Tag Archives: Akshaye Khanna

Movie Review: Ittefaq (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

A detective distills the truth from two conflicting narratives in Ittefaq (“Coincidence“), a fun, stylish thriller with a killer soundtrack.

The detective, Dev (Akshaye Khanna), is summoned from his sleep to an apartment belonging to a lawyer, Shekhar, who lies dead on the floor. Shekhar’s wife, Maya (Sonakshi Sinha), flagged down a police car, claiming a stranger, Vikram (Sidharth Malhotra), killed her husband. It so happens that they police are looking for Vikram as a suspect in the death of his own wife, Katherine (Kimberly Louisa McBeath).

Melancholy Vikram offers a different version of events, denying responsibility for either death. He further implicates Maya for acting suspicious when he knocked on her door asking for help following a car accident. Dev explains to one of his deputies, “I just feel like there are three sides to this story: Vikram’s, Maya’s, and the truth.”

Because Vikram is a famous author and a British resident, Dev’s superior gives him three days to charge the man or let him go. Dev’s digging turns up further secrets that Maya and Vikram would rather stay hidden, but are they really connected to the case or are they distractions? How much of this case really is a matter of coincidence?

Writer-director Abhay Chopra’s story keeps a steady tempo, wasting little time in a movie that clocks in well under two hours long. Much of the film takes place at night or in dingy jail cells, and even daytime scenes are dimmed by the monsoon. Cinematographer Michal Luka uses the darkness to great effect.

The real star of the Ittefaq is the superb score by American composer BT, hooking the audience from the movie’s opening car chase sequence. The music pulses as Maya tells her version of events, the soundtrack keeping viewers as off-balance as Maya feels in the presence of a dangerous stranger.

Both Malhotra and Sinha have good poker faces as they change their characters to the story’s demands, from grieving spouses when stating their own cases to the police to villains in each other’s flashbacks.

Ittefaq doesn’t work unless Khanna’s performance is spot on, and thankfully it is. He sidesteps common movie-detective traps like excessive yelling or quirkiness in a way that avoids drawing too much attention to Dev, despite him being the character with the most screentime. It would be fun to see Dev helm a series of murder mysteries, perhaps with even more input from his astute wife (played by Mandira Bedi).

It’s nice to see a Hindi movie where the cops aren’t depicted as heartless monsters or incompetent fools, for a change. Any mistakes the officers under Dev make are honest ones. Ittefaq is pretty heavy on police procedural elements, for fans of that subgenre. For everyone else, it’s just a well-made movie that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Links

Advertisements

Movie Review: Mom (2017)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

In a vacuum, Mom is an engaging revenge thriller that fully utilizes its star’s considerable charisma. Yet the film’s very existence raises the question as to whether the genre has exhausted its ability to add to the conversation about rape.

Sridevi plays the titular mother, Devki, a secondary school teacher. She has a young daughter Priya with her husband, Anand (Adnan Siddiqui), who brought another daughter — 18-year-old Arya (Sajal Ali) — with him into the marriage. The strained relationship between stepmother and stepdaughter is exacerbated by the fact that Devki is Arya’s Biology teacher. When a fellow student, Mohit, texts Arya lewd material during class, Devki throws Mohit’s phone out the window.

Arya later rejects Mohit’s advances at a party, so he enlists his sleazy cousin Charles (Vikas Verma), security guard Baburam (Pitobash), and drug dealer Jagan (Abhimanyu Singh) to kidnap her. They gang rape Arya and leave her for dead in a ditch. Upon waking, Arya bitterly tells Devki that the men told her “Call your mom!” during the assault.

When the justice system inevitably fails to convict the men, Devki realizes that her relationship with Arya will be irretrievably broken unless she takes revenge upon them herself. She enlists a private detective named DK (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) to track down the rapists before the lead police officer on Arya’s case, Mathew (Akshaye Khanna), uncovers her scheme.

There’s a lot to like about Mom, chiefly Sridevi, who is most heartbreaking in moments when Devki futilely tries to connect with Arya. Ali, for her part, nails the moody teen role. First-time feature director Ravi Udyawar maximizes Sridevi’s legendary beauty in a number of strikingly composed shots. (Udyawar’s camera direction is less successful in a hard-to-follow chase scene.)

