The Front Row Review of Bewakoofiyaan

Toward the end of Bewakoofiyaan, Mohit, played by Ayushmann Khurrana, angrily declares: Enough of me and my life! My sentiments exactly. After two hours of watching Mohit lose his job, his car, his house and his girlfriend, I was exhausted. Bewakoofiyaan is one of those films that isn't actively offensive or actively engaging. It just goes on, in a bland manner, until we hit happily ever after.

Director Nupur Asthana and writer Habib Faisal are aiming here to show us how hollow consumerism is. How finally what matters isn't the four-bedroom apartment and designer shoes but relationships and above all, love. The irony is that this life lesson comes from the house of Yash Raj Films, which for decades has stoked our desire for beauty, riches and luxury.

There are moments when Asthana touches upon something that feels true and emotional. At one point, Mohit asks his girlfriend Mayera, played by Sonam Kapoor, if she would love him even if he were a waiter. She says yes but then looks worried: Will she really be able to come through on that promise?

But these are few and far between. Mostly, we are subjected to Mayera's father, played by Rishi Kapoor, putting Mohit through the paces - he even wants certified copies of his PAN number, Aadhaar card and passport. Sonam looks lovely. She attempts to imbue Mayera with some texture but it's an uphill climb. At one point, Mayera complains about not having bought a new pair of shoes in two months. I wanted Mohit to dump her right there. The strongest performance here is Ayushmann's. His anger and frustration at losing the good life are palpable. But he is hobbled by the convoluted story - especially the extra-twisty climax.

Honestly, it's going to take a better script than this to make me summon emotion for out of work yuppies. I'm going with two stars.

The Front Row Review of 3 Days to Kill

If the long Oscar season has tricked you into thinking that Hollywood only make great movies, 3 Days to Kill is the perfect corrective. It's proof that they make as much rubbish as we do. Only their rubbish looks better than ours because they have more money.

Kevin Costner, weary but still ruggedly handsome, plays Ethan Renner, a CIA agent with brain cancer - the doctor gruffly suggests that he put his affairs in order reminding me of all those Bollywood docs who would grimly declare: Ab inhe dawa ki nahin dua ki zaroorat hai. So Ethan heads to Paris to reconnect with his estranged wife and teenage daughter. What he doesn't count on is Vivi - a seductive CIA agent who offers him a new untried cure in exchange for killing baddies with names like The Wolf and Albino.

Yes, it's as bad as it sounds. And it gets even worse because Ethan is gunning down the baddies while he babysits his daughter. So a running joke is that she calls on his cell phone just as he's about to torture someone. There are some tug-at-your-heartstrings bicycle riding and dance lessons thrown in between car chases and murder. Not to mention Vivi, who dresses in latex and blonde wigs and drops lines like: I like my boys dressed better than the men we kill.

If you like older action stars, then go back and revisit Liam Neeson in Taken or even better, Clint Eastwood in In the Line of Fire. This one is a dud. I'm going with one star.

The Front Row Review of Queen

Kangana Ranaut hasn't been an easy actor to love. She's been onscreen for 8 years. She's won a National Award. She's worked in blockbusters like Krrish 3. But there's always something dark, edgy and volatile about her, both onscreen and off. She's been intriguing, mysterious but rarely flat-out endearing.

Queen changes that. Kangana plays Rani, the painfully sweet and naïve daughter of a halwai in Rajouri Garden. This is the sort of girl who believes that Indians are good at kissing because Emraan Hashmi does it so well in his movies; who will buy a vibrator at a sex shop in Amsterdam thinking it's a massage tool; who will be desperately anxious and happy to go on her honeymoon because she's never had, as she says, a lip to lip kiss.

The lip to lip kiss happens but it isn't quite how Rani imagined it. Vijay, her patronizing fiancé played nicely by Rajkummar Rao, dumps her days before the wedding. Rani who looks like she's never stepped beyond her mithai store in Rajouri Garden, then decides to go on her honeymoon alone. With mehndi on her hands and tears in her eyes, she takes off to Paris and Amsterdam.

Queen is about the metamorphosis of Rani. Director Vikas Bahl, who has also co-written this delightful story, doesn't expend too much energy on plot. Nothing much happens. Instead he creates moments, which slowly mold and reshape Rani into a woman with a smile and a spine. Yes, many of these are too-good-to-be-true, including a pole dance session with a prostitute in Amsterdam. In places, the film is meandering and indulgent. You might even lose your patience.

And yet, Kangana will hold you in place. The film hits a few dull spots but the actress doesn't hit a false note. This is a performance so artfully transparent and heartfelt that we feel that we know Rani like a close friend. The other characters - her parents, her plump brother with a killer hairstyle - are also nicely etched and perfectly cast. Post the success of Band Baaja Baaraat, middle-class Delhi culture has become a Bollywood staple. But thankfully, Bahl doesn't over-do it. He creates with a deft hand and a lot of affection.

Ultimately Queen is Kangana's triumph. I left the theater thinking about Rani and how the rest of her life would pan out. It's not often you do that with a Bollywood character. I'm going with three and a half stars.

The Front Row Review of Gulaab Gang

In Gulaab Gang, writer-director Soumik Sen brings together a slew of incredibly talented women - Madhuri Dixit-Nene, Juhi Chawla, Divya Jagdale, Tannishtha Chatterjee. He lifts liberally from the inspiring true story of Sampat Pal, an illiterate village woman who formed a group of women vigilantes called Gulabi Gang in Bundelkhand. But Sen is singularly unable to embed the actresses into his fictionalized version of this story in a coherent way. The result is an ineffectual and messy ode to women empowerment in which women, with nicely styled hair, maim, kill, fight elections and in between find the time to sing and dance
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What's fun here is to see the saccharine sweet Juhi Chawla turn venomous. She plays Sumitra Devi, a deliciously despicable politician. Her perverse wickedness is the best part of the film. But again, it's such a one-note character that it soon becomes predictable. Meanwhile Madhuri Dixit-Nene as Rajjo is the avenging angel who channels her inner Durga and even gets to wield an axe. It's thrilling to watch these two in the same frame. It's also thrilling to see women kicking ass onscreen but it would be nice if the narrative had some logic. Even the accents in this fictional village of Madhavpur are inconsistent.

For a real dose of women empowerment, watch Gulabi Gang, a terrific documentary on Sampat Pal, which is still running in select theaters. For Gulaab Gang, I'm going with two stars.

The Front Row Review of Total Siyapaa

There are a few superbly funny moments in Total Siyapaa, which is about the rocky romance between an Indian girl and a Pakistani boy. But few is the key word here. The film, directed by Eshvar Niwas, starts out well but then fizzles out faster than you can say Aman ki Asha - which incidentally was the original title of the film and is the name of the lead characters - Aman, played by Ali Zafar and Asha, played by Yami Gautam.

Total Siyapaa is adapted from a Spanish film called Seres Queridos, which means Only Human. I haven't seen that film but this version is largely dumbed down and farcical. And Ali and Yami are just too bland to lift up the leaden script. The best thing in Total Siyapaa is Kirron Kher, once again playing a beleaguered Punjabi mom. You've seen her do this many times, most memorably in Dostana but she puts such verve into her signature act that it never gets boring.

There is much humor to be mined from our fraught relations with our neighbor but Total Siyapaa is an opportunity lost. I'm going with one and a half stars.

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