Tag Archives: Adil Hussain

Movie Review: Aiyaary (2018)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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In Aiyaary (“Shapeshifting“), things that require little explanation are belabored, while things that would benefit from being shown onscreen aren’t. The resulting movie is a boring spy thriller sans thrills.

Manoj Bajpayee plays Colonel Abhay Singh, leader of a secret group of Indian military intelligence officers — the kind of covert unit the Indian Army top brass promises to disavow should its existence ever be made public. Abhay’s superior officer even says, “No one will ever know what you did for this country.”

Neither will the audience, because writer-director Neeraj Pandey doesn’t show us what they do, apart from one scene of an unspecified assassination that serves two purposes: to establish Abhay’s remorselessness and to beat to death an unfunny joke about a subordinate packing vitamins instead of ammo.

The team consists of seven other officers, only two of whom have specific identities. Maya is the token girl, played by Commando‘s Pooja Chopra, who deserves a role far more substantive than this one. Jai (Sidharth Malhotra) is Abhay’s protegé gone rogue. Abhay intends to find Jai and terminate him if necessary.

Jai uncovers a bribery plot within the Indian Army, facilitated by retired Lt. General Gurinder Singh (Kumud Mishra) on behalf of London-based arms dealer Mukesh Kapoor (Adil Hussain). While Abhay tracks Jai, the protegé gathers evidence with the help of his internet security expert girlfriend, Sonia (Rakul Preet Singh, who also deserves a meatier part).

The details of the uncomplicated bribery scheme are spelled out in scenes bloated with dialogue. Pandey’s fondness for slow-motion shots underscores the film’s snail-like pace.

Of course the bribery scheme is just the tip of the iceberg, but there’s a naiveté to what Pandey considers a scandal big enough to topple the government. Maybe it’s just my American cynicism, but there’s nothing in Aiyaary egregious enough to inspire more than a “they’re all crooks” shrug.

Then again, the problem may be a matter of narrative focus. Pandey spends too much time on crimes that are obvious and easy to understand, before rushing through more complicated schemes that require evidence he neglects to present. Aiyaary‘s biggest scandals are based on hearsay — which wouldn’t stand up to public scrutiny and doesn’t make for good visual storytelling.

Manoj Bajpayee is often the best part of the movies he stars in, and Aiyaary is no exception. The film’s most enjoyable scenes are playful exchanges between Bajpayee and Juhi Babbar, who plays Abhay’s wife. Malhotra is solid, but his character feels flat, as is the case for many of the supporting characters, who only exist to move the story from Point A to Point B. A lot of talent goes to waste in Aiyaary.

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Movie Review: Commando 2 (2017)

commando23 Stars (out of 4)

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Commando 2: The Black Money Trail is absolutely bonkers. If one is willing to accept the movie on its own terms, it’s a helluva fun and goofy ride.

Part of making peace with Commando 2 is accepting that it is not Commando: A One Man Army. While that movie had some quirks as well, its narrative was a straightforward story of two lovers on the run. The threats to the lovers were immediate and directed by a single villain, while the danger in Commando 2 is borne out of distrust for India’s political system.

Carrying over from the first movie to the second is the commando himself, Karan (Vidyut Jammwal). No mention is made of his love interest from the original film, Simrit (Pooja Chopra), so I guess they broke up.

Karan now works for some elite secretive unit of the government, tracking money launderers overseas and killing them in encounters. He makes sure to have one of his sidekicks shoot him and plant the gun on the bad guy’s body, so as to not get tied up in court on suspicion of extrajudicial killings. Due process does not exist in Commando 2.

Following a scene of some shady dealings in Taiwan, Karan gets the most perfect introduction imaginable. Our first glimpse of him is a closeup of Jammwal’s bulging bicep. Director Deven Bhojani knows that his film’s greatest asset is Jammwal’s heavily muscled body and the wondrous things it can do, usually some combination of running, jumping, kicking, and punching. Karan’s solo assault on a Taiwan high-rise is a great way to start the movie.

(While Commando 2‘s camera spends a lot of time lingering on Jammwal’s chiseled bod, let’s take a moment to appreciate how impossibly handsome he is, as well. I found it very upsetting whenever the bad guys punched him in his perfect face.)

As soon as Karan recovers from his bullet wounds, his boss (played by Adil Hussain) tasks him with bringing to justice the most notorious money launderer of all: Vicky Chaddha (Vansh Bhardwaj), who was recently apprehended in Malaysia with his wife, Maria (Esha Gupta).

