Tag Archives: 1.5 Stars

Movie Review: Fanney Khan (2018)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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The corny family drama Fanney Khan lacks the self-awareness to notice its obvious thematic flaws.

Anil Kapoor’s title character is the only one that really matters in the film. Fanney traded in his life as a small-time band leader for a steady factory job following the birth of his daughter, Lata, whom he named after his favorite singer in the hopes that little Lata would one day achieve the stardom he never could himself.

Stardom proves hard to come by for Lata, however. As a teenager (played by Pihu Sand), Lata is repeatedly booed off stage at talent competitions by audiences and judges more interested in teasing her about her weight than listening to her sing. She finds her dad’s musical taste cheesy, but performing racy pop songs isn’t working for her either. Instead of allowing Lata to find her own way, the movie leaves it to Fanney to chart Lata’s course for her.

A chance encounter with the famous pop star Baby Singh (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) inspires Fanney’s boldest plan for Lata’s success. He kidnaps Baby and holds her for ransom — not for the money his family desperately needs, but in exchange for getting Lata in the recording studio with Baby’s manager, Kakkad (Girish Kulkarni). Fanney recruits his jobless friend, Adhir (Rajkummar Rao) to keep watch over Baby, but Adhir’s crush on the star makes him an ineffective guard.

Fanney Khan might have succeeded as a pedestrian-yet-heartwarming family film were it not for a bizarre minor theme that alters the movie’s moral message in a way that debutant writer-director Atul Manjrekar appears not to have noticed.

The theme is first introduced when Lata plans her next live performance with her best friend, Rhea (Barbie Rajput, who is fantastic in her few scenes). When Rhea speculates that many top female stars slept with producers or other benefactors in order to become famous, Lata’s mother, Kavita (Divya Dutta), slowly enters the room, accompanied by music as somber as the expression on her face. She forbids the two girls from discussing the topic, even though were Rhea and Lata were both grossed out by the prospect and not actually considering it.

The same somber musical accompaniment reappears when Fanney asks Baby if she’d ever been pressured into sex for the sake of her career, when Kakkad is alone in a hotel room with Lata, and when Kavita sees Lata dressed in a (modest) one shoulder gown that Kavita nevertheless finds too revealing.

This repeated focus on women’s bodies and sexuality as they relate to fame is meant to convey the moral that women’s bodies are not tradeable commodities.

How, then, does director Manjrekar fail to notice the irony that his protagonist kidnaps a woman in order to trade her body for his own daughter’s success?

Fanney Khan is not a black comedy, and the sex-for-fame cautionary subplot isn’t explicitly juxtaposed against the main plot. Fanney is unquestionably a hero, slow-clapped by the very cops who come to arrest him as a way of praising his fatherly devotion.

Perhaps the point of the subplot is to convey that men may do what they like with women’s bodies, but women themselves may not treat their bodies as commodities. None of the men in the film face any repercussions for mistreating or intending to mistreat women’s bodies. Not Fanney or Adhir for kidnapping Baby, and not the studio head who wants Baby to have an “accidental” wardrobe malfunction in order to garner publicity. The character of a female recording engineer is invented specifically so that Kakkad can leer at her, thus making it appear as though Lata is in moral jeopardy when she’s alone in a room with him later. That Kavita doubts for a second whether Lata actually slept with Kakkad shows how little the film’s writers think of women’s ability to make their own moral judgements.

Fanney Khan lets down its main cast, who are all very good in the movie. Sand acquits herself well in her film debut, and she shares a nice mother-daughter rapport with Dutta. Rai Bachchan is natural in the role of a superstar, of course, and Rao is entertaining as always. Kapoor is flat-out terrific as the ultimate family man, making Fanney all the more endearing through his enthusiasm and cheerfulness. One way Kapoor could turn Fanney Khan into a positive is by taking Fanney’s band and backup dancers on the road, because they are a hoot. Enjoy them performing “Badan Pe Sitaare” in the video below:

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Movie Review: Race 3 (2018)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Director Remo D’Souza knows how to stage a big-screen spectacle, yet he seems overwhelmed by the baggage that comes with Race 3.

Most of that weight comes in the form of Salman Khan, whose stardom requires an outsized chunk of narrative space and screentime. Trying to give sufficient due to all of the other well-known cast members in the film — an admirable goal, for sure — expands the runtime beyond what the story can comfortably accommodate. Add to that the pressure of being bigger and bolder than the two previous movies in a series known for its outlandishness, and it’s simply too much.

