Tag Archives: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan

Movie Review: Fanney Khan (2018)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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The corny family drama Fanney Khan lacks the self-awareness to notice its obvious thematic flaws.

Anil Kapoor’s title character is the only one that really matters in the film. Fanney traded in his life as a small-time band leader for a steady factory job following the birth of his daughter, Lata, whom he named after his favorite singer in the hopes that little Lata would one day achieve the stardom he never could himself.

Stardom proves hard to come by for Lata, however. As a teenager (played by Pihu Sand), Lata is repeatedly booed off stage at talent competitions by audiences and judges more interested in teasing her about her weight than listening to her sing. She finds her dad’s musical taste cheesy, but performing racy pop songs isn’t working for her either. Instead of allowing Lata to find her own way, the movie leaves it to Fanney to chart Lata’s course for her.

A chance encounter with the famous pop star Baby Singh (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) inspires Fanney’s boldest plan for Lata’s success. He kidnaps Baby and holds her for ransom — not for the money his family desperately needs, but in exchange for getting Lata in the recording studio with Baby’s manager, Kakkad (Girish Kulkarni). Fanney recruits his jobless friend, Adhir (Rajkummar Rao) to keep watch over Baby, but Adhir’s crush on the star makes him an ineffective guard.

Fanney Khan might have succeeded as a pedestrian-yet-heartwarming family film were it not for a bizarre minor theme that alters the movie’s moral message in a way that debutant writer-director Atul Manjrekar appears not to have noticed.

The theme is first introduced when Lata plans her next live performance with her best friend, Rhea (Barbie Rajput, who is fantastic in her few scenes). When Rhea speculates that many top female stars slept with producers or other benefactors in order to become famous, Lata’s mother, Kavita (Divya Dutta), slowly enters the room, accompanied by music as somber as the expression on her face. She forbids the two girls from discussing the topic, even though were Rhea and Lata were both grossed out by the prospect and not actually considering it.

The same somber musical accompaniment reappears when Fanney asks Baby if she’d ever been pressured into sex for the sake of her career, when Kakkad is alone in a hotel room with Lata, and when Kavita sees Lata dressed in a (modest) one shoulder gown that Kavita nevertheless finds too revealing.

This repeated focus on women’s bodies and sexuality as they relate to fame is meant to convey the moral that women’s bodies are not tradeable commodities.

How, then, does director Manjrekar fail to notice the irony that his protagonist kidnaps a woman in order to trade her body for his own daughter’s success?

Fanney Khan is not a black comedy, and the sex-for-fame cautionary subplot isn’t explicitly juxtaposed against the main plot. Fanney is unquestionably a hero, slow-clapped by the very cops who come to arrest him as a way of praising his fatherly devotion.

Perhaps the point of the subplot is to convey that men may do what they like with women’s bodies, but women themselves may not treat their bodies as commodities. None of the men in the film face any repercussions for mistreating or intending to mistreat women’s bodies. Not Fanney or Adhir for kidnapping Baby, and not the studio head who wants Baby to have an “accidental” wardrobe malfunction in order to garner publicity. The character of a female recording engineer is invented specifically so that Kakkad can leer at her, thus making it appear as though Lata is in moral jeopardy when she’s alone in a room with him later. That Kavita doubts for a second whether Lata actually slept with Kakkad shows how little the film’s writers think of women’s ability to make their own moral judgements.

Fanney Khan lets down its main cast, who are all very good in the movie. Sand acquits herself well in her film debut, and she shares a nice mother-daughter rapport with Dutta. Rai Bachchan is natural in the role of a superstar, of course, and Rao is entertaining as always. Kapoor is flat-out terrific as the ultimate family man, making Fanney all the more endearing through his enthusiasm and cheerfulness. One way Kapoor could turn Fanney Khan into a positive is by taking Fanney’s band and backup dancers on the road, because they are a hoot.

