Excel Entertainment and Tiger Baby’s Gully Boy (UA) is the story of an aspiring rap singer and his journey from rags to stardom. It borrows liberally from the life stories of rap singers Naezy and Divine.

Murad (Ranveer Singh) is a lower middle-class boy who studies in college and lives in a chawl with his father (Vijay Raaz), mother (Amruta Subhash), younger brother, Suhail (Svar Kamble), and grandmother (Jyoti Subhash). His father is a driver of a rich family. The father wants Murad to also take up some small job so that he can supplement the family income. However, Murad’s heart is in rap songs. He dreams of becoming a rap singer but doesn’t know how to go about it. He writes his own songs and is very passionate about rapping. His father hates Murad’s passion and can’t see eye to eye with him on that. In fact, the father asks Murad to fill in for him as driver when he himself meets with an accident which sees his leg in cast. Murad obliges but hates the very thought of serving someone in this fashion. So he continues to pursue his dream, now with rapper-friend MC Sher (Siddhant Chaturvedi).

Murad is in love with Safeena (Alia Bhatt) who is studying to be a doctor. Safeena is also mad about Murad and can well understand his passion. Safeena’s parents (Sheeba Chaddha who is a housewife, and Ikhlaque Khan who is a doctor) are unaware of Safeena’s affair.

Even while Murad’s struggle is on, his father marries another lady, Parveen (Tina Bhatiya), and gets her to stay in the tiny house, with the rest of the family. This frustrates Murad even more. Anyway, things are looking up on the professional front as Sky (Kalki Koechlin), a music composer, collaborates with Murad and MC Sher.

There comes a stage when Murad and Safeena drift apart due to differences. Meanwhile, Murad is working hard to qualify for the finals in the rap singing contest which will win him Rs. 10 lakh in prize money and give him a chance to meet a famous international rap singer. Along the way, Murad is forced to leave home with his mom and brother. His maternal uncle, Ateeq (Vijay Maurya), tries to get him a respectable job but is Murad interested at all?

What happens finally? Does Murad take up a nine-to-five job or does he step into his father’s shoes or does he become a rap singer? Does he qualify for the finals and win the competition? Do Murad and Safeena patch up? What had led to Murad and Safeena’s break-up?

The film’s story, inspired by the lives of two famous rap singers, has been written by Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar. The story is penned in such an extraordinary fashion that it has the audience hooked on to it right from the word ‘go’. The characters are so real and their aspirations, so relateable that the story, in a way, becomes everyone’s story. The hookline – Apna time aayega – is a fantastic one because it has been an aspirational hookline for every human being at some point or the other. In that sense also, the story becomes the story of every person watching the film.

Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar deserve distinction marks for an outstanding screenplay which completely and absolutely consumes the audience. The screenplay has layers and each layer is splendid. Murad’s family drama has a lot of meat. Safeena’s family story is also extremely interesting. Murad and Safeena’s love story has a lot of depth, humour and emotions. Murad’s journey, of course, is simply remarkable. The sub-plots in the drama are several and each of them has been so wonderfully written that one can’t help but marvel at the genius of the two writers. The screenplay may not make the viewers cry but it does get a tear to the eyes of the weak-hearted while filling the strong-hearted with emotions. The humour is simply delightful. Yes, a film about rap singers and singing and with 17-18 rap songs may not appeal to a section of the over-50 (age group) audience but even they would like the other dramas in the screenplay. Frankly, one was not aware of the popularity of the rap culture in India till the first trailer of this film was out – after which, it seemed as if Indians, especially the youth, have had an affair with rap singing since ages! In other words, there may be some who may be sceptical about an entire film on rap artistes but once in the film, many among those will take to it like fish to water. The climax looks abrupt but the tying up of loose threads in the end rolling titles makes up for the sudden ending.

Vijay Maurya deserves high praise for his mind-blowing dialogues. He has used the language which lower middle-class Muslims use, complete with the accent and all. Not just that, his dialogues are so weighty that they become a major asset of the film.

Ranveer Singh lends tremendous energy to the character of Murad. He does a splendid job and comes out with flying colours. Kudos to him for looking every inch like a lower middle-class chawl-residing Muslim boy raring to pursue his passion, and his awkwardness as a fresher is lovely. He delivers an award-winning performance and proves that no role is difficult for him. This actor is a strong candidate for superstardom! Alia Bhatt shines in the role of Safeena, which she plays with élan. Although the story revolves around Ranveer Singh, there are six to seven scenes which belong to Alia and she stands out so extraordinarily in them that everyone else pales into insignificance. This girl is just in a different league altogether. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that her’s, too, is an award-worthy performance. She looks very beautiful also. Siddhant Chaturvedi looks handsome and is absolutely first-rate as MC Sher. He is so endearing in his debut role that girls will go weak in the knees. Kalki Koechlin is excellent as Sky. Although she has a brief role, she has a terrific impact on the audience. Vijay Raaz lends a great deal of authenticity to his character. He performs beautifully as Murad’s father and looks the character. Amruta Subhash is lovely as Murad’s suffering mother. Sheeba Chaddha has her moments as Safeena’s mother. Ikhlaque Khan is restrained in the role of Safeena’s father. Vijay Maurya stands his own as Murad’s maternal uncle, Ateeq. Vijay Verma is natural to the core as Moeen. Nakul Roshan Sahdev is very good as Salman. Rahil Gilani makes his presence felt as Rishi. Jyoti Subhash (as Murad’s grandmother), Tina Bhatiya (as Murad’s stepmother, Parveen), Rohini Ramnathan (as Murad’s maternal aunt), Svar Kamble (as Suhail), and Malika Singh (as Suhani) provide excellent support. Srishti Shrivastava (as Albina), Ved Thapar (as Sher’s dad), and the rest are also lovely.