However, Chaddha has so much dirt on India’s rich and powerful that the whole government could be brought down if he names names. Delhi’s Home Minister (Shefali Shah) assembles a team of morally flexible police officers to bring Vicky and Maria back to India and recover the laundered funds, before quietly dispatching the married couple. Karan weasels his way onto the team, which consists of brutal lead officer Bakhtawar (Freddy Daruwala), obligatory computer hacker Zafar (Sumit Gulati), and vain gun-for-hire Bhavana (Adah Sharma).

Materialistic Bhavana’s broadly humorous character feels out-of-step with the movie’s tone until one realizes that her entrance signals a shift from fairly serious to absolute mayhem. There are twists upon twists as Karan and the bad guys both claim to know that the other side knows what they have planned, thus necessitating a whole new plan to throw the other side for a loop. The story was clearly written starting at the end and working backward, so trying to make sense of it while it unfolds is a recipe for a headache.

Once one accepts these new conditions, one is free to enjoy Commando 2 in all its silliness. Not only is Karan an unrivaled martial artist, he’s a tech wizard, too. In a “high-tech forensic lab,” he analyzes the audio from a security camera video and concludes: “That means that the church is on the banks of a river, and there’s a bird sanctuary nearby.”

Since Karan is part of a team, he has to share some of the fighting duties with Bakhtawar and Bhavana, who acquit themselves well. There’s a cleverly choreographed scene in which Karan and Bhavana beat up a gang of assassins, he with a lead pipe and she with an iron chain. Never mind that the fight takes place in an airplane graveyard situated immediately next to a glamorous shopping mall, or that they are fighting a bunch of white ninjas on stilts.

As tough as he is, Karan does have a weakness for women. He gets all googly-eyed when Maria saunters into the room in a catsuit, one of the many sublimely-tailored outfits she wears that leave not an inch of fabric to spare.

Such a weakness is a nice addition to Karan’s character, humanizing him and giving Jammwal license to have a bit of fun. His incredible stunts would be enough, but Jammwal is too good of an actor to limit him in such fashion. Gupta is always terrific as the bombshell, and even Sharma is likable in spite of her character’s chatterbox tendencies.

Commando 2 isn’t as great as the first Commando, but it’s still really darned entertaining. I enjoyed watching it and would watch it again. That’s more than enough for me to recommend it.

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Movie Review: Main Aur Charles (2015)

MainAurCharles3 Stars (out of 4)

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Main Aur Charles (“Me and Charles“) — a fictionalized account of the life of serial killer Charles Sobhraj by writer-director Prawaal Raman — explores not just the life of a charismatic criminal but the human tendency to hear only what we want to hear.

The real Charles targeted Western tourists in countries across Southeast Asia during the 1970s, often killing them to steal their money and passports. Raman’s version briefly shows two of those murders in Thailand, but the majority of the story concerns Charles’ 1986 escape from a Delhi prison.

With the help of several co-conspirators — including his girlfriend Mira (Richa Chadha) and fellow inmate Richard (Alexx O’Nell) — Charles (Randeep Hooda) walks out of jail in broad daylight. He escapes despite having less than a year remaining on his sentence and a relatively cushy life behind bars: books, a chess set, liquor, and parties with foreign women, all the fruit of bribing the warden (Vipin Sharma).

The police chase Charles from Delhi to Mumbai to Goa, where he shacks up in a hippie commune. Even when he’s recaptured, Charles wears the same smug grin, as though the cops are doing exactly what he wants them to.

The “Main” from the title — Inspector Amod Kanth (Adil Hussain) — doesn’t become a major player in the story until after Charles is back in the clink. It’s Kanth’s job to figure out how Charles managed to escape and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Kanth also becomes fixated on how a smart woman like Mira could fall for a conman like Charles. Even if she refuses to believe Charles a murderer, it’s hard to ignore the parade of women he’s slept with, some since they’ve been together. As Mira puts it, “He can escape, but no one can escape him.”

Charles’ magnetism is undeniable, especially with Hooda maxing out his own considerable charms in his portrayal. The conman chooses his targets carefully, identifying women primed to fall for his focused amorous attention. He uses his worldly air to impress men, promising them friendship and protection in exchange for their assistance.

That air of worldliness — characterized by Charles’ tendency to switch between languages, all tinged with a French accent — rankles Kanth. Why do so many people fall for this guy? It especially burns him when his wife (Tisca Chopra) becomes overly interested in the case.

Hooda is an ideal choice to play such a seductive conman, and Chadha shines as his willing victim. I’d love to see their intense chemistry in other romantic dramas. Hussain is also very good as the frustrated detective.

