Monday, June 8, 2015

Dil Dhadakne Do review



Director Zoya Akhtar’s first feature length release following the enormously succesful bromance/road movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara takes us on another journey – this time it’s on a luxury liner to Turkey with a dysfunctional family. Kamal and Neelam Mehra (Anil Kapoor and Shefaly Shah) have booked a cruise to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary though there appears to be little to celebrate. He’s an adulterous, insensitive workaholic and she’s a Lady Who Lunches, and dines, and disappears to the loo to gobble down chocolate muffins in lieu of confronting her hurtful husband. Accompanying them on the trip are their children; unhappily married Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra) and her controlling husband Manav (Rahul Bose), and Kabir (Ranveer Singh), the reluctant heir apparent to the Mehra empire. Following a serious downturn in business that could potentially bankrupt the fantastically wealthy Mehras, Kapoor and Shah encourage their single son and scion to romance one of their fellow travellers, the daughter of a wealthy potential business contact. Predictably enough (at least for anyone who’s seen Dirty Dancing), he falls in love with one of the ship’s entertainment staff, dancer Farah (Anushka Sharma) instead.
  
All of this sounds as if it might be rather fun, but at a running time of nearly three hours, fat on dialogue that never rings true, and styled to look more or less like a perfume ad, Dil Dhadakne Do is the voyage of the damned. This, in spite of some superb performances from its stellar cast, especially veteran Kapoor.  The problem is in the execution – for one thing it’s tiresomely derivative and very much held in the thrall of the American romcom, from its tone to its look to its background score. In terms of ideas though, the film touches upon themes that may have appealed to Henry James and Edith Wharton. The Mehras are a family living in the stranglehold of privilege and patriarchy, with each member sublimating their desires to fit the elite’s social strictures. When dealing with real money and power, marriage is seen here reverting to its original function – that of uniting lands and families, stabilizing and expanding fortunes – at the expense of true love. 

Alas, the examination of these themes barely skims the surface with the director more taken up with the film’s high-gloss, Vogue shoot aesthetic. Dil Dhadakne Do could have given us an insider’s look at the entrenched hypocrisy and sexism of the upper crust but holds its punches, unsure, it seems, as to whether it wants us to disapprove of the Mehras’ lifestyle or aspire to it. One cannot satisfactorily explore the lives of those trapped in a gilded cage if one’s area of interest is the gilt itself.   





Saturday, January 24, 2015

Review - Granta India

Farewell Exotica
Published in Open 25.01.15
http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/books/farewell-exotica-0