Debutant screenwriter Girish Kohli provides his actors with memorable dialogue, and Khanna and Nawazuddin Siddiqui deliver their lines with style. Adnan Siddiqui gives gravity to a role that requires him to stay in the background in order to keep Sridevi in the spotlight.

Things get tricky when considering whether we need another movie about avenging rape. I’ll concede that living in America my whole life has exposed me to many stories about this topic, both fictional and non-fictional. The Hollywood film The Accused brought the story of justice for a gang rape victim into the mainstream back in 1988. Until recently, many Hindi films treated the rape of a woman as nothing more than a catalyst to provoke a male hero into action. Real-life sexual assaults in India in the last several years have shifted the focus of fictional stories — such as 2016’s Pink — onto the victims themselves.

So while there is still a desire among Indian filmmakers and audiences to confront the horrors of rape, I’m not sure that Mom treads any new ground in doing so. There is a cliched shot of Arya in the shower following the rape, scrubbing her skin so hard that it bleeds. A man is raped in jail and is laughed at for it — as though male rape is less serious than female rape. There’s a belief that the perpetrators deserve punishment that damages their sexual organs, and also a belief that doing so will restore Arya to her former self, at least to some degree.

All of these ideas have been presented so often in movies that we’ve taken them for granted. But are these ideas actually valuable, or do they just feed off the sense of helplessness experienced by bystanders to rape, whether immediate or from afar? Too many films about rape function as a kind of call-to-action fantasy for someone other than the victim — only this fantasy requires someone to suffer in order to bring it to fruition.

Director Udyawar does the right thing by not showing the acts of sexual violence, focusing instead on the aftermath. It removes any chance of such violence being sensationalized or depicted as titillating. He also fairly assumes that the Indian justice system (like the American justice system) is rigged against rape victims. But other than establishing those benchmarks for future filmmakers, Mom covers a lot of familiar territory. It’s a well-made movie, but I’m not sure it’s a story I needed to see again.

Links

Movie Review: Dishoom (2016)

Dishoom2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

As I walked out of the theater following Dishoom, I tried to downplay my concerns about the way the film handles its female characters. Then something in the lobby reminded me that one’s social conscience doesn’t turn off when viewing media billed as light entertainment.

Dishoom‘s main hero is Kabir (John Abraham), a tough cop who doesn’t play by the rules. He’s introduced tossing a man out of an elevator for daring to ask him not to smoke indoors. We’re supposed to laugh when Kabir tells the man that he offered to let him take the stairs instead.

In the next scene, Kabir meets his girlfriend, Alishka, in her apartment. He deduces that she’s been having an affair and that the man is hiding in the apartment. Kabir draws his gun, points it at Alishka’s head, and tells the hiding man that he has three seconds to reveal himself or Kabir will kill Alishka. (The man reveals himself, sparing Alishka’s life.)

Writer-director Rohit Dhawan underestimates how disturbing this scene is, lumping it in with the elevator scene as a means to establish Kabir as a rule breaker. I was almost lulled into acceptance myself until I saw something most ironic playing on a monitor in the theater lobby. There was Jacqueline Fernandez — Dishoom‘s leading lady and Kabir’s eventual love interest — dancing to the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” in front of a banner that read “End Violence Against Girls.” (The video is embedded below.)

Violence against women is enough of a problem in India (and around the world) that Fernandez was moved to star in a public service announcement decrying it, yet her character in Dishoom falls for a man who was ready to murder his girlfriend. One step toward ending violence against women in the real world is to stop normalizing it onscreen.

The scene with Kabir’s girlfriend is such a shame, because Dishoom is otherwise a pretty fun movie. Kabir travels to the Middle East to find a kidnapped Indian cricketer (played by Saqib Saleem) before a high-stakes match with Pakistan. Kabir is aided by a rookie cop named Junaid (Varun Dhawan) and a wise-cracking thief (Fernandez).

