Tag Archives: 2020

Movie Review: Cargo (2019)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Cargo on Netflix

Some movies win you over on charm alone. That’s not the only thing that Cargo has going for it, but it’s more than enough to make this an endearing film.

Cargo is set in the year 2027, in an alternate timeline where a truce between demons and humans governs the world. As part of the truce, for the last seventy-five years, demons have handled humans’ transitions after death from a number of large spaceships orbiting Earth.

One of those ships is Pushpak 634-A, piloted by the demon Prahastha (Vikrant Massey). As one of the six original astronauts sent to space to handle Post Death Transition Services, Prahastha has been happily alone for seventy-five years. (Although they look like humans, demons age more slowly, apparently.) He’s not pleased when Ground Control sends him an assistant: an eager young astronaut named Yuvishka (Shweta Tripathi).

All demons have a magical ability, and Yuvishka’s is the ability to heal injuries. This is a particularly useful skill, since one of the steps in prepping dead humans for reincarnation is repairing injuries and ailments, and all of the equipment Prahastha has on-hand is outdated and falling apart. His main control center is a desk with a bunch of knobs, a printing calculator, and a CRT TV monitor.

The low-tech equipment that went into its design makes sense within the context of the story — the ship is almost eight decades old, after all — but it’s also a reminder that Cargo was made on a minimal budget. Props are used so thoughtfully that the film has a distinct, pleasing visual style. One may notice the absence of high-tech effects and CGI, but Cargo is so well designed that it never feels like it’s missing anything.

The staging and props evoke nostalgia for science fiction films and shows of the 20th century, which is appropriate since Cargo hews more closely to the tone of the original Star Trek series than to contemporary sci-fi. There’s nothing grim or dark about Cargo. It’s about the exploration of the human condition, not a battle against an existential threat. The focused story muses on life, death, and what comes after through the experiences of its two leads. Prahastha writes letters to a woman he used to love, but he never sends them. Yuvishka thought that becoming an astronaut would finally make her feel like she mattered.

Greeting and processing dead people as they arrive on the ship just reminds Prahastha and Yuvishka of what’s at stake, both for mortals with short lifespans but for themselves as well. Many of the dead ask if they can speak with a loved one for a final time. Others wonder what the point of their life really was. Prahstha and Yuvishka collect the belongings from each person, waiting until after they’ve moved on to launch those belongings into space. As the saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.”

Cargo‘s plot is tertiary to its atmosphere and characters, moving at an unhurried pace that allows the audience to get to know the crew of Pushpak 634-A and enjoy spending time with them. Massey and Tripathi work beautifully together and are so comfortable to be around. Writer-director Arati Kadav achieved something really special with her debut feature. Cargo didn’t overstay its welcome, but it also left me wanting more.

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Movie Review: Gunjan Saxena — The Kargil Girl (2020)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Gunjan Saxena on Netflix

Gunjan Saxena didn’t set out to be the Indian Air Force’s first woman combat pilot. She just wanted to fly. While the movie based on her life — Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl — shows some of the key events in her pathbreaking career, it focuses more on how her extraordinary willpower and the support of her devoted father helped her make history.

Gunjan grew up in the 1980s wanting to be a pilot. A clever song sequence shows young Gunjan (played by cute Riva Arora) wearing aviator sunglasses and playing with toy planes to the tune of “Mann Ki Dori.” Lyrics like, “From the moment I saw you, I just can’t get you out of my head,” describe first love, but it’s love between a girl and an airplane.

Her father, Anup (Pankaj Tripathi), believes his daughter can accomplish anything she puts her mind to. He’s determined to help her, even over the objections of Gunjan’s mother Kirti (Ayesha Raza Mishra) and Gunjan’s older brother Anshuman (played by Aaryan Arora as a kid and Angad Bedi as an adult.) Mom and brother claim to want to save Gunjan from heartbreak in a world that limits the options for girls and women, but their attitudes just reinforce those limitations.

As she grows up, Gunjan (played as an adult by Janhvi Kapoor) proves herself an overachiever, topping her classes and doing whatever is required to reach her goal. Joining the Air Force’s first class of women pilots turns out to be the quickest way for her to get in the air. When Gunjan fails the Air Force fitness exam by being seven kilograms overweight, she and Anup train using a diet and exercise routine movie superstar Rekha mentioned in a magazine.

