Movie Review: Dhoom 3 from the eyes of a Chicagoan

Should you choose to watch Dhoom 3, you will find yourself asking “How is that even possible?” at least once every three scenes. But the biggest, most mystifying question is this: How is it even possible to create a worse film every time???

You know the film has almost nothing by way of a script when you can write out its entire plot in 50 words. Aamir Khan plays a circus artist/thief who wants to destroy the bank that caused his father to commit suicide after defaulting on a loan taken out to run their circus. When Chicago Police fails to crack the case, Inspector Jai and sidekick Ali are called in to do the job.

The saving grace of the film is unsurprisingly Aamir Khan, and of course the absolutely beautiful city of Chicago (yay, my city!). Shot rather nicely, the makers make full use of the city’s unique attractions – a lake in the middle of a city, a bridge that moves and the fact that a circus is something you can expect Chicagoans to actually care about. Khan is brilliant in everything he does in the film, although the dancing seems a little contrived. The Khans are not superstars for their dance moves, and perhaps Bollywood would be better off not trying to reinvent them into something they aren’t particularly known for. The rope work is also absolutely stunning, done seamlessly, and a treat to watch.

Uday Chopra’s character Ali is as superfluous as it was in the two previous Dhoom films. Katrina Kaif’s character Aliya serves the same purpose as that of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s in Dhoom 2, except that Kaif’s dances are marvelous, which may have been made possible by the fact that since she didn’t have many lines to deliver, she could spend all her energy on perfecting the dancing. Sadly, even Abhishek Bachchan has little to do in the film, though I was hoping this would serve as something of a comeback for him.

If one is to go by the film, it is easy to see why Chicago is as crime-infested as it is: its cops are incredibly stupid who don’t seem to know the city whose protection is their life’s work. By that same logic, Mumbai should be the safest city in the world! It would serve Dhoom makers well to put in a little more thought into making the criminals smarter rather than showing the cops as dumber.

All in all, the film isn’t particularly worse than the other two. If anything, Khan’s presence makes it more watchable than the earlier films. The film isn’t so long that it will feel like an absolute waste of time. I say GO.

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Movie review: There’s no limit to how much a film can move you

It’s a very sensitive topic handled just as sensitively. And all credit for that goes to [ad] filmmaker Asim Raza.

Behadd (Limitless), a romcom telefilm by Hum TV, was premiered at Karachi’s brand new monument Cinepax (at Ocean Mall, Clifton) on Saturday. There was barely anyone in the audience who wasn’t moved by the nicely written script and the brilliant performances.

The plot is incredibly easy to predict, but the beauty of the film is that you still want to watch it. Masooma (Nadia Jamil) is a doting single mother who practically lives for her 15-year-old daughter Maha (Sajjal Ali). Through her job, she is reunited with Jamal (Fawad Khan) the younger brother of her bachpan ki dost and they are both overjoyed. As they catch up over a cup of coffee, Masooma tells Jamal about her husband’s death and Jamal tells her about his failed marriage with an American girl. Masooma takes it upon herself to find a girl for Jamal but eventually he ends up proposing to her. Masooma speaks to Maha, who on the face of it says yes but is deeply distressed by her mother’s decision and, in her insecurity, destroys Masooma and Jamal’s relationship. However, the ending is a happy one – predictably, again – but it is so sweet and so well-executed that even the most cynical audience member cannot help but cheer.

Nadia Jamil is, as expected, excellent in her role. She looks lovely and is perfectly natural as a mother. Her role in Behadd is quite similar to the character she played in Meray Paas Paas (a play by Hum TV circa 2005) but it is a testament to her versatility how differently she has done this role compared to that one. Fawad Khan is about as good and has truly, truly grown as an actor, which we saw in Humsafar and the recently concluded Zindagi Gulzar Hai. It is such a wonderful experience, seeing him on the big screen even if it is not a feature film. I seriously hope that he has some feature films coming up in the pipeline – and hopefully one where he plays the quintessential romantic that he does so well.

While Nadia Jamil is the star of the film, kudos to Sajjal who has done a very nice job as the somewhat spoilt yet perceptive young girl who has grown up having her mother as her one-and-only. Nadia Afgan is also great as Shafaq, Masooma’s best friend from work, and adds a lot of colour with her natural flamboyant style.

