Movie Review: Finding Fanny (2014)

Finding_Fanny_Theatrical_release_poster3 Stars (out of 4)

“No one deserves an incomplete love story.” Finding Fanny humorously and thoughtfully explores the ways that waiting for an answer suspends us in time.

The above quote is spoken by the film’s narrator, Angie (Deepika Padukone), a 26-year-old widow living in Pocolim, a tiny town in Goa. Life’s forward progress stopped for Angie when her husband (Ranveer Singh) choked to death on their wedding cake, though she’s serene about her situation. She lives with her mother-in-law, Rosie (Dimple Kapadia), the queen bee of Pocolim.

Angie’s best friend is Ferdie (Naseeruddin Shah), the town’s mailman. His forward progress stopped forty-six years ago when he wrote a letter proposing marriage to a girl named Fanny Fernandez, but never received a response. He’s the only boy in the church choir with white hair.

One night, the letter Ferdie mailed to Fanny is slipped under his door, unopened and undelivered. Angie organizes a trip to help Ferdie find Fanny and discover what her answer would have been. She enlists the help of her mother-in-law, her recently returned childhood sweetheart, Savio (Arjun Kapoor), and Don Pedro, (Pankaj Kapur), a visiting artist obsessed with voluptuous Rosie and owner of the town’s only car.

Of course the brief road trip winds up far more complicated than expected, and tensions flare within the group. Ferdie reveals to Savio the reason why his formerly close friendship with Rosie ended, and Savio fights with Angie about what would’ve happened had he married her instead. Don Pedro’s lecherous ogling of Rosie doesn’t help matters.

Finding Fanny is a beautiful looking film, thanks to cinematographer Anil Mehta. There are lots of wonderful individual shots — Angie’s face as she stares pensively out the open car window, for example — as well as wide shots showing the vastness of the world outside of Pocolim that never before interested Rosie, Ferdie, or Angie. The visual beauty is enhanced by Mathias Duplessy’s vibrant score.

The actors keep their performances subdued. Much is communicated non-verbally, especially by the expressive faces of Padukone and Shah. At the same time, the characters are all funny, none more so than Kapadia’s Rosie. The members of the traveling party are eccentrics, not outrageous goofballs or weirdos.

The glaring exception to the subtly rule is a Russian man who now owns Fanny’s childhood home. His delivery is so loud and exaggerated in comparison to the other performances that it feels out-of-place.

Perhaps the film’s biggest fault lies in the development of Angie’s character (though that’s not a slight on Padukone’s terrific portrayal). It’s obvious what every other character wants: Savio wants Angie; Don Pedro wants Rosie; Ferdie wants the Fanny of his memories; and Rosie wants to live a dignified life that she controls.

It’s never clear what Angie wants, other than to reunite Ferdie with Fanny. She speaks in important-sounding vagaries that don’t really mean anything. Is the point that she’s still too young to know what she wants? That we should be at peace with what we have? I was never sure. That’s a letdown for a character who’s not only the film’s narrator, but also the most important person in the lives of Ferdie, Rosie, and Savio.

Still, Finding Fanny is one of the more intriguing movies to come out of Bollywood this year. The fact that the dialogue is in English just adds to the intrigue. It’s unique, enjoyable, and worth a watch.


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Movie Review: Mary Kom (2014)

Mary_Kom_Poster3 Stars (out of 4)

With multiple world championships and an Olympic bronze medal to her name, Mary Kom can now add a Bollywood biopic to her impressive resume. Priyanka Chopra plays the title character in Mary Kom, an enjoyable chronicle of the Indian boxing superstar’s rise to the top.

Kom’s depiction in the film is flattering. Eager to find a better outlet for her hair-trigger temper, teenage Mary dedicates herself to boxing. With a natural aptitude for fighting, she faces little opposition in the ring. Her greatest obstacle is her father, who worries that no man will want to marry a woman who perpetually sports a black eye.

Dad needn’t have worried, as a local soccer player — Onler (Darshan Kumaar) — takes a shine to Mary and her shiners. After dating for several years, Onler proposes the night before a critical bout. Giddy and distracted, Mary nearly falters in the ring, leading her coach (Sunil Thapa) to question her commitment to the sport that defines her.

