Tag Archives: 0.5 Stars

Movie Review: Naam Hai Akira (2016)

NaamHaiAkira0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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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.

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Movie Review: Ki and Ka (2016)

KiAndKa0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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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.

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Movie Review: Revolver Rani (2014)

RevolverRani0.5 Star (out of 4)

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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.

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Movie Review: Second Hand Husband (2015)

SecondHandHusband0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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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.

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Movie Review: Welcome 2 Karachi (2015)

WelcomeToKarachi0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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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.

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Movie Review: Inkaar (2013)

Inkaarmovieposter0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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If director Sudhir Mishra’s goal with Inkaar (“Denial“) is to depict in painful detail the kind of gender discrimination women are confronted with every day, then mission accomplished. But Mishra doesn’t condemn such discrimination or suggest that change is possible. If anything, Inkaar is more about a sexual harasser’s redemption than justice for his victim.

One of Mishra’s many problems in telling the story that he co-wrote with Manoj Tyagi is that he thinks the black-and-white case of sexual harassment at the film’s center is a conflict with shades of grey. Hotshot advertising executive Rahul Verma (Arjun Rampal) propositions his former protegĂ© and lover, Maya (Chitrangada Singh) for sex, and when she refuses, he threatens to destroy her career.

The framework for the plot is a series of interviews conducted by a social worker named Mrs. Kamdhar (Deepti Nawal), hired by the ad firm to determine who between Maya and Rahul is telling the truth. In a violation of any sort of professional protocol or victim’s rights, Maya and Rahul are deposed in front of their coworkers, some of whom are openly hostile to Maya. As the proceedings drag on, Mrs. Kamdhar brings Rahul into Maya’s session so they can “talk this out face to face,” as though this is a schoolyard tiff between children.

Mishra’s blindness to his own bias makes it impossible for him to tell a balanced story. He uses negative stereotypes of women to create Maya’s character without any narrative foundation. If there are to be any shades of grey in the case, then Maya must have some kind of agenda. She is routinely called “ambitious” — particularly by Rahul — a common slam against women deemed to be aiming above their station.

However, Maya doesn’t do anything aggressively ambitious other than perform her job well. At one point, she takes a dead-end job in Delhi just to get away from Rahul, but she’s so good that she gets reassigned to New York, where her stellar performance earns her a seat on the firm’s Board of Directors.

Rahul is the only one who claims that Maya is gunning for his job. She voices no such desire, and neither does anyone else in the firm believe that’s what she wants. Yet Mishra uses Rahul’s paranoia as sufficient evidence of Maya’s ambition.

Mishra further stacks the odds against Maya by routinely depicting her as a drunk. On the flip side, Rahul’s childhood is nostalgically shown in flashbacks, his father teaching him lessons about male pride. Cutaways in the present show Rahul tending to his ailing dad, affirming Rahul as a loyal family man.

Early in Maya’s career at the ad firm, she and Rahul — her mentor — become romantically involved. Much is made of the sexual relationship’s ramifications for Maya’s career, but no one questions whether it is appropriate for Rahul. He sleeps with an exec from another firm and a model working on an ad campaign, and no one raises concerns about how his behavior affects his company’s image. It’s taken for granted that a man can sleep with whomever he chooses, without consequence.

The real giveaway of Mishra’s bias is the different standard by which everyone in the film judges Maya’s and Rahul’s professional conduct. Her one professional transgression is that she pitches an idea that Rahul had originally conceived — and rejected — to a client without crediting Rahul. Everyone in the meeting flips out, as though this is the absolute worst thing one can do in a professional setting.

However, the characters barely react at all to Rahul’s much more detrimental conduct. First, he admits to deliberately withholding crucial client information from Maya in order to tarnish her image, resulting in the firm losing the client’s business. Rahul costs his company millions of dollars, and no one bats an eye.

Second, he admits in the hearing to propositioning Maya with sexual favors in exchange for a better working relationship. Adjourn the meeting, Mrs. Kamdhar! Prepare Rahul’s termination letter!

But that’s not what happens. Everyone in the meeting — including Mrs, Kamdhar — buys Rahul’s horrendous excuse: he only sexually harassed her to avoid doing what he really wanted to do, which was slap her.

