Tag Archives: Abhimanyu Singh

Movie Review: Mom (2017)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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In a vacuum, Mom is an engaging revenge thriller that fully utilizes its star’s considerable charisma. Yet the film’s very existence raises the question as to whether the genre has exhausted its ability to add to the conversation about rape.

Sridevi plays the titular mother, Devki, a secondary school teacher. She has a young daughter Priya with her husband, Anand (Adnan Siddiqui), who brought another daughter — 18-year-old Arya (Sajal Ali) — with him into the marriage. The strained relationship between stepmother and stepdaughter is exacerbated by the fact that Devki is Arya’s Biology teacher. When a fellow student, Mohit, texts Arya lewd material during class, Devki throws Mohit’s phone out the window.

Arya later rejects Mohit’s advances at a party, so he enlists his sleazy cousin Charles (Vikas Verma), security guard Baburam (Pitobash), and drug dealer Jagan (Abhimanyu Singh) to kidnap her. They gang rape Arya and leave her for dead in a ditch. Upon waking, Arya bitterly tells Devki that the men told her “Call your mom!” during the assault.

When the justice system inevitably fails to convict the men, Devki realizes that her relationship with Arya will be irretrievably broken unless she takes revenge upon them herself. She enlists a private detective named DK (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) to track down the rapists before the lead police officer on Arya’s case, Mathew (Akshaye Khanna), uncovers her scheme.

There’s a lot to like about Mom, chiefly Sridevi, who is most heartbreaking in moments when Devki futilely tries to connect with Arya. Ali, for her part, nails the moody teen role. First-time feature director Ravi Udyawar maximizes Sridevi’s legendary beauty in a number of strikingly composed shots. (Udyawar’s camera direction is less successful in a hard-to-follow chase scene.)

Debutant screenwriter Girish Kohli provides his actors with memorable dialogue, and Khanna and Nawazuddin Siddiqui deliver their lines with style. Adnan Siddiqui gives gravity to a role that requires him to stay in the background in order to keep Sridevi in the spotlight.

Things get tricky when considering whether we need another movie about avenging rape. I’ll concede that living in America my whole life has exposed me to many stories about this topic, both fictional and non-fictional. The Hollywood film The Accused brought the story of justice for a gang rape victim into the mainstream back in 1988. Until recently, many Hindi films treated the rape of a woman as nothing more than a catalyst to provoke a male hero into action. Real-life sexual assaults in India in the last several years have shifted the focus of fictional stories — such as 2016’s Pink — onto the victims themselves.

So while there is still a desire among Indian filmmakers and audiences to confront the horrors of rape, I’m not sure that Mom treads any new ground in doing so. There is a cliched shot of Arya in the shower following the rape, scrubbing her skin so hard that it bleeds. A man is raped in jail and is laughed at for it — as though male rape is less serious than female rape. There’s a belief that the perpetrators deserve punishment that damages their sexual organs, and also a belief that doing so will restore Arya to her former self, at least to some degree.

All of these ideas have been presented so often in movies that we’ve taken them for granted. But are these ideas actually valuable, or do they just feed off the sense of helplessness experienced by bystanders to rape, whether immediate or from afar? Too many films about rape function as a kind of call-to-action fantasy for someone other than the victim — only this fantasy requires someone to suffer in order to bring it to fruition.

Director Udyawar does the right thing by not showing the acts of sexual violence, focusing instead on the aftermath. It removes any chance of such violence being sensationalized or depicted as titillating. He also fairly assumes that the Indian justice system (like the American justice system) is rigged against rape victims. But other than establishing those benchmarks for future filmmakers, Mom covers a lot of familiar territory. It’s a well-made movie, but I’m not sure it’s a story I needed to see again.

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Bollywood Box Office: October 23-25

The romantic comedy Shaandaar got off to a good start in North America, but how good depends on which source you believe. During the weekend of October 23-25, 2015, Bollywood Hungama reports that Shaandaar earned $299,195 from 136 theaters ($2,200 average). Combined with the movie’s collections from Thursday, its 4-day total stands at $336,304.

However, Box Office Mojo reports significantly higher figures for Shaandaar, including weekend earnings of $384,685 from 136 theaters ($2,892 average). Box Office Mojo’s 4-day total for Shaandaar is $433,541.