The relationship between father and daughter is the heart of Gunjan Saxena. First-time writer-director Sharan Sharma took the advice of his co-writer Nikhil Mehrotra, who previously wrote great family-oriented films like Dangal, Panga, and Chhichhore. Sharma told First Post that, given the volume of excellent source material, “the biggest difficulty in a film of this nature is deciding what should not go into it.” Given how delightful Tripathi and Kapoor are together, focusing the story on their bond was clearly the right move.

Gunjan Saxena is only Kapoor’s third lead role, and she proves herself completely capable of carrying a feature film. She makes it looks easy, whether the challenges facing Gunjan are physical or emotional.

Whatever Anshuman’s motivations were for warning Gunjan against being a pilot, he was right that not everyone would be pleased about her choice. She realizes that after she becomes the first woman at her assigned Air Force base. From petty annoyances like not having a dedicated restroom to outright hostility from some of her fellow soldiers, she faces the extent to which some men will go to exclude women from certain spaces. A scene in which Gunjan’s commanding officer Dileep Singh (Viineet Kumar) finally tells her why he doesn’t think she belongs is heartbreaking. Kapoor handles the scene with grace and finesse.

The film’s action sequences when Gunjan is called into service during the Kargil War are well-executed and thrilling. The cinematic license Sharma takes with events ramps up the excitement and emotional resonance.

There’s a lovely scene in which Gunjan discusses the meaning of patriotism with her father, asking whether the desire to fly is sufficient reason to join the Air Force. Anup — a career military man himself — replies that patriotism isn’t measured by who shouts slogans the loudest, but by whether one does their duty to the best of their ability. It’s a fitting way to distill the real Gunjan Saxena’s approach to her life and a fine way to describe Janhvi Kapoor’s portrayal of her.

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Movie Review: Bhangra Paa Le (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Bhangra Paa Le on Netflix

Though bhangra features in plenty of Hindi movies, it’s rarely the only dance style performed. Not so in Bhangra Paa Le (“Let’s Do the Bhangra“), director Sneha Taurani’s debut film, which is all bhangra, all the time.

This is established early on. As college stud Jaggi (Sunny Kaushal) fills out his university’s dance team, he rejects any dancer whose performance is too influenced by hip-hop or other Western dance styles. If you’re going to win a bhangra competition where top prize is a trip to compete in London, you need bhangra specialists.

While at a wedding, Jaggi spots an ideal candidate to fill the female-lead role on his team. He and Simi (Rukshar Dhillon) hit it off, but before he can ask her to join his squad, she asks him to join her university team. Realizing that they are rivals, they part ways — not on bad terms, but each determined to take the top prize.

Each has their own reason for wanting to win. By performing in London, Simi hopes to prove to her father (who abandoned her for a new life in the UK) that she’s doing just fine without him. Jaggi wants to honor his grandfather, Kaptaan, a bhangra legend in his hometown. Kaushal plays Kaptaan in flashbacks to grandpa’s days romancing a beauty named Nimmo (Shriya Pilgaonkar) before leaving to fight in World War II.

It’s a stretch to equate the struggles of a combat veteran with those of a college dancer, the way that Jaggi does. Yet, given Jaggi’s young age and comparatively limited life experience, it makes sense that he might make that connection. The characters in Bhangra Paa Le behave in authentic, age-appropriate ways. It’s one of the strongest aspects of the film.

It’s also a treat to watch both of the main characters evolve, even if Jaggi gets more of the narrative focus. While they have their ups and downs, there’s nothing mean-spirited about either Jaggi or Simi, so the drama never feels overblown. They’re two nice young people who deserve to succeed, even if they can’t both be victorious.

The film’s supporting characters don’t get the same kind of development as the leads, appearing and disappearing as the story requires. The story itself feels a bit disjointed, not because of the World War II flashbacks, but because Jaggi returns home in the second half–abruptly shifting the tone of the film from a modern youth picture to a rural family drama.

Of course, the main reason for anyone to watch Bhangra Paa Le is the dancing, which is overall really good. The movie does a nice job showcasing the dance form’s ability to express a range of emotions, using songs with different tempos and sentiments as a base for a varied choreography palette. Viewers who are only interested in the dancing will not be disappointed.

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Movie Review: Baaghi 3 (2020)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

The trailer of Baaghi 3 promises “One Man Against the Whole Country.” Could we be in for a biting commentary on the Assad regime in Syria? Of course not. Baaghi 3 is a brainless film with no intention of challenging its audience — except in its willingness to stay until the end of the movie. At showing I attended, I was the only one who did.

