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‘A Gentleman’ film review: Underwhelming, sluggish and risk-free

Raj & DK direct the action comedy starring Sidharth Malhotra and Jacqueline Fernandez.

A spiritual sequel to Bang Bang (2014), itself an official remake of Knight and Day (2010), A Gentleman gives us a double scoop of Sidharth Malhotra vanillaness.

The first is Gaurav, a boring, earnest, buttoned-down type who has reached the pinnacle of achievement in America: a house in Miami, a cavernous car and the possible companionship of a woman who channels the spirit of 1970s Bollywood heroines. Gaurav’s would-be girlfriend Kavya (Jacqueline Fernandez) likes speeding and pole dancing, and at least one skill comes handy when the time is right.

The other is Rishi (Malhotra again), an Indian undercover agent who executes several successful missions for the mysterious Colonel (Sunil Shetty) along with Yakoub (Darshan Kumar). Although Rishi is presented as the epitome of coolness, he matches Gaurav in his blandness. The movie has some fun teasing out the connections between these two gentlemen. Are they twins separated at birth? Lookalikes? Or are they the same person?

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A Gentleman (2017).

The actual identity confusion lies elsewhere. Directors Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, who currently go by the crisper title Raj & DK, bring their signature snark to a movie that also wants to fit into Bond-Bourne territory by way of True Lies. The directors and dialogue writer Sumit Batheja aim for a combination of punches and punchlines, giggles and bullets, running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. They send up formulaic elements while also slavishly reproducing them – always an untenable position, and certainly not one that can be maintained over 133 dragged-out minutes.

The agent who tries to break away and is hunted down by his former boss, the ditzy girlfriend who is the last to know, the dorky friend who embraces his violent side, the final mission to end it all, the meet-the-parents scene when bodies are strewn across the backyard – A Gentleman is unable to overcome its derivative cool and come up with new ways of reimagining the action comedy.

Some of the throwaway humour is on the nail, but many lines lunge for low-hanging fruit, such as the mirth that is supposed to follow the pronunciation of the name of Gaurav’s workmate, Dikshit (Hussain Dalal). Amit Mistry, a regular actor from Raj & DK’s movies, has a cameo as a Gujarati enforcer in Miami who will go down in movie history as the man who introduced the Gujarati concept baporia to the mainstream.

In trying to hardsell Malhotra’s all-rounder abilities, the movie ignores Jacqueline Fernandez’s potential as a Zeenat Aman reincarnation. Fernandez has more slinkiness than the whole movie put together, and she has fabulous chemistry with Malhotra, but she is as ornamental to the plot as was Aman in the Amitabh Bachchan movies.

Malhotra has nearly the whole story to himself, but he doesn’t yet have the acting range to master the art of underplaying. Several scenes demand that Gaurav’s visage crack to reveal life beneath it, but this surface is unbreakable. Since Malhotra isn’t the only one who is trying to be something he is not, his performance fits right in.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.