Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Gully Boy - takin' it to the street

Gully Boy
2019, Hindi

Director: Zoya Akhtar

Ranveer Singh as Murad Ahmed
Alia Bhatt as Safeen
Kalki Koechlin as Sky
Siddhant Chaturvedi as MC Sher
Vijay Raaz as Aftab
Vijay Varma as Moeen Arif
Amruta Subhash as Razia
Ikhlaque Khan as Nasir
Sheeba Chaddha as Hamida

Mohan's Measure  ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳

"The Revolution ain't gonna be televised "...

So, it seems someone in India not only watched but picked up on what the Black Panther was saying. Better yet, they were inspired enough by it to make Gully Boy

You can almost interchange the Dharavi slums with the inner city of Detroit. The pollution, trash ridden streets, and the bitter struggle of poverty are common to both. But, in Mumbai, the way out lies just beyond one's reach, in a rich so filthy they put to shame the streets of Dharavi. It is in the stark contrast between the hedonistic self gratification of the rich against the religious underpinnings of the poor which makes India unique unto itself.  But in the shared common humanity of urban life, there is one panacea, music.

But, let's face it.  Neither ghazals nor kritis represent what the people of the streets are all about.  No, this music needs bring out expressions of anger and frustration, hopelessness and aspiration; looking for a solution knowing that it's meant only for a few.  The music is hip-hop, rap, the music of the street.

Ranveer Singh puts to shame any other actor the director could have picked for this role.  Murad is understated, decidedly Muslim, unsure about himself, and waiting for that one moment, that one miracle, which will bring him out of his ongoing misery.  

That miracle is Shrikant, aka MC Sher.  He is less Indian than he is Afro-centric and he know he's found a winner in Murad.  He gives him the name Gully Boy and builds in him an anger and a willingness to express the emotions of the nonsense of life, love, and the immeasurable level of ordinariness which is India's lower strata.

Be thankful this isn't a Dev Patel move.  This is the real India, where people may not have enough food on the table, but you couldn't pry the smart phone away from them to trade for it.  It is an India where dealing drugs is as much a way to earn a living as studying to be a doctor, and the mean streets offer respect to those who know them.

Ms. Bhatt, plays Safeena, the aspiring doctor and much needed love interest, in such an understated and believable way, the actress can actually impress.  A wonderful set of two-fold emotions surround her like an aura - as a girlfriend in willing to watch her man succeed, and as one uncertain of what he is becoming.

And in the becoming, Gully Boy becomes a man, stands on his own, brings tears of pride to his parents, and truly appreciable meaning to well-written, beautifully presented, but blatantly raw work of art.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Yatra - blistered feats


Directed by: Mahi V Raghav

Mammootty as Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy
Jagapathi Babu as Y. S. Raja Reddy
Sudheer Babu as Y. S. Jaganmohan Reddy
Suhasini Maniratnam as Sabitha Indra Reddy
Ashrita Vemuganti as Y. S. Vijayamma
Rao Ramesh as KVP
Anasuya Bharadwaj
Posani Krishna Murali as Venkat Rao

Mohan's Movies ✳

The late Chief Minister himself would tell of how his 1000 mile walk through Andhra changed him, by making him realize the plight of the common man. Yatra focuses on these years and how it led to what up until then seemed impossible, bringing down the all-powerful TDP party and replacing it with a Congress government.

YSR's Congress Party, as it would be known; and the legendary Mammooty makes that clear. His performance is so soul-stirring and powerful, he reduces all the other characters to cameo appearances.

Sadly, appearance is everything in this biopic, as it is clear that YSR is to be seen as no less than a Messiah to a plethora of careworn farmers who were left in the lurch under Chandra Babu Naidu's deference to urban sprawl.

The crowd of bit roles and political speak are all this movie has to offer. So much so, there are times we feel we are watching a documentary. The only real emotion is watching YSR rub his achy feet. This despite wearing some snazzy walking shoes.

So, despite the brilliant acting,  Yatra simply lacks "sole".

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Uri - a thousand cuts

Uri: Surgical Strikes

2019, Hindi

Director: Aditya Dhar

Vicky Kaushal: Major Vihaan Singh Shergill
Yami Gautam: Pallavi Sharma
Paresh Rawal: National Security Advisor Govind Bharadwaj
Kirti Kulhari: IAF Officer Seerat Kaur
Rajit Kapur: Prime Minister

Mohan's Measure ✳✳✳✳

Humanity's love/hate relationship with war began when it discovered it could kill. And sometime afterward, we all became audience to it, living it out vicariously in movies.