Zoya Akhtar’s direction deserves distinction marks. She needs to be lauded for having the courage to make a commercial film on rap culture and making such a wonderfully entertaining film. Her narration keeps the audience totally engrossed. She will win a lot of praise for her direction. Music is excellent. ‘Apna time aayega’, ‘Mere galli mein’, ‘Doori’, ‘Azadi’, ‘Asli hip hop’ and ‘Kab se kab tak’ are excellent songs. ‘Apna time aayega’, of course, has already become a rage. Although all the music directors and lyricists deserve pats on their backs, the ones who stand out are music directors Spitfire, Divine, Naezy, Sez On The Beat, Rishi Rich, Major C, Dub Sharma, Ankur Tewari, Karsh Kale, Ace and Ishq Bector, and lyricists Spitfire, Divine, Naezy, Javed Akhtar, Dub Sharma, Kaam Bhari, Ankur Tewari and Ace. Javed Akhtar’s lyrics of Murad’s poems deserve special mention. Bosco-Caesar’s choreography is fantastic. Background music (by Karsh Kale and Savage Audio Collective) is terrific. Jay Oza’s cinematography is brilliant. Manohar Verma and Sunil Rodrigues’ action scenes and stunts are lovely. Suzanne Caplan Merwanji’s production designing is of a high standard. Nitin Baid’s editing is super-sharp.

On the whole, Gully Boy is a blockbuster. Its hookline, ‘Apna time aayega’, is so identifiable that it will resonate with the audience. There would be a section of the audience which may find the rap songs too much to handle but there will be a huge chunk of young viewers who would go bonkers over the film. Repeat audiences will be aplenty. Yes, the film may not work in several centres but its business from the big and medium cities will be so huge that it will turn out to be a richly rewarding enterprise.

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Vinod Chopra Films and Fox Star Studios’ Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (UA) is a love story of an unusual kind.

Balbir Chaudhury (Anil Kapoor) lives with his daughter, Sweety (Sonam Kapoor Ahuja), son, Babloo (Abhishek Duhan), and mother, Bijee (Madhumalti Kapoor). Balbir runs a garments business.

Sahil Mirza (Rajkumar Rao) is a stage-play writer whom success has been eluding. A chance meeting bet­ween Sahil and Sweety creates a misunderstanding in the mind of Babloo that his sister, Sweety, is in love with Sahil who is Muslim. Babloo reveals this to the family which is not at all happy. Even though Sweety does not love Sahil, she is unable to express this to the family which is now worried. The fact is that Sweety just likes Sahil as a friend in whom she wants to confide her predicament.

Sweety’s predicament is that she has no feelings for men but likes girls instead. She has always been inclined towards girls but has never been able to come out of the closet. Brother Babloo is the only person in the family who knows about Sweety’s problem since school days but he has never shared this with the elders in the family. All he has done down the years is to try to correct Sweety.

Finally, a situation arises when Balbir Chaudhury agrees to marry off Sweety with Sahil. It may be mentioned here that Balbir is still not aware that Sweety and Sahil are not in love. In fact, it is somehow never anyone’s endeavour to clear the air about the real love story. Frankly, till Sweety does not share her ‘problem’ with Sahil, even he thinks that she loves him. And so, he is happy to be in Moga where Sweety lives, to conduct acting classes and hold stage-plays.

When Sahil does learn about Sweety’s curious love story, he thinks up a plan to reveal this to the family and world at large. For promoting the garments of Balbir’s garment factory, Sahil asks Balbir Chaudhury to hold a stage-play, the story of which would be written and directed by Sahil himself. Balbir agrees but when Sahil writes the love story of Sweety and Kuhu (Regina Cassandra, her current girlfriend), Balbir is aghast at the concept. Why, Kuhu herself has been called to play her part.

This is when Babloo reveals the truth about younger sister Sweety’s sexual orientation to the family. What happens thereafter? Does Balbir Chaudhury come around? Does Bijee accept Sweety and Kuhu’s relationship? Is Sahil’s play staged? What is the reaction of the people of Moga to the stage-play and to Sweety’s love story?

Gazal Dhaliwal and Shelly Chopra Dhar have penned a story and screenplay which draw inspiration from P.G. Wodehouse’s novel, A Damsel In Distress. The story is bold for the Hindi film-going audience, no doubt, because a commercial film’s heroine being shown in a homosexual relationship is not usual. But it is so shoddily written that a story like this would almost appear to be the norm. The two writers seem to have overlooked the fact that the story would require a change of mindset of the audience and hence, needed to have been written with much more understanding and care. They’ve actually treated it a bit too casually.

The drama is very slow-paced and often tests the audience’s patience. At times, it appears as if the two writers got excited about making a path-breaking film on same-sex relationship and went ahead with just this exciting thought, not bothered about the rest of the story. Besides being slow, there are several other drawbacks too. For one, there seems to be no communication between characters in the film. Babloo knows about Sweety’s sexual preferences since school days and although he is only slightly older than her, he doesn’t deem it proper to inform anybody else in the family about the same. Why? No plausible reasons are given. Again, the same Babloo assumes that Sweety is in love with a Muslim boy, Sahil! Isn’t it obvious that he would ask Sweety how she had fallen in love with a boy despite her sexual orientation? But nothing of the sort happens. He breaks the news about Sweety’s affair with a Muslim boy as if it’s the worst news in the world. The viewers wonder whether he felt relieved that she was in love with a guy (given that her sexual preference had haunted him all through their growing up years) or he felt equally or more traumatised that the guy she was in love with was a Muslim.