Race 3 is a sequel in name only. Returning cast members Anil Kapoor and Jacqueline Fernandez play different characters than they did in Race 2, and the story takes place in a different narrative universe.

This time, Kapoor plays Shamsher Singh, an arms dealer living in exile in the Middle East after being falsely accused of illegal dealings back in India. He hopes to return home with the help of his stepson Sikander (Khan) and his twin children, Sanjana (Daisy Shah) and Suraj (Saqib Saleem). The family is assisted by Shamsher’s right-hand-man, Raghu (Sharat Saxena), and Sikander’s bodyguard and best friend, Yash (Bobby Deol).

Shamsher’s favoritism for Sikander has driven a wedge between the half-siblings over the course of decades, further inflamed when their mother’s will gives half of the family fortune to Sikander, forcing the twins to share the remaining half. When Yash’s new girlfriend Jessica (Jacqueline Fernandez) is revealed to have once romanced Sikander, the crew combusts.

The characters and their relationships are established via long scenes of dialogue that fall flat. Then, the Race story formula — with characters tricking one another, but planning ahead because they know their targets know they’re being tricked, etc. — kicks into full effect, necessitating even more boring dialogue. No individual character is particularly interesting, though the scheming twins had potential had D’Souza and franchise screenwriter Shiraz Ahmed pushed things in an edgier direction.

So much downtime allows one to imagine the Race 3 characters in other, potentially better movies. Shah and Saleem as creepy twins in a horror flick or sinister thriller. An action comedy starring Kapoor and Saxena, with Rajesh Sharma — who appears in Race 3 as Shamsher’s hometown friend — as their beleaguered younger sidekick. Fernandez starring in, well, anything else that utilizes her bubbly personality.

Fernandez and Shah feature in Race 3‘s most entertaining fight scene, flying through the air in a nightclub tussle. Shah has another fun bit when her long designer gown hampers her ability to kick her opponents — until she cuts a slit down the side with a dramatic flourish.

With an ace choreographer like D’Souza behind the camera, one expects mind-blowing dance numbers, yet Race 3‘s numbers are mostly forgettable (in part because of the need to accommodate Khan’s limited range of motion). The exception is “Selfish”, which stands out for the wrong reasons. Shah trained in aerial dance just for the number, yet the camera hardly captures her face, giving the impression that she used a body double, when I don’t think she did. There is also a group of backup dancers positioned so far behind the lead couple that they are often out of focus, which all but encourages the audience to ignore the lead couple in the foreground and instead strain to make out what’s happening behind them.

Action scenes throughout the film overuse slow-motion and are treated with a distracting effect that desaturates the image for a few seconds at a time. If randomly changing the image from color to black & white and back is the only way to hold an audience’s attention during a car chase, you’ve got big problems.

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Movie Review: Aiyaary (2018)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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In Aiyaary (“Shapeshifting“), things that require little explanation are belabored, while things that would benefit from being shown onscreen aren’t. The resulting movie is a boring spy thriller sans thrills.

Manoj Bajpayee plays Colonel Abhay Singh, leader of a secret group of Indian military intelligence officers — the kind of covert unit the Indian Army top brass promises to disavow should its existence ever be made public. Abhay’s superior officer even says, “No one will ever know what you did for this country.”

Neither will the audience, because writer-director Neeraj Pandey doesn’t show us what they do, apart from one scene of an unspecified assassination that serves two purposes: to establish Abhay’s remorselessness and to beat to death an unfunny joke about a subordinate packing vitamins instead of ammo.

The team consists of seven other officers, only two of whom have specific identities. Maya is the token girl, played by Commando‘s Pooja Chopra, who deserves a role far more substantive than this one. Jai (Sidharth Malhotra) is Abhay’s protegé gone rogue. Abhay intends to find Jai and terminate him if necessary.

Jai uncovers a bribery plot within the Indian Army, facilitated by retired Lt. General Gurinder Singh (Kumud Mishra) on behalf of London-based arms dealer Mukesh Kapoor (Adil Hussain). While Abhay tracks Jai, the protegé gathers evidence with the help of his internet security expert girlfriend, Sonia (Rakul Preet Singh, who also deserves a meatier part).