Ian Jack’s very promising introduction to Granta’s second India issue (the first appeared in 1997, marking 50 years of Indian Independence) quotes Amitava Kumar : ‘One critique of Indian writing in English is that we translate too much…the humble samosa is described as a savoury food item… all too often our writing is an act of translation on behalf of the West.’ (The Caravan, May 2014). Jack goes on to say, ‘ This seems to me much less true than it once was…India has developed a bustling publishing industry…The Indian writer need no longer look over his shoulder at his imagined audience abroad.’ And indeed, Granta has been good at keeping the exotica at bay in this issue. Alas, that doesn’t rescue it from being drab and dreary, by and large.
Booker-nominee Neel Mukherjee’s story ‘The Wrong Square’, the prologue to his novel The Statue of Freedom, is about an Indian expat bringing his six-year-old son for a visit to Fatehpur Sikri, the father’s fear of his son’s boredom is all too relatable . The highlight is a wonderfully macabre moment when they drive past a construction worker falling to his death from a scaffolding. It’s an unsettling scene and one wishes Mukherjee had lingered on for a page or so longer here to fulfil our more voyeuristic expectations and perhaps meandered less through Fatehpur Sikri.
Amit Chaudhuri’s ‘English Summer’ is also an extract from his forthcoming novel. It opens with the protagonist making his bed and smoothing down a sheet stiff with ‘a shiny patch of dried semen’. It took some fortitude to keep reading. The protagonist Ananda is a struggling writer in London musing over class and Marxism while awaiting a response from Poetry Review. He is just the sort of person one goes out of one’s way to avoid at dinner parties.
If Chaudhuri had played it for more laughs and embraced the fact that Ananda seems insufferable, it might have been fun. Instead, I got the impression that one was meant to like him. One is at least meant to like him enough to enjoy his observations of, say, a butterfly: ‘A butterfly had settled on the upper window. It had closed its wings, simulating a leaf, or engendering a geometric angle, perfect as a shadow, but now wavering and bending to one side—not out of any obedience to the breeze, but according to a whim.’ It makes one want to swat the next butterfly one sees, really, out of sheer frustration at the amount of detail one finds within Granta India that appears to have no narrative purpose whatsoever.
By contrast, Vivek Shanbhag’s ‘Ghachar Ghochar’, an excerpt of a novella translated from Kannada by Srinath Perur, gets directly to the point. A charming little story about honeymooners, its most striking feature as compared to much of the rest of the fiction in this issue is that the plot is up, up, and away within two sentences, without dithering or sightseeing along the way; ‘I didn’t put up a fight when the family began efforts to get me married. None of my attempts at romance had got anywhere.’
Another engrossing read is Hari Kunzru’s ‘Drone’, also an extract from a forthcoming novel. ‘Drone’ follows two different characters, first an elite ‘Seth’ and at the other end of the spectrum, an impoverished miner facing certain death. The ‘Seth’ appears more convincing and Kunzru is unsparing in his biting satire of, among other things, the religiosity of the Indian elite: ‘…the Seth’s seventh wife, was headhunted from an isolated rural community, where she’d grown up under the supervision of a disciplinarian aunt. Only after compliance with stringent genetic and astrological tests did the Seth’s agent offer her the position of vessel. She was, of course, a virgin, whose pristine caste background demonstrated, on the part of her ancestors, an impeccable lack of interest in the wider world.’
Too much of the fiction (and non-fiction) in this issue is competent if utterly mundane; I’m hard-pressed to remember it two days after reading it. I’d venture that it isn’t a sign of the much-ballyhooed Death of the Novel or any particular crisis facing Indian literature at the moment; it seems to me a matter of poor selection—more work in translation for example would have been great—and the same problem Raymond Chandler wrote to a friend about in 1947: ‘Undoubtedly we are getting a lot of adept reportage which masquerades as fiction and will go on getting it, but essentially I believe that it is lacking an emotional quality. Even when they deal with death, and they often do, they are not tragic. I suppose that is to be expected. An age which is incapable of poetry is incapable of any kind of literature except that cleverness of a decadence. The boys can say anything, their scenes are almost tiresomely neat, they have all the facts and all the answers, but they are little men who have forgotten how to pray.’
+++
Chandler may be a tad harsh, but he’s not wrong. There is a gaping hole where there should instead be real feeling, and excessive verbosity like nervous babbling filling in an awkward silence where there ought to be meaning. The poetry with the exception of Vinod Kumar Shukla isn’t wildly exciting, and with a few exceptions, the reportage isn’t much to write home about either. Raghu Karnad’s ‘The Ghost In The Kimono’ suggests his forthcoming book will be really rather good. Sam Miller’s ‘Gandhi the Londoner’ is fun, especially given that every possible aspect of Gandhi’s life has now been analysed and parsed in every conceivable way. This essay is not about Gandhi the Mahatma, Gandhi the symbol; here, he’s another broke student trying to get his laundry done without breaking the bank, trying to make the most of an exciting city, and facing problems London still hasn’t entirely resolved, like where to find a good vegetarian meal. ‘Some of his hagiographers’, Miller writes, ‘seem a little uncomfortable with Gandhi’s antics in London, that he showed so little interest in Indian nationalism, or in politics in general—and that he took dancing and violin lessons, that he professed a desire to be ‘an English gentleman’, that he flirted with young women. But not Gandhi himself, who was always keen to reveal to the world his mistakes and peccadilloes.’
The finest piece in this collection is perhaps Samanth Subramanian’s sharp, droll essay, where he uses Bombay’s Breach Candy Club as a microcosm of India’s elite. The swimming pool is ‘excavated in the outline of undivided India, such that Kashmir lies right below your feet as you stand atop the diving platform…In vivid contrast to the rest of the country, the pool is nearly always thinly populated.’ The Breach Candy club refused for years to open admission to Indians, and in 1947 ‘the club insisted that it would continue to restrict membership to Europeans only, not quite ready to hand India—the pool, the country—over to its people.’
When Indians gained ‘ordinary’ membership, there was then the matter of only Europeans being allowed the privilege of serving on the managing committee. ‘This is a deliciously shocking situation’, Subramanian writes, ‘so fat with political incorrectness that a brawl seemed proper and justified. But then the matter took on broader contours… There were signs of the old elite rattled by, and ready to be contemptuous of the brazenness of new money. There were rumbles of fraud and corruption, of a mania for land and of politicians flexing their muscles in the shadows, until we appeared to be talking not of the Breach Candy Club but of India herself.’
As the quote suggests, the battle of the elites is nowhere near as simplistic as it may seem; everyone appears to come to it with an ulterior motive, their own values always questionable. Subramanian’s style never flags. One can only hope the next Granta India—and I’m in no hurry, to be perfectly honest—features a few more pieces of this calibre.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Bang Bang! review

