Tag Archives: Abhishek Sharma

Movie Review: Tumhari Sulu (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Actors Vidya Balan and Manav Kaul carry Tumhari Sulu, a task made more difficult by the story’s lack of perspective. It’s hard to tell how first-time feature filmmaker Suresh Triveni expects the audience to feel about his characters and their journey.

Balan plays Sulu, a bored housewife who entertains herself by entering radio contests. Her husband, Ashok (Kaul), ekes out a meager paycheck managing a dysfunctional tailoring shop. Their eleven-year-old son Pranav (Abhishek Sharma) earns money on the side by selling dirty DVDs and magazines to his classmates.

Sulu’s more successful sisters delight in their sibling’s lower-middle-class status, chiding Sulu for not having a job while reminding her that her lack of a degree precludes her from getting a reputable gig, anyway.

When Sulu goes to the radio station to collect her latest prize — a pressure cooker — she notices an ad for a late-night radio show host. She finagles a meeting with the station manager, Maria (Neha Dhupia), who gives Sulu a shot, if only for the chance to laugh at the frumpy, naive housewife. However, Sulu’s sultry delivery is just what Maria is looking for, and a new radio star is born.

Triveni’s story — which he wrote and directed — takes a long time to get to this point without advancing the characters’ development. The plot meanders, never lingering long enough to develop any of the potential themes — topics like Sulu’s self-worth, women’s financial independence, or the challenges of a two-income household — beyond a surface level examination.

Even if one assumes that Triveni is leaving it to the audience to draw their own conclusions, he doesn’t give them enough information to do so, chiefly because the characters don’t have meaningful conversations. Sulu doesn’t take her husband seriously, and she has no friends to confide in. Without substantive dialogues — or even internal monologues — it’s hard to infer what is important to the characters, and there’s only so much meaning we can derive from their actions alone.

Triveni also takes for granted the notion that a family’s ability to function is ultimately a woman’s responsibility. When complications arise concurrent with Sulu’s new job, it’s implied that, even if the problem’s aren’t specifically Sulu’s fault, they are her responsibility to fix. Nevermind that Ashok’s work situation was hardly ideal or that Pranav was already a junior pornographer before Sulu started her radio gig.

As is the case with every movie starting Vidya Balan, she is Tumhari Sulu‘s greatest asset, always fun and engaging. Yet, Kaul’s performance enables Balan to be her best. During Sulu’s and Ashok’s happier moments, the pair are adorable together — an unexpected delight, given that Kaul usually plays villains. Dhupia is a great choice to play a hip radio station manager, but her character is too easygoing to be convincing, given the competitive nature of that industry.

Songs are weirdly integrated into Tumhari Sulu, and the inclusion of random parkour stunts into one of them almost hints at an insecurity about whether the film itself is exciting and cool enough to grab the audience’s attention. Perhaps a co-writer for Triveni would have mitigated some of the burden on Balan’s and Kaul’s shoulders.

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Movie Review: Tere Bin Laden – Dead or Alive (2016)

TereBinLadenDeadOrAlive2.5 Stars (out of 4)

The comedy sequel Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive starts out strong, but the story doesn’t have enough momentum to sustain laughs. Two films in this franchise are enough.

Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive (TBL 2, henceforth) begins in 2009. Manish Paul plays Abhishek Sharma, the real-life writer and director of both movies. Abhishek (the character) gets the greenlight to make his first film — Tere Bin Laden — after he spots Paddi Singh (Pradhuman Singh), a dead ringer for Osama Bin Laden. There’s a helpful refresher on the first film, which proved to be enough of a hit to merit a followup.

Shortly after production on the sequel begins, the real Bin Laden is assassinated by the United States. This puts the kibosh on Abhishek’s movie but not Paddi’s career as a lookalike. With no body or video proof of Bin Laden’s death, an inept terrorist organization in Pakistan wants Paddi so they can claim that Bin Laden is with them, alive and well. Meanwhile, the US wants to recreate the assassination, substituting video of Paddi’s murder as footage of Bin Laden’s death.

The early stages of TBL 2 are full of great bits. Ali Zafar — the star of Tere Bin Laden — appears in a funny cameo, playing an egomaniacal, womanizing version of himself. The Pakistani terror organization stages its own version of the Olympics, with games like the Bomb Relay and Landmine Jump. If you blow yourself up, you win!

The sharpest barbs are reserved for the Americans. Their drone control room is set up like an arcade, complete with coin-operated remote weapons. The “Chief of Invasions” is a man named David DoSomething, played by Sikander Kher in white-face makeup and a blond comb-over wig. Kher’s southern accent is deliberately hilarious.

