Tag Archives: A. R. Murugadoss

Movie Review: Naam Hai Akira (2016)

NaamHaiAkira0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Naam Hai Akira is an endurance test, a fight to stay in one’s seat and finish the film instead of leaving the theater to do anything else. The movie is a disorganized, demoralizing disaster.

Naam Hai Akira (known as just Akira in India) is a remake of a Tamil film by Santha Kumar called Mouna Guru, a hit remade in two other languages besides Hindi. I haven’t seen the original, so I have no idea if it’s as messy as its Hindi remake. However, Naam Hai Akira is directed and co-written by A. R. Murugadoss, the man who screwed up Ghajini, his remake of the great film Memento. I’m inclined to place the blame on Murugadoss.

Murugadoss’s film swaps the gender of the film’s protagonist, a move that would seem progressive, if, again, the director didn’t screw it up so royally. Akira (Sonakshi Sinha) is first introduced as an adult, kneeling in the woods with a gun pointed at her head. Then the movie flashes back either three years or fourteen years — the movie contradicts itself — to Akira as a pre-teen in Jodhpur.

Little Akira witnesses a pair of young men throw acid in the face of a teen girl who rejects their advances. Akira reports them to the police, who let the men go because of their families’ political connections. After the men cut Akira’s face in retaliation, her father (played by Atul Kulkarni, who needs to play dad roles more often) enrolls her in karate class so she can learn to defend herself.

Ah yes, self-defense classes — the go-to solution to the problem of violence against women by those who don’t want to admit that men are the problem. It goes hand-in-hand with the notions that women can prevent rape by not wearing mini-skirts or by invoking God’s name when begging not to be raped.

Akira has to walk by an all-girls dance class to get to her all-boys-but-one karate class, just in case we’ve forgotten what society expects of girls. When she and her dad spot the same men harassing other women, Dad encourages her to beat the crap out of them. She uses her karate superpowers to do so, in the process splashing the bottle of acid intended for her onto the face of the main perpetrator.

Akira’s punishment for daring to confront sexual harassment is to spend the rest of her childhood in juvenile detention. The lesson of the movie is that violence is the province of men, and women who choose to use it will be punished and ultimately forced to martyr themselves to maintain a social order in which they are eternal, powerless victims.

There’s a lot of boring stuff that has to happen before we get to that completely depressing conclusion. As an adult, Akira is forced by her brother Ajay to move to Mumbai to live with him, his nasty wife, and their mother. This isn’t really clear, but it seems as though Ajay and Mom think Akira was wrong to stand up to those men years ago, and that her use of violence is a sign of some kind of mental defect. That’s the only way to explain what eventually happens, but again, it’s not clear at all.

This despite the fact that Akira is completely timid. She hardly speaks, and she consents to anything anyone asks of her. She only retaliates if someone physically attacks her first.

When the plot catches up to that opening scene in the woods, it takes a series of unbelievable mishaps before Akira even thinks about trying to escape. She just sits there — gun pointed at her forehead — while her would-be killers discuss the phone call they just got from their boss. They want to confirm the plan with him, but their cell phone died, so they leave one guy behind to guard Akira and another prisoner. They call their boss from a payphone, but then their van breaks down. Then they ride a bike back to the guy with the gun.

The whole freaking time, Akira just sits there, waiting to die. Only when the other prisoner makes a break for it does she try to get away. Never has an action hero possessed so little initiative or sense of self-preservation.

That scene is par for the course. Everything is spelled out in excruciating detail. In another sequence, one character says (in essence), “We need to file a missing persons report and name Inspector Manik in it.” Cut to a shot in the police station with Manik and his crooked coworkers, one of whom says, “They filed a missing persons report and named Manik in it.”

There’s a whole other storyline about a quartet of corrupt cops, led by a detective played by Anurag Kashyap, who’s one of the only good things about this movie (Akira’s wardrobe is the other). So much time is spent on the cops that Akira’s barely in half of the movie. When she gets mixed up in their crime by mistake, it’s because of moronic reasons that depend on everyone being as stupid as possible.

It’s hard to find the cops all that menacing anyway, since they are terrible at covering up their crime, foolishly involving dozens of people instead of just killing those who know and dumping the bodies in another jurisdiction. This is Corrupt Movie Cops 101.

Nothing happens in Naam Hai Akira unless by happenstance or plain idiocy, and all of it takes frigging forever. Sinha could be a fine action star, but she needs a better movie than this. Good grief, it’s so awful.

