Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga is Netflix India’s most broadly appealing Original movie to date. The high-concept heist film set aboard a passenger jet feels like a ’90s throwback, in a good way. It’s an entertaining thriller — so long as you don’t think about it too critically.
Yami Gautam stars as Neha, a flight attendant for a Middle Eastern airline who is swept off her feet by a charming passenger, Ankit (Sunny Kaushal). Their whirlwind romance hits turbulence when creditors come after Ankit to replace some stolen diamonds. His financial troubles become more urgent when Neha learns that she is pregnant.
Ankit’s plan is to steal some diamonds while they are transported from a fictional Middle Eastern country to India aboard a passenger flight, but he needs Neha’s help to pull of the heist. Neha’s own father was a thief, and while she vowed to keep her baby away from a life of crime, Ankit’s plan seems like the only way forward.
The plane that Neha, Ankit, and the diamonds are on is hijacked by extremists who demand that a dissident jailed in India be set free. This is a good setup for a story.
Some novelists who write without outlines talk about creating characters, putting them into situations, and letting the nature of the characters dictate how they get out of trouble. It doesn’t feel like that’s how Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga was written. The outcome was decided first, then the characters actions were reverse-engineered to achieve that outcome, with mixed results here.
If the only goal is to surprise the audience, that might be a reasonable way to construct a screenplay — but it requires detailed attention to continuity and character motivation. When the film is over, the audience should not ask, “Would the characters really have acted that way?” Unfortunately, that question lingers at the end of Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga.
That said, it is possible to watch Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga without getting hung up on details. Yami Gautam is quite good as a woman in a difficult position with high stakes for her and the people she loves. Sharad Kelkar is also solid as the intelligence officer brought in to investigate the hijacking. The first two-thirds of the film moves along at a good clip.
Things bog down during the investigation, as the truth is explained via flashbacks. The dialogue writing also gets annoying, especially when the passengers deplane and intelligence officers call out the names of the people they’d like to interrogate. Instead of just calling out a couple of times, they do so repeatedly. They yell, “Who is the flight marshal?” seven times, “Who is Bhanu Yadav?” nine times, and “Neha Grover?” a full eleven times.
Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga isn’t perfect, but it’s suitable Saturday night popcorn fare — and you don’t have to leave your house to watch it.
Two sets of doppelgängers in two different countries make bad decisions in the name of young love in Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat, the latest film from writer-director Anurag Kashyap. The romantic drama putters along before taking a wild turn that comes out of nowhere.
The two pairs are played by Alaya F and newcomer Karan Mehta. In India, DVD seller Yaqub (Mehta) follows high school student Amrita (Alaya) around like a puppy. In England, rich girl Ayesha (Alaya) hounds DJ Harmeet (Mehta), the first guy who’s ever rejected her advances.
It’s unclear exactly how old the characters are. This info is important not only because it sheds light on the characters’ relative maturity levels, but because age of consent plays a part in the England storyline. It’s also important because it could clarify the characters relationships to each other. If he’s 19 and she’s 17, it’s quite different than if he’s 19 and she’s 13.
Both storylines happen in the same reality, and the glue that connects them is DJ Mohabbat (Vicky Kaushal). The pairs are inspired by the musings on the nature of love that DJ Mohabbat shares on his podcast. But for us in the movie’s audience, his monologues aren’t that compelling, and they kill the plot momentum.
Yaqub and Amrita steal her brother’s motorcycle in order to travel to DJ Mohabbat’s concert in another city. They get stopped along the way and hide out in an empty summer cottage. She’s pretty sure her family will forgive them for running off together, even though they locked her in a room just to keep her from talking to Yaqub, who is Muslim.
In England, Ayesha will not leave Harmeet alone. Instead of being turned off by her relentlessness, Harmeet says something about being scared to love her because of the intensity of her feelings for him (or similar nonsense that only movie characters say). They hook up. Then their story goes completely, violently off the rails.