What was a surprise for me though is the progressive message of the plot. Behadd is written by Umera Ahmed, of the Shehr-e-Zaat and Zindagi Gulzar Hai fame. I am not a fan of her writing, because I feel that it is full of regressive ideas and sweeping statements, like the girl who wears jeans is the evil one and the one who wraps a dupatta round her head is the good one. In this telefilm, however, she has taken a position in favour of a woman, a mother, marrying again and that too a man younger than her.

All in all, I have little bad to say about the film other than the fact that the plot is utterly predictable. It is heartening to see managers of Hum TV, the television channel that singlehandedly steered us out of the reign of awful Indian [and Pakistani] soaps, taking such an initiative. Moomal Productions’ choice of plots is always interesting, and I think it is great that people with artistic sensibilities like that are now looking towards entering cinema. I am hopeful that the revival of Pakistani cinema is nigh if media professionals like these continue to produce film after feature film.

Verdict: Watch out for it on TV and don’t miss! It’s a really sweet film, which is also very well made. An evening well-spent! 


Movie review: Go watch Chambaili

Spoiler Alert!

Just when I was ready to give up on the Pakistani entertainment industry for constantly insulting its audience’s intelligence by producing sub-par content under the justification of “log yehi dekhna chahtay hain” comes Chambaili. It entertains and educates with equal ease.

With Ehteshamuddin, Shahzad Nawaz and Ali Tahir in lead roles, Chambaili is a political thriller that has its finger firmly on the pulse of the public. Set in a Pakistan-like country called Mulk-e-Khudadad (Country given by God), the film revolves around an average urban middle-class family which is torn between staying in and helping things improve in their country or simply giving in and moving out.

They unwittingly end up embroiled in a land dispute in Yaadgaar Colony, a heritage area where a company owned by an influential politician’s son Sultan (Humayun Naz) wants to build Taj Mahal Hotel.  The property that is the bone of contention is the ancestral home of Sarmad (Ali Tahir), who lives in Toronto and has come to Falakabad to attend the engagement of his sister Kiran (Maira Khan). The company, called Shaadbaad Developers, has harassed other neighbors into selling off their homes and Sarmad’s home is the only one standing in their way.

Following the family’s refusal to vacate the house in favor of Shaadbaad Developers, Sultan’s thugs forcibly enter the house, breaking furniture and creating a general ruckus in order to pressurize the family into giving in to their demand. Sarmad decides to let go of the house, but his idealistic poet-journalist friend Musa (Ehteshamuddin), semi-idealist friend Saif (Shahzad Nawaz) and courageous sister Kiran refuse to give in and decide to protest the political party’s pressure tactics.

Thus begins the story of how a small protest and hunger strike by a handful of people outside the Falakabad Press Club spirals into a counter political movement against dynastic politics that fails miserably at representing the people who have supposedly voted in these politicians.

While Chambaili will undoubtedly remind you of Rakeysh Mehra’s Aamir Khan-starrer Rang De Basanti (2006), it certainly manages to hold its own. The music, done by veteran Najam Sheraz, is pretty good and camera-work by Kamran Khan is superb. For a film that touches upon such a vast number of issues, Chambaili is very well-paced and all the issues weave in coherently to form a strong plot. Ehteshamuddin is undoubtedly the star of the show, with his brilliant rendition of some really fantastic lines. The unexpected heroes of the film are Mehreen Syed and Humayun Naz, while Maira Khan has probably also given the best performance of her career so far.

The film is also very pluralistic, with the main analogy being Prophet Moses and Pharoah and one of the main characters being Shia. In the end, the new president specifically addresses all Pakistanis, who are shown praying in a church, a gurudwara as well as a Hindu temple. Secondly, on the wall where Maira’s character has put up framed pictures of all the revolutionaries of the world, Gandhi’s photograph is prominently displayed.

Although the film isn’t without its weaknesses, they aren’t so big that they can’t be overlooked. The second half is a little weaker than the first half, because the focus moves on to actors who are admittedly not the strongest. There are two big questions that I was left with at the end of the film. First, who was the politician, played quite well by Salmaan Peerzada? Was he a chief minister, a governor, the prime minister, who?! Second, how does the Chambaili Party candidate become head of state, when they are only shown campaigning in one city (Falakabad)?