One persistent problem in the movie is the way Raman uses his camera to depict women. There are too many closeups of specific body parts or shots of women’s bodies with their heads out of frame. Mandana Karimi’s character Liz is introduced via a closeup of her buttocks. Liz and other “headless women” aren’t just anonymous victims but Charles’ valued accomplices, so there’s no narrative justification for erasing their identities and reducing them to body parts.

Then again, one has to wonder how or if this movie would even have been made had Charles exclusively targeted Indian women. The unwritten rule in Bollywood is that the bodies of white women and women of mixed Indian heritage (like Karimi) can be objectified in ways that the bodies of Indian women can’t. The ethnicity of Charles’ victims enables Raman to present the story in a spicier way than would otherwise be possible, making his choice of camera angles feel like additional degradation.

Problems aside, Main Aur Charles is an engrossing film with solid performances and satisfying narrative payoffs. Watch it for Hooda and Chadha, for sure.

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Movie Review: Unfreedom (2015)

UnfreedomZero Stars (out of 4)

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The fact that writer-director-producer Raj Amit Kumar believes that his English-Hindi debut film Unfreedom is an enlightened piece of social commentary is exactly what makes it so vile and offensive.

Kumar tosses together narratives without bothering to connect them. Action shifts between unrelated stories about a newly-out lesbian in New Delhi and a jihadist in New York City, though both stories have weird subplots attached to them — a woman who has a miscarriage or abortion (it’s unclear which) and a corrupt cop in cahoots with the terrorists — that aren’t resolved.

The stories are primarily excuses for pornography: sexual in the case of the lesbian, Leela (Preeti Gupta), and torture in the case of the jihadist, Husain (Bhanu Uday).

Leela flees her arranged marriage to a man in order to reunite with her female lover, Sakhi (Bhavani Lee). They haven’t seen each other in a year, and Sakhi is now dating a man. Leela murders the man in front of Sakhi in order to get her attention, and it inexplicably works. Immediately after Sakhi escorts her mortally wounded boyfriend to hospital, she returns to Leela and confesses her love for her. Not the foundation for a stable relationship.

Meanwhile, in New York, Husain is on a mission to kill a Muslim scholar for being too liberal. First, he kidnaps and tortures the scholar and one of his students: a white guy who Husain nails to a modified cross and presumably kills, so far as we ever know.

Back in India, Sakhi and Leela spend their time in an island fantasy, until they’re caught and thrown in jail. Mind you, they get busted for being lesbians, not for their connection with the boyfriend’s murder, which nobody cares about. Catching gays is apparently more important than catching killers.

With all the concern in Bollywood over the way item numbers objectify women, Unfreedom shows what real objectification looks like. Kumar treats women’s bodies like things, especially the bodies of white women. Husain’s moment of clarity — or whatever the hell happens — comes only after he has literally butchered a white woman to death.

Kumar’s sexism is most obvious in the way he portrays Leela and Sakhi. Both of them are naked throughout much of the film, but Sakhi — a white American — is depicted more salaciously. She’s an artist, a lousy one, who paints in the nude for no reason. A naked self-portrait features her standing facing forward, with her legs apart and her hands at her sides.

Husain is also shown nude on a couple of occasions, but his nudity is depicted entirely differently. He is only shown from behind while in the shower, the camera pulled back much farther than in the close shots of the women’s bodies. Husain’s genitals are not shown, and even his buttocks are obscured by the shower’s steam. His nakedness is camouflaged, while the women’s nudity is overt.

Kumar wants to make it clear that we in the audience know that Sakhi is a slut. Other characters repeatedly call her “slut” and “whore.” Her portrayal reinforces the Indian myth of the oversexed white Western female, now an instrument of corruption for both men and women.

Unfreedom conflates sex and violence throughout. When Leela and Sakhi engage in a tawdry, explicit sex scene, it’s not provocative. It’s meant to shock in the same way that Husain’s gruesome torture of the professor is meant to shock. And just in case it wasn’t clear that this is supposed to be an “edgy” film, both women are violently gang-raped.

In addition to botching his film’s message, Kumar also deserves blame for terrible handling of his actors, many of whom — like Adil Hussain — are quite talented. Lee’s performance as Sakhi is particularly awful.

If Unfreedom is Kumar’s idea of challenging, progressive cinema, he needs to do some real soul-searching.

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In Theaters November 21, 2012

Most Chicago area theaters have rearranged their schedules to accommodate new releases debuting on Wednesday, November 21, to take advantage of Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday crowds. That’s bad news for one of last week’s new Hindi releases.

