Category Archives: Reviews

Movie Review: Babli Bouncer (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Babli Bouncer on Hulu

Babli Bouncer puts a fun spin on a boilerplate Bollywood main character: the small-town slacker with a heart of gold. Tamannaah Bhatia turns in a stellar performance in the leading role, showcasing her skill as a physical comedian.

Babli (Bhatia) hails from a village on the outskirts of Delhi famous for producing wrestlers and bodybuilders. Many of the young men in town work as bouncers at Delhi nightclubs, but it’s widely known that Babli is just as tough as any of the guys. She’s not ambitious, knowing that marriage and kids are on the horizon (not that she’s mad about that). Her predetermined future enables her to coast, waiting for life to come to her.

It does in the form of Viraj (Abhishek Bajaj), the handsome son of a local school teacher. Viraj is educated and worldly — pretty much the opposite of Babli. She is immediately smitten. When Viraj politely offers to meet Babli for lunch should she ever find herself in Delhi, Babli makes it her mission to get a job in the city.

Thankfully, the club where Babli’s friend Kukku (Sahil Vaid) works is in need of lady bouncers to deal with rowdy female patrons. Soon enough, Babli is working at Kukku’s club and living in Delhi with her buddy Pinky (Priyam Saha), who teaches there. Babli thinks she’s perfectly positioned to get closer to Viraj.

In loads of other Hindi films where a man plays a similar type of lead role, the already-perfect hero sets his sights on a beautiful woman who fails to appreciate him until he uses his physical strength to save her. That she will fall in love with him by movie’s end is a given, so there’s no need to develop either character.

Babli Bouncer uses a similar character template but rejects the inevitable conclusion. Instead, Babli is depicted as flawed but lovable. When she’s confronted with her own shortcomings, she doesn’t like what she sees and chooses to fix them — not in order to win someone’s heart, but so she can be proud of herself. And her efforts at self-improvement amplify the things that were already good about her.

The story itself is entertaining enough, but Bhatia makes Babli sparkle. She’s a tomboy with a bit of swagger, and Bhatia’s every movement and mannerism suits the character perfectly. It’s heartbreaking to watch naive Babli wholeheartedly laugh along with Viraj’s city friends because she doesn’t realize they’re laughing at her, not with her. Bhatia’s spot-on characterization, spirited dancing, and quality fight scenes make for an overall great performance.

Saurabh Shukla is wonderful as Babli’s sympathetic father, and Saha and Vaid make great buddies for Babli. The resolution to lovelorn Kukku’s subplot deserved more airtime, but Vaid does a nice job selling it as written.

Babli Bouncer gets everything right that similar stories with male lead characters usually get wrong. Director Madhur Bhandarkar and co-writers Amit Joshi and Aradhana Debnath wrote a title character who is charming from the get-go but with room to grow. It’s a delight to watch Babli chart her own path.

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Movie Review: Ek Villain Returns (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Ek Villain Returns on Netflix

Eight years after its release, Ek Villain finally got a sequel. Ek Villain Returns is a marked improvement over the original.

The sequel begins with a shocking attack at a party. A man disguised with a smiley-face mask tosses revelers about the apartment in search of his target: an up-and-coming singer named Aarvi (Tara Sutaria). She records the moment he finally finds her on her phone, pleading with him by name: “Gautam.” But is that really who’s behind the mask?

Flashing back six months, we learn that Gautam (Arjun Kapoor) is the spoiled son of a wealthy man. Gautam wants to win at all costs, and he sees boosting Aarvi’s career as a way to do so. Their unscrupulous partnership leads to a romance that fractures when Gautam betrays Aarvi.

The last person to speak with Aarvi before the party attack is a driver for a ride share service named Bhairav (John Abraham). Bhairav — who is also a part-time zookeeper at a zoo that clearly lacks professional accreditation — is questioned by the police and released, but of course there’s more to his story.

Bhairav gets his own six-month flashback to him stalking a woman named Rasika (Disha Patani) who works in clothing store. She works on commission, so she’s happy enough to have a reliable customer, and they do form something of a friendship. Because he has no romantic or sexual experience, he thinks they’re in love.