Overall, Chambaili is a great, great film that successful transmits a very strong message without being preachy. The film manages to be patriotic without being jingoistic, urging the viewers to do nothing more than exercise a civic duty: vote. And I, for one, am sure that a majority of the audience left the theatre teary-eyed but more keen than ever to do just that.

Verdict: Chambaili is a must, must watch. Take one, take all!!

Movie review: Keep your eyes away from this one

Perhaps the most apt thing about Chashme Baddoor is its name – not because it does justice to the original but because it uses the words “bad” and “door”. It is so bad, it may be best to stay door from it.

Chashme Baddoor, directed by David Dhawan of the hilarious No.1 film series fame, is unremarkable at best. It is astonishing that a film with people like Rishi Kapoor and Anupam Kher can be such a tedious experience.

The only good part about the film is perhaps the threesome formed by Ali Zafar as Siddharth, Siddharth as Jai and Divyendu Sharma as Omi. The plot, even though borrowed from the 1981 classic of the same name, is quite weak, leaving a number of unanswered questions. You will never be able to tell, for instance, how the three guys manage to get by and how Sid pays for college without anyone ever going to work or even mentioning having a profession.

Sid, Jai and Omi are three best friends and apartment-mates in Goa. Sid is still a student in college, studying Physics or Chemistry or something like that, while Jai harbors dreams of becoming a film actor/producer and Omi wants to be a poet. In actuality, Jai and Omi are good-for-nothing troublemakers who can think of nothing but girls.

Enter Seema (Taapsee Pannu, an actor from the South Indian film industry) who has run away from her home where her father, an army man (Kher), insists that she will marry an army man. She has come to live with her vivacious grandmother and uncle (also Kher), who encourage and support her in her adventure to finding the man of her dreams. Both Jai and Omi try to hit on her unsuccessfully but when Sid and Seema fall in love, they first try to break the couple apart for quite an asinine reason and then try to bring them back together.

Zafar looks every bit the goodie-two-shoes his part required of him. Although the music score is pretty average, he has also done a good job on the singing front too. However, I think that Zafar is a lot more talented than this and is capable of producing much better work. Siddharth is quite impressive in this role, which shows his versatility given that the last commercial Bollywood film he did was Rang De Basanti in which he played a very, very serious role. Divyendu is very cute as the politically incorrect poet and a dimwit. Between Siddharth and Divyendu, there are some truly funny moments such as the one where they go buy a gift for Seema on behalf of Sid.

Verdict: You wouldn’t really miss out on much if you decide to pass Chashme Baddoor. The funny lines are really too far and few between and Dhawan’s comedy, always crass, is particularly lame in this one.


What is the worth of 60 seconds?

How much can you say in one minute? Apparently, quite a lot.

This was proved by a group of very talented young Pakistanis who participated in a delightfully innovative and completely indigenous film festival named the ‘60 Second Film Festival’, contributing films made via professional cameras as well as mobile phone cameras. Films were sent in from across the country, and as many as 200 submissions were received according to organizers, of which 24 were selected to be screened throughout Pakistan. The team has already conducted screenings in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi and plans to take the festival to smaller cities, particularly ones from where the winning films have come.

Interested “filmmakers” were given a host of categories, ranging from environment and HIV to peace, conflict (not the war kind) and democracy. Needless to say, the largest number of films that were screened fell under the topic of peace and terrorism, but a surprisingly large number of well-made films were part of the tolerance category. Although I enjoyed almost all of the films, some of which moved me to tears (because they were so good or so bad), I will go ahead and challenge myself by trying to select five of my favourite films out of the 24 that were screened in Karachi on March 10, 2013:

1. ‘Broken’ by Usama Nasir

The film, categorized under peace, opens with a young kid badgering his father, who is trying to study from a book, to get him a PSP, a helicopter and a plane. The father agrees in an effort to make the kid leave him alone, but he is not to be pacified. Eventually, the father tears apart a map of Pakistan and tells his son to tape it back together. The child comes back, holding up the repaired map and triumphantly exclaiming in all his innocence: “Maine Pakistan ko theek kar diya!” The father asks him how he managed to do that so quickly. The kid replies there was a man’s photograph at the reverse of the map, he taped it back together and the map was fixed.

What a beautiful message – fix yourself to fix the country – and presented in such a beautiful way. This was a film that got me all teary!

