Tag Archives: Ali Fazal

Movie Review: Fukrey Returns (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

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Fukrey Returns is a stale bore, populated by characters the filmmakers seem determined not to give us any reasons to care about.

Familiarity with 2013’s Fukrey is essential. The only plot refresher regarding the original film is a sequence of video-only clips that run behind the opening credits of Fukrey Returns. If you haven’t seen Fukrey recently — or if it didn’t leave much of an impression — you’re going to miss some references (I know I did).

The main characters from the original are back, including: smug ladies man Hunny (Pulkit Samrat); his psychic toady Choocha (Varun Sharma); the guy who’s too smart to be hanging around with these idiots, Zafar (Ali Fazal); and the guy who doesn’t really have anything to do in the story, Lali (Manjot Singh). Also returning are the guys’ shady mentor, Pandit (Pankaj Tripathy), and their gangster nemesis, Bholi (Richa Chadda).

After a year in prison, Bholi is eager to take revenge on the four friends who sent her there. She owes a large sum of money to crooked politician Babulal (Rajiv Gupta) for arranging her release, so she needs to use Choocha’s prophetic dreams in order to raise a lot of money, fast. The plan is for the guys to collect wagers from the public, promising to double investors’ winnings when Choocha dreams of the winning lottery numbers. In fact, the lottery pays out at a rate of ten-to-one, leaving Bholi with eighty percent of the winnings. In return, the guys get to continue living.

When their scheme is thwarted, the guys are pilloried for having defrauded the public and are forced to run for their lives. Fortunately, Choocha manifests a new prophetic power he calls “deja Chu” — premonitions that offer their only hope for clearing their names, freeing Bholi from her debt to Babulal, and getting themselves off of her hit list.

The plot doesn’t unfold as neatly as I’ve described it. Establishing what the guys have been doing since the events of the original film takes up a lot of time, yet reveals surprisingly little about the characters. Subplots are introduced and then forgotten about until the end of the movie. Hunny’s girlfriend Priya (Priya Anand) and Zafar’s fiancée Neetu (Vishakha Singh) stage their own disappearing acts until their presence is required for the climax.

The quality of the cast is uneven. When characters played by Chadda, Fazal, and Tripathy interact with one another, the gulf between actors of their caliber and the rest of the cast feels as wide as the Grand Canyon, especially considering how little the script gives them to work with. It seems like Samrat and Sharma have plateaued as performers.

Of course, the most damning indictment is that Fukrey Returns just isn’t funny. Right away, we get a tired gag about Hunny being bitten in the rear by a venomous snake and Choocha having to suck out the venom, and the same gag repeats later. Director Mrighdeep Singh Lamba also doesn’t know when to end a joke, lingering on reaction shots of other characters well past the point when the audience is ready to move on the next gag. Hopefully Lamba and his co-writer Vipul Vig will accept that Fukrey‘s well has run dry and move on themselves.

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Movie Review: For Here or to Go? (2015)

3 Stars (out of 4)

For Here or to Go? opens in these theaters Friday, March 31, 2017.

Even though For Here or to Go? made its festival debut in 2015, its 2017 theatrical release could not be more timely. The film examines America’s complicated immigration system not from a policy level, but from a personal one.

Ali Fazal — known to Bollywood fans from movies like Fukrey and Bobby Jasoos and to Hollywood fans from his role in Furious 7 — plays Vivek, a programmer on an H-1B visa working for a big corporation in Silicon Valley. He’d love a job at a startup, where he’d have a better opportunity to put his ideas to work, but his visa status effectively prevents it. Most small startups lack the resources to sponsor visa employees, and he has less than a year left on his visa anyway.

This puts Vivek and countless other foreign employees in a kind of holding pattern, stuck in jobs they don’t want and unable to get new ones. With low odds for getting a green card that would enable him to live and work in the United States permanently — it takes ten months just to get in the line to wait for a green card! — Vivek and his roommates haven’t even bothered to buy furniture. What’s the point, when they’ll have to leave it behind when their visas run out and they’re forced to return to India?

This limbo state is bad for Vivek’s social life as well. It’s impossible to find a lasting relationship when he doesn’t know where he’ll be next year, or even sooner than that if his company should unexpectedly fold, which would give him just days to leave the country.

Vivek’s romantic problems are strictly theoretical until he meets Shveta (Melanie Chandra, nee Kannokada, the pride of Park Ridge, Illinois) at a yoga class. She’s the first American-born Desi woman to give him the time of day. They have fun together, taking center stage during a Bollywood-style flash mob.

