Tag Archives: 0.5 Stars

Movie Review: Half Girlfriend (2017)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at iTunes
Buy the book at Amazon

Half Girlfriend is a tiresome retread of a familiar Bollywood setup. The world within the film exists for the manipulation and satisfaction of the male lead character, regardless of the toll it takes on the woman he pursues.

Just as in another problematic movie from earlier in 2017 — Badrinath Ki DulhaniaHalf Girlfriend tries to justify its outdated formula by having its main character hail from a state with a bad reputation regarding gender equality. Half Girlfriend‘s Madhav (Arjun Kapoor) is from Bihar, a state that borders Badrinath’s Uttar Pradesh. Neither movie is interested in actually addressing the causes or consequences of inequality in either state, just in appropriating a regressive mindset so that the female lead can be treated as a prop rather than a real person.

Lest we dismiss Madhav as some uneducated hick, the story — based on a book by Chetan Bhagat and adapted for the screen by Tushar Hiranandani and Ishita Moitra — emphasizes that he’s the son of a royal family. He lives in a mansion with his mother (played by Seema Biswas), who runs a school in their small town.

Yet, Madhav is so privileged and insulated that only after he graduates with a degree in sociology from St. Stephens College in Delhi does he ask his mother, “Why don’t any girls attend our school?” How did he not notice that earlier?!

As with so many Bollywood heroes before him, it’s Madhav’s job to bend the universe to his will. That primarily takes the form of him forcing everyone to engage with him in Hindi, even though instruction at St. Stephens is conducted exclusively in English. No matter how high the stakes, Madhav steadfastly refuses to apply himself enough to become proficient in English. The movie rewards him at every turn by having English speakers claim to have understood Madhav’s “heart,” if not his words.

Then there’s Riya (Shraddha Kapoor), with whom Madhav is smitten on first sight. “Such a beautiful girl plays basketball?” he wonders, insultingly. He’s apparently never heard of hoops legend/fashion model Lisa Leslie, which is surprising since Madhav’s a b-ball nut and a big fan of “Steven Curry.”

The basketball in Half Girlfriend is absolutely terrible, by the way. The camera only shoots the actors from the shoulders up since apparently neither of them learned how to dribble for their roles as college athletes. (Frankly, their entire performances in Half Girlfriend lack commitment.) Also, a scene in which Madhav wildly airballs dozens of attempted half-court shots is unbelievable. That’s a shot serious basketball players practice for fun from an early age.

Once Madhav decides that he wants beautiful, popular Riya for his own, he follows her everywhere, memorizing every detail she posts on Facebook. They strike up a friendship on the court, but she’s clearly not interested in him romantically. She pulls her hand away whenever he tries to touch it. Well, she tries to, but Madhav literally won’t let her go.

Madhav’s roommate Shailesh (Vikrant Massey) — who is otherwise the voice of reason in the film — says that the only way to know Riya’s feelings for sure is to “get her in the room.” In case that didn’t sound rapey enough, Madhav locks the door once Riya is inside. When Riya resists Madhav’s attempted seduction (the author writes euphemistically), he gets violent with her. Riya refuses to talk to him after that, triggering a sad musical montage of Madhav screwing up in a basketball game because he’s too upset to concentrate. Boo hoo.

Madhav’s violence toward Riya renders a romance between them unsatisfactory. However, because we know the beats of the male-entitlement Bollywood romance storyline, we know that Riya won’t be able to rid herself of Madhav that easily.

Half Girlfriend is monstrously unfair to Riya. Every man in her life is abusive to her in some way.  While Madhav claims to love Riya, he refuses to accept a relationship with her on her terms; he wants to possess her. Rather than protecting Riya, the older women in her life insist that she tolerate the intolerable and put a man’s needs before her own. Riya is utterly alone. If told from her perspective, Half Girlfriend would be a horror movie.

Links

Advertisements

Movie Review: Kaabil (2017)

kaabil0.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at Amazon or iTunes

Kaabil (“Capable“) is stupid and gross. The movie’s biggest problem is that Yami Gautam’s character exists solely to be raped, an act which serves as a catalyst to transform Hrithik Roshan’s character into an avenging hero.

Roshan plays Rohan, a blind voice actor. One of his producers wonders how Rohan is able to deliver his dialogue in sync with the cartoon characters he voices when he can’t see the footage, but the question is offered as praise rather than a legitimate plot concern writer Vijay Kumar Mishra and director Sanjay Gupta simply ignore.