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Movie Review: Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016)

aedilhaimushkil2 Stars (out of 4)

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WARNING: THIS REVIEW HAS MAJOR THIRD-ACT SPOILERS. It’s tough to talk in-depth about my feelings for this film without also revealing how the plot resolves itself. If you’re spoiler-averse, bail out after the first few paragraphs. (There’s another warning below, just before the big spoilers begin.)

Approximately two hours into Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (“This Heart is Complicated“), during the performance of the emotionally charged title track, one feels the first pangs of concern. How is writer-director Karan Johar going to craft a satisfying ending to his tale of unrequited love, which to this point has been compelling and unexpected? As the song ends, Johar’s film uses narrative crutches to limp along to an ending made all the more disappointing because of the story’s squandered potential.

What Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (“ADHM,” henceforth) has going for it, at least early on, is a cast of interesting characters. Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor) lives in London, dutifully pursuing an MBA at his dad’s request at the expense of a singing career. Ayan is absurdly wealthy, as is every other character in the film, allowing for impromptu jaunts to scenic European locales.

Ayan meets Alizeh (Anushka Sharma) at a party, and they find in each other kindred spirits fond of quoting film dialogue. A knowledge of older Bollywood movies will enhance the experience of watching ADHM, but it is not necessary. Terrific subtitle translation substitutes Western equivalents for specifically Indian references. For example, Bollywood bombshell “Sunny Leone” becomes “JLo” for the sake of international audience members. (Unfortunately, song lyrics are not subtitled in English.)

Although both are already in relationships — Alizeh with boring Faisal (Imran Abbas) and Ayan with tacky Lisa (Lisa Haydon, who is utterly hilarious in the film) — Ayan and Alizeh prefer each other’s company. Ayan begins to fall for beautiful Alizeh, but she makes it clear that she’s not interested. She’s still heartbroken over another man, Ali (Fawad Khan), and only wants Ayan’s friendship.

Ayan spends the rest of the film struggling with his unrequited feelings, distracting himself by having an affair with Saba (an incredibly sexy Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). Adding Saba’s lovelorn poetry to his heartbroken music jump-starts Ayan’s singing career, propelling him out of his extended adolescence and into self-possessed adulthood.

This is where those nagging feelings begin. Ayan somehow needs to resolve his feelings for Alizeh. It would be too convenient to have Alizeh change her mind and fall for Ayan, especially since she maintains throughout that she’s not attracted to him. Finding a way to put Ayan’s feelings in narrative context presents a considerable challenge.

LAST WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE’S FINAL ACT ARE BELOW.

Unfortunately, Johar chooses the second easiest possible option: he gives Alizeh cancer. Removing Alizeh from the mortal world absolves Ayan from having to learn how to live in a world where they’re both alive yet apart. It also provides yet another frustrating example of a male writer using the death of a female character to advance the development of his male protagonist.

There are further sexist overtones to the way Ayan treats Alizeh while she is sick. He repeatedly exerts physical control over her body at the exact moment when she’s lost control of her body to cancer. Without Alizeh’s consent, Ayan removes her hat in public to reveal her hairless head. He makes her dance when she doesn’t want to. Ayan tries to kiss Alizeh, and he screams at her for rejecting his advances. He’s enraged that she won’t have sex with him, even though she doesn’t have long to live and he’s taking care of her.

That raises another point about the stupidity of the cancer subplot. Alizeh refuses to tell Ali or her family about her diagnosis, choosing to endure it alone. That’s not how cancer works. It’s an exhausting, all-hands-on-deck endurance test. Certain doctors require you to bring a guardian to help you get home from your appointment safely; they won’t let you take a cab. No one faces cancer alone willingly.

So much of ADHM is about Ayan growing out of his immaturity into the complicated realities of adult relationships, but there’s no wisdom to be found here. In the end, Johar chose the path of least resistance. He has more insight to offer than this. I’m sure of it.

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Bollywood Box Office: May 20-22

Last week, I wrote of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan: “Even her lowest earning movies are average performers compared to the rest of the field.” That proved true once again with Sarbjit, which earned $130,199 from 83 theaters ($1,569 average) in North America during the weekend of May 20-22, 2016. It had the tenth best opening weekend of 2016 out of a field of 21 films.