2. ‘Tolerance’ by Ali Raza

This film, categorized under tolerance, would remind one of many a Mobilink Jazba ads. The difference? It was short and comes with a brilliant message. We see a young boy walking out to the pitch in test match attire. The voiceover tells the audience that the problem with us Pakistanis is that we try to hit a sixer on every ball and nobody is prepared to let go of even one tricky ball which eventually bowls them out as they try to hit it across the park. “Pitch pe rehna seekho. Apne aap main sabr-o-tahammul paida karo,” the voiceover tells us at the end.

Now that’s what I call a powerful message in a small package.

3. ‘We are not terrorists’ by Sanwal Chishti

This film, categorized under peace, opens with a one-minute digital timer. The audience can hear each second ticking by, creating an uncomfortable feeling that something horrible is about to happen. A man’s eyes are shown as he suspiciously looks into the camera. The camera then zooms out, and we see a microwave oven and hear a ringing sound. The man is question pulls out his food. The end.

Hilarious! The entire hall chuckled at the end of the film, which in one minute, trashed stereotypes and goaded everyone into wondering how little time we take to judge other people.

4. ‘Think’ by Adnan Nawaz

The film, categorized under democracy, shows a box for each party. A man picks up every box and empties it out, showing the votes each party got. The last box says ‘Pakistan’, and when it is emptied out, all that comes out of it is soil.

Don’t vote for the party, vote for the country. Vote wisely, and I can think of no wiser and less-judgmental way of sending that idea across.

5. ‘Personality conflicts’ by Shahzad Rashdi

The film, categorized under conflict, shows a woman putting on perfect make-up while the Bollywood song ‘Sajna hai mujhe sajna ke liye’ plays in the background. And then, she dons on a full niqab hiding everything except for her eyes, and leaves the house.

Although I sensed a few people in the auditorium did not appreciate the humour in the film, given that religion is a holy cow in our society and all things niqabified are beyond reproach, many people laughed and clapped. I was one of them. That is a point that is to be made – these “pious” people with holier-than-thou attitudes who think nothing of pointing fingers at women who do not subscribe to their warped belief system are the actual confused ones. If you’re so religious and believe that women should not “show” their beauty, then why are you using make-up at all? Last time I checked, the purpose of make-up is to enhance the beauty of a woman. Conflicted minds, much?

I must make an honourable mention to Taha Kirmani’s ‘Diya Jalaye Rakhna‘, categorized under peace, that totally crushed my heart. I work for The Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP), a Karachi-based non-profit that is going to great pains to collect the oral histories of the generation of Pakistanis who saw partition first-hand. Through my work with CAP, I have met people who tell me stories of their strong faith and belief in the promise of Pakistan. Pakistan, in 1947, was truly the promised land for these young people. And this film shows just that.

So here’s wishing the 60 Second Film Festival team many, many more. I must especially mention that the team totally won my heart by using a video to accompany Pakistan’s national anthem (played before the screening) which did not focus on our army strength and on top of that, showed Pakistanis in a mosque, a church, a temple and a gurudwara. Well done, you guys! You have your hearts in the right place, and that alone will guide you to immense success.

NOTE: This post earlier stated that the film ‘Think’ did not show a box representing MQM when in fact it does. The correction has been made. 


Movie review: A special film indeed

Few films in Bollywood, even today, rely wholly and solely on the strength of their plot to be entertainers. Special 26 is definitely one of them.

The film, set in 1987, is based on the true story of heist events in India. Akshay Kumar (Ajay) and Anupam Kher (P.K. Sharma) are part of a gang of robbers who conduct huge robberies by posing, very intelligently, as officers from India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (equivalent to Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency). The film begins with them conducting a raid at a politician’s house in Delhi, who refuses to launch an FIR against them for fear of publicizing his own corruption. But a policeman Ranvir Singh (Jimmy Sheirgill), who had been duped by them into believing their identities and has been suspended consequently, refuses to let go until the gang is put behind bars. He approaches the actual CBI and manages to get help from officer Waseem (Manoj Bajpai) and his team to help nail the robbers. Thus begins a great game of cat and mouse, and a thoroughly entertaining and unpredictable one at that.