While Shveta is an all-American girl, her rich dad, Vishwanath (Rajit Kapur), is trying to convince Desi tech workers to return to India as a sort of penance for his role in the “brain drain” phenomenon, which was the subject of Swades back in 2004. One of the most disheartening aspects of For Here or to Go? is the sense that problems like “brain drain” and the unwelcome feeling experienced by many immigrants have been around for a long time and have only gotten worse since the film was completed, even before the ascent of the Trump administration. Under Vishwanath’s tutelage, Vivek starts to wonder if maybe India is the best place for him after all.

The story is rounded out by Vivek’s roommates, Lakshmi (Omi Vaidya) and Amit (Amitosh Nagpal). Lakshmi is determined to become an American citizen, believing that the US offers him a better chance at happiness as a gay man than India does. Amit has his own visa issues, and his glibness regarding immigration laws worries Vivek.

The pacing of For Here or to Go? — directed by Rucha Humnabadkar and written by Rishi Bhilawadikar — is slow in spots. There are also some logical problems, such as why Vivek never learns that his mentor, Vishwanath, is Shveta’s father.

The film also loses focus as the plot progresses. Instead of sticking with Vivek’s story, For Here or to Go? tries to cover the whole Indian immigrant experience in America. The issue of racist violence against Sikhs and how that impacts their desire to live in the US — a rich enough topic for an entire film of its own — gets wedged into a scene that’s only a few minutes long and has no bearing on the central plot.

Thankfully, some nice performances make up for screenplay scope creep. Fazal is always reliable, whether he’s acting in English or Hindi films, and he’s quite sexy in the movie’s sole romantic scene. Chandra is totally adorable. Vaidya and Nagpal are both charming as well.

For Here or to Go?‘s best selling point is that it’s a really good tutorial on the US immigration system. That’s equal parts praise for a film that makes a dull-seeming topic interesting, and condemnation for a system that’s so complicated it needs a fictional medium to make it comprehensible to the general public.

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Movie Review: Happy Bhag Jayegi (2016)

HappyBhagJayegi2 Stars (out of 4)

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You might think that the woman named Happy would be the main character in a movie titled Happy Bhag Jayegi (“Happy Will Run Away“). You’d be wrong.

Happy (Diana Penty) is a plot catalyst rather than a real character. She exists to cause problems that other people must fix, ostensibly in the name of getting Happy what she wants, but really in order to advance their own character development.

Of the film’s four major characters, Happy is introduced third, ten minutes into the film. The first character we meet is Bilal Ahmed (Abhay Deol), the film’s true protagonist on whose emotional growth the story depends.

Bilal’s father is a prominent Pakistani politician determined to make his son follow in his footsteps and “change the future of Pakistan.” Bilal meekly walks his predetermined path, too timid to speak up for what he really wants.

The Ahmeds visit Amritsar for an agricultural summit aimed at fostering ties between the neighboring countries. Elsewhere in town, a local goon/politician named Bagga (Jimmy Shergill) takes the stage to perform at a celebration before his upcoming wedding. His bride-to-be — Happy, appearing onscreen for the first time — waits until the show is underway before secretly leaping out of a window into the back of a truck. Only instead of landing in the vehicle owned by a friend of her boyfriend, Guddu (Ali Fazal), she mistakenly jumps into a truck taking goods from the agricultural summit to the Ahmed family home in Lahore.

Bilal scrambles to find a way to get Happy back home without creating an international incident (and without his father finding out), but Happy won’t leave unless her marriage to Guddu is secured. Bilal enlists the help of his fiancée, Zoya (Momal Sheikh), and the police constable, Afridi (Piyush Mishra), to pull off a complicated cross-border scheme.

Happy meets the minimum requirements for a generic Bollywood romantic comedy female lead in that she’s beautiful and feisty, with a penchant for drinking and a domineering attitude that make her irresistible to male Bollywood romantic comedy characters. But that’s all there is to her.

In contrast, Zoya is refreshingly complex. Bilal’s childhood friend and the daughter of a wealthy businessman, Zoya and Bilal have been betrothed since birth. She views Happy as a problem to be solved, but Bilal’s infatuation with the interloper makes Zoya question whether her own romance with him is one-sided. She doesn’t want to be a constant reminder to Bilal of the choices he wasn’t allowed to make for himself. Yet Zoya is a team player, and she doesn’t let her doubts interfere with her duties, nor does she resort to trickery to keep Bilal and Happy apart.

Another unfortunate feature of Happy’s character is her lack of agency. After making her fateful leap into the truck, she spends most of the film in jail, in hiding, or kidnapped. When she receives her father’s blessing at the end, it’s not because of anything she’s done but because of the actions of one of the men.

It’s also worth pointing out that, after Happy runs away, both Guddu and Bagga continue to express their desire to marry her. However, her father grabs a gun and says he’s going to kill her. Even if he doesn’t mean it literally, it’s not the kind of joke you can make when women and men who elope are still murdered by their families with alarming regularity in Pakistan and India.