While that opening weekend performance seems okay, by a number of metrics, it’s not. Sarbjit debuted a week after another biopic — the Emraan Hashmi-starrer Azhar — earned almost the exact same amount ($127,266) from 32 fewer theaters, with a per-screen average of $2,495. Sarbjit‘s 83 theaters represent the lowest number of opening weekend screens for one of Rai Bachchan’s movies since 2008’s Sarkar Raj opened in 70 North American theaters. More significantly, Sarbjit‘s opening weekend total is Rai Bachchan’s lowest since 2003’s Kuch Naa Kaho, and that film only released in 32 theaters.

There could be multiple contributing factors at play, such as audience fatigue from consecutive biopics, or the fact that Rai Bachchan became the face of promotions for a movie in which she doesn’t even play the title character, but there’s something more going on here. Rai Bachchan’s presence in a movie no longer guarantees a $1 million haul, the way it did during her heyday. Surely she’ll have better luck with her next project: director Karan Johar’s multi-starrer Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.

In its second weekend, Azhar‘s business fell 85% from its opening weekend. Azhar earned $19,130 from 35 theaters ($547 average), bringing its total to $185,695.

Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:

  • Baaghi: Week 4; $3,329 from six theaters; $555 average; $435,687 total
  • Kapoor & Sons: Week 10; $748 from one theater; $2,661,188 total
  • Fan: Week 6; $630 from two theaters; $315 average; $2,302,581 total
  • 1920 London: Week 3; $40 from one theater; $24,834 total

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Sarbjit (2016)

Sarbjit2 Stars (out of 4)

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Much of the press before the release of Sarbjit focused on whether superstar Aishwarya Rai Bachchan would overshadow the actor playing the film’s title character, Randeep Hooda. Rai Bachchan is the dominant presence in the movie, not because of her performance but because the story is tilted in her favor, at the expense of Sarbjit and the other important figures in his life.

Hooda’s character is Sarbjit Singh, a Punjabi farmer in a small town on the Indian border with Pakistan. He’s married to the woman of his dreams, Sukh (Richa Chadda), with whom he has two young daughters. He shares the family home with his father and his sister, Dalbir (Rai Bachchan).

Dalbir has survived her share of heartbreak. Her only child was stillborn, and her marriage went south not long after due to her husband’s violent jealousy over her close relationship with her younger brother, whom she essentially raised.

Jovial Sarbjit gets drunk with his friend one night and unwittingly stumbles across the Pakistani border. Soldiers arrest Sarbjit on the suspicion of spying, and they torture him into confessing to be terrorist Ranjit Singh.

It takes eight months for Dalbir and Sukh to find out what has happened to Sarbjit, after a sympathetic jailer mails a letter to them on the farmer’s behalf. By then, Sarbjit has been moved to a Lahore prison and sentenced to death.

A lengthy Pakistani judicial process affords Dalbir decades to find a way to free her brother. When Indian politicians are reluctant to intervene — if not outright dismissive — she rallies public support to pressure them into action. Dalbir’s endeavor begins with Sarbjit’s capture in 1990 and lasts long enough to see the advent of the Internet and cell phone technology to further spread her message.

Dalbir’s quest reveals the ways in which the Indian and Pakistani governments use prisoners as proxies in their ongoing conflict. An execution of a Pakistani prisoner in India can easily spur a retaliatory execution in Pakistan. Political offices change hands numerous times during Sarbjit’s incarceration, and every change delays progress to free him.

Dalbir’s story has interesting parallel’s with Sarbjit’s. He’s driven somewhat insane through years of torture and solitary confinement, and she also loses herself as his imprisonment drags on.

Yet, it’s weird the way the story — written by Utkarshini Vashishtha and Rajesh Beri, and directed by Omung Kumar — prioritizes Dalbir’s relationship with Sarbjit over all others. If my brother is ever wrongly imprisoned by a hostile foreign government and we finally get the chance to see him after eighteen years, I’m letting his wife walk through the door first.

