Tag Archives: Ajay Devgn

Movie Review: Baadshaho (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

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Baadshaho (“Kings“) — the latest collaboration between director Milan Luthria and writer Rajat Arora — is a disaster. It’s like they forgot what story they were telling as the movie went on.

In Rajasthan in 1975, a slimy politician named Sanjeev (Priyanshu Chatterjee) uses the federally declared “state of emergency” as a pretext to loot the ancestral wealth of Rani Gitanjali (Ileana D’Cruz) in retaliation for her rebuffing his sexual advances years earlier. Sanjeev sends the army — led by an officer played by Denzil Smith — to retrieve a treasure trove of gold from Gitanjali’s estate, arresting her on pretext of hiding it from the government.

It’s worth noting for the sake of international viewers that the role and duties of royal families like Gitanjali’s isn’t explained, nor is the government’s claim over ancestral wealth. The details of the “state of emergency” aren’t explained either, so it’s not totally clear why the story had to be set in the 1970s. Then again, the costumes and sets are so generic that the only clue that the story isn’t set in modern times is that no one has cell phones.

From inside prison, Gitanjali reconnects with her former security guard and lover, Bhawani (Ajay Devgn), who takes seriously his vow to always protect her. She tasks him not with rescuing her from jail but with making sure that her fortune never makes it to Sanjeev in Delhi. Bhawani assembles a team that includes a safecracker named Tikla (Sanjay Mishra), a woman with an unknown debt to Gitanjali, Sanjana (Esha Gupta), and Dalia (Emraan Hashmi), whose contribution to the group is tacky temporary tattoos and repetitive stories. Bhawani and Dalia trade unfunny quips that perhaps didn’t survive the translation from Hindi to English.

The army’s plan is to drive the gold eight hours to Delhi in an armored truck that looks like a bank vault on wheels, with multiple combination locks right on the back door — a design that renders the plan’s covert nature moot. The supposedly high-tech truck — which can be “tracked by radio” — includes a bright red button that can be pushed in the event of an emergency, turning the truck into an impenetrable bunker for the span of six hours. Obviously, this button plays a huge part in the story, right? One of the thieves gets trapped inside and needs to be rescued or something? Nope. No one ever pushes the button.

Driving the truck is Officer Seher, played by buff Vidyut Jammwal. Jammwal’s character in Commando 2 was introduced with a closeup of the actor’s bicep. Upping the ante, Baadshaho introduces Seher in a train cabin wearing nothing but his underwear.

Because the plan is so straightforward — there’s literally one paved road in the region that can handle the weight of such a heavy truck — obstacles and subplots are manufactured in order to make the movie run longer than an hour. Seher waits four days before setting off for Delhi, conveniently giving the thieves time to plan. Sanjana is grossed out by Dalia one scene, only to fall in love with him in the next scene for no reason.

One of the main reasons to cast Jammwal is to take advantage of his athleticism and martial arts skills. All we get in Baadshaho is a chase scene in which Jammwal runs at about sixty-percent speed so as to not immediately overtake Hashmi. Fight scenes are poorly executed, with actors falling from punches thrown nowhere near them. Bad editing obscures the action, which is often just shots of the actors’ bodies blocking views of the fight. Jammwal’s performance is still the best thing about Baadshaho, but we don’t get to see enough of him doing his signature stunts.

Worst of all is the film’s ending. Without spoiling any specifics, the movie’s climactic fight suddenly stops. The survivors — now in an entirely different location — express relief that the fight is over. Credits roll. What happened to everyone else?! Who lives? Who dies? Is justice done, and for whom?

It’s not even just that things end suddenly. Luthria and Arora don’t bother to resolve the film’s inciting incidents. It’s as though they lost track of the plot threads and forgot who the bad guys are. Beyond being unsatisfying, it’s simply bizarre. Without any kind of meaningful conclusion, Baadshaho is a total waste.

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Movie Review: Shivaay (2016)

shivaay1 Star (out of 4)

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As producer, director, and star of Shivaay, Ajay Devgn had the freedom to create exactly the film he wanted. Such a concentration of power meant there was no one to tell him when he was headed in the wrong direction. As a result, Devgn’s second directorial venture is dense and slow, with an undercurrent of hostility toward women.