Bang Bang!
Hrithik Roshan, Katrina Kaif, Danny Denzongpa 
Dir: Siddharth Anand

Bang Bang!, the official Indian remake of Tom Cruise action-comedy Knight and Day, opens with nauseatingly patriotic soldier Viren (Jimmy Shergill) showing up at a holding cell in London to basically goad a notorious criminal with news that he'll soon be extradited to India and that the jails shan't be as nice there. The scene includes the revelation that Shergill pronounces the name "Omar" like "Lamarr". Shortly thereafter he suffers a painful death - not specifically for this reason - though I feel being North Indian and not being able to wrestle your way around the name Omar is in fact reason enough.

Omar Zafar (Danny Denzongpa) is Interpol's most wanted criminal whom Britain's most secure space can't hold. He wants the Koh-i-Noor diamond stolen, from what I understood, to annoy the Indian people - though you'd think the United Kingdom telling them to sod off and get in line with the people wanting the Rosetta Stone back would be annoying enough. He puts the word out that he's looking for a thief - a real master craftsman - for the job. Surely no one has the audacity to steal something from the Tower of London itself! Enter Rajeev Nanda (Hrithik Roshan) - possibly international thief, possibly Indian agent, who steals it but makes a terrible nuisance of himself by refusing to hand it over.   

I'm not even a fan (it's the muscles, call me superficial, I just can't bear the muscles) but that man has undeniable presence and charm. Whether it's comic timing, romance, or action sequences that are called for - Roshan delivers in spades (I won't even get into his freakishly good dance skills). This is just as well as he not only has his own performance to worry about but is also lugging about the deadweight that is Katrina Kaif playing reclusive and none-too-bright receptionist Harleen accidentally caught up in the action. 
   
It's not just that the very beautiful Katrina Kaif can't act and can't speak Hindi - and she can't - it's that she can't so much as say the words "wrong number" without sounding like she has some sort of terrible speech impediment. At one point she explains to Roshan's character that she used to be quite suspicious of him "but now I chust you". I'm quite certain she needs an interpreter to order meals at restaurants. It's a dreadful shame because she has a good role, and dialogue that might actually have been funny from someone who doesn't sound like they're speaking through a misaligned jaw.