So much emphasis is placed on Dalbir that other subplots aren’t fully explored. When they are addressed, it comes too late. About five minutes after I wrote a note wondering how Sarbjit’s younger daughter Poonam (Ankita Shrivastav) feels about spending her whole life protesting on behalf of a father she doesn’t know, Poonam has her one and only meltdown. It would’ve been nice for the sisters to have at least one conversation about how their father’s imprisonment has affected them.

The story focus is further problematic because Rai Bachchan isn’t the best actor in the cast. She conveys Dalbir’s pain, but too often she resorts to shouting to make her point, even when in front of a microphone. Piercing screams aren’t the only way to show anger.

Chadda’s restrained performance is more compelling. Her stoicism begs for more screen time, a window into how this woman perseveres with her beloved husband unjustly imprisoned, leaving her forced to raise two children on her own.

Hooda is terrific as Sarbjit. He loses a troubling amount of weight as the story progresses, but his most interesting trait is the way his speech changes. Dental hygiene isn’t high on his captor’s priority list, and you can almost judge the level of tooth decay by the way Sarbjit sounds.

The movie’s torture scenes are horrific, the conditions of Sarbjit’s imprisonment barbaric. Apart from the kindly jailer and a human rights lawyer (Darshan Kumar), most Pakistani characters are convinced of Sarbjit’s guilt and happy to see him suffer.

Some scenes need more explanation in order to help the narrative flow. Given the way Sarbjit’s fate is tied to world events, it would have been smoother to show the family learning about things like nuclear tests and terrorist attacks directly, rather than inserting stock news footage as Kumar does.

Though an imperfect movie, Sarbjit is an interesting cautionary tale about the hidden casualties of ongoing tension between India and Pakistan. The song “Meherbaan” is excellent. And Hooda and Chadda are so talented that they are impossible to overshadow completely.

[Update: In a recent interview, Richa Chadda revealed her disappointment that many of the scenes she filmed for Sarbjit were cut from the final version. That goes a long way to explaining why I found the story so unbalanced.]

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Box Office Star Analysis: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan

With Sarbjit poised for release on Friday, let’s take a look at the North American box office history of the film’s leading lady: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Nineteen of her films have released in the United States since 1999, the earliest year for which I have reliable data. Two of those movies — Raavan and Robot/Enthiran — released in multiple languages in 2010, a time when accurate box office info for Indian films in languages other than Hindi was hard to come by. I included only amounts I could verify, so the Total Gross for both films featured in the chart below is likely lower than the actual total (whatever that may be).

AishwaryaRaiBachchanHindiChartWhile it appears as though Aishwarya’s career has had a lot of ups and downs, do not be deceived. All but one of the movies in the chart above ranked in the top half of Hindi films released in North America that year. The lone exception — Kuch Naa Kaho — ranked seventh out of the twelve Hindi movies that showed in US theaters in 2003. Even her lowest earning movies are average performers compared to the rest of the field. Aishwarya doesn’t make flops.

Her career also notably includes forays into international cinema, having made four English-language films between 2005 and 2009. Her biggest box office success came in a supporting role in the Pink Panther sequel starring Steve Martin.

AishwaryaRaiBachchanEnglishAishwarya’s English movies didn’t lead to a Hollywood career, but they did make her a recognizable star here, further cemented by her annual appearances on the red carpet at Cannes. She’s the face of Bollywood to many Americans, and Roger Ebert famously called her “not only the first but also the second most beautiful woman in the world.” Undoubtedly, her English films paved the way for her juniors to start their own international careers. Does Priyanka Chopra get the leading role in an American TV series without Aishwarya? Probably not.

Movie Review: Jazbaa (2015)

Jazbaa1 Star (out of 4)

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Jazbaa (“Passion“) is a mess from start to finish. It’s such a trainwreck that it manages to make top stars like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Irrfan Khan look silly.

From the very beginning, it’s obvious that something is off with Jazbaa. It just looks wrong. Director Sanjay Gupta is obsessed with putting filters on the camera, so every shot is a sickly green or yellow, with the occasional merciful blue. The grotesque palette makes Irrfan appear in urgent need of hospitalization.