The details of the uncomplicated bribery scheme are spelled out in scenes bloated with dialogue. Pandey’s fondness for slow-motion shots underscores the film’s snail-like pace.

Of course the bribery scheme is just the tip of the iceberg, but there’s a naiveté to what Pandey considers a scandal big enough to topple the government. Maybe it’s just my American cynicism, but there’s nothing in Aiyaary egregious enough to inspire more than a “they’re all crooks” shrug.

Then again, the problem may be a matter of narrative focus. Pandey spends too much time on crimes that are obvious and easy to understand, before rushing through more complicated schemes that require evidence he neglects to present. Aiyaary‘s biggest scandals are based on hearsay — which wouldn’t stand up to public scrutiny and doesn’t make for good visual storytelling.

Manoj Bajpayee is often the best part of the movies he stars in, and Aiyaary is no exception. The film’s most enjoyable scenes are playful exchanges between Bajpayee and Juhi Babbar, who plays Abhay’s wife. Malhotra is solid, but his character feels flat, as is the case for many of the supporting characters, who only exist to move the story from Point A to Point B. A lot of talent goes to waste in Aiyaary.

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Movie Review: Mohenjo Daro (2016)

MohenjoDaro1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Even without context, Mohenjo Daro isn’t a very good movie, but it’s especially disappointing when considered within the landscape of recent Indian films and with regard to director Ashutosh Gowariker’s past achievements.

Gowariker’s story takes place in the ancient Indus Valley city of Mohenjo Daro, around 2,000 years B.C. Hrithik Roshan plays Sarman, a nearby farmer with a mysterious connection to the city that he doesn’t understand.

Sarman’s uncle Durjan (Nitish Bharadwaj) caves to Sarman’s relentless begging and allows his nephew to go to the Mohenjo Daro, albeit with warnings about the city’s many dangers. At forty-two, Roshan is too old play a character so immature that he opens the “only in case of life or death” package that his uncle gives him as soon as Durjan is out of sight.

When Sarman arrives at the metropolis he finds a place governed by greedy politicians fearful of the merciless senate leader Maham (Kabir Bedi) and his bully of a son, Moonja (Arunoday Singh). Maham orders a tax increase, even as farmers struggle with diminishing yields due to Mahan’s damming of the river.

Sarman is fed up and ready to head home when, wouldn’t you know it, he spots a beautiful woman who makes him change his mind. (Conveniently, everything of import in Mohenjo Daro happens at exactly the right moment.) The woman is Chaani (Pooja Hegde), daughter of the head priest (Manish Chaudhary) and The Chosen One of Mohenjo Daro.

Chaani presents all kinds of problems in the story (none of which are Hegde’s fault). Right after Sarman admonishes his buddy and traveling companion Hojo to stop ogling women, Chaani shows up in an outfit that demands ogling. Her backless, floor-length dress has slits all the way up both thighs, a cutout to expose her navel, and a pushup bra. So, it’s bad when other men leer at women, but not when Sarman does it?

Then there’s the part about Chaani being The Chosen One. A prophesy at the time of her birth decreed that she would make a decision that would usher in a new era for Mohenjo Daro, but she never makes such a decision. She’s just a bystander as the people forget about her divine destiny and declare Sarman the savior of Mohejno Daro.

With very little written or archeological evidence to go by, Gowariker was free to style his version of Mohenjo Daro as he wished. The results are bizarre, not in a fanciful way but in an impractical one. In addition to feathers and several kilos of metal beads, Chaani’s elaborate headdress has slices of geodes that hang next to her face. One can only imagine how annoying it must have been for Hegde to have slabs of rock clanking against her cheek in nearly every scene. And don’t get me started on helpful city guard Lothar’s (Diganta Hizarika) 1980s side-ponytail.

There are weird visual nods to classic Christian stories from Hollywood, too. In flashbacks, Maham is styled like an evil Jesus. Narendra Jha as the crazy prophet Jakhiro looks like Charlton Heston’s Moses from The Ten Commandments.

The lack of historical data was an opportunity to create something visually stunning, but Mohenjo Daro just isn’t. Worse, it looks really bad when compared to last year’s historical epic, Baahubali: The Beginning. In every respect — costuming, CGI, fight scenes, musical numbers — Mohenjo Daro looks like a lackluster version of Baahubali, with a less compelling story.

