Tag Archives: 2014

Movie Review: Youngistaan (2014)

Youngistaan2 Stars (out of 4)

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Youngistaan shares much in common with the 1993 Hollywood film Dave. Both are about regular guys shoved into the political spotlight, only to realize that they are now in a position to positively impact the lives of ordinary citizens. Dave is a better movie, so watch that instead.

Jackky Bhagnani stars in Youngistaan as Abhi, a game developer living in Japan with his longtime girlfriend, Avni (Neha Sharma). They are living life to the fullest, as we learn from nearly fifteen minutes of songs and scenes of them having fun.

The party stops when Abhi’s father, the Indian Prime Minister (played by Boman Irani), succumbs to cancer in an Orlando, Florida, hospital. They aren’t really in Orlando but somewhere in Australia, so why not just say they’re in Australia? It’s not like Orlando is famous for its cutting-edge cancer centers — unless there’s some new Epcot pavilion that went in since I last visited.

On his deathbed, Abhi’s father explains the state of Indian politics to his son and makes a request. A new prime minister will be installed, but the position is temporary. With election season just three months away — and with the ruling party polling so unfavorably — the interim prime minister is unlikely to be reelected. Accepting the nomination would be political suicide. That’s why Dad wants Abhi to accept the nomination and use his short window of opportunity to make a difference.

This does not sit well with Avni, who knows that a 28-year-old prime minister will be seen as a joke. She also worries about the strain the job will put on their relationship, although she underestimates how drastic the changes will be. That’s one of the hallmarks of Youngistaan: characters are repeatedly unprepared for events, solely as a matter of plot convenience.

Abhi quickly discovers how conservatism and infighting hamper political progress, and his suggestions are dismissed. He tries to win over young voters by playing hockey, which seems desperately uncool.

Abhi’s real problem is that he and Avni insist on living together and delude themselves into thinking that no one will find out. Even though they plan on getting married someday — and they’ve already been together for three years — Avni wants to do it on their terms and not just to make Abhi’s career easier. This is dumb, especially since hiding their relationship forces Avni to live essentially under house arrest. She’s so bored, she paints a picture of a fetus (I’m not kidding).

I’ve bagged on Jackky Bhagnani in the past, but he’s okay in Youngistaan. So is Sharma, although her character is frequently reduced to a stereotypical jealous girlfriend. Farooq Shaikh plays the role of Abhi’s wise, old advisor with such scholarly aloofness that you could have substituted him with a cartoon owl and no one would have noticed.

The politics in Youngistaan may make sense to people familiar with Indian democracy, but they are too convoluted for outsiders. At least the characters state the time frame — Abhi has three months to get things done — so the stakes are clear.

Things should have been more understandable given how slowly all of the characters talk. The plot unfolds at a snail’s pace, interrupted by man-on-the-street interviews of nobodies telling the audience how they are supposed to feel. The climax is ten minutes of characters watching election returns on TV.

Given how young the electorate of India is, Youngistaan had a real opportunity to address their aspirations and motivate them to action. Instead, writer-director Syed Ahmed Afzal gives us politics as usual.

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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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Interview with the Pizza Hut Guy from Bang Bang

The Bollywood action movie Bang Bang is pretty cheesy, full of over-the-top acting and transparent product placement. When I reviewed it in 2014, I wrote this:

A pivotal scene is set in a Pizza Hut located on the top of a mountain, on the edge of a cliff, with no place for a parking lot. Nevertheless, the restaurant is crowded. Not so crowded that Rajveer and Harleen can’t ponder the merits of thin versus stuffed crust, mind you. The kid behind the counter suggests a pan pizza as a compromise. The kid is the best actor in the film.

Here’s who I’m talking about:

bang

Imagine my delight when I received this email in my inbox:

pizzahutguy

“The Pizza Hut Guy” is Aditya Prakash, an actor working in India. Aditya was kind enough to answer a few questions about his career and his experience working on Bang Bang.

Me: What’s your background, Aditya?
Aditya: I am an actor by profession. Before Bang Bang, I have done numerous ads — the one which is on air right now is for PepsiCo — then I did some serials. Every one in my family was sure that I would pursue science as my career.

Me: What inspired you to take up acting?
Aditya: It all started when I fell in love with the Harry Potter movies. I am a die-hard fan of the franchise. I literally cried a whole day in 2007 and 2011 when Rowling released The Deathly Hallows and when Part 2 of the movie released, respectively.