Gupta and Mishra also elect not to explain what preexisting relationship Rohan has with Amit (Rohit Roy) — a politician’s sleazy brother — and his toady, Wasim (Sahidur Rahaman). Events of the second half of the film make no sense unless Rohan has extensive background information about the two men and their families, which we’re not given any reason to believe he would have. It would also go a long way to explain why Amit and Wasim terrorize Rohan and his new wife, Supriya (Gautam), in the first place.

Most of the film’s first half is the establishment of Rohan’s romantic relationship with Supriya, with whom he’s setup by a mutual acquaintance based on the couple’s mutual blindness. They’re both kind people, but Supriya emphasizes how much she values her job and her independence, and says she is loath to sacrifice either for marriage. If only she’d stuck to her guns.

Instead, Supriya marries Rohan, with whom she enjoys a brief period of happiness before Amit and Wasim rape her because of some unexplained animosity toward Rohan. Throughout her ordeal, the movie gives no consideration to Supriya’s feelings, focusing instead on how her assault affects Rohan. She tells her husband, “Now I am not the same person for you.” Rohan doesn’t contradict her, his silence confirming her worst fears. He later claims he needed time to process what happened. You’d almost think he was the one who’d been raped.

Not long after Supriya’s assault, director Gupta inserts an item number into the film. The audience is supposed to pivot from being disgusted by a rape to now being titillated by closeups of Urvashi Rautela’s thighs and cleavage while Amit sings. It’s repulsive.

Rohan’s revenge is built on a number of conveniences, including his aforementioned intimate knowledge of Amit’s and Wasim’s families derived from who knows where. Rohan is also a master of hiding in the shadows, which is pretty amazing considering that he’s blind! He’s been blind since birth, so he’s never so much as seen a shadow, let alone learned how to use them to conceal his whereabouts.

Kaabil is so dumb that it would be tempting to laugh it off, were it not guilty of creating a confident female character just for the purposes of turning her into a plot device. It’s a textbook example of the offensive “Women in Refrigerators” trope, explained brilliantly in the video below:

Links

Movie Review: Naam Hai Akira (2016)

NaamHaiAkira0.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon or iTunes

Naam Hai Akira is an endurance test, a fight to stay in one’s seat and finish the film instead of leaving the theater to do anything else. The movie is a disorganized, demoralizing disaster.

Naam Hai Akira (known as just Akira in India) is a remake of a Tamil film by Santha Kumar called Mouna Guru, a hit remade in two other languages besides Hindi. I haven’t seen the original, so I have no idea if it’s as messy as its Hindi remake. However, Naam Hai Akira is directed and co-written by A. R. Murugadoss, the man who screwed up Ghajini, his remake of the great film Memento. I’m inclined to place the blame on Murugadoss.

Murugadoss’s film swaps the gender of the film’s protagonist, a move that would seem progressive, if, again, the director didn’t screw it up so royally. Akira (Sonakshi Sinha) is first introduced as an adult, kneeling in the woods with a gun pointed at her head. Then the movie flashes back either three years or fourteen years — the movie contradicts itself — to Akira as a pre-teen in Jodhpur.

Little Akira witnesses a pair of young men throw acid in the face of a teen girl who rejects their advances. Akira reports them to the police, who let the men go because of their families’ political connections. After the men cut Akira’s face in retaliation, her father (played by Atul Kulkarni, who needs to play dad roles more often) enrolls her in karate class so she can learn to defend herself.

Ah yes, self-defense classes — the go-to solution to the problem of violence against women by those who don’t want to admit that men are the problem. It goes hand-in-hand with the notions that women can prevent rape by not wearing mini-skirts or by invoking God’s name when begging not to be raped.

Akira has to walk by an all-girls dance class to get to her all-boys-but-one karate class, just in case we’ve forgotten what society expects of girls. When she and her dad spot the same men harassing other women, Dad encourages her to beat the crap out of them. She uses her karate superpowers to do so, in the process splashing the bottle of acid intended for her onto the face of the main perpetrator.

Akira’s punishment for daring to confront sexual harassment is to spend the rest of her childhood in juvenile detention. The lesson of the movie is that violence is the province of men, and women who choose to use it will be punished and ultimately forced to martyr themselves to maintain a social order in which they are eternal, powerless victims.