The bland, obvious plot is perhaps the most shocking element of Mohenjo Daro. Gowariker has a great track record for writing and directing engrossing stories that subtly convey his political ideals. Lagaan had poor, rural Indians literally beating the British at their own game. Swades showed how innovation and dedication to community can circumvent the slow movement of government. Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey saw young Indians pushed to violence by oppressive British rule. In Jodhaa Akbar, Roshan played a progressive emperor who embraced multiculturalism.

Gowariker ditches the nuance and character motivations of his previous films for cliched populism. Sarman declares that The People are fed up paying the senate’s taxes, and The People cheer in unison, somehow instinctively knowing that this outsider is the savior who can lead them out of poverty, and causing them to forget about the crew of murderous hill goons Maham employs as bodyguards, a la Tyrion Lannister.

It’s too easy. The idea that all of India’s (or anywhere’s) problems could be solved if the masses would rise up as one behind a charismatic leader is lazy and unsatisfying, whether the action takes place in the modern day or thousands of years ago. It absolves the masses of having to do the hard work that was such an important part of Lagaan, Swades, and Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey. Just wait around for a messiah — but not the woman we thought was The Chosen One. This other guy instead.

Even the manner in which the story is presented is ham-handed. A. R. Rahman provides a score full of uncharacteristically garish musical cues. The single corniest moment sees one character tell another, “something something something YOUR FATHER,” followed by a noisy instrumental blast and a zoom to closeup on the listener’s face.

There are also none of the culture-clash elements from Gowariker’s previous films present in Mohenjo Daro. Sarman is an outsider, but it’s not really a problem. He adapts to life in the city almost immediately, making friends and falling in love without a hitch. Then again, there’s not enough to Chaani’s character to make her a complicating factor. She’s there to look pretty, which Hegde does exceedingly well.

The actors aren’t to blame for Mohenjo Daro‘s shortcomings. No one is particularly good or bad, although I did enjoy Singh’s performance as the thwarted heir apparent more than I have some of his past work. This will be one of Roshan’s most forgettable roles.

There’s not enough substance here to tell if Mohenjo Daro could have been more than it is. It’s just the unfortunate product of a talented filmmaker who appears to have lost his way, sublimating his ideals for pandering that pleases no one.

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Movie Review: Azhar (2016)

Azhar_Hindi_poster1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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A film about the scandal-plagued life of a former Indian cricket captain deserves a grand scale, but Azhar feels like a made-for-TV movie.

I can’t testify to the accuracy of Azhar‘s story, as I know nothing about Mohammad Azharuddin. I never saw him play a minute of cricket, which puts me in the same boat as almost every Indian under the age of twenty.

That said, Azhar requires no foreknowledge, since all the dialogue is on the nose. Here’s how the cricket chairman drops the bombshell on Azhar (Emraan Hashmi) the night before the captain’s hundredth appearance for the national team: “Azhar, I have some bad news for you. You have been accused of match fixing.”

In case the dialogue isn’t direct enough, the actors go out of their way to make things extra clear. When Azhar decides to fight the cricket association’s lifetime ban in court, the prosecutor, Meera (Lara Dutta), tries to question M.K. Sharma (Rajesh Sharma), the bookie accused of bribery. She tells Sharma that she wants dirt on Azhar, causing Sharma to make an exaggerated gulping noise, leap out of his chair, and whip his head over each shoulder to see if anyone is behind him.

During the course of the eight-year-long court case, we get flashbacks to Azhar’s earlier life, including his relationship with his grandfather, his marriage to Naureen (Prachi Desai), and his affair with Sangeeta (Nargis Fakhri). The romantic plotlines make Azhar seem like a jerk, in which case he’d better be a helluva cricket player.

This brings me to the movie’s single biggest failing: it makes cricket look totally boring. According to Azhar, cricket is just a sequence of slow-rolling ground balls, with a few balls occasionally bopped into the stands. There’s no tension or excitement whatsoever.

Director Tony D’Souza uses so many tight shots during the cricket scenes that it’s impossible to tell what a match actually looks like. The entire frame is filled by a ball skittering past an outstretched hand or a ball plucked out of mid-air by another hand. Did the fielder have to run to catch it? How high did he jump? Where were the other fielders in relation to the play? D’Souza’s direction offers no clues.

