Eros International and Next Gen Films’ Phobia (A) is a psychological thriller. Mehek (Radhika Apte) is a promising painter. She is struck by agoraphobia after an unfortunate incident when she is travelling alone one night in a taxi.

Stricken by agoraphobia, Mehek is now fearful of stepping out of her house as she feels, calamity will strike if she does so. Her good friend, Shaan (Satyadeep Misra), and cousin, Anusha (Nivedita Bhattacharya), visit her but are unable to be of much help. They consult a psychiatrist (Faezeh Jalali) but even her treatment doesn’t really change matters. The psychiatrist recommends a line of treatment but Mehek and Shaan are against it.

With a view to give Mehek a change of atmosphere so that she might get over her agoraphobia, Shaan shifts her into a friend’s vacant flat. The flat used to earlier be occupied by Jiah (Amrit Bagchi). The neighbour, Mannu (Ankur Vikal), used to be in love with Jiah but he was an abusive partner and so, she had dumped him and gone.

Mehek’s fears of the outside world continue even in the new house. But in the new house, her problems multiply because she sees strange things happening inside the house. She gets visions of Jiah’s murder in the house and she is soon convinced that Mannu had killed Jiah. Therefore, Mehek can’t go out because of her agoraphobia and is scared to stay in the house because of the scary scenes she can see. Shaan keeps visiting her to keep her company. He even puts up cameras to capture what Mehek says she can ‘see’ in the house but there’s nothing which gets captured. It now becomes clear that the visions are all in Mehek’s mind. Or are they for real?

Mehek has befriended another neighbour, college-going Nicky (Yashaswini Dayma), whom she even lets in for an occasional cup of coffee. She manages to convince Nicky that Jiah had been murdered at the hands of Mannu. But then, one day, Jiah arrives on the scene.

So what is the truth? What has Mehek been ‘seeing’ in the house? Do her visions have any meaning at all? Does she get cured of agoraphobia?

Pavan Kirpalani’s story is interesting and has several points which scare the audience. It is quite different from earlier psychological thrillers as the issue of agoraphobia has not been tackled in any past film. But the screenplay, written by Pavan Kirpalani and Arun Sukumar, is engaging only upto a point. The audience wonders how Mehek and Shaan can be so unconcerned about her condition as to not go in for any treatment at all. It is clear to the viewers that simply shifting houses is not going to cure Mehek, so what’s the big deal in Shaan getting her to his friend’s vacant flat. The audience also finds it difficult to digest that Mehek would be made to live all alone in a new environment. No doubt, Shaan keeps visiting her but her condition is so serious that it looks idiotic for anyone to even think that she should be left alone in the new house. After a point of time, the audience gets the feeling that rather than the film moving logically, the entire drama has been penned to further the writers’ illogical thoughts so that the film can reach the climax after scaring the daylights out of the viewers. The drama also gets repetitive at places even though it is still quite engrossing.

The revelation towards the end, however, has not been explained too well. As a result, many viewers will just not understand the suspense and the culmination of the drama. Dialogues, penned by Pooja Ladha Surti, are very realistic and add to the drama.

Radhika Apte delivers a sterling performance as Mehek, a patient of agoraphobia. It is delightful to watch her change her expressions in a jiffy and to watch her mood swings. She acts so wonderfully that she makes her character cent per cent believable. Her dialogue delivery is superb. Satyadeep Misra is very endearing in the role of Shaan. His nuanced performance is praiseworthy. His dance is cute and deserves special mention. Yashaswini Dayma deserves distinction marks for her performance as the carefree, yet concerned, Nicky. Ankur Vikal is natural as Mannu. Nivedita Bhattacharya makes her presence beautifully felt in the role of Anusha. Amrit Bagchi, as Jiah, is nice in a brief role. Faezeh Jalali leaves a mark as the psychiatrist. Master Arush Nand (as Joey) and Salone Mehta (as Gul) are adequate.

Pavan Kirpalani’s direction is competent but the same cannot be said of the script co-written by him. His narrative style is racy and doesn’t let the audience’s interest decline. Having said this, it must be added that the film remains a class-appealing fare due to its content and technicalities in the drama. Daniel B. George’s music and Jay Shankar Prasad’s lyrics are okay. Adil Shaikh’s choreography is nice. Karan Gour’s background music is good. Cinematography (by Jayakrishna Gummadi) is lovely and complements the drama. Rinku Bachan’s action scenes are alright. Satyen Chaudhry’s production designing is appropriate. Editing (by Pooja Ladha Surti) is sharp.

On the whole, Phobia is a fairly entertaining fare but quite unpalatable as it does not tread the logical path. It also suffers from two major drawbacks – an uncommon word (for the non-English-speaking audience) as the title and a difficult-to-understand suspense. It will, therefore, fail to make any mark at the ticket windows.

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Drishyam Films and Ishka Films’ Waiting (A) is the story of two strangers whose bond of friendship develops in the most unlikely place, the hospital.