Uri is a classic war film, pages out of a history strewn onto the silver screen. It holds no pretenses in presenting us with an all too real enemy. But, it also presents us with a believable set of heroes.

First time director Dhar impresses us with understatement, sentiment without solution, anger with little consolation. There is meaning in emotion without words, and it is shared with us iike a ballet, interspersed with realistically over the top battles. The audience responds like the characters in the movie; putting aside emotion when duty calls. And the success of the mission remains first and foremost.

In real life as in the film, the USA is never informed about the strikes and its papers and TV would include it only as a blurb.  Why bother, when it has important issues like gender identity and a pipedream wall to concern itself. Even if they were told, it would be passed off as a religious skirmish.

In truth, no sane mind sees religion as a factor in war. We can only wonder where the Love of God goes when it happens.

Damn good film!

Friday, January 25, 2019

Mr. Majnu - missed it by that much

Mr. Majnu
Telugu, 2019

Director: Venky Atluri

Akhil Akkineni as Vikky
Nidhhi Agerwal as Nikky
Naga Babu
Rao Ramesh
Pavitra Lokesh


Mohan's Measure  ✳✳

The ill-fated tale of Laila-Majnu can be traced back to the 7th Century, centuries before Romeo and Juliet set the bar for love.  Filled with imagery and hyperbole, it tells the tale of a perfect love forever unconsummated.

The hero of this movie, however, is clearly misnamed, because he could write a book on consummation. Vikky is a playboy who could serve as poster boy for the hashtag movements of the West. His passion for the fairer sex an obvious expression of a far greater love affair, with himself.

Enter Nikky, who is out to set this man straight, all the while falling in love with him.  Ms. Agerwal is a charming new addition to the movie, providing a decidedly conservative tone to her character. She says she wants to marry a man like Rama, but instead settles for Don Juan.

The predictable love story is perfect for an evening date as it harkens back to the 1990s rom-coms. The problem is that it is set in a 21st Century India which is, as is the norm,  hardly recognizable. The relatives are too understanding, the gods hardly noticeable, the settings far too pristine. But the knowing quips about love are provided as nonchalantly as the visas to Europe.

Tollywood, it seems, affords love and human emotions only to the rich, leaving the poor to the gleanings of their hedonism. That leaves middle class Joes like me scratching our heads.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Viswasam - Vetti until you see it


2018, Tamil 

Director: Siva

Ajith Kumar as Thooku Durai
Nayanthara as Niranjana
Jagapathi Babu as Gautham Veer
Anikha as Swetha
Vivek as Kesavan
Yogi Babu as Velu
Thambi Ramaiah as Rosamani
Robo Shankar as Merit
Kovai Sarala as Filomina

Mohan's Measure  ✳ ✳ 

The cosmopolitan ambiance of large cities can be vacuous.  There is loneliness here, borne out of the unavoidable instinct, including that of the human animal, to seek its own kind, to live in packs.

And, it is in communion with nature, our sages suggest, where we can truly understand our interdependence with our fellow humans and the natural world around us.  It is in keeping with these timeless ways that holidays like Pongal continue to hold such sentiment for us if only to live out in movies.

In the fourth installment of the ongoing Siva-Ajith team, we are treated to Niranjana falling in love with Thooku Durai and his 300 or so relatives who make up his village.  An obvious product of the soil, Thooku Durai, as with all Indian heroes, is a man's man, tough, self-centered but magnanimous, ready to fight for those he cares about. And, it is in one of those fights that their small child get injured, making the city-bred pragmatism challenge the rough and tumble village ways.

While undeniably predictable and over the top, Viswasam is perfect Pongal movie.  It captures the sentimentality and natural bonds of rural life and proves that whether in the city or the village, boys will be men when called to do so.

Movies like these call for larger than life characters, and both Mr. Ajith, Ms. Nayantara easily fit that role.  So too, however, does Jagapathi Babu as the nefarious villain with a heart.  

And a heart is what we all are asked to open up to in the second half, where. in true sentiment, the children give the adults a lesson in maturity.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

F2 - Honey is the best

F2: Fun and Frustration 
2019, Telugu

Director: Anil Ravipudi

Venkatesh as Venky
Varun Tej as Borabanda Varun Yadav
Tamannaah Bhatia as Harika
Mehreen Pirzada as Honey
Rajendra Prasad as Venky's neighbor
Prakash Raj as Dora Swamy Naidu
Nassar as DGP
Vennela Kishore as John Stro

Mohan's Measure ✳✳✳

Westerners, if you are at an Indian party, please don't take the men too seriously. Each complains about marriage and wife, but we all know we can't live without 'em.