While I generally give more weight to the numbers collected by Rentrak and supplied by Bollywood Hungama, this time I’m inclined to put more faith in Box Office Mojo. Though both sources list the same number of theaters, Bollywood Hungama’s weekly update doesn’t include any earnings figures for Shaandaar from Canada, even though it opened in 17 theaters there. Possibly Rentrak folded the Canadian collections into the US collections, or maybe they didn’t collect data from Canada. Or maybe Bollywood Hungama didn’t report the Canadian data collected by Rentrak. Whatever the case, Bollywood Hungama’s weekly update seems incomplete. I’m going with Box Office Mojo this week.

In that case, Shaandaar is off to quite a good start. With no new Bollywood releases of note scheduled for the next two weekends — and no Hollywood blockbusters scheduled this coming weekend — Shaandaar has a chance to make some decent money in the next couple of weeks.

In its second weekend, Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 earned $39,123 from 36 theaters ($1,087 average), bringing its total to $183,779. Once again, it proved to be more popular in Canada than the US, with the per-screen average in the Canadian theaters ($1,771) nearly doubling the average in the American theaters ($891).

Other Hindi movies still playing in the US:

  • Talvar: Week 4; $5,116 from eight theaters; $640 average; $331,380 total
  • Jazbaa: Week 3; $2,005 from six theaters; $334 average; $400,680 total
  • Singh Is Bliing: Week 4; $355 from one theater; $909,399 total

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Department (2012)

1 Star (out of 4)

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Department is a comedy, right? It must be, because it made me laugh out loud.

Director Ram Gopal Varma’s latest political thriller focuses on a special branch of the police force designed to stop organized crime. The special department is cleverly named: “Department.” Whenever a character in the movie says the word “department,” it’s accompanied by a musical fanfare. It’s a lot like when someone said the “magic word” on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, and all of the characters had to start screaming.

The Department is headed by Mahadev (Sanjay Dutt) and rising star Shiv (Rana Daggubati). Both prefer to shoot first and ask questions later, even if it means firing at a bad guy while standing in the middle of a group of children playing catch.

The main objective of the Department is ostensibly to stop a turf war between rival gangsters Gauri and Sawatya (Vijay Raaz). When gangster-turned-politician Sarjay (Amitabh Bachchan) gets involved, alliances become less clear and the Department falls apart.

Since the plot is just a disorganized excuse for innumerable bloody shootouts and embarrassing slow-mo chase scenes — look at Shiv leap over that small bag of rice! — I’ll ignore it for now. Department‘s biggest problems are visual.

Varma is clearly in love with camera technique. If there is a table with a glass top in his vicinity, you can be sure that he will position a camera under it to shoot a scene.

Department was shot using a number of cameras small enough to be mounted to almost any object, which Varma hoped would create “a completely new viewer experience.” It’s a technique Sam Raimi used back in the Evil Dead movies in the 1980s, to better effect. In order to get a first-person shot of the actors in Department, cameras are mounted on everything from a newspaper to a coffee cup. Ever wonder what driving a car is like from the perspective of the steering wheel? Watch Department and wonder no more.

Rapid cuts and awkward closeups make the action hard to follow, while some editorial choices are downright mystifying. Take, for example, the following sequence of shots.

  1. A man stands on the beach drinking from a coconut.
  2. Closeup on another man’s dreadlocks.
  3. Upside-down closeup on a messenger bag. The camera rights itself as a hand draws a gun from the bag and fires a shot at the man drinking from the coconut.

Why did the camera need to be upside down?! And why do we need a closeup of the dreadlocks? (It must be a theme, because there a number of strange closeups of body parts, including at least a dozen shots of dirty feet and toenails.)

About two hours into the screening that I attended, the picture flipped upside down. Only when the audio started running backwards — complete with upside down, backwards subtitles at the top of the screen — did I realize that this was a projection problem and not just another strange directorial choice.

Getting back to the plot, it contains a number of attempts at sexiness that nauseate rather than titillate. First, the item song “Dan Dan Cheeni” features an unintentionally hilarious performance by Nathalia Kaur, who gyrates as seductively as someone having a seizure.

Then there are Sawatya’s amorous underlings, DK (Abhimanyu Singh) and Nasir (Madhu Shalini), who exist entirely to try to heat things up on screen. They fail miserably. While soaking in a bathtub, Nasir strokes DK’s thick mat of wet chest hair with her un-pedicured feet as he blows cigarette smoke into her mouth. Gross!

If you’re in the mood for a laugh — punctuated by occasional dry heaves –see Department. It’s ridiculous.

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