Shiv’s (Naseeruddin Shah) wife, Pankaja (Suhasini Maniratnam), has been comatose since eight months in a hospital in Kochi. But the loving husband that he is, he hasn’t given up hope. She is on life-support system and although Dr. Nirupam (Rajat Kapoor) keeps advising him to give the hospital permission to stop the life-support system as her chances of survival are almost nil, Shiv is not ready to budge. He is convinced that a surgery can cure her but, he feels, the doctor won’t operate on her as she is old and he (doctor) isn’t keen to give an old lady a fresh lease of life. Shiv has no option but to wait and hope for a miracle to happen.

Tara (Kalki Koechlin) comes to the same hospital in Kochi because her husband, Rajat (Arjun Mathur), had been admitted there after a serious road accident in which his brain had been damaged. Tara, who flies in from another city on getting the news, is devastated that Rajat has slipped into a coma. There is little Tara can do but wait for her husband’s recovery, that is, if at all.

Shiv and Tara, belonging to different generations, strike up a friendship in the hospital. They soon become so close to each other that they spend a lot of time with one another, chatting, joking, dancing, arguing, advising/seeking advice and even fighting once.

What happens ultimately? Does Pankaja undergo surgery? Is Rajat’s brain operated upon?

Anu Menon and James Ruzicka have written a heartfelt story which is quite unusual. Although set against the backdrop of a hospital, the story is far from depressing. In fact, the humour that emanates from the friendship between Shiv and Tara and also from the interactions in the hospital and out- side, between the various characters, keeps the audience smiling at many places and also laughing occasionally. Of course, by the very nature of the story and the single track on which it moves, the film is meant only and only for a thin segment of the audience which frequents the very high-end multiplexes in the very big cities. The screenplay, written by the duo, is both, interesting and engaging but again, only for the limited audience. Masses, non-city audiences and single-screen viewers will not find the story and the screenplay interesting at all. In fact, the majority of the audience will get bored due to the singular track of the drama. Also, since it is a slice-of-life film, that too, to which everyone can’t relate, the majority of the viewers will wonder what’s happening on the screen as the slow-moving drama unfolds. The ending is unusual and although it is appropriate, it will leave the audience with an empty feeling which is not good from the commercial point of view.

Atika Chohan’s dialogues, with colourful language used liberally by Tara, are superb and very, very real.

Naseeruddin Shah lives the role of Shiv and performs brilliantly. It is sheer fun to see him play the character of the doting husband and the experienced friend. As Tara, Kalki Koechlin is outstanding. She shines as a modern young girl who speaks her heart out without inhibitions. Her easy use of four-letter words makes her character very believable. Together, Naseerud­din Shah and Kalki Koechlin are extraordinary, complementing each other just too beautifully. Rajat Kapoor is lovely as Dr. Nirupam. His performance is praiseworthy. Rajeev Ravindranathan is superb as Rajat’s colleague, Girish. Ratnabali Bhattacharjee leaves a sure mark in the role of Ishita. Krishnasankar has his moments as Dr. Ravi, the junior doctor. Suhasini Maniratnam (as Pankaja) and Arjun Mathur (as Rajat) are both endearing in guest appearances. Nandini Nair (as nurse Ann), Marin Babu (as nurse Prema), Dinesh Prabhakar (as the doctor on night duty, Dr. Vishwanath), Tanvir (as Ishita’s husband), Anjali Khurana (as Pinky, Ishita’s friend), Sahil Gambhir (as Pinky’s husband, Vinay), Ashish Bhatia (as Tara’s co-worker, Kaushal), Gavin Methalaka (as Tara’s co-worker, Lokesh), Chirag Dave (as messenger Bharat), Shilpa Sunil (as Indira, maid of Shiv’s neighbour), Jennifer Anthony (as Shiv’s neighbour, Nalini), Sujina Sreedharan (as ward clerk Smita), Gopan R. Nair (as the bank manager) and the rest lend excellent support.

Anu Menon’s direction is sensitive, as required. Credit to the director for keeping the drama humorous and positive despite the morose backdrop. But it must also be added that her narrative style would be understood by the elite audience only. Mikey McCleary’s music is well-suited to the drama and is class-appealing. The ‘Zara zara’ song is nice. Lyrics (by Manoj Muntashir, Mikey McCleary, Kalki Koechlin and Ankur Tewari) are appropriate. Shampa Gopikrishna’s choreography is functional. Neha Parti Matiyani’s camerawork is good. Prajakta Ghate’s production designing and Shiji Pattnam’s art direction are fine. Editing (by Nitin Baid and Apurva Asrani) is sharp.

On the whole, Waiting is not a universally-appealing film and although it will win accolades and acclaim for its unique story, great performances, and beautiful narration, it will not get any box-office rewards whatsoever.

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Viiking Media And Entertainment’s Veerappan (A) is the story of forest brigand Veerappan who was a terror in the jungles of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. He used to smuggle ivory and sandalwood and was almost impossible to nab. He used to escape from Tamil Nadu to Karnataka when the former state’s police used to chase him and vice versa. The police of the two states finally decided to form a joint force to catch him.

The film narrates the story of how Veerappan (Sandeep Bharadwaj) becomes the dreaded smuggler who lives in the jungles with his group. It traces his marriage to Muthulakshmi (Usha Jadhav) and the police’s various attempts to nab him. In several such encounters, Veerappan and his men kill a number of police officers. Veerappan’s men also die in such face-offs, but Veerappan invariably escapes.

