Tag Archives: 2019

Movie Review: Virus (2019)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Virus on Amazon Prime
Buy the DVD at Amazon

Watching the 2019 Malayalam movie Virus a year after its release and several months into a new, unrelated global pandemic, the film seems like an unheeded warning. Had I watched when it released last summer, I’d have known what the initials PPE stood for, well before the first American reports of shortages of Personal Protective Equipment for healthcare providers.

Virus is a fictionalized account of a 2018 outbreak of Nipah virus in Kerala. The film was conceived and completed quickly, releasing almost exactly one year after the month-long outbreak was formally declared over. Though names and circumstances have been changed for the film, details of how the virus was transmitted and how many people became infected track closely to the facts of the actual outbreak.

The movie opens with a doctor receiving a now chillingly familiar call that the hospital has run out of ventilators. The action then rewinds a mere three days, when medical professionals encounter the first patients exhibiting alarming symptoms: vomiting, delirium, fever, headache, seizures, trouble breathing, and sky-high blood pressure readings.

Doctors at the hospitals in Kerala’s Kozhikode district are stumped. None of the standard treatments help, and cases quickly turn fatal. Finally, a neurologist hits upon the rare Nipah virus as a possible cause, and tests prove him right. This starts a massive operation to discover where the virus came from and who came in contact with the first known patient, all in the hopes of stopping the spread before it gets out of control.

The first half of Virus is almost overwhelming with the number of characters it introduces across multiple locations. One must surrender to the flood of doctors, hospital staff, their families, patients, relatives, experts, politicians, and bureaucrats introduced as the outbreak takes hold. Director Aashiq Abu never allows the audience to get totally lost, but rather gives us a sense of what the characters feel like, being bombarded with patient after patient before they have even figured out what’s going on.

All the information from the first half is organized into a clear picture in the second half of the film via the character Dr. Annu (Parvathy Thiruvothu), the junior member of the government’s team of contact tracers. She uses some lateral thinking and ace detective work to connect all of the cases back to one index patient. As she and the other contact tracers piece together the puzzle, everything that seemed overwhelming in the first half becomes easy to understand. It’s terrific storytelling by director Abu and writers Muhsin Parari, Sharfu, and Suhas.

They also add in enough personal information about key characters to put the outbreak in context of everyday life, supported by uniformly strong performances by the cast. Dr. Abid (Sreenath Bhasi) is distracted while working in the emergency room that first morning because his girlfriend (Madonna Sebastian) is going to marry someone else. The hospital’s hourly workers — led by Babu (Joju George) — threaten to strike over unpaid wages. Patient’s families worry about being stigmatized because of the virus. The story highlights that we don’t get to choose the timing of such natural disasters.

Yet the film does give hope that such disasters can be contained. Granted, such containment depends on functioning government entities like those shown in the movie, but which are in short supply in the United States at the moment. Watching the officials of various departments work together to solve problems in Virus has almost a fantastical quality to it for someone watching in the US right now. But, just like the actual Nipah outbreak, Virus shows us that victory is possible.

Note: The English subtitles on both the DVD and the Amazon Prime version feature some closed captioning, including notes on ambient noises, the emotional quality of the musical score, and even an indication when a character says something “mockingly.” I quite liked it.

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Worst Bollywood Movies of 2019

While my Best Bollywood Movies of 2019 list is dominated by action flicks, my Worst Bollywood Movies of 2019 list is mostly made up of comedies that aren’t funny.

The first of those is Khandaani Shafakhana, starring Sonakshi Sinha as a sex clinic operator. It has some nice moments but is undone by a sequence in which a character played by Varun Sharma repeatedly uses homophobic slurs in a failed attempt at humor.

Diljit Dosanjh’s cop spoof Arjun Patiala also has potential until it takes a dark turn — only none of the characters seem to realize it and keep acting as if it’s still a lighthearted romp. Kriti Sanon plays a reporter reluctant to investigate a string of murders she suspects were orchestrated by her police officer boyfriend (Dosanjh). It’s hard to make such a premise funny.

Sanon plays a reporter again in the romantic comedy Luka Chuppi, in which she and a colleague played by Kartik Aaryan clumsily try to hide their live-in relationship. The subject matter gives it a veneer of progressiveness, but it’s cut from the same conservative, chauvinistic cloth as umpteen other Bollywood romcoms.

