Tag Archives: 2011

Movie Review: Force (2011)

force3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at Amazon or iTunes

Force is a damned fun movie, successfully integrating Bollywood’s signature “everything under the sun” approach to storytelling into an exciting action film.

Force opens with a man we later learn is named Yash (John Abraham) being thrown out of a window and over a cliff’s edge. He scales the cliff, only to collapse — body riddled with bullets — at the top. Taken by his friends to a hospital, his consciousness wavers as a surgeon begins to operate. Yash remembers… a montage?

Specifically, it’s a song montage featuring a beautiful woman named Maya (Genelia D’Souza). The song’s lyrics list the qualities any Bollywood heroine must possess: “The looks and complexion, the gait and attitude.” Maya certainly fits the bill.

The flashback takes us through Yash’s unconventional meet-cute with Maya, scaring her as he beats up drug dealers by throwing a motorcycle at them. Maya assumes — as do we — that tattooed, beefed-up Yash is a thug himself. A series of misunderstandings reveal Yash to be an undercover narcotics officer.

Acting on tips from an informant, Yash assembles a team of officers to help him obliterate the local drug trade: the veteran, Atul (Mohnish Bahl); the rookie, Mahesh (Ameet Gaur); and the loose cannon, Kamlesh (Kamlesh Sawant).

Meanwhile, Yash struggles with his desire to let Maya into his life. Atul’s wife, Swati (Sandhya Mridul), chides him for using Maya’s safety as an excuse to push her away. Swati explains that the wives of police officers know what they are getting into, and that it’s okay for Yash to allow himself to love. Cue the requisite romantic song number featuring Maya in a formal gown atop a sand dune!

However, Yash and his crew don’t realize that their successful operation opened the door for a new gang to take the drug trade in a more violent direction. Aided by his brother, Anna (Mukesh Rishi, best known as Bulla from Gunda), the sadist Vishnu (Vidyut Jammwal) returns from faking his death abroad to make the lives of Yash and his crew into a living hell.

Jammwal’s martial arts background makes him such an asset in action films. His skills enable impressive fight scenes that don’t rely upon wires and stunt doubles. Note how much longer the camera lingers on Jammwal during action sequences as compared to the quick cuts when Abraham fights.

Director Nishikant Kamat does some smart work in Force — aided by cinematographer Ayananka Bose and editor Aarif Sheikh — especially when it comes to storytelling efficiency. For example, when Yash and his crew concoct their plan to take out the gangs, the dialogue is delivered as though it is part of one continuous conversation, yet the camera cuts between the various groups of people involved at different points in the plan’s development. The first shot shows Yash receiving partial instructions from his boss; the second features Yash conveying the next set of instructions to his crew; then back to the boss, and so on. The audience knows that everyone involved is up to speed, without having to hear the same instructions twice.

Most impressive of all is a haunting song sequence that juxtaposes a funeral with violent action. As a mournful hymn builds to a crescendo, the camera cuts between mourners crying next to a pyre and Yash’s crew taking bloody revenge. It’s absolutely riveting, one of my favorite Hindi film song sequences of all time.

Force balances its darker elements with lighter ones, too. D’Souza is bubbly in the very best sense of the word, and her character gives Yash plenty of reasons to smile, bringing out Abraham’s softer side as a result. Swati, Atul, and the other members of the crew are sympathetic and well-developed, fleshing out the world in which Yash lives.

And then there’s that fight scene where Yash’s and Vishnu’s shirts simultaneously rip off for no good reason. Who wouldn’t be charmed by that?

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Movie Review: Singham (2011)

Singham3 Stars (out of 4)

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In recent years, movies like Ra.One and Drona tried — and failed — to create lasting Indian celluloid superheroes. This seems an unnecessary endeavor since India already has a cinema superhero: The Supercop.

The Supercop is more of an archetype than he is a costumed hero, a la Spiderman or Batman, but he fits right in with all of the other comic book crusaders. The Supercop is morally righteous, virtually indestructible, and possesses superhuman strength. That he wears a police uniform and a mustache instead of tights and a cape makes no difference.

