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Noor Review: Bollywood, You’re Tickling Me

Sonakshi Sinha plays a young entertainment scribe who wants to get her hands dirty and do some ‘issue-based’ journalism

Rahul DesaiRahul Desai

April 21, 2017 | 11:04 AM

FC Rating

★★★★★
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Early on, a Bridget Jones-ish Noor (Sonakshi Sinha) groans to her pushy editor about how she is aching to be an “issue-based” broadcast journalist. She recites banal train-death statistics and other urgent civic situations. She doesn’t want to interview Sunny Leone. This, in a nutshell, is also the aspirational problem of the movie she occupies. It wants to scoff at its own form in favour of content, but is too deep in and too soft to change its roots. 

Noor wants to be consequential and less flimsy – like a young teething entertainment scribe that wants to get its hands dirty and do some serious long-form narrative non-fiction. The drive is there, as are the geeky spectacles perched on a spotless nose (Bollywood’s favourite glam-down device), but it’s just cute in a typically mainstream way. I just wanted to pull the film’s powdered cheeks and tell it what the girl’s editor should have told her at that moment: you’re a terrible, terrible reporter. Stick to your girl-in-the-city clumsy-millennial act instead.

Not surprisingly, Noor is neither a competent coming-of-age tale nor a mandatory social-message drama. I’d say it is a deformed, confused product of the digital revolution; at least Madhur Bhandarkar’s Page 3 could operate within the realms of its print-publication landscape, without having to deal with the relevance of ever-changing news consumption trends. 

Not surprisingly, Noor is neither a competent coming-of-age tale nor a mandatory social-message drama. I’d say it is a deformed, confused product of the digital revolution

To paraphrase one of Noor’s several Journalism-101 nuggets, Bhandarkar’s film belonged more to the ‘right-time-right-place’ school of thought than the gritty ‘groundwork-and-research’ one.

That’s not to say Noor doesn’t commit; it’s just plainly incapable of juggling two genres that traditionally mix well together. It’s always risky to fashion a Hindi film about journalists to have it judged by a bunch of cynical film critics. For once, we think we know what we’re talking about. We live for this. Fact checkers can go for a coffee. We’re bound to smirk at the naïve representation of a field that is way too jaded to be oversimplified. 

To make it worse, journalism here simply isn’t used as a quintessential naukri, the superficial kinds that heroes and heroines do to show that they’re part of a coherent universe. Interpret and dumb down all you want, but not at the cost of your protagonist’s credentials. The grammar of the profession in fact forms the crux of the film’s plot (?). 

Noor stumbles upon an organ-harvesting racket through her stricken maid (Smita Tambe), and she needs to pull upon all her skill, ambition and investigation basics to save the day. Needless to mention, she pulls out her IPhone camera and records an interview.

The central conflict later is that her story (we hear this term so often that you wonder why the writers of this film didn’t bother with one) is plagiarized. Yet her mentor-like boss (Manish Choudhary; unrecognizable without arrogantly chomping on a cigar) – who is at fault for not running the single-interview ‘report’ due to ethical conflict-of-interest issues – chides her for forgetting to “be a human” and not helping her subjects instead.

Basically, he blames her not for losing a story (“these things happen in journalism, babe”), being a rookie idiot, an overall floozy or defaming his organization for lack of conclusive proof, but for being insensitive. I’d want to believe that, given that she went for an amorous date minutes after being satisfied with her intense groundwork. For some reason, their fallout is a big deal, just because it is. Nothing is clear, even as Noor, after a quick break to London because that’s how journos roll, returns for redemption – a second crack at an exposé that isn’t even detailed to begin with.

All these quasi-conflicts are used as a crutch to remind us that we’re watching a real city with real faces – and not just rom-com caricatures that bemoan their empty bank accounts and “peanut-paying” jobs in airy South Mumbai family flats. Maybe that’s the main problem; it isn’t exactly the creative license or its hipster production design or its inherent lack of focus.

There’s also this disturbing recent trend in Hindi cinema, where filmmakers become over-eager to prove that they’re “with it,” in terms of depicting social media, technology and the internet generation

It’s almost as if the writers have listed down all the clichés of being a disillusioned city journalist – overweight, broke, tomboyish, Old Monk loving (old rum, it seems), beer guzzling, junk-food inhaling, cigarette quitting (too expensive, it seems), Nano-driving, sociopathic – and condensed it into an anti-style ‘statement’ for an actress out to prove her chops. All these traits, and not the events that transpire, are their only claims to authenticity. 

One senses that she is all this as a prerequisite, not as an extension of the environment that accommodates her. There’s really nothing at stake for the character; she wants to believe that she’s sloppy and underprivileged and frustrated, but the texture of her surroundings – and prospects of a big-scale theatrical release – prove otherwise.

There’s also this disturbing recent trend in Hindi cinema, where filmmakers become over-eager to prove that they’re “with it,” in terms of depicting social media, technology and the internet generation. Platforms like Twitter and Instagram, YouTube as well as trendy pubs like Social are inserted more to show off the film’s embrace of modernity, even going as far as wrapping them into its thematic grammar. 

But in films like these, the ping of a Facebook message, friend request (equals redemption, in this case), Skype call or video going viral often occurs at the expense of modifying character motivations. You’re invariably distracted by the visual treatment (which tries as hard as a grandparent using hashtags), and even more so by the fact that it will probably define the nuances of what should be an expansive, old-school path to self-discovery.

To be fair, Sinha gets the flaky-brat tone right, and is quite enjoyable as a desi Richard Curtis character for the first half. But her personality is so “written,” her behavior so designed, her actions so purposeful, that even without knowing it you’d guess this is based on the pages of a novel. 

I haven’t read its source material, Pakistani author Saba Imtiaz’s Karachi, You’re Killing Me!, but I can guess that much of the book’s USP is down to the curious culture and region it navigates. An ‘adapted’ Indian film loses a lot in translation just for the sake of being commercially and tonally accessible. Tell us something about Mumbai we don’t know already. And do tell us something about journalism we actually know.