There’s a lot of boring stuff that has to happen before we get to that completely depressing conclusion. As an adult, Akira is forced by her brother Ajay to move to Mumbai to live with him, his nasty wife, and their mother. This isn’t really clear, but it seems as though Ajay and Mom think Akira was wrong to stand up to those men years ago, and that her use of violence is a sign of some kind of mental defect. That’s the only way to explain what eventually happens, but again, it’s not clear at all.

This despite the fact that Akira is completely timid. She hardly speaks, and she consents to anything anyone asks of her. She only retaliates if someone physically attacks her first.

When the plot catches up to that opening scene in the woods, it takes a series of unbelievable mishaps before Akira even thinks about trying to escape. She just sits there — gun pointed at her forehead — while her would-be killers discuss the phone call they just got from their boss. They want to confirm the plan with him, but their cell phone died, so they leave one guy behind to guard Akira and another prisoner. They call their boss from a payphone, but then their van breaks down. Then they ride a bike back to the guy with the gun.

The whole freaking time, Akira just sits there, waiting to die. Only when the other prisoner makes a break for it does she try to get away. Never has an action hero possessed so little initiative or sense of self-preservation.

That scene is par for the course. Everything is spelled out in excruciating detail. In another sequence, one character says (in essence), “We need to file a missing persons report and name Inspector Manik in it.” Cut to a shot in the police station with Manik and his crooked coworkers, one of whom says, “They filed a missing persons report and named Manik in it.”

There’s a whole other storyline about a quartet of corrupt cops, led by a detective played by Anurag Kashyap, who’s one of the only good things about this movie (Akira’s wardrobe is the other). So much time is spent on the cops that Akira’s barely in half of the movie. When she gets mixed up in their crime by mistake, it’s because of moronic reasons that depend on everyone being as stupid as possible.

It’s hard to find the cops all that menacing anyway, since they are terrible at covering up their crime, foolishly involving dozens of people instead of just killing those who know and dumping the bodies in another jurisdiction. This is Corrupt Movie Cops 101.

Nothing happens in Naam Hai Akira unless by happenstance or plain idiocy, and all of it takes frigging forever. Sinha could be a fine action star, but she needs a better movie than this. Good grief, it’s so awful.

Links

Movie Review: Ki and Ka (2016)

KiAndKa0.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

Don’t be fooled into thinking that Ki and Ka (“His and Hers“) is a progressive examination of gender roles in contemporary India. This is Mansplaining: The Movie.

Kareena Kapoor Khan plays Kia, a marketing executive with a clear career path: get promoted to vice president of her company and eventually become CEO. She knows that marriage and especially kids often hamper women professionally, so she’s not interested in either.

She meets Kabir (Arjun Kapoor), son of a rich construction magnate. Rather than inherit his father’s empire, Kabir wants to follow in his deceased mother’s footsteps and be a homemaker.

However, we don’t see any evidence of Kabir working toward that goal. We don’t see him cooking, cleaning, or organizing — none of the activities that are central to the job of homemaking. All we see during his courtship of Kia is him hanging out in bars or tooling around a playground on his Segway. Apparently, his aspirations are enough for him to get his dream job, despite the fact that he’s both unqualified and unmotivated.

But that’s the point of writer-director R. Balki’s film: Kabir’s desire to defy gender stereotypes makes him a hero. He’s lauded for his choice, going so far as to appear on TV on Woman’s Day to explain to everyone how noble he is for cooking and tidying up. He fails to note that he still employs a maid to do dirty work like dusting.

Kabir’s deification comes at Kia’s expense. She apologizes over and over again: for hurting his feelings, for taking him for granted, for being jealous. Other than saying “sorry” for crying too loudly during their initial meeting, Kabir never apologizes to Kia because the screenplay never puts him in a position to do so. In typical Bollywood hero fashion, Kabir is infallible, incapable of doing wrong because he is a man.

It’s worth noting another sequence which chucks any remaining vestiges of Ki and Ka‘s feminist credibility out the window. Kabir starts an exercise program for the women in his building, premised on the ideas that all women think they are fat and that they secretly want to be ogled by strange men on the street.

If Balki’s dated takes on equality weren’t problem enough, the movie is lifeless. The first fifteen minutes of Kabir & Kia’s courtship is a sequence of barroom conversations, with cinematographer P. C. Sreeram’s camera making constant, incremental zooms to give the illusion of dynamism while the actors just sit there. The most excitement we get is a shot of Kia walking slowly alongside Kabir as he rides his Segway. Even the song numbers are mostly montages.