It’s hard to watch young people make stupid choices for the sake of romance, whether in reality or in fiction. And there’s not necessarily anything new to be learned that Shakespeare didn’t cover in Romeo & Juliet 400 years ago. I’m not sure what the moral of Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat is.
Alaya F is an interesting performer, even when the characters she is given to play are kind of shallow. Karan Mehta gets some slack as a new actor, but some of the choices he makes are strange, such as Harmeet’s annoying laugh. Better guidance from Kashyap could’ve helped.
Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat just didn’t work for me.
I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with today’s debut of the lavish Hindi period drama Jubilee. The first four episodes released today, with four more episodes to follow on April 14 (the afternoon of April 13 in the United States).
A young woman returns home to mend her relationship with her estranged father, only to find him missing in Gaslight. The creepy but unambitious mystery does just enough to keep viewers hooked until the end.
Meesha (Sara Ali Khan) hasn’t seen her father Ratan Singh Gaikwad since she was a little girl, before the accident that left Meesha unable to walk. Her childhood in the family’s ancestral palace was happy until Ratan had an affair with Rukmani (Chitrangda Singh). Meesha and her mother moved away, but Mom never got over the breakup and killed herself.
Years later, Meesha receives a surprise letter from her father asking her to come home for a visit. When she arrives, she’s greeted by Rukmani — now her father’s wife — who assures the young woman that Ratan is away on a work emergency and will return in a few days. But that night, Meesha sees a man she thinks is her father. She gets in her wheelchair and follows him to a remote part of the palace, only to fall down some stairs when she’s startled by a loud noise.
Though Meesha at first thinks that her father is in the house, a series of frightening incidents convince her that Ratan is actually dead — but no one believes her. Not Rukmani or the family physician Dr. Shekhawat (Shishir Sharma). Only sympathetic, handsome estate manager Kapil (Vikrant Massey) humors Meesha, while warning her to be careful of Rukmani and her allies.
Gaslight is legitimately frightening at times. Besides Meesha’s eerily preserved childhood bedroom, the palace is full of scary artwork. Bold is the homeowner who thinks Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son is suitable decor for a family abode.
The film could have pushed the spooky factor further by advancing Rukmani’s subplot in the story. At one point, she also begins to see things that aren’t there, which — had it happened in conjunction with Meesha seeing things at night — could have elevated the possibility of a supernatural cause for Ratan’s absence. Instead, Rukmani’s subplot isn’t highlighted until the second half of the film, after Meesha has already articulated her own, non-supernatural theory as to what is happening (a theory many in the audience will likely share by that point in the story).
Gaslight writer-director Pavan Kirpalani proved his ability to craft a chilling story with previous films like Phobia and Bhoot Police (both of which I thoroughly enjoyed). His latest feature leaves enough questions unanswered throughout to entice viewers to see things through, and the cast does a fine job with the material. Rahul Dev is good in a small role as a cop who is a more attentive investigator than he initially appears to be. It would have been nice if the film’s character development had avoided reinforcing traditional class hierarchy, but Gaslight doesn’t aspire to be more than what it is.
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Pathaan delivers exactly what you’d expect from a blockbuster action entertainer starring Shah Rukh Khan as a super spy. The newest entry into the Yash Raj Films “Spy Universe” of pictures — which also includes Ek Tha Tiger, its sequel, and War — features Khan as the title character. He goes by a nickname given to him by Afghani villagers he saved from a missile decades earlier when he was simply a soldier, before he started working in intelligence.
Pathaan founded a special sub-unit within RAW consisting of fellow soldiers previously deemed too damaged emotionally or physically to continue working in the armed forces. With a renewed sense of purpose, the members of the JOCR (pronounced “joker”) unit embark upon India’s most dangerous covert missions.