Sweety very conveniently never gets a chance to clarify that there’s nothing between her and Sahil. Why, even Sahil takes the news that Sweety loves him, in his stride so easily and doesn’t really care to know how it happened. In other words, the characters in the film behave weirdly even when it comes to matters of great importance. Clearly, the writer-duo had not much to convey in the first half and so, they very conveniently opted for misunderstandings to be created by showing both, Sweety and Sahil, tongue-tied each time there’s a reference made to their non-existent affair. Why it should be so difficult to just clarify that there’s no affair whatsoever is simply not explained.

Another major drawback of the duo’s screenplay is the climax. Given that the film tackles a bold subject, the climax ought to have been written with all the conviction at one’s command. But that’s exactly what’s lacking in the climax. It is so flat and so not convincing that it fails to have any impact on the viewers. For the writers to have assumed that such a shoddily written climax would change the mindsets of the audience and make them feel sympathetic towards same-sex relationships is nothing short of foolhardiness. Gazal Dhaliwal’s dialogues are good but not punch-packed, as was the need.

Anil Kapoor is sincere in his acting as Balbir Chaudhury. He is natural to the core and especially delivers a fantastic performance in the climax. Unfortunately, the climax fails to hold despite his acting – and that’s because of the poor scripting. Sonam Kapoor Ahuja looks very pretty and does a reasonably good job as Sweety. Her performance ought to have been splendid because it’s a path-breaking character she plays, but that’s not so. Rajkumar Rao is so easy in front of the camera that it’s delightful to see him play Sahil Mirza in the film. He is fantastic. Juhi Chawla is cute and plays well the suitably loud Punjabi that she is needed to portray as Chhatro. Abhishek Duhan is effective as Babloo Chaudhury. Regina Cassandra looks beautiful and is suitably restrained as Kuhu. Madhumalti Kapoor shines as Bijee. Seema Pahwa makes her presence amply felt in the role of household cook Billauri. Brijendra Kala is endearing as Chaubey. Alka Kaushal and Kanwaljit Singh leave their marks as Sahil’s parents. Akshay Oberoi looks handsome and is alright as Raza. Sandeep Kapoor has his moments as Joginder. Teddy Lalji Maurya (as the play director) is good. Manoj Bakshi’s comedy in the police station is entertaining. Sara Arjun (as the 12-year-old Sweety) leaves a fine impression with a lovely performance. Yash Arora is good as the 14-year-old Babloo. Dilnoor (as the 8-year-old Sweety), Hiten (as the 10-year-old Babloo), and the rest lend adequate support.

Shelly Chopra Dhar’s direction is weak. She has not been able to convert the drama into a moving or even an intelligent film. The narration is so flat and, like the script, is devoid of conviction. Music (Rochak Kohli) is quite good. The title song (recreated), ‘Gudi naalon ishq’ and ‘Chitthiye’ are well-tuned numbers. Lyrics (Gurpreet Saini) are appropriate. Song picturisations (Adil Sheikh for ‘Good morning’ and party song; and Mudassar for ‘Gudi naalon ishq’) are fairly nice. Background music (by Sanjay Wandrekar and Atul Raninga) is quite nice. Cinematography (Himman Dhamija; additional cinematography by Rangarajan Ramabadran) is very nice. Rajat Poddar and Teddy Lalji Maurya’s production designing is of a good standard. Ashish Suryavanshi’s editing could’ve been tighter.

On the whole, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is a flop fare because it absolutely lacks conviction that a bold subject like the one it tackles required. It will find favour with a tiny section of the gentry but the rest of the public will reject it.

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Viacom18 Motion Pictures, Carnival Motion Pictures, Sanjay Raut and Raut’ers Entertainment LLP’s Thackeray (UA) is a biopic of political leader Bal Thackeray. It talks about late Bal Thackeray’s philosophy and political ideology. The man was prepared to do anything for the welfare of the Marathi manoos, which was all that seemed to matter to him. In the process, he cared little for logic or law and earned the nickname of a firebrand leader of Maharashtra.

Sanjay Raut has penned the story based on incidents and episodes that happened in Thackeray’s life. Although the leader holds a position of esteem in the eyes of the Marathi-speaking public, it is not necessary that the public across India would endorse his ideology of violence and threats. Yes, it mostly appears in the film as if Bal Thackeray’s actions were retaliatory in nature, but the audience outside Maharashtra will not buy this theory. In other words, the viewers outside Maharashtra will not empathise with Thackeray’s philosophy and hence will find his actions too controversial. Breaking the law of the land, killing people cannot all be everybody’s idea of politics.

Abhijit Panse’s screenplay is an assemblage of anecdotes from Thackeray’s life. Again, these anecdotes are double-edged. While the Maharashtrian public would find the anecdotes praiseworthy, the same cannot be said of the public outside the state, where Bal Thackeray did not enjoy cult status. Yes, it does give an insight into the life and nature of the Shiv Sena supremo but that may be too much for the audience (outside Maharashtra) to digest. Had Bal Thackeray been a national hero, the screenplay would have worked big time. Had even his actions touched lives of non-Maharashtrians in an emotional way, the screenplay and drama would’ve been palatable for everyone. But that wasn’t the case, and, therefore, the screenplay has restricted appeal.