Together they are pursued across exotic locations by Zafar's henchmen (including his right-hand man, the underutilised Javed Jaffrey) whom Roshan dispatches of with much panache. All in all, Bang Bang! makes for a rather entertaining caper, which came as an enormous suprise as Knight and Day was utterly painful. With half an hour shorn off it - in particular the useless bubblegum pop songs, the scene that was shamefully in there just for product placement, and the scenes in which Katrina Kaif was required to do anything but look pretty, it would have been entirely satisfying.  










Friday, October 3, 2014

Haider and the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism

This is not about Haider, Vishal Bhardwaj's new Kashmir-based adaptation of Hamlet, so everyone may lower their hackles, thank you very much. This is about some Indian film critics and the disturbing trends one finds in their work.

I keep coming across reviews of Haider that employ the phrase "mainstream conventions" intended as some sort of slur - as in "Haider has succumbed to/not managed to escape some mainstream cinematic conventions." Few things in the world inspire me to enough of a frenzy of loathing to make me dash off a few lines about them. It so happens that the ill-informed arrogance that it takes to dismiss "mainstream conventions" is near the top of this list.

Those of us who actually like Indian cinema and have watched films made in decades gone by -- long before India's urban middle classes decided cinema belonged to them and them alone -- will be able to tell you that mainstream conventions have never got in the way of telling a good story. Conventions in and of themselves are the act of storytelling, if you want to crib, please have the sense to crib about the execution.

Other nonsensical criticism I've run into states that Haider has SONGS <gasp!!!> and DANCES <double gasp!!!> even COMEDY <NO WAY!!!> because apparently Indian cinema featuring song and dance is somehow absurd (while no one using a loo in all 24 hours of the series 24 is, you know, artistic license). The idea is that doing this to Shakespeare somehow desecrates His work. Let us just put aside for the moment the fact that Indian film music has been one of Prometheus's greatest gifts to mankind and try this instead - you know whose work featured songs, innuendo-laden jokes and a merry jig or two? I'll give you a few clues - playwright, lived in Stratford-upon-Avon, first name William...yes, that's bloody right!!

And in case you were under the impression that Shakespeare's plays were written for the audience that goes to watch them now at the Globe in Southwark at forty quid a head for a bad seat at a matinee, could we just flash back to Elizabethan England here for a slight reality check? Indian cinema at its very best does what Shakespeare did at his very best - entertainment for all first and foremost - because there's really no point writing a fine play if you can't keep bums on seats - with its genius permeating at every turn the story/dialogue/song for those who care to see it - satisfaction all round. Whether you like or dislike Haider is entirely your call - but if you're looking down at what you perceive as "mainstream convention", you've missed the point by a mile and a half. So really, could the Shakespeare scholars here expressing their shock at light moments in what was promised to be a Shakespearean tragedy please take their bare bodkins to their jugulars and spare the rest of us?



