Queen Bee Kangana had good helper bees


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OMG, did I love this movie!  Queen has supersized Bollywood in regard to good contemporary female roles. We watch  Rani. (Kanagana Ranaut) brilliantly evolving from a place of innocence and learned helplessness vis-a-vis men,  to resilience and newly conquered strengths. Most movies that succeed in doing so don’t dare to combine drama with comedy. Queen does. That’s why you walk out uplifted and hopeful. Which, let’s face it, is the ultimate success formula. The beast (of your fears) is conquered. Off to new lands.

Many Indian movies I have seen, do the opposite. They start out uplifting and then start sagging through the second half, with intro of unforeseen dramatic events. Queen goes the other way. We start emphasizing with sweet and innocent Rani, who gets dumped a day before her wedding.What exactly motivates her to go on her honeymoon by herself, isn’t very clear, or maybe it is that seed of rebellion against becoming a victim and after locking herself in a room reliving her relationship with fiancee Vijay (Rajkummar Rao) in her mind. She remembers all that was good, and it’s breaking our hearts.

When the wedding banner “Rani Weds Vijay” gets thrown into the garbage, unknownst to her, her will to live, despite this obvious downfall, takes the upper hand. She reemerges from her 2 day exile and soon after, with the support of her loving family, she boards the plane to Paris.

Here she gets forced out of her protected childhood shell and has to switch gear to survival mode. This never comes easy. But in this movie it’s plastered with funny episodes. You cheer for Rani, you laugh with Rani and you see the West through her eyes. But contrary to many Indian films that make all Westerners and foreigners look like devils reincarnate, there is only one mean guy who she encounters. And she triumphs. Thank you, Vikas Bahl, for your kind portrayal of all foreigners in this movie. Makes it unique.

The whole cast in this movie is OUTSTANDING!! from mom, dad, grandmother and lil bro to all the people she encounters abroad. A well-chosen cast! Kudos to Parita Mandalia and Atul Mongic, (mentioned as the casting team in the credits). They found the quintessential Indian family in , people I would like to have as my family and everybody should have in their closet.. they are kind and understanding and supportive. Don’t you just love the father, played by Yogendra Tiku, the mom, (Alka Badola Kaushal), the rocking grandma (Tripita Lakhshanpal) and the lovable brother Chintu (Chinmaya Agarwal).

From Wild Wild Paris we follow Rani to Wild Wild Amsterdam, where she courageously dorms with her new pals Taka, Tim and aka Sikander (Jeffrey Ho, Joseph Guitobh, Mish Bogko) and emulates Emraan Hashmi’s lip-to-lip with restaurateur Marcello (Canadea Lopez Marco).

What I love most about her is that she never becomes anybody else. She sticks to her Rani-ness, to her Indian-ness throughout her journey of self-realization. She doesn’t alter her standards. She stays her ground and only becomes stronger. She learns about her fears. She also now opens her mind to seeing the ‘real Vijay’, his narrow-minded self. Rani sheds embellishments, biases, fears and returns to the fuzzy womb of her family invigorated and self-assured. Ready for the challenges of independence and freedom.

Every time I watched the movie, I discovered sth else, little symbolic gestures. Like the light that goes dark momentarily during the wedding dress rehearsal. Just like Rani’s life gets darkened by a cloud that then lifts and gives rise to a beautiful new day.

When best buddy Vijaylakshmi (Lisa Haydon) enters the room and the wind tousles her hair and reaches the impatiently waiting father and son duo, who want to get a glimpse of the beautiful and carefree Vijaylakshmi. So tender.

The cinematography and direction is flawless. Vikas Bahl has made it to the top. Thank you, Vikas, Kangana, everybody.

AND not to forget, letting us indulge in the foodie waves filling the theater with the spices and aromas of India, and glimpses of Her Majesty, Paris, and  Amsterdam in her upper and underworld glory. What a fun ride this was!

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Highway, a review.


Alia and Randeep in Highway

Alia and Randeep in Highway

If I had listened to initial reviews I would have made a U-turn on Highway and x-ed out the best Indian film I have seen for a long time!  Anyone I talked to had apparently a problem with the anticipated May-December love between Alia Bhatt and Randeep Hooda. I am not so keen on those stark seasonal discrepancies either, but once you watch the movie you will understand that this isn’t your gardenvariety romance.

