Director – Zoya Akhtar
Cast – Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Vijay Raaz, Kalki Koechlin
Rating – 4/5
The first time we see Ranveer Singh in Gully Boy, he’s stealing a car. Three men head toward an SUV, Singh walking third, far behind the cocksure leader. He appears tentative and preoccupied, having sought out the least active role. His name is Murad, and that is his way. A college kid obsessed with hip-hop, he even writes songs hoping someone else will belt out his rhymes. The performer he approaches (with a notebook full of verses) disagrees. “If we get comfortable,” he asks Murad, “who the hell will rap?”
Watch the Gully Boy trailer here
Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, an underdog story shining a light on India’s incipient hip-hop subculture, is the first great Hindi film of 2019 and a rousing celebration of spunk. The writing is enthralling, the texture fantastic, and this world is a revelation. Here are characters without room to breathe who express themselves breathlessly, through a style of music that has always belonged to the marginalised. Dissent finds a way — and a beat.
How does a rapper-to-be find another, though? The answer lies in Murad’s graffiti scrawl, where he accurately lists ‘Internet’ alongside ‘Roti, Kapda, Makaan’ as an essential. Rap battles in India used to take place online before hip hop enthusiasts realised there were enough of them to assemble loudly. Murad sends a Facebook friend request to a performer, and finds a musician via comments under a YouTube video. He’s nervous asking to meet up, incredulous about suggesting it “directly.” This is the coyness movies reserve for crushes, the hesitant and gradual reaching out of the romantic.
There is absolutely nothing hesitant about Murad’s girlfriend, however. Played by an electric Alia Bhatt, Safeena is an incurable hothead — he nicknames her ‘Danger Aapa’ — who tells her man to go ahead and dream. She’s going to be a doctor and so they’re going to be just fine. She’s a dynamite character, and this is reassurance Murad sorely needs, living in a tiny Dharavi flat occasionally beset by tourists who want poverty porn on their Instagram feeds. Murad and Safeena are practicing Muslims, childhood sweethearts sundered by wealth and class.
The film opens with a dedication to pioneering Indian hip-hop stars Naezy and Divine, Akhtar and co-writer Reema Kagti borrowing background and specifics from their lives. Many local rappers show up, cameoing as themselves, which is a delight. Yet Gully Boys doesn’t try to explain the music itself, or what draws these hungry young men to the righteous aggression of Nas and Tupac and Jay-Z, or even what distinguishes this subculture from other rebellions.
Instead, the writers studiously follow the graph of a sports drama, taking as much from the Rocky template as from Eminem’s screen memoir, 8 Mile. It’s a smart move, keeping the beats basic and buoyant — if repetitive — and making sure the energy is full-tilt and familiar, instead of trying to convert audiences to rap. Besides, the rise-of-the-prizefighter template is appropriate. Who was the first rap battler in the world? Mohammad Ali.
The knockout punches come from MC Sher. With a name that means both tiger and poem, this champ is played by Siddhant Chaturvedi with a natural, easy ferocity. It’s the film’s top performance. When he battles, he seems to be shutting down rivals for real. Sher leans hard into the verses and the artfully effortless attitude, and warmly mentors Murad, dubbing him ‘Gully Boy’ and schooling him in the all-important ways of metre.
This is where the film’s dialogues need to be applauded. Written by Vijay Maurya — who also plays Murad’s uncle — the lines are authentic from the start, allowing us a ringside view. Language varies across classes, like when Murad teases an affluent girl saying “Hindi nahin aata?” and she says “Hindi aati hai, but…”, actually using gender correctly while he is Bombay-istically wrong. The genius lies in the dialogues evolving; late in the film, when Murad is raging against his father, you can sense metre in his words. He’s internalised the iambic.
In fact, true to the spirit of a film about angry young men, Gully Boy leaves much room for Vijays: Vijay Varma is superb as a neighbourhood crook who must have grown up on Jackie Shroff movies, while Vijay Raaz — one of the finest actors we have — is haunting as Murad’s sore, unambitious father.
