Maharaja: Vijay Sethupathi and the non-liner storytelling elevate a standard revenge story.

July 15th, 2024

Maharaja movie banner

The movie also deserves appreciation in how it portrays a rape survivor who wants to confront her attacker telling him in clear terms on how she isn’t going to live in shame.

Starcast: Vijay Sethupathi, Anurag Kashyap, Sachana Namidass, Natarajan “Natty” Subramaniam and others

Director and writer: Nithilan Swaminathan

Producers: Jagadish Palaniswamy and Sudhan Sundaram

Production Companies: Passion Studios etc.

Cinematography: Dinesh Purushothaman

Streaming site: Netflix

Some movies are elevated through a gripping screenplay more than the plot. Nithilan Swaminathan’s Maharaja is a very good example of this. On the surface it is about a father who wants to catch the perpetrators who have caused mayhem in his simple life, what makes the movie engaging though in spite of the gruesome violence is the back-and-forth narrative along with the intricate setting that throws in a lot of clues making the viewers think.

Contrary to the title Vijay Sethupathi’s Maharaja is no king nor is he some business magnate. He works in a saloon. The life of this Maharaja revolves primarily around two things. One is his work, and the other is the daughter Jyothi (Sachana Namidass). Jyothi is a spirited teenager with dreams of being an athlete. It may sound bizarre but both of them worship a dustbin by the name of Lakshmi. We are told that this dustbin had saved Jyothi’s life. In an outlandish turn of events Maharaja goes to the station to file a case about a missing dustbin. The cops take him for a crazy guy and try to throw him out of the station, but Maharaja doesn’t budge constantly saying that he wants the dustbin back. Eventually the police agree to look into the case as Maharaja offers a huge amount of the money. What starts off as a simple case unravels many secrets leading to many twists and turns.

Vijay Sethupathi as the doting father

Vijay Sethupathi Maharaja talking about the missing dustbin

A strong aspect of Maharaja are the police station scenes where Vijay Sethupathi pleads to the cops about the missing dustbin. Yes, the scenarios may appear ridiculous but the earnestness with which Vijay Sethupathi repeats the story is amusing and moving at the same time. Although the viewers are laughing there is an undercurrent of tension too.

While the investigation is going on Nithilan Swaminathan introduces the viewers to another important character played by filmmaker and actor Anurag Kashyap. Anurag Kashyap is also a common man called Selvam. Selvam is a loving father to his daughter Ammu but there is a dark side to his life unknown to the wife. Initially the viewers wonder how this man is connected to Maharaj’s life but the director has connected the dots expertly. The police characters lead by Natarajan “Natty” Subramaniam have also been written fairly well. They start off as a bunch of opportunistic cops but end up developing a conscience towards the movie’s end.

Anurag Kashyap as the other father who has secrets of his own

It goes without saying that Vijay Sethupathi is the backbone of Maharaja. In the police station scenes, he leaves you in splits, at the same time his portrayal of a desperate father touches an emotional chord. Anurag Kashyap’s lip sync does take some time getting used to, but he brings in the required menace, at the same time there is a major reveal related to his character in the climax, this humanizes Selvam and Anurag’s breakdown deserves distinction marks. Among the rest Sachana Namidass shines in one intense confrontation scene.

Some portions of Maharaja though could have done with better writing. Case in point Mamata Mohandas as the PTI teacher Aasifa.  She is a mother-like figure to Jyoti. The bond needed more impactful scenes for the viewers to feel the motherly love of Aasifa, another problem with the movie are the gruesome scenes of violence involving the women. Particularly bothersome is a scene meant to establish the villainy of Selvam and co. The close-up shots make it nauseating.























Bharateeyudu 2: A bloated sequel which doesn’t have the emotional complexities of the 1996 blockbuster

Director S. Shankar does a better job in the second half when he touches upon the consequences of cleaning corruption in your home. The ostracization that Siddarth’s Chitra Aravindan faces does touch the viewer’s heart, but the movie doesn’t come across as a whole

  • Starcast: Kamal Haasan, Siddarth, Samuthirakani, Kalidas Jayaram, Bobby Simha, Rakul Preet Singh and others
  • Direction, dialogues, story and screenplay: S Shankar
  • Producers: Subaskaran Allirajah and Udhayanidhi Stalin
  • Production Companies: Lyca Productions and Red Giant movies
  • Running time: 3 hours
  • Music director: Anirudh Ravichander
  • Cinematography: Ravi Varman

The genre of vigilante movies owes a lot to Shankar. Many of his movies have tackled corruption and featured crusaders of different natures. For example, in Gentleman and Aparichitudu (Anniyan) in Tamil, the protagonists took extreme measures to wipe out the rot in the system. On the other hand, there was Mudhalvan, where a television presenter ended up becoming a Chief Minister. In Mudhalvan, it was about repairing the system while staying within it.

Coming to the 1996 movie Bharateeyudu, it was one of its kind for those times. Apart from Shankar’s typical vigilante tropes, the movie also had some solid emotional drama with the vastly different viewpoints between Senapathy and his son Chandru, both played by Kamal Haasan. The writing and direction had shades of nuance, with Chandru not being painted as an all-out villain.

After a long gap of 28 years, the sequel is here, and the typical elements of Shankar, like long-drawn speeches and rants on corruption, have clearly worn out. It is high time that he finds a new cinematic language while talking about the same issues.

Indian 1 and 2. Shankar needs to change his cinematic language while talking about the same issues.

Indian 2 begins with the introduction of Siddarth’s Chitra Aravindan and his three friends. They run a YouTube channel called ‘Barking Dogs’. This channel makes political satires using the comic strips of R.K. Laxman. They can be called digital media activists. The channel receives a lot of views, but there isn’t much of a ground impact. In this situation, Aravindan believes that only Senapathy, aka Indian Thatha, can clean the rotten system. They start a campaign with the name ‘Come Back Indian’. Aravindan firmly believes that Senapathy is alive even after all these years, and his hunch turns out to be true. In a Facebook Live video, Senapathy tells all the youngsters to focus on exposing the corrupt individuals within their families while he would wipe out corruption through extrajudicial methods. However, this two-way route comes with its own dire consequences that severely affect both Senapathy and Siddarth and his friends. Running parallel to this is the track of Bobby Simha, a CBI officer hot on the trail of Senapathy. He is the son of the inspector Krishnaswamy from the 1996 film, played by the late Nedumudi Venu.

