Movie Review: Drishyam (2015)

Drishyam3 Stars (out of 4)

Note: This review pertains exclusively to the 2015 Hindi remake Drishyam. I have not seen the 2013 Malayalam film of the same name, thus this review draws no comparisons between the two.

When Drishyam (“Visual“) succeeds, it does so mightily. Yet the film’s ending breaks crucial promises made to its audience.

Drishyam expects the audience to be almost as well-versed in films as its main character, Vijay (Ajay Devgn), a man with a keen memory for everything he watches on screen. Movies fill in the gaps in his education, which formally ended in the fourth grade. As an adult, Vijay is a kindly family man whose only vice is that he stays late at the office, engrossed in the movies he programs for the small-town cable channel he runs.

There’s a beautiful shot of Vijay returning one morning to the home he shares with his wife Nandhani (Shriya Saran), teenage daughter Anju (Ishita Dutta), and younger daughter Anu. The camera pulls back as Vijay walks down the sunny, curtain-lined hallway of his cheerful house. The same shot is repeated later with a sinister twist, the dark house eerily silent, the floor covered in muddy footprints.

Vijay’s knowledge of movies becomes essential when he must save his family from a predicament involving Sam, the teenage son of the Goa’s Inspector General, Meera (Tabu). Vijay coaches his family on what to expect from the police while Meera simultaneously unravels the details of Vijay’s plan.

Director Nishikant Kamat effectively shifts the tone from light-hearted to darkly serious, with periods of stomach-churning tension. Devgn is a steady presence, and Dutta portrays Anju as the capable daughter of a capable man. Saran’s character is harder to love since she’s slow get with the program, but her flustered reactions are probably the most realistic.

Scenes involving Sam are important in that they debunk a myth about rape some prominent figures in India still cite: that a rapist will relent if you beg him to stop. When Sam tries to blackmail Anju for sex, both she and her mother beg him to relent, but of course he doesn’t. Rape is about power, not sex, and the story establishes that Sam is used to getting what he wants. Meera and her husband Mahesh (Rajat Kapoor) fret that their indulgence may have turned Sam into a rotten person. Credit to director Kamat for such a realistic depiction of a sexual predator.

Kapoor is terrific as Tabu’s foil. He’s rational and willing to give people the benefit of the doubt; she’s as drunk on power as her son, and she will not brook any challenge to police authority. She finds her perfect ally in Gaitonde, a local constable with a taste for violence and a grudge against Vijay.

Despite the presence of several law-abiding police officers, the film operates on the assumption that the police as an institution cannot be trusted (by no means a unique sentiment in Bollywood). Precisely because of that assumption, Kamat disappointed me when he resorted unnecessarily to my biggest Bollywood pet peeve: a montage of people across India watching news footage of the events in the film.

If police abuse of power is such a given, why would the events of this small-town story become national news? And why does it need nationwide attention to be meaningful? Why does it matter what some random people in other parts of the country think?

After a tense first half, the film bogs down in the middle, as Meera investigates multiple witnesses, growing tired of their Stepford-like corroboration of Vijay’s alibi.

Though the story is aimed at movie buffs who may be able to guess at many details, it is fun to hear Meera and Vijay lay out their reasoning to their officers and family, respectively. Their deductions are handled in a logical way that doesn’t feel condescending.

Yet, the very ending of Drishyam betrays the film buffs in the audience. Without giving away details, during a conversation with Meera and Mahesh, Vijay does something stupid that no intelligent character in a thriller or mystery film should (or would) do.

The scene is presumably included in order to establish the character’s moral righteousness, but it’s unnecessary for a couple of reasons. First, it’s doubtful that anyone would find him immoral after having watched the first two-and-a-half hours of the film. Second, it makes him a less complex character. Instead of being a good guy who did something morally questionable, the scene tries to absolve him of wrongdoing, altogether.

It’s okay if movie heroes aren’t perfect. It can make them more relatable. If only Drishyam trusted its cinema-savvy audience to accept an imperfect hero, the movie itself could have come close to perfection.

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Opening July 31: Drishyam

One new Bollywood film opens in the Chicago area on July 31, 2015. Ajay Devgn and Tabu star in Drishyam, a Hindi remake of the 2013 Malayalam film of the same name.

Drishyam opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison in Addison, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 45 min.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan carries over for a third week at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, Marcus Addison, and Cantera 17, plus the Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

The Pakistani film Bin Roye gets a third week at MovieMax and the South Barrington 30.

Baahubali continues its amazing run at MovieMax (Telugu, Tamil, and Hindi-dubbed), Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont (Telugu), South Barrington 30 (Telugu and Hindi-dubbed), Cantera 17 (Hindi-dubbed), and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge (Telugu).

Other Indian movies showing at MovieMax this weekend include the Tamil films Orange Mittai, Sakalakala Vallavan Appatakkar, and Idhu Enna Maayam.

Movie Review: Dirty Politics (2015)

DirtyPoliticsZero Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

About three-quarters of the way through the movie, my hands grip my head as if trying to contain an imminent explosion. I scream, “What is happening?!” and tear at my hair. That sums up the entire experience of watching Dirty Politics.

