Vivah - A Journey From Engagement to Marriage (PG) 166min (1 star) harks back to an innocence that hardly, if ever, existed in Bollywood cinema. Prem (Shahid Kapoor) the eligible young son of a business tycoon agrees to an arranged marriage to Poonam (Amrita Rao). Poonam’s problem is that she’s ‘too pretty’. Few of the lead characters here are explored beyond a one-dimensional stereotype, while the remaining family members are portrayed as maniacal smiling fools. In a two-and-a-half hour family relationship drama, the emphasis on traditional Indian values could have made for a highly charged melodrama. But the lack of underlying sensuality between Prem and Poonam means you really don’t care.
In contrast, Kabul Express (15) 104min (4 stars - pictured) shows what a difference a script can make. Two Indian journalists Jai (Arshad Warsi) and Suhel (John Abraham) in post 9/11 Afghanistan, take us on a 48-hour journey, along with their Afghan driver/interpreter. Taking in one thrilling turn after another, we follow their quest to interview a Taliban prisoner. Complex relationships between the various political and religious groups, are brilliantly explored in sharp dialogue and icy exchanges of the main protagonists. The film succeeds in using humour and subtlety, to diffuse tensions and futile prejudices. Filmed entirely on location in Afghanistan over 45 days, writer/director Kabir Khan has based the film on his own experiences as a war correspondent in the region. There is some beautiful cinematography here, sweeping in the clear blue skies, rugged mountains and rubble of a war-devastated Kabul. Warsi has fantastic comic timing and Abraham is still every inch the Bollywood hero, all mean and moody, while supporting Afghan and Pakistani actors add their individual quirks. Kabul Express is a refreshing perspective of a difficult and convoluted subject to negotiate - ‘It’s all about who sells the Coke and oil at the end of the day’.
Baabul (PG) 169min (3 stars) fulfills all the expectations of a big family led drama. Amitabh Bachchan is glorious as Balraj Kapoor, father-in-law of the newly-widowed Malvika (Rani Mukherjee). When the Balraj decides it’s time for Rani to remarry and start a new life we tag along for the emotional rollercoaster. Culture and tradition, love and loyalty, battle it out over the harsh realities of life in an extended family.
Meanwhile, Bachchan Jr takes on the title role in Mani Bombay Ratnam’s Guru (12A) 150min (4 stars). Loosely based on the rags to riches story of a Forbes top 500 entrepreneur, this may well be Abhishek Bachchan’s defining role. A stellar star cast (including Aishwarya Rai) provides support in the telling of this exciting and turbulent tale. Told with all the flair and ingenuity of Ratman’s epic but intelligent style.
All films on selected release from Fri 15 Dec, except Guru, which is released on Fri 12 Jan.