The performances are uniformly solid. Varun (director Dhawan’s brother) supplies the laughs while Abraham serves as straight man. Fernandez gets to be funny, too — and she steals the show in the killer dance number, “Sau Tarah Ke.” Saleem does fine work, as does Akshaye Khanna in a villainous role.

Dhawan knows how to make a great-looking movie, full of bright colors and pleasing shots. The cricket scenes in particular stand out. Here’s hoping that Dhawan chooses a sports film as his next project.

Yet, for all the things that I enjoyed about Dishoom, it’s hard to fully recommend it given its troublesome lead character. It would be easy to write Dishoom off as a mindless action entertainer, but maybe that’s exactly why we should be even more critical of the message it sends about violence against women.

Here’s Jacqueline Fernandez’s PSA for The Global Goals:

Links

Movie Review: Delhi Safari (2012)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon

*Note: An English-language version of Delhi Safari will be released on December 7, 2012. This review covers the original Hindi-language version.

Bollywood isn’t known for making films specifically designed to appeal to children, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Delhi Safari, a wretched waste of time that insults moviegoers of all ages.

The most obvious criticism of the film is that it doesn’t look good. The animation quality is slightly above direct-to-video caliber. The character movements are so jerky you can practically see the physics engine that animated them.

Most of the backgrounds of the scenes are blurry and indistinct, presumably because the film released in India in 3D and the animators thought they could get away with it. My local theater only carried the movie in 2D, which emphasized every blurred face and fuzzy tree. Since many families will watch the movie at home on DVD or on cable television, it’s inexcusable to do the job halfway.

Of course, the obvious defense of the cheap-looking animation is that Indian studios operate on a fraction of the budget of a studio like Disney or Pixar, but many of the problems are stylistic choices. The animal lead characters have eerily human features like humanoid eyelids that render them grotesque (while the humans look like beings from The Sims). Combining creepy humanoid features with jerky movements lands the critters in the Uncanny Valley.

Sub-par animation could be forgiven if Delhi Safari‘s story was well told, but it’s not. There’s no sense of flow or pacing to the story. In order to keep costs down, the establishing elements of the story are rushed through. Within the first five minutes, we see a crying leopard cub, a flashback to the cub playing with his dad, and a song. By the end of those five minutes, the dad is dead.

The cub is Yuvi (Swini Khara), a young leopard whose jungle home is threatened by property developers. Yuvi, his mother, a bear, and a monkey make the journey from the greater Mumbai area to Delhi, kidnapping a talking parrot along the way to act as their spokesanimal in front of Parliament. Perhaps the film should’ve been named “The Road to Delhi,” as only the last ten minutes take place in the capital city.

Despite being a baby big cat, Yuvi is no Simba. Yuvi undergoes no character development, nor does he drive the story forward, apart from the occasions when his father’s ghost communicates with him from beyond the grave.

Often, the point of children’s cinema is to give kids a character they can relate to, a fellow young person who takes charge of his or her destiny in a way a real kid can’t. It’s inspirational escapism. In Delhi Safari, Yuvi just gets dragged along by the grown-ups around him. That’s the story of every day of a kid’s life, so why would any child want to sit through a movie where his on-screen avatar experiences more of the same?

The voice acting is okay, though I’m not sure what kind of accent Boman Irani’s rotund bear is meant to have. Govinda and Akshaye Khanna are entertaining as the monkey and parrot, respectively: antagonists who wind up being the main characters of the film. Govinda’s monkey also gets the lone funny moment in the film: when he goes to urinate in a field, there’s a “zip” sound effect, even though the monkey is naked.

Delhi Safari is a missed opportunity. The message of ecological responsibility is an important one that children readily understand and embrace. Much of the message is introduced through songs, but the version I watched didn’t subtitle any of the lyrics in English, even though songs make up about a third of the film’s ninety-minute runtime. A laudable message is no excuse for bad filmmaking.

Links

Opening October 19: Student of the Year and Delhi Safari

Looks like my fears of a prolonged Bollywood drought were unfounded. Two new Hindi films open in Chicago area theaters on October 19, 2012. Getting the wider release of the two is director Karan Johar’s Student of the Year.

SOTY opens in five area theaters on Friday: 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. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 30 min.

