Tag Archives: Ajay Devgan

Movie Review: Himmatwala (2013)

Himmatwala0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Can someone check director Sajid Khan to make sure his brain is still functioning? Lack of neural activity is the only way I can explain why someone would be so unaware of current events as to make a film as out of touch as Himmatwala.

Himmatwala is a remake of a hit film from 1983, a period when cultural views of gender equality were less advanced than they are today. Khan sets the events of his remake in 1983, but that doesn’t mean that every detail of the remake must be exactly the same as the original. In fact, characters make numerous references to modern life — things like swine flu and YouTube — that were obviously not part of the original.

(Further evidence that this is not a strict remake is that Khan lifts an iconic scene directly from the 1987 comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I’ve included a video of the original scene at the end of the review.)

The problematic sequences have to do with the film’s depiction of women. The film shifts from a light-hearted, Looney Tunes-inspired comedy in the first half, to a more serious story in the second, though refusing to abandon its comedic elements entirely. As a result, women’s suffering is made light of, existing only as a prompt for jokes.

The story centers on Ravi’s (Ajay Devgn) return to his hometown, which he left as a boy. His father, a respected priest, had been framed by the evil town overlord, Sher Singh (Mahesh Manjrekar), and driven to suicide. When young Ravi attacks Sher Singh, Singh’s goons burn Ravi’s house, presumably with his mother, Savitri (Zarina Wahab), and his younger sister, Padma, still inside. Upon learning that his mother and now-adult sister (played by Leena Jumani) survived, forced to live in squalor on the outskirts of town, Ravi returns.

In the process of restoring the family home, Ravi inspires the impoverished villagers to hope for a life out from under the thumb of Sher Singh. Ravi’s divinely endowed heroism wins the love of Singh’s bratty daughter, Rekha (Tamannaah), and gets her to stop being mean to the poor townsfolk.

Up to this point, the tone is relatively light. There are a few impressive dance numbers, lots of cartoonish sound effects, and direct-to camera asides from Narayan Das (played by an incredibly annoying Paresh Rawal), Singh’s brother-in-law.

The tone changes when Padma reveals that she and Narayan’s son, Shakti (Adhyayan Suman), are in love. Ravi objects to his sister’s relationship with the nephew of his arch-rival, but relents and apologizes to Shakti when he sees how unhappy Padma is. This apology is an insufficient balm for Shakti’s wounded pride, and he conspires with his father and uncle to ruin Ravi by physically and emotionally torturing Shakti after going through with a sham marriage to her.

But first, Padma is almost raped by a gang of Singh’s goons. After trapping her in an abandoned train car, the lead goon declares, “I will molest you, and then your brother will kill himself.”

Of course, Ravi shows up in time to save Padma, but his pre-fight announcement is less than reassuring. He says, “If you lose your dignity and your life, you can never get them back. I will definitely protect my sister’s dignity, but who will protect you from me?” Then he announces that women need not fear when there’s a himmatwala (“brave heart”) around to protect them.

I feel comfortable speaking for all women when I say, I don’t want a man to protect me; I don’t want to be threatened in the first place! And why, as a woman, is my virtue at stake if I get molested against my will? I didn’t do anything wrong, the man who molested me did.

After escaping the rapists, Padma marries Shakti, who whips her when she complains about being psychologically tortured by him and Narayan. She reports her miserable living conditions to Ravi. Their mother restrains her son’s justifiable urge to beat up Shakti, saying, “When a girl moves to her husband’s house, she leaves only after she dies.”

Ravi and Rekha concoct a scheme to extort Singh the same way he’s extorting Ravi. They pretend that the worst possible thing has happened to Rekha: that Ravi has gotten her pregnant out of wedlock!

While Singh begs Ravi to marry Rekha and spare him public humiliation, Ravi sets about trying to right the wrongs committed against Padma. He does so by forcing Narayan and Shakti to sweep and wash dishes (how womanly!), and then he puts a crab in Singh’s pants, causing the overlord to dance around. Hilarious, right?