Arvind Jagtap and Manoj Yadav’s dialogues are better than the story and screenplay. The dialogues are, in fact, excellent.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui looks like Bal Thackeray quite a bit and does a fan­tastic job. It is delightful to see him play the legendary leader with such a flair. Amrita Rao plays his wife, Meena, fairly well and with restraint. Mukund Gosavi leaves a mark as Prabodhankar Thackeray. Rajesh Khera is effective as Morarji Desai. Sandeep Khare is fair in the role of Manohar Joshi. Praveen Tarde makes his presence felt as Datta Salvi. Prakash Belawadi has his moments as George Fernandes. Nikhil Mahajan is natural as Sharad Pawar. Avantika Akerkar leaves a fine mark as Indira Gandhi. Vinit Sharma lends lovely support as police inspector Emmanuel Modak. Jayawant Wadkar is effective as a police officer. Anil Sutar (as Dada Kondke), Chetan Sharma (as Dilip Vengsarkar), Ashish Patode (as Javed Miandad), Sanjay Narvekar (as Comrade Krishna Desai), Sanjay Kulkarni (as Divakar Ravate), Mohaniraj Khare (as Pramod Navalkar), Prabhakar More (as Wamanrao Mahadik), Ashok Lokhande (as Yashwantrao Chavan), Sudhir Mishra (as Mastan), Praful Samant (in the role of Vasantrao Naik), Balaji Deshpande (as Rajni Patel), Rajeev Panday, and the rest provide good support.

Abhijit Panse’s direction is good. The mob scenes especially deserve mention. But the film’s narration pre-supposes a certain level of knowledge about the life of Thackeray. Therefore, it will be difficult for the audiences outside Maharashtra to feel thoroughly engaged and involved because they do not know so much about the late leader. Rohan-Rohan’s music is alright. Lyrics (by Dr. Sunil Jogi and Manoj Yadav) are impactful. Amar Mohile’s background music could’ve been more effective. It is, nevertheless, reasonably fine. Sudeep Chatterjee’s cinematography is superb. The film has been shot in parts in B & W. Pradyumna Kumar Swain’s action and stunts are raw. Sandeep Sharad Ravade’s production designing and Nitin Wable and Rajat Pathare’s art direction are good. Ashish Mhatre and Apurva Motiwale Sahai’s editing is decently sharp.

On the whole, Thackeray has masala for the audience in Maharashtra mainly. Outside the state of Maharashtra, the film stands bleak chances despite a National holiday today (January 26) due to Republic Day. Collections will show a big jump in Maharashtra today.

The film has opened in Marathi also and it will also score in Maharashtra.

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Zee Studios, Kamal Jain and Kairos Kontent Studios’ Manikarnika – Jhansi Ki Rani (UA) is a biopic of the great woman warrior, the queen of Jhansi, Rani Laxmibai, who fought valiantly against the British Raj to secure India’s freedom. The film traces her fight to first save her own Jhansi and then, her struggle to make India independent of the British rule.

The story begins with the birth of a young girl whom the sage christens Manikarnika. She grows up to be a beautiful girl (Kangana Ranaut) who is well-versed in warfare and self-defence. She gets married at a very young age to Gangadhar (Jisshu Sengupta) who is more or less like a slave to the Britishers because he finds himself helpless. Soon, Manikarnika delivers her first child but he is poisoned to death by Gangadhar’s power-hungry brother, Sadashiv Rao (Mohd. Zeeshan Ayub). Gangadhar also becomes a victim of the evil machinations of Sadashiv Rao and soon passes away. How Manikarnika, instead of crying over her fate, rises to the occasion and takes care of Jhansi and its people is what the following part of the story reveals. Major General Gordon (Edward Sonnenblick) throws Manikarnika out of her palace in a bid to put an end to the formidable opposition she poses to the Britishers. How Manikarnika launches the Indian Rebellion in 1857 which is considered a major uprising and the first war of independence against the rule of the East India Company that functioned as a sovereign power on behalf of the British Crown is what the latter part of the drama is all about.

Not satisfied with just saving Jhansi with the help of her army as well as by training housewives in warfare, Manikarnika now begins to fight the internal enemies to make India strong. She first captures Gwalior from the Indian ruler but while putting up stiff opposition to the Britishers, Manikarnika lays down her life for the country. She never once thinks of running away from the battlefield and, in fact, poses a tough challenge to the British Raj despite being a woman and in spite of a far smaller army.

Vijayendra Prasad has written the story of Rani Laxmibai as we know it from our history books but, of course, with far more details thrown in. His screenplay is also more detailed but the fact remains that the drama is a chapter out of history books of 1857 and thereabouts. The relevance for today’s youth, therefore, is limited. That may not have been such a major problem had the screenplay been more interesting, engaging and dramatic. But because there aren’t too many emotions – family as well as patriotic emotions – the impact is diluted. Rather than exploiting the women-centric emotions of Manikarnika, Vijayendra Prasad has concentrated completely and absolutely on showing her as an extremely brave and ruthless warrior who cares not for herself. Even her contribution to the freedom struggle fails to inspire the patriotic feelings in the viewers to the extent it should have. Furthermore, every film drama requires a protagonist and an equally strong antagonist to become enjoyable. But Prasad, while making a hero out of Manikarnika’s protagonist, has not really given the audience an equally solid antagonist. The British army and the British rulers apart, what the viewers needed were some solid names and faces.