Shivaay‘s titular hero is another rendition of the human instrument of divine justice Devgn regularly plays. The character’s slightly superhuman qualities are displayed in an early song sequence, with Shivaay speedily descending a mountain while lyrics proclaim that “Shiva is in all of us.” Godlike, Shivaay tells some soldiers he rescued, “I will be here whenever I am needed.”

Unlike Devgn’s iconic character — police officer Bajirao Singham, from the Singham films — Shivaay isn’t beholden to the rules of any professional organization. He defines his own morality, which conveniently allows him to destroy much of Bulgaria in his quest to free his daughter from child traffickers.

His daughter, Gaura (British child actor Abigail Eames), is the product of an affair between Shivaay and Olga (Polish actress Erika Kaar), a Bulgarian woman studying in India. They fall in love on one of Shivaay’s Himalayan treks, for which Olga inexplicably packs short-shorts and tank tops. He saves her from an avalanche, establishing a precedent for Shivaay to rescue dozens of other women in distress before the closing credits roll.

The sequence that accompanies the song “Darkhaast” had the potential to be an interesting take on traditional romantic numbers. Shivaay and Olga make love in a precariously positioned tent as they await rescue after the avalanche. Olga is frightened as the tent falls to a ledge below, but the song continues, as do Shivaay’s romantic overtures, assured as he is of their divine protection. The problem is that Olga has a broken leg. Ain’t no way she gonna be rollin’ about and climbing on him with a broken leg!

Olga convalesces at Shivaay’s house, reminding him that she has to return to Bulgaria soon because her mother and sister depend on her financially. When Olga accidentally gets pregnant, Shivaay ignores her pleas not to be forced to carry a child she doesn’t want and can’t afford to care for. “Please give me this child…and you go,” he tells her. She caves to his emotional blackmail and births Gaura, but returns to Bulgaria without so much as looking at her daughter. Gaura grows up, inheriting her mother’s fair complexion and her father’s love for mountain climbing.

Casting Eames is a mistake for a couple of reasons. In order to work around Eames’ British accent and presumable inability to speak Hindi, Gaura is mute. Gaura is also supposed to be eight years old, yet Eames was twelve when Shivaay was filmed and looks very much her age. The miscasting is particularly distracting when Gaura throws violent tantrums that would be considered immature enough for an actual eight-year-old, much less a tween.

Gaura finds evidence that her mother is not dead — as she’d been told — and she demands to meet Olga. Father and daughter travel to Bulgaria and immediately stumble upon a child trafficking ring. Shivaay liberates a little boy and exposes the criminals, who kidnap Gaura in retaliation. By this point, there’s been an avalanche, a love affair, childhood montages, and an international trip, and the movie is barely an hour into its two-and-a-half hour runtime.

The quest to rescue Gaura triggers several chase sequences that would be more exciting if they were half as long. Also, with Devgn in charge of everything, perhaps no one felt comfortable addressing his rigid, sluggish running form. Many members of the audience at my showing headed to the restroom or concession stand during the action sequences, which is a worse condemnation than anything I can write.

Years spent raising Gaura haven’t tempered Shivaay’s anger at Olga, and he unleashes a torrent of abuse at her when she comes forward to help find Gaura. Nevermind that Shivaay didn’t even try to contact Olga before heading to Bulgaria, which would’ve avoided this whole problem in the first place, yet again placing his own desires before hers.

Shivaay’s hostility toward Olga is part of a weird undercurrent in the film that seems to question women’s ability to love children. Note the absence of mothers from the movie. Shivaay himself grew up without a mother, as did Gaura. When Shivaay frees another woman from forced prostitution, she doesn’t mention her mom, only wondering why her father didn’t come to save her.

Then there’s Anu (Sayesha Saigal), an Indian embassy worker who lives with her elderly father (she’s motherless, too, apparently). When Anu tells Shivaay to stop acting like a criminal, he takes her hostage, all the while questioning her patriotism for daring to tell an Indian man what he can’t do. Anu’s father sides with Shivaay, explaining that he simply did what any father would do to save his child, and that Anu can’t possibly understand. By that logic, doesn’t that then obligate Anu’s dad to attack Shivaay for trying to harm Anu?

