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The good, the bad and the ugly from Bollywood this week

Anuj Kumar
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Endearing simplicity:More famous as a singer, Monali Thakur hits all the right notes in “Lakshmi”.
Endearing simplicity:More famous as a singer, Monali Thakur hits all the right notes in “Lakshmi”.

Ankhon Dekhi

Director-actor Rajat Kapoor is known to locate his films between genres. Here too he places it between the slice of life genre, and something metaphysical and capricious. His cinema does not work between established notions of right and wrong as he loves to go quirky. Sometimes it doesn’t translate and remains a Mithya , but this time he has found his voice as he tries to find answers to cosmic questions in an Old Delhi-based joint family.

A small incident triggers a thought in Bauji’s mind — from now he will believe only in what he sees or experiences. A travel agent in the Walled City, his physical experiences can fit inside a matchbox, but what about the sounds and fragrances around him?

At first when he questions the fruitiness in fruit, his family and friends assume he is joking. When he insists and even quits his job, they think he has lost it. But when he continues with his experiment, they slowly start seeing a sage in him.

Kapoor, a student of the Mani Kaul school of cinema, brings Jacques Derrida to people who don’t know that they are deconstructing reality. His rooted characters are trying to hold on to their world when everything around them is changing rapidly.

On the surface Bauji might appear eccentric, but he asks questions that stops us in our tracks. They are real and global and it creates an interesting tapestry of humour and philosophy as Bauji, first plods and then sails through the existential crises.

For a change, Rajat shows a part of Delhi without the Punjabi flavour. Shot in an Old Delhi haveli , Bauji’s house is a character in itself. There is so much going around him that you wonder how Rajat managed to capture the chaos with such clarity.

Every character is well etched. Seema Bhargava, Maya Sarao, Taranjeet, Namit Das, Brijendra Kala and Manu Rishi all look the part of the same world. Not to forget Kapoor, who plays the younger brother of Bauji. But it is Sanjay Mishra who is tour de force of the film and could well be the second Queen of March.

LAKSHMI

Director Nagesh Kukunoor returns to with a searing take on a subject that is either kept away from the cinematic cauldron or is captured from the lens of a voyeur. Set in Andhra Pradesh, 14-year-old Lakshmi (Monali Thakur) is sold by her father and ends up in a hostel which turns into a brothel at night. She is thrust into the world’s oldest profession without any apprenticeship. When she revolts, she is tortured and brutalised. As her innocence is emasculated, your hold on the seat rest tightens. However, Lakshmi is not your Zakhmi Aurat . Lakshmi neither gets hysterical nor does she take the law in her hands. She compromises with the situation, but doesn’t let her spirit die. And when she gets an opportunity, she takes her traffickers to court.

Nagesh keeps it real and doesn’t try to gloss over the brutality of the situation. He ensures that even a pervert doesn’t draw any pleasure from Lakshmi’s plight.

He steers clears of verbosity, letting Monali’s eyes convey the pathos and resolve of a young girl.

It is a story that gives hope. It underlines the fact that present laws are enough to take on the traffickers if you have the will to stand up against the injustice. As is the norm with Nagesh’s films, there is an endearing simplicity in storytelling where small gestures leave a big impact — like the scene where Lakshmi applies make-up before speaking to the media.

The only concern is Nagesh sometimes gets too literal in unravelling the situation.

Monali, more famous as a singer, makes a smooth transition here in a role that is emotionally demanding.

Shefali Shah provides solid support as the hostel Madam. Ram Kapoor is believable as the lawyer and Satish Kaushik is unusually restrained as the evil Reddy with a human face. It is only Nagesh himself who strikes a few false notes as Chinna. Give Lakshmi a chance!

RAGINI MMS 2

From Hanuman Chalisa to Yo Yo Honey Singh, producer Ekta Kapoor packs in everything to entice audience into watching the second instalment of her latest ‘horrex’. But instead of pleasing the believers of horror and sex, the film ends up as an unintentional spoof on the two genres.

Director Bhushan Patel takes the Ragini MMS episode as a real event, on which a director (Pravin Dabas) is eager to make a film. He casts adult film star Sunny (Sunny Leone), giving Bhushan the license to exploit her talent. They go to the “original” location where Ragini and her boyfriend went away for the weekend.

As expected, the crew faces the staple scary elements. There are creaking doors, images in the mirrors and a back story that anybody who has watched half-a-dozen horror films can narrate in fast forward mode.

So what’s new? There is a blatant attempt to take off few more layers of chastity from Hindi cinema and present the dirty picture. There is an attempt to bring Sunny into the mainstream by making her dance to a Punjabi number. Bhushan employs inside jokes to laugh off her inability to emote, underlining that she is as good or bad as many of her contemporaries and that there is nothing wrong in using her as a toy to titillate the male gaze. The song has a sequence where Sunny falls on hundreds of groping hands — whether it is liberation or degrading is debatable.

Amidst all the overacting and no acting, Sandhya Mridul wages a lone battle to sound convincing as the enthusiastic extra keen for a meatier part. To cut a long story short, it is a good old Ramsey story dressed in Vikram Bhatt’s style and somewhere down the line proffers Ekta’s idea of feminine power!

GANG OF GHOSTS

This Satish Kaushik’s satire is adapted from Bengali film Bhooter Bhabishyat . However, the punch is lost in transition and what is left is a play looking for a proscenium.

Ad film-maker (Parambrata Chatterjee) comes to a haunted haveli to shoot his first feature film when he is accosted by a struggling writer (Sharman Joshi), who tells him the story of a gang of ghosts that lives in the haveli . They are a strange mix of characters from different times. Mahie Gill impresses with her nasal twang as she plays the heroine from the Devika Rani era.

Saurabh Shukla is in form as the ghost of a refugee from East Bengal. Anupam Kher as the buck-toothed owner of the haveli gets the tone right, but doesn’t have the meat to play with.

The remaining characters are not well etched, but Kaushik still spends too much time introducing them. There are some amusing insights on the use of camera by Ram Gopal Varma; too much emphasis on technique and how horror has travelled from Ramsey to Ragini, but somehow the intent doesn’t reflect consistently in the content.

Kaushik tends to overwrite his scenes and overplays the punch lines. Here again he is found wanting in keeping the slapstick in check and hide the message between the layers.

The “late” joke gets dated by the second half, and Sharman and Anupam seem to have been pushed to whip up the melodrama. They do the job, but the staginess is too palpable to ignore.

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