The drama is also too long-drawn and gets repetitive at places. The last half an hour, which should have been the most dramatic and exciting, is simply not that.

Of course, that does not mean, there’s nothing for the audience in the screenplay. Manikarnika’s bravery and firebrand attitude are praiseworthy and will especially be loved by the womenfolk, more so the 30-plus and 40-plus ladies. Her selfless fight for the country does excite the viewers at places but if only that had been given a fantastic dash of emotional embellishment, the drama could’ve worked wonders.

Prasoon Joshi’s dialogues are very good but only at places. A film of this kind needed at least 10 to 15 clap-worthy dialogues with lots of punches packed in. Frankly, with Manikarnika not having too many dialogue-laden confrontation scenes, where was the scope for clap-trap dialogues?

Kangana Ranaut does an extraordinary job in the title role. She acts with effortless ease, proving that she has worked hard to play the warrior so smoothly. She looks stunning, and her costumes and jewellery will be topics of discussion among the ladies audience. Danny Denzongpa is pretty effective as Ghulam Ghaus Khan but gets limited scope. Suresh Oberoi, in a brief role, stands his own as Peshwa of Bithoor. Atul Kulkarni leaves a mark as Tatya Tope. Kulbhushan Kharbanda has his moments as Dixit-ji. Jisshu Sengupta (voice dubbed by Sanjay Suri) is fair as Gangadhar. Mohd. Zeeshan Ayub performs ably as the evil Sadashiv Rao but he does not have a substantive role. Ankita Lokhande makes a fair big-screen debut as Jhalkari. Mishti Chakraborty looks very beautiful and acts well as Kashi. Unnati Davara (as Mundar) and Priya Gamre (as Sundar) are good. Suparna Marwah lends decent support as Rajmata. Vaibhav Tatwawaadi (as Puran Singh), Nihar Pandya (as Rao), Vikram Kochar (as Nana), Anil George (as Pir Ali), Tahir Mithaiwala (as Sangram Singh), Edward Sonnenblick (as Major Genral Gordon), Richard Keep (as Hugh Rose), Manish Wadhwa (as Moropant), Romit Puri (as Sadashiv Rao’s man), Lata Shukla (as the old lady), Kristina (as Gordon’s wife), Aditi Gupta (as village girl Laxmi), Ravi Prakash (as king Scindia), Nalneesh Neel (as Teer Singh), baby Katelyn Rodrigues (as little Manikarnika), baby Alexandra (as Gordon’s daughter), Rajiv Kachroo (as Gul Mohammad), Amit Behl (as Dinkar Rao), master Aarav Jaiswal (as little Damodar Rao), Rajveer Singh (as Teer Singh’s assistant) and the rest provide fair support.

Kangana Ranaut and Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi’s (Krish) direction is fair. Their narrative style needed to be far more humane to strike a chord in the hearts of the viewers. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music is not as good as it should’ve been. At least two to three songs should’ve been hits. No doubt, a couple of songs are good but that’s just not enough. Prasoon Joshi’s lyrics are suitably inspirational where necessary. Song picturisations (by Brinda, Bosco-Cae­sar, Ganesh Acharya and Saroj Khan) are good but could’ve been more exciting. Sanchit Balhara and Ankit Balhara’s background music is fairly nice. Camerawork (Gnana Shekar V.S. and Kiran Deohans) is very good. Action scenes and stunts have been choreographed effectively by Nick Powell, Todor Lazarov and Riyaz-Habib. Production designing (by Murlidhar J. Sabat, Ratan Suryawanshi and Sukant Panigrahy) is of a good standard. Rameshwar Bhagat’s editing needed to be sharper.

On the whole, Manikarnika – Jhansi Ki Rani is a below-average fare which lacks a strong patriotic flavour and a strong antagonist. It has Kangana trying very hard to take it to the victory post but that’s a tall order because of the relatively slow start and absence of entertainment value for the youth. Collections will jump tomorrow (26th January) due to Republic Day national holiday but that won’t be enough to ensure that the film reaches the safety mark.

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Prakash Jha Productions and Drama King Entertainment’s Fraud Saiyaan (UA) is the story of a man who has multiple wives, each having been conned by him into marrying him so that he never has shortage of money. While some girls bring dowry in property, others are cash-rich.

Bhola (Arshad Warsi) is married to several girls. Sunita (Deepali Pansare), one of his wives, asks him to receive her uncle, Murari Chourasia (Saurabh Shukla), at Lucknow railway station and bring him home. But before Bhola can reach the station, Murari informs Sunita that since he is going to Banaras, he won’t be able to drop in at her home. At the station, Bhola is being chased by goons and so he also boards the train to Banaras to escape them. Even otherwise, he had to go to Banaras. In the train, Murari recognises Bhola as Sunita’s husband but since Bhola has never met Murari earlier, he is not aware that he is the same person whom he had come to receive. Murari overhears a telephonic conversation of Bhola with another wife of his and sees red. But Sunita fires him when he telephones her to complain about Bhola’s waywardness. Even after Murari gives Sunita proof, she is so blinded by her love for Bhola that she refuses to see reason. Then, one day, she catches Bhola in bed with wife Shraddha (Flora Saini). Again, the charmer that Bhola is, he succeeds in fooling both the wives and escapes before the police comes to nab him.

