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Old New World

Film: Aladdin, Cast: Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Will Smith, Directed by: Guy Ritchie, Duration: 2 hrs 6 mins, Rating: * * *

There must be hardly any grown up living in civilisation who hasn’t heard of Aladdin, the magic lamp, the genie and the flying carpet. Possibly, the tale is more popular in some parts of the world than others but there’s no denying that this fantasy tale from the Arabian Nights has a universal appeal.

There have been a few screen adaptations of this story before, most famously the Disney animation version in 1992, which had the hit song, A Whole New World.

But with bigger budgets and superior CGI, this is a superior version of Aladdin. Rather surprisingly, Guy Ritchie has helmed the film – it is a rather unusual choice for the director, given the track record that he has.

There are not many diversions here from the story as we know it. The filmmakers have got the ethnicity of the cast in place – Egyptian-Canadian Mena Massoud plays the lead role of Aladdin. Agrabah, where the film is set, is a happening place where a flurry of activities is taking place. Aladdin is the street smart guy who cons people with a little help from his monkey, Abu. He bumps into Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) who disguises herself as a commoner to mingle among the people of the kingdom – her father, the sultan will not allow her to step out of the house.

The film really comes into its own when Aladdin comes across a magic lamp and on rubbing it, a blue coloured genie (Will Smith appears) to fulfil any three wishes. He can do anything except make people fall in love – but no worries on that count as Aladdin can take care of his love life after hitting a few bumps. The villain of the piece is the Sultan’s advisor, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), who not only wants to take over the kingdom but also invade the neighbouring ones.

The scenes between Aladdin and the genie are fun to watch, especially since Smith plays the latter in an ultra cool manner. The scenes where Aladdin tries to impress the princess, with advice from the genie, are a hoot. Robin Williams had done a memorable voice over as the genie in the 1993 film but Smith fills those shoes admirably. Massoud and Scott are aptly cast as Aladdin and the princess; they are both impressive.

Since this is a musical, there are songs at every step though not all of them are effective – the rendition of A Whole New World takes the cake again as Aladdin and Jasmine set off on the magic carpet.

On the whole, Aladdin is an easy going fluffy film. It is meant to be a summer entertainer for the family and it succeeds in doing that.

Catching Crook

Film: India’s Most Wanted, Cast: Arjun Kapoor, Rajesh Sharma, Directed by: Rajkumar Gupta, Duration: 2 hrs, Rating: * *

Director Rajkumar Gupta showed tremendous promise with his first three films, Aamir (2008), No One Killed Jessica (2011) and a personal favourite, Ghanchakkar (2013). But then came Raid (2018) which looked like a compromised Bollywood product (what else can you call a film that has a song playing when a raid is in progress).

India’s Most Wanted has an interesting premise of catching a terrorist but the writing is so monotonous that you wonder what happened to Mr Gupta who gave us those wonderful films.

Earlier this year, we had Uri, a taut thriller about a mission. This is on similar lines except that Uri had a lot of action scenes and this one neither has action, tension nor appropriate drama. Since it is about hunting down a terrorist, it could have been a desi Zero Dark Thirty, unfortunately it draws more of a zero.

Based on true incidents and reports, the film is set about 10 years ago from today, when terrorist bombings had become common place. A terrorist named ‘Ghost’ was supposedly responsible and he was called so because no one knew much about him.

An intelligence agent Prabhat (Arjun Kapoor) gets a tip-off that a dreaded terrorist maybe in Nepal – he tries to convince his boss (Rajesh Sharma) who is supportive but doesn’t get an approval from the big wigs in Delhi. Prabhat, at his own risk, with a bunch of other agents embark on the mission. They even have to put in their own money because it is an unofficial mission – they are doing it for the love of the country.

It is a fine sentiment but neither the emotions nor the thrill comes off the way it is meant to – most of it is just a slog and the story moves at snail’s pace.

Neither do you feel much for the characters because their sacrifices are over stressed rather natural.

Here’s hoping that the director comes back to form, quickly.

The X-Boy

Film: Brightburn, Cast: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Directed by: David Yarovesky, Duration: 1 hr 30 mins, Rating: * * 1 / 2

Brightburn is one of those sci-fi thrillers that start off on a promising note but then doesn’t have enough power to pull it through smoothly. This is a cross between The Omen and X Men where a boy from an outer planet who looks human, starts going berserk.

Since it lasts only 90 minutes, it is not tough to sit through it and somewhere around mid point, the body count starts rising so it’s amusing to watch who will be eliminated next – and how.

A Kansas couple, Kyle (David Denman) and Tori (Elizabeth Banks) are trying hard to conceive but they are lucky when a spaceship lands in their property and very conveniently for them, there is a baby boy in it.

They raise the baby as their own but things take a turn for the worse when Brandon (Jackson Dunn) starts growing up. He gets violent, aggressive and worse, has super powers, like the X Men. He can burn people with his eyes, lift and throw stuff around and move like quicksilver.

The parents, especially the mother, take their own sweet time to realise that their boy is more like Damien from The Omen – when they do, it is already late.

It is an interesting premise that works at times but then starts operating on a single track – Brandon wants to kill all those who come in his way and after that it starts getting a bit routine as most of them meet a gruesome death.

All in all, this X-Boy business is passable.

Odd than Prime

Film: PM Narendra Modi, Cast: Vivek Oberoi, Manoj Joshi, Directed by: Omung Kumar, Duration: 2 hrs 10 mins, Rating: * *

It is hard to review a ‘film’ like this because it is not a film in the first place – it is an out and out hagiography of the prime minister who is all set to begin his second term. If anything, it can partly serve as an academic documentation to give some idea how he is perceived and why he won a landslide victory, the second time around.

Directed by Omung Kumar who has made two biopics prior to this – Mary Kom and Sarabjit, both forgettable even though the former did well because of the subject, and Bhoomi, one of the most cringe-worthy films in the last decade – this film also suffers from shoddy writing and overt dramatisation reducing the essence of all that might have actually happened. For example there is a scene where a young Narendra Modi helps women dig a canal – that’s fine, except that there is a song playing in the background. Or the scene where he hoists the flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar – there has to be some difference in which a fictional character and a real life person are shown in a film and the writers (Anirudh Chawla and gulp, Vivek Oberoi) seem to have forgotten that.

Irrespective of your beliefs and political affiliations, the story of a chaiwala from a small town in Gujarat becoming the prime minster is essentially an underdog story. But the treatment of the film takes the approach right from the word go, that he was cut out to do what he did – there are no ups and downs, if at all they look artificial.

We learn about Narendra Modi’s very humble beginnings when he was selling tea at a railway station while his mother (Zarina Wahab) works as a domestic help, cleaning utensils – till that point, it is all fine but then Vivek Oberoi takes over as a young Modi. He goes to snow-capped mountains to quench his spiritual thirst and more. A lot of what happened during his political career is well known – you get a glimpse of his functioning when he says ‘My Gujarat is not for sale’ in a Gujarati accent to one of the bad guys. It is all made to look like a typical Bollywood film – that the prime ministers name is attached to it is incidental.

Then there is a live interview that took place in 2014 which never actually happened and the climax at a rally in Patna is as filmi as it can get.

PM Narendra Modi delivered a blockbuster in real life – in reel life, the film makers have just made a very pedestrian product.

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