Tag Archives: 2007

Movie Review: Loins of Punjab Presents (2007)

LoinsOfPunjabPresents3 Stars (out of 4)

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Through the medium of an absurd local singing competition, Loins of Punjab Presents offers insight into the desi experience in America, as well as plenty of laughs.

This English-language comedy follows the contestants and crew of the first “Desi Idol,” a Bollywood singing contest in New Jersey. The $25,000 cash prize is supplied by Loins of Punjab, the Northeast’s preeminent purveyor of pork loins.

Contestants include a nerdy financial analyst named Vikram (Manish Acharya, who wrote and directed the film); angry rapper Turbanotorious B.D.G (Ajay Naidu); and Sania Rehman (Seema Rahmani), an actress belatedly embracing her Indian roots in the hopes of finding more career opportunities in Mumbai.

There’s also 17-year-old Preeti Patel (Ishita Sharma) and her pushy family. Her parents — dad Sanjeev (Darshan Jariwala) and mom Alpa (Loveleen Mishra) — indulge their daughter’s singing “hobby” and are confused when a high school guidance counselor suggests that Preeti study music in college. The Patel parents generously suggest that if Preeti doesn’t want to be a doctor, she can become an engineer instead.

One contestant is willing to use nefarious means to achieve victory. Socialite Rrita Kapoor (Shabana Azmi) needs the prize money so that she can donate it to charity and win her ongoing PR war with her nemesis: Bubbles Sabharwal.

Though some characters and subplots are more successful that others, there are a lot of gems in Loins of Punjab Presents. Azmi is delightfully villainous. Jariwala plays up his accent, scolding the hotel concierge — played by go-to Bollywood white guy Alexx O’Nell — to find the right reservation by checking the “asses,” when he means “s’s.”

Other performances of note include Jameel Khan as Mr. Bokade, the event’s sleazy promoter; Bokade’s straight man, Mr. White (Kunaal Roy Kapur in one of his first roles); and Rani Bansal, who’s sneakily good in a small role as the contest’s female MC.

Beyond the humor, there are some meaningful subplots, such as the relationship between a Jewish Indophile named Josh Cohen (Michael Raimondi) and his desi girlfriend, Opama (Ayesha Dharkar). She encourages him to participate, only to be confronted by hostility at the presence of a white man in an Indian singing competition.

Josh & Opama’s subplot dovetails with Sania’s to raise questions about national, ethnic, and cultural identity. How obligated are we to embrace our family’s cultural heritage when we have the option to adopt another? What does culture even mean in a country that prides itself on multiculturalism?

Acharya’s film nicely balances serious ideas with humor. It’s also amusing to watch seasoned performers like Azmi, Khan, and Jariwala act in something outside of Bollywood. Loins of Punjab Presents is a lot of fun.

Links

  • Loins of Punjab Presents at Wikipedia
  • Loins of Punjab Presents at IMDb
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Movie Review: Johnny Gaddaar (2007)

JohnnyGaddaar3 Stars (out of 4)

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Bollywood loves its own history. Too many Hindi films cater to fans with a depth of Bollywood knowledge at the expense of newcomers to the genre, who feel left out of the inside jokes. The neo-noir thriller Johnny Gaddaar (“Johnny the Traitor“) avoids that trap, enthusiastically paying homage to the past while providing enough context to welcome Bollywood newcomers.

It helps that writer-director Sriram Raghavan really understands how and why stories work onscreen. That understanding manifests subtly in the two films he made after Johnny Gaddaar: Agent Vinod and Badlapur. In Johnny Gaddaar, his references are explicit, using clips from other movies to advance his own heist story.

“Johnny” is an alias used by Vikram (Neil Nitin Mukesh), junior member of a quintet that runs a gambling ring. Veteran crook Seshadri (Dharmendra) holds together the uneasy group, which consists of Vikram, casino owner Prakash (Vinay Pathak), financier Shardul (Zakir Hussain), and the crew’s muscle, Shivay (Dayanand Shetty).