So, according to Himmatwala, equivalent punishment for physically abusing a woman (not to mention the near gang rape, ostensibly sanctioned by Singh) is light housework and mild embarrassment.

With new stories of some horrific gang rape emerging from all over India seemingly every month, it’s time for moviemakers to stop treating the abuse of women as a joke. Remakes are fine, but they need to be updated to fit the times. Sajid Khan is should be ashamed of himself.

*Here’s the scene Khan stole from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, recast with Singh and Narayan. The English subtitles in Himmatwala are exactly the same as the spoken dialog in the original:

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Opening March 29: Himmatwala

At long last, a likely Bollywood blockbuster is set to open in Chicago area theaters. Himmatwala stars Ajay Devgn in a remake of the 1983 action flick of the same name. In Singham, Devgn’s open-handed slap attacks were accompanied by a lion’s roar, and now he wrestles a tiger in Himmatwala. Is this big cat theme deliberate?

Himmatwala opens on Friday, March 29, 2013, at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 30 min.

Last weekend’s new release, Rangrezz, does not get a second week after earning an absolutely pathetic $4,318 from 11 theaters in the United States. Other notable earnings figures from last weekend include $16,951 for Kai Po Che! from 18 theaters and just $1,006 (yikes!) for The Attacks of 26/11 from 51 theaters.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Chennaiyil Oru Naal (Tamil), Jaffa (Telugu), Kedi Billa Killadi Ranga (Tamil), and Swamy Ra Ra (Telugu).

Movie Review: Son of Sardaar (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Ajay Devgn has something of an uneven record when it comes to the comedic roles he chooses. His deadpan delivery suits films like Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? and Bol Bachchan, while his attempts at goofier roles in movies like All the Best and Rascals fall flat. Devgn hits the right wacky notes in Son of Sardaar, a silly film that has its heart in the right place.

Devgn plays Jassi, a Punjabi living in London who returns to the small town he left as a child, stumbling into a long-simmering family feud. Turns out Jassi’s father and the patriarch of the Sandhu family killed each other in a fight, and Sandhu’s heirs have vowed to avenge his death.

The new head of the Sandhu family, Billoo (Sanjay Dutt), swore an oath on the night of his uncle’s murder — Billoo’s own wedding night — not to marry until he murders Jassi. Consequently, Billoo’s bride-to-be, Pammi (Juhi Chawla), has grown impatient after waiting twenty-five years and is eager to marry.

Unfortunately for desperate Pammi, Billoo is a man of strong traditional values and won’t even look at her, let alone kiss her, before they are married. These values also put Jassi’s death sentence on hold after he is unwittingly invited into Billoo’s house. Since guests customarily get special treatment, Jassi is safe as long as he remains in Billoo’s home. It also gives Jassi time to fall for Billoo’s beautiful cousin, Sukh (Sonakshi Sinha), who gets a couple of montages accompanied by odd 80’s hair-metal-inspired musical themes.

The film works because Jassi is a sweet, likeable guy who doesn’t want to make trouble. He endears himself to the women of the Sandhu family — who aren’t aware of his part in the feud — and he’s able to keep finding ways to extend his stay.

Devgn plays Jassi with a wide-eyed fascination and enthusiasm that are endearing. My favorite moment in the film is when Devgn appears to be genuinely startled by a pigeon. This performance is a great counter to the put-upon cynicism that Devgn normally does so well. This might be my favorite performance of his career.

Given Jassi’s Sikh warrior heritage, he’s no pushover. His turban doubles as a weapon and winds itself back into place. It’s a silly effect, but Son of Sardaar swears no allegiance to the properties of physics. Most of the fight scenes rely upon slow-motion effects requiring the actors to don harnesses under their clothing. Trimming thirty minutes or so of rehashed fight and chase scenes would’ve done wonders for the film.

