Tag Archives: Aakash Dabhade

Movie Review: Article 15 (2019)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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A big city bureaucrat appointed to oversee a small town police department gets tangled in a web of politics, caste, and greed in the dynamite thriller Article 15.

Ayan (Ayushmann Khurrana) is the ideal audience avatar. He rolls into the town of Laalgaon, telling his girlfriend Aditi (Isha Talwar) over the phone that the place looks like something out of an ’80s movie. He notes the freshness of the country air. It’s a world apart from the large cities — domestic and international — that Ayan is used to.

Besides the predictable culture shock, there’s something strange about the town. Despite what Ayan said about the fresh air, there’s a pall over the town that bathes it and its inhabitants in sickly yellow or gray tones (per cinematographer Ewan Mulligan). Ayan meets a former classmate, Satyendra (Aakash Dabhade), who is evasive and twitchy instead of the cheerful friend Ayan remembers. The rest of the cops — led by Ayan’s second-in-command, Bhramadatt (Manoj Pahwa) — are eager to close the case of two Dalit (lower caste) girls who were reported missing days earlier and found murdered. Only Ayan seems interested in the whereabouts of a third girl reported missing with them.

At first, Ayan is too smug to see what’s really going on, buoyed his sense of worldliness and the power accorded his position. He accepts Bhramadatt’s assessment of the murders as “honor killings” committed by the girls’ fathers, and he’s dismissive of Gaura (Sayani Gupta), the sister of the third missing girl. Only when he discovers that Bhramadatt is stalling him on the results of the postmortem and when his own men are attacked by Dalit activists does Ayan realize that he’s missing crucial pieces of the puzzle.

Laalgaon is governed by a rigid, complicated interpretation of the caste system. There are layers within layers, so that everyone ranks slightly above or below someone else. It reinforces social systems governing occupations, food handling, even whose shadow is allowed to fall on whom.

Money perpetuates the caste system in town, even though using it to discriminate against certain groups is officially prohibited by Article 15 of the Indian Constitution. By marginalizing the lowest castes, the people at the top ensure a steady supply of what is essentially slave labor. American audiences will notice similarities to how the white power structure here replaced lost laborers following the abolition of slavery, as explained in Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th. The activist group in the Article 15 is in part a sort of militant labor union, and when they strike, the film shows in disgusting detail how dependent the town is on the workers who do the “dirty” jobs no one else wants.

Some people in Laalgaon have transcended certain aspects of their caste, such as Jatav (Kumud Mishra), who became a police officer with Bhramadatt’s help, even though his father was a school janitor. The status elevation turned Jatav into one of the most vocal critics of those below him, and his fear of falling back down the ladder keeps him subservient to those above. His eventual realization that turning his back on his people only made things worse is hard-earned and painful.

The scene that best captures the all-encompassing nature of Laalgaon’s power dynamics involves Bhramadatt and Jatav. As both men sob, Bhramadatt shakes Jatav, accusing him of ingratitude and endangering their very lives by aiding Ayan’s investigation. (More than one character states that the worst that will happen to Ayan is he’ll be transferred, while the locals who help him will be killed.) Though Bhramdatt ranks higher socially than Jatav, both serve the rich and politically connected at the top. Seeing these gray-haired men so terrified drives home how precarious their lives have always been in a place governed by something other than the rule of law.

Pahwa and Mishra are the standouts in a film full of amazing performances. Gupta is resolute in the face of a system designed not to help people like her. Same for Ronjini Chakraborty as the junior Medical Examiner who knows the truth of what happened to the murdered girls. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub’s portrayal of the Dalit revolutionary leader is terrific.

Aditi tells Ayan at one point that she doesn’t want him to be a hero, she wants him to be the man who doesn’t wait for the hero to arrive. That sentiment governs the way Khurrana plays Ayan. There’s a problem to solve, and Ayan does it without a lot of flash, using the skills he has at his disposal. Khurrana’s understated performance suits the movie perfectly.

Article 15 has a few moments that feel a little preachy, but they’re born of director Anubhav Sinha’s and writer Gaurav Solanki’s passion for the film’s message of justice. Their movie is thoughtful and relevant, with jaw-dropping surprises. Article 15 is a must-see.

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Movie Review: Boss (2013)

Boss2 Stars (out of 4)

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Boss has some great individual elements that could make up either a great action comedy or a serious revenge thriller, but combining them together in the same movie doesn’t work.

The tone of the film changes without a moment’s notice, and it’s too much to ask the audience to follow along. One minute, we’re expected to be horrified by violence; the next minute, we’re supposed to laugh at it. Lighthearted scenes are followed by a brother threatening to slap his sister unless she locks herself in her room until he says she can come out. Boss never settles on what kind of movie it is.

The story structure is also odd. The film begins with a flashback to a teenage boy saving the life of the mafia don Big Boss (Danny Denzongpa). The don takes the boy under his wing, christening him Boss. Since this is obviously Akshay Kumar’s character as a teen, we expect to then see the man Boss has grown into.

Instead, the story switches to Boss’s father, Satyakant (Mithun Chakraborty), fifteen years later, still lamenting that his eldest son (known to him as Surya) is a criminal. Satyakant sends his younger son, Shiv (Shiv Pandit), to Delhi where the young man gets into trouble defending his lady-love, Ankita (Aditi Rao Hydari), from a creepy politician’s son, Vishal (Aakash Dabhade). The lovers star in a romantic music video on a yacht before Ankita’s homicidal cop brother, Ayushman (Ronit Roy), arrests Shiv.

Finally, thirty minutes into the movie, Satyakant vows to swallow his pride and ask Surya/Boss to save Shiv. When Boss is introduced, on-screen titles read: “Akshay Kumar in and as Boss.” After a funny, five-minute-long fight scene, the opening credits roll. The movie is already a quarter of the way over!

As a comedy, Boss is pretty entertaining. There are some clever scenes, such as Boss trying to surreptitiously beat up some assassins without his father noticing. There’s a humorous recurring bit involving Boss’ “portable rocking chair,” created when his henchman form a human-pyramid-style throne and sway in unison.

As a revenge thriller, Boss is also effective. Chakraborty is strong as the patriarch who chooses his principles over his troubled son. For my money, Roy is the scariest villain in Bollywood. The cold expression in his eyes after Ayushman tosses Satyakant down a flight of stairs is chilling. And nothing beats his method for quieting a group of rowdy grade schoolers: give them a gun and urge them to play Russian roulette.

But these elements belong in different movies. There’s no way to successfully integrate them. Emotional scenes are interrupted by comic relief characters, and again, it’s hard to discern how director Anthony D’Souza expects the audience to feel about violence. It’s funny when Boss breaks a coconut on someone’s head, but not so funny when he impales a sawblade in someone’s chest.

Boss — which is all about relationships between men — portrays women unfavorably. The visual that accompanies Shiv praising Ankita’s eyes, voice, and “mind-blowing attitude” is Aditi Rao Hydari emerging from a pool wearing a bikini. Party scenes feature white women in skimpy outfits getting drunk, though item girl Sonakshi Sinha gets to dance in a modest cocktail dress and abstain from alcohol.

For good measure, Ayushman uses his girlfriend to frame Shiv for rape. Frame him for any other crime, but not rape. Not in a movie that is primarily a comedy.

There’s a lot to like in Boss, enough so that it’s never boring. It just should’ve been two separate movies.

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