Friday, July 25, 2014

Review - The Return of the Butterfly by Moni Mohsin

The truth behind the laughter

The hilarious diary of a Pakistani socialite returns in its third sortie to cause a flutter yet again
The Return of the Butterfly | Moni Mohsin | Penguin Books India | Pages 240 | Rs 299
BOOKS
Butterfly: Moni Mohsin (Photo: INDIA TODAY IMAGES)
Butterfly: Moni Mohsin (Photo: INDIA TODAY IMAGES)
Some of my favourite moments in The Return of the Butterfly—the third in Pakistani journalist Moni Mohsin’s immensely popular series chronicling the life and times of Butterfly, a malapropism-spouting Lahori socialite—remind me of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch in which four men, comfortably off, try to outdo each other’s accounts of humble beginnings. One says, “We lived in one room, all 26 of us, no furniture, half the floor was missing.” Another responds, “Eh, you were lucky to have a room! We used to have to live in the corridor!” The Pakistani equivalents of this (admitting to humble origins, make no mistake, is tantamount to social suicide) are seemingly fantastical descriptions of how wonderful things were. You can’t escape it in drawing rooms: stories of cabarets at Karachi’s grand Metropole hotel, people insisting their grandmothers cycled to college in shorts, the ghastly socialite I once found myself seated next to on a Karachi-Lahore connection who took one look at the other passengers and conspiratorially told me: “In the good old days, we used to know everyone on these flights.” Or, as Butterfly says of her mother’s youth: ‘when both of them wore saris and beehives and meat was ten rupees a ton and only the deserving had cars and even those who took their six children to school on a bicycle had happy smiles and only nice prayers for their car-driving betters’.
Indeed, if anecdotal evidence is to be believed, Pakistan’s finest hour was one in which it was so utopian that pesky irritants like social mobility simply didn’t exist. Now it’s so bad her mother’s new ‘phone wallah’, who replaced the guy who called her ‘Huzoor’ and ‘always did jhuk ke salam’, ‘barges into her sitting room and stands on her carpet without even removing his shoes’ and ‘calls Mummy “Anti”, as if, God forbid, he was related to us’. It’s enough to make Mummy want to leave, till Butterfly reminds her: ‘with your passport you have only two choices; either you can go to Afghanistan or else, Upstairs to Him’. One of Mohsin’s many masterstrokes.
Starting in 2009 with Benazir’s assassination when Butterfly’s husband Janoo—the very model of rectitude and foil to Butterfly’s frivolity—heads to his ancestral lands to campaign for Benazir’s party, lest her death be in vain, The Return of the Butterfly takes us through the worst of times. In doing so, Mohsin provides a timely reminder that even in countries freefalling into chaos and despair, life, in all its sublime and ridiculous forms, still goes on. And so, while Janoo starts exhibiting signs of clinical depression watching everything he loved about Pakistan slip away, Butterfly buys Birkins, attends and critiques lavish weddings, plans summer holidays in London and trades ‘Ramzan’ for ‘Ramadan al Kareem’—succumbing to the Arabisation of Pakistan (which the press describes as ‘creeping’, whereas it’s making a mad dash at one in the manner of a bull to a matador).
Mohsin hits the target every time. Butterfly goes to ‘the pools’ to vote after Benazir’s death, saying ‘Thanks God we live in Gulberg and not some slump type area where we would have to vote alongside all the bhooka nangas’. She is shaken by former governor of Punjab Salman Taseer’s murder and much of the country’s grotesque reaction: ‘Even friends of ours whose kids are in college in the US and who serve drink in their home and would sell their grandmothers for a green card, even they are saying that he wasn’t a good Muslim.’ She attends candlelight vigils but only the ones for ‘khaata peeta types’. In 2011, she goes the way of her more vapid friends and ‘feels a deep connection with Imran Khan’ because ‘Imran is also a PLU, na’ and ‘he will do sullah with the Taliban so they will aik dum drop their weapons and become all lovey dovey with us’. But even Butterfly can’t swallow the theory that ‘Amreekans’ shot Malala because they ‘want to give Pakistan a bad name’.
While Butterfly’s concerns are still her wardrobe, her horror of upstarts, and the distress caused by the local supermarket running out of avocadoes, the book is at moments just too horribly true to even laugh along with. You can tell the country’s really gone down the tubes when even Butterfly’s diary saddens as much as it entertains.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Review - A Bad Character