That’s when you can actually see him clearly. Gupta also likes to play with lighting, to stupid effect. A group of cops sit around a dark conference table, light illuminating only their cheeks or chins. Their eyes and mouths — the parts of the face that actually convey meaning — are in shadow.

Although the plot has promise, Gupta mucks it up as well. Aishwarya plays Anu Verma, a successful defense lawyer who is happy to make evidence disappear if it will help her win. She’s also a single mom with an elementary-school-aged daughter, Sanaya (Sara Arjun). Anu’s best friend, Yohaan (Irrfan), is a corrupt but highly decorated cop who’s facing suspension.

At Sports Day at Sanaya’s school, Anu crosses the finish line first in the mother-daughter relay. But when she turns to celebrate with Sanaya, the girl has vanished.

Anu — who is standing in a crowd of people — calls for her daughter for all of five seconds before her eyes fill with tears and she starts shrieking her head off. Why does she immediately assume that something has gone horribly wrong? It’s almost like Anu knows she’s in a movie. The fact that Sanaya actually is missing doesn’t justify her overreaction.

A kidnapper calls, demanding that Anu free a rapist/murderer from death row in exchange for Sanaya’s safety. Anu enlists suspended Yohaan to help her, even though he’s the man who put the rapist behind bars in the first place.

All this happens in frantic fashion. Within the first fifteen minutes, Anu leads the cops on a high-speed car chase, even though we’ve hardly had time to get to know her, her daughter, or Yohaan. Gupta expects the audience to invest in the characters simply because they are there, not because they have earned our sympathy or affection.

Gupta’s obsession with using camera techniques for their own sake — rather than for the sake of the story — reaches its absurd apex in courtroom scenes. Every single shot is peppered with numerous micro-movements of the camera: up, down, in, out. It makes no sense. It’s as though Gupta is deliberately trying to distract us from the acting.

That may be a good thing, because the acting is bad. Aishwarya screams and sobs and pounds her fists on the ground. Irrfan throws a tantrum, kicking over barrels like a frustrated baseball player taking out a Gatorade cooler in the dugout. While sitting in a car with Anu, Yohaan emphasizes a point by breaking her passenger window with his elbow. It’s so stupid, it’s sublime.

The inspiration for Irrfan Khan’s character?

Chandan Roy Sanyal — who plays the rapist, Niyaz — is the hammiest of the hams, cackling as though he’s a villain from the 1960s Batman TV show. He’s nearly outdone by Sam, the rape victim’s old boyfriend who is now crazy from having taken too much “angel dust.” Don’t do drugs, kids.

The anti-drug message is secondary to the real moral behind Jazbaa. The screen fades to black as the movie ends, and sad piano music plays as Indian rape statistics appear on screen. The note ends not with a call for an end to rape or greater aid for victims, but for speedier executions of those convicted of rape (a death penalty offense in India).

The problem with the message is that the plot of the very movie that precedes it cautions against such haste. During the course of their investigation, Anu and Yohaan uncover enough evidence to suggest that the crime that got Niyaz thrown behind bars didn’t proceed the way the original prosecutor concluded it did.

Regardless of the fate of the fictional character Niyaz, Jazbaa presents a case in which a potentially innocent man is sentenced to death. The movie then ends with a note encouraging speedier executions, thus limiting the opportunities for a person wrongly convicted to overturn his or her own death sentence. Even if one agrees with the sentiment at the end of the film, it doesn’t follow logically from the actual events of the film.

Rather than trying to make a moral point, Gupta needs to focus on telling a good story. He fails to do that, getting hung up on distracting camera techniques and overacting that puts soap operas to shame. Jazbaa is a disaster.

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Opening October 9: Jazbaa

The Bollywood thriller Jazbaa (“Passion“) — starring Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Irrfan Khan — opens in Chicago area theaters on October 9, 2015.

Jazbaa opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 10 min.