Dutt is solid as Jassi’s adversary, while Sinha is likewise good in the same type of role she’s played several times before. Besides Devgn, the other star of the film is Chawla. Pammi’s attempts to seduce Billoo into giving her a chaste kiss on the cheek are funny, and Chawla brings the same kind of earnest sweetness to her role as Devgn does to his.

Son of Sardaar might not be particularly fresh, but Devgn shows how to properly play the loveable goofball role. A character isn’t loveable just because other characters describe him that way; he has to act loveable. Devgn does just that, making Son of Sardaar an enjoyable film to watch.

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Opening November 13: Jab Tak Hai Jaan and Son of Sardaar

Hoping to take advantage of Diwali holiday crowds, two of the biggest films of 2012 open in Chicago area theaters on Tuesday, November 13. Due to the recent death of director Yash Chopra, his final film — Jab Tak Hai Jaan — is obviously generating the most buzz. The romantic drama stars Shahrukh Khan, Katrina Kaif, and Anushka Sharma.

Also debuting on Tuesday is the action comedy Son of Sardaar, which stars Ajay Devgn, Sonakshi Sinha, and Sanjay Dutt.

Both Jab Tak Hai Jaan (runtime 2 hrs. 56 min.) and Son of Sardaar (runtime 2 hrs. 25 min.) open on Tuesday, November 13, at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville.

In addition to the two new Hindi movies, Tuesday also marks the debut of the Tamil action film Thuppakki at the Golf Glen 5.

Opening July 6: Bol Bachchan

The colorful action-comedy Bol Bachchan — starring Ajay Devgn and Abhishek Bachchan — opens in three Chicago area theaters on July 6, 2012.

Bol Bachchan opens on Friday at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. The movie is rated PG and has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 30 min.

Teri Meri Kahaani carries over for a third week at the South Barrington 30, having earned $671,442 in the U.S. so far. Ferrari Ki Sawaari gets a fourth week at the Golf Glen 5. Its U.S. earnings stand at $420,046.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Diamond Necklace (Malayalam), Romeo (Kannada), Eega (Telugu) and its Tamil version, Naan Ee.

The intriguing documentary Supermen of Malegaon released theatrically in India on June 29, but not in the U.S. However, as of July 4, the film is available for streaming internationally on Mela.

Also worth checking out is the cute new trailer for Barfi!, which opens on September 14:

Worst Bollywood Movies of 2011

In 2011, Bollywood produced a number of movies that advanced the role of women in film and pushed the boundaries of traditional storytelling style. This post is not about those movies. This post is about the worst films of the year. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)

Video services like YouTube and Netflix have allowed smaller studios to bypass the theater distribution system and reach an international audience via the Internet. While the development is a welcome one, it doesn’t mean that every film available online merits viewing. Inept, low-budget stinkers like Cycle Kick, Love Express and Impatient Vivek aren’t worth it, even for free.

Neither is a showing on the big screen a guarantee of quality. Indie film I Am Singh made it into Chicago area theaters but left after just one week. Aarakshan, Thank You, Dum Maaro Dum and Mausam all had large budgets and star casts but failed to impress.

While a number of this year’s movies featured empowered female characters, Turning 30 did its best to undermine feminism. The movie — written and directed by a woman — features a lead character who spends most of the movie wallowing in self-pity after she’s dumped. Turning 30 ends with the appalling suggestion that self-respect and a happy marriage shouldn’t be as important to women as having babies.

This year’s worst Bollywood movie manages to combine all of the above offenses into one unwatchable mess. It’s sloppily made, despite having a budget large enough to pay an A-list cast. It’s sexist. As a bonus, it’s also full of racist stereotypes.

The Worst Bollywood Movie of 2011 is Rascals.