JOCR’s main enemy is Jim (John Abraham), the former partner of Hrithik Roshan’s character Kabir in War. After being betrayed by the Indian government, Jim commands a team of mercenaries contracted by a Pakistani general to retaliate against India for revoking Kashmir’s special status. Jim is more than happy for the chance to get his revenge.
In a movie that is blatantly patriotic, Jim’s status as a former Indian soldier and spy makes him a more compelling villain than if he was just a random foreign adversary with a grudge. Jim forces Pathaan to consider whether the country that he loves really loves him back and raises the question as to what a nation owes its soldiers in return for their sacrifice. It’s a thoughtful counterpoint to the many blindly patriotic films released these days.
It helps that John Abraham plays Jim as a fun and charismatic villain.
During Pathaan’s quest to stop Jim’s dastardly plan, he is both helped and hindered by Rubia (Deepika Padukone), a Pakistani agent working undercover as one of Jim’s lackeys. For evidence that Pathaan is not a movie grounded in gritty realism, one need look no further than Rubia’s spy wardrobe, which consists mostly of bustiers and swimwear. Even her flight suit shows cleavage.
Pathaan‘s periodically goofy tone requires a certain amount of buy-in, but this is a movie made for an audience already fond of its leading man. Instead of simply saying, “Ow,” when he’s punched, Pathaan whines “Ow ow ow,” evoking memories of some of the less macho heroes Khan has played in the past. You’re never not aware that you are watching Shah Rukh Khan, but that’s part of the fun.
In terms of action, Pathaan is at its best during scenes of close-quarters fighting, as when Pathaan is introduced or when he’s aided by a special guest while on a prison transport train. The larger scale set pieces — which involve innumerable helicopters — are not as impressive, but that’s less of a commentary on their quality but a factor of CGI-fatigue. Even the most novel computer-generated sequences look like the weightless, manufactured stunts they are at this point (and that goes for most Hollywood action blockbusters as well).
Since suspension of disbelief is such a big part of Pathaan, it’s best just to enjoy the film for what it is. The cast looks hot, the dance sequences are sexy, and good triumphs over evil — not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.
I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the announcement of the new series Tooth Pari: When Love Bites, premiering April 20. The show stars Tanya Maniktala as a vampire who falls in love with the shy dentist (played by Shantanu Maheshwari, who was adorable as the love-struck tailor’s apprentice in Gangubai Kathiawadi) who fixes her broken tooth. Sikander Kher, Revathy, Tillotama Shome, and Adil Hussain round out a pretty stellar cast. I’m kind of excited about this:
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The joyless, immature heist film Kuttey (“Dogs“) is an inauspicious feature debut for writer-director Aasmaan Bhardwaj (son of filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj, who co-wrote and produced Kuttey).
Kuttey opens in 2003 in a remote police outpost in western Maharashtra. Officer Paaji (Kumud Mishra) listens as jailed Maoist fighter Lakshmi (Konkona Sen Sharma) explains that he’ll never find freedom as a lackey in an oppressive system. She’s proven right when Paaji’s superior officer slaps him for treating Lakshmi compassionately, then rapes Lakshmi in front of him.
Thirteen years later, Paaji is still a cop, but he’s earning money on the side doing jobs for the drug dealer Khobre (Naseeruddin Shah) with fellow cop, Gopal (Arjun Kapoor). Khobre instructs the pair to murder a rival dealer, which they do, along with killing dozens of people at a pool party.
Actually, the rival dealer survives the assassination attempt, albeit in a coma. Paaji’s and Gopal’s boss bribes them to keep their involvement quiet in exchange for a hefty payout. They turn to another sketchy cop named Pammi (Tabu) for advice and learn from her pal Harry (Ashish Vidyarthi) about the route Harry’s armored truck takes on its nightly rounds to refill ATMs with cash. Paaji and Gopal both decide to rob the truck, though not together. Other people get wind of the plan, and chaos ensues.
