Movie reviews

Billu
CAST:
Irrfan, Shah Rukh Khan, Lara Dutta, Om Puri, Rajpal Yadav, Asrani
DIRECTOR: Priyadarshan
Once upon an ancient time, an exemplary friendship illumined our land: tales of Lord Krishna and his childhood pal Sudama, perhaps apocryphal, perhaps mythical, still continue to regale and delight us.
Monster Malyalam hit Katha Parayumpol becomes Billu on its way to the Hindi heartland via Priyadarshan. In the remake, Irrfan plays the barber who shared tiffin with superstar Sahir Khan when they were carefree schoolchildren. Now all grown up, Billu is still dirt poor, living with wife and two kids in a spartan hut, and Sahir is the 'badshah' of Bollywood.
The film, geared towards the climactic point of the two opposite poles meeting, is supposed to thrive on the tensions built by the director, in the lives of Billu and Sahir. But except for a couple of sequences which hit the emotional spot, Priyadarshan's latest is devoid of the essential drama that would have made Billu a memorable film.
Can you put a high-octane performer like SRK and a fabulous actor like Irrfan in one film and draw a near blank? Priyan has done exactly that by abandoning his usual exuberance, which makes his films such loud, take-you-out-of-yourself experiences. Here he goes uncharacteristically sedate, and keeps everything so toned down that almost nothing lifts off the screen.
Too much time is spent getting Billu and Sahir to meet, and the interim passes slowly. Irrfan is wonderful, but is surrounded by a lot of dead wood: except for Asrani, the rest of the bit parts never go beyond their lines. Or are just plain uninteresting. How many times can you see a mustachioed Om Puri (playing a greedy money-lender) drive up to Billu's little shop in the middle of a village chowk (note to the filmmakers: sets will always be sets, and never the real thing: a UP village will never have a round circle dotted with subziwalas, naiees (barbers), and other bric-a-brac, it's always intersecting galis), and yell at him? And Lara as a village belle may not be as much a stretch as the one she was in Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost, but only a tad: her flawlessly cut low-back cholis are a fashion statement you won't find in villages.
SRK, playing a character as close to himself as you wouldn't notice (and you're not supposed to), charges up the scene every time he comes on, saying something pithy. Which happens too seldom, because he's too busy boosting the film with item numbers with Kareena, Priyanka and Deepika. Happily, he does reserve some lovely lines for himself: "I'm the only movie star who has more men than women around me". He's saying that apropos of the macho security men who surround him, but ha ha, read between the lines. He also uses the film to launch broadsides at people who say nasty things about the Khans and Bollywood rivalries, and pompous types who do not respect actors: not for nothing is he the smartest of them all.
Watch it for Irrfan who gets every shade in, from self-respect to bafflement to misery, in his portrayal of a poor man who's got too much pride to remember himself to a friend who's gone so far ahead of him in life's sweepstakes. And for SRK playing SRK. Just don't pay too much attention to the film.

The Stoneman Murders
CAST:
Kay Kay Menon, Arbaaz Khan, Vikram Gokhale, Rukhsar, Virendra Saxena
DIRECTOR: Manish Gupta
BACK in the early 80s, a series of brutal murders held Bombay in thrall. The victims were all pavement dwellers, killed in their sleep, with the same weapon: a big, heavy stone was used to smash their heads. The killer was dubbed 'Patharmaar' in the press, and with passing time and no results, the case got buried, and forgotten.
The Stoneman Murders reveals the horrifying secret, like a proper murder mystery should, right at the end. The narrative is linear and non-fussy, the story-telling direct, peppered with some truly chilling moments.
It unspools with discredited cop Kay Kay being assigned to the case in an unofficial capacity: he's on suspension because of a custody death, but he's so convinced he can crack it, that his boss agrees. The gathering of forensic evidence, photographs of the corpses, and the sifting that follows is classic detective territory, and the director does a good job of keeping it simple, but keeping it going.
Some forced moments intrude: what was the need of a nude back shot of Rukhsar, playing Kay Kay's lonely wife? As things stand, the deeply-troubled Kay Kay doesn't follow through, just turns his back on her, and goes off to sleep.
On the whole, though, The Stoneman Murders delivers on what it sets out to do: building a portrait of a disturbed, deranged mind, which thinks killing will set it free. And a solid performance from the always-watchable Kay Kay.

