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CINEMASCOPE: MEDIOCRITY RULES

Updated August 06, 2017

Munna Michael

“Michael (Jackson) lives forever” is one line you hear a lot in Munna Michael. Only, it doesn’t mean anything. Nevertheless, I do unders­tand where it is coming from.

A few years back, I had the oppor­tunity to talk to Tiger Shroff and Sabbir Khan. During our conversation, Tiger cited Bruce Lee and Michael Jackson as his inspirations. Cut to today and Munna Michael is a film by Sabbir Khan where Tiger pays homage to both Bruce Lee and Michael Jackson.

In the film, Munna is an orphan baby who is saved by an aging background dancer named Michael (Ronit Roy) — one of many Michael Jackson aspirants in the ’90s. Unprepared to raise a child, Michael discovers that Munna stops crying when he plays a tape labelled Michael Jackson (I don’t think the filmmakers have the license to use MJ’s music).

Munna, who grows up into Tiger, makes money by challenging gullible rich idiots to dance-offs at local Mumbai clubs. Business is booming because Munna is a dancing machine — he even fights like he’s dancing. Soon though, he bites off more than he can chew and has to scoot away from town.

A round-up of the latest South Asian releases: Munna Michael, The Black Prince and Mubarakan

Relocating to Delhi, he is picked up by Mahender (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a local gangster who owns a five-star hotel. As Munna’s luck would have it, Mahender is desperately seeking a dance tutor because he has to impress a beautiful bar dancer named Dolly (Nidhhi Agerwal).

Mahender isn’t your conventional villain but Munna is your typical hero and he falls for the gangster’s love-interest. As a character, the latter is not only a self-seeking idiot but he is bland as well.

When you apply the So You Think You Can Dance formula to Nawazuddin Siddiqui, an actor with a niche acting range, you find yourself in a moment of shock and awe. Mahender may not be well written (he has the same depth as anyone in the film — none) but Siddiqui’s uninhibited attitude makes him the only worthwhile aspect of the film.

However, watching him blatantly rip off Christopher Walken’s Weapon of Choice will most likely force you to leave the movie theatre and that’s actually not a bad thing. You’ll thank yourself for missing the ridiculous climax.

The Black Prince

Satinder Sartaaj as the lead in The Black Prince
Satinder Sartaaj as the lead in The Black Prince

Kavi Raz is in a state of imperative urgency. As the writer and director of The Black Prince — a film that may not be playing in local cinemas by the time you read this — he has a lot of history to cover. Frankly speaking, you’ve seen Hallmark Hall of Fame specials with better quality control.

In the film a young boy of five, Duleep Singh, the last Maharajah of the Sikhs, is forced off his throne by the British Raj. Separated from his mother Maharani Jinda (Shabana Azmi), Duleep is converted to Christianity and put under the care of a kind surrogate father (Jason Flemyng).

Fifteen years later, Duleep is a brooding young adult (Satinder Sartaaj) who marries twice, sires seven children, starts a plot to the end the British Empire and dies penniless in a Paris hotel room.

Duleep’s story is epic history but one deprived of imagination, intrigue or cinematic foresight by Raz. The director cuts across the narrative like a mad deviant, snipping through events as if they mean nothing, trying to get to the juicy bits as quickly as possible. But the juicy bits never come.

Much of Duleep’s bloody past — and his cause for rebellion — is explored in conversations in candle-lit chapels, park benches, evening strolls, dinner tables, tea gatherings and sepia-coloured flashbacks. All of it is monotonous, inconspicuous and unremarkable — like lead actor Sartaaj’s amateurish play-acting.

Raz’s screenplay wants us to believe that the British Empire is afraid of Duleep. He is a sleeping lion — an unstoppable engine of destruction. If only he’d stop moping.

“Something sits heavy on my mind,” Duleep tells his manservant in a bid to give his gloom some authority. The screenplay — devoid of flair and emotions — make his musings insincere. With the exception of Azmi (pitch-perfect as the mother who piles guilt on to her moping son), Rup Magon of the band Josh (Duleep’s manservant) and Flemyng (the sympathetic father-figure), the film’s only saving grace is its somewhat grim production design.

However, when you have only three actors and under-lit, well-decorated halls to look forward to, you know something is dreadfully wrong. No wonder the woman in the aisle next to mine was fast asleep and the couple at the farthest end of my row were busy playing video games.

The Black Prince is a nostalgic reminder of history. Not Duleep’s, though. It will remind you of your history teacher who droned away while you found better things to do with your time.

Mubarakan

Mubarakan, directed by Anees Bazmee, is a familiar mess from the ’90s and the 2000s — before Bollywood superficially reinvented itself for the multiplex audience.

In the movie, Anil Kapoor plays Kartar Singh, the alcoholic uncle to twins Karan and Charan who are raised by an aunt (Ratna Pathak) in London and an uncle (Pavan Malhotra) in Punjab, after their parents die in a car accident.

Growing up into Arjun Kapoor (one with a Sikh turban, other with a stiff haircut) the brothers have romantic relationships but are afraid to tell their families because of cornily written reasons. With this premise begins a bland, unfunny and meek comedy of errors. Shakespearean, or even Priyadarshan-ian, Bazmee ain’t.

Like I said, the mess is familiar — without the usual Bazmee chaos of No Entry, No Problem, Thank You, Welcome, its sequel Welcome Back … or basically half of the director’s filmography.

The jokes and situations are wishy-washy and the actors — with the exception of Anil Kapoor and Ratna Pathak — miscarry their roles. As a viewer, I failed to connect with the characters or their plight because, frankly, most situations the twins got into were simple enough to be untangled in a quiet family conversation.

Instead, Mubarakan screams and yells (the movie wants us to believe that Punjabis have nothing better to do than be loud) and hopes you forget the slapdash screenplay or the instantly forgettable songs.

The visual effects with the twins are quite seamless — and a bit too obvious. The camera is always on the move in these scenes as if to make sure that we know talented people toiled at least for this aspect of the movie.

Mubarakan is a family-friendly affair (Yasir Nawaz, please take note) without fisticuffs or villains. The movie does have a nemesis though: the cinema hall air-conditioning. The cool interior makes you doze off and miss those few good scenes scattered here and there.

Word of advice: eat a good burger instead and catch the movie on cable.

Published in Dawn, ICON, August 6th, 2017