The second half of the film focuses on Mary’s return to boxing after giving birth to twin sons.  The movie shows the challenges of leading a normal family life while training as an elite athlete, and the sheer impossibility of the task without the aid of a partner as devoted as Onler.

While the movie portrays Mary as a worthy national hero, it doesn’t shy away from her massive ego. Such extreme self-confidence is a necessary characteristic for any athlete who competes at an elite level. It’s not a characteristic most regular folks can relate to, but it’s a vital part of who she is.

The movie’s climactic fight scene is worth the price of admission, paralleling a personal crisis with a critical moment in Mary’s professional career. All of the film’s fight scenes and training montages are well done.

Director Omung Kumar shortchanges other aspects of the story that should’ve been shown, rather than just talked about. Mary complains about the substandard training conditions she and her fellow athletes are subjected to, but we don’t see her experiencing them.

Other scenes of great visual impact aren’t fully explained. Mary loses or has her passport stolen the night before her first international fight, and in response, she shaves her head. This is an act of great significance for a woman, yet it’s not made clear why she does it. It’s also unclear how she gets her passport back. All we see is a photo of her triumphant after the match.

The film’s biggest problem for international audiences is its failure to explain why Mary feels discriminated against because she hails from Manipur, a state in northeast India that shares a border with Myanmar.

My understanding of the issue — which admittedly mostly comes from Chak De India — is that Indians from the northeast who may have more Burmese or East Asian facial features are frequently accused being “less Indian” than those from central India. Given that Priyanka doesn’t especially resemble Mary, the film needs to make it clearer why Mary feels discriminated against.

Ultimately, Mary Kom does its job, entertaining and raising awareness of an important athlete in Indian sports history. There’s a good chance Mary’s story isn’t finished just yet. As noted at the end of the film, Magnificent Mary hopes to compete in the Rio Olympics in 2016.


Opening September 12: Finding Fanny

While it appears that Creature 3D isn’t releasing in the U.S. (boo!), Chicago area Bollywood fans will get to see one of the most intriguing movies of the year on September 12, 2014: Finding Fanny.

Finding Fanny opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. While MovieMax specifies that it’s carrying the Hindi version of the film, the rest of the theaters are presumably carrying the version with English dialogue. Finding Fanny has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 42 min.

After a respectable opening weekend in North American theaters, Mary Kom carries over at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

Singham Returns holds on for a fifth weekend at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17. MovieMax and South Barrington are both carrying Mardaani for a fourth weekend as well.

Other Indian movies showing at MovieMax this weekend include Sigaram Thodu (Tamil), Bhaiyya Bhaiyya (Malayalam), and the Telugu movies Power, Anukshanam, Boochamma Boochodu, and Rabhasa.

Streaming Video News: September 10, 2014

Two Hindi movies were just added to the Netflix streaming catalog, but don’t get too excited. The movies are Yamla Pagla Deewana 2 and Hate Story, a movie that thinks it’s about women’s empowerment but really just reduces women to their sexual functions. I’d skip both and watch Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure instead.

For everything else new on Netflix, check out Instant Watcher.

Bollywood Box Office: September 5-7

Mary Kom turned in a solid opening weekend at the North American box office from September 5-7, 2014. It earned $370,277 from 139 theaters, for a per-screen average of $2,664.

While this opening weekend gross ranks tenth among Bollywood films in North America so far this year, distributors were surely hoping for more. It opened on the sixth highest number of screens, yet — of the eleven films to open in 100 or more theaters — Mary Kom‘s per-screen average was only higher than that of the disastrous Humshakals.

Mary Kom‘s performance is also underwhelming relative to another sports biopic of note: last summer’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. The Farhan Akhtar racing flick opened in 140 theaters in the United States and Canada, earning $647,112 ($4,622 average) in its first weekend. Given that Priyanka Chopra has a higher international profile than Akhtar and considering Mary Kom’s more current relevance — she competed in the Olympics just two years ago, whereas Milkha Singh last competed in the 1960s — one would’ve hoped for a more comparable performance from Mary Kom.