Unable to have Bhola arrested, Murari now joins forces with Bhola. It is clear that Murari is working for someone who wants Bhola arrested. It is also clear that Bhola agrees to take Murari as a partner as it suits him for the present, at least.

Soon, Chanda (Bhawana Pani), a firebrand girlfriend of Bhola, forces him to marry her. But right after the wedding, Bhola and Murari desert her and run away, only to be caught by her brother, Dulare (Piyush Suhane). Again, he sweet-talks Chanda and gets a fortnight’s time from her to clear all his mess and settle down with her. His evil mind is ticking away to find someone who can give him money to escape abroad. In his quest, he happens to meet Payal (Sara Loren) who he had met in a train earlier. Payal is distraught because her husband, Badri (Varun Badola), is presumed dead in a car accident. Bhola tries to come close to her because, as he says, he loves her. He also, by chance, meets wife Astha (Anangsha Biswas) while searching for Payal. He chats with Preeti (Preeti Sood), another wife of his. He calls on wife Mala Dubey (Nivedita Tiwari) when he learns that she has won a lottery of Rs. 2 crore. She almost gives him the lottery money but before he can ditch her, she realises why he has come to her and so she drives him away from her house. He also happens to meet ex-girlfriend Chandani (Elli Avram) and half-decides to woo her for which she is more than ready, but he runs away when he learns that all the money and property are in her husband’s (Parag Tyagi) name. His only hope is Payal.

Does Bhola marry Payal? Is Badri really dead? Does Payal give Bhola money? Which wife does Bhola settle with? Do Bhola and Murari continue as a team? Or does police officer Durgalal (Faizal Malik) succeed in nabbing Bhola? For whom is Murari working to have Bhola arrested?

Sourabh Shrivastava has penned a story that seems to celebrate illogicality. Anything is possible anytime here. The story has no element of emotion or intrigue. Despite having so many wives, there is hardly any romance in Bhola’s life. Even the comedy is not of the kind which will make the audience laugh. The screenplay, written by Amal Donwaar and Sharad Tripathi, is full of holes. Therefore, rather than entertaining, the screenplay simply moves the story forward, that too, in a predictable manner oftentimes. The toilet humour (Murari passing gas) is so reminiscent of several earlier films that it irritates more than entertaining. Also, Bhola has so many wives and girlfriends that it becomes difficult for the audience to keep track of who is who, more so because several of them are played by lesser-known faces. The worst part of the screenplay is that it lacks badly in funny or hilarious scenes. Amal Donwaar and Sharad Tripathi’s dialogues are funny but only at places.

Arshad Warsi acts ably and is very easy and free in the role of Bhola. Saurabh Shukla is good as Murari Chourasia. Sara Loren looks pretty and acts ably as Payal. Deepali Pansare does a fine job as Sunita. Bhawana Pani is effective as Chanda. Flora Saini exudes oomph and acts well in the role of Shraddha. Preeti Sood is entertaining as Preeti. Varun Badola makes his mark in a special appearance as Badri. Piyush Suhane leaves a mark as Chanda’s brother, Dulare. Faizal Malik is alright as police officer Durgalal. Nivedita Tiwari is natural as Mala Dubey. Elli Avram, in special appearance as Chandani, looks bewitching in the ‘Chhamma chhamma’ song-dance number. Anangsha Biswas is okay as Astha. Parag Tyagi (in a special appearance as Chandani’s husband), master Mohit Balchandani (as young Bhola), Parul Bansal (as Shrishti) and Amanda Rosario (in a special appearance) provide fair sup­ port. Others are routine.

Sourabh Shrivastava’s direction is average. Sohail Sen’s music is fairly good. The ‘Chhamma chhamma’ song has been effectively remixed by Tanishk Bagchi. Kumaar’s lyrics are appropriate; the ‘Chhamma chhamma’ lyrics are by Shabbir Ahmed. Rajeev Surti and Aadil Sheikh’s choreography is fairly nice. Background music (by Sohail Sen, Simaab Sen and Vaibhav Sen) is so-so. Prakash Kutty’s camerawork is nice. Vikram Dahiya’s action scenes and stunts are okay. Udai Prakash Singh’s production designing is okay. Nirav Soni’s editing is quite alright.

On the whole, Fraud Saiyaan will find it tough to impress the audience as it’s not half as funny as it should’ve been.

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Chiragdeep International’s Rangeela Raja (UA) is the story of twin brothers, as different from each other as cheese and chalk.

Vijendra Pratap Singh (Govinda) lives in India, is married to Sivranjani (Digangana Suryavanshi) but sleeps around with other women at the drop of a hat. Obviously, Sivranjani is not happy in the marriage. Vijendra is rich and doesn’t care for anybody’s feelings. Providing him girls are his secretary, Sharma (Govind Namdeo), and driver, Padampath (Shakti Kapoor). In fact, Vijendra employs girls in his offi­ce so that he can sexually exploit them. There’s one girl, Natasha (Mishika Chourasia), who doesn’t give in. Yet, he employs her and sends her to Hong Kong for training.

Ajay (Govinda), twin brother of Vijendra Pratap Singh, returns from abroad to now settle in India. He has bid goodbye to materialistic possessions and wants to lead an ascetic life. But when he sees his sister-in-law in distress, he leaves his ascetic lifestyle just to bring his wayward brother on track. Ajay, Sivranjani and Ajay and Vijendra’s unmarried sister now hatch a plan to set things right by stopping all the nonsense Vijendra has been doing. Frustrated, Vijendra goes to Hong Kong and satiates his carnal desires by raping Natasha.

