18 March, 2014

2014 : Queen & Highway - 2 movies, 2 remarkable performances

2014 ; The year of the Indian woman

Call it happenstance or call it providence, 2014 is the year of the woman. We are nearly 75 days into this New Year; an election year too, with 49% of the electorate in the country being women. The voice of the female gender is a significant one even in a regressive society like India because in a count, a vote has no gender. Does this gender exercise its right, and if it does, does it exercise as per its own free will, thought and conscience? This is exemplified in an ad campaign, one of the most soul stirring ones seen in a long time; the Tata Tea “Jaago re” that tackled this issue by coupling it with women’s safety. This was the first sign. The latest one came from Kalki Koechlin an actress who wrote a script and presented it as a soliloquy on International Women’s Day, 8th March. Kalki’s refrain is as chilling as it is true and without whining makes a strong statement for the female voice in the making of an equal society.

Art reflects life and contemporary art is an indication of the same. For this I went to the movies after a hiatus and it was a long weekend well spent. Since the year began we have had just about 5 big releases in 'Dedh Ishqiya', 'Jai Ho', 'Gunday', 'Gulabi Gang' , 'Highway' and about 30 odd mid range to small films that flew in to the theaters. Madhuri Dixit having the most releases could be thinking of going back to the USA, recession or not she is the biggest star to take a fall. Salman's magic does not work for his little brothers 'Jai Ho' as it may end up doing just about cost coverage while Gunday has done moderate business. This is despite having a Priyanka in the lead but it is a Yash Raj film hence may cushion her from the box office backlash. Performances across the board have been over the top and the audience has not liked it one bit by the looks of it.

Highway and Queen :
The two movies that stand out differently and shall make the box office till ring again and again are Highway and Queen. Remarkably similar on the points that both begin with wedding scenes cut on steady cam and the plot taking off from there. One wanders into the 'Desh' while the other to 'Videsh'.  Both are journeys of self discovery and liberation. Not an easy act under the best of circumstances to portray. Both the lead actresses in each of the movies deliver and in spades. Two surprise packets whose acts may have gone unnoticed in all this starry glitter of bigger releases otherwise. Aaliya Bhatt the latest star kid on the block and the other from a girl, considered a perpetual outsider; one who has been improving her act with every successive film she has acted in yet never got credited for performing, Kangana Ranawat. Karan Johar on his 'Koffee' show asks his guests to rate actresses for their performance abilities and neither of these two names feature ever despite one being launched by his company. K Jo needs to update himself. The ladies have upped the benchmarks of performance in the game and if he relaxes on his couch for too long they may even change the game before he knows it.

The year of the Queen :
Does Kangana make a statement with her performance in "Queen" or what? Her's is the more astute performance because it comes in a small film that flew under the radar. Much like what Vidya Balan did with 'Kahani' in early 2013, Kangana carries this film fabulously on her own shoulders, and her ability should now never ever be held in doubt. Vikas Bahl the director can take a bow for this. Queen is a 100% effort giving full marks to the director and his muse. It is an absolutely honest film and a must see for anyone who loves good cinema. Amit Trivedi's music is in sync with the flavour of the journey. If Kangana Ranawat does not get awarded for this performance, I shall stick my neck out and say ban all the award ceremonies, they do not know what they are doing.

Highway, potholed in parts
Highway on the other hand is a film with baggage, loads of it.  The journey is scenic, the camerawork being stellar in this movie. What spoils it primarily is the music, A R Rahman clearly is having an off day with this movie and has sleep walked through the film. This movie did not require a score and only Resul Pookutty would have sufficed as a sound designer. The credits say “original score” and it is correct, no one else would own this mess. Not only is it incoherent and not go with the geography or the texture of the film, not a single song is hummable despite Aaliya lending her voice to one of them. 
Imtiyaz Ali made a more complete film in “Jab We Met”. Highway is a darker and starker film and the script meanders towards the middle, some shots are rushed through while those that need not have been there in the film are the one that end up dragging it down. Though it’s a social evil we have seen the pedophiliac relative act before in 'Monsoon Wedding' and Mira Nair presented it with much better clarity and panache. In here it is a mumble that is supposed to create the rumble. Stockholm Syndrome meets Monsoon Wedding drama is the one line review which could have been sufficient but for the two leads who rescue the film. Randeep Hooda looks the part and his performance is unobtrusive yet compelling. The show is stolen by Aaliya & one can’t take one’s eyes off her. Here is a potential star in the making with a superb screen presence and a range that is wonderful to see in one so young. She has the same appeal and star quality that one can see in a Jennifer Lawrence across in Hollywood.

The final word 
  • Queen is not to be missed, 5/5 for both Kangana and Vikas Bahl. Repeat viewing potential for sure.
  • Highway can be seen just about once and only on the big screen to make it tolerable,  Aaliya 4.5/5, Randeep Hooda 4.5/5 and Imtiyaz Ali 3.5/5, as for A R Rahman we shall forget he gave music to this film and forgive him only if he honorably retires from film music.