Cinematographer Jay Oza presents the city in wide shots, while framing faces — especially Singh and Bhatt — mercilessly close, exposing the actors at their rawest. There are some genuinely poetic compositions, one of which features Bhatt sitting alone at a bus-stop, an immediate contrast to her earliest scene, where she squeezed into what can only be described as an Alia-shaped gap in the crowded backseat of a bus, with a hand-holding boyfriend on one side and a sleeping child on her other shoulder.
Bhatt is a marvel, all fury and focus and fearlessness. Safeena is a wondrous character, strikingly self-assured and frighteningly perceptive, and Bhatt endows her with innocence and impulsiveness. She also seems genuinely capable of walloping people.
Singh spends a large part of the film silent, as Murad drinks it all in — predicaments, wishes, suddenly emergent dreams. It begins to feel one-note, particularly in comparison to the louder characters, till he locks himself in a car and turns on a song — he explodes into a convulsive, amazing singalong. This mirrors another scene when Murad, encountering trashy rap on a car stereo, loses his head in the desperation to shut it. Murad isn’t Murad till music plays.
Armed with microphone or words, Singh is unstoppable. There is one scene that jars — when he dances much too confidently during a music video — but that stands out because the rest of his performance is so precisely calibrated. From accent to action, Singh nails it. As Murad becomes more confident, he even closes a curtain like he’s dropping a mic.
At one point, Safeena, desperate to cheer for Murad, shouts her encouragement mid-song while the rest of the crowd, aware of the style, knows when to applaud. Akhtar has done something special. Gully Boy starts with a scratch sound and ends with a cut to silence, and in between holds voices that cannot be unheard. Like Safeena, applaud whenever you’re ready. It’s time.
John Wick 3 Parabellum movie review: Keanu Reeves delivers the best action film since Mission Impossible Fallout
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Director – Chad Stahelski
Cast – Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Lawrence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Lance Reddick, Ian McShane, Angelica Huston
Rating – 4.5/5
The only way John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum could’ve been better is if Keanu Reeves had somehow got his hands on one of those ‘desi kattas’ from an Anurag Kashyap movie, and gone and shot the CBFC’s worst ideas in the face. I’m being extreme; a couple of clips in the kneecaps would suffice.
As hyper-stylised Neo-noir action threequels go, it’s damn near a masterpiece – breathtakingly beautiful to look at, mythologically dense, and featuring the best action set pieces since Mission: Impossible – Fallout. And for it to have been desecrated in the manner that it has is positively criminal.
When it is at its most euphorically adventurous, as John Wick is beating a giant man with a hardbound library book, the Indian censor board decides that watching this death in particular – despite the film having shown dozens of other deaths already – is too much for an adult human to handle. And so it arbitrarily slices and dices important scenes, making up its own rules as it goes along, guided by a wonky moral compass.
Watch the John Wick 3: Chapter 3 – Parabellum here
It’s disappointing, to be sure, but this is John Wick we’re talking about – it is said that he once killed three men in a bar with a pencil (a pencil!). He is a man of focus, commitment, and sheer will. He can smash mountains, bury oceans and escape the light. He can do better than a bunch of bored uncles.
Not two weeks have passed since the events of the first film, when that poor fool decided to kill John Wick’s dog and ended up incurring that wrath of his alter ego, the Baba Yaga. In those two weeks, John Wick has taken down literally hundreds of New York’s finest Russian gangsters, gone on an Italian ‘vacation’, and has thumbed his nose at the High Table – the mythical government of sorts in this fictional world of assassins and a$$holes.
This makes him a man on the run, with nowhere to hide and an entire city’s worth of assassins hot on his trail, looking to grab a slice of that $14 million bounty.
Like its two predecessors, it navigates between highbrow cinema and schlocky garbage better than Sebastian Vettel around a race track. At one point John visits a theatre named after the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky; and then there are the requisite nods to spaghetti westerns and Hong Kong gun-fu. It is, however, also a film in which a dog bites a man in the crotch multiple times. And through cinematographer Dan Laustsen’s lens, even the campiest bits look like high art.