Singh Is Bliing carries over at all of the above theaters except the River East 21. Talvar gets at second week at MovieMax, Cantera 17, and South Barrington 30, which also holds over Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon.

Another new release with a South Asian focus is the documentary He Named Me Malala, about the heroic teen activist Malala Yousafzai. It opens on Friday across the Chicago area and the nation. Click here for a national theater list.

The documentary Meet the Patels carries over for a fifth week at the South Barrington 30, Music Box Theatre in Chicago , Wilmette Theatre in Wilmette, and Regal Lincolnshire Stadium 21 in Lincolnshire.

The Pakistani film Jawani Phir Nahi Ani gets a third week at the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 17.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include:

Movie Review: Bride and Prejudice (2004)

BrideAndPrejudice2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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I first saw director Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice in the theater, not long before I started watching Hindi films in earnest. Though the film is still cute, a second viewing feels like a step into a Bollywood uncanny valley.

As hinted at by the title, the movie is Chadha’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The action is relocated to Amritsar, where the story focuses on the Bakshi family and their four single daughters.

Eldest daughter Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar) catches the eye of wealthy London NRI Balraj (Naveen Andrews), who is accompanied on his visit to India by his sister Kiran (Indira Varma) and friend Will Darcy (Martin Henderson). Darcy takes a shine to Jaya’s beautiful sister, Lalita (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), but the two get off to a rocky start.

Both potential romances veer off course upon the arrival of two other suitors: a rich NRI from L.A., Mr. Kholi (Nitin Ganatra), and Darcy’s nemesis, Johnny Wickham (Daniel Gillies).

Despite the trappings of a stereotypical Bollywood movie — colorful wedding sets and big dance numbers — Bride and Prejudice has more in common structurally with Broadway musicals. In a typical Hindi film, the songs that accompany dance numbers are intended to be sold as soundtrack singles, so their lyrics are more about mood and general feelings than the literal expressions of one’s thoughts.

By contrast, the song lyrics in Bride and Prejudice are the characters’ internal and external monologues set to music, and dance numbers arise from that. For example, the lyrics to the song that Lalita and her friends sing while shopping for last-minute wedding items refer specifically to the woman getting married and to the festivities taking place in Amritsar.

The effect is weird. Perhaps Chadha would have been better served to start Bride and Prejudice onstage before filming it. A theatrical run would have forced the story to define itself as musical theater rather than a confused Bollywood hybrid. Also, it would have given the composers time to craft better music. Most of the songs in Bride and Prejudice are awful, especially “No Life Without Wife.”

The highlight of revisiting the film is spotting all of the stars who would later establish themselves in other roles. The film released during the first season of Lost, in which Andrews starred. Gillies would make his mark as Elijah in the TV series The Vampire Diaries and its spin-off, The Originals. Varma — who looks amazing in the movie — presently plays the dangerous Ellaria Sand in Game of Thrones.

As the biggest star and leading character in Bride and Prejudice, Rai Bachchan leaves something to be desired. Her dialogue delivery is stilted, and her angry outbursts are tepid. She and Henderson lack chemistry.

Her performance — along with all the others in the film — is overshadowed by Ganatra’s comic turn as the tacky braggart Kholi. He is so desperate to share his American dream that he insults the very women he’s trying to woo. His pathetic and annoying acts are balanced by his sincerity, so his shtick never gets tired.

The presence of Kholi, Darcy, and Balraj in India raises questions about the assumptions outsiders — NRIs included — make about Indians, particularly Indian women. It’s a fascinating topic, but the way it’s dealt with is so on the nose that it feels like the characters are checking items off a list of stereotypes.

For all its shortcomings, Bride and Prejudice is certainly interesting and ambitious. Some adjustments to the story structure and soundtrack might have given it more lasting appeal.

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Movie Review: Guzaarish (2010)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Despite knowing in advance that Guzaarish (“Request”) is a story about a paralyzed man trying to end his life, I wasn’t prepared for the emotional walloping the movie administered.

Guzaarish is heartbreaking without being manipulative. The characters occupy various positions on the ethical spectrum. In a movie about empathizing with someone else’s decision even if you disagree with it, it’s easy to identify with all of the characters and find their motives believable.