The biggest disappointment among the unfunny comedies is the road trip heist flick Total Dhamaal. With an ensemble cast that includes Madhuri Dixit, Anil Kapoor, Boman Irani, Ajay Devgn, and Sanjay Mishra, you’d expect laughs from start to finish. But writer-director Indra Kumar’s disorganized reboot of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is boring, with repetitive, stale gags.

The top spot on this year’s Worst Bollywood Movies list is not a comedy but a very problematic drama. Kabir Singh — a remake of the Telugu film Arjun Reddy — is either remarkably oblivious to its main character’s sociopathic tendencies, or it thinks his actions are okay. The hero assaults and threatens women with violence repeatedly throughout the movie, including an attempt to rape a woman at knife-point in the first ten minutes. You can’t make a hero like that sympathetic, especially when he doesn’t feel remorse for what he’s done.

One of the troubling sentiments I’ve seen online is the belief that the Kabir Singh‘s box office success validates the film’s moral viewpoint. There are plenty of movies throughout history that were hits when they released that contemporary audiences would find abhorrent. Kabir Singh will be one of those movies someday — hopefully sooner rather than later.

Kathy’s Worst Bollywood Movies of 2019

  1. Kabir Singh — Stream on Netflix
  2. Total Dhamaal — Buy at Amazon/stream on Hotstar
  3. Luka Chuppi — Buy at Amazon/stream on Netflix
  4. Arjun Patiala — Stream on Prime
  5. Khandaani Shafakhana — Stream on Prime

Previous Worst Movies Lists

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Best Bollywood Movies of 2019

It’s time for my annual roundup of the year’s best Hindi films. I need to start with a caveat, in anticipation of any comments asking why certain movies didn’t make my list. Both my mother-in-law and father-in-law died in 2019, and I missed seeing a bunch of movies, especially those released in the first half of the year. I’m particularly disappointed to have missed Sonchiriya, since I’ve read many good things about it. It only ran in North American theaters for two weeks in March before heading to the streaming service Zee5 — which isn’t available in the United States. It’s not available for digital purchase or on DVD here either, so there’s no legal way for me to catch up on it. I’m sure there are other 2019 releases that I would have enjoyed that I also missed out on.

That said, 2019 was a fantastic year for action movie buffs like me, so let’s get to it!

What better place to start than with my favorite martial artist Vidyut Jammwal’s family-friendly eco-thriller Junglee. This is a rare Hindi film directed by an American: Chuck Russell, best known for the Jim Carrey hit, The Mask. While most Indian productions lean heavily on computer-generated effects to create animals on-screen, Russell had Jammwal and the rest of the cast interact with live elephants. It adds an element of awe that reinforces the story’s messages of conservation and respect for nature. And Jammwal’s excellent stunts are always a ton of fun.

India’s submission to the 92nd Academy Awards — Gully Boy — certainly deserved the honor, even if it failed to make the shortlist for the Oscars (not that any film can beat Parasite). Director Zoya Akhtar’s story of a young Muslim man voicing his generation’s frustrations through the medium of rap is timely and relevant, but also a great example of character creation and world-building.

Another of the action flicks on this year’s list is the thrill ride War. With world-class stunts and fight choreography — and a totally unexpected romantic undercurrent between characters played by Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff — War is a Bollywood action flick you could easily share with your non-Bollywood watching friends.

Speaking of Bollywood films for non-Bollywood watchers, the best of the year in that regard was the thriller Article 15. I recommended it to several acquaintances outside my Hindi-film circle, and all of them went to the theater to see it and really enjoyed it. Some readers have asked me if Bollywood movies can ever find crossover success in America, and to that end, Article 15 shows the value of having an English title and a plot that’s easy to describe. Oh, and it has to be a darned good movie as well, which Article 15 definitely is.

Given the theme of this year’s list, it’s no surprise that my favorite Hindi movie of 2019 is yet another action film, albeit an unconventional one. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota (“The Man Who Feels No Pain“) — which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018 but didn’t play in Indian theaters until March, 2019, followed by a May Netflix release in the United States — features a hero raised on a diet of old martial arts movies who doesn’t have an ounce of cynicism. He believes that the good guys really can beat the bad guys. It’s a fun, goofy movie with a ton of heart, lots of flying kicks, and wonderful performances by newcomer Abhimanyu Dassani, Pataakha‘s Radhika Madan, Mahesh Manjrekar, Jimit Trivedi, and Gulshan Devaiah in my favorite double role of all time. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota makes me incredibly happy.