Vikram breaks a cardinal rule by falling in love with Shardul’s wife, Mini (Rimi Sen). In order to get enough cash for the two of them to flee to Canada, Vikram decides to steal the money the group pooled for a deal with the corrupt policeman, Kalyan (Govind Namdeo).

Even though he’s the most educated member of the crew, Vikram is also the newest to a life of crime. He concocts a solid plan to steal the cash, going so far as to chloroform himself in order to time how long his victim will remain unconscious. Yet he lacks the wiliness of an experienced crook, and his plan goes wrong in ways he never anticipated.

The primary theme of the film is the danger of unintended consequences, not just the direct effects on one’s own life but the psychological damage incurred when one inflicts pain on others, intentionally or not.

Vikram and his gang aren’t violent. He doesn’t own a gun, and the others aren’t in the habit of carrying theirs with them. Shiva is a gentle giant. When Vikram experiences his first taste of violence, it disturbs him. Sadly, that first experience makes violence a possible response to future conflicts, in a way it never was before.

It helps that Mukesh — in his first film role — looks as young and slight as he does. He doesn’t appear the least bit tough. It’s easy to accept him as the naive character he plays.

There’s another theme in the film about the nature of love, namely that Vikram doesn’t know what real love is. How can he be sure of his feelings for Mini or her feelings for him when they developed under duress? Vikram protests to Seshadri that their love is real, and Seshadri just shrugs.

Seshadri is one of multiple examples of what true love is that Vikram ignores in pursuit of his affair. Widowed Seshadri reminisces while listening to a recording of his wife singing. Prakash dotes on his wife, Varsha (Ashwini Kalsekar), a proud working mom. Shiva has a sweet, budding romance with the nurse who cares for his ailing mother.

Shardul doesn’t seem like such a bad husband to Mini, at least by mafia-film standards. He comes home and wants to catch up on the day with his wife, but she can’t get away from him fast enough. Her disgust for him is so obvious that you almost feel bad for the guy.

Even Kalyan — who is the scariest character in the film — tries to warn Vikram about the danger he’s in. When Vikram confesses that his favorite actor is Amitabh Bachchan, Kalyan asks if Vikram has seen Parwana, a movie in which Bachchan plays an obsessed lover who resorts to murder when his beloved falls for another man. Of course, Vikram hasn’t seen the movie.

Clips from Parwana are interspersed throughout Johnny Gaddaar, along with snippets of other Bollywood and Hollywood films. For movie buffs, it’s fun to try to spot all of the references Raghavan includes in his movie. The references never derail the story, and Raghavan makes some explicit enough that even non-movie buffs can feel included (as when Seshadri says he feels like he’s in a scene from Scarface as the gang counts their loot).

Johnny Gaddaar is a balanced, solid thriller that feels like a love letter to films of the past. It’s worth watching just to see an early piece of work by a promising director.

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Movie Review: Chaurahen (2007)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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At one point, one of the characters in Chaurahen (“Crossroads”) asks another if he thinks she’s a ghost. She asks it as a rhetorical question about the state of their relationship, but I’d been wondering if she actually was a ghost before she voiced the question. There’s something about the characters in Chaurahen that seems out of sync with reality.

The film is an adaptation of three short stories by author Nirmal Verma. I’m going to assume that much of the original dialog made it from page to screen, because the way that the characters speak to each other feels very written and inorganic.

Thematically, the interwoven stories are linked by death, specifically the way the death of a family member affects the living relatives left behind. The theme is most obvious in the best of the stories, concerning a young man who returns home to Kochi following the death of his older brother.

Nandu (Arundathi Nag) debates how long he has to wait to return to his happy life in Vienna after his brother, Keshi, is killed in military service. His parents seem desperate for Nandu to stay but know nothing about their youngest son, having previously reserved their affection for seemingly perfect Keshi. It’s a painful yet perfectly understandable situation.