While Akshay Kumar has done an absolutely brilliant job and Manoj Bajpai has brought a lot into his role, the star of the film is, undoubtedly, Anupam Kher. Like a master, he switches his body language and facial expressions between his two roles as a somewhat-scared old thief and a trained, albeit fake, CBI officer. Director Neeraj Pandey has also established his credentials as a versatile filmmaker as Special 26 is completely different, but no less fantastic, than his debut film A Wednesday.

Special 26, however, isn’t without some weaknesses and tends to become a little bit of a drag. It could have benefited from doing away with the entirely superfluous love story between Akshay Kumar and his ladylove (a girl who lives across from his building in Bombay). Not only did this love track not add anything to the plot, it produces barely average songs which are filmed in full (!!). Even commercial Bollywood films seem to have arrived at the conclusion that full songs don’t have to be included in the film.

Verdict: It is a great film for a light night out. Performances by Kumar, Kher and Bajpai are well worth the time and the plot will keep you engaged right till the end.


The Shah Rukh Khan controversy: Hype and hypocrisy

As anything Shah Rukh Khan would, the Bollywood megastar’s recent article in an Indian magazine, where he admits to having felt discriminated against in constitutionally-secular India for his Muslim identity, has gone viral.

Everyone and their khala has read the interview, sympathising and basing their entire critique of India’s treatment of ‘minorities’ on this one man’s one statement that’s hardly any different from his previous statements on the matter.

Enter our very own Hafiz Saeed, the noble chief of UN-blacklisted charity organisation Jamaatud Dawa. Unable to bear the injustice being meted out to a Muslim brother in (horror of horrors) India, he jumped in with a hospitable suggestion to Khan: move to Pakistan where he will be secure.

As hilarious as that suggestion is, given the kind of security we provide to our own people and how we have historically treated immigrants from India, it points to deep hypocrisy and confusion among the ranks of proponents of anti-India rhetoric in Pakistan.

Before this article, if you had asked these same people about Khan’s Muslim credentials, they would have launched into a diatribe about how he is a shame to the Muslim ummah and destined for hell for his ‘irreligious actions’.

Invariably, his perfectly harmonious marriage to a Hindu woman would have been cited as un-Islamic and a “gunah-e-kabira” (the greatest sin). His children, whose safety they now care for more than that of at-risk Pakistani children, would have been christened as illegitimate progeny. His work and entire career, from which he derives his rozi, would have been termed haraam because his films have music and women in revealing clothing.

So what has changed now? Have his secular beliefs and choices suddenly become acceptable to pious people like Hafiz Saeed? If it really is all about his Muslim identity, why wasn’t Khan hailed as a hero for his work when he co-produced and acted in a film which spoke out against stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists? Didn’t the film give a voice to Muslim men and women, the world over, who are regularly seen with suspicion simply on the basis of faith?

My hope is that in the middle of all this hysteria, somebody will pay attention to the real problem that Khan was trying to point to in his article: our intolerant and jingoistic attitudes that keep us from achieving bigger and better things in life, as people, as a society and as a country.

And that is something that people like Hafiz Saeed can never, ever let nations achieve.

This blog post also appeared on The Express Tribune Blogs’ website here:


Movie review: It takes more than an odd name to make a film entertaining

Just when I was convinced that there is nothing that the supremely talented Vishal Bhardwaj can’t do well, he co-writes Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola.

The film, a romantic comedy, has a trite plot with an equally trite leftist message jammed in where something fresher could have made MKBKM a much more enjoyable experience. Matru (Imran Khan) is a law graduate from Delhi University who, like his father before him, works as an all-purpose servant for the wealthy Mandola family, Harry Mandola (Pankaj Kapur) and the apple of his eye his daughter Bijlee Mandola (Anushka Sharma). Although Matru is supposed to be Harry’s driver, what he really is is Harry’s Man Friday, and Kapur and Khan are fantastic as that pair. Matru is also in love with Bijlee but she is engaged to Baadal (Arya Babbar), son of the state’s chief minister Chaudhari Devi (Shabana Azmi), who she met while studying at Oxford.

Harry loves his drink as much as his daughter and is said to have two different personalities when intoxicated and when not. When sober, and a heartless construction contractor, Harry intends to build a Special Economic Zone in place of wheat farms tended by residents of a village nearby who are led to resistance by a man who calls himself Mao (dear lord!) and communicates with the villagers only through letters written in red (dear, dear lord!). When drunk, Harry transforms into an irreverent Sikh whose takyakalaam is a gaali that involves sisters. Not fully aware of it, he sides with the farmers, leading a movement against his own project while singing a song against capitalists at large. Matru, his faithful servant, is of course right next to him. The film is really all about which version of Harry Mandola overcomes the other and there are no points for guessing which side wins.