One day, the police succeed in arresting Muthulakshmi and they torture her physically but she refuses to tell them about her husband’s whereabouts. The special police force’s mastermind (Sachin J. Joshi) asks his senior to seek Muthulakshmi’s release as he has a plan to use her to catch Veerappan. The mastermind tells Shreya (Lisa Ray), the widow of a police officer slain by Veerappan, to keep Muthulakshmi as a tenant in her house, win her confidence, extract information about Veerappan from her and keep him (the mastermind) informed. Shreya does as instructed. Just when the police force thinks, it will nab Veerappan, he doesn’t turn up at the appointed place – as instructed by his wife – and instead, sends her a message that her landlady is a police informer. Veerappan asks Muthulakshmi to shift to a new house but she is so impressed by Shreya that she doesn’t believe that Shreya could be a police informer.

The police force now thinks up another plan. How it ultimately tricks Veerappan and kills him is revealed in the climax.

R.D. Tailang’s story about Veerappan is borrowed from his life and is interesting. Of course, the film’s story, obviously, does not have ingredients like love, romance, comedy and emotions. The abundant action, that too gruesome, would keep the ladies and family audience away. R.D. Tailang’s screenplay is fairly interesting. But there are a couple of problems. For one, everything seems very easy and convenient for Veerappan. Secondly, there isn’t much heroism shown on the part of the police force. Thirdly, the mastermind in the special police force only talks of his plans – first plan, second plan etc. – but no details of the plans are discussed. Resultantly, the audience doesn’t feel involved in the drama. Since each plan only unfolds but is never revealed to the audience beforehand, the viewer does not get the feeling that he is part of the plan of the hero.

The first half is fairly interesting but the face-offs and confrontations become repetitive after a point of time in the second half. If, for some reason, the terror of Veerappan doesn’t send shivers down the spines of the viewers, the heroism of the mastermind also does not evoke claps at regular intervals.

Dialogues (by R.D Tailang, with additional dialogues by Jai Priyadarshi) are quite good. But it must be added here that the film becomes too verbose after a while.

Sandeep Bharadwaj’s get-up in the title role is very good. His acting is quite nice. Sachin J. Joshi is alright as the mastermind police officer. Lisa Ray is reasonably impressive as Shreya. Usha Jadhav is very natural as Muthulakshmi. Chetanya Adib (as cop Shashi), Raj Singh Arora (as Gopal), Sunit Razdan (as Bhupi), Dr. Krishna Shrikant Iyengar (as ex-cop Kumar), Vineet Sharma (as Shreya’s slain husband, cop Dinesh), Naveen Prabhakar (as Rajan), Akash Sinha (as Govindan), Shaneel Sinha (as Gandhi), Raj Premi (as Madhani) and Sardar Satya (as Aniz) lend able support.

Ram Gopal Varma’s direction is quite nice. But he seems to have made the film for just the masses, what with the violence being so gruesome and other ingredients like comedy, hit songs and the like being completely absent so that the womenfolk, family audiences and classes would not identify with the drama. Sharib-Toshi and Jeet Ganguli’s music is functional, and the lyrics (by Manoj Yadav and Manoj Muntashir) also don’t stand out. John Stewart Eduri’s background music is effective but too loud and overbearing. Aniket Khandagale’s cinematography is of a good standard. Allan Amin’s action is raw and effective but it is also what will keep the womenfolk, families and classes away from the cinemas. Pratik Vijay Redij’s production designing is okay. Anwar Ali’s editing is reasonably alright.

On the whole, Veerappan is an ordinary fare which will not be able to score much at the box-office. It will do well in single-screen cinemas of centres where action fares are liked.

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Pooja Entertainment & Films Ltd., Super Cassettes Industries Pvt. Ltd. and Legend Studios’ Sarbjit (UA) is based on a true-life story. It is about the ordeal of an innocent farmer from Punjab in India, who is arrested by the Pakistani police and made to rot in jail there for years on end and of his sister’s perseverance to secure his freedom.

Sarbjit (Randeep Hooda) is a simple farmer who lives in a village in Punjab in India, near the India-Pakistan border. Staying with him are his wife, Sukhpreet (Richa Chaddha), two little daughters, Swapan and Poonam, father (Ram Murti Sharma) and sister, Dalbir Kaur (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). Dalbir Kaur has separated from her husband (Ankur Bhatiya) as he used to physically and mentally torture her.

One dark night, Sarbjit, who had had a drink too many with friend Maninder (Trishan Singh), crosses the border by mistake and is found by the Pakistani police, loitering in Pakistan. The police arrest him and put him behind bars despite his protests. They torture him for months and ultimately force him to falsely admit that he is dreaded Indian terrorist Ranjit Singh Mattoo. Sarbjit tries to convince them that he is neither a terrorist nor Ranjit Singh but they are blinded by their quest to arrest the wanted terrorist who had wreaked havoc on Pakistan.

Years pass by. Sarbjit’s sister, Dalbir Kaur, has still not given up hope and does everything she can to trace Sarbjit. Then, one day, she receives a letter from Sarbjit and realises that he is rotting in a Pakistani prison. She runs from pillar to post and from minister to minister in a bid to muster support for his release but meets with little success. Then comes the news that Sarbjit, framed as Ranjit Singh Mattoo, will be hanged to death by the Pakistani government.

Dalbir Kaur, Sukhpreet and her two daughters, who are by now grown up, leave for Pakistan. They get a chance to meet Sarbjit for some minutes. With just a few days left for his hanging, Dalbir Kaur resolves to fight for his freedom. Good news comes in the form of the postponement of the date of Sarbjit’s hanging.

A noble lawyer from Pakistan, Awais Sheikh (Darshan Kumar), comes as a messiah in Dalbir Kaur’s life. He decides to fight Sarbjit’s case in the Pakistani court as Sarbjit’s present lawyer has almost given up his fight. Despite strong opposition from the public in Pakistan, Awais stands by Dalbir Kaur but they meet with hardly any success. And then, one day, they succeed in tracing Ranjit Singh Mattoo. Awais and Dalbir feel, this would help them prove Sarbjit’s true identity and innocence but their joy is short-lived.

Even as Awais and Dalbir are wondering what to do next, Sarbjit is brutally beaten up by jail inmates. This is in retaliation to the hanging of Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab in India. Pressure to mete out similar punishment to Indian terrorists in Pakistani jails is mounting on the Pakistani government.

Sarbjit is so seriously injured in jail that he is admitted to hospital. By now, Dalbir Kaur, Sukhpreet and her two daughters have reached Pakistan. This time, Dalbir Kaur’s estranged husband also accompanies them. Obviously, he has realised his mistake. The family meets Sarbjit in hospital and is shattered on seeing his condition.

Soon thereafter, Sarbjit’s family, back in India, gets the news that Sarbjit has breathed his last. His body arrives in India. On her part, Dalbir Kaur dedicates her life to help innocent Pakistani people, trapped in Indian jails, reach back home – which was Sarbjit’s dying wish for her.

The film is based on Sarbjit’s true-life story. For the film, the story and screenplay have been penned by Utkarshini Vashishtha and Rajesh Beri. The story has its share of emotions but it has been written in a way that it often seems like a docu-drama. The scenes of Sarbjit’s torture and inhuman living conditions in Pakistan’s jail become repetitive after a point of time. No doubt, the drama has its share of emotional appeal but the tear-jerking scenes are interspersed with scenes which make the audien­ce feel repulsed at times and depressed at other times. There’s a difference between feeling emotional and feeling depressed – the former makes for interesting and exhilarating drama while the latter is something people wouldn’t pay money for. Unfortunately, while the story of Sarbjit sometimes makes the viewers teary-eyed, it also often makes them feel depressed.

Again, being in the pitiable condition and situation that Dalbir Kaur is in, one would expect her to be more submissive and always pleading rather than demanding or fighting. But Dalbir Kaur’s rants often appear like she is angry more than sad, in a mood to fight more than get her work done. This is a big minus point of the duo’s screenplay because it greatly dilutes the emotional impact of the drama. An instance in point: Dalbir Kaur, through her eyes and facial expressions, shows her displeasure over the way in which the Pakistani jail authorities frisk her (and her family members) before they are allowed to meet Sarbjit. For the viewer, Dalbir Kaur’s humiliation partly loses impact the moment she expresses displeasure in a defiant mood. Had she suffered in silence and without letting the defiance show in her eyes, the impact would’ve been ten times greater. In fact, when the officer chides her and asks her to not stare at him so defiantly, the viewer actually gets the feeling that the thankless Dalbir Kaur deserves this admonition.

Another inherent ‘flaw’ of the screenplay is that Dalbir Kaur fails in her mission to save her brother. In other words, the screenplay becomes an account of Dalbir’s unsuccessful journey. Of course, that is the true story and that couldn’t have been changed, but from the audience’s perspective, a film in which the ‘hero’ fails so badly does not make for a great viewing experience. Even that may have worked had Sarbjit’s death not been in vain. But the fact that Sarbjit died without any purpose being served leaves a bad taste in the mouth. In other words, Sarbjit’s story, in the first place, may not have actually been meant for a film. What’s worse is that Dalbir Kaur is shown to have lost to Pakistan. Agreed, that was the reality, but it doesn’t need to be underlined what losing to Pakistan means for the Indian audience – whether the loss is in a game of cricket or in a situation of life and death!

The screenplay fails to exploit the relationship and emotions between the sisters-in-law, Dalbir Kaur and Sukhpreet, even though they live in the same house! That’s a very big mistake on the part of the screenplay writers. The solitary emotional scene between the sisters-in-law when Dalbir Kaur simply gives up is, in fact, a very touching scene. Other emotional scenes are: the one in which Dalbir’s estranged husband returns to accompany the ladies to Pakistan; the scene in which the four ladies meet Sarbjit in prison and the daughter keeps looking at her watch as time is running out; and the scene in which Dalbir Kaur runs to the post-office. The romantic interludes in flashback are a bit jarring.