Soon-to-be-wed Veera (brilliantly acted by Alia Bhatt, who’s instantly moved to the top of my favorite new female actors list), born into wealth and status, is nursing deep wounds from a past she is trying to suppress. She pledges with her fiancee to elope and settle for a simple life style, where she imagines herself being a wife who lives very modestly amidst nature, cooking with devotion a simple meal for her husband.

Beware what you wish for! How so often in life, our dreams sometimes get fulfilled with an unexpected twist. Being, she gets the chance to live that way for a short period of time and under circumstances neither desired or imagined. She is being kidnapped right off the spot, being at the wrong time in the wrong place. A gas station in the suburbs of Delhi is just getting robbed, she becomes the hostage. This wasn’t planned, neither by her or by her kidnapper Mahabir (Randeep Hooda), who finds himself in the situation of needing to escape fast.. Randeep gives a powerful performance as the illiterate and simple bandit, victimized himself by an abusive father. Little we learn about his circumstances, but enough to understand his plight in a life of hardship and violence.

So, everybody who has seen the movie is trying to rationalize the strange bond of these two main characters, who are thrown at each other randomly, and call it Stockholm syndrome. Veera, the captive and the criminal Mahabir, who didn’t realize that he had abducted a high profile family girl and now runs for his life, with her in tow. Luckily for us, the journey takes us through the magnificent landscapes and villages of Rajasthan, Punjab, Kashmir. We travel with them on one of the colorful, poetically run-down  trucks you can ONLY find in India. I myself don’t want the journey to end, immersed in those awe inspiring landscapes, rugged snow-covered mountains.

After a first failed attempt to escape her kidnappers, Veera resigns herself. She realizes that her captors are at the end just some poor wretched souls. except for one, who leaves very fast after waiting for an opportune moment to rape Veera but gets caught by Mahadir in the nick of time.

She experiences a sense of safety in Mahadir’s presence. charming your captor is a common survival technique. Maybe that’s what she is trying to do in the beginning. She teases, and laughs, and bounces around, uninhibited. Mahadir is unable to read this complex human being. It’s beyond him that she ceases to be afraid. He is a one dimensional thinker. Everything is either black or white in his world, until Veera starts disassembling him, piece by piece. Layer by layer. As she starts revealing to him what man has done to her, and not just man, but family. Not just incest but cover-up, abandonment, Mahadir starts realizing that pain and suffering isn’t class-bound. It’s a difficult concept for him to understand maybe. For him life is a struggle between the rich and the poor. He resents wealth on existential grounds. Initially she is just a problem he needs to solve fast. As she is opening up to him he gradually becomes her protector.

She comes to realize that the dangers and demons lived in her midst, and those perceived outside her world, were actually kinder and protective of her than her own family ever was.

As for the so called romance in this movie, her kidnapper Mahadir could have been hundred years old and have a wooden leg! Mahadir was the first person Veera ever confided to (besides her mother, who in her learned helplessness was unable to perform her motherly duty in protecting her child, for whatever reasons). And that should be a movie in itself!  Mahadir never crosses the line of decency and it redeems him, not that it erases his own past, but he discovers his humanity through Veera.

This movie is all about healing, how to survive and move past violence and insults and biases. It touches you deep in your soul. The ending is the only appropriate ending one can think of. So the movie leaves you with a soft smile and tears in your eyes.

I cannot say enough about the heartfelt performances  of both Alia Bhatt, as well as Randeep Hooda. I always liked him a lot, but I never realized what kind of an acting caliber he possesses, after seeing him in more commercial films that made him only look cool and sexy in a rugged way.

Imitiaz Ali, what can I say, he has done it again! Rockstar, Jab We Met, Socha Na Tha, Ahista Ahista..These are some of my alltime favorite Indian movies. He is a genius! :-)

Last not least, a word about the supporting cast. Often in Indian films, supporting cast members are not given much attention and hate to say it, but often they tend to be really bad. There was a nice balance in this movie. No one ruined it. :-) Kudos to Durgesh Kumar, Pradeep Nagar, and Saharsh Kumar Shukla.

Music. Not too much, not too little. A.R. Rahman. How can you go wrong? I loved the soundtrack and will definitely buy it.

This movie is a rare gem. It is deep as it is beautiful. The images and emotions it evokes are haunting. It resonates just on every level. The characters linger with you for a long long time.