Kapur is an absolute delight as Harry Mandola – both of them. It is safe to say that he is the star of the show and, with some help from Babbar, pretty much shoulders the entire responsibility of entertaining the audience. Although they are very convincing in their respective roles, Khan is Khan and Sharma is Sharma from any other film. For me, that was disappointing to say the least because as an avid Vishal Bhardwaj fan, I had expected that he would have been able to help them bring out a hidden actor inside them.

Full points to Bhardwaj for maintaining his signature rustic style and for keeping the film crisp and short; a minute longer and it could have been a disaster like his last film Saat Khoon Maaf. The music, like the dialogue (both done by Bhardwaj), is fun and quirky and songs are very nicely picturised without wasting precious film time. However, it would have been nice if he had not tried to force his wife Rekha Bhardwaj’s voice on Sharma. Also, why the African Zulu tribe was needed in the film is beyond me.

Verdict: The film reminds one of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Delhi 6 with a message that is lost on the audience. Not impressed overall but Pankaj Kapur’s performance is not to be missed.

This blog also appeared on The Express Tribune Blogs here:


How Bollywood entertained us in 2012…outside the cinema!

Here’s hoping you enjoyed this recap of a select few entertaining news stories from 2012 in Bollywood. Happy New Year – may the entertainment continue full-throttle in 2013!

What would Bollywood be without drama? And I don’t mean just the films.

The lives of former stars, current stars and even potential stars are scrutinised to death, sometimes over the most trivial of issues. Here, we compile a list of some of the more interesting, albeit inconsequential and even silly, controversies from 2012.

The Shahrukh Khan chronicles:

For the King of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan (SRK), this was not a good year for the most part. In the first half of the year, he was embroiled in two controversies – fist fights, no less – leading to Bollywood gossip pundits spelling the end of him. In the latter part, however, he pulled a coup – his name will go down in history as the hero of Bollywood kingmaker Yash Chopra’s last directorial venture.

In January 2012, Indian news outlets were abuzz with news that Shah Rukh Khan had slapped best chum Farah Khan’s husband Shirish Kunder at a party thrown by Sanjay and Maanyata Dutt for their wedding anniversary. Reportedly, the fight was initiated by Kunder, who was extremely drunk and had been following SRK around, making provocative remarks. Earlier, he had also sent out a distasteful tweet about SRK’s brainchild Ra.One which was unable to perform to expectations.

SRK and Kunder have never had a good equation. Rumour has it that even when Kunder was working as an editor on Om Shanti Om (the most recent film that Khan and SRK produced together), SRK was not particularly convinced of Kunder’s talents. This led to a souring in the friendship between SRK and Khan, and Tees Maar Khan (TMK) then went to Akshay Kumar with no contribution from SRK at all. A month before TMK was to release, both SRK and Khan appeared on their common buddy Karan Johar’s TV show ‘Koffee With Karan’ (on separate episodes, of course) and admitted to their strained relationship.

At the end, Kunder apologised for his obnoxious behaviour, but sadly SRK and Khan’s relationship appears permanently damaged. Had Khan taken a page from Kajol’s book (discussed later in this blog) and responded a little maturely by not getting involved in the men’s fight and giving public statements about it, perhaps there would still be a door open for the two former best friends to at least repair their friendship.

SRK was back amid similar news in May, when he got involved in a brawl with officials of a cricket stadium in Mumbai, where his Indian Premier League team Kolkata Knight Riders had just won a match. Officials said he was drunk and had behaved “improperly”, while SRK maintained that the officials had manhandled children and then abused him when he went in to stop them. He was eventually banned from the stadium for five years but his team KKR is allowed to play at the stadium.


Meanwhile, in February chotay nawab (young sir) Saif Ali Khan was also part of some bad news involving a scuffle, which was surprising given his squeaky clean reputation as a gentleman. Reportedly, the fight broke out at Taj Hotel in Mumbai, when a businessman complained to the management about the noise being made by Khan and his friends who were having dinner at a table nearby. Khan, apparently drunk, punched the man in the face and was arrested by police, eventually getting bailed out.

The case hasn’t died down yet and a charge sheet was filed against Khan this month.

That wasn’t his only share in Bollywood controversies this year. His marriage to long-time girlfriend superstar Kareena Kapoor in October was the cause of all kinds of speculation. Will Kapoor convert to Islam? Will she at least change her name to Kareena Kapoor Khan? Will Khan’s children attend the wedding? Was Kapoor no longer part of director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Ram Leela?

Will they marry according to the Hindu tradition or Muslim tradition? That last one got a little out of hand, with some Indian Muslim clerics, including leading seminary Darul Uloom Deoband, termed the Saifeena marriage as “anti-Islam.” The actors, of course, reacted the way they have reacted to everything else: with class.

May you have a great and long life together, Saif and Kareena!

Controversy, however, was the flavour of the month in May.

Aamir Khan is fake?

If SRK had stirred up a controversy in that month, his archrival Aamir Khan wasn’t far behind. His immensely popular and well-done television show “Satyamev Jayate”, which debuted in May and ended in August, won a whole lot of praise. But critics didn’t let go of any opportunity to malign Khan’s admirable decision to use his star power for a cause much greater than selling toothpaste (sorry SRK, I still love you!).

From allegations that the show’s emotional content was doctored to claims that this was Khan’s attempt at trying to stay relevant (oh come on!), a million attempts were made to sabotage what the real purpose of “SMJ” was. But, although, the show managed to ruffle some feathers, all was hunky dory until a man who had appeared on the show decided to speak out against khap panchayats was shot dead in November.

I wonder if this will have an impact on the decision of Star Network, which aired the first season of “SMJ”, to go ahead with a second season of the show. It will be sad and unfortunate, to say the least, if the channel chooses to back out.

Hats off, Aamir Khan!

And for those arguing he was proving his relevance, once again: come on!

The Dutt and Varma blame game:

The one controversy where I feel personally involved (because I was among the four people in the theatre who put themselves through the torture of it) is the Department debacle. The film, directed by seasoned director Ram Gopal Varma, starred Sanjay Dutt and Amitabh Bachchan. Yet it is one of the most difficult films I have ever had to sit through.

And what is most annoying is that nobody is willing to take responsibility for it with Dutt and Varma blaming each other for the film’s complete failure and refusing to ever work together again. Varma claimed that Dutt was hindering his creative process while the actor and producer says that the director insisted on using 5D cameras which led to the disaster that the film was.

While Dutt is no stranger to controversy and has earlier blamed directors for his films’ bad performance, Varma has also been losing the magic touch from his wonderful films likeRangeela and Darna Manaa Hai.

It’s difficult to decide who to pin the blame on and if the two will ever go back to working together, but given Dutt and Varma’s recent work, it won’t be much of a loss for Bollywood.

Phew! That’s a lot of stories and I am not even finished with the month yet!

Amitabh-Jaya-Rekha love triangle rekindled?

As if new ones weren’t enough, an old Bollywood controversy was rekindled when yesteryear superstar Rekha joined the Indian upper house as a member. While Rekha took an oath, television cameras zoomed in on Amitabh Bachchan’s wife Jaya Bachchan who is also a member of the house.

Why, you ask?

Well, do you remember the evergreen Yash Chopra classic Silsila?

At that time, rumours were rife that Mr Bachchan and Rekha were having an extra-marital affair and with the two women under the same roof again, the Indian media had a field day with this “replay of Silsila”. Mrs Bachchan was very unhappy with the media focus on her, but clearly the Indian public was not!

Two months later, in July, Mr Bachchan himself was in the news. As he carried the torch at the London Olympics, a group of Sikhs gathered outside the venue to protest Bachchan’s alleged incitement of murders of Sikhs in 1984, following the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that year. However, none of the mainstream news outlets of Britain or India reported this event.

Oh my God, Akshay Kumar!

Talking about protests, we move on to September when a film named OMG! Oh My Godcreated headlines because of it’s, shall we say bold, plot.

The film, produced by superstar Akshay Kumar and Paresh Rawal, shows Rawal as an atheist whose shop of moortis is destroyed during an earthquake. When he tries to file a claim with his insurance company, they tell him that they do not cover damages caused by “acts of God”.