Me: Where was your scene in Bang Bang filmed?
Aditya: The scene was filmed in Film City in Mumbai. [Author’s note: I am deeply disappointed that they didn’t build an actual cliff-top Pizza Hut for the scene.]

Me: Did you get to chat off-camera with Katrina Kaif and Hrithik Roshan?
Aditya: Katrina is reserved. But I now know Hrithik personally!

Me: How different is the experience for an actor with a speaking part versus the extras in the background of the scene?
Aditya: Bollywood differs from Hollywood in some aspects. One among them is that junior artists or background artists who stand or dance in the background don’t get paid very well. I do feel for them.

Me: Please, please tell me they served you pizza on set.
Aditya: Yeah, it’s ironic but I do hate eating Pizza Hut and soft drinks (too much carbs and fats), but yeah, on the shoot day we did eat a hell of a lot of those. As a matter of fact, there were 250 pizzas delivered on the sets!

Me: What are your plans for the future?
Aditya: Currently I am doing a lead role in an upcoming movie, releasing Diwali, 2016. I am also the co-writer for the movie. I do plan to try my best in Hollywood as well. I have always believed in the fact that the harder you work towards your passion, at some point in life HE senses your hard work and helps out.

Thanks, Aditya! Keep up to date with Aditya on Facebook and IMDb.

And if you want to catch up on my Bang Bang coverage, here are links to my review and to the episode of the Split Screen Podcast in which Shah Shahid and I compare the movie to its Hollywood original, Knight and Day.

Movie Review: Titli (2015)

Titli3 Stars (out of 4)

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Titli (“Butterfly“) is a film that is much easier to appreciate than it is to enjoy. Though well-made, the story’s grim tone and visceral elements make it hard to watch.

The title character, Titli (Shashank Arora), is the youngest son in a family of thieves. He provides distractions so that his older brothers — Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) and Baawla (Amit Sial) — can beat up drivers and steal their cars. Their TV-obsessed father (Lalit Behl) is disreputable, too.

Vikram is the most dangerous of the lot. Those used to watching Shorey play comic roles will find his sinister turn in Titli shocking. Vikram’s own father and brothers are too scared to stand up to him. The only reason his ex-wife was able to escape is that she has enough evidence of Vikram’s spousal abuse to send him to jail for a long time.

With the family in dire financial straits — thanks to Titli losing all their money in a poorly planned escape attempt — they decide to add a woman to their bandit gang in order to make heists easier. They do so by marrying Titli to a young woman named Neelu (Shivani Raghuvanshi).

As scared as Neelu looks when her parents arrange the match with Titli, she has no idea what horrors await. The film’s most violent scene involves the brothers staging a carjacking while Neelu and Titli are on a test drive. She sees her new in-laws as the monsters they are when Vikram and Bawla beat the car salesman with a hammer and leave him for dead.

Not only is Titli at times graphically violent, but director Kanu Behl seems to revel in personal hygiene and bodily functions. Someone in Titli’s family is always brushing his teeth, face covered in foam, drool spilling from his mouth. The noises Vikram makes when clearing his throat are revolting. Titli vomits for what feels like forever.

The whole atmosphere of the family’s small corner of India seems grimy, with a translucent, yellow layer of smog permanently obscuring the view. Their apartment is crowded and tiny. One can’t even go outside to escape, because people are always around, selling something or playing a game in the street. There’s so little privacy, it feels like a prison.

That lack of privacy leaves Titli nowhere to plan his escape. Then again, Titli is as ordinary a guy as they come, so how good of a plan could he concoct even under the best of circumstances?

Shashank Arora is a miracle of casting. As Titli, his default expression is that of someone smelling something foul. There’s a blankness in his eyes. While Titli’s desire to escape his life of crime indicates a moral superiority over his brothers, he’s not a good guy. He was raised in the same environment, so he’s just as capable of violence and deceit as Vikram and Baawla.

As Neelu, Raghuvanshi acts as the outsider, as horrified by the conduct of Titli’s family as the audience is. Still, she gives Neelu strength to endure an unbearable situation. A scene in which Neelu and Titli negotiate the terms of their future is the film’s highlight.

Behl is a talented director and storyteller. Titli is engrossing, but in a “can’t look away” sense rather than one of hopeful anticipation. I admire the craft that went into making Titli. I just hope I never have to watch it again.