All the hostility toward women, combined with bad pacing and monotonous action scenes, make Shivaay a slog. The most amusing moment in the film is when a hacker played by Vir Das yells, “I’m being double hacked!” But that line’s not actually supposed to be funny. Give Shivaay a miss.

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Movie Review: Company (2002)

company3 Stars (out of 4)

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Thanks to Just Me Mike for lending me his DVD copy of Company! Check out Mike’s film and TV reviews here.

Having seen four of his Hindi films dating back to 2008’s Sarkar Raj, it’s fair to say that I am not a fan of director Ram Gopal Varma. Still, wanting to know how he earned his acclaim, I watched one of his earlier movies. 2002’s Company is easily the best Varma film that I’ve seen, yet it also confirms my aversion to many of his directorial quirks.

Company‘s plot is based on the lives of notable Mumbai dons, and the story certainly feels authentic. A high-ranking gangster named Malik (Ajay Devgn) recruits a goon named Chandu (Vivek Oberoi) to act as his lieutenant, and together they wrest control of Mumbai’s most powerful gang from its aging patriarch. They expand the gang’s influence into movies, real estate, and politics, only for egos to get in the way and ruin the fun.

Criminal enterprises of this sort — where legal and illegal activities are intertwined across borders — are complex, thus the burden falls on filmmakers to explain them in the simplest way possible. Writer Jaideep Sahni’s story gets better as the film goes along, but only after a confusing setup that should have been condensed.

Malik’s emotional detachment enables him to kill without batting an eye, but it makes him a hard character to love. Instead, the audience is supposed to empathize with Chandu. We watch him transform from street thug to attaché, dealing with the internal conflict the change awakens. We also get see his romance with Kannu (Antara Mali) blossom, whereas Malik’s relationship with Saroja (Manisha Koirala) preexisted.

The women’s role in the narrative can’t be minimized. They follow their other halves to Hong Kong, where the gang sets up a base after police pressure in Mumbai becomes too strong. The friendship between Kannu and Saroja makes Hong Kong feel like home away from home, but it also causes a catastrophic misunderstanding.

Back in Mumbai, chief of police Srinivasan (Mohanlal) waits patiently for the gang to implode. Mohanlal’s performance is as laid back as that of Devgn, but it makes sense in the context of his character. Srinivasan chips away at the enterprise, knowing that one day, cracks will form that he can exploit.

The sprawling landscape of characters — played by some of Bollywood’s best supporting actors — leads to surprising twists as the story moves along. Patience is rewarded in Sahni’s story. He deserves additional kudos for making the women in the plot integral to the story, rather than just window dressing.

Yet time after time, I find my attention being drawn away from the story to Varma’s distracting camera techniques. Whether it’s crazy angles, garish filters, or blocked lines of sight, the techniques seem to exist only for their own sake, not to serve the narrative.

Lighting is a persistent problem in Company. The camera alternates between closeups of two characters having a conversation in a sunny room, with one character’s face brightly lit while the other is grainy with shadows. When Malik delivers one important line, you can’t even see his facial features, he’s so covered in shadows.

Probably the worst example is a reaction shot of Chandu late in the movie. As he mutely reacts to bad news, a spotlight illuminates only his mouth and nostrils. How is one supposed to judge Oberoi’s performance in this scene? By the quality of his nostril-flaring?

I may never be a Ram Gopal Varma fan, but I appreciate Company for its riveting exploration of gang politics. It’s a more enjoyable way to encounter his quirks than many of his more recent films.

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Movie Review: Drishyam (2015)

Drishyam3 Stars (out of 4)

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Note: This review pertains exclusively to the 2015 Hindi remake Drishyam. I have not seen the 2013 Malayalam film of the same name, thus this review draws no comparisons between the two.

When Drishyam (“Visual“) succeeds, it does so mightily. Yet the film’s ending breaks crucial promises made to its audience.

Drishyam expects the audience to be almost as well-versed in films as its main character, Vijay (Ajay Devgn), a man with a keen memory for everything he watches on screen. Movies fill in the gaps in his education, which formally ended in the fourth grade. As an adult, Vijay is a kindly family man whose only vice is that he stays late at the office, engrossed in the movies he programs for the small-town cable channel he runs.