Mardaani held up well through its third weekend in theaters. It earned $28,232 from 26 theaters ($1,086 average), bringing its North American total to $377,327.

Raja Natwarlal‘s business fell nearly 90% in its second week. From 30 theaters, it earned just $10,846 ($362 average). Its total stands at $131,105.

Singham Returns closed its fourth weekend with $9,677, bringing its total to $1,226,581. (The theater count of 127 supplied to Box Office Mojo seems incredibly high. Bollywood Hungama reports the movie as showing in 17 theaters, which is more realistic.)

In its 28th week in theaters, The Lunchbox added another $1,319 to its total earnings of $4,039,660.

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Kochadaiiyaan (2014)

Kochadaiiyaan2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Note: I watched the Hindi version of the film with English subtitles on Eros Now.

Fantasy is a genre rarely explored in Bollywood, especially films of the sword-and-sorcery variety. Kochadaiiyaan (“The King with a Long, Curly Mane“) fills that void, incorporating grand, mythical elements into an animated historical adventure.

However, the film’s story is undermined by director Soundarya R. Ashwin’s and writer K. S. Ravikumar’s fixation on plot twists. Instead of telling the story in a linear fashion, Ashwin and Ravikumar throw in a twist every half-hour or so, revealing that what appeared to be the truth was a lie. Wait another half-hour, and the truth is again turned on its head.

The twists aren’t well-designed. There’s no feeling of inevitability to them. They confuse more than they illuminate. Instead of inspiring an “Ah ha!” reaction, the only response is, “Huh?”

The story revolves around a strategic military genius named Rana (voiced and played by Rajinikanth in motion capture before being rendered on screen). The plot jumps between Rana’s rise to power in the kingdom of Kalingapuri, his return to his homeland of Kottaipattinam, and his recollections of his father, another great military strategist called Kochadaiiyaan (also played by Rajinikanth).

Sadly, Kochadaiiyaan isn’t a self-contained story, but rather a set-up for a sequel. Its incomplete ending is abrupt and frustrating.

Much was made in the promotion of the film regarding the advanced (for India) technology used in the animation. Had expectations been downplayed, perhaps the quality of the animation wouldn’t seem so disappointing. Even using motion capture, the animation looks no better than an early PlayStation 2-era video game cutscene.

Figure movement is the film’s biggest visual flaw. Fluidity of movement is hit-or-miss when it comes to the human characters, which is a huge problem in the movie’s many dance numbers (though some numbers fare better than others). On a related note, A. R. Rahman’s soundtrack is stirring, but not replete with hit singles.

An even bigger problem with the animation is the jerky movement of the film’s animals. Epic battle scenes become laughable with one glance at the arthritic horses “galloping” into war.

Character renderings also vary in degrees of quality. Rajinikanth is recognizable, his hairstyle changing to suit his multiple characters. Rana’s love interest, Vadhana Devi, looks more like Juhi Chawla than the actress who voiced her, Deepika Padukone.

Director Ashwin’s best use of animation is in giving a grand scale to Kochadaiiyaan‘s environments. Buildings are larger, battlefields more vast, and background characters more plentiful than most live-action film budgets could accommodate.

As for the acting in the film, it’s hard to judge, given the shortcomings of the animation. One tic that grows funnier over time is the characters’ penchant for stating the full name of the kingdom “Kottaipattinam.” I’d love to see a video compilation of every time a character says it, because it would probably include a hundred clips and run about five minutes long.


Opening September 5: Mary Kom

The Bollywood sports biopic Mary Kom releases in Chicago area theaters on September 5, 2014. Priyanka Chopra plays the Indian boxing champ and bronze medalist at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Mary Kom opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 4 min.

Raja Natwarlal and Singham Returns carry over at the Cantera 17, MovieMax, and South Barrington 30. Both MovieMax and South Barrington 30 are also holding over Mardaani.

Other Indian movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend include Rabhasa (Telugu) at the Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont and MovieMax, which also carries Powar (Kannada), Boochamma Boochodu (Telugu), Kiraak (Telugu), Peruchazhi (Malayalam), and Run Raja Run (Telugu).