In order to dupe Paddi and Abhishek, David dons brown-face makeup to pose as David Chadha, an NRI Hollywood producer. He quickly masters Hindi, though he mispronounces his last name as “cheddar.”

The movie acknowledges just how racist this is gambit is, with David consulting a makeup chart featuring a range of ethnically appropriate skin tones. When President Obama (Iman Crosson) sees David in his desi avatar, he quips, “I see you painted your white-ass face brown.” Considering that TBL 2 released on the same day as Gods of Egypt — a Hollywood film featuring no Egyptian actors — the digs seem deserved.

Though supporting characters like David, his female assistant Junior (Mya Uyeda), and President Obama are funny, they often feel better suited for a sketch comedy show rather than a feature film. There’s something missing from TBL 2 that causes it to slow down as soon as all of the characters are introduced.

One potential explanation that there’s no B-story in the plot. Elements such as Abhishek’s abandoned career as a confectioner and his fraught friendship with Paddi are introduced but don’t go anywhere. The story needs an anchor or emotional hook of some sort. Jokes aren’t enough.

TBL 2‘s strongest attribute is its subtitling and localization. It’s among the best I’ve ever seen in a Hindi film. For example, the Hindi word “jalebi” is translated as “churro,” substituting a piped, fried sweet popular in India for one popular in the U.S. Kudos to the TBL 2 translation team, the real stars of the film!

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Movie Review: The Shaukeens (2014)

The_Shaukeens_23.5 Stars (out of 4)

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The Shaukeens (“The Romantics“) is more than just a cute story about a trio of sexagenarians who refuse to act their age. With its unique story structure and top-notch performances, it’s one of the best Bollywood comedies in recent memory.

Akshay Kumar plays a fictionalized version of himself in the film, which opens with a Kumar dance number. His narration explains that he has an integral part in the story of three lonely Delhi men who get into trouble while looking for love in Mauritius.

The three men are Lali (Anupam Kher), a shoe store owner whose religious wife won’t put out; KD (Annu Kapoor), a lecherous bachelor; and Pinky (Piyush Mishra), a widowed spice merchant too shy to talk to the pretty massage parlor owner across the street.

After being rejected by some local prostitutes for being too old, the guys try their luck while on vacation in Mauritius. They rent a house from a beautiful young woman, Ahana (Lisa Haydon), who returns early from her own trip after she breaks up with her boyfriend.

Ahana is gorgeous, but she’s a kook. She’s an aspiring fashion designer who makes hats from used toothpicks and decorates a pair of sunglasses with painted toenail clippings. Her emotions change minute-to-minute, driven by the numbers of likes she’s getting on Facebook. Haydon is just as funny as Ahana as she was in her foul-mouthed performance in Queen.

When Ahana discovers that Akshay is in town filming a movie, she asks rhetorically, “Who do I have to sleep with to meet Akshay Kumar?” The guys take this offer seriously and start trying to unite Ahana with her celebrity crush in order to cash in on the reward.

The version of Akshay Kumar in the movie is an alcoholic jerk who’s desperate to be taken seriously as an actor. While the guys try to weasel their way into his company for Ahana’s sake, Akshay tries to impress an eccentric, award-winning director (played by Subrat Dutta), who has Akshay practice his lines with a chihuahua. For reference, Akshay has a card with photos of himself displaying different emotions. It’s hilarious, and I want one.

Every few years, Kumar takes a break from wacky slapstick roles and loud action flicks to do a movie that reminds you that he can really act. This is one of those movies. He plays everything totally straight, and he’s so funny as a result.

Kher, Kapoor, and Mishra share a great camaraderie. Their characters are distinct and balance each other out, but they’re all equally over their heads in their romantic pursuit of Ahana. KD is sleazy in an endearing kind of way. As the least educated of the group, Pinky gets the most jokes made at his expense, but he also gets the funniest bits. Who forgets to pack a swimsuit for a beach vacation?!

The story includes some weird breaks in form throughout, including a dream sequence, a hallucinatory dance number, and a single instance of fourth-wall-breaking dialogue delivery. Director Abhishek Sharma and writer Tigmanshu Dhulia go far enough to keep audience members on their toes without pushing them away.

The Shaukeens released with relatively little fanfare, which is a shame. This is a movie sure to amuse anyone who appreciates a well-told story and who is sick of formulaic movies.

[Update: A comment below by Dr. Lunch reminded me of a point I wanted to make. The Shaukeens will feel accessible to international audience members because it’s plotted a lot like a 1980s Hollywood comedy. Also working in its favor is that it’s light on references to other Bollywood movies, a common source of jokes in Hindi films that can create a barrier for those without a depth of Bollywood knowledge.]

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