Like its predecessor, Ek Villain Returns is about toxic masculinity. Whereas Ek Villain faltered by implying that there were things that women could have done to prevent being murdered by a misogynistic killer, Ek Villain Returns is clearer in affirming that women are autonomous beings who can make their own choices and need not be perfect. They also need not return the affection of any man who gives it to them, and that prioritizing men’s feelings over women’s is unfair and dangerous.

By establishing all of the characters as flawed, those who are capable of growing are given space to do so. Gautam and Aarvi are arrogant and unethical, but not beyond redemption. Rasika is a bit flippant, but she’s seen mostly through the lens of Bhairav’s perception of her — and it’s hard to trust that his perception of her is accurate, since he wants something from her. One of Bhairav’s problems is that he’s only interested in one side of a given story, and he assumes the worst of every woman he encounters.

Here’s the thing about Bhairav: if you’re going to have a character who can’t get a date despite having the face and body of John Abraham, he’s got to be much more socially awkward or creepy than the movie makes him out to be. (Also, there’s a nineteen-year age difference between Abraham and Patani. Ew.)

The issues with Bhairav are mostly a case of filmmaker Mohit Suri wanting to have his cake and eat it, too. He needs Bhairav to be a dangerous incel, but he wants steamy scenes between Abraham and Patani as well. We get the steamy scenes at the expense of Bhairav being as weird as he should’ve been.

That said, all of the actors understand what’s being asked of them and get the job done. Patani and Abraham are sexy. Kapoor and Sutaria have a more playful romance and share a great rapport. This is a couple I’d like to see paired up again in the future.

Overall, Ek Villain Returns knows what kind of movie it wants to be and gets things mostly right. And it represents a big step up from the film that spawned it.

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Movie Review: Cuttputlli (2022)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Cuttputlli on Hulu

Cuttputlli (“Puppet“) is a prime example of one of Bollywood’s biggest problems at present: taking films that were successful elsewhere and remaking them without improving the story or remediating problematic elements.

The remake of the 2018 Tamil thriller Ratsasan stars Akshay Kumar as Arjan, a wannabe filmmaker who is obsessed with serial killers. We are told that Arjan is 36, driving audience members to immediately Google how old Akshay Kumar is (he’s 54). Arjan can’t find any takers for his slasher screenplay, so he uses Compassionate Appointment rules to take over his deceased father’s job as a police officer (with proper training first).

Arjan’s fledgling movie career is hardly mentioned again, which is a missed opportunity. The whole point of introducing it is to establish Arjan as an amateur profiler, differentiating him from the members of the police force in the small town where Arjan is assigned to work, alongside his brother-in-law Narinder (Chandrachur Singh).

When a missing teenage girl’s mutilated body is discovered, Arjan quickly recognizes the similarities to another murder that occurred in a nearby town a month earlier. But police chief Gudia Parmar (Sargun Mehta) ignores Arjan’s suggestion because he’s a rookie. She defaults to her usual method of beating anyone who can be loosely connected to the victim until they confess, whether they’re guilty or not.

Arjan is upset by the chief’s preference of violence over investigation. This could have led to an interesting examination of the problems with contemporary policing and its unbalanced incentive structure, but Cuttputlli isn’t that kind of movie. It has a conventional plot whereby one good guy must catch one bad guy, giving no airtime to the structures and systems that make such crimes possible.

Take for example a subplot about one potential suspect. A high school math teacher is able to sexually abuse his female students by threatening to report their poor class performance to their parents. Arjan’s own niece Payal (Renaye Tejani)–who exists in this movie solely to be victimized repeatedly–says that her parents were once so angry when she brought home a bad report card that they broke a television set. The film treats the line about the broken TV as a throwaway, rather than proof that unrealistic parental expectations actually might contribute to an environment that allows the predatory teacher to thrive.

Arjun stops the teacher before he’s able to assault Payal, kicking the man in the junk so ferociously that it sends him to the hospital. Arjun has become the thing that once disgusted him — a violent cop — but his reaction is condoned because he’s the hero of the story, granting him the right to mete out extrajudicial punishment as needed.

Cuttputlli‘s approach to violence is troublesome. The first victim’s mutilated face is shown for shock value, but lingering on each successive dead girl’s scarred visage feels exploitative. The film also follows the discovery of the first victim with a wacky scene in which Arjan chats with a forgetful grandpa who is delighted to discover that his wife is dead. The juxtaposition is uncomfortable, and the joke isn’t even funny (plus grandpa is never mentioned again either).

