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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Shaandaar, Review: Insomniacs, maniacs, megalomaniacs and necrophiliacs

Shaandaar, Review: Insomniacs, maniacs, megalomaniacs and necrophiliacs

It’s a Shaandaar combination. Producers of this eagerly-awaited film include the Dharma banner owner Karan Johar (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, My Name is Khan, Student of the Year; also director), Vikramaditya Motwane (director of the mini-classic, Udaan, and co-owner of the production house, Phantom Films, with Shaandaar director Vikas Bahl, Anurag Kashyap, and Madhu Mantena) and Anurag Kashyap himself, the director of such acclaimed films as Black Friday and Gangs of Wasseypur. Excellent, if not impeccable credentials. Still, very much subject to failure.

Vikas Bahl’s Queen was good, but over-rated. Now that Shandaar has been unleashed, Queen suddenly assumes gigantic dimensions. When nearly the same team came-up with the under-rated Bombay Velvet, which had Karan playing one of the baddies, five months ago, its failure shook the Mumbai film industry. Apparently, it caught the director by surprise, and he sent a note to his cast and crew. "Maybe our experimenting with the narrative didn't work for most, but I firmly believe in the film. This is the film I wanted to make, and I am glad I got to make it…Now let’s get on to the next and let’s kick ass." Way to go, Anurag—and Vikramaditya and Vikas! We’re with you! But if Shaandaar is what you meant by “kick ass”, we’re NOT with you. Whether they send a velvety note or not, Shaandaar must be a huge learning experience for the team.

As co-writer, Vikas must take the blame for the ‘story’ too, along with Chaitally Parmar (story, screenplay, associate director Queen). Of course, you can apportion it with Anvita Dutt Guptan (screenplay, dialogue and pedestrian lyrics for one song), who could be in the running for a couple of Golden Kelas (banana), an award for the worst in cinema. A year-and-a-half ago, Anvita won (and made history by collecting) the Golden Kela Award for the Most Atrocious Lyrics, for the song ‘Ishq Waala Love’, from the Karan Johar film, Student of the Year, which introduced Alia Bhatt as the heroine. And guess what? There is a track in Shaandaar that goes, ‘Senti wala mental’, written by …not Dutt, but Amitabh Bhattacharya. Shandaar has barely tolerable lyrics and completely intolerable screenplay. Whatever happened to the Queen dialogue and lyrics writer?


Guess what binds Wedding Planner Shahid Kapoor (Jagjinder Joginder, JJ) and Alia Bhatt (Student of the Year, Ugly, 2 States, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania)? Insomnia! They both haven’t slept for decades. So, she goes night swimming in the buff, and he takes her horse-riding, a skill he does not possess. He also sketches a moustache beneath the false one she is wearing for the theme party, so that people laugh at her when she takes it off. JJ calls his mother ‘patakha’ (fire-cracker) and she calls her father Bipin, ‘Bips’ (pet-name of actress Bipasha Basu). When asked her name, she blurts, ‘Aila’, (in Marathi, the regional language spoken in Maharashtra, ‘aila’ is an abbreviated swear word). She skews her jaw, twitches her eyebrows in a physical trait every minute and makes a “What?” kind of quizzical sign (the in thing with the age-group 8-21 in Indian metros these days) with her hand every 30 seconds. And there’s more. She wears a T-shirt with the number 36 on it, leaving the significance of that figure for everyone to “guess”. Shahid is confident, even when confronting his real-life father; Alia’s is wonder-struck. And no, the dimples and her innocent sorceress looks do not help make sense of the goings-on.


Pankaj Kapur as Vipin Arora, father of Alia and Isha, sharing screen space for the first time with his son and daughter in this triple-billing Kapur bonanza, engages in silly, confrontationist exchanges and contortionist grimaces with a Wedding Planner, and even tries hostel antics like scaring him in the middle of the night. On the "Oh, so cute!" side, he draws a dreamy sketch for his daughter and gives it to her every day, since she cannot dream, even when she is 22. Sanah Kapoor (Shahid Kapoor’s sister, fresh from an acting course at Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute) as Isha, an over-size, though ‘intelligent’ girl, being sacrificed at the altar, for the sake of a business alliance between her broke family and reportedly rich in-laws, keeps repeating to her father excitedly, “Alia is sleeping with JJ. Alia is sleeping with JJ,” when all she means is that the two have fallen asleep together, a first of sorts, in spite of being chronic insomniacs. Insulted by her groom at the wedding fire, she asks for help to remove her outer clothes, in order to flaunt her bulges, and show him what he is taking home. Yes, it is she who makes it the big, fat wedding. She a deserved better launch vehicle.