Death also haunts the life of a young writer in Mumbai, Farooq (Ankur Khanna). He lives in a few rooms of a giant house he inherited from his deceased parents. When Farooq’s girlfriend, Ira (Soha Ali Khan), asks for a tour of the rooms Farooq keeps locked, she learns that her boyfriend is mired in grief.

Ira’s the character who asks if she’s a ghost. For a while, I honestly wasn’t sure if she was or wasn’t (she’s not, I don’t think). Ira and Farooq speak grandly about philosophical issues, taking at each other and not to each other. I found it hard to muster compassion for them.

The final plotline is indirectly about literal death and more about the death of a relationship. There’s a lingering resentment between Dr. Bose (Victor Banerjee) and his lonely wife, and he pursues a romantic affair with a blonde French girl who works at the local used book store. This Kolkata-based story is at its most interesting when it focuses on Dr. and Mrs. Bose (Roopali Ganguly), and less so when focused on Dr. Bose and Lea, the young woman.

Most of the problem is the clunky way Lea is played by Kiera Chaplin (Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter). Chaplin’s acting is wooden, and she even walks with a stiffness that diminishes her allure.

The acting overall is uneven. Ira’s pretentiousness is minimized somewhat by Khan’s innate likeability. The actors in Nandu’s storyline, including Nandu himself, are good.

The film ends with several of the characters from the disparate storylines crossing paths at what is presumably the airport in Kochi. Why would the characters from Mumbai and Kolkata chose to fly out of Kochi instead of closer airports? Logic is abandoned for the sake of a memorable closing shot.

That shot is emblematic of my problems with Chaurahen. It’s a movie about ideas and feelings but lacks the substance to make the experience meaningful. Chaurahen looks great and is well-paced but needs more finesse.

*Despite having been completed in 2007, Chaurahen opened in Indian theaters on March 16, 2012. The film is internationally available for streaming on Mela. Chaurahen has a runtime of 87 minutes. Its dialog is primarily in English with some Hindi.

Links

  • Chaurahen at IMDb
  • Watch Chaurahen on streaming video via Mela

Movie Review: Chak De India (2007)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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My niece isn’t old enough for movies with subtitles yet, but I want Chak De India to be the first foreign film she sees. It’s a touching parable about the virtues of tolerance, set within a familiar sports movie format. A second viewing on Netflix streaming confirmed that it’s just as good as I thought it was when I first saw it in the theater.

Shahrukh Khan stars as Kabir Khan, the former captain of India’s national men’s field hockey team. He left the sport in disgrace after missing a penalty shot that awarded victory to Pakistan, India’s archrival on and off the pitch. In a gesture of sportsmanship, Khan shook the hand of a Pakistani player, leading the media to accuse him of having thrown the match.

After seven years in exile, Khan returns to coach the Indian national women’s field hockey team, a team which exists only to fulfill federal gender equality requirements. No one else wants the job, but Khan sees it has his last chance to participate in the game he loves and prove his loyalty to his country.

The team comprises young women from most of India’s 28 states. All of the women are used to being the biggest fish in their comparatively small ponds, and none are willing to accept less than a starring role on the team. Before Khan can even contemplate getting the girls to the world championships, he must find a way to get them to work together.

First and foremost, Chak De India is a really well-executed sports movie. The first hour of the film follows the team through training, and the second covers the international tournament. In-game shots from the tournament are exciting and beautifully filmed, giving a sense of the speed and ferocity of the game. Shots from the training sessions give a sense of the physical demands placed on players, which is helpful for viewers unfamiliar with the sport.

What elevates Chak De India is its depiction of diversity. The actresses in the cast represent the wide array of Indian women: big and small, dark-skinned and light-skinned, urban and rural. Two team members from states bordering Myanmar (on India’s far-eastern border) are mistaken for Chinese or Nepalese and lament being treated like foreigners in their own country.