The conclusion to Cuttputlli is ridiculous. There was no reason to keep it the same as filmmaker Ram Kumar’s original film, but director Ranjit Tewari and writer Aseem Arrora seem determined not to make any improvements in their reboot. Mission accomplished, I guess.

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Movie Review: Darlings (2022)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Darlings on Netflix

First-time producer Alia Bhatt stars in the dark comedy Darlings. Bhatt and the rest of the talented cast turn in sterling performances that outshine a script that derails its main character’s growth.

After three years of marriage to Hamza (Vijay Varma), Badru (Alia Bhatt) isn’t living the life she planned. She’d hoped to have a baby by now and maybe be looking for a nicer home. But Hamza turned out to be an abusive alcoholic — a well-known fact in the apartment colony where they live.

One of the neighbors in the know is Badru’s mother, Shamshu (Shefali Shah), who lives in an apartment across the courtyard from Badru. The older, wiser woman believes her daughter’s abusive marriage will only get worse, so she encourages Badru to just murder Hamza and be done with it.

Badru can’t accept that Hamza won’t change, despite his mistreatment of her and her mother. So often, women in abusive relationships are criticized for not leaving after the first instance of violence, but Badru shows why it’s not always so simple. She fervently wishes for her husband not to be the monster he’s become, and she doesn’t want to be wrong for having missed the warning signs.

The grace extended to Badru and women in similar situations is the most compelling aspect of Darlings. Bhatt does a wonderful job as Badru, and Shah and Varma are equally as good as the two people pulling Badru in opposite directions. Roshan Mathew is fun as the helpful jack-of-all-trades Zulfi. Rajesh Sharma is solid as the butcher Kasim, but it feels like much of his backstory didn’t make the final cut.

When Badru announces her pregnancy and Hamza swears off alcohol, she’s convinced that things will be better. But it’s not long before he gets violent again, and Badru pays a heavy price.

Badru has two choices if she hopes to survive: run and hide, or murder Hamza before he murders her. (Badru feels she can’t report Hamza to the police after she refused to press charges against him for earlier abuse allegations.) Hiding isn’t an option since Badru’s only family member lives in the building next door, so it looks like Shamshu was right all along.

Instead, Badru opts for a third course of action. She wants to turn the tables on Hamza — make him respect her and feel what it’s like to be the powerless one in the relationship. She drugs Hamza and ties him up.

While the intention may be to show Badru finally taking control, it’s a mirage and not real character development. The very idea that Badru still thinks that she can make Hamza respect her or that he won’t follow through on his threats to kill her make Badru seem more foolish than she is. All of the comic bits where the authorities almost discover a drugged-and-bound Hamza, or whereby he almost escapes, stem from Badru and Shamshu making careless mistakes.

While watching Darlings, I was repeatedly reminded of Delilah S. Dawson’s page-turner The Violence. The main character in that book knows that someday her abusive husband will kill her unless she can find a way to escape. And even if she does get out, she won’t be truly safe until he is dead. Badru never reaches that same realization about Hamza. Despite all the trauma he has done and intends to do to her, she seems to think it’s possible for them to just go their separate ways. That’ll he’ll allow her to exist without him.

Badru’s reluctance to see violence as an option for her robs her of agency. It makes her survival contingent upon the intervention of a deus ex machina, rather than the results of her own actions. Badru tells Shamshu that the reason she doesn’t want to murder Hamza is that she doesn’t want to be haunted by his ghost — but the alternative is be hunted by him in the flesh. Moral victories don’t mean much when you’re dead.

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Movie Review: Good Luck Jerry (2022)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Good Luck Jerry on Hulu

The vibe of director Siddharth Sen’s debut feature Good Luck Jerry feels like a toned-down Ludo or Looop Lapeta. But trendy aesthetics can’t compensate for a disorganized screenplay and a lack of character development.

Janhvi Kapoor lends her undeniable charisma to Jerry Kumari, a young woman willing to do whatever it takes to provide for her family after her father’s death. Jerry’s mom Sharbati (Mita Vashisht) isn’t happy about her daughter’s job at a massage parlor, but the family needs the money, especially while Jerry’s younger sister Cherry (Samta Sudiksha) finishes school.

Their financial situation gets worse when Sharbati is diagnosed with lung cancer. Unable to get a loan for Sharbati’s treatment, Jerry uses a serendipitous connection to put a risky scheme into action.

While shopping at a market with Cherry, Jerry is forced by a neck-brace-wearing gangster named Timmy (Jaswant Singh Dalal) to recover a packet of drugs hidden in the men’s restroom. There are police all over the market, but they won’t suspect a young woman of carrying drugs. Jerry succeeds, and Timmy lets the sisters go. The next day, Jerry finds Timmy and convinces him to hire her as a drug runner on a permanent basis.

The new gig earns Jerry more than enough money, but it earns her enemies among the drug dealers as well. Timmy’s boss sets her up to fail with a job that’s too big to pull off — at least not without the help of her family.

In keeping with the colorful dark comedy style of movies like Ludo and Looop Lapeta, Good Luck Jerry‘s world is populated by weirdos. Jerry has to fend off romantic overtures from 40-something wannabe rapper Rinku (Deepak Dobriyal), and Cherry has her own suitor who hounds her while dressed in a groom’s attire. The criminals she meets are quirky, though not as memorable as Pankaj Tripathi’s neck-brace-wearing gangster Sattu from Ludo.

If anything, Good Luck Jerry seems like a watered-down version of other films in the same genre. It’s not as visually interesting, the characters are forgettable, and the comedy isn’t edgy enough. Also, Jerry’s final scheme seems overly complex, and the movie makes no attempt to explain how she, her mom, and her sister were able to pull it off.

Even though it’s based on the Tamil film Kolamaavu Kokila, the screenplay feels like an early draft. Jerry doesn’t grow at all; she begins and ends the movie as a woman who will do anything for her family. Sheer volume of characters — and the inflated runtime that comes with them — is treated as more important than fewer, more impactful ones. Dobriyal’s Rinku suffers particularly from this. He and Jerry don’t have much of a relationship, so including him in a climactic shootout doesn’t actually raise the stakes for Jerry. He just takes up space and screentime.

Kapoor, Sudiksha, and Vashisht share a delightful rapport and make a really cute family. Good Luck Jerry needed more of them and less of everybody else.

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Movie Review: Hurdang (2022)

Zero Stars (out of 4)

The social drama Hurdang fails to build a persuasive case for the odious politics it endorses.

Hurdang is set at a college campus in Allahabad in 1990. Local goon and opportunist Loha Singh (Vijay Varma) wants to increase his political profile. He seizes upon the announced implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations — which would increase the number of university admissions and government jobs reserved for people from Other Backward Classes — as an opportunity to stoke unrest on campus and gain attention.

Loha uses his right-hand man Daddu (Sunny Kaushal) to activate the upper caste students at several area colleges. Daddu is enrolled in university, but you’d hardly know it since he never studies or goes to class. He carries multiple guns with him and is quick to point them at anyone who gives him even a minor hassle.

Daddu’s pitch to get the students to protest against the government is that the predominantly upper caste students currently enrolled in university have made their plans expecting a certain amount of government jobs to be available to them upon graduation, and that changing the rules now unfairly penalizes them. The movie makes only passing mention of the generational damage caused by systemic caste discrimination.

Writer-director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s choice to put Daddu at the center of this story is absurd. Daddu has no chance of graduating as a result of his own (non-existent) efforts, so he plans to get the final exam questions from Loha in advance and cheat. He does not see his own cheating as being at odds with the system of meritocracy he believes exists and that the reservation system supposedly undermines. What matters to the narrative is that Daddu is a victim.

The notion of Daddu as a victim is even more ridiculous considering the privileges Daddu enjoys thanks to his relationship with Loha — and by extension the politicians Loha works for. Twice, Daddu steals a baton from a police officer and beats the officer with it, and he never faces any consequences for it. Daddu is above the law in almost every respect, but the film really wants viewers to feel sorry for him.