The screenplay’s structure leaves much to be desired. There are no subplots at all, and only a couple of hollow supporting characters. Neither Kia nor Kabir have any friends until they magically appear for scenes in which everyone talks about how great Kabir is, never to be heard from again.

None of the conflicts between the couple lasts more than a few minutes, and there’s nothing at stake in any larger sense either. Their relationship is never in danger, as emphasized by a climax that is literally impossible to have unfold in the tidy way it does.

Characters repeatedly refer to Kabir as “every woman’s dream husband.” The goal of feminism is not to make men do chores. If Ki and Ka is R. Balki’s idea of social progress, he’s missed the point.

Links

Movie Review: Revolver Rani (2014)

RevolverRani0.5 Star (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy or rent the movie at Amazon

You know that flustered feeling you get when some older relative starts telling you a story about someone you don’t know, without giving you any context? “Bob Smith’s daughter found a new wedding venue, so now his dog can have that operation.” You’re left with more questions than answers, and you’re not even sure why you’re supposed to care. That’s the feeling one gets from Revolver Rani.

Writer-director Sai Kabir’s gangster drama lacks any of the hallmarks one expects from a story told by anyone over the age of seven — let alone a professional moviemaker — such as logical plot progression, character development, continuity, or audience awareness.

The story begins so abruptly that it feels as if the first part of the film was accidentally cut from the reel. Uday Bhan Singh (Zakir Hussain), who may be a crook, is elected minister of a small town. Two of his cronies beg Uday’s leave to kill Alka Singh — whoever she is — to avenge their brother’s death at her hands, but Uday says no. This scenario repeats itself several more times throughout the film, and it’s just as tiresome each time.

Instead, the brothers kidnap Alka’s boyfriend, Rohan (Vir Das). Then the opening credits roll.

Ten minutes into the film, there’s still no sign of Kangana Ranaut, the star upon whose fame the project is sold. We can presume (correctly) that Ranaut plays Alka Singh, but we have no proof, and no information as to who Alka is or why she is important.

After the credits, Alka finally shows up to rescue Rohan. The action immediately cuts to a flashback in which Rohan arranges to win an underwear-modeling contest held in Alka’s honor — huh??? — in order to use her money and influence to further his acting career.

This is the way the whole movie unfolds. Scenes are stitched together seemingly at random. Characters operate without backstory, motivation, or clearly explained connections to one another. Political machinations presented as the obvious course of action are baffling without the necessary context.

I have no doubt that the world of Revolver Rani and its inhabitants make perfect sense to Sai Kabir. He just forgot that the rest of us can’t see inside his head.

There are plenty of opportunities to fill-in the details of this cinematic world, but Kabir instead clutters the story with boring song montages that don’t elucidate anything. Worse still, most of the music in Revolver Rani is bad.

As talented an actress as Ranaut is, she’s given so little to work with that Alka’s character winds up a garbled mess: soft-spoken one minute, enraged and gun-toting the next. No one else in the picture fares any better.

The idea of a modern female gangster with Wild West sensibilities and a couture wardrobe is intriguing. So is the notion of how such a woman would incorporate marriage and kids into her violent lifestyle. But these ideas don’t go anywhere in the confusing, half-baked Revolver Rani.

Links

Movie Review: Second Hand Husband (2015)

SecondHandHusband0.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

For an example of the problem with Bollywood nepotism, look no further than Second Hand Husband. In her big screen debut, Govinda’s daughter Tina Ahuja manages to be the worst part of a truly terrible movie.

Ahuja isn’t remotely prepared for a major role in a film, let alone to be a romantic lead. Her primary problem is that she squints her eyes when she talks, as though the mental strain of emoting while delivering her lines requires special concentration.

Ahuja’s role in the Second Hand Husband is that of Gurpreet, world’s dumbest divorce lawyer. She’s unable to prevent her client/boyfriend Rajbir (Gippy Grewal) from being hit with a hefty alimony payment in his divorce from Neha (Geeta Basra) because she doesn’t know what alimony is. When her parents ask her to explain the concept, she says, “Even I’m not clear about it.”

After she eventually reads the details of the settlement (let’s hope Rajbir isn’t actually paying for her services), Gurpreet finds a loophole that will get Rajbir out of his payments and allow the two of them to marry. Rajbir’s alimony stops when Neha remarries, so the two set about trying to find his ex-wife a new husband.

Well, that’s what the movie is about for all of ten minutes. The story shifts completely to the antics of Rajbir’s drunk-driving, philandering boss, Ajit, whom we are supposed to find adorable because he’s played by Dharmendra.