There’s a beautiful shot of Vijay returning one morning to the home he shares with his wife Nandhani (Shriya Saran), teenage daughter Anju (Ishita Dutta), and younger daughter Anu. The camera pulls back as Vijay walks down the sunny, curtain-lined hallway of his cheerful house. The same shot is repeated later with a sinister twist, the dark house eerily silent, the floor covered in muddy footprints.

Vijay’s knowledge of movies becomes essential when he must save his family from a predicament involving Sam, the teenage son of the Goa’s Inspector General, Meera (Tabu). Vijay coaches his family on what to expect from the police while Meera simultaneously unravels the details of Vijay’s plan.

Director Nishikant Kamat effectively shifts the tone from light-hearted to darkly serious, with periods of stomach-churning tension. Devgn is a steady presence, and Dutta portrays Anju as the capable daughter of a capable man. Saran’s character is harder to love since she’s slow get with the program, but her flustered reactions are probably the most realistic.

Scenes involving Sam are important in that they debunk a myth about rape some prominent figures in India still cite: that a rapist will relent if you beg him to stop. When Sam tries to blackmail Anju for sex, both she and her mother beg him to relent, but of course he doesn’t. Rape is about power, not sex, and the story establishes that Sam is used to getting what he wants. Meera and her husband Mahesh (Rajat Kapoor) fret that their indulgence may have turned Sam into a rotten person. Credit to director Kamat for such a realistic depiction of a sexual predator.

Kapoor is terrific as Tabu’s foil. He’s rational and willing to give people the benefit of the doubt; she’s as drunk on power as her son, and she will not brook any challenge to police authority. She finds her perfect ally in Gaitonde, a local constable with a taste for violence and a grudge against Vijay.

Despite the presence of several law-abiding police officers, the film operates on the assumption that the police as an institution cannot be trusted (by no means a unique sentiment in Bollywood). Precisely because of that assumption, Kamat disappointed me when he resorted unnecessarily to my biggest Bollywood pet peeve: a montage of people across India watching news footage of the events in the film.

If police abuse of power is such a given, why would the events of this small-town story become national news? And why does it need nationwide attention to be meaningful? Why does it matter what some random people in other parts of the country think?

After a tense first half, the film bogs down in the middle, as Meera investigates multiple witnesses, growing tired of their Stepford-like corroboration of Vijay’s alibi.

Though the story is aimed at movie buffs who may be able to guess at many details, it is fun to hear Meera and Vijay lay out their reasoning to their officers and family, respectively. Their deductions are handled in a logical way that doesn’t feel condescending.

Yet, the very ending of Drishyam betrays the film buffs in the audience. Without giving away details, during a conversation with Meera and Mahesh, Vijay does something stupid that no intelligent character in a thriller or mystery film should (or would) do.

The scene is presumably included in order to establish the character’s moral righteousness, but it’s unnecessary for a couple of reasons. First, it’s doubtful that anyone would find him immoral after having watched the first two-and-a-half hours of the film. Second, it makes him a less complex character. Instead of being a good guy who did something morally questionable, the scene tries to absolve him of wrongdoing, altogether.

It’s okay if movie heroes aren’t perfect. It can make them more relatable. If only Drishyam trusted its cinema-savvy audience to accept an imperfect hero, the movie itself could have come close to perfection.

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Opening July 31: Drishyam

One new Bollywood film opens in the Chicago area on July 31, 2015. Ajay Devgn and Tabu star in Drishyam, a Hindi remake of the 2013 Malayalam film of the same name.

Drishyam opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison in Addison, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 45 min.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan carries over for a third week at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, Marcus Addison, and Cantera 17, plus the Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

The Pakistani film Bin Roye gets a third week at MovieMax and the South Barrington 30.

Baahubali continues its amazing run at MovieMax (Telugu, Tamil, and Hindi-dubbed), Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont (Telugu), South Barrington 30 (Telugu and Hindi-dubbed), Cantera 17 (Hindi-dubbed), and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge (Telugu).