Utkarshini Vashishtha’s dialogues are very good at places but unnecessarily defiant at others.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan fails to evoke the right kind of sadness in the audience’s mind because of an inconsistent performance – at times, she is suitably restrained and helpless but at other times, she appears needlessly defiant and even vengeful. Frankly, Aishwarya should never have crossed the line; she should always have remained the silent sufferer, the emotionally-drained sister, the helpless soul begging for mercy, the loving sister who could fall at anyone’s feet for seeking her brother’s freedom. She is very good in some scenes but below the mark in others. Her dialogue delivery leaves a lot to be desired. Randeep Hooda performs very well. He lives the role of Sarbjit and acts with effortless ease. He has worked extremely hard on his looks and get-up and deserves full marks on that count. Richa Chaddha shines as Sukhpreet, beautifully underplaying the character. She uses her body language to great advantage. Darshan Kumar is lovely as Pakistani lawyer Awais Sheikh. Ankita Shrivastava (as Poonam) and Shivani Saini (as Swapan) lend excellent support. Ram Murti Sharma has his moments as Sarbjit’s aged father, Darji. Ankur Bhatiya is good as Dalbir Kaur’s husband. Khushi Hazare, Khyati and Inaya Sehgal (as Swapan of different ages), Aarohi Muley, Arshia and Krisha Mehta (as Poonam of different ages), Trishan Singh (as Maninder), Viquar Shaikh (as the jail official), Tanya Sarda (as Zakir), Anoop Kamal Singh (as Ishwar Singh), Rohington Chesan (as Justice Rehman), Hardev (as Ranjit Singh Mattoo), Jyoti Kalash (as the politician) and others provide fair support.

Omung Kumar’s direction is quite nice. But he has not been able to make a moving human drama which could tug at the audience’s heart-strings from the start till the end. While his narrative evokes tears at places, its slow pace and repetitiveness get on the viewers’ nerves. Music (Jeet Ganguli, Amaal Malik, Shail-Pritesh, Tanishk Bagchi and Shashi-Shivam) is melodious but not very popular. No song is a hit. However, the ‘Tung lak’ (Shail-Pritesh) song is appealing and the ‘Nindiya’ song (Shashi-Shivam) and ‘Allah hu Allah’ song (Tanishk Bagchi) are also nice. Lyrics (Rashmi Virag, A.M. Turaz, Sandeep Singh, Arafat Mehmood, Haider Najmi and Jaani) are meaningful. Picturisation of the ‘Tung lak’ song (Vishnu Deva) is good. Shail-Pritesh’s background music is quite effective. Kiran Deohan’s cinematography is eye-filling. Pradyumna Kumar Swain (PK)’s action and stunt scenes are fair. Vanita Omung Kumar’s production designing and Ramchandra More’s art direction are of a good standard. Rajesh G. Pandey’s editing could’ve been tighter.

On the whole, Sarbjit has an emotional drama as its plus point but its slow pace, docu-drama-like feel, tragic ending and unfulfilling drama will be the stumbling blocks in its box-office journey. This Sarbjit is destined to suffer at the turnstiles and to fight a losing battle.

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Peppermint Studios’ Dear Dad (UA) is the story of a father and his son. Nitin (Arvind Swamy) is married to Nupur (Ekavali Khanna) and they have two children, Shivam (Himanshu Sharma), who is teenaged and studies in a boarding school in Mussoorie, and little Vidhi (Bhavika). The family, which lives in Delhi, seems to be a happy one but it is actually not so.

Nitin wants to talk to his son about something which has been troubling him all these years but can’t muster courage to do so. Nupur keeps reminding him of the need to do it fast and one day, Nitin decides to drop Shivam to his boarding school so that he can get an opportunity to be alone with his son and use the same to convey what he has been wanting to convey.

On the way from Delhi to Mussoorie, Nitin and Shivam stop by to meet Nitin’s parents. Consumed by guilt, Nitin decides to first speak his heart out to his ailing father who can neither speak nor communicate otherwise, and then explain the same thing – and much more – to his son. However, as bad luck would have it, Shivam overhears what his dad is telling his aged grandfather.

Shivam is unable to take it. He reacts badly – and this is as much for the news he overhears as for the fact that he had overheard it rather than being himself told about it. In fact, all hell breaks loose in Shivam’s life when he overhears his father’s monologue to his grandfather. He tries to distance himself from his father. This, in turn, wreaks havoc in Nitin’s life too because the last thing he wanted was to be alienated from his son.

What is it that Nitin tells his old father? Why does Shivam react so badly? Does Shivam finally accept the truth or is it too much for him to do so? Is Nitin able to make Shivam understand his view point? What about Nupur – is she understanding enough?

Gadadhari Singh’s story is different as well as bold. While the uniqueness of the story makes it interesting, at least at the concept level, the boldness angle restricts its appeal to the niche audience. Tanuj Bhramar’s screenplay appears too stretched because once the confession is made by Nitin, there isn’t much drama left except for the aftermath. As a result, the after-effects of his confession go on and on and a couple of tracks – like that of the tantrik, Bangali Baba, and his medication etc. – are even useless. Besides, Nupur’s reaction to the same point is at complete variance with that of Nitin (emotional) and Shivam (angry, flabbergasted and ashamed). This anomaly dilutes the impact of the drama and also confuses the audiences about whether they should sympathise with Nitin or Shivam. As if that’s not bad enough, Shivam, at one stage, even flaunts the same point as if it were a medal his father had won. Frankly, there is no need for this false display of bravado. All in all, the screenplay writer himself seems to be confused whether he wants to show Nitin as a wrong guy or a wronged guy or a helpless soul or a hero! The track of Nitin, alongwith Shivam, sneaking into the girls’ hostel in the dark of the night may have been designed to look cute but it is in outright bad taste.