The bad girl’s guide to Delhi

A first novel offers sharp visuals and flashes of insight into the city but falls victim to the very banality it projects onto its hapless subjects
A Bad Character | Deepti Kapoor | Hamish Hamilton | Pages 240 | Rs 499
BOOKS
Deepti Kapoor
Deepti Kapoor
Idha, the 20-year-old protagonist of Deepti Kapoor’s A Bad Character, has always been an odd bird; rather sensitive, an overthinker one might say. As a child, she visits a butcher with her mother and, presented with chicken for dinner, she contemplates ‘the alchemy of this, the life made out of death’. Following her mother’s death, she moves in with her housewife aunt and accountant uncle. She suspects she’s somehow different, a rebel in a conformist world. Her defiant soul is why attempts at socialising with peers failed: ‘I have my own ideas about things and a couple of times having coffee with the girls, I’ve ventured some thought close to my heart only to receive blank looks in return’. I can imagine, especially if she opened with this chicken-alchemy-death-life business.
One day while hanging about at a caf√© in Khan Market thinking deep thoughts about her waitress (‘the kohl around her eyes looks like rebellion, around mine it is a prison’), Idha meets a man who changes her life. (The novel, which is told in flashback, opens with his body being recovered on a highway.) He informs her that she is ‘a blank slate, a lump of wet clay’ that he plans to mould. I’d have killed him myself. She, however, is won over by his bad boy demeanour and atrociously hackneyed lines. He appeals to the mutiny she seems to think is raging within her: ‘his entire way of being, makes me think of someone who’s …wandered out of the forest’. Perhaps he knows how to spot edible plants—who can say.
He’s not the sort of boy one takes home to meet the foster parents. For one thing, he’s dark. ‘It’s the years of conditioning’, Kapoor writes, with more than a touch of didacticism, ‘that make me think his dark skin is ugly, poor, wrong’. The two finally make love on the ‘1st of May. A day for the workers’. This mystifying socialist thread isn’t expanded upon further. Then, they spend some very slow-moving pages exploring Delhi, having philosophical conversations and watching obscure Resnais and Truffaut films. He teaches her ‘how to say charcuterie, from the French, obsolete: char for flesh, cuite for cooked’. Imagine all of Adrian Mole’s pretensions with none of his endearing warmth or humour and you’ve pretty much got it. At one point, he buys her outfits telling her to try them on and, ‘Fall in love with yourself’. It’s Fifty Shades of Grey meets Maine Pyar Kiya. Together, they are one of literature’s least endearing couples, and this isn’t helped by the complete absence of momentum; the tale is told in fragments, like author’s notes that aren’t written into proper scenes.
There are insightful moments—few and far between, alas—about a woman’s experience of the city, of life: the gas station attendant who strokes her hand while giving her her change, the Rapunzel-esque girl in the flat next door under her alcoholic father’s control, Idha’s wondering what decisions based on desire ‘will finally say about me’. Unfortunately, the author mostly has as little sympathy for women as the rest of society, portraying fellow students as brainwashed drones and her perfectly pleasant aunt as a vapid fool given to husband-hunting and gossip; the poor woman, perhaps tired of her supercilious charge, reasonably suggests she look for a job and a flat if she doesn’t want to marry.
The worst dehumanisation though, is reserved for Muslim women living in Old Delhi: ‘in the place where lives are spent behind walls’, which may come as a surprise to some of them—where ‘a man will make love to them, beat them for a look or a word, for no reason at all, will despise them, ignore them, be blind to them ...buy gifts to appease them, make them smile, coax a laugh from their lips from which love trickles like a brook’. Right then.
It’s all a terrible shame because Kapoor really can turn a beautiful phrase when she feels like it. She sometimes has a poet’s control of language and an undeniable gift for visuals, putting down one sharp, vividly realised image after another: ‘tree-tangled temples’, calls to prayer that ‘leap into the sky’, Delhi’s ‘sulphurous dark’. But journeys of self-discovery don’t work all that well when the protagonist turns out to not be terribly interesting after all.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Film review - Queen, Dir: Vikas Bahl/Starring Kangana Ranaut

The Queen Is Dead 

Such is the justifiable desperation to watch a film that deviates from the clapped-out male-dominated Bollywood standard, that the quirky, unconventional Queen has found itself basking in much acclaim and, more significantly, steady results at the box office. The sheer relief at a film about a woman’s life – a damsel finding her own way out of distress – is palpable as critics rush to outdo each other’s praise and pledge undying love to director Vikas Bahl and actor Kangana Ranaut. Since nothing succeeds like success, one can only hope that the natural course of things will see more films with meatier roles for female protagonists, eventually leading cinema to the thunderbolt of realization that women are also people. As such, the delight with which Queen has been received by critics and audiences is a joy to behold. It would have been all the more gratifying had the film actually been better. 