Other Indian movies showing at MovieMax this weekend include the Tamil films Orange Mittai, Sakalakala Vallavan Appatakkar, and Idhu Enna Maayam.

Movie Review: Action Jackson (2014)

Action_Jackson_21.5 Stars (out of 4)

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If you were hoping for something new from director Prabhu Deva, you’ll be disappointed. Action Jackson (which isn’t actually a character’s name in film) is just as disorganized and misogynistic as R… Rajkumar and Rowdy Rathore, despite a solid effort by leading man Ajay Devgn.

I’ll do my best to spoil as little as possible about the plot, but it’s hard to do so given how all-over-the-place the story is.

Devgn plays Vishi, a typical macho Bollywood hero who’s prone to drinking and fighting but has a heart of gold. While visiting his friend Musa (Kunaal Roy Kapoor, butt of the film’s many fat jokes) in Mumbai, Vishi meets pathologically unlucky Khushi (Sonakshi Sinha).

Khushi’s luck changes for the better after she walks in on Vishi in a changing room and then in a bathroom. She starts hanging around him in the hopes of catching Vishi with his pants down again, thereby making her lucky enough to land a rich, American husband.

The first hour of the film is spent on Vishi’s and Khushi’s budding romance, and it’s pretty funny. Prabhu Deva pokes fun at Devgn’s limited dance abilities by making Vishi bust moves whenever he hears music. Devgn’s “robot” is among the worst I’ve ever seen, and it’s all the more charming because of it.

As competent as he is at action, Devgn’s best genre is comedy. He’s quite funny in his storyline with Sinha, who pairs with him nicely.

Interspersed through the romantic storyline are scenes of goons and cops hunting for Vishi at the behest of a Bangkok-based don named Xavier. This story arc takes over after about an hour, and Sinha only shows up a few more times in the film.

The next portion of the film is a flashback about the Xavier’s former right-hand man, AJ (also Devgn, though I won’t specify how Vishi and AJ are connected). After establishing a light, cute tone at the start, the flashback is stunningly brutal.

When Prabhu Deva tries to reestablish a comedic tone later in Action Jackson, it doesn’t work. It took time to cast that comic spell, and it can’t be brought back instantaneously. Plus, after watching a AJ’s wife (Yami Gautam) get punched in the face repeatedly, I just wasn’t in the mood to laugh.

The flashback is also when Prabhu Deva’s troubling view of women — and specifically their sexuality — rears its ugly head again. Like Sinha, Gautam also plays a virtuous character (whose name I’m not sure of). We know this because they both wear floral prints, and usually long pants and long-sleeved tops. Their only desire is to get their men to give up drinking and fighting.

In contrast is Marina (Manasvi Mamgai), the don’s sister. She’s introduced after she’s been kidnapped, and AJ is sent to rescue her. Her kidnappers threaten to rape her, throwing water on her white blouse before unbuttoning it to reveal her bedazzled bra.

Hypothetical question: if Xavier had a brother instead of a sister, would the kidnappers have threatened to rape him?

Prabhu Deva makes an unsettling choice during the scene of AJ’s rescue attempt. Marina gets turned on while AJ chops down her would-be attackers. The song playing in the background — a blatant rip-off of Michael Bublé’s “Feeling Good” — sings about her beauty as she sits aroused in a forced state of semi-undress.

After her rescue, bikini-clad Marina sexually propositions AJ. He turns her down, prompting Marina to send Xavier’s goons to attack the character played by Gautam. They hit her, but they don’t threaten her with sexual violence.

So the chaste, modestly dressed woman isn’t threatened with rape, but the sexually aggressive, scantily clad woman is. The implication is that, for a woman who enjoys consensual sex, rape probably isn’t a big deal. Hell, she might even like it.

Will producers please stop giving Prabhu Deva money to direct films? He can’t do it responsibly. Given that I was the only one in my showing of Action Jackson, maybe other people are as sick of his movies as I am.

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New Trailer: October 22, 2014

The trailer for the December 5 release Action Jackson is out. It doesn’t do much to alleviate my concerns about the film’s potential for casual misogyny, a Prabhu Deva hallmark. However, it does feature Ajay Devgn chopping people with swords, which makes Action Jackson an automatic “must see.” Check it out: