Tag Archives: 2020

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):

Movie Review: Chhapaak (2020)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Filmmaker Meghna Gulzar has handled tricky real-life topics before, choosing a true crime story as the subject of her terrific thriller Talvar. For her latest film Chhapaak (“Splash“), Gulzar tackles another challenging topic, that of acid attacks on women. While informative, Chhapaak‘s plot lacks emotional punch.

Like Talvar, Chhapaak‘s narrative is non-linear. It begins in 2012, as a brutal gang rape in Delhi turns public attention toward violence against women. Twenty-something Malti (Deepika Padukone) struggles to find work, years after her face was severely scarred with acid. A reporter eager to revive interest in Malti’s story connects her with Amol (Vikrant Massey), who gives Malti a job at the non-governmental organization he runs aiding acid attack victims.

The job triggers a flashback to Malti’s own attack when she was nineteen. A much older family friend, Babbu (Vishal Dahiya), burned her when she rebuffed his marriage proposal. The acid scarred most of Malti’s face, requiring months of recovery and multiple surgeries over several years. The court battle to convict Babbu takes even longer. Malti’s dogged lawyer Archana (Madhurjeet Sarghi) is determined to see Babbu sentenced not just for the physical injury he caused but for attempted murder, in a move to force the courts to treat acid attacks more seriously than the law currently does.

A surprising amount of Chhapaak‘s story is devoted to the details of the court proceedings in Malti’s case and her subsequent petition for a federal ban on the sale of acid. Archana and her legal team debate strategies and counterarguments in long scenes where Malti isn’t even present. During trial scenes, Malti often sits quietly behind her lawyers without participating.

It’s an odd choice to sideline the film’s marquee star for such scenes, which are more educational than they are emotional. They also take time away from aspects of Malti’s story that are underdeveloped, chiefly relationships within her family. There’s a simmering resentment between Malti’s mother and wealthy aunt Shiraz (Payal Nair), who pays for Malti’s surgeries, but we don’t know their history. We also don’t know anything about the relationship between Malti and her younger brother. In the aftermath of her attack, he’s ignored so completely that no one in the house realizes he’s developed tuberculosis. The siblings never have a conversation about how their lives changed because of what was done to Malti.

The problem with the way Gulzar and co-writer Atika Chohan use the non-linear format in Chhapaak is that flashbacks to who Malti was before the attack are saved until very late in the film. Only then do we get a glimpse of her friendships and her dreams for the future. The acid attack changed Malti externally but internally as well, but holding back information about who Malti was means we only see her reckoning with her external changes, not her internal ones.

I suspect some of this stems from the fact that Malti is based on a real woman who is still very much alive. 29-year-old Laxmi Agarwal survived an acid attack as a teen and later became a prominent activist and television personality. Perhaps in deference to Agarwal, Chhapaak‘s focus steers away from its heroine’s internal struggles and family drama to her courtroom victories and romantic relationship with Amol. (With regard to that, Padukone and Massey do share a charming chemistry.)

That aspect of the story feeds into the thing that Chhapaak does best, which is encourage its audience to see past the damage done by the acid to the person within. The prosthetics used on Padukone are well-crafted, changing with each of Malti’s surgeries. Gulzar also cast real acid attack survivors to play the other workers at the NGO.

Yet, even at the very end, Gulzar can’t resist centering Chhapaak on the issue rather than the characters. The film’s brief final scene (not a spoiler) introduces some new women who are splashed with acid, followed by a note that one of them died as a result, followed by a still of written statistics about acid attacks in India. No one would have assumed that, just because the film shows progress being made that the problem of acid attacks was magically solved, rendering this scene unnecessary.

While Chhapaak deserves credit for shining light on a worthy subject, it could have been done in a way that was more narratively satisfying.

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Opening January 10: Chhappak and Tanhaji

It’s a busy weekend for Indian films in the Chicago area, including two new Hindi releases opening January 10, 2020. First is Raazi director Meghna Gulzar’s acid attack survivor drama Chhappak, starring Deepika Padukone and Vikrant Massey.

Chhappak opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 2 min. Its streaming partner is Hotstar.

The weekend’s other new release is the period action film Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, starring Ajay Devgn, Kajol, and Saif Ali Khan.

Tanhaji opens Friday at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Cantera, Naperville 16, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min. Its streaming partner is also Hotstar.

Good Newwz carries over for a third week at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and Woodridge 18.

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