Director David Dhawan is a repeat offender, being the man responsible for my worst movie of 2009, Do Knot Disturb. Rascals — a farce about two crooks fighting for one woman’s affections — seems tailor-made for comic action set pieces. Dhawan even cast action stars Sanjay Dutt and Ajay Devgn as the leads, but gave them little to do besides talk.

The movie’s female lead, played by Kangana Ranaut, spends the bulk of her screentime strutting around in a bikini while whining in a shrill voice: not exactly the postergirl for women’s lib.

Dhawan set Rascals in Thailand, then cast scores of blonde women to serve as gyrating backup dancers and dark-skinned African actors to play armed criminals. Were there no local Thai actors to fill those roles? Why make those casting decisions except to appeal to racist stereotypes?

All those problems aside, Dhawan’s biggest sin in Rascals is laziness. There are numerous continuity errors and bloopers that would’ve been easy to rectify, but Dhawan didn’t bother. Perhaps he thinks his target audience members — misogynists who find two men slapping each other hilarious — don’t care about stuff like a plot that makes sense. Maybe he thinks they’ll pay their money to see heroes like Dutt and Devgn on screen no matter how stupid the story.

I’d like to believe that we moviegoers are smarter than that.

Previous Worst Movies Lists

Movie Review: Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji (2011)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Watching Ajay Devgn’s terrific performance in Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji (“The Heart Is But a Child”) gave me insight into why I hated Rascals so much. Devgn is a great comic actor, and to see his talents squandered in something loud and stupid like Rascals is infuriating.

Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji (DTBHJ, henceforth) follows the exploits of three single guys. Neran (Devgn), in the midst of a divorce, moves into his parents’ old house. To help with the rent and to stave off loneliness, Neran places an ad for a couple of roommates. He gets a nerdy poet named Milind (Omi Vaidya) and a gigolo named Abhay (Emraan Hashmi).

Unlike other Bollywood movies featuring a trio of guys learning about love — such as Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Dil Chahta Hai — the relationships between the male characters are secondary. They get along fine, but they don’t know each other well enough for their friendship to ever be at stake.

What the guys do offer one another is differing views on love. Milind is so hopelessly optimistic that he falls for Gungun (Shraddha Das), a radio DJ who’s way out of league. He refuses to believe that she’s stringing him along for his money.

Cynical Abhay sets his sights on Anushka (Tisca Chopra), an older ex-model in need of a boy toy. He lets her shower him with gifts until a beautiful, young philanthropist named Nikki (Shruti Haasan) makes him consider settling down.

Both Abhay and Milind give their questionable advice to Neran, who’s nervous about reentering the dating scene. Neran finds himself drawn to June (Shazahn Padamsee), a 21-year-old intern at his office (he’s 38, which is middle-aged in Bollywood). He pursues her, failing to notice that she only calls him “Sir.”

DTBHJ, in an attempt to portray relationships realistically, avoids many of the shortcuts in logic other romantic comedies take. The women don’t fall for the men simply because the guys love them. Likewise, they don’t undergo radical personality changes to fit the needs of the plot. Part of the point is that Neran, Milind and Abhay aren’t seeing the women for who they are, but for who they’d like them to be.

Accordingly, it’s up to the men to change. Abhay is set up for the most dramatic transformation, but Neran’s is the most satisfying (though a little more backstory on why his marriage failed would’ve been nice). He has to come to terms with being a single dad on the verge of turning forty, before he can think about being someone’s husband again. Devgn’s deadpan facial expressions are the high points of the film.

The biggest disappointment is that Milind remains essentially unchanged throughout the movie. He’s also irritating, as is Gungun, who’s much nastier than she needs to be to drive home the point that she’s not interested in Milind.

DTBHJ falters in a few other areas as well. Jokes early on are punctuated with annoying “wacky” sound effects that mercifully diminish as the story progresses. Director Madhur Bhandarkar, as he did in Fashion, includes a gay character who is nothing more than a flamboyant, horny stereotype. It’s an unfortunate misstep in an otherwise enjoyable film.

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