The Supercop has recently been depicted onscreen by Akshay Kumar in Khiladi 786 and Rowdy Rathore, and Salman Khan’s been playing essentially the same character for the last three years. Add in all of the South Indian actors who’ve played a version of The Supercop, and it’s clear India already has a national superhero.

Ajay Devgn takes his turn as The Supercop in Singham (“Lion”), a remake of a Tamil film. Devgn’s character, Bajirao Singham, has much in common with all the other Supercops. He’s a simple man with strong values who abhors violence, even though he’s required on numerous occasions to beat the tar out of people. He’s a 40-something bachelor because his moral purity has made him basically oblivious to women, until his One True Love comes to town and sweeps him off his feet.

Bajirao has a nice life as the sheriff of his hometown. His neighbors love him for his skill in resolving disputes before they turn violent. He’s so virtuous that an apology to Kavya (Kajal Agarwal) — a young woman originally from the village who now resides in Goa — makes her fall instantly in love with him.

Bajirao makes the mistake of embarrassing a gangster from Goa named Jaykant Shikre (Prakash Raj, who is superb in the film) by treating him just as he would any other criminal. A transfer to the Goa police force seems like a well-deserved promotion — and a chance to be near Kavya — until Shikre reveals that he used his influence to have Bajirao transferred for the express purpose of making the cop’s life a living hell.

Shikre is a bad, bad dude. His rap sheet includes choking a kidnapped grade-schooler to death with his bare hands when the boy’s father couldn’t afford to pay the ransom. He also successfully terrorized another upright police officer, Inspector Kadam (Sudhanshu Pandey), into committing suicide when the cop refused to take a bribe. Shikre’s tactics — which include harassment at all hours, cutting off Bajirao’s electricity, and false crime reports — force Bajirao to weigh whether returning to a simple life in his hometown is worth letting a monster like Shikre run unchecked.

In general, Singham is much like any other Supercop movie. Bajirao flips guys in the air with one hand and can run as fast as a speeding Jeep. His signature attack involves leaping in the air and swatting bad guys with an open paw, accompanied by the sound of a lion roaring.

Also as in other Supercop movies, the hero’s moral superiority goes unquestioned, even though it shouldn’t. Bajirao himself is introduced when Inspector Kadam’s widow begs god to make Shikre pay. This divine instrument of justice beats a group of men with his fists until they are reduced to heaps on the ground, then flogs them publicly with his belt, all for the crime of stealing Kavya’s shawl. Once the men were down on the ground, a public apology and the return of Kavya’s shawl should’ve been sufficient. But Bajirao insists on humiliating the men, just as he does to Shikre and just as Shikre eventually does to him.

Bajirao walks further down the slippery slope when he convinces the other officers in his squad to lie about what they’ve seen. Yes, the end result is that Shikre and his goons are unable to commit crimes without impunity for a change, but at what cost? Shikre and Bajirao both wind up perverting the system to achieve their own ends, so are they really that different? Shikre has the higher body count, but he’s not the one sworn to uphold the law. Bajirao is.

Beyond the ethical questions — which pop up often in Supercop movies and aren’t limited to Singham alone — Singham is entertaining enough. Kavya is more active than many of The Supercop’s heroines, which is a nice change. Kavya charmingly contrives ways to meet Bajirao through a series of fake thefts, and she gets everyone in town to lobby Bajirao to marry her.

Director Rohit Shetty misses a big opportunity to add tension to the movie. Shikre knows that Bajirao and Kavya are an item, but he never threatens Kavya. In another instance of (perhaps deliberate) misdirection, Shetty positions the camera above a spinning ceiling fan to look down upon Inspector Kadam as he contemplates suicide. The obvious implication is that Kadam will hang himself from the fan, but he ends up shooting himself.

Because of similarities throughout films in the genre, preference really comes down to which actor plays The Supercop. I like Ajay Devgn as an actor more than Salman Khan or Akshay Kumar, so I enjoyed Singham more than their iterations of the same story. Still, just as I’m not interested in any more Spiderman or Superman origin stories, I think I’ve seen enough of The Supercop.