Sushma Seth as Mummyjee, the nutty matriarch of the Arora family is so full of herself. An actress of proven talent, she gives this aberration a go too. No help is forthcoming, however, from the gibberish that she is made to mouth for dialogue. One gem goes, “If a snake and an Arora cross your path, you must kill the Arora first.” Only, this is a supposedly witty variation of the rather uncharitable saying that is usually applied to the community in which her grand-daughter is getting married, not to Aroras. Vikas Verma (model, TV, film Yaariyan) as Isha’s groom-to-be, Robert, sports an eight-pack body, the packs actually counted with the help of graphics. Did I say eight? Make that 8 ½. No, don’t even think of the Frederico Fellini masterpiece film. It’s just the writers’ of trying to be funny. He insists on a bachelor’s party before the wedding, and when JJ does not oblige, he goes to a night club and strips down to his golden underwear. Niki Aneja Walia (Mr. Azaad, Astitva) as Geetu, Vipin's wife, bears a startling resemblance to Madhuri Dixit.  

Karan Johar walks in, in grand slo-mo, with a swagger, out of nowhere, to conduct his Shaandaar version of the popular TV show he anchors, Coffee with Karan, with the husband and wife to be. Making it a foursome, Shahid and Pankaj join in. Trade mark Johar sneers were to be expected, the shoddy picturisation was not. Sanjay Kapoor is Harry Fundwani, a real-life Punjabi actor, struggling to play a Sindhi Samdhi (mutual in-law), the man with the golden gun, who keeps pulling the trigger like in terrorist states, as often as he might be scratching his chin. There could be a Fund of talent hidden in the boy who charmed us in Raja many years ago. Shaandaar fails to tap it though, turning the fund into a scam.


James Bond, the gargantuan wedding extravaganzas made by Sooraj Barjatya for his house banner, Rajshri Productions, and the self-confessed greatest inspiration for Karan Johar as a director, Rajkumar Hirani (currently, among India’s most talented film-makers) and the era of black & white Indian musicals, are lined-up for tributes. One sub-plot involves the Arora family propping-up a dead Mummyjee on her wheel-chair, as revealing her death would mean cancellation of the wedding. What could have been a nod to Pas de problème (1975) and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983) peters down to a desperate attempt at instilling some laughter at the cost of the dead octogenarian everybody makes a beeline for, one who was prone to making passes at noless than the handsome wedding planner. Okay, so it is not necrophilia, in the strict sense of the word, but don’t blame me for exaggerating. I sat through all 145 minutes of Shaandaar.

Vikas Bahl uses a huge Manison in Leeds as his wedding destination, with planes amd helicopters, 28 ft/24 ft. limousines, designer costumes, best of food and drink, song and dance, a loca lorchestra, amd more, forgetting to explain who was shelling out the tons of dough it must have cost? The child in him takes over large parts ofthe narrative, with the beginning and end animation carrying Naseeruddin Shah's voice. Naeer will find it hard torecal a more inane script that he was asked to read. Animation is largely used to avoid flashbacks, which would need actors otherwise. He uses animation to….He uses animation, and animation and animation. Pleasing, appealing, but mostly for the sake of it. One scene towards the climax could have made you stand up and applaud, since it opens the door on a dozen taboos and pretenses: a closet gay, a priest who is actually a cricket commentator, an adopted girl who is her father’s illegitimate daughter, two girls in their late-teeens/early twenties who are pregnant by the same tuition teacher, two bankrupt families who are entering into a matrimonial alliance only to grab the other’s ‘billions’ by pretending to be tycoons. Noble intentions? The writers get the benefit of doubt. Pathetic execution? Undoubtedly.

P.S. : The extra ½ star * is for the moments when you laugh at the film, not with the film.

Rating: *1/2


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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