Unlike the cookie-cutter title character, the men in Happy Bhag Jayegi are thoughtfully written. Bilal has spent his life resisting his future in politics only for Happy’s plight to show him that he’s a good leader. Guddu’s future is as amorphous as Bilal’s is fixed, plaguing the young lover with doubts about his ability to provide for his beloved. Bagga is a goon, but also a decent guy who genuinely cares for Happy.

The performances from the likeable cast are generally quite good. It’s clear that Penty is capable of more than the material she was given. The plot unfolds at a decent clip and heads in some unexpected directions.

One more knock against Happy Bhag Jayegi may only be relevant to international viewers. Many of the jokes are wordplay humor, especially involving the different meanings of words in Urdu versus Punjabi or Hindi. These jokes aren’t translated with context, so it’s impossible tell what’s supposed to be funny.

There are the elements of a good movie present in Happy Bhag Jayegi. If only the title didn’t feel like a bait-and-switch.

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Movie Review: Khamoshiyan (2015)

khamoshiyan2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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The Hindi word Khamoshiyan (“Silences“) sort of sounds like the English word “commotion,” which is fitting given the insane way this sexy horror film spins out of control.

Frustrated novelist Kabir (Ali Fazal) hits rock bottom when he tries to sabotage his ex-girlfriend’s wedding. She tells him, “You’re an incomplete man, Kabir. You could never complete anything in your life.” He hits the road, resolving to finally finish his book and find a purpose.

Kabir winds up at a mountain lodge which he describes as being “locked in time,” even though the building looks like a newly built McMansion. There are no other guests at the hotel, only the inn’s beautiful caretaker Meera (Sapna Pabbi) and her bedridden husband.

During his first night in the hotel, Kabir hears phantom sounds, sees figures disappear from paintings, and a poltergeist throws at book at him. He packs his bag the next morning, and we hope he’s smart enough to get the hell out of this obviously haunted house. Nope. He’s just going for a hike.

Bewitched by her pretty face and mysterious manners, Kabir resolves to uncover Meera’s secrets. He has no way of knowing what bizarre horrors haunt the inn.

That’s because the narrative takes a left turn into crazy town in the second half. You will think that you have the story figured out. “Duh, she’s a ghost,” you will say. You will be wrong. Not even writer Vikram Bhatt knows how he reached the film’s conclusion.

Now, that doesn’t mean that Khamoshiyan isn’t fun, because it is. Meera gets it on with Kabir and — in flashbacks — her husband, Jaidev (Gurmeet Choudhary). Kabir fights ridiculous CGI dogs and flops around possessed. The hotel has some amazing evil artwork, because what says “Welcome!” better than a hideous painting of a muscular chimera in the foyer?

khamoshiyan_chimera

Free hot breakfast included at the Motel 666!

khamoshiyan_wolves

A portrait of Uncle Bob back in his Blue Man Group days…

khamoshiyan_monster

Where the movie falls short is in its application of a coherent mythology. There don’t seem to be any rules governing the movie’s supernatural entities. It’s unclear how to destroy them, since certain rituals work and others don’t without explanation.

It’s also unclear what motivates the spirits. Meera makes it clear that — for the sake of her husband — she’s not allowed to leave the hotel grounds. Yet the spirits don’t seem to have a problem with her humping Kabir on the hood of a sports car in the garage.

What results is a disorganized collection of occult imagery that is more confusing than horrifying. Most of the attempted chills take the form of telegraphed poltergeist effects. The mood is intermittently pretty creepy, however, and director Karan Darra deserves credit for trying to make butterflies scary.

For all its incoherence, Khamoshiyan is undeniably entertaining. Good looking people make out, and some mildly spooky stuff happens. What more do you need?

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Movie Review: Bobby Jasoos (2014)

BobbyJasoos3 Stars (out of 4)

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Vidya Balan shines again in Bobby Jasoos (“Bobby the Detective“). Her contrarian tomboy private investigator makes for a charming lead character whose independent spirit gets her into trouble.

30-year-old Bobby (Balan) wants nothing more than to work as a detective in Hyderabad. Rejected by a proper investigative firm, she scrapes by on minor jobs, such as steering prospective brides away from TV news anchor Tasawur (Ali Fazal), who wants to stay single but is too cowardly to tell his parents. She even extorts money from her cousin Afreen (Anupriya Goenka), whose secret affair with the goon Lala (Arjan Bajwa) would displease the family.

Bobby gets her big break when a rich man, Aneez Khan (Kiran Kumar), asks her to find a young woman, with no information other than the woman’s name and the location of a birthmark. When Bobby succeeds, she gets a big payday and the name of another girl Khan wants found. But why is Khan looking for these women?

Lacking formal training and an office staff, Bobby’s methods involve a lot of trial and error — and a lot of costumes. The disguise gags are cute, and Balan is passable in drag. But ultimately, Bobby solves her mysteries with her wit and not silly outfits.