Chak De India also asserts the fundamental equality of women. The team not only has to fight to be taken seriously, but individual players have to fight for the right to play. Little Komal (Chitrashi Rawat) defies her father to join the team, and goalkeeper Vidya (Vidya  Malvade) joins against the wishes of her husband and his family. Goalscorer Preeti’s (Sagarika Ghatge) fiance, himself a captain on the men’s national cricket team, doesn’t see the irony in asking her to quit the team because “it’s just a game.”

Throughout, Khan encourages his players to focus their frustration with a society that considers them inferior to men into success on the pitch. He knows from experience that nothing is more satisfying than proving one’s detractors wrong.

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Movie Review: The Great Indian Butterfly (2007)

1 Star (out of 4)

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After debuting at a couple of festivals in 2007, The Great Indian Butterfly sat on the shelf for years before getting its theatrical release in 2010. I understand why.

The experience of watching The Great Indian Butterfly (TGIB) is uncomfortable. It’s like being a kid trapped in a car on a long road trip while your parents argue in the front seat… about their sex life. Ick.

The movie begins in the middle of an argument between married couple Meera (Sandhya Mridul) and Krish (Aamir Bashir). Krish — playing the role of the bumbling husband from every TV commercial or sitcom ever — has screwed up again by turning off the alarm clock, causing the couple to miss their flight. Meera complains about everything, even Krish’s solution to drive to their vacation destination.

Part of the point of the trip is so that amateur entomologist Krish can search for the legendary titular insect, which supposedly has the power to bestow happiness on he who finds it. The legend is revealed in abrupt cutaways to a random white guy in a Hawaiian shirt (Barry John) waxing poetic about his own search for the butterfly. The character plays the same role as Spike Lee’s “magical negro” archetype. Does that make him the Magical Anglo?

The unhappy couple hits the road, and the bickering continues. The dialog is almost entirely in English, allowing Meera and Krish to throw about the F-word with abandon. They argue in absolutes: you never, you always.

Eventually, the sources of their problems are revealed. Krish resents Meera for getting an abortion. Meera is jealous of Krish’s pretty ex-girlfriend, Liza (Koel Purie), whom Krish would’ve preferred to marry. When Meera overhears Krish talking on the phone with Liza, she goes ballistic and leaves.

The couple’s arguments don’t provide any insight into the human condition or comment on the complexities of marriage. Meera and Krish are simply two resentful people intent on making each other miserable.

The trouble with starting the movie in the middle of a fight between two mean people is that it doesn’t give the audience anyone to identify with. Meera and Krish are awful toward each other, casually throwing out insults so mean that most of us  wouldn’t think of speaking them to our spouses even in our worst moments.

Meera and Krish have no children, so there’s not even the “staying together for the kids” excuse holding them together. TGIB aims to rectify that problem by intimating that having a child will fix the couple’s relationship. That solution rarely works.

There’s not much to recommend this movie. The acting and writing are bad, and the cinematographer manages to make the resort paradise Goa look dull. The positives are that TGIB is short (only 90 minutes), and there are a number of time-wasting musical montages that can be fast-forwarded through if you’re watching on DVD.

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Retro Review: Jab We Met (2007)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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The recent release of Milenge Milenge prompted me to watch Jab We Met (“When We Met”), a 2007 romantic comedy. Both movies star Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor (no relation). Had I not committed myself to reviewing the movie, I would’ve turned off Jab We Met within the first 45 minutes.

The movie’s first act is a prolonged meet-cute between the two leads, Aditya (Shahid) and Geet (Kareena). Aditya, emotionally exhausted by legal battles over the rights to his deceased father’s wealthy corporation, wanders the streets in the kind of depression that only exists in movies. He stares at nothing, silently boarding buses and trains, with no idea where he’s going.

He’s a lot more mobile in his melancholia than most depressed people. If the movie was going for authenticity, Aditya would’ve left the boardroom, headed home, and crawled into bed.

On the train, Aditya is verbally assailed by a fellow passenger, Geet. To call her a chatterbox is insufficient; Geet won’t shut up. She jabbers in a manner that, like Aditya’s ambulatory despondency, only exists on film. She flits from topic to topic without pause, utterly self-absorbed and failing to notice Aditya’s blank stare out the window.