The movie’s problems are immediately apparent, most obviously so in the way the film looks. The camera never stops moving. It doesn’t matter if the movement obscures the faces of the characters who are speaking: camera movement is paramount! The action can be dramatic, such as a crane shot from directly overhead that swoops down to ground level then back up again. It can be more subtle, such as persistent zoom-ins on actors’ faces.

In one shot, the camera rapidly zooms in to closeup and pulls back twice in the span of about three seconds. A judge says, “Court is adjourned,” and the camera pans from the judge up to a clock above his chair, even though there’s no significance to the clock or the time of day. Then the same shot is repeated a few minutes later, again for no reason.

I don’t blame cinematographer Panveer Selvam for this travesty of technique as much as I do director K.C. Bokadia, who also wrote this farce. Bokadia’s vision for Dirty Politics is obviously shaped by a fundamental misunderstanding of how to make movies.

The story opens in the middle of a search for missing dancer-turned-politician Anokhi Devi (Mallika Sherawat). We know this because the characters say the name “Anokhi Devi” about a hundred times in the first ten minutes. Characters are introduced in quick succession without a sense of where they fit into the larger story, and an absence of backstory is keenly felt.

Anokhi Devi’s appearance via flashback more than twenty minutes into the runtime doesn’t really clear things up. Her dancing grabs the attention of political party leader Dinanath (Om Puri). In exchange for sex, Dinanath promises to make her the party’s candidate in the next election. Naturally.

There’s a hullabaloo because a gangster named Mukhtiar (Jackie Shroff) wants the same candidacy. He gets a great introduction from Anokhi Devi’s secretary, Banaram (Rajpal Yadav), who announces his arrival at her house: “He’s Mukhtiar. A well-known goon of our area.”

Dirty Politics is full of hilariously ponderous lines. When Anupam Kher’s character Mishra — who is a CBI officer and a lawyer who’s sixty days away from retirement(!) — presents his case in court, the defense attorney responds: “He is very cleverly trying to make his points strong.” Eloquently said, man who doesn’t realize that he’s describing the very nature of his own job.

One can only imagine how Bokadia managed to rope so many talented actors into this doomed project. In addition to vets like Kher, Shroff, and Puri, Naseeruddin Shah his a role as an activist who steals the movie’s absurd closing scene. Govind Namdeo’s overacting is the height of comedy. Atul Kulkarni and Sushant Singh remind us why they are rarely called upon to play action heroes.

Shah’s character has a daughter whose sole narrative purpose is to be raped in order to blackmail him. There are only three women in the whole movie, and all of them are brutalized: two in order to intimidate their relatives, and Anokhi Devi for aspiring to a more meaningful purpose than that of Dinanath’s mistress.

Puri and Sherawat deserve some modest praise for fumbling through the most awkward sex scenes in cinema history. If Bokadia was counting on sex to sell Dirty Politics, he obviously didn’t watch any footage of his movie as it was being shot.

One can only fathom the sheer terror racing through the mind of editor Prakash Jha as he received each batch of footage. “How am I supposed to make a movie from this?” he asks himself. “There’s nothing to work with!” Hence how we end up with the exact same reaction shot of Jackie Shroff staring at a desk — his jaw muscles twitching — four times in succession.

Bonus: Everything you need to know about the lack of craft that went into making Dirty Politics, in just twelve seconds!

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Bollywood Box Office: July 24-26

Bajrangi Bhaijaan turned in another stupendous performance in its second weekend in North American theaters. From July 24-26, 2015, it earned $1,561,179 from 277 theaters ($5,636 average), bringing its total earnings to $5,558,910.

In its third weekend, Baahubali earned a combined total of $621,706 from its Telugu and Tamil versions plus the newly released Hindi-dubbed version (which contributed $192,622 from 60 theaters to the total). The movie’s total North American earnings stand at $7,454,170.

It’s worth emphasizing just how rare it is that both Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Baahubali earned more than $1 million in the US and Canada in their second weekends of release. In the last ten years, only three other Hindi films — which have a much greater market share than movies made in other Indian languages — have earned more than $1 million in their second weekend here: PK, Dhoom 3, and 3 Idiots. PK went on to earn more than $10 million in North America, Dhoom 3 more than $8 million, and 3 Idiots more than $6.5 million.

July 31’s only new release is Ajay Devgn’ Drishyam, a fact that should make the producers of Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Baahubali very confident about continued box office dominance. Given past performances by Ajay-led action flicks without a prominent male co-star, Drishyam could conceivably earn less than $200,000 in its opening weekend in the US and Canada.

Dil Dhadakne Do hung around for an eighth weekend in two theaters, earning $1,202 ($601 average). Its North American total stands at $3,063,095.

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Khamoshiyan (2015)

khamoshiyan2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

The Hindi word Khamoshiyan (“Silences“) sort of sounds like the English word “commotion,” which is fitting given the insane way this sexy horror film spins out of control.