There are subplots about Ajit’s wife and her own divorce proceedings, her brother’s family, Gurpreet’s family, a thief turned tea vendor, and a lovelorn cop played by Vijay Raaz (who gives a more sympathetic performance than this movie deserves).

All of this serves to keep Rajbir and Gurpreet apart, not in a romantic sense but in the sense that they have very few scenes together, despite their deferred marriage being the driver behind the whole story. One guess is that Gurpreet’s role was larger at one point, but was minimized later after writer-director Smeep Kang realized Ahuja can’t act. (She can’t dance, either. During most of one song set in a dance club, she sits.)

Then again, it could just be that Kang doesn’t know how to tell a story. Characters are introduced without explanation, taking over the narrative even though we don’t know or care who they are. Transitions between scenes fail to give a sense of time or place.

The dialogue is so expository and delivered at a such a slow pace that Second Hand Husband feels like a foreign language instructional video. The subtitle translation also stinks. When Gurpreet begs Neha, “Didi (sister), please,” the line is written as, “Baby, please.”

Apart from Raaz, the film’s performances are annoying at best, phoned in at worst. Grewal — also in his Bollywood debut — does nothing to distinguish himself. Dharmendra lacks charm. Basra is a shrill stereotype, though Kang deserves much of the blame for creating such lazy, outmoded characters.

Second Hand Husband takes a solid, high-concept premise and ruins it in the name of launching two acting careers unlikely to take off. Skip it.

Links

Movie Review: Welcome 2 Karachi (2015)

WelcomeToKarachi0.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

When a character in Welcome 2 Karachi says, “I want to shoot myself,” it felt like he’d read my mind. Watching this alleged comedy is torture.

I’m still not entirely sure where the film’s first scenes take place. Former British Navy officer Shammi (Arshad Warsi) and his idiot friend, Kedar (Jackky Bhagnani), work for Kedar’s dad, an event planner. They discuss Kedar’s desire to move to America, preferably via a boat from London.

Kedar’s dad puts the guys in charge of a yacht party, accompanied by a dozen bikini clad white women. The boat sinks after being caught in a ridiculous CGI cyclone, and Shammi and Kedar wash ashore in…Karachi, Pakistan?

Despite all the indications that the movie opens in the UK — Shammi’s British Navy discharge, talk of traveling from London to America, a boatload of white women — they must have been in India all along. Otherwise, their arrival in Pakistan would make no sense. Not that sense has much value in Welcome 2 Karachi.

The movie is casually violent to a jarring degree. While the guys are still passed out onshore, a bomb explodes next to them, killing dozens of people. They joke around in a morgue. When the guys seek help from the Indian embassy, they trigger gun battles between several other embassies: the US and Iraq, Israel and Palestine, and Russia and Ukraine. Because ongoing conflicts with civilian casualties are hilarious.

Lowbrow jokes based on offensive generalizations are tossed about without care. Every Pakistani is violent. White women are scantily-clad sex objects. Americans are buffoons keen to take credit for military victories they didn’t earn. India is always the best, yet the first thing Shammi and Kedar request upon their rescue as accidental heroes is joint US-UK citizenship.

Lauren Gottlieb plays a Pakistani spy, but the fact that she’s actually a white American means that Kedar and Shammi can hallucinate her performing a sexy dance number in a bra top and hotpants.

Her character doesn’t do much to drive the plot forward, but then again, neither do any other characters. Stuff just happens, and characters drop in and out of the narrative at random. By the time Shammi & Kedar’s redemptive arc peaks with them having to rescue a plane full of deaf Paralympians, I wanted to barf.

As poorly constructed as the story is, the technical execution in Welcome 2 Karachi is worse. Every bit of CGI — from the cyclone to the plane taking off — looks cheap. The voice dubbing is wretched. It’s easy to tell which characters have been dubbed because their lips don’t match the words they speak.

The movie has particular trouble with its American characters. The dubbing is so bad that the same character’s voice changes from scene to scene. A high-pitched Southern accent becomes a flat, middle-American accent the next.

Also, why is the American embassy in India staffed by Aussies, and the American embassy in Pakistan staffed by Brits?

Welcome 2 Karachi‘s single biggest problem is that its main characters are annoying. Almost every character who meets Shammi and Kedar eventually tells them to shut up. If everyone else in the film finds them that irritating, imagine how annoying they must be to a bored, confused audience.

Links