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Streaming Video News: September 4, 2015

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with one new addition to the catalog. The 2014 Akshay Kumar comedy Entertainment is now available for streaming. Tamannaah Bhatia is really funny in the film, but many of the jokes are meaningless if you don’t understand Hindi or have a serious depth of Bollywood knowledge.

Bollywood Box Office: March 27-29

With only one Hindi movie showing in the United States and Canada, there isn’t much to report in the way of box office figures for the weekend of March 27-29, 2015. In its third weekend, NH10 earned another $26,798 from 23 theaters ($1,165 average). That brings its North American total to $300,793.

The significance of that figure is that NH10 is only the third movie in 2015 to earn more than $300,000 in North America, out of ten Hindi films that have released here theatrically (*I don’t have figures for MSG: The Messenger of God, but I guarantee it earned less than $300,000). Furthermore, NH10 made its money on half the number of max screens (46) as the next highest earner — Badlapur, with $419,836 total and a max screen count of 92 — and less than half the max screens of the year’s highest earner, Baby ($730,288 total, max screens 99).

It’s also worth noting how dull business has been in the first three months of 2015 compared to the first three months of 2014. January-March, 2014, saw the release of sixteen Hindi movies into North American theaters, seven of which earned more than $300,000 (with three of those earning more than $1 million).

The sixteen films released in the first quarter of 2014 earned a total of $10,307,214. That’s an average of $644,201 per film. Even without the huge earnings of the non-traditionally distributed movie The Lunchbox, that’s still $6,319,821 from fifteen traditionally released Bollywood films. By comparison, total earnings from the first quarter of this year stand at $2,359,916. That works out to an average of $262,213 per film.

Granted, 2014 didn’t have a Cricket World Cup to contend with. Still, it’s obvious from the numbers that the films that have shipped out of Bollywood recently aren’t movies that the North American fanbase feels an urgent need to see. Given the titles that are slated for release, I don’t see the trend changing any time soon.

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Samrat & Co. (2014)

Samrat_&_Co_—_poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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As a fan of the hit British TV series Sherlock, a Bollywood version of the same sounded like a disaster. Thankfully, Samrat & Co. is watchable, but just barely.

Bollywood’s Sherlock is Samrat (Rajeev Khandelwal), a detective who relieves stress by partaking in underground boxing matches. Lest the audience get a bad first impression, Samrat explains that his illicit prize money goes to charity. Never mind that boxing seems like a ridiculously dangerous pastime for a man who relies on his intellect to solve crimes.

The “Co.” of Samrat & Co. is just one guy, tabloid TV host Chakrandhar (Gopal Dutt). Just to make absolutely clear that the filmmakers know that they are making a Sherlock knockoff/tribute, Chakrandhar says, “I’m Watson, and he’s Sherlock.”

Apart from a story focused on a brilliant detective and his sidekick, Samrat & Co. has little in common with Sherlock. There are none of the visual effects that define the British series, except for one instance in which the solution to a word puzzle briefly floats on screen. (The film’s few puzzles are simple, and watching a character as supposedly brilliant as Samrat struggle with them is frustrating.)

Khandelwal’s Samrat is a normal guy, as socially at ease as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is awkward. It’s the supporting cast — like dim-witted Chakrandhar and chatterbox maid Shanti (Puja Gupta) — whose attempts to add quirkiness to the movie prove more irritating than endearing.

The central mystery involves a rich man in Shimla — Mahendra Pratap Singh (Girish Karnad) — whose garden appears to be cursed. After Singh is murdered at his own birthday party, Samrat sorts through numerous suspects to find the killer.

The movie’s cast is huge, and there are way too many potential suspects to keep track of. When Samrat zeroes in on Deepak (Rajneesh Duggal) as a potential culprit, I was hardly sure who Deepak was. His character is introduced while Samrat scans some CCTV footage, and they have one brief conversation before their showdown. The showdown itself includes a bout in the world’s least safe fighting arena, perched on a cliff’s edge and ringed by a wooden picket fence. The insurance premiums must be outrageous.

Kandelwal’s performance is fine, but it’s not especially compelling. Madalsa Sharma is tolerable as Dimpy, Singh’s daughter and Samrat’s sort-of love interest. There’s not much to commend any of the supporting actors besides Shreya Narayan, whose character, Divya (Singh’s other daughter), is refreshingly mute.

As flawed as Samrat & Co. is, it deserves credit for trying something a little different. Mystery isn’t a common Bollywood genre, so the movie at least offers a change of pace. Samrat & Co. is neither great nor terrible.

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