Guzaarish opens with a montage set to the song “Smile” (popularized by Nat King Cole), showcasing the details of Ethan Mascarenas’ (Hrithik Roshan) daily life. Ethan is paralyzed below the neck as a result of an accident fourteen years ago, and his days now consist of being washed, dressed and fed by his nurse, Sofia (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). Unable to use his hands to shoo away a fly that lands on his face, Ethan does as the song suggests and smiles.

In addition to being permanently immobilized, Ethan’s organs are shutting down. His diminishing lung function causes him to gasp for breath between sentences. Ethan asks his best friend and lawyer, Devyani (Shernaz Patel), to file a petition asking the court to allow him to commit suicide.

Everyone opposes the idea: the doctor who saved his life after the accident; Sofia, who’s cared for him every day since; his friend, Devyani; listeners to the radio show Ethan broadcasts from his bedroom; his new apprentice, Omar (Aditya Roy Kapoor), to whom Ethan passes on secrets from his days as one of the world’s top magicians. The court rejects his initial appeal, but Ethan is determined to take control of his own destiny.

The movie is not just about Ethan’s struggle, but how his decision affects those around him. One of the most powerful scenes takes place between Sofia and Devyani. After Sofia blames Devyani for enabling Ethan’s suicide pursual, Devyani reminds Sofia that she didn’t know him before the accident and can’t understand the life he lost. Devyani repeatedly walks toward the door, only to return with one last point in defense of her friend.

Guzaarish isn’t all tearjerking melodrama. Ethan copes with his disability through a mix of gallows humor and randy flirtation, begging straight-laced Sofia to show him the “sexy legs” he knows are under her floor-length skirts. When Sofia finally cuts loose and dances one night, it takes Ethan completely by surprise.

Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali adds details like Sofia’s long skirts to play up the Portuguese influence in Goa, where Guzaarish is set. Ethan’s beautiful but dilapidated mansion is also built and decorated in Goan-Portuguese style.

Guzaarish‘s arresting visual style keeps with Bhansali’s once-opulent, now-lonely aesthetic. The mansion’s blue color-scheme is similar to the super-saturated colors the director used in Saawariya, and the expansiveness of Ethan’s home is reminiscent of interiors in Devdas and Black. Regardless of subject matter, Bhansali’s movies are gorgeous to look at.

The director also has a flair for highlighting Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s otherworldly beauty. With her pale skin and dark hair accented by bright red lipstick, there are moments in close-up where she looks more like a painting than a real person.

The few scenes in Guzaarish that don’t work are unnecessary side stories that are mercifully short. Characters — such as Ethan’s former assistant and his one-time rival — are introduced late in the movie without any previous mention and don’t have a role in the story apart from a brief flashback. Their interludes do nothing to advance the plot or reveal more about Ethan’s character.

Those distractions aside, Guzaarish‘s compelling story and breathtaking visuals make it a definite must-see.

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Opening November 19: Guzaarish and Today’s Special

Friday, November 19, 2010, sees the opening of the Hindi movie Guzaarish and Today’s Special, an English-language movie that may interest Bollywood fans. Guzaarish (“Request”) stars Hrithik Roshan as a quadriplegic former magician and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as his nurse.

Guzaarish opens on Friday at the AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 30 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min.

Also opening this weekend is Today’s Special, which stars Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi as a chef forced to take over his family’s Indian restaurant. The movie is based on a play written by Mandvi and features Bollywood legend Naseeruddin Shah.

Today’s Special opens on Friday at the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 30. Check the movie’s official website for nationwide showtimes. It has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 39 min.

Besides Guzaarish, two other Hindi movies continue their runs in Chicago area theaters. Golmaal 3 gets a third week at the Pipers Alley 4, Golf Glen 5 and South Barrington 30. Action Replayy also gets a third week at the South Barrington 30.

Other Indian movies showing around Chicago this weekend include the Telugu movies Kathi and Yemaindia Eevela at the Golf Glen 5.