Also making its debut is the animated film Delhi Safari. Note that the version releasing this weekend is in Hindi, voiced by Indian actors like Akshaye Khanna and Boman Irani. Fandango‘s capsule description of the movie includes the information for the English-language version of the film releasing on December 7, featuring the voices of Jane Lynch and Cary Elwes.

Delhi Safari opens on Friday at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17. It has a runtime of 1 hr. 50 min. If you need added incentive to see the film, take a picture of your Delhi Safari ticket stub and you can win a $50 Toys R’ Us gift card.

The charming English Vinglish continues to perform well at the box office, having earned $1,405,758 in its first two weeks in U.S. theaters. It carries over for a third week at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17.

The South Barrington 30 also holds over OMG Oh My God for a fourth week and Barfi! for a sixth, with is total U.S. earnings standing at $2,779,172.

Other Indian movies playing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Cameraman Ganga Tho Rambabu (Telugu), Damarukam (Telugu), Maattrraan (Tamil), and Trivandrum Lodge (Malayalam).

The subtitled trailer for Vishal Bhardwaj’s Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola is out. The film — which stars Imran Khan and my girl crush, Anushka Sharma — releases theatrically on January 11.

Movie Review: Tees Maar Khan (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Farah Khan knows how to stage a spectacle. She’s done it for years as Bollywood’s most sought after choreographer, and she did it with her second directorial effort, the vibrant Om Shanti Om (her directorial debut, Main Hoon Na, was comparatively low-key). With Tees Maar Khan, Farah Khan reasserts herself as Bollywood’s queen of bombast.

Tees Maar Khan is an outrageous comedy filled with larger than life characters. As such, there’s only one man to play the lead: Akshay Kumar. Kumar usually plays a charming ham these days, but few of his recent movies have been able to match his natural charisma. Khan is able to take all that is good about Akshay Kumar and let him shine.

“Tees Maar Khan” (TMK) is the alias of the thief Tabrez Mirza Khan (Kumar). He eludes the police with the aid of his three henchmen: Dollar, Soda and Burger. The Johri brothers — a pair of conjoined-twin smugglers (played by identical twins Raghu Ram and Rajiv Laxman) — hire TMK to steal a heavily guarded trainload of antiques.

TMK plans to stop the train by tricking a bunch of villagers into mobbing it, all under the guise of making a movie. To make the ruse believable, he hires a famous actor, Aatish Kapoor (Akshaye Khanna), assuring him that the role is Oscar gold. TMK enlists his girlfriend, Anya (Katrina Kaif), to play the fake movie’s heroine, if only to keep the aspiring actress from naively doffing her clothes for lecherous directors promising Bollywood stardom.

Khan understands exactly what it takes to make a goofy, campy movie. Everything about Tees Maar Khan is loud: the dialog, the music, and especially the costumes. The writing in Tees Maar Khan is consistently funny and is supported by strong performances all around, especially from TMK’s sidekicks and the villainous twins.

Khan likes to work on a big scale. The exciting dance numbers cover large areas and include several costume changes. There are hundreds of extras involved in the village scenes. The scale of the movie is impressive.

But at some point, there’s simply too much of everything. Comedies should err on the side of being too short, and Tees Maar Khan is too long. The opening scene in a police station is a waste of time that delays the introduction of the main character. A dance number involving Salman Khan is fun, but totally unnecessary.

What’s more, the Salman Khan number is such an obvious stunt that it breaks the spell of the movie. Salman’s real-life romance with Kaif is the only reason he’s in the film. Imagine how dated the movie will feel if they ever break up. Given the popularity of Kumar, Kaif and Khanna, it’s not as if Tees Maar Khan needed the additional star power to draw an audience.

My biggest complaint about Khan as a director is her penchant for including celebrity cameos and insider Bollywood references, just because she can. I know that Khan’s biggest audience is in India, but her movies are as visually polished as anything coming out of Hollywood. Why not reach out to a wider audience?

TMK tries to in several ways. The actor Kapoor bemoans turning down a role in “Dumbdog Millionaire.” He’s later tricked into believing that TMK is Manoj Day Ramalan, the younger brother of “Fifth Sense” director Manoj Night Ramalan. It’s funny stuff that avid moviegoers everywhere will get.

