I do not recall any movie in recent times in which two sets of parents and their respective children are helping in its making. RAAZI, co-produced by The Times of India Group and Karan Johar has Gulzar writing the lyrics and his daughter Meghna donning the directorial mantle. In addition, it has Soni Razdan, an actress of yester years and her daughter Alia Bhatt playing Mom and daughter. But that’s not the reason you must watch RAAZI.

RAAZI is a tale which is told very rivetingly. And yet, it is slow paced unlike action packed thrillers which tend to deliver edge of the seat excitement thanks to the pace at which the action unfolds. There is danger lurking at every corner, but RAAZI is not merely about those lurking dangers. Meghna scores because she weaves human emotions in the story telling and her actors deliver without a blemish. Alia Bhatt conveys all the feelings valid for a twenty something girl thrown in the vortex of rapidly developing events. Her nervousness despite being trained actually sounds very real; she attempts to display her vulnerabilities as a young spy who is also in a relationship in a remarkable manner. But just her moves wouldn’t have made RAAZI the way it has turned out. The supporting cast delivers in an outstanding manner as well. Take Vicky Kaushal, who plays her husband, for example. Those of who who haven’t seen his MASAAN ( a remarkable movie, by all standards) will be amazed at his portrayal in RAAZI, which involves his saying just a few dialogues, but who conveys feelings remarkably. Be it the role of a son, or that of a new husband or a not very senior officer in the Army, Vicky gets every nuance perfectly right. And everyone else does that too.

Based on Harinder Sikka’s dramatized real life story about the young spy, Sehmat, Meghna has perhaps taken a few more liberties to make this worthy of watching on the screen. Because of this (and this does distract), at more than in a few places, the happenings look a little farfetched. But who knows? In the world of spying and counter spying, perhaps such naiveté does exist. And if we can gloss over such matters in Videshi spy stories, why should someone do nitpicking here?

After a long time, we get to hear a worthy song about national pride. Sung by Arijit Singh in his characteristic high pitch voice, Meghna dovetails this number beautifully in the narration. This song sounds just as relevant when it is sung on the Pakistani side, as much as when it is sung later on referring to India. Meghna has carefully eschewed jingoistic colours in her narration and that adds distinction to the presentation. Not to be missed!

RATING: 4 out of 5

May 11, 2018

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The word Blackmail connotes anything but a quirky act, but the movie BLACKMAIL, released last week has a lot of quirkiness about it (at least the first half). I was wondering whether I should do a quirky review of a quirky movie and that’s what caused me to delay writing this.

Imagine a situation wherein the hero is persuaded by a colleague to buy roses to celebrate the hero’s wife’s birthday. And our hero goes to the Flower bazaar only to find it closed. So what does the hero do? He scales the wall of a nearby cemetery, looking around for any fresh roses deposited on graves and attempts to achieve his objective. Would you call that macabre? I would call it quirkily funny.

Take another instance. How would it be if a blackmailer himself would get blackmailed? And what if he realizes that the money which he is getting as part of his blackmailing demand is actually his own money? Or say, a company wants to promote Toilet Paper Rolls by causing a shutting off the water supply, but finds instead that sales of bottled water bottles has gone up?? These and a host of such quirky incidents liberally dot the first half of Abhinay Deo’s directorial venture BLACKMAIL. If you loved the dark humour of his earlier DELHI BELLY, you will love the first half of BLACKMAIL as well.

And striding through virtually every frame like a colossus is the ever dependable Irrfan Khan, who plays the blackmailer who gets blackmailed!! Yes, there is some amount of Toilet humour, but what causes the movie to derail dangerously in the second half is the twists and turns and the improbabilities that are heaped on the viewer. So what could have been a breezy dark comedy falters and gets into situations involving murders and complications. The circle of blackmailing gets bigger and bigger and beyond a certain point, BLACKMAIL actually becomes tedious to watch.

See the first half and you will be happy; see the full movie and be prepared to be disappointed.

RATING: 3 out of 5

April 13, 2018


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I went to see OCTOBER yesterday for just two reasons. One was that my schedule for the next three weeks would not be permitting me the luxury of watching a Bollywood movie; and the second was that it was a movie directed by Shoojit Sircar, who had given us masterpieces like VICKY DONOR and PIKU. And somewhere, I had read that Shoojit had said that OCTOBER is not meant to be a love story, rather it is a story about love. I was looking forward to seeing a mushy, and yet a light hearted romantic tale.