Kathy’s Best Bollywood Movies of 2019

  1. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes/stream on Netflix
  2. Article 15 — Stream on Netflix
  3. War — Buy at Amazon/stream on Prime
  4. Gully Boy — Stream on Prime
  5. Junglee — Buy at Amazon/stream on Hotstar

Previous Best Movies Lists

[Disclaimer: my Amazon and iTunes links include an affiliate tag, and I may earn a commission on purchases made via those links. Thanks for helping to support this website!]

Movie Review: Kabir Singh (2019)

0 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack on iTunes

It may not be possible to create a more loathsome protagonist than the title character in Kabir Singh.

Within the first ten minutes of the film, Kabir (Shahid Kapoor) pulls a knife on a woman who refuses to have sex with him and threatens to hit his maid. In fact, he threatens almost every major female character in the film with violence and actually slaps and shoves the woman he professes to love. He beats up several men as well. He’s never sorry, and he never faces any consequences for his violence.

Instead, violence and intimidation are the means by which Kabir exerts his will over the people around him. Why friends, family members, and romantic interests stay in Kabir’s orbit is not explained. They just need to be there because, without them, Kabir would have no one to abuse.

The film’s clunky narrative jumps between the two key periods in Kabir’s life: the “Preeti Era” and the “Post-Preeti Era.” In the former, Preeti (Kiara Advani) is a new student at the medical college where Kabir is training to become a surgeon. She has no personality and rarely speaks, but Kabir decides he must possess her because he would like to have sex with her. They bone, and thus is born an epic love story for all time.

Not really. The relationship is abusive and predicated on Kabir exploiting his seniority at the school. After all, Kabir never met a power dynamic he couldn’t manipulate to his own ends.

Kabir and Preeti have more sex, he’s mean to a bunch of people, and blah blah blah, Preeti’s dad won’t let them marry. Kabir can’t handle the thought that he might not get his way and overdoses on morphine and booze. Ah, if only he’d died and the movie ended there.

When Kabir wakes up a few days later, Preeti is married to someone else. Thus begins the “Post-Preeti era,” characterized by Kabir’s drug, alcohol, and sex addictions, and a surgical career that flourishes despite them.

Writer-director Sandeep Vanga — who also wrote and directed Arjun Reddy, the Telugu film of which Kabir Singh is a direct remake — treats Kabir’s post-Preeti drug addiction and alcoholism as the tipping point when Kabir becomes a lost soul in need of saving. But Kabir was an awful, entitled bully before that. Losing Preeti just made him perpetually drunk and high, it didn’t give him any more dimensions.

That gets to another of Kabir Singh‘s many flaws: it’s mind-numbingly boring. Because the characters are so thinly drawn, they repeat the same conflicts and conversations. Minor characters like Kabir’s grandmother (Kamini Kaushal) and a college dean played by Adil Hussain (who I hope got paid a lot to appear in this mess) seem like they must exist to play a critical role in Kabir’s character growth, until you realize that Kabir not growing is the point of the film.

Kabir is a manifestation of the desires of frustrated young men who believe that the problems in their lives would be solved if they had Shahid Kapoor’s good looks and a high-status job. Yet, despite having those qualities, Kabir behaves as though he doesn’t. He’s petty and thin-skinned, and he feels compelled to lord his elevated status over those beneath him. He’s the antithesis of the Vince Lombardi quote that ends: “act like you’ve been there before.” Kabir seems like a loser who had a wish granted and woke up the next morning as a handsome surgeon, yet with the same personality as before.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Kabir’s dealings with women. Instead of letting his looks and future earnings potential (his only charms) draw women toward him, he relies on coercion to prey on the vulnerable. He threatens the male students at his school to stay away from Preeti and singles her out publicly in front of her female peers. Even when he dates a famous actress (played by Nikita Dutta), she’s lonely and socially isolated — and his patient. Thanks to the protections afforded by his status, he’s comfortable propositioning her for sex in their first meeting outside of his medical office. He has no interesting in women who are of equal social standing as him, perhaps because none exist in the world of Kabir Singh.

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Opening December 20: Dabangg 3

Chulbul Pandey faces his toughest challenge yet — taking on a Star Wars film at the box office. Dabangg 3 opens on December 20, 2019, in 294 theaters across North America, with 8 of those in the Chicago area.