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Movie Review: Gabbar is Back (2015)

GabbarIsBack1 Star (out of 4)

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Even the lowest common denominator deserves better than Gabbar is Back. Director Krish and writer A. R. Murugadoss take so many shortcuts in telling their anti-corruption tale that it’s a wonder they were able to stretch it into a feature-length film.

Gabbar is Back is based on Murugadoss’s Tamil film Ramanaa, which was also remade in Telugu and Kannada. I have no idea if any of the three previous versions make any more sense than Gabbar is Back. Maybe by the fourth time, Murugadoss just stopped giving a shit.

Movie plots have an inherent sense of economy. If characters are introduced, they need to propel the story forward or aid in its resolution. Murugadoss has no sense of economy. His story is a sprawl, full of extraneous characters and poorly integrated motivations.

“Gabbar” is an alias used by a physics professor named Adi (Akshay Kumar). His casual teaching attire — jeans and a hoodie, just like the kids wear these days — makes him popular enough to inspire dozens of his students to become kidnappers and murderers. It’s all cool, though. They only kill government officials who’ve taken bribes.

The police get nervous when public sentiment turns in Gabbar’s favor. We know this thanks to innumerable TV news reports and lazy man-on-the-street shots of random people talking about how great Gabbar is. A newspaper editor even shouts, “Stop the press!”

According to honest police constable Sadhu (Sunil Grover), the four high-ranking cops tasked with finding Gabbar all bribed their way into positions of power. Yet, when Gabbar targets the most crooked police officer in the city, it’s not one of the four officials who’ve already been identified as corrupt. It’s some other cop. Why introduce a whole new character when four others have already been set up as suspects?

Poor Sadhu figures out who Gabbar is, but he doesn’t get to apprehend him. Halfway through the film, Murugadoss introduces yet another government officer to lead the investigation. Why are there so many characters?!

Adi’s motivation for becoming a serial killer is mentioned exactly once, in song form. His family died when an unsafely built high-rise collapsed, yet Adi never mentions this to anyone. All his motivation warrants is a musical flashback.

Partway into the film, Adi’s personal revenge narrative takes over the anti-corruption plotline before jumping back again, with no attempt at artful integration. If Adi’s minions knew he was using them to carry out a vendetta against a private citizen, would they still risk criminal prosecution for him?

Another poorly integrated plot element is Shruti (Shruti Haasan), who adds nothing to the movie. She plays a moron who somehow passed the bar exam. She prefaces statements with, “According to Google…”, because she apparently doesn’t understand how search engines work.

There is no character development in Gabbar is Back, and the only narrative theme is “Corruption is bad.” Well, duh. That’s where screenwriting starts, not where it ends. Tossing in a couple of song cameos by Chritrangda Singh and Kareena Kapoor Khan isn’t enough, nor is having Akshay Kumar kick people. This theme has been addressed plenty of times before, and more skillfully. Murugadoss and Krish shouldn’t be rewarded for their laziness.

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Movie Review: Holiday (2014)

Holiday_-_A_Soldier_Is_Never_Off_Duty_(poster)2 Stars (out of 4)

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Holiday: A Soldier Is Never Off Duty is an unapologetically patriotic film. Sadly, the flag-waving gets in the way of the plot and ultimately makes the film feel exploitative.

Writer-director A.R. Murugadoss puts himself in a pickle by making a standard issue one-man-wrecking-crew character into a government official. Akshay Kumar plays Virat, an army officer who’s also a covert agent of the D.I.A. (Defense Intelligence Agency).

He’s not a rogue agent or an officer who’s been wrongly accused and is trying to clear his name. As far as the movie explains, Virat is an agent of good standing working within the chain of command.

Virat interrupts his military leave to single-handedly dismantle a terrorist organization planning to bomb Mumbai. Virat tortures suspects, endangers civilians and his fellow officers, and coordinates complicated missions entirely outside of the justice system and without ever informing a superior officer of his actions.

If, as happens in the movie, a solitary D.I.A. or C.I.A. agent coordinated the public executions of a dozen people before a crime had been committed and without first trying to apprehend the suspects, everyone from the head of the Defense Department to the President would descend on that agent like the wrath of God. And what citizen in a democracy wants individual government agents to have the power to decide who lives and who dies without due process?

But there’s no time for ethical questions in Holiday because Virat needs to get married! As is the case for the protagonist in every one-man-wrecking-crew/supercop movie, Virat’s only character flaw is that he starts the movie without a girlfriend. He falls in love with Saiba (Sonakshi Sinha), who is only interesting for the duration of a dance number that showcases her athleticism. She spends the rest of the movie begging Virat to kiss her.

Holiday would’ve made more sense tonally had the first half been devoted to Virat romancing Saiba and the second half devoted to the terror plot. Instead, Murugadoss asks the audience to change gears on a moment’s notice. Ignore the fact that we just watched a bus full of children explode and cue the wacky sound effects: here’s Virat’s dim-witted Army commander, and he’s played by Govinda!

As with the wacky sound effects, Murugadoss always makes it explicit what emotions he’s trying to provoke. To instill fear, characters utter the phrase “sleeper cell” about a million times. There’s a lengthy montage of families saying tearful good-byes to soldiers as they ship out and a needless scene set in a home for wounded veterans. Since there’s absolutely zero chance that a character played by Akshay Kumar will be permanently maimed or killed in the course of a movie, these scenes feel like exploitation.

The movie also goes out of its way to paint police officers as less noble than army officers. Virat’s best friend, Mukund (Sumeet Raghavan), is a cop, and Virat spends most of the movie explaining the basics of terrorist cells to him. (Apparently, police don’t get any training in counter-terrorism, since it’s not like they’re the front line of defense in attacks on major metropolitan areas or anything.) Mukund responds by praising the selflessness and bravery of soldiers, as though police-work is totally safe.

Though the unnamed terrorist leader (played by Freddy Daruwala) comes up with some clever schemes, he fails to make use of the most obvious way to get to Virat. He threatens a bunch of Virat’s fellow soldiers, but never Mukund or Saiba, even though that’s who Virat spends all his time with.

In Holiday‘s defense, the fight scenes are better than those in most Hindi action movies, and there are a couple of catchy song-and-dance numbers. Besides that, Holiday is a potentially entertaining thriller wasted on behalf of a political agenda.

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Movie Review: Ghajini (2008)

1 Star (out of 4)

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Ghajini, director A. R. Murugadoss’s Hindi version of the Hollywood thriller, Memento, might’ve been more successful had it borrowed even more heavily from the original film that it already does.

Ghajini‘s premise is so similar to Memento‘s that Murugadoss included a note at the opening of the film: “We acknowledge other stories that have dealt with this issue.” They needed to; the premise is almost identical. The film’s protagonist, Sanjay (Aamir Khan), lost his ability to form new short-term memories after a fight with some goons who killed his fiancee, Kalpana. Now he wants to avenge her death.

Murugadoss didn’t just appropriate the plot. He also copied Memento‘s signature gimmicks, including the protagonist’s use of Post-It Notes, Polaroid photos and tattoos to act as his memory, as he learns more about Kalpana’s murderer.

Unlike Memento, where neither the protagonist nor the audience learns the identity of the murderer until the end of the movie, the identity of Kalpana’s killer is revealed in the first twenty minutes. He’s the film’s title character, Ghajini. So there’s no mystery about who killed Kalpana. The only questions are why he killed her (turns out it’s over something stupid and unrelated to the main plot) and how will Sanjay inevitably kill him.

Fortunately for Sanjay, the loss of his short-term memory apparently imbued him with superhuman strength. Khan spends most of the present-day sequences staring wide-eyed at the camera, before roaring and stomping about, Incredible Hulk style. Though he was a career businessman before his head trauma, he now can pummel henchman by the dozen. At one point, Sanjay punches a villain so hard that the guy’s head turns completely backwards on his body.

Perhaps the most awkward aspect of Ghajini is its flashbacks to the early days of Sanjay’s romance with Kalpana. The longest flashback sequence makes up the middle hour of the film and is, on its own, a typical yet entertaining Bollywood romantic comedy about mistaken identities. Asin Thottumkal is engaging as Kalpana, a role she originated in the 2005 Tamil language version of Ghajini. But the light-hearted flashback scenes feel totally inappropriate sandwiched between the humorless, ultra-violent action sequences of the present-day storyline.

There are actually some things that Ghajini does well. The chemistry between the lead couple during the flashbacks is terrific. The cinematography and fight choreography are excellent, and the film features some beautiful songs by A. R. Rahman. But the choppy story structure makes the film’s three-hour run time feel even longer, and it’s riddled with logical errors that Murugadoss should’ve corrected when making Ghajini for the second time. A film as good as Memento deserves a better remake than this.

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