For the orthodox audience, the drama will actually fail to make sense.

Tanuj Bhramar’s dialogues are natural.

Arvind Swamy is completely endearing. He has a face which makes the audience fall in love with Nitin’s character. Arvind Swamy’s is a very fine performance, nuanced and layered. Himanshu Sharma springs a surprise with a confident performance. He is very natural. Ekavali Khanna lends dignity to the character of Nupur. She does a very good job. Bhavika is cute and confident as little Vidhi. Aman Uppal is effective in the role of television reality show celebrity Aditya Taneja. Indu Ramchandani (as Nitin’s mother) and Ranjit Thakur (as Nitin’s father) lend ordinary support. Yugdeep, Abhijeet and Nishant are adequate as Shivam’s school friends. Sonika Chopra (as Sonika madame) leaves a mark. Chinmay Chandraunshuh (as Arun), Piyush Raina (as the hotel receptionist), Shivam Pradhan (as Bangali Baba) and Ravneet Kler (as Irish) provide ordinary support. Others are okay.

Tanuj Bhramar’s direction is so-so. Music (Raghav-Arjun and Ujjwal Kashyap) is functional. Lyrics (Deepak Ramola and Neeraj Rajawat) are okay. Karan Gour’s background music is fair. Mukesh G.’s camerawork is quite nice. Production designing (by Prashant Ray and Shraddha Vasugavade) is okay. Charushree Roy’s editing could’ve been tighter.

On the whole, Dear Dad is a dull fare with a fresh concept but little else. It will find the going at the box-office tough.

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Balaji Motion Pictures Ltd. and Sony Pictures Network’s Azhar (UA) is based on the life story of Indian test cricketer Mohd. Azharuddin (Emraan Hashmi). It traces his professional as well as personal life including his marriage to Naureen (Prachi Desai) and then to Sangeeta (Nargis Fakhri).

The film begins with Azhar hitting a century in his 99th Test match. He is now short of only one match to complete his late maternal grandfather’s (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) dream. Right from the time Azhar was born, his grandfather used to tell everyone that Azhar would go on to play 100 matches for India.

Soon after his fabulous performance in his 99th Test match, Azhar is accused of match-fixing due to a sting operation carried out by one of his team members, cricketer Manoj Shinde (Karan Sharma). Azhar tries to convince the cricket board that he doesn’t even know M.K. Sharma (Rajesh Sharma), the bookie who is supposed to have given him money for losing the match, but the board suspends him from playing cricket for life.

Azhar decides to fight it out in court to get back his lost reputation. Rather than appointing the best lawyer, he goes to his close lawyer-friend, Reddy (Kunaal Roy Kapur), because he wants only that lawyer to plead his case, who is convinced that he is innocent. At first reluctant, Reddy soon relents.

But the court battle that is to unfold is not easy because no team member is willing to stand by Azhar in court, not even cricketer Kapil (Varun Badola) who had till then been a staunch Azhar supporter. On his part, Azhar, who had by then divorced first wife Naureen and was now married to film star Sangeeta, refuses to bring the ladies to court to testify in his favour even though his lawyer is keen to have them in the witness box.

The prosecution lawyer is the renowned Meera (Lara Dutta) who is known for her genius. As the arguments begin in court, the film goes into flashbacks about the cricket matches Azhar had played, about his meeting with bookie M.K. Sharma, arranged by middleman Ajay Patil (Jameel Khan), about his childhood, about his marriage with Naureen, about him falling head over heels in love with Sangeeta, about his divorce from Naureen, and about the sting operation which nailed him.

Even as it appears that Azhar is fighting a losing battle, his lawyer comes up with a law point and proves his innocence in court. The flashback also shows that although Azhar had accepted the bribe money from bookie M.K. Sharma, he had had a change of heart and had played a fabulous inning to actually win the match which he had agreed to lose.

Based on the point of law alone, the court declares Azhar not guilty and the cricketing legend is, therefore, able to clear his name and reputation.