Honey may be the best, but Ms. Pirzada remains a strong second, both in terms of acting and charm to Ms. Tamannah in their respective female leads.

They are paired with two gentlemen who are usually known for their ways with women. But this time, they both fall flat in understanding the nuances of committed relationships. 

Prakash Raj plays a man who should be committed.  He is a control freak striving for the perfect continuation to a perfect family, and finding it in the angry and dejected women.

You will hardly be saddened by this laugh out loud comedy. Even Vennela Kishore drops in, and drops off, the fun.  But, like this critic, you may find that even humor can get old after awhile.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Vinaya Videya Rama - four men and a crazy

Vineya Videya Rama
(Humble and Loyal Rama)

Directed by Boyapati Sreenu

Ram Charan as Rama
Kiara Advani as Sita
Vivek Oberai as Raja Bhai Munna
Prashanth as Bhuvan Kumar
Aryan Rajesh
Sneha as Gayatri Devi
Mukesh Rishi as Pandyam Parasuram
Mahesh Manjrekar as Chief Minister of Bihar

Mohan's Measure "disturbed mother, destroyed wife"

Vineya and Videya are, our Acharyas say, the two most important qualities we are to have to be truly good human beings. 

If so, the audience should be sainted, for having such patience and loyalty to skip Petta and fill the theatre next door. 

Yes, Boyapati Sreenu has done it again, torturing us to a notch just under the maximum allowed by the Geneva Convention. VVR is yet another of his nefarious movies to wind up on the critics' chopping block, and this critic's need for Tylenol.

Blockhead is the only description for a man who put much of the plot on the editing floor, leaving us to watch a disjointed, chronologically ignored, series of happy family scenes intertwined with brutal violence .

VVR is a beefcake movie of baratones trying to out-threaten each other for no other reason than to hear their own voice. The violence they enact is publicized, as in how the hero killed 300 goons on his way to meet the villain in Bihar.

If you think that is bad, try and understand how the hero can make it there in less than 10 minutes travelling by cargo train and horseback from Gujarat. It appears we are all taking the wrong mode of transportation to work.  He also manages to bring his entire family, the kids, his girlfriend and his in laws - all in different locations with him. But he's the only one on the train!

Brother, did we get off at the wrong station!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Petta - everything old is new again

(The Hood)

2018, Tamil

Directed by  Karthick Subbaraj

Rajinikanth as Kaali
Vijay Sethupathi as Jithu
Simran as Mangalam
Megha Akash as Anu
Sananth Reddy as Anwar
Trisha as Saro
Malavika Mohanan as Poongudi
M. Sasikumar as Maalik 
Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Singaar Singh

Mohan's measure ✳✳✳✳

Yesterday, we learned about a man who could play a god. Tonight we have seen a man who is one.

Rajnikanth is back. His swagger, his philosophical insights, his humor, his romance and his action are all back with him. He is the center of everything in Petta, a 3 hour long action-comedy gangster film, and the handful of people who came to see the opening night show are genuflectimg before the screen.

More people will come. Those who remember cheering on a man who knew right from wrong, but was just outside of both to do what's best. Those who remember the man who became a nervous little boy on seeing a beautiful woman, yet roared like a lion to anyone who even thought about messing with her. Those who know Rajnikanth as Thalaivar must and will come to have vision of this man, as youthful and rambunctious as ever.

A true man knows that he must remain slightly outside the system if he wishes to defend it. For it is in the shades of gray where one can find the real answers. As our hero himself says, it is like how Rama killed Vali.

Yes, there is mythos and spirituality here, too, in fact two kinds. One that is mature enough not to judge versus one that seeks to prove itself better than all the rest. Enough of a condition for conflict, if not all out war.

Aren't we glad we are on Thalaivar's side?

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

NTR: Kathanayakudu - the man who would be God

NTR: Kathanayakudu
(NTR: King of Movies)

2018, Telugu

Directed by Krish 

Balakrishna as NTR
Vidya Balan as Taraka
Daggubati Raja as Trivikram
Sumanth as ANR
Jisshu Sengupta as L V Prasad
Kalyan Ram as Harikrishna
Prakash Raj as  Nagi Reddy
Murali Sharma as Chakrapani

Mohan's Measure  ✳ ✳

Long before there was Bollywood, there was Kodambakkam. A magnet for the destitute and the desperate, what is now the inner city of the sprawling metropolis of Chennai offered an alternative to life as it is, through movies.

