Tag Archives: Alexx O’Nell

Movie Review: Loins of Punjab Presents (2007)

LoinsOfPunjabPresents3 Stars (out of 4)

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Buy or rent the movie at iTunes

Through the medium of an absurd local singing competition, Loins of Punjab Presents offers insight into the desi experience in America, as well as plenty of laughs.

This English-language comedy follows the contestants and crew of the first “Desi Idol,” a Bollywood singing contest in New Jersey. The $25,000 cash prize is supplied by Loins of Punjab, the Northeast’s preeminent purveyor of pork loins.

Contestants include a nerdy financial analyst named Vikram (Manish Acharya, who wrote and directed the film); angry rapper Turbanotorious B.D.G (Ajay Naidu); and Sania Rehman (Seema Rahmani), an actress belatedly embracing her Indian roots in the hopes of finding more career opportunities in Mumbai.

There’s also 17-year-old Preeti Patel (Ishita Sharma) and her pushy family. Her parents — dad Sanjeev (Darshan Jariwala) and mom Alpa (Loveleen Mishra) — indulge their daughter’s singing “hobby” and are confused when a high school guidance counselor suggests that Preeti study music in college. The Patel parents generously suggest that if Preeti doesn’t want to be a doctor, she can become an engineer instead.

One contestant is willing to use nefarious means to achieve victory. Socialite Rrita Kapoor (Shabana Azmi) needs the prize money so that she can donate it to charity and win her ongoing PR war with her nemesis: Bubbles Sabharwal.

Though some characters and subplots are more successful that others, there are a lot of gems in Loins of Punjab Presents. Azmi is delightfully villainous. Jariwala plays up his accent, scolding the hotel concierge — played by go-to Bollywood white guy Alexx O’Nell — to find the right reservation by checking the “asses,” when he means “s’s.”

Other performances of note include Jameel Khan as Mr. Bokade, the event’s sleazy promoter; Bokade’s straight man, Mr. White (Kunaal Roy Kapur in one of his first roles); and Rani Bansal, who’s sneakily good in a small role as the contest’s female MC.

Beyond the humor, there are some meaningful subplots, such as the relationship between a Jewish Indophile named Josh Cohen (Michael Raimondi) and his desi girlfriend, Opama (Ayesha Dharkar). She encourages him to participate, only to be confronted by hostility at the presence of a white man in an Indian singing competition.

Josh & Opama’s subplot dovetails with Sania’s to raise questions about national, ethnic, and cultural identity. How obligated are we to embrace our family’s cultural heritage when we have the option to adopt another? What does culture even mean in a country that prides itself on multiculturalism?

Acharya’s film nicely balances serious ideas with humor. It’s also amusing to watch seasoned performers like Azmi, Khan, and Jariwala act in something outside of Bollywood. Loins of Punjab Presents is a lot of fun.

Links

  • Loins of Punjab Presents at Wikipedia
  • Loins of Punjab Presents at IMDb
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Movie Review: Main Aur Charles (2015)

MainAurCharles3 Stars (out of 4)

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Main Aur Charles (“Me and Charles“) — a fictionalized account of the life of serial killer Charles Sobhraj by writer-director Prawaal Raman — explores not just the life of a charismatic criminal but the human tendency to hear only what we want to hear.

The real Charles targeted Western tourists in countries across Southeast Asia during the 1970s, often killing them to steal their money and passports. Raman’s version briefly shows two of those murders in Thailand, but the majority of the story concerns Charles’ 1986 escape from a Delhi prison.

With the help of several co-conspirators — including his girlfriend Mira (Richa Chadha) and fellow inmate Richard (Alexx O’Nell) — Charles (Randeep Hooda) walks out of jail in broad daylight. He escapes despite having less than a year remaining on his sentence and a relatively cushy life behind bars: books, a chess set, liquor, and parties with foreign women, all the fruit of bribing the warden (Vipin Sharma).

The police chase Charles from Delhi to Mumbai to Goa, where he shacks up in a hippie commune. Even when he’s recaptured, Charles wears the same smug grin, as though the cops are doing exactly what he wants them to.

The “Main” from the title — Inspector Amod Kanth (Adil Hussain) — doesn’t become a major player in the story until after Charles is back in the clink. It’s Kanth’s job to figure out how Charles managed to escape and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Kanth also becomes fixated on how a smart woman like Mira could fall for a conman like Charles. Even if she refuses to believe Charles a murderer, it’s hard to ignore the parade of women he’s slept with, some since they’ve been together. As Mira puts it, “He can escape, but no one can escape him.”

