Tag Archives: Aamir Khan

Movie Review: Dangal (2016)

dangal3 Stars (out of 4)

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Walt Disney Pictures’ stamp is all over Dangal, the true story of a father’s quest to fulfill his own dreams of wrestling gold through his daughters. The movie is eminently watchable entertainment for the whole family.

Dangal is based on the life of Mahavir Singh Phogat, played in the film by Aamir Khan. The story begins in 1988, after Mahavir has shelved his own desire of parlaying his national wrestling title into success on the international stage. A recurring theme in the film is India’s failure to compensate or cultivate international-caliber athletic talent, forcing athletes like Mahavir to abandon their sports in favor of stable jobs.

Mahavir’s one hope is that his wife, Daya (Sakshi Tanwar), will give him a son he can raise to be an Olympic champion. When Daya births a girl, Geeta, Mahavir’s disappointment is so deep that the entire town becomes obsessed with folk remedies for begetting male children. When Daya births a second girl, Babita, it’s as though she’s let down all of Haryana, not just her husband. By the time Mahavir’s fourth consecutive daughter is born, he’s abandoned his dreams entirely and metamorphosed into a pot-bellied salaryman.

This obsession with a male heir is played for laughs, but it’s hard not to feel for Daya, Geeta, and Babita. Mahavir isn’t cruel to them, but his disappointment surrounds him like a cloud. It would be hard to live in a home with someone who only sees you as a reminder of what you’re not.

It’s clear that Mahavir doesn’t really see his girls for who they are, because only when they get in trouble for beating up some local boys does he realize that they could become Olympic wrestlers themselves. He immediately institutes a rigorous training program, drafting the girls’ cousin, Omkar — the movie’s narrator and comic relief — as their unwitting sparring partner.

Because Dangal is a Disney co-production, it’s guilty of glossing over issues that might bog down a family entertainer, as several of Disney’s American sports movies have been accused of doing in recent years. Mahavir — and, by extension, the film as a whole — has no regard for his daughters’ emotional welfare. Part of his training regimen requires Geeta (Zaira Wasim) and Babita (Suhani Bhatnagar) to cut their hair short and wear boys’ clothing, sublimating their femininity right as they become teenagers, as if adolescence isn’t already hard enough. The movie tries to absolve Mahavir of guilt with a scene of the girls’ 14-year-old friend being forced into an arranged marriage, as is that’s the only alternative.

Geeta shows real promise as a wrestler, making it to the national athletic academy as she hits adulthood. Her exposure to a world that doesn’t adhere to her father’s ascetic rules sets up an in-ring competition between the two that is the movie’s most powerful moment. Khan and Fatima Sana Sheikh — who plays Geeta as an adult — are tremendous in the scene.

Perhaps the best endorsement of Dangal is as a wrestling tutorial. A sequence of Mahavir explaining to his charges the way points are awarded in international competitions pays off later, as the final thirty minutes are just tournament footage.

The tournament footage is beautifully framed, showing the audience the points accrued or time remaining in the round at critical moments. The editing gives a clear sense of the stakes and allows the audience to apply the knowledge they’ve acquired throughout the film. It’s nice to come out of a movie feeling smarter than before.

Despite a failure to address certain troublesome issues, Dangal is ultimately a heartwarming story. It’s appropriate for all ages, and nicely paced to hold the attention of younger audience members. If nothing else, you’ll leave the theater with a new appreciation of the sport of wrestling.

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Movie Review: Rang De Basanti (2006)

RangDeBasanti3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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It’s sort of depressing that the story of Rang De Basanti (“Color It Saffron“) still resonates nine years after its release. The movie’s calls for change remain largely unrealized, a testament to the power of the stagnation it rails against.

Rang De Basanti connects the present to the past through the efforts of a British documentary filmmaker, Sue McKinley (Alice Patten). She arrives in India hoping to film a recreation of the Indian independence movement of the 1920s-30s, inspired by the regret-filled diary entries of her grandfather, a jailer and torturer on behalf of the Empire.

Sue’s local contact, Sonia (Soha Ali Khan), introduces the filmmaker to her university friends, who reluctantly agree to participate in the project. Group leader DJ (Aamir Khan), sullen rich kid Karan (Siddharth), poet Aslam (Kunal Kapoor), and tag-along Sukhi (Sharman Joshi) slowly find themselves maturing as they inhabit the roles of their revolutionary forefathers.