Baaghi 3 is the latest in the Baaghi series of films, which have no connection to each other except that they star Tiger Shroff playing a character named Ronny (or in the case of this latest movie: “Ronnie”). The characters aren’t even the same guy, as Ronny/Ronnie’s backstory reboots with each new movie. Shraddha Kapoor played a character named Sia in the original Baaghi, and she returns to play a different character this time, now named “Siya.”

Ronnie 3.0 is the thuggish son of a cop (played by Tiger’s real-life dad, Jackie) who was fatally injured in the line of duty when Ronnie was young. On his deathbed, Dad tasked Ronnie with the care of his older brother Vikram, who is as close to an ambulatory potato as a person can be. Even as adults, whenever Vikram (Riteish Deshmukh) is in trouble, he yells “Ronnie!”, summoning his brother with a gale of wind to beat up the bad guys.

Jobless, ability-less Vikram is made a police officer because of nepotism, despite him being afraid of everything. Ronnie acts as his henchman, breaking up an international human trafficking ring while Vikram gets the credit publicly. The federal government notices and sends Vikram alone to Syria to facilitate the extradition of a terrorist — the most absurd thing to happen in a movie full of absurd stuff. Vikram is immediately kidnapped, forcing Ronnie to head to Syria to rescue him with the help of his girlfriend/sister-in-law Siya.

Siya fits into the story as part of a subplot to get Vikram married, off-loading his daily management from Ronnie onto an unsuspecting woman — in this case, Siya’s sister, Ruchi (Ankita Lokhande). Ruchi’s other purpose is to get pregnant in order to give more weight to Vikram’s predictably doomed trip to Syria. It’s a transparent emotional ploy that doesn’t work.

The “country” Ronnie takes on is actually a large terrorist outfit run by Abu Jalal Gaza (Jameel Khoury) that operates within Syria’s borders. Gaza’s agents in India and Pakistan kidnap families, forcing men to become suicide bombers by threatening their wives and children (yet another transparent emotional ploy). This seems like a risky and convoluted business model considering that Gaza only seems interested in blowing up targets within Syria. It’s painfully obvious that no one who worked on the story gave much thought to the whys or hows of the movie’s bad guys.

There’s nothing fun about Baaghi 3. It feels out-of-date, with goofball sound effects for the film’s dorky jokes. Poorly executed action choreography means Ronnie’s punches repeatedly fall short of his intended targets. Potentially novel battles in which Ronnie faces down helicopters and tanks are underwhelming. A ropes sequence set in a scrapyard feels like a macho knock-off of the song “Rewrite the Stars” from The Greatest Showman.

Shroff and Deshmukh have zero chemistry as siblings, although they both show themselves to be proficient at yelling. Vikram’s entry into the police force ushers in a subplot promoting extrajudicial police murder, which is not surprising given Baaghi 3‘s support of violence as character development. It’s not fatherhood that makes Vikram into a “real” man but rather when he finally kills people himself, instead of letting his little brother do it for him.

If there are any minor bright spots in Baaghi 3, it’s the true professionalism displayed by Jaideep Ahlawat as the kidnapper IPL and Vijay Varma as a helpful Pakistani expat in Syria in the face of utter absurdity. Shraddha Kapoor’s role is underdeveloped and superfluous, but she brings to it a weird charisma that I appreciated. Other than that, Baaghi 3 is a waste of time.

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Opening February 21: Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan and Bhoot – Part 1

Two new Hindi films open in the Chicago area on February 21, 2020. The romantic comedy Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan — a spin-off of 2017’s Shubh Mangal Saavdhan — features Ayushmann Khurrana and Jitendra Kumar as a gay couple struggling with their families’ objections.

Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison in Addison, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. (Streaming Partner: Amazon Prime) It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs.

Also new this weekend is the horror movie Bhoot: Part 1 – The Haunted Ship, starring Vicky Kaushal.

Bhoot: Part 1 opens Friday at MovieMax and the South Barrington 24. (Streaming Partner: Amazon Prime) It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 5 min.

Love Aaj Kal carries over for a second week at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Cantera, and AMC Niles 12 in Niles.

Malang gets a third week at MovieMax and South Barrington 24, which also holds over Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior.

MovieMax also carries over Jawaani Jaaneman and Panga.

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

Movie Review: Shimla Mirchi (2020)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Shimla Mirchi on Netflix

Sholay director Ramesh Sippy’s Shimla Mirchi spent five years on the shelf before it found a buyer, but the content feels even more dated than that.

The romantic comedy stars Rajkummar Rao as Avi, a grumpy single guy who’s been dragged along on his family’s annual vacation to Shimla. His mood changes when Naina (Rakul Preet Singh) sprints by him, fresh from a photo shoot at her friend’s bridal boutique. One look at Naina’s heaving bosom and toned abs, and Avi is in love.

It is important to note that, in Shimla Mirchi, “love” happens the instant a man sees a beautiful woman. It is also important to note that a woman’s most lovable attribute is her torso, hence why Naina wears crop tops almost exclusively throughout the film. Avi is frequently shown ogling her bare waist, because he’s in love.

Avi’s problem is that he gets tongue-tied whenever he tries to tell a woman that he loves her. (Could the problem be that his instinct is to introduce himself to women he’s never met with “I love you” before “Hi, I’m Avi”?) He takes job at Naina’s cafe in the hopes of getting to know her better. When he still can’t muster the courage to speak up, he writes her an anonymous love letter.

Naina’s not interested in her own beau, but she sees the letter as an opportunity to cheer up her mom, Rukmini (Hema Malini), who’s lonely after her husband Tilak (Kanwaljit Singh) left her for a younger woman. Naina readdresses the love letter to her mom and has Avi deliver it — leading Rukmini to believe that Avi is her secret admirer.

The high-concept story by writers Kausar Munir, Vipul Binjola, and Rishi Virmani yields a number of cute moments, as when Rukmini stops her dance practice to sneak after Avi, bells around her ankles jingling whenever she moves. When Naina realizes that Avi is way overqualified to work as her handyman, she jumps to the wild and funny conclusion that he’s involved in a nefarious international plot that inexplicably begins with the takeover of a small cafe in Shimla.

There’s a nice relationship between Naina, Rukmini, and Tilak’s mother (Kamlesh Gill), who lives with them. Naina has cut off contact with her father, and even his own mother thinks he’s a jerk. They want Rukmini to rediscover her sense of self-worth, and the film doesn’t even hint at trying to reunite the family.

Yet even the best elements of the film are good, but not great. The acting is fine, if uninspired. The story is cute but forgettable. Shakti Kapoor plays the quirkily-named Captain Uncle, who exists to move the plot along when the writers couldn’t think of a better way to do so.

Then there are the elements that make Shimla Mirchi seem like it came out of a time capsule. The mistaking of lust for love and the objectification of Naina’s body are the worst examples. Captain Uncle makes some racist jokes about East Asian languages. Avi has a friend, Jude (Tarun Wadhwa), who rotates through a series of indistinguishable white girlfriends who don’t speak but are always wrapping themselves around him. He ditches the last one when he spots a pretty Indian girl in Desi attire and immediately falls in love with her (naturally).

Shimla Mirchi feels like the product of a filmmaker who started his career back when times were different. When objectifying women was the norm. When you could crack racist jokes because there was no internet and few people outside your intended audience would watch your movies. There’s nothing outrageously offensive in Shimla Mirchi. It just doesn’t feel current.

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Opening February 7: Malang

The new Hindi thriller Malang opens in Chicago area theaters February 7, 2020. It stars Aditya Roy Kapur, Disha Patani, and Anil Kapoor.

Malang opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Dine-In Rosemont 12 in Rosemont, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 40 min. Its streaming partner is Netflix.

Jawaani Jaaneman carries over for a second week at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and Cantera. (Streaming partner: Amazon Prime)

Street Dancer 3 (Streaming partner: Amazon Prime) and Panga (Streaming partner: Hotstar) get a third week at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and Cantera.

Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior holds on for a fifth week at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. (Streaming partner: Hotstar)

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

Opening January 31: Jawaani Jaaneman and Gul Makai

Two new Hindi films open in Chicago area theaters on January 31, 2020. The comedy-drama Jawaani Jaaneman stars Saif Ali Khan as an overgrown man-child who learns he has an adult daughter.

Jawaani Jaaneman opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 59 min. Its streaming partner is Amazon Prime.

Also new this weekend is Gul Makai, a biopic about activist Malala Yousafzai. TV actress Reem Shaikh plays the lead role opposite film stars Divya Dutta, Atul Kulkarni, and the late Om Puri.

Gul Makai opens Friday at MovieMax and the South Barrington 24. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 12 min.

Street Dancer 3 carries over for a second week at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Cantera, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, and AMC Dine-In Rosemont 12 in Rosemont. (Streaming partner: Amazon Prime)

The sweet family film Panga also holds on for a second week at MovieMax, South Barrington, Cantera, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville. (Streaming partner: Hotstar)

Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior gets a fourth week at MovieMax, Niles 12, South Barrington 24, Naperville, and and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. (Streaming partner: Hotstar)

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

Movie Review: Panga (2020)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at Amazon or iTunes

Even with only a few feature films under her belt, writer-director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari has proven herself one of the most skilled makers of feel-good films out there. Her latest, Panga, follows the everyday struggles of a sweet family whose matriarch returns to the athletic career she left to raise her child.

Retiring from India’s national kabbadi team at age twenty-five wasn’t Jaya’s (Kangana Ranaut) plan when she found out she was pregnant. She had the full support of her husband Prashant (Jassi Gill) to resume her captaincy as soon as she was fit to do so. But when their son Adi was born premature and with a number of ailments, Jaya put all of her focus on raising her little boy.

Seven years later, Adi (Yagya Bhasin) is mostly fit and increasingly independent. Prashant tells his son about the life Jaya had before she became a mom — a history that Jaya has evidently never shared with the boy. Understanding what Jaya sacrificed for the family and excited by the prospect of having a professional athlete for a mother, Adi convinces Jaya to try and make a comeback.

Rather than manufacture a bunch of obstacles to put in Jaya’s way, Tiwari and her co-writer Nikhil Mehrotra keep Jaya’s journey realistic while mining the scenario for as much drama as possible. Doing so allows for an insightful examination of gendered divisions of labor within a household. Jaya threw herself fully into being a mom and a homemaker when Adi was born, but she still has a job outside of the house. Kabbadi teams in India are often sponsored by companies like railways, and Jaya kept her job selling train tickets even after her playing career ended.

As capable and helpful as both Prashant and Adi are, the house is still Jaya’s domain. How is she supposed to transfer seven years of accumulated knowledge to Prashant in the days before she heads to training camp? While their lives obviously won’t fall apart if the beds go unmade, it goes to show how we undervalue the effort it takes to make homemaking seem automatic.

Prashant’s promotion to household manager also highlights how removed many fathers are from the social networks that make child-rearing easier. He learns to rely on his neighbor and his cranky mother-in-law (played by Neena Gupta). He asks to be invited into the WhatsApp group for moms at Adi’s school.

A theme Tiwari introduced in her first feature, Nil Battey Sannata, and revisits in Panga is that of children coming to view their parents as individuals, not just their caretakers. Adi is mature enough to understand that playing kabbadi makes his mother happy, and that her happiness will require some inconvenience on his part. Yet he’s not so mature that he’s above throwing a tantrum when his dad screws up his makeup for the talent show or sulking when his mom has to sit on the bench during a game. It’s solid character writing.

What the story wants us to appreciate more than anything is that this family is nice. They are helpful, quick with a joke, and willing to make sacrifices for each other. They have supportive friends, especially Jaya’s former teammate Meenu (Richa Chadda) and her new teammate Nisha (Megha Burman). These strong bonds reinforce the feeling that this is a family that deserves happiness. The acting across the board is very good, with little Yagya Bhasin providing some great laughs.

Panga‘s kabbadi scenes are quite fun, emphasizing the teamwork required for success without feeling preachy. Selfishly, I would have appreciated a scene where Jaya explains the sport’s rules to Adi, but there’s more than enough context provided for kabbadi newbies like myself to understand the tension during the matches. This is a decent starter movie for Bollywood newcomers — and anyone in need of a cinematic pick-me-up.

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Opening January 24: Panga and Street Dancer 3

Two new Hindi films open in Chicago area theaters the weekend beginning January 24, 2020. Bareilly Ki Barfi director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari returns with the kabbadi drama Panga, starring Kangana Ranaut, Jassi Gill, and Richa Chadda.

Panga opens Friday at MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 11 min. Its streaming partner is Hotstar.

Also new this weekend is Street Dancer 3 (as it’s being called here; in India it’s Street Dancer 3D). It was originally planned as a sequel to ABCD 2 before changing production houses. Thus, Varun Dhawan and Shraddha Kapoor return for Street Dancer 3, but as different characters.

Street Dancer 3 opens Friday at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Cantera, AMC River East 21 in Chicago, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, AMC Dine-In Rosemont 12 in Rosemont, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 25 min. Its streaming partner is Amazon Prime.

Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior carries over for a third week at MovieMax, Niles 12, South Barrington 24, Cantera, Naperville 16, and Woodridge 18.

Chhapaak also gets a third week at MovieMax, while the South Barrington 24 holds over Good Newwz for a fifth week.

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