The clueless chatterbox is one of my most hated movie clichés, because she doesn’t exist in real life. At least not in such an extreme and irritating form. An ordinary person wouldn’t last a minute on the receiving end of such a soliloquy before faking a trip to the bathroom and finding an empty seat at the other end of the train, thus depriving the clueless chatterbox of her audience.

Writing deliberately annoying characters is tricky because — as with Geet — they often wind up annoying the audience as well as their fellow characters. An example of annoying-done-right can be found on the television show Glee. Supporting characters refer to the main character, Rachel, as annoying, but she rarely acts in a way that’s irritating to us viewers. We get that she annoys the other characters, without having to be annoyed ourselves.

Through a series of idiotic decisions, Geet gets herself stranded at a station, minus her wallet and luggage. She berates Aditya into helping her, then berates cab drivers and beverage vendors on the way to her parents’ house. Geet’s abuse of service workers further diminishes her attractiveness.

Thus ends the first 45 minutes of a 140-minute-long movie.

The rest of the movie is pleasant enough, as Aditya finally engages with his surroundings. There are colorful wedding decorations and Geet’s equally colorful family to liven things up. But, for the most part, the remainder of Jab We Met is just above average.

The big problem is Geet. Though Kareena Kapoor does a fine job acting the part, Geet is not a nice character. She starts out annoying and fails to develop throughout the film. She reacts but doesn’t grow, remaining clueless until the last few minutes of the movie. It’s hard to believe a decent, rich guy like Aditya couldn’t have found someone better.

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Movie Review: Dus Kahaniyaan (2007)

1 Star (out of 4)

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The ten short films in this anthology share no common themes, and few even have complete narratives, making Dus Kahaniyaan feel more like a trailer reel than a real movie. Given the racy content of several of the flicks, including adultery and drug use, the movie seems like an excuse for directors to explore material that wouldn’t make past the Indian censors in a mainstream feature. Of the ten short films, “Rice Plate” has the most intriguing premise, while “Lovedale” has a pleasant, self-contained story. The rest are just ideas too underdeveloped to merit being put on film.

Movie Review: Taare Zameen Par (2007)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Eight-year-old Ishaan is punished for his poor performance in school, until a caring art teacher realizes that the boy is dyslexic. Aamir Khan, who plays the teacher, uses his directorial debut to criticize the Indian educational system’s treatment of special needs students. Taare Zameen Par is overly long and treads no new ground for anyone who has even a passing familiarity with learning disabilities. But Khan at least does a credible job of showing the world as seen through Ishaan’s eyes.

No Rating (violence, language); 164 minutes; The movie’s title translates to “Like Stars on Earth”

This review originally appeared in The Naperville Sun on December 27, 2007

Movie Review: Welcome (2007)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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When Rajiv (Akshay Kumar) meets Sanjana (Katrina Kaif), he thinks he’s found the girl of his dreams. Too bad her brothers are mobsters. Kumar is charming enough in Welcome, but Sanjana’s brothers, played by Nana Patekar and Anil Kapoor, steal the show as they try to curb their violent instincts to appease Rajiv’s family and see their sister married at last. The slapstick comedy moves along quickly, apart from a preposterous final action sequence that drags on a bit.

No Rating (violence, language); 160 minutes

This review originally appeared in The Naperville Sun on December 28, 2007

Movie Review: Aaja Nachle (2007)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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New York choreographer Dia (Madhuri Dixit) returns to India to rescue her hometown’s cultural heritage by staging a musical. The story is predictably heartwarming, as Dia’s determination gradually wins over the town that once shunned her, but the plot is just a pretext for Dixit’s superb dancing. Fans of dance-centric films like Strictly Ballroom or Footloose will be spellbound, especially by the epic musical performance the characters stage at the end of Aaja Nachle.

No Rating (violence); 145 minutes

This review originally appeared in The Naperville Sun on December 7, 2007