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Movie Review: Trishna (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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It’s gratifying when a story that’s over a century old can be reset in modern times and still feel as fresh as when it was originally written. Given the heartbreaking nature of the source material, Trishna — a retelling of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles — is all the more depressing because of its continued relevance.

British writer-director Michael Winterbottom sets Trishna in modern-day Rajastan. The beautiful title character, played by Frieda Pinto, is spotted working at a hotel by a British non-resident Indian named Jay (Riz Ahmed), who’s on a road trip with his friends. Jay’s wealthy father has sent his son to India to manage a luxury hotel. Jay would rather produce movies in Mumbai, using his father’s money, of course.

When Trishna and her father are injured in an accident that destroys her family’s jeep — their sole source of income — Jay hires Trishna to work at his family’s hotel in far-away Jaipur. She becomes her family’s breadwinner, but at a cost. One night, lecherous Jay takes advantage of her. Trishna flees home to an unexpectedly cold welcome: the family depends on the money she earns. This sends her right back into Jay’s clutches.

Hardy’s novel was printed with the subtitle: “A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented.” Trishna likewise presents a portrait of a complete person, and Pinto is portrays the character as she really is. As maddening as it is every time you wish Trishna would just run away, it’s clear that she can’t without sacrificing her family.

Country-girl Trishna’s minimal education limits her opportunities to earn money independently. Education becomes a theme as Trishna scolds the younger female members of her family to stay in school. Education is their only hope for a future away from their unsympathetic father. He delivers the cruelest blow of the film when he tells Trishna that the whole town knows she’s the family’s breadwinner, and not him. It’s an accusation, not a compliment, despite the fact that she’s just obeying his orders.

Jay is an amalgam of the characters Alec and Angel from Tess of the d’Urbervilles. The combination produces a villain both entitled and flighty, growing more monstrous the more bored he gets, resentful of his own familial obligations. Given the time limitations of a movie, I thought the combination made sense and worked well.

What didn’t work for me was the choice to have co-producer Anurag Kashyap and his wife, actress Kalki Koechlin, appear in the film as themselves during scenes when Jay is in Mumbai trying to become a producer. The closing credits list their characters as “Anurag” and “Kalki” rather than “Himself” or “Herself,” so I suppose there’s room to argue that they’re just playing a director named Anurag and an actress named Kalki.

It’s a gimmick that will go unnoticed by people unfamiliar with Bollywood films, but their scenes stuck out like a sore thumb to me because Kalki is totally obnoxious in the film. She may have just been putting on an act, but if that’s the case, give her character a different name.

The problem is that Kalki Koechlin is one of my favorite actors. I don’t read gossip columns or actor interviews unless they’re specifically talking about their jobs. The less I know about actors personally, the more I can believe them as different characters. The lasting image I take away from Trishna — accurate or not — is that Kalki Koechlin seems like a jerk, and I don’t want to think that about her.

Again, I don’t know if it’s an accurate perception, but why does she have to appear in the film as herself? It is a mistake that taints an otherwise solid film.

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Movie Review: Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (2011)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (“Sir, Wife, and Gangster” literally, “The King, His Wife, and the Gangster” colloquially) is a romantic thriller full of passion and intrigue that entertains while falling just short of its potential.

Aditya (Jimmy Shergill) is the descendent of a noble family in northern India. As a sign of respect, everyone — including his wife — calls him Saheb (“sir”). But Saheb has a secret: he’s broke. He relies on handouts from his wealthy stepmother to pay for his army of thugs and his mistress, Mahua (Shreya Narayan).

A mafia don named Gainda Singh aims to usurp Saheb by murdering the nobleman’s thugs and undercutting Saheb on lucrative construction contracts. Gainda even arranges for a desperate young man named Babloo (Randeep Hooda) to spy on Saheb while serving as a fill-in chauffeur.

At Saheb’s compound, Babloo is warned about the dangers of the place by spunky Suman (Deepal Shaw), the daughter of Kanhaiya (Deepraj Rana), Saheb’s right-hand-man and head assassin. Saheb’s wife, Madhavi (Mahie Gill), is mentally ill and prone to fits. She’s also lonely and seduces Babloo, placing him in peril.

