Film review: ‘The Choice’ leaves you with two choices : bawl or yawn

Film review: ‘The Choice’ leaves you with two choices : bawl or yawn
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The world is probably divided into those readers (mostly women) who devour Nicholas Sparks’s novels and daydream about those ruggedly handsome, slightly flawed but ever-so charming men who are perfect boyfriends and husbands, and those who don’t. Full disclosure: I fall in the latter category.

In The Choice, Benjamin Walker (who could surely have made a better hairstyle choice) plays Travis, a content bachelor who hangs out with his married friends on his boat, fires up the barbeque, and sits alone on his lawn sipping beer and watching a pretty sky with his loyal dog by his side. But as soon as cute blonde medical student Gabby moves in next door, Travis is interested. Gabby (Teresa Palmer) is dating Ryan McCarthy (Tom Welling) but he is forgotten as soon as he goes on a business trip. Gabby has no qualms about cooking dinner for Travis and flirting shamelessly with him.

If you know Sparks, you know how this plays out. It’s no spoiler to mention that disaster must eventually shatter this fairy tale. The plot, based on Sparks’s 2007 novel, is unashamedly manipulative and designed to have the ladies reaching for the tissue box. Every single character leads a picture-book life in a gorgeous home with stunning sunsets and serene views. Ross Katz, who previously produced Lost in Translation and Dev Benegal’s Road, Movie, directs and shoots in some stunning locations.

The Choice is the eleventh Sparks book to be adapted to film and only the second I have seen (Message in A Bottle, 1999, was the first and last). It’s like a Mills & Boon romance, unrealistic to say the least, where, for instance, neither the protagonists nor their dogs age a day in a span of eight years or more. Sappy and corny, The Choice will either make you bawl your eyes out or dull you into a coma.

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Film review: ‘Ghayal Once Again’ proves that some old wounds don’t heal well

Film review: ‘Ghayal Once Again’ proves that some old wounds don’t heal well
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Sunny Deol is back, and this time he is throwing punches from the director’s chair.

In Ghayal Once Again, Deol stars in and directs the sequel to Raj Kumar Santoshi’s vigilante drama from 1990, which featured the bulky actor as a boxer who kills a slimy businessman in full view. Ghayal’s Balwant Rai is a kind of all-encompassing embodiment of corruption and evil, and the sequel finds an appropriate replacement for him in Raj Bansal (Narendra Jha). A nasty business magnate who lives in an ugly Lego-block mansion in Mumbai and runs the city from on high, Bansal’s resemblance to a certain industrialist who has interests in just about every sector of the economy is the most daring aspect of this movie.

Deol’s Ajay Mehra, who has served out his jail term for killing Rai, is now in the more benign business of conducting sting operations through his news portal, Satyakam. Ajay leaps to the aid to a group of sincere college students who record the murder of a Right to Information activist (Om Puri) by Bansal’s spoilt son Kabir (Abhilash Kumar). The game of wits between Ajay and Bansal is a familiar one, but is enhanced by superbly staged action sequences in actual locations in Mumbai. Deol and action director Dan Bradely shut down busy thoroughfares and malls in the city, and despite some help from computer-generated imagery, the stunts look and feel real.

Less convincing is Ajay’s war against Bansal. The battle of the lone man against the system is not as effective or coherent as it was in Ghayal. The sequel’s inability to provide an extra-judicial solution to the social evil that Bansal represents could have something to do with the precarious journey of the vigilante movie genre into our consumerist times. Where pure evil was previously concentrated in Balwant Rai, the real villains in Ghayal Once Again are selfish parents who protect their wayward wards despite their crimes. The sequel correctly pinpoints the problem, but is too timid to offer the unofficial solutions that will satisfy genre fans.

The vigilante justice action drama was a popular genre in the 1980s and the early ’90s, giving fans the pleasure of seeing crooked industrialists and politicians being maimed or killed without due process on the screen. Nothing changed in real life, of course, but at least within the confines of the cinema, the movies offered the fleeting feeling that justice had been done.

Ghayal was one of the best-known entries in this genre, and the sequel labours under the shadow of the 1990 production. Flashbacks to scenes from the original do not help, nor do Ajay’s repeated nightmares about his past.