The director applies this same framing to Azhar, so we never get a sense of how good a player he is. Hashmi spends most of his time on the field standing with his hands on his hips. Never has an actor playing a star athlete seemed so non-athletic.

Another problem with the main character is that he looks exactly the same throughout, whether Azhar is supposed to be twenty or almost fifty. It’s impossible to tell by looking at Hashmi when any given scene is taking place.

This is not one of Hashmi’s best performances, but it seems as though he’s doing what’s asked of him. D’Souza’s style doesn’t allow for subtlety. Periodic reverb on the dialogue recording further distracts from the film’s performances.

Neither Desai nor Fakhri have much to do, though Desai proves herself the better of the two at crying. Kunaal Roy Kapur is proficient in the thankless role of Azhar’s lawyer. Dutta’s no-nonsense performance is the best in the film.

There are a lot of people in the world who never witnessed Mohammad Azharuddin at his peak. We don’t know him. Azhar doesn’t give us a compelling reason to care.

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Movie Review: Dilwale (2015)

Dilwale1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Dilwale is a generic Frankenstein cobbled together from elements of countless other Bollywood comedies and romantic dramas, lurching from one predictable plot point to the next. Given the talent and budget at director Rohit Shetty’s disposal, the result is disappointing.

Shahrukh Khan plays Raj, a man absurdly devoted to the happiness of his younger brother, Veer (Varun Dhawan), so much so that he tears up and starts to shake whenever anyone mentions having a younger brother. Raj’s big secret is that he was adopted and is not Veer’s biological brother.

So Shahrukh plays a character with the same name as the one he made famous in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, with the same backstory as the one he played in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. See what I mean about Frankenstein?

When Veer falls in love with a beautiful woman named Ishita (Kriti Sanon) — whom he calls Ishu just so he can repeatedly say, “Ishu, this is a big issue” — it prompts Raj to flashback to his own failed romance.

With no scene transition of which to speak, we are transported fifteen years into the past, when “Raj” went by the name Kaali and worked as a gangster in Bulgaria. There he meets a lovely artist named Meera (Kajol, Shakrukh’s love interest both DDLJ and K3G), and they break each other’s hearts. Surely this can’t be the last we see of Meera, right?

The plot unfolds predictably, as obstacles arise in Veer’s and Raj’s paths to romance. These obstacles would disappear if Raj and Meera would stop withholding information that is unpleasant but not earth-shattering, but writer Yunus Sajawal can’t seem to think of a better way to delay the inevitable happy ending for more than two-and-a-half hours.

Further dragging out the film is a ridiculous anti-drug subplot that could not have been handled with any less subtlety. Boman Irani plays the world’s cuddliest drug kingpin, King. When King’s men try to strongarm a barkeep named Uncle Joe into dealing their goods — by banging a huge bag of weed on the cashier stand, in front of everyone in the bar — Uncle Joe responds with some incredibly direct dialogue (courtesy of writers Sajid-Farhad): “I won’t sell your drugs here. Youngsters come here to have fun.”

The “Drugs are bad, m’kay?” subplot reaches its hypocritical crescendo when Veer, his sidekick Siddhu (Varun Sharma), and well-meaning miscreant Mani (Johnny Lever), get completely drunk on booze and self-righteousness while burning a bag of King’s drugs.

Siddhu is the fourth comic role I’ve seen Sharma play, which I think gives me enough information to definitively say that Varun Sharma is not funny.

But being funny isn’t really the point in Dilwale, where roles are cast not by suitability but by similarity. Need some outrageous older comic bit players? Hire Lever and Sanjay Mishra. Does the bad guy need a bald right-hand man? Hire Pradeep Kabra.

The whole movie is uninspired because the point is not to do anything unique or innovative but to evoke memories of earlier, better films starring the same people. The only way Shetty could have tried any less hard would be not to have made the movie at all.

By only looking to the past for inspiration, Dilwale winds up peppered with sexist insults. Siddhu repeatedly steals from Veer, but he’s forgiven because he says that he only did it so that he could take his girlfriend to the movies and out for coffee. The incident is brushed off by the men onscreen, who agree that women are greedy and high-maintenance.

Jokes are also made about Kajol’s weight, based on the assumption that she — like all women — is perpetually dieting. What is this, a Cathy comic strip from 1982? Beyond being tacky and outdated, the jokes are undermined by the fact that Kajol is stunning. Her gorgeousness is the movie’s lone selling point.

