Anuj Kumar

BADMAASH COMPANY

(Delite and other theatres

in Delhi and elsewhere)

For long we have been missing a youthful fun film where you don't have to tax your brains but your eagerness to unwind is not taken for granted either. It sounds simple but somehow Bollywood film-makers keep missing the plot. With glamour and gags they give us a sort of mathematical design, with the eyebrows missing!

Expectations touched a new low with Housefull, but actor-turned-director Parmeet Sethi now has resuscitated faith with a smart film that manages to bring the smiles back. He has given the designer heart a lively beat and a reason to cheer. Of course, like every story revolving round con artistes, there are leaps of faith, but not in absurd territory.

Set in mid-1990s, when India had just begun to unshackle itself from the licence-permit raj, Shahid Kapoor plays Karan, who represents a generation that wants to make big money whatever it takes. He is not ready to lead a strenuous 9-to-5 life like his father (Anupam Kher) where only overtime brings surplus. He is not a waster, but he wants his brilliant mind to earn only for him and not for an employer.

Together with his friends (Mieyang Chang and Vir Das) and an unusually frank beloved (Anushka Sharma) who is at par when it comes to matters of disguise, he indulges in small-time smuggling for the owner of the local shop of Customs-seized goods. But as always, circumstances play their part. And what starts as fun soon becomes Karan's big idea of success. When put against the means and end theory, he picks the ungenerous meaning of means and sets out on the one-way street of scam.

Sethi keeps us riveted till the intermission with some intelligent writing and characterisation that paints a realistic picture of the times when an exorbitant “duty” deprived us of foreign items and bribing the Customs was a tradition. The modus operandi of conning is original and largely believable in the first half. The “chinky” jokes directed at Chang are politically incorrect but real. So are the candid ways of Anushka. Sethi has broken some myths surrounding the Bollywood heroine by giving Anushka some staple Bollywood hero lines and amorous moves. Also, he allows silence to play its part at crucial turns and relies on the camera to decipher what's between the lines.

The momentum drops after intermission as the action shifts to the US. The frauds begin to get repetitive as Sethi, presumably, in an attempt to take audiences of all IQ levels along, explains a bit too much.

Watered by an insatiable greed to be God, Karan's ego raises its ugly head. This leads to a chasm in the friendship and misunderstanding in love. Money can buy tangibles but not things like esteem. When Karan slips out of his hands, Sethi wastes stock on predictable emotional turmoil and fails to bring the vehicle back on the rails with a climax that “bleeds” logic.

But by this time you start feeling for the characters, and some unaffected dialogue helps Sethi wade through. In a role cut to suit his personality – Karan is intelligent but the problem is he knows it – Shahid proves he is a director's actor. Anushka carries her confidence and grace in a ravishing role proving that Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi was no fluke. Chang and Vir Das understand their limitations and don't try to act adding to the fun.

Not a bad ‘Con-pany' to have!

IT'S A WONDERFUL AFTERLIFE

(PVR Saket, Delhi, and other theatres)

We know Gurinder Chadha loves to juggle with genres, but here she has taken too much on her sizeable plate. Ghosts, comedy, thrills, social commentary, the menu is exhausting. But the good thing is she has wrapped it all up in 100 minutes. And like with any buffet, some of the genres are played out to perfection, some are laboured and others depend on the palate you have, but overall as a wholesome weekend meal, Gurinder's rich preparation works.

There is something for everyone, quite unlike her protagonist, the Southall-based Mrs. Sethi's (Shabana Azmi) oversized daughter Roopi (Goldy Notay). It seems nobody is made for her. Desperate to get her married and agitated by the uncharitable comments of prospective grooms and their relatives, Sethi bumps off four people who rejected her parantha-stuffed daughter — with her cooking skills and kitchen instruments.

The police start looking for a curry killer whose motives are mysterious. Here comes Chadha's trademark humour layered with some innocuous chills. The four spirits start following Sethi. They are unable to cross over and have to help Sethi out in marrying off Roopi to get their ticket to reincarnation. Add to it Roopi's psychic British friend Linda (Sally Hawkins), who has come back from India having undertaken a spiritual course, with a new name Gitali and an Indian boyfriend. She feels the spirits, and the spirits see a hope in her. Meanwhile, the police send the dashing officer Raj (Sendhil Ramamoorthy) as an undercover to eke out the truth, and finally Roopi has somebody for whom her size doesn't matter.

If you feel it's all over the top – it indeed becomes a sitcom when Sanjeev Bhaskar overdoes it as the lecherous ghost, whose intestines keep tumbling out – there is a solid undercurrent of emotional trauma and social comment flowing underneath the “spirited” revelry. The stickler Shabana must have got little to refer to for the strange ways of her character, but still she never allows Mrs. Sethi to become a caricature of middle class Punjabi aunties who surrender their name at the time of their marriage. It might sound regressive but it's a reality that needs to be reflected on in flesh and blood. So is our obsession with marriage and model figures. Goldy fits the role. You can miss her in the crowd, but make an eye contact and you are floored...such is her charm.

She might not be able to “Bend It Like Beckham”, but Chadha conjures up a Bhutia kick for sure!

IRON MAN 2

(Spice, Noida, and other theatres)

Talking of kicks, sequels seldom give the kind of kick that the originals deliver. Here is yet another case of spreading a franchise thin. We loved the making of the Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr. had laced the metallic perfection of a super being with the eccentricity of a human high on power.

As irresistible industrialist, Tony Stark carries his rakish charm to the second part and in fact remains the million dollar franchise's most kinetic special effect! But the irony is Downey Jr. has also become a problem for Iron Man. We want to see more of Tony Stark and his intelligent quirks. The moment he gets into the metallic suit, our interest begins to wane.

Director Jon Favreau instils it with the polish that such big budget extravaganzas demand, but much of the surprise of the original is missing.

There are plenty of sub-plots, a flurry of punch lines but they seem mechanical beyond a point. The heart is no longer thumping. No offence meant to Scarlett Johansson, who makes an entry as the mysterious temptress trying to lure Stark away from his girl friend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

These are the sidelights. The crux is Stark's secret is out. Now the world knows he is the Iron Man. The government wants him to share the secret formula but the man, who declares that he has privatised world peace, won't let it go. That's not all. The device that keeps him alive is poisoning his blood. Add to it a predictable vendetta angle, where a tattooed Russian physicist Ivan Vanco (Mickey Rourke) has built his own version of Iron Man equipped with electric whip lashes which can cut through anything. Inadvertently he finds a benefactor in Hammer (Sam Rockwell), the cunning competitor of Stark in arm business.

Iron Man has plenty to do but the seamlessness is missing. Favreau knows what the audience want and spends plenty of time on Iron Man's foibles between all the action sequences (only one where Ivan whips through cars on a Formula 1 track in Monaco stands out). So Stark gets drunk in his Iron Man suit and has fun and frolic but for this he has to compromise on the depth of sub plots and it shows. The climax is a let-down.

The man is fine but the iron is getting rusty!

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