Charles’ magnetism is undeniable, especially with Hooda maxing out his own considerable charms in his portrayal. The conman chooses his targets carefully, identifying women primed to fall for his focused amorous attention. He uses his worldly air to impress men, promising them friendship and protection in exchange for their assistance.

That air of worldliness — characterized by Charles’ tendency to switch between languages, all tinged with a French accent — rankles Kanth. Why do so many people fall for this guy? It especially burns him when his wife (Tisca Chopra) becomes overly interested in the case.

Hooda is an ideal choice to play such a seductive conman, and Chadha shines as his willing victim. I’d love to see their intense chemistry in other romantic dramas. Hussain is also very good as the frustrated detective.

One persistent problem in the movie is the way Raman uses his camera to depict women. There are too many closeups of specific body parts or shots of women’s bodies with their heads out of frame. Mandana Karimi’s character Liz is introduced via a closeup of her buttocks. Liz and other “headless women” aren’t just anonymous victims but Charles’ valued accomplices, so there’s no narrative justification for erasing their identities and reducing them to body parts.

Then again, one has to wonder how or if this movie would even have been made had Charles exclusively targeted Indian women. The unwritten rule in Bollywood is that the bodies of white women and women of mixed Indian heritage (like Karimi) can be objectified in ways that the bodies of Indian women can’t. The ethnicity of Charles’ victims enables Raman to present the story in a spicier way than would otherwise be possible, making his choice of camera angles feel like additional degradation.

Problems aside, Main Aur Charles is an engrossing film with solid performances and satisfying narrative payoffs. Watch it for Hooda and Chadha, for sure.

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Movie Review: Joker (2012)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Have you ever listened to a four-year-old girl tell a story? They usually sound something like this: “There once was a princess who flew to the moon, and then they ate cake, but she was really a donkey, and her dad was a mailman. The end.” That four-year-old girl’s story has better continuity than Joker.

Scientist Agastya (Akshay Kumar) is in danger of losing his research funding after his experimental device fails to make contact with extraterrestrials. He’s given one month to complete the project when his girlfriend, Diva (Sonakshi Sinha), informs Agastya that his brother called. His father is sick, and Agastya must return to India at once.

In India, Diva learns why Agastya kept his family a secret: he comes from a village whose population descended from patients who escaped from an insane asylum. Everyone in Paglapur is wacky, including Agastya’s brother, Babban (Shreyas Talpade), who speaks only in gibberish. (The film doesn’t bother to explain how gibberish-speaking Babban was able to communicate the message about Agastya’s sick father over the phone to Diva.)

Eventually the truth comes out: Agastya’s dad isn’t really sick. The local river has been dammed, and the villagers need Agastya’s help to get the dam removed so they can water their crops.

Unfortunately, the village was left off the survey maps created in the 1940s, and none of the regional bureaucrats want to claim jurisdiction over Paglapur. One of the bureaucrats compares the village to the joker in a deck of cards: it exists, but it doesn’t belong to any of the suits (or, in Paglapur’s case, states).

I think the bureaucrat’s explanation is where the movie lost me for good. What a dumb justification for a movie title. It’s not a great analogy in the first place, and the title is meant to prey on moviegoers’ mental shortcuts. “I think Akshay Kumar is funny, and a joker is someone who is funny, so Joker must be another funny Akshay Kumar movie. Take my money, please!”

The surprise for those unfortunate moviegoers is that Kumar plays the straight man in Joker. He spends an uncharacteristically small amount of time running around and screaming, compared to many of his recent roles. Not only is Kumar himself not funny, neither is the rest of the cast.

Babban’s ceaseless gibberish is particularly grating. It’s the most annoying vocal tic I’ve heard since that character in Golmaal Returns who speaks only in vowels.

All the wacky character tics — the guy who thinks he’s a king, the guy dressed like a centurion, the kid who thinks he’s a lamp — are cover for an inane plot that seems like it’s being made up as it goes along. Events happen with no consideration for how to get from Point A to Point B. Director Shirish Kunder just has everyone act nuts to distract the audience from the radical shifts in the plot.

There’s a mystery that runs throughout Joker: where are all the women? There’s not a single female villager in Paglapur — apart from Diva, who has little to do in the film besides look bemused — yet ladies materialize from nowhere whenever a song-and-dance number starts. The absence of estrogen in town may explain why Babban falls for the first woman he sees, a news reporter played by Minissha Lamba, in one of the most underused cameos I’ve ever seen.

So, what are the positives about Joker? Chitrangda Singh looks gorgeous in the item number “Kaafirana.” Agastya’s American nemesis, Simon (Alexx O’Nell), has a magnificent head of curly red hair. Joker‘s runtime is mercifully short, at just about 100 minutes. Those probably aren’t good enough reasons to spend $10 on a movie ticket.

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