The story – and I use the term as loosely as the director does – kicks off beautifully. Rani (Ranaut), an obedient girl from a conservative middle class family complete with a degree in Home Economics, is dumped by her ghastly fianc√© at the eleventh hour. After spending a few nights awake soaking up the horror and mortification of it all, captured so well one can feel every pinprick of Ranaut’s despair and panic, she decides to go on her honeymoon after all, even if it is without the groom. So far so good. Utterly charming girl well shot of nasty boy with journey of discovery underfoot, in Paris at that. What could possibly go wrong? The opening act is so flawless that it took me a good hour to accept that the plot had subsequently disappeared down a rabbit-hole never to be seen again and what was one left with were a few entertaining moments, going nowhere, and not nearly fast enough.     

On reaching Paris, Rani and outrageously beautiful half-Indian chambermaid Vijaylakshmi bond over a bewildering exchange during which Vijaylakshmi complains that she doesn’t understand why men are offended by the suggestion that they have small penises. Scared, depressed, disoriented and now on the receiving end of rhetorical questions about genitalia, Rani decides Europe was a terrible idea and tries to book the next flight back to the familiarity of home. But as she waits for a seat, she plucks up the courage inch by inch to navigate the streets, fending off a mugger, and in a glorious highlight, getting sozzled and unleashing Punjabi dance moves atop a Parisian bar.

The scene in which she visits her parents’ friends, who lament the tragedy that’s befallen her, is pitch perfect and acutely observed and does what comedy does best, which is to reveal the ugly truth. Along with being the subject of much pity, Rani may well have similarly lamented her fate for having lost out on marrying a controlling, petty little shit had it not been for the opportunity to find a great big world of possibilities out there. It sounds obvious said out loud but believe me, it really, really isn’t.   

Some of the less charming moments included Rani shouting “Mummy, Mummy” with fear on seeing a black man in a dormitory and Rani telling a chef at an Italian restaurant her meal would be much improved with all the accoutrements generally associated with haleem. I cringed through the obligatory vibrator joke at the sex shop. I realise this is meant to be wholesome simplicity (which I have some trouble with in and of itself) but there’s a fine line between that and irritating doltishness and it is crossed here on numerous occasions.  
While it’s a refreshing change to see an Indian film without romance at its core, the absence of any sexual crackle whatsoever was also deeply felt and I was disappointed that Rani returned to Delhi having embraced a hair straightener rather than sexual liberation beyond a laboured and entirely unmagical first kiss. I also can’t help but feel that for all its unconventionality, and for all of Rani’s newfound daring, we’re still being presented with a goodie two shoes on a pedestal. A rough edge here or there wouldn’t have hurt. All of us off-screen women have somehow managed to live with them.

About a third of the way in, Rani accidentally sends her horrid ex-fiance a selfie in a skimpy vest and one knows too well that he’s going to reappear and also precisely how she’ll handle it. One waits for another story arc to appear to get one to that point but the arid Sahara that is the screenplay yields nothing. The complete lack of pace isn’t a minor problem. It makes for a very, very long two and a half hours; which, for example, afforded me the time to send nasty messages to everyone who’d recommended it to me and play Solitaire till the phone’s battery gave out. Three people are credited with conceiving the story - so where the hell is it? Admittedly, the film’s lethargy is punctuated with some lovely moments. The process reminded me rather of trying to stream a film on a slow internet connection – euphoria when it works followed by lengthy periods of frustration and restlessness when it sticks.