Further change is thrust upon them when another pivotal role in the reenactment is filled by Laxman (Atul Kulkarni), a Hindu nationalist who has a particular problem with Muslims. His integration is uneasy, especially since his role requires him to work closely with Aslam, a Muslim.

When a tragedy hits close to home, the guys realize that the work of the independence movement won’t be complete until Indian democracy is transparent and devoid of corruption. They take matters into their own hands, adopting the violent methods of their forefathers.

Although Khan is the highest profile star in the cast, his role isn’t necessarily the most important. This is truly an ensemble picture, with every role fleshed out. Every member of the group — including Sonia — has a reason to participate in Sue’s project. They each require a kind of character growth best developed by delving into history.

Sepia-toned scenes from Sue’s documentary are woven into scenes from the present, showing the way that the lives of these contemporary young people parallel the lives of young people of the past. It’s a theme that resonates beyond the borders of India. Every democracy is founded on a struggle that modern citizens too often ignore, resulting in a failure to meet founding ideals. We can all do better.

It’s unfortunate that the poster for Rang De Basanti features only Khan, Siddharth, Kapoor, and Joshi, because every performance in the film is superb. Kulkarni portrays a difficult character with great empathy. Patten and Soha Ali Khan are resolute, their characters developing along with the young men. R. Madhavan is great in a supporting role as Sonia’s boyfriend.

Siddharth’s role is the meatiest, with Karan dropping his jaded act as the truth starts to torment him. Kapoor imbues Aslam with stoicism, and Joshi plays a great toady.

Even though it’s not a solo starring role, this is among Khan’s best performances. A highlight is a scene in which DJ confesses to Sue that he actually graduated from college five years ago, but fear of the future keeps him hanging around campus with his buddies. The scene serves the dual purpose of explaining why DJ looks so much older than the others. (Khan was already 41 when the film released, not that this would be his last time playing a college student).

Where Rang De Basanti falters is in its overuse of news footage in the final thirty minutes. It’s tricky, because the guys take drastic measures in order to inspire fellow citizens to action. But frequent shots of news broadcasts and opinion pieces slow down the narrative. Every random college student who vows to reform Indian democracy in a man-on-the-street interview distances the audience from the main characters. It interrupts the flow of emotions just when they should reach their peak.

That said, Rang De Basanti is a surefire tearjerker. It’s a sad reminder that no nation is as free or equal as it could be, but it’s an important message. The work may be hard, and it may be ongoing, but it is work worth doing, just as it was so long ago.

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Bollywood Box Office: December 19-21

Update: Box Office Mojo lists PK‘s North American earnings as $3,565,258 from 272 theaters ($13,108 average). The movie finished in ninth place overall in the weekend rankings, just behind Top Five and ahead of Penguins of Madagascar.

Aamir Khan’s PK just posted the biggest opening weekend for a Hindi film in North America in 2014. During the weekend of December 19-21, 2014, it earned $3,508,980 from 296 theaters ($11,855 average). That total already puts it in third place for the year behind The Lunchbox and Happy New Year. PK will claim the top spot in a matter of days.

What remains to be seen is how close PK can come to matching the remarkable success of last year’s Dhoom 3, which earned $8,090,250 during its seven-week run in the United States and Canada. A more attainable goal is the $6,533,849 earned by 2009’s 3 Idiots, the previous collaboration between Khan and director Rajkumar Hirani.

Action Jackson closed out its three-week run by adding $179 from three theaters ($60 average), bringing its North American total to $256,872.

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: PK (2014)

PK3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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PK — filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani’s exploration of religion — is a laugh riot. Hirani points out the absurdities of religious customs without causing offense by filtering his observations through an innocent protagonist: an alien called PK (“Tipsy”).

A spaceship drops the alien (played by Aamir Khan) in the middle of a desert in Rajasthan, with no clothes and no ability to communicate. The first human PK comes into contact with steals the glowing pendant that allows PK to contact his ship and request a lift home.

PK’s best chance to recover his pendant comes when he meets a rookie TV journalist named Jaggu (Anushka Sharma) in Delhi. Six months removed from a heartbreaking end to a whirlwind romance in Belgium with a grad student named Sarfraz (Sushant Singh Rajput), Jaggu is stuck reporting dull human interest stories about depressed dogs.