Son of Sardaar is dropping out of some area theaters and seeing its daily showings cut back at others. Come Wednesday, Son of Sardaar will only be playing at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville.

Last week’s other big Diwali release, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, is unaffected by the mid-week schedule update. Having earned a total of $1,941,805 in the U.S. so far, JTHJ carries over at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, AMC River East 21 in Chicago, and Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie.

Two of Wednesday’s new releases — though not Hindi movies themselves — feature popular Bollywood actors in prominent roles. Anupam Kher stars in The Silver Linings Playbook, while Life of Pi stars Bollywood veterans like Irrfan Khan, Tabu, and Adil Hussain. Both of these English-language films open on November 21 at all five of the theaters mentioned above, as well as many other theaters in the Chicago area.

Movie Review: English Vinglish (2012)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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One of my favorite feelings is when I watch a new film that makes me think, “Now this is a movie. I wish more movies were like this.” Films that provoke that sensation for me aren’t necessarily perfect, but they are always well executed examples of the form that feel both familiar and fresh. Watching English Vinglish gave me that feeling.

This is writer-director Gauri Shinde’s first film, but you’d never know it. She gets how movies are supposed to be made. The pacing is excellent, and the characters are complex and grow throughout the story. English Vinglish is an impressive debut.

Shashi (Sridevi) is an Indian housewife unappreciated by her husband, Satish (Adil Hussain), and preteen daughter, Sapna. Her young son, Sagar (Shivansh Kotia), is still in the cuddly phase of childhood, and her live-in mother-in-law is sympathetic, but both require Shashi’s frequent attention, reducing her existence to that of a short-order cook. Satish even resents Shashi’s modest catering business selling her homemade sweets, insisting that cooking for her own family should give her satisfaction enough.

The real point of contention in the family is that Shashi doesn’t speak English. Her husband speaks it at his office and her children study it at school, so Satish and Sapna are able to make jokes at Shashi’s expense without her understanding. When Shashi’s sister asks her to fly to New York for a few weeks to help with preparations for her daughter’s wedding, Shashi is forced to confront her feelings of inadequacy regarding English. She enrolls in a language course that changes her perspective on everything.

Of course, Shashi’s linguistic problems are just part of a larger identity crisis. Is she more than just a cooking- and cleaning-machine? Should she even aspire to be more than that? Why does she need to know English if she never leaves the house without her husband or kids to act as translators?

Shashi’s search for self-worth is universal, but there are distinct feminine aspects to her problem. It’s expected that men define themselves by their jobs, but what metric should a homemaker and mother use to define herself? As Shashi tells one of her classmates, “When a man cooks, it’s art. When a woman cooks, it’s duty.” Defining a life by the execution of rote tasks seems insufficient.

The classmate Shashi discusses cooking with is a handsome French chef named Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou). They form a friendship based on their love of food as well as their sense of isolation as foreigners who don’t speak the dominant language. The relationship is also fueled by Laurent’s obvious crush on Shashi.

Laurent’s affection puts Shashi in a precarious situation. She doesn’t lead him on, but she’s pleased to finally have someone — let alone a good-looking younger man — make her feel like she’s beautiful, funny, clever, and talented. Laurent’s compliments are hard to resist when the alternative is being treated like a glorified servant by her husband.

The French chef’s crush is understandable because, at age 49, Sridevi still looks perfect. Her performance as Shashi is likewise flawless. She channels every mother throughout history when Shashi puts on a brave face in response to her daughter’s insults, determined to hide her emotions until she’s alone.

Sridevi’s subtlety gives Shashi an air of realism: her quick, birdlike movements as she tries to comprehend the ticket machine in the subway; her slight smile as she silently mouths one of her newly acquired English words; even her dance moves are small and slightly embarrassed, rather than the broad gestures of a seasoned performer.

Nebbou’s performance as Laurent is also perfectly restrained. Since he can’t say the words, Laurent shows his fondness for Shashi through glances that linger longer than is considered socially appropriate. He’s not pushy, but he is persistent. He’s charming, but not in a cartoonish way.

The members of Shashi’s family are well-drawn. Her niece, Radha (Priya Anand), is an enthusiastic co-conspirator who encourages Shashi’s personal growth. Satish and Sapna aren’t villains, but they seem to enjoy sharing knowledge that Shashi lacks. Little Sagar is adorable, and never annoying or distracting.

Shashi’s English class is populated with characters who all have their own motivations, though not all are successfully portrayed. Jennifer (Maria Pendolino), the language school receptionist, is so believable that, for all I know, they cast an actual language school receptionist to play the part. However, the class’s lone East Asian of unspecified national origin, Yu Son (Maria Romano), distracts with her indeterminate accent.

Also suffering from accent-related problems is David (Cory Hibbs), the teacher of the class who initially speaks with a quasi-British accent that fades as the movie progresses. What does not fade is David’s flamboyant gayness. His over-the-top affectations make him into a caricature who can’t even be humanized by Shashi’s “gays are people, too” speech late in the film.

If the only real problems in a movie relate to a couple of minor characters, it’s safe to declare the film a success. English Vinglish is a refined, adult coming-of-age story with a fantastic heroine at its heart. This is definitely a must-see.

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Movie Review: Ishqiya (2010)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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My enjoyment of most movies doesn’t hinge completely on the quality of the acting. I suppose that, when done well, you’re not even supposed to notice the acting. But the three leads in Ishqiya elevate an otherwise small and straightforward story to a work of art.

The film opens on a loving young couple engaged in a disagreement. The wife, Krishna (Vidya Balan) asks her husband, Vidyadhar (Adil Hussain) to abandon his criminal ways. He’s non-committal, though he professes to love her. As she walks through a dark hallway carrying a sacred flame on a tray, the camera cuts to the exterior of the house as an explosion destroys one of the rooms.

We next see Krishna as she opens the gate surrounding what’s left of the house to admit two of her husband’s former associates. Khalujaan (Naseeruddin Shah) and Babban (Arshad Warsi) are an uncle-nephew pair of thieves on the run from their latest victim, Khalujaan’s brother-in-law. They arrive at the house hoping that Vidyadhar will be able to help them cross the border into Nepal. Krishna informs them that her husband is dead.

She allows them to hide out at her house until they can figure out an escape plan. Krishna’s beautiful voice, which she uses to sing old movie tunes, enchants Khalujaan, even though he’s old enough to be her father.

Khalujaan considers Krishna’s reserved nature evidence of her modesty; Babban thinks she’s hiding something. His suspicions are confirmed when Krishna reveals a dangerous plan to earn them enough money to pay off the brother-in-law and make them all rich.

Ishqiya has some of the best acting I’ve ever seen in a Hindi movie. Okay, any movie. Balan plays Krishna perfectly. She’s not your typical seductress. She’s cautious, as a woman who’s been living on her own should be, but she knows how to entice both men to fall for her. Whether that was part of her plan all along or just an impulse of a lonely woman, it’s impossible to tell.

Lately, Shah seems to only get cast in smaller, cameo roles that don’t give him much to do. Khalujaan is the meatiest role I’ve seen him play, and he’s tremendous. Shah is nearly 60, but plays Khulajaan like a teenager with a crush. The performance is both charming and heart-breaking because the odds are against Krishna reciprocating Khalujaan’s feelings.

Before Ishqiya, I disliked Arshad Warsi. In movies like Krazzy 4, Golmaal Returns, and Short Kut, I felt his performances were more loud than funny. I was happy to be proven wrong. Babban is a lech, but Warsi gives him a vulnerability that makes him a viable romantic match for Krishna. His falling for her is inevitable, and a lesser movie would make that love reason enough for her to fall in love with him. Thanks to Warsi, Babban is just charming enough that we believe Krishna could have feelings for him.

Writer-director Abhishek Chaubey does a superb job with his first movie. The story is small, and Chaubey, appropriately, doesn’t overreach. No big special effects, lavish dance numbers or distracting cameos. The attention stays focused on the three leads with straightforward camera work and a direct storytelling style.

Chaubey previously worked with director Vishal Bhardwaj on movies like Makdee, Omkara and Kaminey. The two worked together again on Ishqiya, which Bhardwaj produced and co-wrote. He also wrote the movie’s wonderful music.

In one scene, Krishna sings to herself while chopping vegetables. There’s no accompanying music, just a solo woman’s voice. The visuals and sound editing were so seamless that I was sure it really was Balan singing. Turns out it was the voice of Rekha Bhardwaj, Vishal’s wife.

The scene exemplifies all that’s great about Ishqiya. Chaubey pays close attention to small details, making the film immersive. And he’s willing to give time to such a simple scene that reveals so much about the characters. After such a terrific debut, I’m eager to see what Chaubey does next.

Note: I watched Ishqiya on a DVD produced by Shemaroo. A watermark of the company’s logo appeared in the bottom right corner of the screen throughout the whole movie. Eventually I was able to ignore it, but I found the practice annoying.

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