Oh, and Kareena Kapoor Khan was in this film, too, a fact I barely remembered until just now. I don't want to say she should pick better films, since maybe none are coming her way any more (lamentable fact of life for married actresses) but I do miss her putting in better work than this.
Dil Dhadakne Do - Speaking of Kareena, would have loved to see the original cast for this, which was Ranbir-Kareena as the siblings who were eventually played by Priyanka Chopra and Ranveer Singh, and Madhuri as the mother (a role that went to Shefali Shetty, who is great here). Still, had that happened, what would have ended up on the screen probably would have been the same, middle-of-the-road family drama with some emotional moments, comedy and dance numbers. I really enjoyed this one, but with the caveat that from the intermission I knew it would be a hopelessly forgettable film. The characters are just a little too bland and stereotypical, the drama predictable and even the twists rather unexciting. It's pretty and it's fun, and then you never think about it again as the credits roll. Indeed, my biggest take aways from the film were the following three things:
- It is exciting to see Priyanka Chopra still in this familiar environment now that she's set to lead a major US network drama series. I've never been a huge fan, but I've also been the first to admit her talent. 7 Khoon Maaf is still her finest work, but if her mainstream US success leads to more people discovering that Bhardwaj gem, I am all for it.
- Farhan Akhtar looks really good in a t-shirt.
- ...but Farhan Akhtar annoyingly wrote the character he himself played the Righteous Male Feminist dialogue. Okay, buddy. Okay.
Any Body Can Dance 2 - This one blew my hair back. Is this a movie? Is this just things happening on celluloid in a somewhat sequential manner? Was ABCD the first this bad and I just didn't notice, too swept up in the glorious dance sequences? ABCD2 sure feels like a non-movie, with things happening to characters one barely knows, with every frequent conflict solved two lines of dialogue later by multiple deux ex machina, with cardboard cut-outs having emotions like stickers attached and removed easily for plot convenience. The dance sequences are okay, but with absolutely no emotional connection to anything else that is happening, they feel strangely hollow. I enjoyed seeing the familiar faces from the first film, including Lauren Gottlieb, but holy moly. Don't suffer through this one like I did, even for shirtless Varun Dhawan and some okay naach-gaana.
Badlapur - Am I going to hate Badlapur, I asked my Twitter timeline multiple times, seeing the review summaries pop up here and there, and for the most part people either let their silence on the matter speak for itself, or just told me a flat-out "most likely". But what with director favourite Sriram Raghavan (yes, I know Agent Vinod happened, but I blame that one on Saif), established favourite Nawazuddin and emerging favourite Varun Dhawan, how was I to ignore this film? It was the bane of my existence until I would finally see it. So I did.
In another mood, another time, this might have become one of my flawed favourites, one that I could re-watch and re-examine for themes and nuances in performances, but at this time, during the mood I was in, I checked out about 40 minutes into the film and never quite checked back in.The tale of revenge turning one man (Dhawan) into a monster as the culprit (Siddiqui) withers in jail is certainly an intriguing one, especially held up against the empowerment through revenge narrative that was Raghavan's first film Ek Hasina Thi (11 years old this year, wow). And yet, when it was all said and done, I wondered if I should have just rewatched his debut.
Raghavan remains a capable director, allowing his leads to shine and for audiences to gain new appreciation for their range, but the "women problem" remains. Huma Qureshi, Yami Gautam, Divya Dutta and Radhika Apte all feature and do great with what little they're given, but the way the other characters or the camera and narrative choices treat them doesn't sit right with me. Sexual coercion can be played up in a way that empathises with the victim and recognises the perpetrator as vile, but instead such scenes are merely used for titillation for the camera and as a demonstration of the male lead's sickening power over his victims. It is disturbing to me when the narrative doesn't condemn a morally ambiguous character's misogyny but instead throws it up on the screen unquestioningly as a fact of life. It's all about choices in portrayal, and Raghavan seems to make the least considered ones each and every time.
Some years back I talked about how Kucche Dhaage, a 70's drama thriller, deconstructed the revenge tale so often found in Indian films. It portrays the horrible things people do for revenge, and also how this desire to avenge wrecks the people involved psychologically. In some ways, it lets these human monsters off the hook a little too much, giving them a redemption arc on the second half, whilst also showing that since they've devoted themselves to the violence of revenge, they can't ever lead normal lives after it. Badlapur, in many ways, is an even more brutal, and unrelenting deconstruction of revenge narratives, but as Indian films often are, it's still too concerned with its murky lead, not his victims.
As much as I hated this film, I'm not ready to give up on Raghavan yet, such is my deep affection for his first two films. But would I recommend this one? No chance in hell.