Madhavi identifies Babloo as an opportunist, though he bristles at the label. His actions drive the plot forward, as his allegiance switches between Gainda, Saheb, and Madhavi. All this happens under the noses of Saheb and Gainda, who are absorbed in their own power struggle. Screenwriters Sanjay Chauhan and Tigmanshu Dhulia (also the movie’s producer and director) do an impressive job keeping many different balls in the air.

While the machinations of the characters are varied and entertaining enough to sustain interest, the characters themselves aren’t as fully developed as they could have been. Madhavi is particularly problematic. She’s introduced in a kind of manic state, prone to wild outbursts. Those outbursts disappear almost entirely once she begins her affair with Babloo. Whether he has some kind of calming influence on her or they disappear as part of some sort of manic-depressive cycle is unclear.

Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster eventually hints that perhaps Madhavi’s erratic persona is an act, but nothing that comes before supports such an abrupt change. If she is genuinely as disturbed as she appears to be, she would not be able to turn it off when a better opportunity presents itself.

Suman is underused in what could have been a pivotal role. Apart from her initial warnings to Babloo, she has little to do until Saheb suggests that she and Babloo get married. Even then, the idea is scuttled by Babloo’s reaction, which essentially amounts to, “Eww. Gross.”

The film could’ve amped up the tension had there been real romantic chemistry between Babloo and Suman. How would she have reacted if he pushed her aside to pursue an affair with Madhavi? Would she have protected him from her father’s suspicion? Ratted on him to Saheb? Sought revenge in other ways?

On the whole, the film has an entertaining amount of intrigue but doesn’t go far enough to be a great thriller. Perhaps Dhulia will push the envelope in his upcoming sequel to Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster.

Links

  • Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster at Wikipedia
  • Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster at IMDb

Movie Review: Patang (2011)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes

A kite festival sounds like a serene setting for a film, but kite flying is a kind of contact sport in India. That knowledge adds depth to the festive backdrop of Patang (“The Kite”), a lovely film by debutant director Prashant Bhargava.

The action in Patang takes place over three days around Uttarayan, the annual kite festival in Ahmedabad. Jayesh (Mukkund Shukla) returns to his hometown after five years away to show the festival to his adult daughter, Priya (Sugandha Garg). Priya uses her video camera to record festival preparations, which include merchants strengthening kite string with a paste made from boiled rice before coating the string in ground glass. The glass-coated string allows competitors to slice the strings of opposing kites

Jayesh is financially well-off, so a lack of funds can’t explain the infrequency of his visits from his home in Delhi. The hostile reception he gets from his nephew, Chakku (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), offers a clue. Jayesh is received more warmly by his mother and his sister-in-law, Sudha (Seema Biswas), wife of his deceased older brother.

As Jayesh tries to recreate the kite-flying triumphs of his youth at a party for friends and family, it becomes apparent that he is a know-it-all. He scolds Priya for wearing a tank top and dancing in public, fearful that she’ll ruin his reputation. This drives her straight into the arms of a cute electronics store clerk, Bobby (Aakash Maheriya).

Jayesh has other plans aimed at improving the lives of his relatives, but he sets them in motion without asking for their consent. Sudha picks up on something about Jayesh: for a guy who seems to have all the answers, he doesn’t seem happy.

The story in Patang unfolds slowly and without a typical narrative structure. The film is presented in an almost documentary-style format, as though a camera crew dropped in for the three days of the festival and left immediately after. It’s enjoyably languid, but not slow.

The downside of shooting documentary-style is that it’s often impossible not to be aware of the camera. Shots are interrupted by passersby. The camera is sometimes set at an awkward distance from the actors. And the editing occasionally consists of rapid-fire cuts between closeups of the actors’ faces.

There were moments when I wanted to be able to ignore the technique and just watch what was happening. The best shots in the whole movie come from a stationary camera pointed at the sky, watching the kites as they soar.

The performances are universally sound, anchored by Seema Biswas as Sudha. After the death of her husband, Sudha becomes the head of the household, though she defers to her mother-in-law. Biswas portrays Sudha as a woman whose good-nature isn’t overwhelmed by her tremendous responsibilities or Jayesh’s attempts to control things from afar. She treats Priya with a warmth the girl doesn’t get from her father.