Hesitant as Jaggu is to believe PK’s alleged otherworldly origins, she’s intrigued by his take on human religion. Everyone he asks for help finding his pendant tells him, “Ask God.” But which god? How is he supposed to pray in order to get an answer?

PK’s bumbling attempts to navigate varying faiths are hilarious. He gets the nickname “Tipsy” because everyone assumes he must be drunk in order to be so clueless. Seeing wine served in a Christian church, he brings two bottles to a mosque. Whenever someone pulls back a hand to slap him, PK puts stickers depicting Hindu deities on his cheeks, since no one would dare slap Ganesha or Shiva. PK calls the stickers “self-defense.”

Even though the jokes relate to religions more common in India than in the West, the movie supplies enough information for international audiences to get the jokes without needing to know anything about Jainism or Hinduism. Besides, the point of the jokes is that they could be made about any religion anywhere in the world.

From the perspective of international accessibility, PK is as good as it gets. The English subtitles are phenomenal, incorporating slang like “chillax” and “kaput.”

A terrific cast helps, too. Sharma and Rajput are completely adorable together. She strikes the perfect balance as an ambitious career woman principled enough not to exploit her vulnerable new friend. Boman Irani is great in a small role as Jaggu’s boss.

Another great supporting performance comes from Sanjay Dutt, playing a band leader who befriends PK shortly after his arrival on Earth. Like Jaggu, he’s canny but honestly fond of the befuddled extraterrestrial.

Khan is tremendous as PK. He’s earnest and not at all goofy, making the ridiculous situations PK finds himself in that much funnier. It’s especially fun to watch PK adapt to his environment. He learns which mistakes will provoke a slap, and he’s always a step ahead of the angry mob chasing him. A scene in which PK figures out how money works is side-splitting.

The story slows down in the second half as laughs give way to serious questions of exactly what the faithful get for their devotion. However, the ultimate payoff to PK’s and Jaggu’s story is beautifully done.

The universality of PK‘s subject mater, the accessible way it’s presented, the nicely incorporated song-and-dance numbers, and the fact that this is just a damned funny movie make PK a great starter Bollywood film.

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Opening December 19: PK

Aamir Khan returns to the big screen on December 19, 2014, with PK, co-starring Anushka Sharma.

PK opens on Friday in eight Chicago area theaters: AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge, and AMC Loews Crestwood 18 in Crestwood. Most theaters have preview shows starting on Thursday night. PK has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 33 min.

Other Indian movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend include Lingaa (Tamil w/English subtitles) at the Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge and Pisasu (Tamil), Cousins (Malayalam), and Ala Ela (Telugu) at MovieMax.

Movie Review: Dhoom 3 (2013)

Dhoom_3_Film_Poster3 Stars (out of 4)

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There’s something liberating about a movie that makes it clear that it’s not supposed to be taken seriously. When concepts like physics and geography are chucked out the window with abandon, the audience has no choice but to accept the world as presented and go with it. Dhoom 3 is just such a movie: ridiculous and thoroughly enjoyable.

Dhoom 3 finds Mumbai police officers Jai (Abhishek Bachchan) and Ali (Uday Chopra) in Chicago to assist the police investigation of a bank robber who leaves messages in Hindi at every crime scene. Apparently, there are no CCTV cameras in the city, because the local police are unable to identify the brazen perpetrator: Sahir (Aamir Khan), a magician with a grudge against the bank.

Jai spearheads the investigation because Ali is too infatuated with their lovely local police contact, Victoria (Tabrett Brethell), to concentrate. Victoria’s only real purpose in the movie is to appear in funny dream sequences in which Ali seduces her while surrounded by their four imaginary future children.

During the course of the investigation, Sahir revives his father’s Great Indian Circus, a stage show featuring dancers, acrobats, and magicians. His star performer is Aaliya (Katrina Kaif), whom we know is supposed to be a free spirit because of her penchant for wearing floppy hats and overalls. Like Victoria, Aaliya has little to do apart from looking sexy during performances.

The movie’s action-packed first half features a couple of great-looking chase scenes through downtown Chicago, including a race along the Chicago River that sees the return of the submersible jet ski from Dhoom 2 (physics, be damned)! The second half becomes a personal drama that reveals how Sahir has been able to pull off his heists, that — as tonally incongruous as it is — still works because Aamir Khan is so darned talented.