OCTOBER turned out to be neither mushy nor a light hearted experience. If I were to tell you that more than two-thirds of the movie happens in hotel and hospital settings, and the writer is Juhi Chaturvedi (who also wrote VICKY DONOR and PIKU) you could be pardoned for thinking that this is about a love story that has leanings on the glamour of a hotel and the hope of a curative process happening in a hospital with bits of humour thrown in. The glamour of the hotel ( the setting is the Radisson Blu hotel in Dwarka in Delhi) is effectively replaced by the view of the hotel intern, played by Varun Dhawan, who sees every assignment there as a manifestation of drudgery. And when it is not a hotel setting, the story shifts to the routine droning sounds of the doctors, nurses and the beeping of the machines in the hospital.

By design, OCTOBER shifts soon into a melancholic stream. But it is not a kind of melancholy, which pushes you into sobbing. Neither is it trivialized. It is a matter of fact narration; and no one asks questions about why something is happening or why the personalities are behaving the way they are behaving. Perhaps there are no answers. If you go with a mindset that something has to happen and happen fast, you will be disappointed. But if you allow yourself to be just carried alongside Varun’s character, you will find yourself totally immersed in the proceedings. I was a tad disappointed at the extremely slow pace and even the two hours length appeared stretched; but that doesn’t take away the credit for a beautiful depiction of the gradual acceptance of a sad situation.

The actors deliver excellently. Varun Dhawan is superb in his role and so is the debutante Banita Sandhu. Carrying the gravity of the role of Banita’s mom, Gitanjali Rao is just as good. Shantanu Moitra’s music blends effortlessly in the narration and produces the poignancy required of the situations. There are four beautiful songs, none of which appear in the movie. You need to listen to them separately.

RATING: 4 out of 5

April 13, 2018


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Released world wide a few days back, A QUIET PLACE, tells a tale of a place in which quietness is the only key for survival. And making a noise is a sure way of inviting disaster! Sounds eerie, doesn’t it? Imagine a situation where a family has to carry on in life communicating in muffled tones or in sign language and live with the dreaded thought that disaster could be lurking around the corner waiting to be triggered by sound above a particular decibel level. According to me, it would be wrong to call A QUIET PLACE a horror movie. Did it scare me? No. Did it make me extremely tense and provide edge-of-the-seat experience for the 95 minutes duration of the movie? Yes, Yes, Yes!!!

Directed by John Krasinki, who also plays the lead role in the movie, the movie stars his real life wife Emily Blunt as his wife in the movie. These two are the only adult human characters in the movie; there are three other children who feature in the scenes apart from a new born infant. The role of the deaf daughter in the movie is played by a real life deaf artiste Milicent Simmonds, and one could certainly call this a casting coup.

More than anything else, the reason why A QUIET PLACE succeeds is that it is about family bonding and all that is done to stick together against the background of a tragedy that strikes the family in the beginning of the movie and the impending arrival of a new born. And is the mother expected to keep quiet during her labor pains? And can the new born be expected not to cry? And can the sound of the first crying of a child which announces its arrival in the world trigger a danger which can actually cause its destruction? And what about the other children? How do they lead a normal life in such circumstances? The depiction of these situations on the screen is what produces the tense moments throughout the movie.

If you like the edge-of the-seat thrillers, then this is a movie that must be regarded as unmissable!

RATING: 4.5 out of 5

April 9, 2018



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It is very likely that most of you will perhaps think that having been deprived of watching good movies of late, I have diversified into writing reviews about culinary items. And given my weakness (or my fondness, as my fond friends would like to call it) for dessert delights, I won’t be surprised. But the fact is that this indeed is about a movie called CAKE! If you did some googling before the next day or two, you will find out that there were two Hollywood movies made in 2005 and 2014 with this title and both of which were eminently forgettable movies. And if you google this name a few days later, it is very likely that you will realize that a movie titled CAKE which was released two days back has started making huge waves on the movie front. Yes, but not on the Bollywood news circuit for some more time; and not on the Indian news circuit for a long time to come. This is because, it is highly likely that this will get a theatrical release in India.

CAKE is a Pakistani production and is easily the best movie that I have seen in this year; I would rate it even a shade higher than PADMAN, although they belong to different genres. PADMAN was in many ways an educational film and since it had to communicate important messages, it had to weave them in a “filmy” manner. CAKE is just a plain “slice of life” tale told without any “filmy” compulsions. And that is its biggest achievement. It will be wrong, if I were to say that this movie doesn’t impart a message, but that is not its objective. Its narrative doesn’t flow down from a pulpit and presents family bonding and love related matters in an “as is where is” package. So we have siblings, who sacrifice and hate, couples in love who tease and sometimes insult each other, secrets which are hidden and then revealed at inopportune times. There is no moralistic stance, no judgements about what is right or wrong. There are no intrusive songs and the “Piya To Ab To Aaja” number which plays in the background a few times is rather apt for those situations. The acting is of excellent caliber, the screenplay is sensitive without being unnecessarily melodramatic and the story telling is of a quality not seen often on the big screen.