At that time, the city then known as Madras could magically turn otherwise average human beings into stars, and stars into gods.

Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao will forever remain among the godly ranks, for he would play the role of Krishna, Rama and Venkateswara with such intensity, people claimed only to see his face when contemplating on them. 

It is the god-like NTR that Krish brings to the screen.  Balakrishna plays him with a certain stiff upper lip, as though he could do anything, as though money and power meant little to the man, as if he truly was God on earth.   Sadly,this false bravado makes it hard for us to believe this film, all the more harder for us to relate to the man or his family. Indeed, except for the occasional raised eyebrow, the entire NTR family seems to have nothing but adoration and admiration for him and his eccentric obsession with himself on the silver screen.

In stark contrast to Balakrishna's bravado, Vidya Balan presents us with a refreshing understated character as Basava Taraka, NTR's seemingly adoring wife. However, she too is depicted as beautiful talented, brave, and understanding, standing by her  man even at the time NTR decides to return to the shoot hours after his young son's tragic death.

But, just like we do Rama, we are faced questioning the Telugu god.  Like the time he insists that despite his obvious age difference her, no one but he should do the sexy rain number with the then 16 year old Sridevi.  It is talked about, even spoken about with the same understatement as anything else, and then forgotten.

So too are many characters in the movie, who appear for brief moments, but are never given the opportunity to even present a dose of acting.  In the end we are offered a hint at an inevitable sequel, where in playing his father, the son gets to prove that he is as qualified, if not more qualified to rule over what he thinks is the world.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Simmba - for temperamental reasons

Hindi, 2018

Directed by Rohit Shetty

Ranveer Singh as ACP Sangram "Simmba" Bhalerao
Sara Ali Khan as Shagun Sathe
Sonu Sood as Durva Ranade
Ashutosh Rana as Nityanand Mohile
Suchita Bandekar as Mrs Mohile
Ashwini Kalsekar as Judge Smita Palukar
Vaidehi Parshurami as Aakruti Dave

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ 

In the West, the mythos of knighthood and chivalry are usually associated with violence.  The fact that these ancient codes asked men to temper down their otherwise animal instincts is seen as futile, as men in the West are left in a stupor on what is appropriate behavior.

Fear not, tough guys, India still has plenty of room for men of your penchant, now bringing in Ranveer Singh as the next in line to a whole host of predictable movies featuring a reformed corrupt cop who is dead set to kill the bad guys.

In this remake of the 2015 Telugu film, Temper, Simmba  starts off as a very entertaining movie about a cop who is bought out by the local don.  It is the on the verge of intermission where we begin to realize the guy has a heart and has decided to operate from there to avenge the brutal rape and murder of a young woman who considered him her brother.

It is really only in this second half when the characters start to have any substance, be that this substance is the stuff of most tough cop movies. We are witness to courtroom outbursts and bravado statements about how women should be treated, contrasted with dreamy song sequences where Sara Ali Khan brings us back to the India we know, one that is probably more realistic about its human foible than other countries.  

Simmba is a fun, predictable to end 2018 with several bangs, thuds, and gunshots.  And, lest we not forget, Singham!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Aquaman - Swimmingly Good


Directed by James Wan

Jason Momoa as Arthur
Amber Heard as Mera
Willem Dafoe as Nuidis Vulko
Patrick Wilson as Orm
Dolph Lundgren as Nereus
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta
Nicole Kidman as Atlanna

Mohan's Measure ✳✳✳

No matter how much humanity advances, no matter how polarized politicians force us to become, all of us are drawn to one ancient story.   The names and faces are different, but the story remains virtually identical throughout the world.  It speaks of stepbrothers, heirs to a powerful empire built by a late father who once stood toe to toe with the gods.  An inevitable battle ensues not only for power but for the love of a woman and favoritism in their mother's eyes.

The story is far too ancient to determine its source. But, it lies deep in our collective subconscious, revisiting us in so many popular movies the world over.  But, whether it is Bahubali or Black Panther the story works and brings us back for more...of the same.

Aquaman works because it puts the predictable but timeless tale into an amazing world of CGI.  The muscle bound waterboy and his tightly wrapped female lead are interwoven in and out of a fluid world of fish, scales, exploding submarines, fantastic underwater cities, and lots and lots of water.  Somehow, in and around the plasticized face of the aging Willem Dafoe, we find ourselves connecting to the future lovebirds (obviously waterfowl), in a way that tries to ignore the fact that much of their action is CGI.