Siddarth runs a YouTube channel Barking Dogs

The first half of Bharateeyudu 2 is a slog in more ways than one. The typical elements of Shankar are dialed up 100 notches. There are excessive dialogues on corruption, and the way Senapathy comes back to India appears very convoluted. The tweets of Come Back Indian trending so fast feel comical, to say the least. The rich businessmen that Senapathy kills seem to be an amalgamation of Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi. All of them are North Indians with a big appetite for wearing bling clothes. Senapathy uses different martial art techniques.

All of them come across as irritating caricatures rather than flesh-and-blood characters. The conversations of Kamal Haasan with these men play out way longer than needed and border on utter ridiculousness. For instance, a rich man gallops like a horse for a long distance after Senapathy strikes him. As audiences, you are completely unmoved because of the flat writing and staging.

However, Shankar does redeem himself in the second half, particularly in the scenes that showcase the aftereffects of Senapathy’s advice. Chitra Aravindan exposes his own father, resulting in severe discord with his mother, who eventually ends up committing suicide. Chitra Aravindan isn’t even allowed to perform the last rites, facing severe ostracization. Siddarth’s showdown with Kamal Haasan has some powerful dialogues where the character questions Senapathy on how his advice of first cleaning up corruption in your own house may look like a great idea but in reality has dire consequences. He further adds that what is the point of having a corrupt-free society when you don’t have a happy home. From being loved by youngsters, Senapathy goes to being the most hated. Senapathy also briefly faces public ire; they throw stones at him. This portion comes late in the second half but saves the movie from being a complete washout.

Siddarth’s showdown with Kamal Haasan

Mention must also be made of the few scenes between Siddarth and Samuthirakani. The emotional scene where Samuthirakani’s character asks his son why he did this, and the subsequent dialogues make a powerful impact. Siddarth scores as an actor, particularly in these scenes.

As Senapathy, Kamal Haasan makes the viewers believe in the superhero qualities of his role. Yes, the role doesn’t pack the same emotional resonance as it did in 1996, but to Kamal Haasan’s credit, he does sell the big speeches.

The music of Bharateeyudu 2 is nowhere close to the first one; however, the background score by Anirudh Ravichander is impactful in a few scenes. The action sequences are way too prolonged and quickly become tedious. Shankar’s eye for grandeur does make the movie a visual feast, but the storyteller Shankar is absent for the most part.

Kill: Visceral action yet a thrilling ride

Kill movie banner

Director Nikhil Nagesh Bhatt elevates a standard action plot by bringing class divide and blurring the lines between what we consider as hero and anti hero.

  • Starcast: Lakshya, Raghav Juyal, Tanya Manikatla, Abhishek Chauhan, Ashish Vidyarti and others
  • Director and writer: Nikhil Nagesh Bhatt
  • Music: Shashwant Sachdev and Vikram Montrose
  • Cinematography: Rafey Mehmood
  • Producers: Karan Johar, Guneet Monga etc
  • Production houses: Dharma Productions and Sikhya Entertainment

On surface the plot of Kill may appear as a series of action sequences, a show reel for debutant Lakshya to establish himself as a massy hero who can vanquish villains even after facing severe blows.  But what makes Kill different from other violent movies is a strong emotional poignancy. The character graph of Lakshya’s Amrit Rathod from a commando who initially just wants to control the situation to eventually becoming a bigger monster has strong undercurrent of emotions. As the movie progresses Nikhil Nagesh Bhatt questions our notions of what we consider as hero and anti-hero. No wonder Kill got rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival, kudos to Karan Johar for giving a movie like this a significant platform along with Guneet Monga.

The initial minutes of Kill are devoted to the love story between Amrit Rathod and Tulika (Tanya Maniktala). Tulika is returning to Delhi after a reluctant engagement. Amrit and his fellow commando/ friend Viresh (Abhishek Chauhan) are also on the same train. Amrit is making plans on how to convince his future father in law with the help of Viresh. A romantic story soon turns into a catastrophic night thanks to a group of dacoits (armed robbers). The leader of this gang is Fani (Raghav Juyal). Ashish Vidyarthi plays Fani’s father and a fellow dacoit. The father and son don’t get along well. What should have been a simple robbery ends up in a violent bloodbath because of Fani’s thoughtless actions who is desperate to get his father’s approval and love. Nothing more can be revealed here.

The initial moments start as a love story

A strong aspect of Kill is the humanizing of the dacoits. There are portions of the second half where the armed robbers vent out their vulnerabilities and fears. They want an escape from this havoc seeing the brutal deaths of their family members. On more than one occasion they plead to Ashish Vidyarti’s Beni about deboarding the train.  Director Nikhil Nagesh Bhatt is successful in bringing out a strong sense of brotherhood. He also subtly highlights the class divide and the impoverished state that leads to these men becoming robbers and looting rich people. On the surface they appear as ordinary men but there is a deep angst within.

The scenes between Ashish Vidyarti and Raghav Juyal is another major highlight of the movie, there is a constant friction in spite of both being armed robbers. A particular scene that has to be mentioned is the one where Beni talks about how Fani has dumped his father’s values and principles. To this Fani replies sarcastically that they are dacoits and he isn’t Amitabh Bachchan’s Narayan Shankar  from Mohabbatein to talk about principles and values, this scene raises ample chuckles.

The action sequences by nature are very violent and definitely not for family audiences, however stunt directors Se- Yeong along with Parvez Sheikh deserve kudos for coming up with innovative combat sequences in the confined spaces. A particular mention must be made of how they have used the window curtains that become death traps. Cinematographer Rafey Mehmood camera work is also fantastic. He successfully captures the tense atmosphere through his lens.