Rajat Aroraa has penned a story which is mostly based on incidents in the cricketer’s real life. Since Azhar’s life has been both, clourful and eventful, the story has a lot of twists and turns, highs and lows, making it inherently interesting, engaging and even intriguing. But Rajat Aroraa’s screenplay is good in parts only. While the early part of the drama is interesting, the excitement level drops intermittently after that. The courtroom drama is exciting at times but slack at other times. Since it is shown quite early on that Azhar did accept the bribe money, the audience’s heart doesn’t go out to him cent per cent. It is because of this ‘fault’ (of showing him quite early on, accepting the bribe money) that the rest of the human drama does not have the desired emotional impact. Even otherwise, Rajat Aroraa’s screenplay does not milk the emotional side of the human drama half as much as it should have. Consequently, the emotional high which the audience should have experienced when the court upholds Azhar’s innocence, does not happen. With a cricketing hero’s entire career being at stake, the viewer should’ve cried tears of joy when he is pronounced ‘not guilty’ by court but that just doesn’t happen. One reason for this is that the audience had not been overtly rooting for Azhar through the courtroom drama – maybe because he had, in fact, accepted the bribe money. Another reason is also that in court, Azhar’s lawyer actually stresses on a point of law rather than the cricketer’s actions to have Azhar proven innocent. No doubt, Azhar is shown to have played a fabulous game and single-handedly led India to victory in the match he had agreed to lose, but had that been the base of lawyer Reddy’s arguments in court, the drama would’ve been far more exhilarating. In the film, the fact that Azhar made up for his soul-selling act by winning the match is not put across to the court which pronounces him innocent without taking his actions into consideration. Also, Azhar admitting that he had accepted the bribe money with the sole aim that the bookie would not go to bribe another cricketer looks like a lame excuse to cover up his criminal action. For, what was the guarantee that the bookie would not, in fact, approach another cricketer to bribe him, after bribing Azhar? It is points like the above which keep the viewer’s heart from beating for Azhar. Even otherwise, Azhar had never been a role model in his time, for the audience to solidly favour him or a film based on his life.

Further, the under-20 or even under-25 audience may not relate to the drama because they may not have seen the real-life Mohd. Azharuddin play cricket. Besides, let’s face it, Azhar is not as big a legend as, say, Sachin and also not as much in news today as a contemporary player. So, a section of the youth audience would be lost to the film.

Having said that, it must be added that the generation which has seen Azhar play for India, especially lovers of cricket, would like the drama. Even otherwise, the screenplay does have some high points which keep the audience hooked on to the unfolding drama despite some troughs in it.

Rajat Aroraa’s dialogues are very good at places. But there should’ve been more dialogues of the clap-worthy kind and many of the patriotic kind.

Emraan Hashmi does an extremely fine job, underplaying his character beautifully. He has worked hard on getting the mannerisms of the cricketer right. In particular, he has very effectively aped Azhar’s style of talking, walking and shaking his head. Prachi Desai leaves a mark in the emotional scenes. Nargis Fakhri looks glamorous in the role of film star Sangeeta. Her acting is barely fair. Lara Dutta excels as prosecution lawyer Meera. Kunaal Roy Kapur is first-rate as Azhar’s lawyer, Reddy. Karan Sharma is good in the role of cricketer Manoj Shinde. Rajesh Sharma has his moments as bookie M.K. Sharma. Jameel Khan is good in the role of middleman Ajay Patil. Ashok Mandana makes his presence amply felt as the judge. Shernaz Patel (as Azhar’s mother) and Virendra Saxena (as Azhar’s father) are natural. Kulbhushan Kharbanda is endearing as Azhar’s maternal grandfather. Varun Badola is quite good in a brief role as cricketer Kapil. Gautam Gulati (as cricketer Ravi), Ashish Pathode (as cricketer Ajay Kapur), Manjot Singh (as cricketer Navjot Singh), Rajit Kapur and Shweta Kawaatra (as a journalist) lend good support.

Anthony D’Souza’s direction is quite good. He has been able to create the desired excitement in the cricket matches but he has not succeeded in bringing tears to the viewers’ eyes in the human drama. And that’s a big minus point. Music (Pritam and Amaal Malik) is a major plus point. ‘Itni si baat’ and ‘Bol do’ are hit songs. Lyrics (Kumaar, Rashmi Virag and Manoj Yadav) are very meaningful. Sandeep Shirodkar’s background music is nice. Rakesh Singh’s camerawork is of a good standard. Nimish Kotwal’s production designing and Riyaz Shaikh’s art direction are excellent. The different time periods and the ambience have been effectively recreated. Tushar Shivan’s editing is suitably sharp.

On the whole, Azhar is an engaging film but not consistently so. It has drama and thrill but lacks the emotional high of a human drama. It will, therefore, not be able to score enough at the box-office to break even.

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UTV Motion Pictures and Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment Pvt. Ltd.’s Baaghi (UA) is an action-filled love story. Ronny (Tiger Shroff) comes to Kerala to the ashram of Guruswamy (Shifuji Shaurya Bhardwaj) to master the art of Kalaripayattu (a martial art) as that was his late father’s wish. Training under Guruswamy are hundreds of students including his own son, Raghav (Sudheer Babu Posani), who is the best. Ronny, at first a reluctant learner, soon becomes serious and picks up the martial art wonderfully well.

In Kerala, Ronny meets Siya (Shraddha Kapoor) whom he had briefly met earlier. Siya has come with her parents to visit her maternal grandmother. Her greedy father (Sunil Grover) wants to make her a film actress.

Ronny and Siya fall in love with one another and soon, they decide to marry one another. But before that, Raghav, smitten as he is by Siya, takes a proposal for marriage to her greedy father who agrees because he (Raghav) is a very rich man. Not just that, Siya’s father creates a terrible misunderstanding between Ronny and Siya so that they break up. Raghav, meanwhile, has killed his own father, Guruswamy, for having dared to warn him not to force himself on Siya. The evil Raghav and Siya’s father even frame Ronny for Guruswamy’s murder.