Ajay learns of this and appoints Natasha as the CEO of the family business. He even tells Vijendra that he has gotten married to Natasha. Vijendra is also shocked to learn that his brother and wife have fixed the sister’s marriage with his business rival, Yuvraj (Karan Anand), whom he had played dirty with in the past by planting a girl with the intention that he’d have sexual relations with her. Obviously, Vijendra tries to stop the marriage as he considers the Udaipur-based Yuvraj to be a womaniser. Vijendra also can’t digest the fact that Ajay is now married to Natasha as he himself had raped her in Hong Kong. He orders his men to kill Natasha who, he learns, has gone to Udaipur to finalise arrangements for his sister’s marriage. But when Vijendra realises that his wife had gone to Udaipur in place of Natasha, he and Ajay rush to save her as the men would otherwise kill his wife.

Soon, it emerges that Yuvraj is not a womaniser. It also turns out that Natasha is pregnant with Vijendra’s child. Vijendra agrees to accept the child when it is born but Natasha would rather give the child to the barren Sivranjani. Driver Padampath, by now, has also joined Ajay and group to reform Vijendra. As for Sharma, he has run away after murdering his own wife for having a clandestine affair with Vijendra.

Does Vijendra mend his ways?

Pahlaj Nihalani has written a story which is hotch-potch and which contains elements that were popular in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. It is impossible for the audience of today to feel involved in this kind of a story. His screenplay is one of complete convenience and doesn’t care for logic whatsoever. Consequently, the drama fails to entertain, engage or involve the audience. Emotions are completely missing. Comedy falls flat on its face. There is romance but it is far from being heart-warming. There are so many plots and sub-plots that they soon start testing the patience of the viewers as it becomes difficult to keep track of all the drama.

Dialogues, written by Khalid Azmi and Raj Verma, are entertaining at places.

Govinda does well in the double roles. But the point is: why will the audience today accept Govinda doing exactly what he used to do even 20 years back – more so, because he looks old and overweight. Mishika Chourasia makes a dull debut as Natasha. Digangana Suryavanshi is so-so as Sivranjani. Anupama Agnihotri can’t act to save her life. As Alekha, girlfriend of Ajay, she is pathetic. Karan Anand leaves a fair mark in the role of Yuvraj. Shakti Kapoor is quite entertaining because he at least caters to the front-benchers. Govind Namdeo is alright as secretary Sharma. Prem Chopra leaves a mark in a tiny role. Others are routine.

Sikander Bharati’s direction is jaded and looks dated. Like the script, the film’s narrative style also belongs to an era gone by. Ishwar Kumar’s music and Mehboob’s lyrics don’t add much to the film. Chinni Prakash’s choreography is fair. Amar Mohile’s background music is more functional than anything else. Siba Mishra’s camerawork is reasonably good. ND’s Arts World’s art direction is commonplace. Tinnu Verma’s action is average. Sanjay Sankla’s editing is quite sharp.

On the whole, Rangeela Raja is a clichéd film which doesn’t belong to today’s times. It will, therefore, not find too many takers at the turnstiles.

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T-Series, Ellipsis Entertainment and Emraan Hashmi Films’ Why Cheat India (UA) is a film about the flawed education system of India.

Rakesh Singh alias Rocky (Emraan Hashmi) runs a business of getting fake degrees in engineering and other streams for rich students by making brilliant but financially poor students write the examination papers for them. In this way, the rich get degrees for a price, the poor make money (paid by Rocky) and Rocky himself makes huge profits. The patently illegal business is sought to be justified by Rocky as a harmless business initiated to beat the evils and wrongs in the education system in India, which lays more emphasis on rote learning rather than basic intelligence. Rocky’s own father, Inderjeet Singh (Keshav Chandra Mishra), doesn’t approve of Rocky’s illegal business.

One such poor but brilliant student who clears the Engineering entrance exams with flying colours is Sattu (Snigdhadeep Chatterjee) whom Rocky lures into writing papers for rich students, for a price, of course. Sattu initially enjoys the experience of making big and fast money but soon, he takes to drugs when he can’t cope with the tension of his own Engineering studies and impersonating rich students in examination halls. He is once jailed for impersonation but is bailed out by Rocky’s men. He is soon caught for drug possession and dismissed from college. Rocky steps in and sends him abroad with a fake Engineering degree. Sattu’s sister, Nupur (Shreya Dhanwanthary), starts falling in love with Rocky but the love story ends abruptly when Rocky tells her that he’s a married man. Rocky and Nupur meet again some months later when Rocky explains to her why his extra-marital affair with her was justified. The two once again come close.

Meanwhile, upright police officer Qureshi (Varun Tamta), hot on Rocky’s trail, nabs him with hundreds of crores of rupees in cash at his home. Rocky is jailed but thanks to his contacts, manages to come out on bail soon enough. He had already been working on plans to now get into the MBA stream to make more money per student. In his first attempt, he lays his hands on the MBA entrance examination paper, hires some brilliant MBA students to answer the multiple choice questions and sells those answers to gullible rich students. One such student is girlfriend Nupur.

But the arm of law catches up with Rocky and he now reaches the court where he justifies his business, saying that he had gotten into it to correct the wrongs in the education system. The public prosecutor exposes him completely in the court.

Does Rocky mend his ways? What happens to Sattu? Do Rocky and Nupur continue in their relationship? Or do they get married? What about Rocky’s principled father, Inderjeet Singh, who had all along been critical of his business?

