Tag Archives: Akshay Oberoi

Movie Review: Junglee (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Junglee is exactly the movie it’s supposed to be: a fun action flick with a clear environmental message, great practical effects, and elephants. Lots of elephants.

Bollywood’s premier martial artist Vidyut Jammwal stars as Raj, a veterinarian who grew up on an elephant sanctuary run by his parents. As a young man, Raj ran away to the city, blaming his father for his mother’s death from cancer. Only on the tenth anniversary of his mother’s death does Raj finally return to the sanctuary.

Things have changed since Raj left. The remote jungle region is struggling economically, according to Raj’s friend Dev (Akshay Oberoi), who now works as a forest ranger. Raj’s childhood pal Shankara (Pooja Sawant) is one of the sanctuary’s few remaining mahouts, or elephant caretakers. She’s also grown up to be stunningly beautiful. The only thing that hasn’t changed is Raj’s frosty relationship with his father, Baba (Thalaivasal Vijay).

Too many Bollywood male leads are written as incapable of making mistakes, but Raj is different. He accepts Dev’s admonishment when his friend says that Raj is in no position to criticize the state of the sanctuary after abandoning it. Raj also comes to realize that he was too young to understand his parents’ choices during his mother’s cancer battle, and that realization starts to heal the rift with his father. Raj is willing to admit that he’s wrong and learn from his mistakes.

Economic troubles aren’t the sanctuary’s only problem. Ivory poachers use camera drones to spot Bhola, a bull with impressive tusks. Led by the hunter Keshav (Atul Kulkarni, who has a touch of Quint from Jaws in his performance), the poachers launch a nighttime raid, with elephants and humans among the casualties.

Raj sets out to find the culprits, aided by Shankara, Dev, and Meera (Asha Bhat) — a plucky reporter from the city visiting the sanctuary to interview Baba. This chase sets the stage for some of Jammwal’s signature stunt-work, which is as thrilling to watch as always. Raj fights with whatever items he has on hand, turning a ladder or a table and chairs into weapons with high novelty value. Shankara and Meera add comic relief, in the form of a love triangle which Raj doesn’t seem keen to participate in.

The highlight of Junglee is unquestionably its elephants, real-life residents at a conservation center in Thailand where much of the film was shot. Director Chuck Russell spoke with Scroll.in (interview linked below) about the numerous precautions the crew took to ensure the safety and comfort of the elephants while still shooting as many scenes with them as possible. The resulting footage is impressive — a refreshing throwback to the days before computer-generated imagery became the default cost-cutting option for film producers. It’s very cool to watch the cast interact with the elephants, and it makes the whole film a treat for the kid in all of us.

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Chicago South Asian Film Festival 2017 Highlights

The 2017 Chicago South Asian Film Festival recently announced its lineup. This year’s event — which runs from September 28 through October 1 — includes a number of intriguing celebrity appearances. Here are some of the notable screenings and question and answer sessions:

  • September 28, 7 p.m.: Signature Move (Q & A with Shabana Azmi)
  • September 29, 8:30 p.m.: Newton (Q & A with Rajkummar Rao)
  • September 30, 2 p.m.: Sonata (Q & A with Shabana Azmi)
  • September 30, 7 p.m.: You Are My Sunday (Q & A with Shahana Goswami)
  • October 1, 5:30 p.m.: Trapped (Q & A with Rajkummar Rao)
  • October 1, 8:15 p.m: Gurgaon (Q & A with Akshay Oberoi)

Festival passes are already on sale. Tickets for individual screenings go on sale September 4.

Movie Review: Laal Rang (2016)

LaalRang2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

Laal Rang (“The Color Red“) is a treat for Randeep Hooda fans, but it’s not an especially good movie.

Although Hooda is the biggest star in the cast, he doesn’t play the protagonist. That gives him the freedom to chew through scenery like a wood chipper, but at the expense of screentime given to another character who frankly sucks.

That character is Rajesh (Akshay Oberoi), a young guy from a modest background who’s studying to be a laboratory technician. In his lab tech program, he meets Poonam (cute Piaa Bajpai), a fellow student with whom he falls in love. It’s also where he meets Shankar (Hooda), an alluring criminal who sells blood.

International moviegoers may find the setup for Laal Rang confusing. Sophomore writer-director Syed Ahmad Afzal’s story assumes that the audience has a certain degree of familiarity with the Indian hospital system. (This knowledge prerequisite was also a problem in Afzal’s first movie, the political drama Youngistaan.) Without such background information, the very notion of an illegal blood trade sounds bizarre.

Based on what I’ve learned from other Hindi films, Indian public hospitals require the families of patients to source their own medications and supplies needed during the course of the patient’s hospital stay. This is opposed to the American system in which the hospital provides everything during the patient’s stay and bills the patient later.

The premise in Laal Rang is that men like Shankar exploit Indian’s chronically short supply of blood — another problem that is sadly not explained — by selling blood bags at exorbitant prices. Shankar’s blood is either stolen from other hospitals or donated by junkies looking to earn a few extra rupees. A lab tech degree would make Shankar’s black market enterprise even easier, hence his enrollment in a program with students at least a decade his junior.

Shankar is cut from the same cloth as Matthew McConaughey’s character Wooderson in Dazed and Confused. Not only are both characters much older than the people they hang around with, but they have the same sleazy charisma. Shankar is kind of gross, but his throaty laugh and magnificent hair make one overlook his less savory qualities. Watching Hooda ooze his way through his scenes is a lot of fun.

Rajesh takes one look at Shankar’s spinning belt buckle and cool motorcycle and decides he wants in on whatever action this dude is running. Soon enough, Rajesh is delivering blood bags on Shankar’s behalf and raking in the dough. Rajesh romances Poonam on the side in a boring subplot that forces Hooda offscreen.

Rajesh justifies his illegal activities by saying that he needs the cash so that he can marry Poonam, but he’s really just greedy and impatient. There’s no reason why he and Poonam can’t wait to marry until they graduate and find jobs. Then Rajesh spends his first big windfall on his own motorcycle and a wardrobe modeled after Shankar’s signature look: boots, jeans, and a flashy shirt.

A couple of characters tell Rajesh that he’s a good person, but there’s nothing to substantiate that. He turns to crime because he wants easy money. As soon as he’s out from under Shankar’s wing, Rajesh does something so heinous as to be unforgivable.

Yet Rajesh never pays for his crimes. His otherwise upstanding parents don’t want to know where his money comes from, and Poonam doesn’t care. Rajesh doesn’t really learn anything or develop a conscience, so what’s the point? Why is he the main character?

Perhaps making Hooda’s character the protagonist and giving him a growth arc would have cut down on his swagger. Who knows? Still, when the only reason to watch Laal Rang is for Hooda, why not just cut out the rest of the fluff and let us enjoy him?

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