Jugaad
CAST:
Manoj Bajpai, Vijay Raaz, Sanjay Mishra, Govind Namdeo, Hrishita Bhatt
DIRECTOR: R Anand Kumar
WHAT do you do when your building is sealed? Why, you just move into another, with the help of shady property dealers who come leaping out to help you, but only want to fleece you. Your temporary shelter has no bijli or paani, but your trusty middleman will fix it for you: all you need to do is to keep the money flowing. You try getting to the municipal officer who's got, dreaded word, your file, but corrupt babus will first demand their pound of flesh. Many pounds.
This is a very Delhi story, based on the sealing drive that happened recently (and which still keeps landlords on tenterhooks). Manoj Bajpai plays the advertising professional who's made good and whose building is sealed. His chief cohort (Vijay Raaz) tries to help, but gets nowhere, confronted as he is by a scotch-swilling commissioner (Govind Namdeo).
It's all too familiar, and not particularly well-made. The lack of production values, and the inclusion of constant off-key jokes involving men and urinals, don't help either. It's sad to see the talented Manoj Bajpai, who's seen on screen after a long gap, reduced to doing a film like this: he deserves better.

Shubhra Gupta
shubhra.gupta@gmail.com

SEVEN POUNDS
CAST:
Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson
DIRECTOR: Gabriele Muccino
FROM the director-actor duo of The Pursuit of Happyness, comes a film about pursuing sadness, a pursuit so dogged that the only way out is killing oneself with the sting of a jellyfish.
Will Smith shoulders that sadness with visible effort, walking around with his face bunched up, his eyes brimming with unshed tears. He has a heavy secret weighing down his heart, and though Muccino and writer Grant Nieporte would like to believe it's a "secret", you more or less guess what it is. What Smith's Ben Thomas sees as his salvation is what Seven Pounds is about.
Not only is the idea so far out to be only fiction, it is so sadly executed that you can be pardoned for thinking Will Smith has remade Hancock, with less booze, more heart but as many powers and apparently as much grief.
Ben has superhuman qualities of goodness, which range from staying up all night by hospital beds of strangers and clearing their gardens, to gifting away beach houses and getting bone marrow extracted without anaesthesia. And that's just one day in the life of Ben. The night he spends fixing the attractive but dying Ms Posa's (Dawson) "original Heidelberg" printing press. He is an MIT graduate, and was a space scientist of some sort.
In his new life, post that "secret" event we are kept in the dark about, he pretends to be an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officer, who - it appears so, at least - accesses data of dying or seriously ill patients through the network and then helps them out. While IRS isn't known for such angelic acts, who looks a gift horse in the mouth?
In the sadness at display, emphasised repeatedly in dark hospital corridors and lonely motel rooms, the idea perhaps is to have us feel sorry for Ben. But that's hard to do, given how sorry he feels for himself. His decision to have a "relationship" with Posa in the light of what he is going to do is perhaps the most selfish of acts. Harrelson fares worst, as just another faceless name in Ben's be-grateful-to-me check list. Granted they are two very different films, but The Pursuit of Happyness knew this basic difference. Happiness is to be shared, sadness generally borne alone. Seven Pounds won't stop trying to bring on the tears.

HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU
CAST:
Jennifer Connelly, Jennifer Aniston, Ginnifer Goodwin, Scarlett Johansson, Drew Barrymore, Ben Affleck, Kevin Connolly, Bradley Cooper DIRECTOR: Ken Kwapis
HE'S Just Not That Into You is obviously directed at the Valentine's crowd. The rest of it? Well, one can't be sure, but here's a list:
A) Men can be mean, but they are men. So take them, leave them or spend the rest of your life waiting by your phone, computer or Facebook to hear from them;
B) No man wants marriage, and if you "force" them into it, you are to blame if things go wrong, like him sleeping around with a "hot" woman;
C) Marriage anyway isn't what it's made out to be because all married men laze around while your boyfriend for many years may just surprise you with how fast he can clean the dishes;
D) All women only want marriage, or are in the process of hooking a man into it, and once they are there, only kids. What's surprising is how many marquee names Kwapis has lined up for these regurgigated romantic lectures on when to know when someone is into someone. Much, it seems, hangs by who calls whom, though as most would tell you, there are other ways to tell. Many of the names get barely a look-in, like Drew Barrymore, while the irritating Goodwin with weird hair giggles through her extraordinarily long screen presence. Hers is to be insulted in the name of open-hearted innocence, not to question why, and justify it as a means to finding true love.Johansson has also made an art of it, allowing herself to be used once again as a pretty face and body who apparently doesn't want to be see beyond either. However, perhaps in a film that portends to be a self-help to love on a day where you better love or be damned, she has judged the best. As others go through the motions of heartbreak and make-up, she flits through as a sexy, shallow, vapid "singer" of some kind. She is just not that into it.

SHALINI LANGER
shalini.langer@expressindia.com

Please read our terms of use before posting comments
TERMS OF USE: The views expressed in comments published on indianexpress.com are those of the comment writer's alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of The Indian Express Group or its staff. Comments are automatically posted live; however, indianexpress.com reserves the right to take it down at any time. We also reserve the right not to publish comments that are abusive, obscene, inflammatory, derogatory or defamatory.