Soumik Sen has written the story and screenplay, besides co-writing the dialogues (with Juhi Saklani and Mishka Shekhawat) and directing the film. Soumik seems to be totally confused about what he wants to say. Even if Rocky feels, he is correcting the wrongs of the education system, doesn’t he understand that he is doing so by committing crimes? Any adult should know that a crime is more serious than a wrong. Sattu’s father is shown to be a serious and no-nonsense kind of a person. So how does he allow Sattu to be part of Rocky’s crime syndicate? Or does Sattu’s family at all know what Sattu is doing in collusion with Rocky? It’s not at all clear!

Actually, the very first scene of the film gives the impression to the viewers that something’s going to be terribly wrong with the film. The film opens with an introduction to India’s education system by Rocky, wherein he says that parents dream about fancy degrees for their kids while the poor kids get bogged down trying to fulfil those dreams. Bogged down? Why is it so wrong for parents to dream about a bright future for their children? Just why? Again, while Rocky is trying to convince Sattu to join him, he uses the dialogue, “Akalmand toh tum ho hee, ab nakalmand bano.” Yes, nakalmand may be a coinage but where is Sattu required to do nakal (copy)? What Sattu has to do is to write the exam papers for other students – and that is not copying.

Again, when Rocky lectures police officer Qureshi about the flawed education system while referring to his (Qureshi’s) own son’s inability to pass the exams, he criticises the rote learning approach. But how on earth does Rocky know that Qureshi’s son has failed several times because he is not good at rote learning? The reason for his regular failures could be something else surely. Every student cannot be failing because of the incorrect education system. When Qureshi’s son returns home after his latest exam and tells his father about how Rocky had come to his rescue when the invigilator had torn his answer paper for no fault of his, the father slaps him for taking Rocky’s help. But what about the invigilator wronging Qureshi’s son? And the son doesn’t ask for Rocky’s help – he doesn’t even know Rocky. Rather, Rocky comes to his rescue.

When Rocky tries to justify his extra-marital affair with Nupur to her, he offers such a lame reason that it almost gives a licence to every man to stray if he is married to a girl who is not of his liking. In the courtroom drama, Rocky speaks such nonsense that it’s a wonder the judge doesn’t ask him to shut up forever. In essence, he tries to justify his criminal activities by underlying the flaws in the education system. And he expects the judge to agree with his viewpoint. Going by Rocky’s logic, if justice is not imparted to a rapist, it should give others wanting to rape women, a licence to rape them. Such a ridiculous piece of logic coming from a hero – never mind if he is a negative hero – looks absolutely senseless.

It is mistakes like the above which make the script appear so flawed that the flaws in the education system look like small change in comparison. Perhaps, the only good points in the film are the way in which Rocky is arrested by Qureshi after laying a trap, the public prosecutor’s arguments in court, and the lecture given by Rocky’s father to him in jail. But even they pale into insignificance when compared to the trash on offer in the rest of the film. The climax is hardly interesting.

Juhi Saklani, Mishka Shekhawat and Soumik Sen’s dialogues range from very good to very incorrect (nakalmandi).

Emraan Hashmi does well as Rakesh alias Rocky. But with a flawed character like that, he will never win the sympathy or support of the audience. For a film of this kind, that was of utmost importance. Shreya Dhan­wanthary is very confident in her debut performance. Although she has not looked pretty, her acting is very good. Snigdhadeep Chatterjee performs well in the role of Sattu. Shibani Bedi is extremely entertaining as Rocky’s wife. Manuj Sharma tries to be funny in the role of Rocky’s aide, Bablu, but the script doesn’t help him at all. Nawal Shukla leaves a mark as Sattu’s father. Keshav Chandra Mishra makes his presence felt with a fine performance as Rocky’s father. Varun Tamta shines as police officer Qureshi by delivering a restrained performance. Ramesh Chandra Pathak is good as Ashok uncle. Gaurav Dwivedi has his moments as Jatin Shukla. Rajesh Jais leaves a mark as the public prosecutor. Tanmay Lahiri stands out in a brief role as Qureshi’s son. Sameeksha Gaur (as Bablu’s wife, Jahnvi), Priyanka Maurya (as Nupur’s friend) and Anita Sahgal (as Sattu’s mother) lend able support. Others are adequate.

Soumik Sen’s direction is good. Despite a weak script, his narration is able. Music (Rochak Kohli for remixed version of Bappi Lahiri’s ‘Dil mein ho tum’, Guru Randhawa for ‘Daaru wargi’, Kunaal-Rangon for ‘Phir mulaqat’, Krsna Solo for ‘Stupid saiyaan’, Agnee for ‘Kaamyaab’, and Soumik Sen for ‘Taiyaari’) is fair. The songs are decent but the absence of hit numbers is felt. Lyrics (Manoj Muntashir for ‘Dil mein ho tum’, Guru Randhawa for ‘Daaru wargi’, Kunaal Verma for ‘Phir mulaqat’, Kumaar for ‘Stupid saiyaan’, and Juhi Saklani for ‘Kaamyaab’ and ‘Taiyaari’) are quite nice. Vijay Ganguly’s choreography is okay. Y. Alphonse Roy’s cinematography is fair. Neel Adhikari’s background music is routine. Sandeep Suvarna’s production designing is commonplace. Dipika Kalra’s editing is alright but could have been a bit sharper.

On the whole, Why Cheat India is too flawed to make any mark whatsoever at the box-office. It will be almost rejected by the paying public, more so after the first weekend.

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