There is a stretch of a few minutes when Kajol saves a scene that should be stupid, and one briefly thinks, “Ooh, this could get interesting.” That hope is short-lived when Meera falls in love with Raj just because he loves her. To quote Cathy, “Ack!”

Kajol is better than this. Shahrukh is usually better than this. Varun is definitely better than this. Kriti’s character is so level-headed that she seems like she wandered onto the wrong set. Dilwale is not the Kajol-Shahrukh romantic reunion we deserve.

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Movie Review: Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon (2015)

KisKiskoPyaarKaroon1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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One of the things that matters most in a comedy of errors is how the main character gets out of the mess he’s created, but the resolution to Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon (“Who Should I Love“) is the film’s downfall.

The man responsible for the troubles in Kis Kisko Pyaar KaroonKKPK, henceforth — is Shiv Ram Kishan (Kapil Sharma). His efforts to help three different women end up with him married to all three. He marries Juhi (Manjari Phadnis) to honor her father’s dying wish. He marries Simran (Simran Kaur Mundi) to preserve her dignity when his buddy leaves her at the altar. And he’s forced to marry Anjali (Sai Lokur) by her gangster brother, Tiger-Bhai (Arbaaz Khan).

Shiv’s best friend, Karan (Varun Sharma), persuades his pal to move all of the wives into the same apartment building: Juhi on the fourth floor, Anjali on the sixth floor, and Simran on the eighth floor. That cuts down on Shiv’s commute, giving him more time to woo the one woman he truly loves, a dancer named Deepika (Elli Avram).

Much of the plot consists of near misses in which Shiv’s scheme is almost revealed. The funniest of those bits involve Anjali’s feisty maid, Champa (Jamie Lever). The least funny involve Tiger-Bhai, who can speak perfectly but is completely deaf, a gimmick that becomes tired almost immediately.

There’s a cute subplot involving Shiv’s divorced parents, played by Sharat Saxena and Supriya Pathak. Shiv tries to conceal the truth from both of them, but they are too busy falling back in love with one another. Romantic music swells and a fan softly blows Mom’s hair when Dad sees her. It’s a more compelling relationship than all four of Shiv’s combined.

KKPK is about thirty minutes too long, the close calls losing their tension as they accumulate. When it’s finally time for Shiv to answer for his actions, he gives a speech deflecting all responsibility onto his wives, blaming (what he perceives as) their fragile emotional natures. He even holds his mother partially responsible, claiming that he’s just following her orders to never break a woman’s heart.

Shiv offers a bleak assessment of modern marital obligations. By his reckoning, he’s holding up his end of the bargain by providing each wife with a nice apartment and money for shopping. It’s enough that he tells each of them, “I love you,” even though he doesn’t mean it.

They should also be happy with the five minutes he spends with each of them each day. Never mind that none of them work, and that Simran’s only human contact comes from short-tempered Champa. Juhi and Anjali don’t have maids and are alone all day, yet Shiv thinks five minutes is enough fulfill his duty to them.

Speaking of duty, none of these marriages appear to have been consummated. The most physical contact Shiv has with his wives is a peck on the check. That, and his aggressive rejection of Anjali’s sexual advances. Though there’s some mention of him rotating nights with each spouse, the movie never shows him waking up in any of their apartments. Isn’t sex one of Shiv’s marital duties?

It’s a question that directing duo Abbas Mustan and writer Anukalp Goswami choose to ignore. Instead, we are left with Juhi, Simran, Anjali, and even Deepika defined only in relation to Shiv, a mouse of a man. Given how funny most of KKPK is, the story’s resolution is a real disappointment.

Links

  • Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon at Wikipedia
  • Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon at IMDb (listed as Kis Kisko Pyaar Karu)

Movie Review: Hero (2015)

Hero1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Hero is a tired action romance that becomes increasingly immature as the story progresses. It’s not the sparkling debut that newbie actors Sooraj Pancholi and Athiya Shetty were hoping for.

The film has the stamp of its producer, Salman Khan, all over it. Pancholi plays a miniature version of a character Khan has played many times before: a morally, sexually pure hooligan who fights his way out of trouble.

Sooraj (Pancholi) is the son of a mobster, Pasha (Aditya Pancholi, his real-life father), and is himself a goon of sorts. Sooraj only steals from other gangsters, and he distributes his stolen gains to people in need, occasionally springing for a night of dancing with his crew.

It’s at a club that he meets Radha (Shetty), a truly awful person. She’s mean, vain, stuck-up, pouty, and stupid. She is also very pretty, which explains why Sooraj makes time to scold her for being a snob instead of blowing her off, altogether.

Facing jail time, Pasha has Sooraj kidnap the daughter of the police Inspector General (Tigmanshu Dulia). Of course, the daughter is Radha. Sooraj and his boys pose as police, and she unquestioningly accompanies them to a safe house in the mountains. Only after she and Sooraj have fallen in love does she discover his true identity.

The kidnapping plot ends in the first half of the film. It’s during the second half, when Sooraj and Radha try to make their love work in the real world, that things get really stupid. There’s a ridiculous subplot about Radha’s brother inventing a fake boyfriend for her, who turns out to be very real and connected to the underworld.

Radha’s disapproving father is the real obstacle, and that gets at the heart of what’s wrong with Hero. Sooraj and Radha seem much younger than the characters they are meant to portray, who are ostensibly of legal drinking age (which is 25 in Mumbai). They act more like a pair of foolish 16-year-olds, convinced that they are Romeo & Juliet born anew.

Instead of talking with her father about her feelings privately, Radha declares them in front of a packed courtroom. When that doesn’t work, she and Sooraj stage a musical production that culminates in her threatening to kill herself unless her dad approves the relationship.

At a time when “women-centric” films are all the rage, Radha is a disappointing throwback. She’s not only restrained by her father’s wishes, but she lacks initiative of her own. When a man standing right next to her points a gun at Sooraj, she doesn’t even reach out to stop him. Her contribution is simply to shriek, “Sooraj!” while her beloved dodges bullets.

Compounding the problem of the movie’s feeling of immaturity is Pancholi’s youthful appearance. At 25, he’s baby-faced enough that he’d be playing high school roles in the US. He’s also short, which makes him appear even younger alongside the giants he fights. Instead of jumping into a leading role, it would fun to see him play the hot-headed younger brother or sidekick to an established actor.

Hero‘s redeeming factors are director Nikhil Advani and cinematographer Tushar Kanti Ray. The movie is really beautiful, especially during the first half. An opening shot of boats anchored on Mumbai’s waterfront is stunning. Advani’s affinity for contrast makes shots of the colorfully dressed characters cavorting on a snowy mountainside a treat to watch.

If only Advani weren’t saddled with an outdated template (Hero is a remake of Subhash Ghai’s 1983 film of the same name) and an aging actor-producer set on crowning his successor. Here’s hoping Advani’s next film, Katti Batti, comes with less baggage.

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Movie Review: Bangistan (2015)

Bangistan1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Bangistan’s simplistic take on religious tolerance and racial profiling is shallow and boring, and the movie is unwilling to commit to an identity. Is it a comedy? A satire? A serious commentary on social issues? Even the lead actors seem to be performing in two different films.

Satire would seem to be the obvious choice given Bangistan‘s plot, but it’s not presented with enough cleverness to count as such. With an international forum on religious tolerance on the horizon, radical Hindu and Muslim sects who profit from the enmity between the religions are in panic mode. Separately, each sect chooses a devotee to pose as the member of the rival religion and set off a suicide bomb at the conference, derailing peace plans.

The Muslim man chosen to pose as a Hindu is Hafeez (Riteish Deshmukh), a disgruntled call center employee who’s sick of the people he calls assuming he’s a terrorist as soon as they hear his name. His unknowing Hindu counterpart is Praveen (Pulkit Samrat), a struggling actor and true believer in his guru’s cause.

Both men train to impersonate someone of the other religion. Hafeez learns yoga, and vegetarian Praveen eats chicken. They both note passages urging non-violence in the religious texts they study, but it doesn’t make them question their assignments.

Hafeez and Praveen end up renting rooms in the same boarding house in Poland, where the conference is to be held. They become friends, there are misunderstandings, blah, blah, blah. The story is stale, and it unfolds at a tedious pace.

It’s hard to develop affection for the bumbling duo because it Deshmukh and Samrat seem like they are acting in different films. Deshmukh — by far the superior actor — plays Hafeez as cerebral and conflicted. Samrat’s Praveen is alternatively glib and fervent. He’s either completely unaware of his impending death, or martyrdom is the only the he wants in the whole world. Regardless, Samrat does everything at full volume.

International audiences may not get a whole lot out of the mistakes Hafeez and Praveen make in their impersonations. A bit in which Hafeez nearly ruins a funeral by suggesting a widow immolate herself along with her deceased husband only works if you’re aware of the ancient tradition (and the bit isn’t as funny as it could have been anyway).

The reductive approach the film takes to racial profiling is disappointing. In his disguise as the Muslim, Allahrakha Khan, Praveen is regularly asked if he’s a terrorist or if he has a bomb. Most bigotry is rarely so overt.

Writer-director Karan Anshuman botches instances of more subtle profiling, too. When the customs official at the airport in Poland flags every Muslim in line for extra inspection, she recognizes Hafeez’s fake name — Ishwarchand Sharma — as Hindu and lets him through. I can’t speak for Poland, but I doubt that most Americans would be able to make such a distinction. To most Americans, “Khan” is a bad guy from Star Trek, not a terrorist moniker.

At times, Bangistan is downright stupid. At one point, Hafeez and Praveen are caught in an explosion, and the movie cuts to various international news broadcasts reporting that two men died. This is supposed to prime the audience for an emotional reaction when Hafeez and Praveen stand up amidst the rubble, very much alive.

How did the news channels get their information before people at the scene? Did no one bother to check if the men were actually dead? Why would they report a story they didn’t verify? It’s stupid, cheap, and lazy, just like the rest of Bangistan.

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Movie Review: Barkhaa (2015)

Barkhaa1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Naming a movie after the main female character doesn’t guarantee that the film is actually about her. The titular Barkhaa is merely the object of fixation for a law student who can’t tell the difference between lust and love.

Barkhaa opens with a patient wheeled dramatically into a Mumbai hospital, accompanied by the previously mentioned law student, Jatin (Taaha Shah). He abruptly leaves the hospital to attend a book launch event for a book he didn’t write.

The opening scene isn’t important because of the person in medical distress, but because it establishes the film’s narrative structure, which is built entirely around Jatin getting interrupted by phone calls. He gets a call to attend the book launch; then his dad calls begging him to return to the hospital. Every time Jatin is about to do something to progress the plot, his phone rings.

At the launch party, Jatin realizes that the anonymously-authored book he’s shilling is a faithful recounting of his romance with a woman named Barkhaa (Sarah Loren). This prompts a lengthy flashback to their initial meeting four years earlier, when she returns his lost camera to a police station.

Jatin’s fleeting glimpse of this beautiful good Samaritan blooms into an obsession that writer-director Shadaab Mirza expects us to believe is true love. Other than her looks, what could Jatin possibly love about this woman he doesn’t know? Her conscientiousness?

He spends months ogling her at the dance bar where she works, and the walls of his bedroom are covered with photographs of her that he’s taken without her knowledge. Jatin’s drunk friend even tells her: “Barkhaa, it really doesn’t matter to him who you are.” No kidding.

Barkhaa gets to explain her backstory in the second half of the film, though it primarily amounts to her wishing for a rich husband to rescue her from the dance bar. When she discloses her past to Jatin — whom she decides to love after seeing his creepy bedroom — the question is not whether she has a place for him in her life but whether he can accept her. He’s entirely in charge of their romantic future.

Loren brings some worldliness to her underwritten character. She’s good in a scene in which Barkhaa tries to humiliate Jatin into leaving her alone, and she gives him a fierce speech about how she’s a dancer, not a whore. (The closing credits feature Loren in a tone-deaf, sexy dance number that has nothing to do with the jaded, burgeoning feminist she plays in the film.)

Barkhaa’s speech is part of a weird streak of pro-dance-bar propaganda in Barkhaa. When politicians threaten to shut down Mumbai’s dance bars — which are like strip clubs without the stripping and with worse dancing — the bar owner, Anna (Ashiesh Roy), mourns for all of the families who depend on the dancers’ incomes. He touts clubs like his as a morally superior form of entertainment, as compared to brothels.

With about twenty minutes left in the film, a twist drops into the story so artlessly that one can’t help but laugh. It’s so bad that it’s almost worth watching Barkhaa to see it. But not really.

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