Fate brings Ronny and Siya together again – in Bangkok this time. Ronny has undertaken, for a handsome fee, the task of securing the release of Siya who is being held captive by Raghav in Bangkok so that she gives her consent to the marriage. By the way, Raghav decides to not even touch Siya till the two get married.

Ronny agrees to save Siya from Raghav’s clutches because he needs a lot of money for the surgery of a little child who can’t speak. The doctor has assured Ronny that the child would be able to speak after the surgery.

What happens when Ronny reaches Bangkok? Does he meet Siya? Is it possible to save Siya, given the animosity between them? Does Siya’s father come in the way?

Sanjeev Dutta has penned a story which is similar to stories which used to be the base of films made in the 1980s and early 1990s. His story offers nothing new except the setting. His screenplay fails to establish things with conviction. Why Siya has been shown to be an upcoming actress, how she falls in love with Ronny, why is it so easy for her father to create a misunderstanding between her and Ronny, why does the unscrupulous Raghav (who has killed his own father) leave Siya untouched rather than raping her – all these questions trouble the viewer as there are no answers given. Because these questions remain unanswered, the audience gets the feeling that the screenplay is one of complete convenience. Even the romance belongs to an era gone by. Comedy is sought to be created but the comedy tracks of Siya’s father as also of Harry (Sanjay Mishra) and Sukhi (Sumit Gulati) fail to evoke the desired laughter. Emotions are conspicuous by their absence as the viewers fail to root for the lovers and pray for their reunion after their fallout. Even the track of the little mute child and his surgery is forgotten in the end. It hasn’t even been used to draw emotions in the rest of the film. In a way, that entire track looks like a waste when the film ends.

In the absence of a convincing and engaging screenplay, what remains for the entertainment of the audience is raw action which is abundant. In fact, the action and stunts are the high point of the film. But a word of caution here: although the dare-devil stunts are breathtaking and will be loved by the masses, they are so excessive that ladies, families and audiences of the top-line multiplexes will not approve of the high dosage. The chase sequence in Bangkok in the post-interval portion may be exciting for the stunts done by Ronny but it (chase) seems never-ending and gets a bit too much for the viewers to digest. Overall also, there is so much action after interval that classes and family audiences may be put off. In other words, the action-and-stunts overdose could have been avoided.

Sanjeev Dutta’s dialogues are good at places but ordinary otherwise.

Tiger Shroff looks good, having worked very hard on his physique, and acts quite well. He is astounding in action and stunt scenes and will be loved for them. He also has a unique style of dancing. However, he needs to get into the skin of the character and speak Hindi in a non-Anglicised style to create a greater impact. Shraddha Kapoor gets limited scope as she doesn’t have much to do in the second half. She has performed well, though. Her dance moves are extremely graceful. She is also good in action scenes. Sudheer Babu Posani makes for a very effective villain. He plays Raghav with complete conviction. Shifuji Shaurya Bhardwaj is alright as Guruswamy. Sunil Grover acts ably as Siya’s father but his comic scenes often lack punch due to weak scripting. Sanjay Mishra and Sumit Gulati’s comedy is ordinary. Sourav Chakrabarthy leaves a mark in the role of Biju. Aryan Jiger Prajapati (as Subbu), Seema Bora (as Siya’s mother), Zarine Viraf Variava (as Siya’s grandmother), Chivpatrick Tang (as Yong) and Alina Ramani (as Biju’s wife) provide fair support. Jagdish Kansara (as the lawyer), Jakkrit Kanokpodjananon (as Kim), Prashant Singh (as Gopi), Madhiyalan Subbaiah (as Guruswamy’s assistant) and the rest are okay.

Sabbir Khan’s direction is lopsided. He concentrates so heavily on action and stunts that he has almost ignored the drama portion of the script. But he does know how to ensure clap-traps. Music (Meet Bros., Amaal Malik, Ankit Tiwari and Manj Musik) is melodious and all the songs are appealing. Lyrics (Kumaar, Abhendra Kumar, Sanjeev Chaturvedi and Raftaar) are of a good standard. Choreography of the ‘Chham chham’ song (by Ganesh Acharya) is the best. Picturisations of other songs (by Ahmed Khan and Bosco-Caesar) are alright. Julius Packiam’s background music is quite nice. Binod Pradhan’s cinematography is excellent. The locations on which the film has been shot are eye-filling. Action and stunts (by Kecha Kham­phakdee and Javed-Aejaz) are breathtaking and unique and deserve a lot of praise. Several action scenes will inspire the viewers to clap in glee. Rajat Poddar’s production designing is appropriate. Editing (by Manan Sagar) is sharp.

On the whole, Baaghi has extraordinary action and good music as its plus points but a weak script as a minus point. It will score with the masses and will, therefore, do very well in single-screen cinemas, masses-frequented multiplexes and smaller towns but its business in the better multiplexes will be limited. Reaching the safety mark (recovery of entire investment and some commission) should not be a problem, also becau­se recovery from sale of satellite rights is sizeable (around 35% of the total investment).

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