Deol is incapable of suggesting a character with an inner life, and he hasn’t aged well enough to portray an action hero who sends his opponents to meet their bonesetters. The actor-director moves slowly, and the legendary hand that weighs 2.5 kilos lands its punches weakly.

Chandan Arora’s surgical editing suggests immense momentum and tension, and the narrative moves at a fast clip before it settles into keeping pace with its lumbering leading man. Deol directs his actors competently, but he stretches out the climax and loses sight of his character’s crusade. Ghayal Once Again starts out as a takedown of Bansal and ends in a pile of mush. Even for vigilantes, it is all about loving your parents.

In the strange way in which the movie trade works these days, Anil Ambani’s Reliance Entertainment has distributed Ghayal Once Again, while Mukesh Ambani’s electronic goods store has lent one of its stores for a crucial action sequence. Who killed the vigilante movie, then? Product placement and the corporatisation of filmmaking.

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Billed as semi-final for 2017 assembly elections, Punjab bypoll is now a one-horse race

Billed as semi-final for 2017 assembly elections, Punjab bypoll is now a one-horse race
Photo Credit: Narinder Nanu/AFP
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It was being seen as a semi-final, an acid test for the main contenders before the Punjab assembly elections next year. But the Khadoor Sahib assembly bypoll is now turning out to be a damp squib, with two of the three major parties pulling out of the contest.

While the outcome of the February 13 by-election would not have necessarily served as a bellweather for next year’s state elections, the emergence of a virtual one-horse race has killed the possibility of a cracking contest in what was once the hotbed of militancy.

The Aam Aadmi Party had declared well in advance that it would not contest the election. The party has not contested a single bypoll since its surprise victory in four Lok Sabha constituencies in the 2014 general elections. Instead, it has devoted itself to meticulously preparing for the 2017 Punjab polls.

The Congress, the state’s main opposition party, was toying with idea of fielding a candidate in Khadoor Sahib till the eleventh hour. But the party, currently in resurgence mode since former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh took charge of its state unit, eventually decided to pull out.

Although there are seven Independents in the fray, a candidate fielded by coalition partners – the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party – should saunter to victory virtually unopposed.

Divided house

The by-election was necessitated by the resignation of the Congress legislator Ramanjit Singh Sikki in October. His decision was prompted by a series of incidents of the Sikh holy book being desecrated as torn pages of the Guru Granth Sahib were found at several places. There were widespread protests and in one incident, two protesters were killed in police firing. Sikki had resigned to demand the arrest of the culprits and action against police personnel who had opened fire on protesters.

The Congress has now cited the same grounds for not fielding a candidate in the bypoll. Party leaders tried to convince Sikki to contest, but his reluctance and the absence of a strong alternative candidate forced the decision to pull out. There was even a suggestion that one of those injured in the police firing last October could be made a candidate, but the proposal was shot down.

The party remains split over the final decision. Some leaders, including former MP and a member of the national executive of the party, Jagmeet Singh Brar, said the party was “running away” from the contest and said the decision was a “fraud”. Some feel the move will demoralise party workers, while others think it was for the best as the Congress was almost sure to lose the by-election – a result that would have cast a shadow on its prospects in the assembly elections next year.

A major factor in the decision not to field a candidate was apparently advice from Prashant Kishor, the political strategist who engineered the Grand Alliance’s victory in Bihar last year and is now an advisor to chief minister Nitish Kumar.

Although the Congress is yet to entrust him with its 2017 campaign in Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh has been in touch with Kishor in his “personal capacity”. Kishor is said to have conducted a study and advised Amarinder against contesting the bypoll. Kishor is believed to have already commissioned a team to study the Congress’ prospects in the next assembly elections and to prepare a strategy for the party.

With a virtual walkover on the cards for the Khadoor Sahib bypoll, the only remaining point of interest is the voter turnout. Congress’ Sikki has asked voters to boycott the election, while AAP seems indifferent. For the Akali Dal, which is facing anti-incumbency, a low turnout would be a setback. With this in mind, it has entrusted every group of five villages to a minister or legislator for the purpose of reeling in voters. The Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party meanwhile will be hoping that many voters hit the None Of The Above button.

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