It’s fabulously lean, plot wise – John Wick has a target on his back, and he must fight to have it removed. This takes him to Casablanca, where he meets up with an old friend (and possibly flame?) played by the perfectly cast Halle Berry. Keanu Reeves – bless his pure heart – isn’t the best actor in the world (likely even his street), but in just a couple of scenes manages to convey years of history with Sofia, Berry’s character. Their partnership was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film, and I can’t wait for them to team up again in future instalments.
The dense world building that was teased in the first couple of John Wicks is more fleshed out in this one, with the introduction of an even higher power – the Elder, who apparently outranks even the High Table, and is the only one who can grant him forgiveness. If the John Wick series is one giant metaphor for Catholicism (as I fully believe it is) then the Elder is sort of like the Pope. The film’s themes of guilt and penance, sin and salvation certainly suggest so. Although it could just as easily be a film about surviving in a corporate jungle, bound by rules and bureaucracy.
John Wick 3 is a film with many adversaries, but not necessarily a villain – in all honesty, I would contend its biggest nemesis is the CBFC. As per usual, a vast majority of the men who are sent to stop John Wick are merely faceless obstacles that he must slice and shoot his way through. In that regard, the third film is closer to resembling a video game than the previous entries in this unlikely franchise. After every immaculately choreographed fight, John Wick levels up, until he arrives, exhausted but evolved, for the boss battle.
Mark Dacascos stars as the primary antagonist, Zero, whom he plays like a cross between a fanboy and a samurai. The tone of their final showdown wasn’t unlike Grigor Dimitrov challenging his idol Roger Federer at Wimbledon. And despite John Wick 3 being the only Hollywood film to satisfactorily utilise the talents of The Raid’s Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman, in the end even the henchmen that they play are too awestruck by John Wick’s legend.
As one should be, I suppose. At three films old now, director Chad Stahelski is clearly onto something. A part of me wishes for him to branch out, to tell new stories; but a bigger part of me wants him to keep making these movies until glamorising guns like this becomes un-PC.
Book Review: Men and Dreams: In the Dhauladhar
Men and Dreams in the Dhauladhar is a wonderfully interwoven story of three people who accidentally meet each other in the Dhauladhar range. The story revolves around a hydroelectric project which has been passed to construct a dam in the same range.
With the most unique plot, the book focuses on how life continues to move on even when it is full of hurdles and full of ups and downs. The story line is incredibly genuine.
The three main characters, whilst Nanda, Khusru and Rekha have been so effortlessly sketched. The character development is Superb. Seldom do readers find a book which satisfies things more than one can ever imagine, and this one is just the epitome of that. With a wide spectrum of themes tracing different aspects of life, this book proves to be a 5 star read.
The plot is something which we don’t encounter frequently. The narration is effortlessly spectacular. The writing style and the flow is really commendable. It just never breaks the ease flow. Overall, it was indeed a great read!
About The Author : Kochery C. Shibu is a retired naval officer. A graduate from the National Defence Academy he has held several important posts in the Indian Navy. Post his retirement he has executed hydroelectric projects in the Cauvery river basin in Karnataka, Beas river basin in Himachal and lately Teesta river basin in Sikkim. He holds a postgraduate degree in Defence Studies from Chennai University, and MA in English Literature from Pune University. Men and Dreams in the Dhauladhar is his debut novel. The technical content of the novel, namely the setting up of a hydro-project is drawn from his experience in these projects since 2005, as are many of the characters inspired from those whom he encountered at the project site. Kochery C. Shibu was born in Kochi and now lives in Bangalore with his wife and daughter.
Review by : Sudarshan Wagh
Avengers Endgame movie review: An epic conclusion to Marvel’s Infinity Saga; it’s a triumphant tear-jerker
Directors – Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Cast – Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Don Cheadle, Brie Larson, Paul Rudd, Josh Brolin
Rating – 4.5/5
With Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has arrived at its long-awaited ‘conclusion’, offering fans an old-fashioned mix of grand spectacle and undiluted emotion. To say that it is a success would be too simple an observation; what it deserves instead, is a eulogy.