Bhat’s story is so lopsided that it barely acknowledges that people from lower castes exist, let alone suffer under a system rigged against them. Daddu’s much more academically talented girlfriend Jhulan (Nushrratt Bharuccha) is herself from a lower caste — a fact that’s only relevant for a scene in which her father tells her to wait until the reservation quota has been updated to take her finals so that she’ll have an easier time getting a government job. Jhulan is portrayed as virtuous for wanting to test right away and pass on her own merits. From the movie’s perspective, benefiting from a rule change is more egregious than stealing an exam and cheating.

The political position Bhat takes with his story is gross, but he doesn’t even do a good job of defending it. Hurdang is awful.

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Movie Review: RRR (2022)

4 Stars (out of 4)

*This review is of the Telugu version of RRR on Zee5. A Hindi-dubbed version of RRR is streaming on Netflix.

Filmmaker S. S. Rajamouli is the master of the “what if…” scenario. The plot of his latest epic RRR ponders what might have happened had two real-life Indian revolutionaries from the early 20th century met and become friends. Rajamouli’s style pushes the boundaries of “what if…,” showing us the delightful possibilities that can only happen thanks to movie magic.

N. T. Rama Rao Jr. plays Komaram Bheem, a leader of the Gond tribe. He makes it his mission to rescue a girl named Malli (Twinkle Sharma) who’s been kidnapped by the British regional governor Scott Buxton (Ray Stevenson). The sequence in which Scott’s wife Catherine (Alison Doody) coolly asks to bring the girl home for her entertainment is infuriating.

Bheem’s rescue plan is audacious and relies upon his affinity with the natural world. An early scene in which he tries to trap a tiger in a net gives a preview to the wild action RRR has in store.

The British know that Bheem is in Delhi looking for Malli, but they don’t know where he is. They’re also scared of what might happen when they find him, given his fearsome reputation. Only one man is brave enough to track Bheem down — Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan), an Indian Imperial Police officer known for his tenacity and an unwavering dedication to his job.

It so happens that Bheem (in disguise as a Muslim mechanic named Akhtar) and Raju meet while saving a boy from a fiery train wreck. They find in one another a kindred spirit: someone brave and strong enough to risk his life for the sake of others. They become friends, with Raju going so far as to help shy Bheem meet Governor Scott’s beautiful niece Jenny (Olivia Morris), who is as sympathetic as her aunt and uncle are cruel.

Given that Bheem and Raju are secretly working in opposition to each other, it’s inevitable that they’ll wind up in conflict. When they finally do during a party for the Governor, it comes in one of the most fantastical action sequences ever brought to the big screen, including the reappearance of the tiger Bheem faced off with earlier.

RRR is larger than life, and Rama Rao Jr. and Charan take full advantage of the scope they are given (especially since the film is by no means biographical). Their characters can jump higher and run faster than normal men. Their muscles are bigger and stronger. Their gifts aren’t superpowers but a kind of idealized masculinity with heavy emphasis on physical strength.

Rajamouli uses the considerable resources at his disposal to make bombastic action sequences that are a joy to watch. Realism is not the point, and why should it be? RRR is a great reminder that a cinematic world need only be consistent with itself to be believable, not that it need conform to the rules of our world.

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Movie Review: Mr. Malcolm’s List (2022)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the novel Mr. Malcolm’s List at Amazon

Mr. Malcolm’s List releases in US theaters July 1, 2022

Freida Pinto executive produces and stars in the Georgian era romance Mr. Malcolm’s List, based on the novel by Suzanne Allain (who also wrote the screenplay). The film has all the trappings of a mannered period drama, but it’s not as witty as it could be.

London, 1820s. Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) is aging out of her desirability as a marriage partner. She gets her hopes up when London’s most eligible bachelor Mr. Jeremy Malcolm (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù) escorts her to the opera but is humiliated when he declines to ask her out again. She’s further incensed when her cousin Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) discovers that Mr. Malcolm has a list of requirements for a prospective bride, and that Julia was eliminated for being unable to hold an intelligent conversation.

Julia concocts a plan to trick Mr. Malcolm into falling in love with a seemingly ideal woman, only for the woman to produce a list of her own and dump him, paying back Julia’s humiliation in kind. Her childhood friend Selina Dalton (Pinto) — a pretty pastor’s daughter from the country, and an unknown in London society — is the perfect candidate for Julia’s scheme. Selina reluctantly agrees to help.