Kuttey is an extremely violent movie, with a body count in the dozens. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Films full of pointless violence can still make a point themselves. But Kuttey doesn’t. It is violent in an attempt at edginess that just comes across as cruel. Couple that with the passionless sex scenes and foul language, and the film feels like the product of a particularly sheltered middle schooler who finds swearing, sex, and gore in movies endlessly thrilling because they are new to him.
The characters are so poorly defined that there’s no reason to care about any of them. We don’t know enough about these people or or their circumstances to get invested. It also strips all the deaths of meaning since there’s no sense of who is or isn’t deserving of grisly murder or what kind of void they’ll leave behind when they are gone. The goal seems to be the highest body count possible, achieved by any means.
With such hollow characters to work with, the performances in Kuttey are nothing special. That goes for Tabu as well, whose assignment is to cuss and chew scenery. Pammi spends an agonizingly long time telling the parable of the scorpion and the frog, even though everyone already knows it because so many other movies have used it. The whole film moves way too slowly despite having a runtime under two hours.
There’s also an issue with how violence is administered in Kuttey. Virtually every character is subjected to violence. But only women are done so in a punitive way, and not just because they are an obstacle in someone’s pursuit of a greater goal. Besides Lakshmi’s rape, the scene at the pool party thrown by the rival drug dealer is especially problematic. As Paaji and Gopal walk towards the rival dealer to shoot him and his “Nigerian” counterparts (one of whom has an American accent), some unaware bikini-clad white women push the cops into the pool as a joke. Gopal can’t swim, and the women laugh at him as he’s rescued by the American guy. When Gopal recovers enough to pick up his gun, he shoots the laughing women first.
As the members of the tight-knit Batra family prepare to go their separate ways, secrets threaten to create an irreparable rift. Strong performances and sensitive writing make Gulmohar a touching family drama.
Gulmohar is the name of the family’s Delhi estate built 34 years ago by Prabhakar Batra, the deceased head of the family. His widow Kusum (Sharmila Tagore) is selling the house and announces at a farewell party her intention to move to Pondicherry by herself. Her son Arun (Manoj Bajpayee) and his wife Indu (Simran) bought a large, new penthouse apartment assuming the whole family would continue to live together, but their son Adi (Suraj Sharma) and his wife Divya (Kaveri Seth) are looking for their own place, too.
Arun is not coping well with these changes. His father built their house as a symbol of family togetherness, and Arun idolized his dad. Arun’s discovery that not everyone had the same future plans as he did rattles him.
There are more secrets simmering under the surface of the Batra clan, none more shocking than the contents of a will dictated by Prabhakar that Kusum had kept hidden. But the root of the family’s problems is a tendency not to talk to one another, not just about troubles but about positive feelings as well. For example, Adi is convinced that he’s a disappointment to his father, and everyone tells him that’s not true — except for Arun.
Though the drama comes from all of the things that are going wrong for the Batra family, the movie is really about all of the things that they do right. Kusum’s belief in personal freedom and open-mindedness instills in all of the Batras a desire to chase unconventional dreams and love freely, safe in the knowledge that their family will always be there to support them. The family dynamic enables writer-director Rahul V. Chittella to weave LGBTQ subplots into the story.
Chittella’s screenplay is well-constructed. I re-watched the first five minutes of the film, and it’s impressive how many of the seeds of future conflicts are planted in that short span of time and how subtly it’s done. The opening scene is a large family party that introduces the major characters, and information is dispensed through snippets of conversations and even via the way people move throughout the house. It feels very natural, and only upon revisiting it did I realize how much work the scene was doing.
The whole cast is terrific, and all of the actors play off each other beautifully. Bajpayee and Simran are especially delightful as a married couple. The soundtrack is wonderful, with “Woh Ghar” being the standout track.
If there’s any complaint about Gulmohar, it’s that it could have looked more polished. The edges of shots are often blurry, giving frames a distracting, almost fish-eye effect. Still, that’s a minor knock against a movie that does a nice job of being what it wants to be: nice.