Like a series finale of a television show you’ve loved for years, it crosses all the Ts and dots all the Is – some more neatly than others – and ends not so much with a feeling of rigid resolution, but a sense of freeing possibility. For new doors to open, Marvel seems to be saying, old ones must first be closed. It’s a film that will compel even the Frost Giants in the audience to whoop and weep.
Watch the Avengers: Endgame trailer here
For films like Avengers: Endgame to succeed, piled as they are with unfathomably large expectations, a well-oiled system is required to be in place. There needs to be a discipline in the writing, a crispness to the editing, and a generosity in the performances. True ambition in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, more often than not, is born out of a strict adherence to rules. And there are perhaps no two filmmakers better at working within studio sandboxes than Anthony and Joe Russo – at least not on this unprecedented scale.
Avengers: Endgame is a terrific example of that epic intimacy that Marvel does so well – alternating between glorious action and subtle character moments. Watching it almost feels like taking a wistful walk down memory lane, flanked on either side by a Russo brother, our hands held firmly in theirs. It’s an odd feeling that I can’t quite describe; a mixture of déjà vu and nostalgia, of melancholy and euphoria.
It’s a delicate balance to strike, but not nearly as difficult as having to write a review without revealing potential spoilers, whose definition, it seems, is as subjective as the idea of Iron Man 3’s Mandarin being a good villain.
But there won’t be any spoilers here, at least not beyond what we’ve seen in the trailers. The marketing campaign that Marvel put together for Endgame is a work of art in itself – I can confirm that most of the footage we’ve seen is pre-opening credits stuff. There are, however, parallels to the scientific methods trailer companies employ and the Russos’ keen understanding of blockbuster storytelling. Despite being the longest superhero film in history, and the longest film in the MCU, Avengers: Endgame is paced like Quicksilver on crack cocaine. Not a single moment feels unnecessary, but there are scenes – especially in the first act – that feel slightly rushed.
It’s their own fault, really. Over the years, we’ve come to develop certain expectations from our Marvel movies, as well as a patience for their indulgences. This makes the ‘getting the band back together’ scenes in Endgame rather tedious. We know what needs to happen, so why dilly-dally?
The fatal flaw with Avengers: Infinity War, I feel, was that at no point did the Decimation feel like it would be irreversible. It was a scene – a very good scene – built entirely on shock value that dissipated almost as swiftly as one of ‘the fallen’. And after all, they say that no movie death should be believed unless you see a trickle of blood escaping from the corner of the character’s mouth.
It was a similar situation with Captain America: Civil War. Steve Rogers and Tony Stark’s differences felt more like a momentary tiff than an ideological confrontation; in other words, of course they were going to get back together.
Avengers: Endgame isn’t like that, and that’s what elevates its credibility, and injects unexpected drama to its already weighty themes. There’s a sense of finality to it that feels wholly unprecedented in the MCU. The Russos are probably operating at their most mature here, examining themes of parenthood and patriarchy, loss and legacy – and of power; how it switches forms as it moves from one hand to another (literally). The only way to confront radical terrorism, the film asserts – and Thanos is a radical terrorist, make no mistake about that – is through unity and bravery.
Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark/Iron Man in a still from Avengers: Endgame.
This isn’t to say that Endgame is a dour film – the trailers have certainly sold it that way; like an unholy love child between Back to the Future and The Leftovers. But I was surprised by how funny it was, and when it needed to be, how purely entertaining.
One scene in particular – I won’t say a word more – will extract the same sort of response from audiences’ as Thor’s entry did in Infinity War.
But regardless of what they say, Endgame is very much Infinity War – Part 2, in that it directly addresses the fallout of the Snap. Certain scenes feel like they’ve been there since the earliest drafts of the script, while others genuinely feel like they were added post the release of Infinity War – the Russos have always had a finger on the audiences’ pulse, so it would make sense for them to have done that.
They’re insisting that this is the end, but it’s like Tony choosing pizza over cheeseburgers – we all know that’s never going to happen. The more movies they keep making, the more they’re going to dilute the impact of Endgame, But for fans who’ve been there from day one, it will be the satisfying conclusion they’ve been waiting for, and a love letter to the franchise they adore. The MCU, in this moment, has given us a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Cherish it. Hold it dear. Whatever it takes.
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