawed, human, and frail.  We are to understand that her horrific actions are side effects of her occupation rather than a choice.

Adapted for screen by Meghana and Bhavani Iyer, the film is based on an ‘incredible’ true story from Harinder Sikka’s book Calling Sehmat. It follows the journey of a woman who passed on crucial details about a sea attack that the Pakistani Navy was planning on their Indian counterpart.

Sehmat (Alia Bhatt) is cruising through her college education when her ailing father Hidayat Khan (Rajit Kapur), a spy himself, asks her to take on his baton after his death. And she does. Country before self, she says, without fully knowing the consequences of her decision. Khalid (Jaideep Ahlawat) does his best to prepare her within the time limit.

The first step is relatively easy. She must marry a Pakistani military officer Iqbal Syed (Vicky Kaushal) and gain access to the daily activities of his father, Brigadier Syed (Shishir Sharma), and brother Mehboob Syed (Ashwath Bhatt), both high ranking officers.The couple’s relationship develops slowly, but surely, and remains untainted for the most part except when they are on country duty.

The second bit is tricky as even though an informant, she doesn’t have the finesse to cover her activities like a pro. Communication systems weren’t as advanced at the time, and when Sehmat lands in trouble, she is left alone to save herself in crisis.

The success of Raazi lies in the muted tone of Meghana’s direction and the fact that she keeps it real. The focus quietly and subtly stays on Sehmat’s inner conflict throughout. It is remarkable that such a character actually existed, and reports spell out the traumatic effects of the experience on off-screen Sehmat. Her husband, in compelling contrast, is shown as transparent and earnest.

Though it is designed as a taut thriller, Meghana rightly resists the temptation to go overboard with the theatrics. Even in the final confrontation scene between the husband and Sehmat, she dials down the drama; he has an emotional reaction while Sehmat remains sensible in her survival mode. Ditto the scene where her father voices the conflict of his decision to his daughter. Or the scenes where she feels torn between humanity and survival.

The 1971 period setting is as strikingly genuine as Meghana’s treatment of the film. Production designer Subrata Chakraborty recreates Pakistan and India visuals of the time with spectacular accuracy and care. Cinematographer Jay I. Patel does an impeccable job of capturing the internal and external landscapes to stay within the pragmatic mood. The flow of the movie felt a bit jarring, am not sure if it was due to Nitin Baid’s editing or the writing.

Post the vivacious Mirzya (2016), Shankar-Ehsan-Loy team up Gulzar once more to create another rich album. Both versions of Ae Watan deliver on the spec of subtle patriotic fervour. The melodious Dilbaro envelops you right away with its lovely, delicate and warm sentiment. My favourite was the inspirational title song Raazi, where Arijit Singh sounds fresh and the song’s power lies in its resounding notes providing the right backdrop for Sehmat’s rigorous training.

The performances are fantastic across the board. Actors Rajit Kapur and Shishir Sharma play Sehmat’s father and father-in-law with conviction and grace, conveying their zealous love for country. Ashwath Bhatt is effective as the brother-in-law consumed by the mystery of Abdul’s murder, causing much stress to Sehmat.  Mother Soni Razdan replicates her real-life role on screen, making a significant impact despite her short appearance as Teji. Sanjay Suri makes a fleeting guest appearance. Arguably, Sehmat shares the most complicated and longest relationship with her mentor and boss, played by Jaideep Ahlawat with ample screen time. Restrained, layered and precise, he is a class act. Did we note a slight chemistry in their interactions?

Vicky Kaushal (of Masaan fame) returns with his trademark goodness and plays the husband with heartbreaking sensitivity. He even defends his wife after she escapes. Meghana treats his character with ample love.

Alia Bhatt embraces Sehmat in body and spirit, according her performance with the inherent grace and power only she knows. Her interpretation of Sehmat is superlative although you do see traces of Alia in some scenes. She dials down her body language and demeanour to suit that era, looks pristine and manages to hold her vulnerability intact as she goes about her business. The lovely face remains stoic as she slowly loses control of the situation. Definitely a thumbs up!

Kudos to Harinder who managed to trace the woman and write this book, making Raazi possible. Meghana tells her story delicately yet surely, without getting pulled into the emotions, making it a fine, compelling piece of work.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Raazi. 2018. Director: Meghana Gulzar. Writers: Meghana Gulzar, Bhavani Iyer. Players: Alia Bhatt, Vicky Kaushal, Jaideep Ahlawat. Music: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. Theatrical release: Junglee Pictures, Dharma Films.

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women, and social equity.

The Guerilla and the Gorilla

RAMAN RAGHAV 2.0. Director: Anurag Kashyap. Players: Nawazuddin Siddique, Vicky Kaushal, Amruta Subhash, Sobhita Dhulipata. Music: Ram Sampath. Hindi with Eng. sub-tit. Theatrical release (Reliance)raman_raghav_2

A brutal serial killer on the loose, a city on edge, and a cop who will leave no stone unturned to find the killer can be nicely folded into a made-for-TV movie. Give the same devices to respected filmmaker Kashyap (Gangs of Wasseypur, That Girl in Yellow Boots) and the results could take one of two opposite outcomes. The end product could well be an imprecise and yet pricey salute to bygone era, say, Bombay Velvet (2014), or something else. Raman Raghav 2.0 has Kashyap drawing up an incredibly captivating, small-budget and chilling entry fueled by adrenaline and a dose of heebie-jeebies.

In the late 1960s a real life serial killer, eventually known as Raman Raghav, terrorized what was then Bombay. In addition to gaining notoriety as India’s most infamous serial killer, Raman Raghav also became a celebrated and morbid case study into a psychopathic mind operating in pretty much an alternate reality. Taking loose, major departures from that real life outline, Raman Ragav 2.0 provides a modern update with a twist of two tossed in.

As far as killers go, the main suspect in the brutal bludgeoning killings appears to be a certain Raman (Siddique), a down and out, shadowy figure who lives in the night (or does he stalk the night?) and could be schizophrenic. Cold on his trail lurks Inspector Raghavan (Kaushal), who finds himself both drawn to the killer’s brilliant persona as much as he is repulsed by the brutality of the killings. The killer, whoever he is—for there is circumstantial evidence placing Raman with loose alibis from time to time—likes to taunt the police by leaving behind, often bloody and horrific clues.

Perhaps Kashyap is most in command working with limited budgets where he can micro-manage to a greater degree than when he can wield large budgets. For Raman Raghav 2.0, a story Kashyap co-wrote with Vasan Bala, Kashyap resorts to what can only be described as guerilla filmmaking, which calls for shooting in actual, often off-street, settings and, sometimes, even without permission. Gone are the plush studio interiors where even grime can look polished. Here, the grime will not cleanse easily and the tenement sounds and traffic noises are real. Unlike larger budget entries that may have dozens of mostly-pricey takes most of which end up on the editor’s floor, Kashyap shot hundreds of scenes, over days and not months. The amazing result is an expanded span of controlled settings that give a larger impact to the story then its limited purse would otherwise signal.

Like with Navdeep Singh’s brilliant NH10 (2015), the fear lurks (mostly) in a subterranean maze that is Raman’s reality. In NH10, an ominous and symbolic revenge is delivered in a scene involving a wronged woman deliberately dragging a thick metal rod against the pavement. The dragging metal screech is angry, cantankerous and promises violence to a brutal finish. Twisted logic is intertwined with guilty satisfaction in the means to that end.

That scene was an antithesis to what Raman Raghav 2.0 lashes out with. Here, a metal rod grinding on pavement, in an apartment lobby or in a dark alley, raises both fears and anticipation of mayhem. Surely, whoever swings this rod can’t be all that bad, can they? And yet, no rays of sun, no birds chirping or the break of dawn await the ritual. There is only more darkness.

The other side of the coin to Raman’s seedy world is Inspector Raghavan’s parcel. Even though slightly more disciplined under the guise of law, Inspector Raghavan is not beyond resorting to full-fledged torture to extract the truth, whatever it may be, from Raman. Well played by Kaushal, Inspector Raghavan wants to, no, needs to, solve the perplexing serial killer case. His broken moral compass points to a man who strayed beyond his mission some time ago. What is lacking is two strong characters engaging with each other. Instead they mostly engage with their environment.

Siddique’s application to the role is stunning. His Raman effectively views himself as an animal that is settling a warped cosmic “score” where he is judge, jury, and executioner. His psychopathic outbursts are harmonized with a narrative where he is both a victim and the perpetrator. His most chilling legacy, in addition to an especially creepy ghoul-pose in the publicity poster, is the built in anxiety that subtly taps into the imagery of masked contemporary terrorists. Bravo!

EQ: A