But for every universal joke, there are twice as many references to classic Hindi movies or Bollywood gossip that international audiences won’t understand. Even for domestic Indian audiences, I’m not sure if the material is supposed to be funny or if it’s just supposed to elicit a “Hey, I know who she’s talking about!” response. If the latter, the references won’t mean as much ten or twenty years from now. It’s not a good long-term strategy.

I hold Farah Khan to such high standards because I think she’s so talented. If you ask most Americans to name a Bollywood movie, they’ll mention Slumdog Millionaire or Bend It Like Beckham. Both films are actually British productions which borrow elements of Bollywood movies. It’s time for a director working in India to define Bollywood for the Western world, and I think Farah Khan’s the one to do it.

Links

Movie Review: No Problem (2010)

1 Star (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

If you’re considering whether to shell out the cash to see No Problem, ask yourself if a movie whose resolution hinges upon a farting gorilla appeals to you. If so, then you may enjoy No Problem.

No Problem is the latest in a long line of schizophrenic Hindi slapstick comedies that wrongly assume that screaming and frantic action are hilarious. There is barely a narrative holding the story together between all of the running around. Rather, there are a number of loosely interconnected subplots driving the action, involving the following:

  • Yash (Sanjay Dutt) and Raj (Akshaye Khanna), two petty thieves trying to change their ways when they rob a small-town bank out of habit. They run from…
  • Zandulal (Paresh Rawal), the bank manager accused of colluding with Yash and Raj in the theft. He follows them to Durban, South Africa, looking for help from…
  • “Supercop” Arjun Singh (Anil Kapoor), who’s also after a gang of diamond thieves led by…
  • Marcos (Suniel Shetty), who’s fencing the diamonds through a government minister. Arjun can’t catch Marcos while he’s fending off attacks from his wife…
  • Kajal (Sushmita Sen), who has daily blackout episodes in which she tries to murder Arjun. Kajal’s sister…
  • Sanjana (Kangana Ranaut) has caught the eye of Raj, who proposes to her without realizing that her father is police commissioner.

There’s so much going on — and transitions between scenes and subplots are so clunky — that it’s impossible to give the characters adequate time to develop or endear themselves to the audience. I’m not even sure who the director expects us to sympathize with or relate to.

I love slapstick comedies. The goofy Tom Hanks movie The Money Pit is in my DVD player, and The Naked Gun remains one of my all-time favorite films. In fact, an early scene in which Arjun tries to arrest Marcos bears a suspicious resemblance to this scene from The Naked Gun:

But No Problem only goes for cheap laughs that rely on characters running in fast motion and illogically failing to recognize one another. If the dialog is funny in Hindi, the humor didn’t translate into English. The subtitled dialog is boring and excessive.

No Problem is the rare case of a movie that could’ve benefitted from more dance numbers to distract from the dull plot. Instead, the few dance numbers that exist are marred by a surfeit of distracting Anglo backup dancers, most of whom resembled chubby transvestites.

At its worst, No Problem crosses the boundaries of good taste. A male character in drag escapes the romantic advances of another man by declaring that he has AIDS. Given how the disease is ravaging sub-Saharan Africa, it is a tacky and thoughtless attempt at humor.

I enjoyed one of director Anees Bazmee’s previous films, the goofball comedy Welcome. That movie succeeded primarily because of its supporting characters, played by Nana Patekar and Anil Kapoor.

No Problem squanders its supporting cast. Suniel Shetty looks like he barely wants to be in the film. Sushmita Sen’s homicidal wife comes the closest to generating laughs, but even her character isn’t taken far enough.

The killer spouse subplot has a strange element to it. Arjun and Kajal have a young daughter whose role is to scream and cry while her mother tries to murder her father in front of her. What’s funny about watching a child suffer? The character isn’t essential to the plot (no, the clichéd instance when she floats away holding too many balloons doesn’t count), so there’s no reason for her to be in the movie.

It’s just another example of how No Problem misses the mark in an attempt to make a safe, unimaginative comedy.

Links