The man then sues God in court, making representatives of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam respondents in the case. Hindu groups, including the fundamentalist Shiv Sena and semi-militant Bajrang Dal, led protests across Punjab and even managed to have the film’s screenings cancelled throughout the state.

The producers, however, have refused to apologise for the film that they say is only “anti-ritualistic” not “anti-religion”. Despite the brouhaha, the film managed to do well enough and that’s because of the strength of the research that has gone into making the film. It is a must watch, and do see it if you haven’t already.

On a side note, I must congratulate India on their thorough secularism, which allowed such a film to be thought of, made and presented in cinemas across the country.

There was a similar reaction in November to the song “Radha” in the film Student of the YearFIRs were reportedly lodged against the film’s producers Karan Johar and Gauri Khan, but the matter is still pending.

Barfi! sweet and sue-able?

Back in September, Ranbir Kapoor starred Barfi! It was officially nominated as India’s entry to the Oscars. But the decision was widely criticised and the film called “copied” down to its soundtrack. The director Anurag Basu, of course, defended his plagiarism as “inspiration” from other films; at one point even citing Martin Scorsese’s Hugo as a similar attempt to pay homage to cinema. But good thing that Barfi! did not make it to the Oscars’ short list because watching the film was really like sitting through an amalgamation of Charlie Chaplin films!

SRK and Devgan troubles, poor Kajol!

SRK is clearly controversy’s favourite child because the year started with something about him and it ended the same way. This time, it was the release date in November of his film Jab Tak Hai Jaan. While I continue to wonder why this useless film was even made, I would give it some respect because it was the last film that the great Yash Chopra made himself.

This is why it was in such bad taste when Ajay Devgan, the producer of Son of Sardaar, claimed that Yash Raj Films was using its “dominant position” to push his film out of screen options and served YRF a legal notice.

The Competition Commission of India, however, rejected Devgn’s plea. Here’s a lesson for Farah Khan: Kajol, Devgn’s wife and SRK’s oldest best friend, reacted very maturely to the issue.

Here’s hoping you enjoyed this recap of a select few entertaining news stories from 2012 in Bollywood.

Happy New Year – may the entertainment continue full-throttle in 2013!

Movie review: Aiyyaa-m in pain

I am a huge Rani Mukerji fan. And I had to repeat that line to myself a hundred times after watching Aiyyaa. Rani is definitely one of the most talented female actors in Bollywood in this generation, which is why I wondered what came over her that she chose to do this film!

Directed by Marathi film-maker Sachin Kundalkar, who was trying his hand at Bollywood for the first time, Aiyyaa is a painful experience to say the least. Meenakshi Deshpande (Rani) is shown to be the only normal person in the ridiculous world where the film is set. She’s a dreamer who wants to make some money so that she can move out of her parents’ madhouse.

She gets a job as a librarian at an art college, where she meets Tamil artist Surya (played by Malayalam actor Prithviraj), and immediately falls in love — with his scent. I kid you not. That’s when I realised that, as some kind of a mental defence system against the atrocity I was putting myself through, I may have been forcing myself to believe that Meenakshi was a normal character.

Kundalkar then tries an assortment of remedies to salvage the film, all of which fall flat on their face. He creates a love triangle as Meenakshi’s mother hooks her up with “ideal husband material” Madhav, which sort of helps the film’s cause for a few minutes. Music by Amit Trivedi (known for his fantastic work in Aisha and Ishaqzaade) also offers brief moments of entertainment.

However, the only real saving grace of the film is not surprisingly Rani Mukerji herself. Subodh Bhave as Madhav is the only character that is enjoyable. Prithviraj barely has any dialogues until the last 30 minutes of the film and every other character is simply trying too hard to bring some humour into an essentially plot-less film. Particularly insufferable is Meenakshi’s best friend Maina, whose character appears to be inspired by Rooh Afza from Pakistani drama serial “Quddusi Sahib Ki Bewa”. Maina is Meenakshi’s raunchy fellow librarian, who is perpetually drunk on vodka. That would be entertaining if it wasn’t so pathetic.

Sadly, there is nothing good that can be said about this film. The script is weak, the acting is mostly bad and while Bollywood audiences appear to be accepting some South Indian film-making influence, Aiyyaa is just too influenced for their taste.

So save yourself the hours of torture and give me the ticket money instead. Believe me, I’m seriously looking for a reimbursement for my cinema ticket.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 28th, 2012.