Mishra could’ve let that comment hang, but instead, he tries to make violence against women sexy. He shows Rahul and Maya silhouetted against a blue background, Maya’s hair flying as her head snaps in response to Rahul’s slaps.

Inkaar depicts violence and harassment of women as titillating tabloid fodder in a world of unchallenged patriarchy. Rather than fire a male sexual predator who has cost his employer millions of dollars, the boss, KK (Kaizaad Kotwal) — who tells Maya that by filing the sexual harassment complaint, she proves that “women are too weak and emotional for senior management positions” — proposes not only terminating and counter-suing Maya, but making sure she can’t get a job at any other firm in India.

Maya’s only allies in the office aren’t in a position to help her. Even the supposedly neutral and experienced mediator Mrs. Kamdhar is susceptible to bribes and Rahul’s flirtatious flattery. She fails to render a verdict because Maya and Rahul “both seem to believe what they are saying.”

The resolution to the conflict is decided by Rahul, who gets the chance to redeem himself. Maya doesn’t determine her own fate, and nothing in the resolution suggests her co-workers feelings toward her have improved. Mishra’s message in Inkaar confirms entrenched patriarchy, warning women to be grateful that sexual harassment exists as an alternative to violence.

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Movie Review: Jackpot (2013)

Jackpot_2013,_official_poster0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Given how much I enjoyed director Kaizad Gustad’s incredibly stupid film Boom, I hoped that Jackpot would also be so-bad-it’s-good. Sadly, Jackpot is as inept as Boom, but nowhere near as fun.

I would describe the plot of Jackpot if I could. Even after watching the whole movie — which is a mercifully short ninety minutes — I still have no idea what happened. A group of people try to con a casino owner named Boss (Naseeruddin Shah) out of money. That’s the best I can do.

Gustad must have a grudge against context, because he provides none. We don’t know who the con artists are, what their relationships are to one another, and what their relationship is to Boss. There’s also no sense of when any scene is taking place. The action jumps back and forth in time with no clue as to how one scene relates to another chronologically.

The thieves’ plan is totally convoluted, with con layered on top of con, and it’s impossible to tell what money is stolen when and as a result of what con job. The thieves steal money to get into a poker tournament, steal the money from the poker tournament, and try to convince Boss to invest in Disneyland in Goa, all while they try to steal money from one another. It makes no sense.

The con artists are led by Francis (Sachiin Joshi, who exudes whatever the opposite of charisma is). He has a sexual, possibly romantic relationship with Maya (Sunny Leone), who works for and may have a sexual relationship with Boss. There’s also Kirti (Elvis Mascarenhas), who serves no purpose in the story, and Anthony (Bharath Nivas), who is a dumbass.

From an unintentional comedy standpoint, the best part of the film is the plan to have Anthony win the poker tournament. The whole plan hinges on his ability to count cards. However, not only does Anthony not know how to play poker, he doesn’t even know what the cards are. They have to explain to him that there are four suits in a deck of cards: two red and two black.

Ultimately, Anthony wins the tournament. While he stands on a stage to receive his briefcase full of money, Francis runs by and steals it. If Francis was just going to steal the briefcase anyway, why did Anthony have to win the tournament?!

As if Boom weren’t proof enough, Jackpot cements that Gustad is a terrible writer and director. Jackpot‘s plot makes no sense. Gustad handles his actors so clumsily that he makes Naseeruddin Shah look like a goof. Sunny Leone has a confused smile painted on her face most of the time, since she apparently doesn’t know any more about what’s happening in the movie than the audience does.

Gustad’s framing and scene execution is also idiotic. He routinely speeds up shots of characters walking and driving, rather than just having the characters walk shorter distances. There’s no dynamism in any of the scenes since the characters are almost always sitting down. The only person who isn’t is Leone, the bulk of whose screentime consists of shots of her torso while she mills about behind other characters having seated conversations.

I wish that this train wreck was funny enough for me to recommend, but it isn’t. If you have ninety minutes to waste, just stare at a wall. It will be more rewarding than watching Jackpot.

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