Kill wouldn’t be what it is without the brilliant acting particularly lakshya and Raghav. Lakshya makes for a perfect action hero. He captures the turmoil of Amrit many times with just his eyes and overall body language. Lakshya fully convinces the audiences that Amrit has become a killing machine. Fani’s taunt at Amrit on how he isn’t a hero but a big monster feels very true. Raghav Juyal best known for his dancing skills springs a very pleasant surprise. He knocks it out of the park as a cold blooded villain who has his own vulnerabilities. Fani’s anguish at seeing the violent deaths of the family members including his own father has been well portrayed by Raghav.

Both Lakshya and Raghav deliver terrific performances

Tanya Manikatala does well in her brief yet important role. She brings in an understated strength to Tulika. Her lovey-dovey moments with Amrit that include him proposing to her in a toilet seat comes across as a respite from the breathless action. Ashish Vidyarthi also makes his presence amply felt as the frustrated father who prophesies that the reason for him dying before time would be his son. Abhishek Chauhan has a straight forward role of being Amrit’s ally in the initial phase nevertheless the actor has his moments.

True to the title Nikhil Nagesh Bhatt has killed it, this violent saga may make you apprehensive of train journeys but it is a must watch for those who like blood and gore with a solid storyline.

Kalki 2898 AD: A gutsy attempt at mixing dystopian world with Mahabharata

Nag Ashwin proves his capability as a versatile director, the movie works best when it focuses on Prabhas and Amitabh Bachchan

  • Starcast: Prabhas, Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Haasan, Deepika Padukone, Saswata Chatterjee, Pashupathy, Anna Ben and others
  • Special appearances: Mrunal Thakur, Dulquer Salman, S.S Rajamouli, Vijay Devarakonda, Ramgopal Varma etc.
  • Story, direction, screenplay and dialogues: Nag Ashwin
  • Additional screenplay: Rutham Samar
  • Additional dialogues: Sai Madhav Burra and B.S Saewagna Kumar
  • Producer: C. Ashwini Dutt
  • Production Company: Vijayanthi movies
  • Cinematography: Djordge Stojilijkovic
  • Music: Santhosh Narayan
  • Genre: Science fiction
  • Running time: 3 hours and 1 minute

The track record of Indian cinema with science fiction/futuristic worlds is pretty abysmal. A major reason for it is the necessity of masala elements where the hero has to do romance, comedy and action while saving the world. Rakesh Roshan’s Krrish movies though not seamless did a good job in mixing Hollywood tropes with Indian Masala. Ayan Mukherjee’s Bramhastra was high on visuals, but a weakly written love story coupled with erratic characterizations made the movie just about an average watch. Last year Vikas Bahl made an attempt at directing a movie set in a futuristic world where the society is divided into two and poverty is at an extremely high level. Ganapath ended up being more about Tiger Shroff’s somersaults and was roundly rejected by the audiences.

Now you have Nag Ashwin’s Kalki 2898 AD also set in a futuristic world. The two-film old director has already created a niche for himself with Yevade Subramanyam and the biopic Mahanati on the legendary actress Savitri. Mahanati in particular is a challenging movie given that it is based on a very beloved actress who is admired by many, but he did complete justice to her life. With Kalki 2898 AD the director has pushed himself even more and let his imagination fly high. For example, he makes you believe that there would be a future where women would have zero autonomy over their bodies and the need for capitalistic gains will wipe out cities. In spite of obvious similarities to Dune and the Mad Max films Nag Ashwin delivers an impressive concoction of sci fi elements with mythology. But the women characters are a major weak spot, and the random love story of Prabhas with Disha Patani is a major speed breaker.

Kalki 2898 AD moves along multiple timelines starting from the Kurukshetra war. Amitabh Bachchan is Ashwatthama who is cursed with immortality by lord Krishna. On the other hand, there is the dystopian landscape of Kashi, the world’s last city. However, it is in complete shambles. The mighty Ganges is in a parched state and food is naturally scarce. There is a towering structure called Complex governed by Yaskin played by Kamal Haasan. He rules the place with an iron fist. Inside the Complex there are many fertile women who have been put on an experiment. Deepika Padukone’s SUM-80 alias Sumathi is an employee who is supposed to make sure that these fertile women get sufficient food and medicine. But there is a twist here; Sumathi who has been considered infertile for ages is now five months pregnant. Then you have Shambala a place for refugees from different faiths and cultures. They are putting their lives at stake for a better future.

Bhairava (Prabhas) wants to escape from the dreariness of Kashi and get into the Complex. He has AL car Bujji (with a fun voiceover by Keerty Suresh). There is a constant banter between them which gradually develops into a strong bond. Bhairava is a selfish man who is unaware of his destiny. As the story progresses Bhairava’s life gets intermingled with Ashwatthama, Sumathi and the people of Shambala.

For a movie like this a seamless blend of special effects and cinematography is very necessary and Kalki 2898 AD scores full marks in this department. The high-octane action sequences between Amitabh Bachchan and Prabhas in particular is a major highlight. Thankfully Nag Ashwin doesn’t show Bhairava as invincible, on more than one occasion we see him getting hurt. These scenes are also sprinkled with humour that bring a smile. Nitin Zihani Choudary’s production design also deserves a particular mention in how he creates an imaginary landscape that immerses the audiences.

Director Nag Ashwin also deserves distinction marks for how he integrates the Kurukshetra episode in the film. The emotional turmoil of Ashwatthama and his quest for repentance strikes a chord. Amitabh Bachchan delivers a stellar act overshadowing Prabhas on occasions.

Prabhas as Bhairava has a role that comes with different shades. There is humor, and he also comes across as not so likeable. Prabhas does complete justice to both. His interactions with Keerty Suresh’s Bujji add a lot to the movie.