For this an American story, of people who defy the odds and love despite their different backgrounds; what to speak of tatooed, poorly bathed men who drink dark beer out of frosty mugs?

And in the end, as is the moral of this perennial myth, mankind still has hope, at least until the sequel.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Padi Padi Leche Manasu - forget about it

Padi Padi Leche Manasu
2018, Telugu 

director -  Hanu Raghavapudi

Sharwanand as Surya
Sai Pallavi as Vaishali
Sunil as Chathur
Murali Sharma as Vaishali's Dad
Priya Raman as Surya's Mom

Sampath Raj as Surya's Dad

Mohan's Measure I forgot 

Those who have ever had amnesia will probably agree with me in saying amnesia is not something to joke about. The sheer terror of being unable to connect with a part of your own being is something you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. 

Lest we forget too the 2015 earthquake which razed the city of Kathmandu to the ground, taking thousands of lives and destroying immeasurably valuable temples and ancient sacred sites. To put that as the backdrop for a love story is wicked to the point of being sacrilegious. 

If Director Raghavapudi becomes famous for anything, it will be his uncanny ability to offend just about everyone in what is supposed to be family entertainment. 

Either offense or embarrassment should be the state of the big name artists who manage to put on fine performances in a story this weakly put together. 

Doctors, amnesia, natural disasters, none put a damper on the dystopian relationship of young woman and a shell of a man who spends two years following her around, only to later give in to the notion that she doesn't remember a thing about.

Worse yet are the half baked discussions on retrograde amnesia, which is a very serious medical condition associated with painful trauma.  The jokers in this movie hardly batted an eye at one of the worst earthquakes in history. 

Don't get shaken up if you forget to see this movie. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Spiderman: into the Spider-verse - what a tangled web we weave

Spider-Man: into the Spider-verse

Directors  - 

Bob Persichetti
Peter Ramsey
Rodney Rothman

Stars the voices of 

Shameik Moore as Miles Morales
Jake Johnson as Peter B. Parker 
Chris Pine voices the Peter Parker
Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy
Mahershala Ali as Aaron Davis 
Brian Tyree Henry as Jefferson Davis
Lily Tomlin as Aunt May
Luna Lauren Velez as Rio Morales
Liev Schreiber as Kingpin
Zoƫ Kravitz as MJ

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳

Everyone from Toby McGuire to the kid from the Sound of Music has played "your friendly neighborhood wall crawler"; and all have invariably been Caucasian.  In a cleaned up version of New York City, which even the mild mannered Aunt May could call home, the blue-eyed, pale skinned Spidey helped White Cops, worked for White bosses, and chased after White bad guys.

Surprising how in less than a generation the USA become a totally different country.  The American Way is no longer connected to Truth and Justice. Betty and Veronica's flirtations with Archie and Reggie would now be brought forward in a hashtag movement. Why, even Jughead and Shaggy would probably pair up and open a grunge coffee bar.  Needless to say, after years of gangs, drugs, and terrorism, Aunt May will probably have to move upstate to find the dreamy cottage she used to live in. 

While not even pretending to be racist, we cannot help admit the demographic that has changed the face of this country.  It is something we need to accept, if only to honor the memory of late, great Stan Lee, who obviously did know and did something about it before he returned Home.

This new Spider Man is not a product of the high and mighty NYC, but, instead, belongs to low and ethnic Brooklyn.  Having Cuban/African American parents, Miles' world is all about being street-smart, wisecracking, rap listening and graffiti painting.  His unexpected encounter with a radioactive spider serves as a time and cultural warp, sending us into a world Donald Trump would have never known existed at the base of his gargantuan tower.

Larger than life is the only character who could relate to current Prez - Kingpin, the underworld gangster and worst enemy to spider people.  Yes, people, as we are treated to a diversified set of them, each representing a demographic of age ranges, genders, colors and creeds.  They are products of the don's tests with time warps, which brings multiple universes and their respective Spiders together, for a showdown filled with artistic urban sound and colors.  There is class to this film, it is more about a message of hope and humanity in a country increasing tearing apart along the very lines this movie wants to close.

In our Universe though, the old Spiderman sadly comes to closure, giving way to a new, improved, but just as lovably human Spider-Man who is ready to swing his web for the people, ALL people.  Welcome back, American Way!