The most intriguing relationship is between Chakku and a street kid named Hamid (Hamid Shaikh). Chakku spends his days hanging with Hamid and several other boys of around ten, stealing from street vendors and shooting off fireworks. Perhaps Jayesh is right to suggest that it’s time for Chakku to grow up and get a real job.

Bhargava has a real knack for storytelling and atmosphere and gets great performances from his cast. I’m looking forward to his future films.

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Opening June 15: Ferrari Ki Sawaari and Patang

Two Hindi films are set to open in the Chicago area on June 15, 2012. The Bollywood comedy Ferrari Ki Sawaari — starring Sharman Joshi and Boman Irani — gets the wider release of the two movies.

Ferrari Ki Sawaari opens on Friday at the Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a runtime of 2 hrs. 20 min. You can read my review here.

The other movie making its theatrical debut this weekend is Patang (“The Kite”), a terrific independent film that started making the festival rounds last year. It stars Seema Biswas and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

Patang opens in Chicago on June 15 at the AMC River East 21 and June 22 at the Golf Glen 5. The film’s website has a complete list of opening dates and locations, which includes theaters in New York, New Jersey, California, and a number of Canadian cities. Given the film’s indie status, it’s only guaranteed one week at each theater (though that may increase if ticket sales are good). Catch it while you can. Patang has a runtime of 92 minutes.

Last weekend’s new release, Shanghai, gets a well-deserved second week at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17. Rowdy Rathore carries over for a third week at the Golf Glen 5 and South Barrington 30, having earned $654,352 in the U.S. so far.

Other Indian films playing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Endhukante Premanta (Telugu) and The King and The Commissioner (Malayalam).

Movie Review: Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge (MFK, henceforth) is the sophomore effort from Y-Films, the youth-oriented production arm of Yash Raj Films. The Facebook-themed update of Cyrano de Bergerac is more polished than Y-Films’ first effort, the clunky and insensitive Luv Ka The End. But there’s nothing in MFK to inspire enthusiasm for the production house’s future efforts.

MFK starts off on the wrong foot in the way it introduces its lead character, Vishal (Saqib Saleem), the beloved class clown at his college. Vishal and his obnoxious best friend, Hacky (Prabal Panjabi), trick an obese fellow student nicknamed Machoman (Chitrak Bandyopadhyay) into performing a striptease in front of his webcam, and they post the video online.

Shortly thereafter, Vishal publicly ridicules the grumpy leader of the photography club — tomboy Preity (Saba Azaad) — at a planning meeting for the school’s 25th anniversary festivities. Vishal targets Preity for being a “man hater” and possible lesbian, though it’s really because she’s the only student who doesn’t find his cruel jokes hilarious.

After establishing Vishal as a bully, the film sets up its premise. Vishal is too shy to speak to lovely fashion student Malvika (Tara D’Souza), so he sends her a Facebook friend request via the account of his other BFF, campus rock star Rahul (Nishant Dahiya). Malvika’s cousin happens to be Preity, who happens to have a crush on Rahul. Preity accepts the friend request via Malvika’s account.

Preity and Vishal form a friendship chatting online while pretending to be Malvika and Rahul, respectively. In the real world, Vishal repeatedly undermines Preity while they collaborate on an anniversary celebration project about love on campus. Things get complicated when pretend “Rahul” suggests a face-to-face meeting, and “Malvika” accepts.

The plot unfolds predictably but pleasantly enough, especially as Vishal stops being a jerk. Friendship blooms between the classmates, and it becomes apparent that they are better suited for one another than they are for their dream dates.

My favorite relationship in the movie is between Preity and Malvika. The characters are roommates as well as cousins, and Azaad and D’Souza have a delightful rapport. Their playful banter lightens the mood more than any of Vishal’s jokes.

There are several scenes that take place at parties or dance clubs that feel overly-long, since it’s way more entertaining to actually be at a party than it is to watch one from a distance. But the movie as a whole is a harmless way to pass the time.

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