Kamal Haasan as the evil Yaskin has a brief role but he sends down a chill with his intimidating act.

Santhosh Narayanan’s music lacks good songs but he more than compensates it with a powerful background score.

Kalki 2898 AD has many cameos from actors and directors. Out of these Ramgopal Varma and S.S Rajamouli are fun to watch. There is a Baahubali reference where Prabhas jokingly says about how he gave 5 years to that project, it definitely raises a chuckle. Among others Mrunal Thakur is impressive in her brief role.

A big flaw of Kalki 2898 AD are the two female leads. Disha Patani is only used for glamour and one completely out of place song. Deepika Padukone on the other hand plays a pregnant woman mirroring her real life. She is mostly required to look petrified, and the expressions irritate after a point.

The movie’s runtime could have been crisper with lesser cameos. For example, Dulquer Salman and Avasarala Srinivas don’t add anything significant with their presence.

A caution: Too many good directors going into the dystopian landscape is something that the industry should be careful about.

Chandu Champion: This true story of grit and determination takes the viewers on a roller coaster of emotions

This Kabir Khan directorial begins off hazily but soon finds its grove. Kartik Aryan delivers a knockout performance putting his blood and soul. He doesn’t miss a single beat
  • Starcast: Kartik Aryan, Vijay Raaz, Bhuvan Arora, Rajpal Yadav, Yashpal Sharma, Shreyas Talpade and others
  • Director and writer: Kabir Khan
  • Additional writers: Sumit Arora and Sudipto Sarkar
  • Producers: Sajid Nadiadwala and Kabir Khan
  • Music: Pritam
  • Production Companies: Naiadwala Grandson Entertainment and Kabir Khan Films
  • Cinematography: Sudeep Chatterjee
  • Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes
  • Genre: Biographical drama

There was a period in Hindi cinema when the on-screen portrayal of disabled/ differently enabled people used to be all about the Bechara syndrome. They were often portrayed as objects of pity or to evoke comedy. But this depiction has undergone a significant change in the recent past. Case in point being Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black featuring Rani Mukherjee. In this movie Rani Mukherjee played a visually impaired girl Michelle based on Helen Keller’s life. Michelle is never reduced to a stock caricature, there is a strong determination to prove herself. In Guzaarish Hrithik Roshan played a popular magician Ethan who suffers paralysis and turns into a radio jockey. Although Guzaarish is a grim story that focuses on Euthanasia/ mercy killing yet it is also a tale of resilience. The scenes of Ethan as a Radio jockey and how he spreads hope through his wit are in particular were compelling.

This year you have had the biopic of the visually impaired businessman Srikant Bolla starring Rajkummar Rao. In this movie director Tushar Hiranandani made some scathing remarks on how some people think that the best way to help the blind is only through making them cross the road. Now you have Kabir Khan’s Chandu Champion based on an incredible true story of Muralikant Petkar. India’s first paralympic gold specialist.

The movie begins in the present with an older Muralikant Petkar (An outstanding Kartik Aryan). He is narrating his tale of glorious days to a bunch of cops. From his younger days itself Murali had a huge dream of winning an Olympic gold medal for India inspired by KD Jadhav an Olympic medalist. He openly says that his dream is to win an Olympic gold medal only to get ridiculed and bullied by his fellow classmates. At one point Murali also runs away from his village. He joins the Indian army and finds a strong ally in the form of Karnail Singh (Bhuvan Arora) who gives Murali hope that he can become the next Milkha. Vijay Raaz plays Tiger Ali. He is a coach cum father-like figure who trains Murali for the boxing championship. He reaches the finals but only ends up with a silver medal leading to a strained relationship with the coach. In the life altering 1965 Kashmir war Murali faces many wounds in the process of trying to save his colleagues. Murali ends up in a prolonged coma becoming paralyzed waist down. At one point he even tries to commit suicide by having excess pills, but destiny has other plans for him. The rest of the story is about how Petekar manages to overcome all the odds fulfilling his dream of winning gold along with why he is narrating his life story to a bunch of policemen.

There is no denying that Chandu Champion has a hazy start. The scenes of Murali in the military camp has a distinct hangover of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. The humor at places is also reminiscent of that however the movie finds its grip soon. The scenes of Murali preparing for the boxing championship and how he pummels down his opponents only to lose in the finals has been brilliantly written and enacted. The Pre interval block of the 1965 war and the life altering event sets a solid base for the second half.

The second half becomes even more engaging. The portions of Murali’s despair touches a strong emotional chord. As viewers you root for him to succeed in life. The return of Tiger Ali and the way he motivates Murali to dream big again is wonderful to watch. This time the sport is swimming with the aim of winning gold in the 1972 Summer Paralympics. But here again the path is far from easy as the sports committee is not too keen on funding a player for the Paralympics event. The way Murali overcomes all these challenges and sets a world record by clinching the gold medal in 37.33 seconds is exhilarating to watch.

An aspect of Chandu Champion that elevates the movie from just a template underdog drama is the message that it conveys regarding disability and differently abled people. There is a powerful monologue where Murali talks about how differently abled are not looking for sympathy. It critiques the Bechara syndrome and how sometimes even their best efforts are not given due recognition.

Chandu Champion is also technically strong. Sudeep Chatterjee’s cinematography coupled with Juluis Packam’s background score elevates the movie’s emotional core further. The cinematography of the boxing and the paralympic sequences in particular deserve a special mention.

Pritam’s music is not of the blockbuster type but the songs Tu Hai Champion and Sarphira make a strong impact.

Coming to the man of the moment Kartik delivers a career defining performance. His physical transformation is of course beyond commendable but beyond the physicality the actor also shines bright in the scenes of showing helplessness, frustration, resilience and grit. He more than holds his own opposite the veteran Vijay Raaz. The hunger to be taken seriously as an actor is very much visible. Even as an older man he is pretty good.