Upon her arrival in London, Selina is immediately beset by suitors. Besides Mr. Malcolm — whom Selina suspects is not the villain Julia believes him to be — handsome Captain Ossory (Theo James) also approaches her, fulfilling his late aunt’s wish for the two of them to meet. The attention paid to Selina doesn’t escape Julia’s notice, and she realizes her plan may not have been so brilliant after all.

Mr. Malcolm’s List meets most of the requirements for this kind of period romantic comedy drama. The costumes and sets are fancy. The actors are all good-looking. The dance at the masquerade ball is steamy, despite the fact that the participants’ physical contact is limited to holding hands. The plot unfolds at a good clip.

Yet the interactions between the characters leave a lot to be desired. Conversations lack a crisp back-and-forth exchange (2016’s Love & Friendship offers a good example of how it should be done). First-time director Emma Holly Jones and editor Kate Hickey leave too much dead air within conversations. Allain’s dialogue also needs punching up. Characters say obvious or straightforward things but react as though they’ve uttered something much more clever (Julia is especially guilty of this).

There’s also a character who exists as comic relief — Julia’s servant John (Divian Ladwa) — who never says or does anything funny enough to deserve the screentime he gets.

Mr. Malcolm’s List is not a stand-out in its genre, but it is a passably good example of it. The film’s shortcomings are less obvious once the plot really gets rolling.

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Movie Review: Heropanti 2 (2022)

Entertainment Factor: 3.5 Stars (out of 4)
Quality Factor: 1 Star

Watch Heropanti 2 on Amazon Prime

This review is a tribute to Dr. Julia Bulgaria, the star of Heropanti 2. She’s a veterinarian who wears a sash that reads “Prom Queen” over her cleavage-baring lab coat. She utters the line, “There’s a zombie party down the road,” with a straight face. Her name is DR. JULIA BULGARIA!

Heropanti 2 — which has nothing to do with the original Heropanti from 2014 — is an objectively bad movie. But Dr. Julia Bulgaria (Amber Doig-Thorne), flamboyant feather jackets, and Tara Sutaria’s casual champagne-tossing all play their part in making Heropanti 2 so bad it’s good.

Even before my new hero Dr. Bulgaria appears, the movie gives plenty of warning that it exists in a parallel universe where normal rules do not apply. The story opens with the villain Laila (Nawazuddin Siddiqui, whose commitment to his bonkers performance is unimpeachable) interrupting a magic show that he is performing in order to meet with his crew of henchmen. Laila’s plan is to steal all the money from every bank account in India on Tax Day. Laila stabs a guy to death while wearing a suit jacket with feathers on the shoulders and a bedazzled eagle on the back. Lesson? Don’t mess with a guy with such outrageous fashion sense.

Cut to Tiger Shroff, who plays a nerd named RJ. He wears glasses and suspenders and rides a bicycle throughout the Yorkshire town where he lives.

By this point, if you think this movie is not for you, cut your losses and move on. It’s doesn’t get any better.

RJ runs into Inaaya (Tara Sutaria) — England’s youngest self-made billionaire. How’d she get rich? “By making a game.” Inaaya thinks RJ is her ex-boyfriend Babloo, who ran off more than a year ago. And wouldn’t you know it, she’s right! “RJ” is really Babloo: a genius hacker who’s been in hiding after double-crossing Laila — who is Inaaya’s brother!!

With Babloo’s cover blown, Laila’s men track him down. Cue the acrobatic fight sequences — the whole reason anyone watches a Tiger Shroff movie. Babloo flips over cars and swings around poles, with the occasional assist from Inaaya.

During a pause in the fighting, Inaaya does something inexplicable and hilarious. She seductively offers Babloo a glass of champagne, pours a glass for herself, then — instead of setting the bottle down on the table behind her — casually tosses the bottle to the side as if she was tossing her jacket onto a chair. Off camera, we hear the sound of glass breaking. Now there is broken glass and champagne all over the floor! Why did she think that was a good idea? Such reckless insanity makes me love Inaaya — though not as much as I love Dr. Julia Bulgaria.