Because I live about thirty miles from Chicago, I’ve really been looking forward to Dhoom 3. Evidently, so had everyone else in the theater, because everyone let out a cheer when “Chicago 1990” appeared on screen at the start of the film. As a local, here’s what stood out to me:

  • Dhoom 3‘s sense of geography is hilarious. I pity the poor tourist who comes to flat Chicago expecting to see the mountains Jai stares at out of his lakefront penthouse window. Also, good luck trying to make the motorcycle ride from Chicago to the Verzasca Dam in Switzerland.
  • One place that likely will see an uptick in movie-related tourism is Six Flags Great America. Not only are a number of scenes shot there, but the characters discuss the merits of its various roller coasters by name.
  • The movie is full of product placement — Mountain Dew, BMW, etc. — but there’s one corporation that apparently wouldn’t sign off on appearing in the movie: Dunkin’ Donuts. Their stores are EVERYWHERE in downtown Chicago, but you never see any on screen, a feat that seems impossible to accomplish by accident.
  • The accents of all the Chicago characters are whack. This is a Chicago accent.

Minor quibbles aside, Dhoom 3 did right by Chicago. Near the end of the film is a shot of what I think is the single most beautiful sight in the world: the city of Chicago at night. I hope the movie entices a few extra people to come visit us here in the Windy City. If nothing else, Dhoom 3 is a goofy, fun way to spend three hours in the theater.

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Movie Review: Talaash (2012)

Talaash_poster3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Talaash: The Answer Lies Within is exactly I wanted it to be: an engaging thriller with great performances.

Talaash opens with footage of Mumbai’s red light districts set to a jazzy theme: an intro to the excellent soundtrack by Ram Sampath that permeates the film. The action begins as a car veers suddenly from a seaside road near the red light district, soaring over a wall and crashing into the ocean.

The car’s driver is Armaan Kapoor (Vivan Bhatena), a famous actor. The circumstances of Armaan’s death — Why was he in such a seedy part of town? Why was he driving instead of his chauffeur? — are suspicious enough to lead Inspector Surjan Shekhawat (Aamir Khan) to treat the case as more than a simple accident.

The case also provides Surjan with a convenient escape from the tension at home. He and his wife, Roshni (Rani Mukerji), are struggling with the recent accidental death of their young son. Both blame themselves, but Surjan refuses to discuss his feelings with Roshni, choosing to throw himself into his work.

Surjan finds an investigative ally in Rosie (Kareena Kapoor), a coy prostitute who knows which of Mumbai’s least savory residents has clues to Armaan’s death. Two persons of interest in the case include a pimp named Shashi and his much abused errand-boy, Tehmur (Nawazuddin Siddiqui).

Rosie does more for Surjan than just help his case. She provides him with a place free from memories of his son. At home, Roshni stares at Surjan with expectation, waiting for the chance to really talk with her husband, whereas Rosie’s eyes hold an invitation.

Khan is powerful as the tortured Surjan. Whether it’s investigating Armaan’s death or following beguiling Rosie, Surjan is desperate for a problem to solve. All that comes from thinking about his son’s death are the questions of what he could’ve done to prevent it.

Mukerji is likewise terrific as Roshni, who is just as saddened by her son’s death, but even more troubled that Surjan won’t work with her to heal their wounds. She stares at her husband with such longing before finally resolving to find peace on her own.

Kapoor’s Rosie is too coy at the start, and it takes a while before she seems like a real person and not a caricature of a prostitute. When she finally starts to discuss serious topics with Surjan, she does so with an evasive glibness.

As is the case with seemingly every movie he’s been in recently, Nawazuddin Siddiqui again steals the show. Pitiable Tehmur is the perfect target for abuse: his mother was a prostitute and he has one misshapen foot, so he has no other option but to do what Shashi says. Siddiqui plays Tehmur as resourceful and scrappy, and he seizes an opportunity to get rich quick, even if it gets him in way over his head.

The sweetest relationship in the film is between Tehmur and Nirmala, a prostitute who’s been told she’s too old to be of any value. World-weary Nirmala is not overly affectionate with Tehmur, but because she’s the only person who treats him with any kindness at all, he acts as though she’s promised him eternal love. The relationship wouldn’t be so affecting without someone as skilled as Siddiqui playing Tehmur.

In Talaash, director Reema Kagti and her co-writer Zoya Akhtar have created an entertaining thriller that uses every one of its 139 minutes wisely. It’s easily accessible for anyone who’s a fan of thrillers, as the English subtitles are well-translated from Hindi.

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