Dabangg 3 opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, Regal Round Lake Beach in Round Lake Beach, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. Its streaming partner is Amazon Prime, and it has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 20 min.

Mardaani 2 gets a second week at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and Cantera.

Pati Patni Aur Woh carries over at MovieMax and the South Barrington 24, which also holds onto Panipat.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend (all films have English subtitles):

Opening November 29: Commando 3

Give thanks, for Vidyut Jammwal has returned with Commando 3. Unfortunately, it’s showing hardly anywhere in the Chicago area. The AMC South Barrinton 24 in South Barrington gets it a day early on Thursday, November 28, with the AMC River East 21 in Chicago and MovieMax Cinemas in Niles joining the party on the official release date of Friday, November 29, 2019. Its streaming partner is Zee5, which isn’t available in the United States. I’m devastated.

Bollywood fans have several other theatrical options this Thanksgiving weekend. Pagalpanti gets a second week at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville.

Bala hangs around for a fourth week at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and the Regal Cantera in Warrenville.

MovieMax holds over Marjaavan and Housefull 4 as well.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend (all films have English subtitles):

Movie Review: Manikarnika — The Queen of Jhansi (2019)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Manikarnika on Amazon Prime
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

As pure spectacle, the historical epic Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi is top notch, with thrilling battles, dazzling sets, and gorgeous cinematography. However, its narrative fails to make meaningful connections between the protagonist and her supporting characters.

The film is based on the life of Rani Lakshmi Bai, nee Manikarnika, who ruled the Indian state of Jhansi in the 1850s. (A note at the start of the movie admits to taking some cinematic liberties with the story.) From her youth, Manikarnika (Kangana Ranaut) was raised on patriotic ballads that sang of spilling one’s blood for the sake of the motherland. She was taught to fight with swords and to tame horses.

That feistiness is just what the bachelor King of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao (Jisshu Sengupta), needs in a potential bride, according to his advisor Dixit Ji (Kulkhushan Kharbanda). Jhansi is one of the last independent kingdoms that hasn’t ceded to rule by the British East India Company or been taken over outright. Gangadhar is a pragmatist, but he’s not happy kowtowing to the Brits. He marries Manikarnika, renaming her Lakshmi Bai in the process. When British officers come to the palace to pay their respects, Manikarnika refuses to bow to them. Gangadhar is delighted.

Manikarnika is unwavering in her judgement of right and wrong. Her character grows as her elevated position allows her to witness a greater spectrum of British cruelty, and she takes responsibility for counteracting it. Ranaut plays Manikarnika as clear-eyed and determined. Her posture is taut, as though she’s always ready for a fight. She’s only at ease when she’s with Gangadhar, who loves her and admires her spiritedness.

Trouble comes not just from the British lurking outside the gates, but from a traitor within: Gangadhar’s brother, Sadashiv (Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub). The Brits have promised to name Sadashiv king if he helps depose Gangadhar. Granted, it would be a title in name only, without the limited independence Jhansi currently enjoys.

When the tension between Manikarnika and the Brits turns to all-out war, the movie is at its best. Co-director Krish (more on him to come) previously directed Telugu historical epics, and it shows in the scale of the world he creates. The battles are impressive in scope and require a lot of skilled horsemen and other extras. CGI effects — from injured animals to explosions — are well-integrated, and the fight choreography is exciting.

The plot isn’t complicated, since the Brits are obvious bad guys and the good guys just have to fight them. However, it’s not always clear exactly who the good guys are or how they fit into courtly life in Jhansi or the larger Indian political landscape. When Dixit Ji first proposes a marriage contract with Manikarnika, she’s sword-fighting with three characters who I thought were her brothers–but perhaps weren’t (one of them is played by Atul Kulkarni in a microscopic role). Also present are her biological father and the man who raised her, who is some kind of politician, maybe? She eventually helps one of her probably-not-brothers take the throne of another kingdom, and it would’ve been nice to know why.

There are several female supporting characters who are either from her original home (like Kashi Bai, played by Mishti), from a nearby village, or appointed to take care of her in Jhansi. All are so underdeveloped and shown so fleetingly that they blur together.

This shoddy organization is largely a result of a behind-the-scenes battle for the director’s chair. Krish left the film when it was nearly finished — purportedly pushed out by Ranuat — who re-shot portions of the film herself and recast Ayyub in a role originally played by Sonu Sood. Ranuat is the first co-director listed in the end credits, ahead of Krish, who is credited by his birth name, Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi. According to Krish, many of the scenes filmed with Mishti and Atul Kulkarni were left out of the final film. Perhaps those scenes would have helped to flesh out the characters and their relationships with Manikarnia.

One other complaint is the direction of the characters playing the British officers. The dialogue delivery throughout the film is quite slow, but the British officers speak with an especially unnatural cadence. It’s so strange that I was surprised to discover that Richard Keep, who plays the villain General Hugh Rose, is actually English. I’m not sure which of the co-directors deserves the blame for that, but it’s an unfortunate distraction in a movie that really has a lot going for it.

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Movie Review: Drive (2019)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Drive on Netflix
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

If you tried to make an uncool version of The Fast and the Furious, you could not make anything as uncool as Drive. Dharma Productions’ straight-to-Netflix heist film lacks sex appeal, thrills, and all of the other exciting qualities about the series they tried to emulate.

To ensure that everyone knows this is a Fast & Furious knockoff, Drive repeatedly shows different women in short shorts standing between two race cars, their backs to the camera, ready to drop a flag to start the race. There are lots of white women of average attractiveness wearing bikini tops and jean shorts, setting a low bar for what constitutes sexiness in Drive.

Jacqueline Fernandez is gorgeous as ever as notorious thief Tara, her cleavage working overtime to add some spice to this bland dish. Sapna Pabbi looks stunning as well, as Tara’s best bud, Naina. But when the two best looking men in the cast are Boman Irani and Pankaj Tripathi — who really do look quite handsome — you’ve got problems.

Tara, Naina, and her boyfriend Bikki (Vikramjeet Virk) are a trio of thieves who moonlight as underground street racers. They want to rob the Presidential Palace in Delhi, but they need the help of a mysterious fellow crook known as The King to pull off the job. Brash driver Samar (Sushant Singh Rajput) may be able to help them, but the crew is being watched by Irfan (Irani), an agent from the Prime Minister’s office.

Irfan takes command of the government agency that polices black money, run by corrupt bureaucrat Vibha Singh (Vibha Chhibber). Where do Vibha and her goon Hamid (Tripathi) hide the money they extort? In the Presidential Palace, of course!

A hallmark of movies directed by Drive‘s producer, Karan Johar, is characters rich enough to buy whatever their hearts desire. That flippant materialism is taken to an absurd extreme in Drive, where objects seem to manifest out of nothing. Need some mannequins to help explain the heist plan? Poof, they magically appear in the thieves’ lair. Need the world’s supply of gold lamé fabric to outfit hundreds of guests at an impromptu wedding? Done!

The most cynical example of this pointless extravagance is a video montage of a trip the group takes to Tel Aviv. It’s purely an advertisement paid for by Israel’s tourism bureau that has nothing to do with the rest of the plot. It’s just five minutes of them clubbing, swimming, and zip-lining. The montage the film’s only sequence shot with grainy handheld cameras, making it stand out for the blatant cash grab it is.

Drive‘s plot is simplistic but still makes no sense. Writer-director Tarun Mansukhani yada yadas a lot of the operation planning and Irfan’s investigation. Much is made of the core trio’s suspicion of outsiders, but they seem to have any number of random flunkies on call to pose as police officers and shepherd the stolen loot away from their crime scenes. Didn’t they learn anything from Total Dhamaal? Don’t let anyone else handle your loot!

There is exactly zero chemistry between Fernandez and Rajput, who smirks like a dope through much of the film. The characters never seem in any real danger, neither from cues we’ve come to expect from other movies (someone has to die just before or after the wedding, right? No.) nor from explicitly mentioned threats, such as the Presidential Palace guards’ standing “shoot on sight” order. This is a heist film with no stakes.

And my god, the driving! Samar impresses the crew by cruising around is a suped-up Tata Nano — which sorta looks like a Honda Fit — while wearing ugly brown loafers. Fancy cars like Ferraris and Porsches are all CGI. The most time the cast spends in actual cars is during a sequence in which they discuss their plans in a parking garage. Every thirty seconds, the camera cuts to them sitting in a different parked car. Why? The movie’s not called Park! It’s called Drive!

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Opening November 1: Ujda Chaman

I don’t know why Ujda Chaman — the Hindi remake of the Kannada film Ondu Motteya Kathe (which is on Netflix) — is opening in Chicago area theaters on November 1, 2019. Housefull 4 ate Saand Ki Aankh‘s and Made in China‘s lunch last weekend. This isn’t going to go well.

Ujda Chaman opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, and AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington. It has a listed runtime of 2 hours and heads to Amazon Prime when its theatrical run ends.

Housefull 4 continues to dominate the local market, carrying over at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Regal Round Lake Beach in Round Lake Beach, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

Saand Ki Aankh gets a second week at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Woodridge 18, and Cantera, which is the only theater holding over War.

Made in China sticks around at MovieMax and the South Barrington 24.

Other Indian movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend (all films have English subtitles):

Movie Review: Saand Ki Aankh (2019)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

The real-life women who inspired Saand Ki Aankh (“Bull’s Eye“) are extraordinary, but the film about their lives is less so, because the actresses who play them are miscast. That isn’t to say that thirty-somethings Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar are bad in their roles. They’re just not convincing playing women in their sixties.

The main factor that keeps the movie from being immersive is that the “old lady” makeup and hair coloring applied to Pannu and Pednekar throughout looks absurd. It’s impossible not to notice it. Their temporary gray hair dye isn’t applied realistically and seems like something that you’d find at a Halloween store, meant to be sprayed on in the morning and washed out at night (if it hasn’t all flaked off by then). The same dye looks especially bad when painted onto Pednekar’s eyebrows. The texture of their face makeup might be passable for a stage performance, but it doesn’t holdup under the gaze of a movie camera.

Pannu and Pednekar play Prakashi and Chandro Tomar, respectively, two sisters-in-law living in a village in Uttar Pradesh in 1999. Their crowded household is shared by their husbands, children, and grandchildren, and governed by their husband’s older brother, Rattan Singh Tomar (Prakash Jha), along with his own wife and offspring.

All of the other performers in Saand Ki Aankh play characters their own age, with Rattan and his brothers played by younger actors in the film’s few flashbacks. Pannu and Pednekar are the only constants, further drawing attention to the age difference between the actresses and their characters. Given how brief the flashbacks are, there’s no logical explanation for why actresses aged closer to sixty weren’t cast in these roles.

Prakashi and Chandro have toiled for decades on behalf of their family: cooking, cleaning, stacking bricks, and each birthing eight children while their husbands lounge about. When Dr. Yashpal (Vineet Kumar Singh) opens a shooting range, promising government jobs to those who excel, the boys in the Tomar family scoff at the notion of working for a living. But Prakashi and Chandro recognize a chance for their granddaughters to break out of the stifling patriarchal system and chart their own destinies.

Secretly, Chandro brings her granddaughter Shefali (Sara Arjun) to the range, while Prakashi accompanies her daughter Seema (Pritha Bakshi). To encourage the two girls, the older ladies take their turns firing, only to discover that they are naturals. Dr. Yashpal convinces Chandro and Prakashi to enter a shooting tournament for seniors. In order to compete, they have to trick their husbands and brother-in-law into letting them travel to the city — no easy feat since Rattan’s strict rules for women includes veiling their faces even inside the house. The ladies pull off the ruse and win the tournament, starting their careers as clandestine sharpshooters.

For all its faults, Saand Ki Aankh is very clear about who Chandro and Prakashi are and what motivates them. They are housewives, and even after they taste success, they don’t expect more from life. When the husband of a fellow shooter talks about how proud he is of is wife, the sisters-in-law can barely understand how that’s possible. They accept that there is nothing they could accomplish that would make their husbands feel proud of them. They can only meet expectations or face potential violence for failing to do so.

It’s refreshing that, even though the story is inspiring, inspiration was never the goal of the characters. Everything Chandro and Prakashi do is for the betterment of the lives of their daughters and granddaughters.

Saand Ki Aankh‘s structuring is awkward, which is unfortunate, since this is the directorial debut of experienced screenwriter Tushar Hiranandani. Though Hiranandani didn’t write this script (which is credited to Balwinder Singh Janjua), perhaps he could have given it a final polish to reorganize it a bit. The film’s opening sequence — which repeats after about an hour when the story catches up to it chronologically — is overly long and not attention-grabbing enough to warrant a double take. Shefali serves as the off-screen narrator for a few random scenes, so it would’ve made more sense to open with her narration and use it consistently throughout. Trimming at least half-an-hour off the overall runtime would’ve helped, too.

The Tomar sisters-in-law have certainly lived lives worth making into a movie. I just wish this one was a little better.

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