The sexy veterinarian enters the picture when Babloo and Inaaya flee to the countryside in search of a doctor to remove a bullet from Babloo’s behind. Babloo’s butt is so muscular that bullets cause only minor damage to it, allowing him to dance at the aforementioned “zombie party down the road” immediately after surgery. Dr. Bulgaria’s high level of skill also plays a part, no doubt.

For all its faults, Heropanti 2 pulls out all — well, most — of the stops to make its action sequences and dance numbers visually interesting. Not that they’re all good, but they are made with good-faith attempts at grandness. Tiger Shroff is a very good dancer, and Tara Sutaria is even better, so their performances hit the mark. A. R. Rahman’s soundtrack is inconsistent, with catchy tunes like “Miss Hairan” and boring slogs like “Dafa Kar” (the zombie party song).

Nothing about the story makes a lick of sense, and a plot structure that bounces around in time doesn’t help. Yet everything is so over-the-top silly that inconsistency doesn’t really matter. If whatever the hell it is that Heropanti 2 is doing works for you, you’ll have a great time. I did.

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Movie Review: Toolsidas Junior (2022)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Toolsidas Junior on Netflix

An overly-long first half keeps Toolsidas Junior from reaching its full potential, but a strong second half rewards those willing to stick with this underdog story.

Writer-director Mridul Mahendra (listed in the credits as Mridul Toolsidass) based his film on a true story: his own. Perhaps that’s why it feels like there’s a lot of extraneous material in Toolsidas Junior — stuff personally important to the filmmaker that he wanted to include, even though it slows the pace of the film.

The movie opens with a snooker tournament at the Calcutta Sports Club in 1994. Toolsidas (Rajiv Kapoor, in his final film) is a bit of a showboat, doing tricks to impress his adoring 13-year-old son Midi (Varun Buddhadev). Toolsidas earns his spot in the next day’s finals, set to face the reigning champ: the villainous Jimmy Tandon (Dalip Tahil).

Toolsidas celebrates at the club bar with what he promises is just one drink. Hours later, Midi’s furious mom (Tasveer Kamil) sends him to collect his drunken dad. This is something Midi has clearly done numerous times. At the tournament finals, Jimmy uses a break in the action to trick Toolsidas into getting drunk, allowing the villain to come from behind and win for a sixth consecutive time.

Sensing turmoil in the family, Midi’s older brother Goti (Chinmai Chandranshuh) becomes convinced that the boys have to start earning money. A fan of get-rich-quick schemes, Goti wants to use Midi’s diligence and athletic aptitude to make a ton of money. Goti’s assumption that Midi will be naturally gifted at whatever sport he tries is ridiculous, but the film treats it seriously, devoting way too much time to Midi failing repeatedly and Goti getting mad at him. What should have been a brief montage drags on interminably.

The pace plods along even after Midi convinces Goti that there’s money to be made gambling on snooker. Plus, learning to play will give Midi the chance to avenge his dad’s loss and defeat Jimmy. Midi’s too young to play at the Sports Club, so he finds a pool hall in a seedy part of town where he meets his mentor: crusty, enigmatic former national champion Salaam Bhai (Sanjay Dutt). The process is so protracted that Midi’s training doesn’t begin until an hour into the film.

One can’t blame viewers for bailing out before this point, but this is when Toolsidas Junior gets good. Salaam Bhai has clever ways of explaining techniques to Midi, like equating various methods for striking the ball to the punching styles of Amitabh Bachchan, Rajinikanth, and Mithun Chakraborthy.

Salaam Bhai also uses the opportunity to teach Midi a lesson about economic class. Midi’s family has membership at an exclusive country club. Salaam Bhai is poor and always has been. When Midi takes a win on a technicality and passes up a chance to play, Salaam Bhai lights into Midi. A privileged kid like him can’t understand what it’s like to skip eating just to save enough money to play. Midi leaves food on his plate because he’s never has to worry where his next meal will come from. Ever the good student, Midi takes Salaam Bhai’s lesson to heart. There’s plenty of cruft in Toolsidas Junior, but Mridul Mahendra deserves credit for including this subplot in his story.

Varun Buddhadev is Bollywood’s go-to child actor of the moment for good reason. His performance in Toolsidas Junior is really solid, and it’s obvious how much effort he put into learning snooker for the film. The movie is at its best when Buddhadev and Sanjay Dutt interact with one another. They make a winning team.

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