There aren’t many times when you can eat the cake and have it too; watching CAKE is something like that!

RATING: 4 out of 5

April 1, 2018


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All about “sweets” and my sweet tooth!

In the Indian scenario, desserts ( to those inclined towards western cuisine) are just “sweets”. But unlike the connotation of desserts which normally follows the main course and is therefore had at the end of the meal, Indian sweets can be had at all times of the day, before, during, after and in between “meals”.

Most of my friends know that I have a sweet tooth ( shouldn’t that be sweet tongue?); and friends display their love and affection by bringing in different varieties of sweets whenever they return from India. Apart from consuming and sharing, I haven’t bothered to write about these. 

But in the last one week, when I received three boxes of sweets, each of which had a unique story, I thought that I must share some quaint details about these fabulous tasting delicacies.

The first box of ” Dry Jamuns” came from a friend, who returned from Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu. These came from the famous Murari Sweets Store. According to the website, this was started by  Murari Lal Sait who belonged to a small town of Khurja in western Uttar Pradesh. His grandson Arun Kumar now continues the tradition of making high quality sweets out of passion to bring north Indian sweets and delicacies to the temple town of Kumbakonam.

Over the years the sweet shop has gained reputation for its quality and unchanged taste not only in Kumbakonam but also in entire Tamilnadu. 

The second box came from a friend who returned from Dharwar in Karnataka and he brought for me the famous Dharwar Peda. There are numerous Peda stores dotting Line Bazaar, but there is only one Babusingh Thakur Peda Shop! Started by a migrant from Uttar Pradesh in the year and popularised by his grand son, the sixth generation of the family is presently running this show!

The third box came from another friend from Gurugram, and the makers of this special Dhoda sweet are Om Sweets, whose quality and distinctive sweets have been making waves. And while it is impossible for me to describe how much I enjoyed the taste of these sweets, I can at least show you photos of the boxes and what remains of their contents!!

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I came to know of the first major film of Bollywood to be released in 2018, MUKKABAAZ, only on the day of its release. The title translates as “The Brawler”, and apart from the fact that I hadn’t seen a single movie in the last three weeks (The last one was TIGER ZINDA HAI, which was so tepid despite the good action scenes that I didn’t feel like penning a review), what got my attention was that Anand Rai, Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap featured amongst the producers of MUKKABAAZ. All the three have been associated with good productions like RAANJHAANA, TANU WEDS MANU, HAPPY BHAG JAAYEGI, MASAAN, HASEE TO PHASEE, UDDTA PANJAB and TRAPPED. All these movies are devoid of glamour of the conventional kind; in addition Anurag Kashyap wielding the megaphone indicated that this would be a “dark” movie with liberal usage of expletives and shots which to the “refined” viewer would appear to be gory and even repulsive. But then, MUKKABAAZ was never meant to be a movie designed to showcase the “better” India nor was it meant to attract FDI to Bareilly or Benaras.

Instead, it was meant to be a raw depiction of the caste tainted bureaucracy in the small towns of Uttar Pradesh and how its influence in the local sporting federations muffles talent. Based on real life incidents, MUKKABAAZ, about a backward caste person wanting to become a boxer also addresses the issues of an inter-caste love story. And it does that not by a series of sobbing episodes, but by delivering punch (MUKKA) after punch in its 155 minutes length. Punches yield blood and bruises; these are not very pleasant to look at on the screen, but they are very, very real.

Heading the star cast is Jimmy Shergill, a favourite of Anand Rai and who did so well as the “tame” villain, who loses out to the hero in the TANU WEDS MANU series and HAPPY BHAG JAAYEGI. But this time around, Jimmy plays Bhagwandas Misra, who is evil personified and who is just plain ugly in his machinations. And lending him brilliant support is Vineet Kumar Singh, playing the young boxer Shravan who crosses swords with Bhagwandas; also debutant Zoya Hussain, who plays Sunaina, Shravan’s love interest. Zoya’s character is mute, and therefore she has to convey all her feelings through expressions, which she does admirably. Her mute character also is perhaps representative of the plight of women in such surroundings, whose voice just is not heard.

In this raw depiction, there is no room for make-up, either for the actors or the sets. The lanes of Bareilly and Benares are not made up to look good; they are just shown as they are. Anand Rai’s movies have always had “slapping” episodes; in this too, he seems to have persuaded his director Anurag Kashyap to have a few slapping sequences in the middle of all those punches! Anurag doesn’t seem to have spared the opportunity to hit hard against “the cow and anti-beef” brigade as well.

MUKKABAAZ certainly delivers what it was expected to deliver: a forceful punch; and if this is the harbinger of Bollywood productions in 2018, I must say it augurs well!

RATING: 4 out of 5

January 13th, 2018

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