Frustrated novelist Kabir (Ali Fazal) hits rock bottom when he tries to sabotage his ex-girlfriend’s wedding. She tells him, “You’re an incomplete man, Kabir. You could never complete anything in your life.” He hits the road, resolving to finally finish his book and find a purpose.

Kabir winds up at a mountain lodge which he describes as being “locked in time,” even though the building looks like a newly built McMansion. There are no other guests at the hotel, only the inn’s beautiful caretaker Meera (Sapna Pabbi) and her bedridden husband.

During his first night in the hotel, Kabir hears phantom sounds, sees figures disappear from paintings, and a poltergeist throws at book at him. He packs his bag the next morning, and we hope he’s smart enough to get the hell out of this obviously haunted house. Nope. He’s just going for a hike.

Bewitched by her pretty face and mysterious manners, Kabir resolves to uncover Meera’s secrets. He has no way of knowing what bizarre horrors haunt the inn.

That’s because the narrative takes a left turn into crazy town in the second half. You will think that you have the story figured out. “Duh, she’s a ghost,” you will say. You will be wrong. Not even writer Vikram Bhatt knows how he reached the film’s conclusion.

Now, that doesn’t mean that Khamoshiyan isn’t fun, because it is. Meera gets it on with Kabir and — in flashbacks — her husband, Jaidev (Gurmeet Choudhary). Kabir fights ridiculous CGI dogs and flops around possessed. The hotel has some amazing evil artwork, because what says “Welcome!” better than a hideous painting of a muscular chimera in the foyer?

khamoshiyan_chimera

Free hot breakfast included at the Motel 666!

khamoshiyan_wolves

A portrait of Uncle Bob back in his Blue Man Group days…

khamoshiyan_monster

Where the movie falls short is in its application of a coherent mythology. There don’t seem to be any rules governing the movie’s supernatural entities. It’s unclear how to destroy them, since certain rituals work and others don’t without explanation.

It’s also unclear what motivates the spirits. Meera makes it clear that — for the sake of her husband — she’s not allowed to leave the hotel grounds. Yet the spirits don’t seem to have a problem with her humping Kabir on the hood of a sports car in the garage.

What results is a disorganized collection of occult imagery that is more confusing than horrifying. Most of the attempted chills take the form of telegraphed poltergeist effects. The mood is intermittently pretty creepy, however, and director Karan Darra deserves credit for trying to make butterflies scary.

For all its incoherence, Khamoshiyan is undeniably entertaining. Good looking people make out, and some mildly spooky stuff happens. What more do you need?

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In Theaters: July 24, 2015

No new Bollywood movies are opening in Chicago area theaters on Friday, July 24, 2015, ceding US box office supremacy to Bajrangi Bhaijaan for a second weekend. Bajrangi Bhaijaan carries over at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison in Addison, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge, and AMC Loews Crestwood 18 in Crestwood.

On Friday, the highly touted multi-language Indian film Court starts a week-long run at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago.

The Pakistani film Bin Roye (Urdu w/English Subtitles) carries over for a second week at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale;

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Baahubali (Telugu w/English subtitles) at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, Baahubali (Hindi-dubbed) at South Barrington 30 and MovieMax, which also carries the Tamil version of Baahubali, James Bond (Telugu), Maari (Tamil), Papanasam (Tamil), and Premam (Malayalam).

Bollywood Box Office: July 17-19

Business is booming for Indian movies in North America. Baahubali took the continent by storm last weekend, and Salman Khan just posted his biggest opening weekend ever in the United States and Canada.

From July 17-19, 2015, Salman’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan earned $2,613,192 from 276 theaters ($9,468 average) in North America, according to Rentrak figures supplied to Bollywood Hungama. That opening weekend per-screen average is ridiculous, given the high theater count and considering that the second highest average in 2015 trails it by almost $3,000 (Piku‘s $6,673). The average becomes even more interesting when the figures are broken down by country. The average from the 256 US theaters is $8,628, while the 20 Canadian theaters averaged $20,221.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan‘s success is a big deal for Salman’s brand in North America. Collections for his movies have consistently lagged behind those of the other two reigning Khans: Aamir and Shahrukh. Bajrangi Bhaijaan is Salman’s first release in more than 200 theaters in the US and Canada, the new threshold for aspiring blockbusters.

Not only did Bajrangi Bhaijaan more than double the collection of Salman’s previously most successful opening weekend — $1,139,340 for 2012’s Ek Tha Tiger — it already eclipsed the total earnings of his formerly most successful film in North America: 2012’s Dabangg 2, which earned $2,519,190. This is great news for Salman, who will hopefully take to heart the message that international fans are sending: choose good scripts, and you will be rewarded.

Baahubali continued its impressive run. Adding the second weekend earnings from both the Telugu ($966,329 from 162 theaters) and Tamil ($168,985 from 53 theaters) versions, Baahubali‘s North American total stands at $6,509,343. Amazing!

Two other Hindi films showed in the US over the weekend:

  • Dil Dhadakne Do: Week 7; $3,888 from four theaters; $972 average; $3,059,773 total
  • ABCD 2: Week 5; $352 from two theaters; $176 average; $881,302 total

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama