(At Shiela and other theatres in Delhi and elsewhere)

More than a couple of summers have lapsed since one predicted that in the future accessible to the naked eye the enviably gifted Vidya Balan would be courted by a million, with cinemagoers following her like Satan, the one fallen angel who disobeyed the Almighty. She had it all: Pradip Sarkar’s gift-wrapped “Parineeta” for her first film, a face that could feed a million fantasies, and a rare ability to use her eyes for expressing an emotion her lips won’t be impudent enough to articulate….

Alas! Not to be. In the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip, the young lady, still fit to be showered with a lot of adoration, has somehow lost her way. There have been barbs about her taste – the lack of it – and there have been whispers about her weight. If Aziz Mirza’s partially delightful “Kismat Konnection” here now is an indication, the tongues shall continue to wag, and the Lolita of Parineeta shall have to find a more familiar route to cinemagoers’ hearts.

Here she plays an everyday girl, Priya, settled in Toronto – see, now even good old Mirza Sahab finds his characters away from the Hindi heartland – a part-time activist, who must first squabble, then share sweet nothings with the hero, played with rehearsed ease by Shahid Kapoor.

Short hair, a mix of Indian and Western dresses, and a lingering smile, however, fail to hide the obvious: the lady needs to shed weight. Urgently. She has a figure that would have been acceptable more than 20 years ago. In those days the camera used to shower many compliments on the heroine’s face, and many of them made a fortune out of it. Not quite so now. A heroine has to emote with her body in commercial cinema today. And Vidya with all that extra flab on her arms, midriff, legs, gets found out. What she conceals is desirable, what she reveals is not quite. And for almost no fault of hers, she looks a shade old opposite the perennial boy Shahid.

Talking of the old, Mirza’s story is old too: the boy and girl meet, fight, fall in love, he has no millions, another guy has….yawn. Where he saves the film is with his familiar values: in a routine story he is able to talk of the crisis of development where some people are in danger of being left out, where every new sprawling shopping mall means a challenge to existence for the old and the have-nots. It is a world where egalitarianism is a surplus virtue. Mirza is able to weave all the elements of social currency without losing that feather-light touch of his.

Never once is he didactic. Never once does the film lose its frothy feeling. Occasionally, though, the proceedings tend to lag, only rarely does a hint of melodrama show. But there is one consistent sore point: the music. It is one assembled score that does nobody any favours.

Result? A film that has several sweet moments, a film that never gets too bitter, never too preachy. Yet a film that does not quite hold you in thrall. A bit like kismat, as the brave-hearts would say!


(At Spice, Noida, and other theatres)

Here is an acting master class. Heath Ledger, who held us all spellbound with his subtle portrayal of a man with alternate sexuality in “Brokeback Mountain”, is the life, blood and soul of this Christopher Nolan film. Pity he is not around to soak in the compliments with a possible Oscar nomination thrown in for good measure. Ledger breathed his last earlier this year but his performance as the Joker, the menacing, unapologetically mean man who is like “a dog that runs after cars, not knowing what he would do if he ever caught one”, is top drawer stuff.

In a straight combat between Christian Bale’s Batman and Ledger’s Joker, there is only one winner. Forget the story – that is as well known as any of the superhero movies’ climax – this is the time to doff our hats to Ledger. As the malevolent Joker, he uses every muscle on his face to evoke fear. His glowering eyes, his burnished looks are only part of the deal. The way he uses his cheeks, his jowl, the corner of his lips, the way his rolls his tongue, then breaks into a grandly sinister grin, all make for compelling cinema.

Such is his performance that you often forget that this tale based in Gotham City has other characters, and has a problem: in fact, such is the state of affairs that it needs the Batman real fast. Even as we get clues to his whereabouts, and there is the final denouement, the viewers are treated to a Ledger special that shall outlive the film, the superheroes, the comic book villains.

Nolan keeps the pace brisk, real brisk. The focus never wavers. And in a dark kind of way, there are not many moments to break the awesome seriousness of the challenge. All going to make sure that Ledger’s best will not go in vain.

“The Dark Knight” might be about the return of the Batman, but it has only one winner.


(Select Citywalk, Saket)

Many summers after Richard Attenborough’s monumental Gandhi connection, cinemagoers across the world regard his work as a masterpiece on the Mahatma. Director Billie August’s take on Nelson Mandela, a leader of no less stature, a man who spent 27 long years in prison fighting apartheid, may not have as lasting value. Yet in its own discrete way it goes some way in paying tribute to the tallest of living leaders who turned 90 this week.

Based on James Gregory’s book, “Goodbye Bafana” predictably tracks the evolving relationship between the jail warder and the brave leader. The former a racist who turns a humanitarian under the influence of Mandela, the latter a stoic soul who never allows personal tragedies to cloud his larger vision. There are moments when one understands the two men’s anguish, shares their feelings. Yet the feeling of empathy never quite stays. Largely because the whole film is like a showcase for Gregory’s transformation rather than a look at the world from the eyes of Mandela.

So much attention is devoted to the warder’s personal life that it even appears that the leader is incidental to the plot. His character comes across as sketchy, a shade lopsided even. Though the attention to detail, particularly in the scenes depicting racism, is welcome, the pace is sluggish and many frames repetitive.

All along, the great leader’s political activism is shackled by the director often keener to show the good side of the warder. Released here almost a year after its foreign screening, this biopic is still worth a visit -- simply because of the subject.

Of course Denis Haysbert with the unenviable task of bringing to life Mandela’s life does not do too badly. And Joseph Fiennes as the warder is a good foil.