Vijay Raaz as the coach has an interesting arc and is not just used for comic relief. He brings in a lot of emotional depth. His emotional moments with Kartik Aryan give the movie some of its best moments. Bhuvan Arora also makes a strong impact in his limited screen time. The camaraderie between him and Kartik is very much on point.

Shreyas Talpade as the funny cop and Sonali Kulkarni as a journalist could have been used better though.

Chandu Champion is an inspiring story that needs to be watched on the big screen. Muralikant Petkar, Kabir Khan and Kartik Aryan take a bow.

Mr and Mrs Mahi: Rajkumar Rao and the music are the only redeeming features of this underwhelming romantic/sports drama

Director Sharan Sharma disappoints after a promising debut in Gunjan Saxena. Janhvi Kapoor needs to get out of her stock expressions
  • Starcast: Rajkumar Rao, Janhvi Kapoor, Kumud Mishra, Zarina Wahab and others
    special appearance (Arjit Taneja)
  • Director and writer: Sharan Sharma
  • Additional writer: Nikhil Mehrotra
  • Production Company: Dharma Productions and Zee Studios
  • Music directors: Vishal Mishra, Tanishk Bagchi and others
  • Cinematography: Anay Goswami
  • Running time: 2 hours and 18 minutes

Sharan Sharma’s first movie Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl was much appreciated for its strong storytelling particularly the father and daughter relationship. The movie also packed a powerful punch in showing how Gunjan broke through the mostly male stronghold to make a place for herself. For Janhvi Kapoor the movie was a resurgence after the mixed reviews to Dhadak.

Sharan Sharma’s second venture Mr and Mrs Mahi had all the potential to be a solid feel-good movie, but this time the director has disappointed the emotions land rarely and the cricketing portions are a dampener. It also doesn’t help that Janhvi seems to have stepped straight out of Baawal sets in a different universe. Sure, the character sketch leaves a lot to be desired, but Janhvi’s monotonous expressions doesn’t really help. She really needs to up her game significantly particularly in the times of talented young actresses like Nitanshi Goel and Pratibha Ranta from Laapaata Ladies. Or even Mrunal Thakur who has delivered some impactful performances.

Mr and Mrs. Mahi tells the story of a failed cricketer Mahendra Agarwal (Rajkummar Rao) and his doctor wife Mahima Agarwal (Janhvi Kapoor). Mahendra toils away in his father’s sport shop. Mahendra’s dream was to play for the national team however that didn’t transpire for many reasons. There is a constant undercurrent of tension, the father Hardayal Aggarwal (Kumud Mishra) considers Mahendra as a defective piece. The son on the other hand looks at himself as a complete zero. Adding to Mahendra’s woes is the elder brother Sikander Aggarwal (a caricaturist Arjit Taneja). Sikander is a big television actor whose face is seen on billboards; fans throng after him. This adds to Mahendra’s insecurity. Things take a turn when Mahendra comes upon his wife’s cricketing abilities. He manipulates Mahima into believing that she is made for cricket. Mahendra is successful in making Mahi a star, but their marriage takes a beating as Mahendra’s desire for fame has not been quenched.

One of the few redeeming features of Mr and Mrs Mahi is the top notch Rajkummar Rao. Yes, Mahendra is not a likeable person. On more than one occasion he comes across as very selfish and also insensitive but at the same time it is impossible to hate Mahendra completely thanks to the layered character and Rajkummar Rao’s portrayal. The way Rajkummar showcases the psyche of a broken man is a testament of his immense talent. The actor also raises some chuckles in the scenes where Mahendra records videos promoting himself on how Mahma has reached this far because of him.

The music composed by the various composers does make for a good listen and watch. A particular mention must be made of Vishal Mishra’s “Roya Jab Tu”. This song takes place when Mahendra and Mahi have a spilt and her game has taken a severe beating. Anay Goswami’s cinematography is suitably glossy and does make the movie visually appealing.

Director Sharan Sharma does make some important points on how the need for fame can drive a person insane and also the aftereffects of suppressing childhood dreams. However, these scenes are far and few in between.

A major problem with Mr and Mrs Mahi is the lack of depth in both the characterization and the acting performance of Janhvi. For most part the viewers see the film from the perspective of Mahendra and this leaves little room for Mahima. Often times she comes across as a pushover whether it is the father making her choose a doctor career or the husband manipulating her to become a cricketer. There is little agency here and by the time Mahima gives it back to Mahendra it becomes too late.

As mentioned in the beginning Janhvi needs to get out of her stock expressions. The emotions of fear and vulnerability are the same as we have already seen in the likes of Baawal and Mili. Sure, she has worked on the cricket aspect but other than that there is nothing new. Also, the cricketing aspect feels superficial given that Mahima is never seen fielding on the ground.

Mr and Mrs Mahi is strictly an average watch only elevated somewhat by Rajkummar Rao.

Srikanth: Rajkummar Rao leads a gripping tale of self-determination that feels like a warm hug

Director Tushar Hiranandani deserves huge appreciation for not using the blindness of Srikanth Bolla as a tool of self-pity.
Srikanth (Hindi), 10-05-2024, Biography , Drama, 2 hours 14 minutes, U, Theatre
  • Main Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Alaya F, Jyothika and Sharad Kelkar
  • Director: Tushar Hiranandani
  • Producer: Bhushan Kumar and Krishan Kumar
  • Music Director: Anand Milind, Tanishk Bagchi, Sachet Parampara, Ved Sharma
  • Cinematography: Pratham Mehta
  • Rating: 3.5/5
  • Published in: Southfirst

There was a time when biopics on different personalities used to sell like hotcakes. Cases in point are Farhan Akhtar’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), Vidya Balan’s The Dirty Picture (2012), and Sonam Kapoor’s Neerja  (2015).

These movies raked up both critical acclaim and commercial success.

However, the genre has somewhere lost its sheen in the last few years, particularly the ones related to sports like Taapsee Pannu’s Shabhaash Mithu (2023) or even this year Maidaan (2024). The box office numbers of the Ajay Devgn-starrer are still far away from the producer’s investment.

A major reason for Indian biopics losing its sheen is the overt melodrama along with the predictable beats.

Nevertheless, director Tushar Hiranandani’s Srikanth, based on the visually impaired businessman named Srikanth Bolla, is a welcome change in more ways than one.

Sure, there is a fairytale-like structure in how Srikanth overcomes his obstacles. But, at the same time, the movie does throw light on some important things.

How we should not view differently-abled persons through the lens of pity, instead we should engage with him or her as equals.

Synopsis

‘Srikanth’ is a biography. (X)

The movie begins with the birth of a boy. The father is initially ecstatic about a son being born and rushes home.

He names him Srikanth after the famous batsman Krishnama Chari Srikanth. However, all this changes once the fact of his son being blind comes out.

In the beginning, both parents have a hard time worrying constantly about the child. Things are further compounded by neighbours and relatives who think that Srikanth has no future.

At one point, the father almost buries him alive. But better sense prevails with the wife stopping him.

The rest of the plot looks at the journey of Srikanth from just another village boy to an inspiration for many people like him.

Analysis

Generally, Indian biopics do shy away from showcasing the grey areas of their protagonists. Here too, Tushar Hiranandi surprises big time.

In the second half of the movie, Srikanth has a downfall in business because of his overconfidence and also a bitter attitude towards his business partner-cum-friend Ravi (Sharad Kelkar).

There is a scene where a media person talks about how Srikanth wouldn’t be successful if Ravi hadn’t backed him up.

This does not go down too well with Srikanth; he believes he is wholly and solely responsible for his victory.

Writers Jagadeep Siddhu and Sumit Purohit have written some crackling dialogues that stay with the viewers long after the movie has ended.

A good example of this is the sequence where Srikanth is not allowed to board the plane on account of being visually challenged. The officials insist on someone accompanying him.

How Srikanth turns the situation around with some crackling dialogues not only brings a wide smile but the lines also provide a reality check on how persons with disabilities are not treated as equals.

The monologue at the end also deserves a big thumbs up.

There are scathing remarks on how some people think that the best way to help the blind is only by making them cross the road.

Takeaways

Jyothika at ‘Srikanth’ press meet. (X)

A strong aspect of Srikanth is how the director has projected the stark contrast between India and the West regarding the education facilities for the differently abled.

There are scenes where Srikanth faces rejection for wanting to choose science, though he tops the 12th board exams. The challenges of the protagonist with the Indian educational system have been presented poignantly.

Tushar Hiranandani also does a wonderful job of showcasing the bond between Rajkummar Rao’s Srikanth and Jyothika’s Devika.

Devika was a teacher of businessman Srikanth when he studied at a special school for the visually impaired in Hyderabad.

However, her association with Srikanth goes much beyond school. She is his friend, philosopher and guide.

Devika supports him in every step that he takes but at the same time, she also gives him a reality check when needed.

The best example of this is the portion where she lambasts him for becoming insecure and bitter in the second half.

A speedbump

Rajkummar Rao in ‘Srikanth’. (X)

The love story between Rajkummar and Alaya F though comes across as a major speedbump.

Alaya F has a charming presence but her character of Swathi appears and disappears at the whim of the writers.

The blossoming of love between the two feels rather hurried. Also, there are times when the all-round abilities of Srikanth become a little difficult to digest; like the scenes where he plays basketball and cricket without any hiccups.

The romantic songs of Sachet Parampara “Tu Mil Gaya” and “Tumhe Hi Apna Maana Hai” are soothing in nature. However, the recreation of “Papa Kehte Hain” from Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak  (1988) is the major highlight of the soundtrack.

Rajkummar and Jyothika excel

In the title role, Rajkummar Rao delivers an exceptional performance. The actor just disappears into the role starting from the mannerisms.

He particularly shines in the scenes of Srikanth grappling with insecurities. There is also a goofiness to Srikanth which Rajkummar brings out expertly.

Jyothika also makes a big impact bringing the right mixture of warmth and fierceness.

Sharad Kelkar plays the business partner-cum-friend with a lot of empathy.

Final take

Srikanth makes you think about how differently-abled persons should be treated as mainstream and deserve equal opportunities, just like anyone.

Do Aur Do Pyaar: A well-made marital drama about the difficulties in sustaining love

Vidya and Pratik Gandhi bring alive the complexities of a couple who loses love. They are in extramarital relationships, unknown to each other.
Do Aur Do Pyaar (Hindi), 19-04-2024, Romantic-Comedy, 2 hours 19 minutes, U/A, Theatre
  • Main Cast: Vidya Balan, Pratik Gandhi, Ileana D’Cruz, and Sendil Ramamurthy
  • Director: Shirsha Guha Thakurta
  • Producer: Tanuj Garj, Atul Kasbekar, and Swati Iyer Chawla
  • Music Director: Abhishek-Ananya and Subhajit Mukherjee
  • Cinematography: Kartik Vijay
  • Rating: 3.5/5
  • Published in: Southfirst

There was a period when romantic movies used to end with the cliché of “happily-ever-after”. The messiness and complexities of marriage used to be sidestepped by the filmmaker.

But all this has changed in the recent past, thanks to the new-age directors who looked at the difficulties in sustaining love and how it is not all about cuddling with each other. This, of course, also has a lot to do with the way our society has evolved.

Shirsha Guha Thakurta’s Do Aur Do Pyaar is a good example of the new-age sensibilities.

Synopsis

Do Aur Do Pyaar primarily focuses on Ani and Kavya (Pratik Gandhi and Vidya Balan respectively). On the surface, they both are successful professionals living in a plush apartment in Mumbai.

However, their married lives are anything but that. They are in extramarital relationships, unknown to each other.

‘Do Aur Do Pyaar’ is a rom-com. (X)

Ani is going steady with a struggling actor Nora (Ileana D’Cruz).

On the other hand, Kavya is having an affair with a hotshot photographer Vikram (Senthil Ramamurthy). They are almost ready to move into a sea-facing apartment.

Their respective partners want to take the relationship to the next level but Ani and Kavya are still struggling with revealing the news to each other.

Words of affection have long gone. And now, the only exchange of Ani and Kavya is anti-allergic medicine, etc.

Interestingly, Ani and Kavya elope and marry, leading to a strained relationship with their respective families, particularly with Kavya’s strict father Venkat (Thalaivasal Vijay).

Back to the present. Things take a turn when Kavya’s grandfather dies. So, they both pack their bags to Ooty. This journey rekindles old memories.

The rest of the story is about whether Ani and Kavya give their marriage a chance or find lifelong happiness with Nora and Vikram respectively.

Best treatment by Shirsha Guha Thakurta

The premise of rediscovering love or choosing between lovers isn’t exactly a groundbreaking story, but the movie works because of the treatment.

Director Shirsha Guha Thakurta avoids the approach of moralising and getting into overt melodrama. There is a certain lightheartedness for the most part, and this works big time for the film.

Even the tense moments are peppered with some chuckle-worthy dialogues. For example, there is a scene where Ani has a nervous slip-up calling his father-in-law “Appam” mixing Appa and Uncle. This is just one of the numerous examples.

The scenes of Ani and Kavya rekindling their love all over again in Ooty and falling for each other again while doing mundane things back home give the movie some of its best moments.

The distinct characterisations of Ani and Kavya have come out well. For example, Kavya is the more temperamental one, and Ani, on the other hand, is a man burdened with responsibilities with poked-faced humour.

This variation in characters has come out well and adds to the drama, particularly when it reaches the point of crescendo.

The extra-marital relationships have also been treated with dignity.

Sendil Ramamurthy’s Hindi accent does get bothersome on occasions, but as viewers, you feel the love of Vikram and how deeply he wants her.

Vidya’s chemistry with Senthil is on par with the one shared with Pratik.

Similarly, Ileana D’Cruz’s Nora can occasionally come across as clingy, but her desire to have a normal life with Ani has been well written and enacted.

Explores complexity of relationships

Sendhil Ramamurthy, Vidya Balan, Pratik Gandhi, and Ileana D’Cruz. (X)

The complex relationships of rebellious daughters with their fathers are something we have seen before. But once again, it is the writing that makes the difference.

A scene that deserves a particular mention is when a frustrated Kavya asks her father the secret behind his long-lasting marriage. The father replies, “There is no secret. We just showed up every day.”

On the surface, it is a simple dialogue but the director makes a strong point that consistency in a marriage is quite important.

The second half of Do Aur Do Pyaar does sag somewhat in terms of writing. The attempts of Ani and Kavya at rekindling romance and juggling the existing relationships get repetitive. But still, these are not a major grouse.

Performances

Both Vidya Balan and Pratik Gandhi give top-notch performances apart from sharing a sizzling chemistry.

Ileana D’Cruz also gives a fine account of herself, in both light moments and dramatic bits.

Sendil Ramamurthy, too, is convincing as a hotshot photographer completely smitten by Kavya.

The music by the various composers also adds to the narrative. The case in point is the numbers “Tu Hai Kahaan” and “Jazbaati“.

Verdict

Do Aur Do Pyaar needs to be watched for the fine acting performances and the director’s depiction of modern complexities in a marriage.

Bade Miyan Chote Miyan: Action and a swashbuckling Prithviraj Sukumaran are the highlights of this Ali Abbas Zafar’s directorial

‘Bade Miyan Chote Miyan’ isn’t quite an Eid feast, but still, it is moderately engaging.
Bade Miyan Chote Miyan (Hindi), 11-04-2024, Action, Comedy, Thriller, 2 hours and 43 minutes, U/A, Theatre
  • Main Cast: Akshay Kumar, Tiger Shroff, Prithviraj Sukumaran, Ronit Roy, Alaya F, Manushi Chillar, and Sonakshi Sinha
  • Director: Ali Abbas Zafar
  • Producer: Vaau Bhagnani, Jacky Bhagnani, and Himanshu Kishan Mehra
  • Music Director: Vishal Mishra
  • Cinematography: Marcin Laskawiec
  • Rating: 2.5/5
  • Published in: Southfirst

Action-based movies with patriotism are one of the favourite themes of mainstream Indian directors.

The storylines are simple, there is a deadly enemy who wants to cause harm to the nation and brave-hearted soldiers have to tackle him with lots of action-packed sequences.

Director Ali Abbas Zafar’s Bade Miyan Chote Miyan follows this formula to the hilt. the first half has some minor suspense regarding Prithviraj Sukumaran’s Kabir. But the rest of it is utterly formulaic.

Synopsis

A poster of ‘Bade Miyan Chote Miyan’. (X)

Both Akshay Kumar and Tiger Shroff haven’t had the best time since the pandemic and the movie isn’t likely to change that although Tiger comes off much better here than his last two ventures.

Bade Miyan Chote Miyan focuses on two ex-soldiers — Rakesh aka Rocky (Akshay Kumar) and Firoz aka Freddy (Tiger Shroff). They are court-martialed for not following orders. However, they have the reputation of being the bravest officers.

Eight years later, Rocky and Firoz get back to tackle an enemy who wants to cause mayhem in the country with the help of AL.

This tech-savvy villain aims to create a situation where India will find itself in a war-like situation with its volatile neighbours. This is the story in brief.

Analysis

The first half of Bade Miyan Chote Miyan keeps you guessing about the antagonist’s motivations and why Kabir has so much anger towards Rakesh and Firoz. It also helps that the pace in this half is frantic with a lot of action thrown in.

Marcin Laskawiec’s cinematography goes well with the scale of the movie and the cinematographer deserves distinction marks for capturing the scale of a war-like situation.

The action sequences are also of a good standard, particularly for those who enjoy hand-to-hand combats and cars and choppers crashing in Rohit Shetty style.

The banter between Akshay Kumar and Tiger Shroff does have some funny moments, thanks to the one-liners of Tiger. For instance, Tiger gets the most fun repartees like the scene where he says, “Yeh aadmi hai ya dandruff, jaata hi nahi!”

The back story of Prithviraj Sukumaran’s Kabir and the reason behind his angst has been well-written and enacted.

After playing a victim who undergoes a lot of suffering in Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life), the actor has a ball playing to the gallery in this one.

A major problem with Bade Miyan Chote Miyan is the portions after the flashback of Kabir, a certain monotonousness creeps in.

The complex geo-political situation of India with Pakistan and China is merely used as a background with oversimplified solutions.

The film also suffers from a lack of strong female characters. The absence of an unnecessary romantic track is welcome but the female characters in Sultan (2016) and Tiger Zinda Hai (2017) were far better written.

Performances

Prithviraj Sukumaran plays the antagonist in ‘Bade Miyan Chota Miyan’. (X)

Tiger does a good job of portraying the suave and charming nature of Firoz.

Akshay Kumar, on the other hand, is mostly wasted except for the action bits.

Prithviraj Sukumaran makes for a delightful psychopath who has ambitious dreams.

Rakesh’s serious nature feels like an extension of Neeraj Pandey’s Baby (2015).

Manushi Chhillar lands lethal blows on her enemies, but beyond action, there isn’t much.

Alaya F irritates the audience with her comic timing.

Sonakshi Sinha repeats her “damsel in distress” act with a one-tone expression.

Verdict

Bade Miyan Chote Miyan is strictly for those who like seeing larger-than-life stunts with a predictable storyline.

Maidaan : A treat for football buffs and Ajay Devgan fans

Regardless of the underdog template, ‘Maidaan’ must be watched in theatres to know the past glory of Indian football and a forgotten hero — Syed Abdul Rahim.
Maidaan (Hindi), 10-04-2024, Sports Biography, 3 hours 1 minute, U/A, Theatre
  • Main Cast: Ajay Devgn, Priya Mani, Gajaraj Rao, Rudranil Ghosh, and Raphael Jose
  • Director: Amit Ravindernath Sharma
  • Producer: Zee Studios, Boney Kapoor, Arunava Joy Sengupta, and Akash Chawla
  • Music Director: AR Rahman
  • Cinematography: Fyodor Lyass
  • Rating: 3.5/5
  • Published in: Southfirst

In a cricket-frantic country like ours, it takes a lot of courage to make a movie (Maidaan) on a sport like football, that too, in a period which very few in this generation would be aware of.

There was a period when Indian football was at its peak under the coach Syed Abdul Rahim. He faced many challenges and hardships, including a battle with deteriorating health.

However, he and his team overcame many difficulties and won at the Asian Common Wealth Games 1962 in Jakarta Indonesia.

After that success, India never won again. Unfortunately, Rahim also passed away some months later and Indian football has never been the same again.

Synopsis

Ajay Devgn in Boney Kapoor’s ‘Maidaan’. (X)

Maidaan begins in the year 1952. India faces a shameful defeat in the Olympics. Syed Abdul Rahim (Ajay Devgn) takes on the challenge of handpicking raw talents from across the country and forms a team that wins against all odds.

Along with Rahim, the movie also throws light on legends PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, and others. There is also Priya Mani as Rahim’s wife Saira. She is an important pillar of support to Rahim.

Saira is also seen trying to learn English. Gajraj Rao plays sports journalist Prabhu Gosh. It is a role which is a far cry from Amit Sharma’s previous directorial Badhaai Ho (2018).

First and foremost, the template of Maidaan is similar to many underdog sports dramas, particularly Chak De! India (2007).

Here too, the Indian football team goes into the 1962 Olympics without any expectations of winning. It faces a humiliating defeat in the first match with Korea but makes a strong comeback, thus surprising everyone.

Works despite predictability

A still from ‘Maidaan’. (X)

Despite the predictable scenarios, what makes Maidaan work is the detailing of Amit Sharma.

The director gives a wholesome account of the events that led to India’s win at the 1962 Asian Games.

A big strength of Maidaan is the characterisation of the central protagonist.

The highs and lows of Rahim’s journey and how he crossed numerous obstacles have been well-written and enacted.

The husband and wife scenes have also come out strongly. Priya Mani’s attempts at learning English while conversing with her husband bring a smile to the viewer’s face. There is a certain old charm in their romantic scenes.

Priya Mani’s Saira is not just a dedicated homemaker. She has a voice of her own, which comes out strongly in a couple of scenes.

The actor aces her part and makes her presence amply felt.

The choreography of the football sequences is easily some of the finest you would see on the big screen.

Cinematographer Fedor Lyass along with action director RP Yadav do an outstanding job in capturing the intensity of a football match. You know how things will turn out, but still, you will clap.

AR Rahman’s music is not of the chartbuster type. However, the songs help propel the drama.

They are mostly used in the background and come at the right time. My favourite ones are “Ranga Ranga” and “Jaane Do“.

Through Maidaan, Amit Sharma has also touched upon how regional politics is a huge bane for any sport and how football is the heaviest causality.

Performances

Gajraj Rao in ‘Maidaan’. (X)

The first half of Maidaan does make the viewers impatient.

Amit Sharma’s detailing does deserve appreciation but the portions depicting the federation politics could have done with some serious trimming.

Also, the hangover of other sports films does hinder the viewing experience at some points.

As Syed Abdul Rahim, Ajay Devgn brings his trademark intensity. The actor does a terrific job of showcasing the different facets of Rahim — the passion for football and the tactical acumen. A particular mention must be made of the scenes where Ajay depicts Rahim’s battle with lung cancer while ensuring that his team wins.

Among the football players, Chaitanya Sharma as PK Banerjee deserves a particular mention. The young actor delivers a fiery performance.

Gajraj Rao and Rudranail Ghosh as the thorns in the flesh do a good job of making the viewers hate them, although the characters border on being caricaturists.

Final take

Maidaan is a big-screen experience that should not be missed.