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Starring Major Poppins

25th Jan 2014

Jai Ho

Director: Sohail Khan

Starring: Salman Khan, assorted Bollywood discards

Salman Khan plays a philanthropist with a dangerous streak — as usual. In a meta gesture, his first kindness is in pulling together a selection of his party guests, forgotten by Bollywood, into what is arguably his least-publicised film. I don't know whether Suniel Shetty, Aditya Pancholi, Genelia D'Souza and the rest stayed up nights getting into character for these bit-roles. And one feels sorry for Tabu, who plays Salman's sister.

Jai Ho is the third Khan film that's gnawed at my brains in the last few months — this one sort of half-borrows Shah Rukh Khan's "Don't underestimate the power of the common man", and pretty much outdoes the idiocy of Aamir Khan-starrer Dhoom 3 (which is no mean feat).

So, in a twist that will make your heart bleed if you're a Salman fan, Major Jai Agnihotri is booted out of the Army for disobeying his senior's orders during a terrorist operation. Patriotic, misunderstood, and unemployed, this man becomes — but naturally — a mechanic. Pity, because he really is, like, the lovechild of Sherlock Holmes and Mary Poppins. When he's not solving kidnappings, he's coaching unhappy students. All he wants in return is for them to do a good deed for someone else, and so start a milk-of-human-kindness chain — yeah, he's like that annoying Facebook post that's been showing up in our feeds, about sending five people gifts.

They should have thrown in a bedridden mother and mentally challenged sister while they were at it. Unfortunately, this cliché has passed the scriptwriters by. However, they compensate by providing Jai with quality antagonists — a corrupt politician (Danny Denzongpa) and his spoilt daughter (Sana Khan), who own the police. Jai could have sent most people packing simply by spouting lines like, "Aam aadmi sota hua sher hai, ungli mat kar." But this evil duo is made of sterner stuff, requiring Jai to eventually take off his shirt.

To cement his Munna Bhai act, Salman dances and rides motorcycles. He also falls in love with a damsel in distress (Daisy Shah), who waltzes about in translucent saris and barely-there blouses. I may have dozed off for a bit, but I don't think she is disabled or divorced or in any other way in need of rescue.

The Verdict: I'd rather have spent these last hours watching my fingernails grow.

Homage to Mandela


Director: Justin Chadwick

Starring: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris and others

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From reading Mandela's autobiography 11 years ago, I still remember one incident as having changed the dapper lawyer's life. He witnessed a friend being assaulted by the police for no crime other than being disoriented, and being Black. The turning point in Mandela's life is shown in a tiny little montage in a film ,which is essentially a tribute to the leader's long stay in jail. That's one of the many things the film gets wrong.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom had plenty of potential. Mandela's autobiography is somewhat jaunty, but intense in parts. Idris Elba is an excellent actor, and to hear his impassioned speeches is to be instantly reminded of Mandela's oratory skill. But a biopic can be undermined by episodic narration, and that's what happens here. Look, Nelson-the-youngster, the film seems to say. Here's our humanising ploy — look, he has affairs. Look, Nelson-the-emerging-leader. Look, Nelson-the-firebrand. Look, here's Nelson-the-peacenik. Look, here's Nelson-the-freed-old-man. Look, here's Madiba-the-President.

One of the most interesting parts of the autobiography is Mandela's slow morphing from ambitious lawyer to radical demonstrator to violent agitator to proponent of non-violence. Despite its two-and-a-half-hour duration, the film makes no time for this. It would have been far more interesting if the director had chosen to focus on the psychological effect of all those years in jail, in an isolated cell in a remote island from which no one thought he would emerge alive, let alone emerge to become one of the world's most respected and honoured statesmen. What made a man who was ready to die at his trial patient enough to see his sentence through, and eventually take over the Presidency of the country which sent him into exile?

In tracing Mandela's and Winnie's marriage, the film falls back on the regular woman-behind-successful-man template. Right, we know there's a long-suffering wife. But the idea is so hackneyed that despite the two actors doing very well with their roles, their scenes together don't really move us.

I can't say the film is terrible. Idris Elba is outstanding, and his expressions gave me gooseflesh even more often than his stirring words did. But it falls short of what it could have been.

The Verdict: An awed homage to a man who was, at the time, dying.

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