She’s assisted by a trio of sidekicks: restaurateur Munna (Aakash Dahiya), internet cafe owner Shetty (Prasad Barve), and mobile phone seller Sohail (Tejas Mahajan). Their friendships with Bobby are sweet, establishing her as likeable as well as talented. They also stand in contrast to her difficult homelife.

Despite the support of a doting mother (Supriya Pathak) and a younger sister, Noor (Benaf Dadachandji) — who perfectly encapsulates their sibling rivalry with the line “Go die! Come back soon.” — Bobby can’t win over her traditional father (Rajendra Gupta). He’s past the point of tolerating her career ambitions, and he only wants her to get married like all the other women her age.

The conflict with her father helps flesh out Bobby’s character. She’d headstrong and confident, but she’s also desperate for her father’s approval. Nevertheless, she can’t be someone she’s not. Balan is the perfect choice to portray a character who is feisty yet vulnerable, and a fine role model for girls. The film is extremely family friendly.

Another selling point in Bobby Jasoos‘ favor is Ali Fazal. His subtly humorous reactions are pitch-perfect, as poor Tasawur tries to cope with Bobby’s impulsiveness while unwittingly falling for her. Fazal and Balan share a wonderful chemistry.

The mystery at the center of the movie is its weakest element. It’s not particularly challenging, and the payoff is melodramatic. However, if this movie is just a setup for future mysteries starring the character Bobby Jasoos, I can happily live with it.

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New Trailers: May 27, 2014

Three new trailers were just released, and it looks like we could be in for a strong run of Hindi films from late June through mid-July. First up is the creepy trailer for Ek Villain, which stars Shraddha Kapoor, Sidharth Malhotra, and Riteish Deshmukh, It opens on June 27, 2014.

Next up is Bobby Jasoos, a comedy in which Vidya Balan plays a private investigator with an array of disguises at her disposal. Bobby Jasoos opens on July 4.

Finally, we have the romantic comedy Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, starring Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt. It releases July 11.

All three movies feature strong casts, so I’m looking forward to all of the films. However, I cannot wait for Bobby Jasoos on July 4. The world needs as much Vidya as it can get, and she even romances a younger guy in the film! (Vidya Balan is 36, and her costar, Ali Fazal, is 27.) This could be a terrific summer at the movies.

Movie Review: Fukrey (2013)

fukrey0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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There’s a fundamental problem at the root of Fukrey. The story is about a couple of guys: one who has prophetic dreams, and another who interprets those dreams to pick the day’s winning lottery numbers. The guys run into trouble when they borrow money from a mobster and can’t pay it back.

Here’s the problem: with this infallible gambling system, why do they need to borrow money? Why aren’t they already rich?!

That the writers missed such an obvious problem is indicative of just how shoddily organized Fukrey is. As a result, the movie is a boring waste of 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Nothing occurs in a succinct or timely fashion in Fukrey. The prophetic dreams aren’t even mentioned until thirty minutes into the movie, and they don’t become relevant to the plot until the fifty-minute mark. The guys don’t get into trouble with the gangster until 75 minutes have passed, so nothing of consequence happens until the movie is half over.

All the time up to that point is spent establishing the characters as total morons. The dreamer, Choocha (Varun Sharma), and the interpreter, Hunny (Pulkit Samrat), are horny high schoolers eager to get into college so that they can score with chicks, or so they say. They grab each other and make kissy faces while they talk of future romantic conquests. They ogle every woman they see, so much so that it seems like overcompensation, especially in Choocha’s case. He seems to be quite in love with Hunny.

Meanwhile, Hunny is completely obnoxious in his pursuit of Priya (Priya Anand). He pops his collar and lies about his experience with French kissing (unless he’s been practicing on Choocha). Hunny lingers outside Priya’s house, posing with his best Derek Zoolander “Blue Steel” expression. He does everything that would turn a real-life woman off, but Priya falls for him because Hunny is the hero, and movie heroes always get the girl.

For some reason, writer Vipul Vig and director Mrigdeep Singh Lamba decided to make this about a quartet of guys, rather than keeping the story focused on Choocha and Hunny, the only two characters germane to the plot. Lali (Manjot Singh) would like to get into college to spy on his cheating girlfriend, and Zafar (Ali Fazal) hangs around campus playing guitar. Lali’s only contribution to the plot is that he puts his family’s restaurant up as collateral in the gambling scheme. Zafar is a superfluous mope.

Richa Chadda plays the mobster, Bholi. Her gang consists of a bunch of musclebound black men who operate a diversified crime  portfolio of drug peddling, extortion, prostitution, and even a telemarketing scam. The race of Bholi’s bodyguards is only significant because, at one point, Choocha refers to her gang as “the Chicago Bulls.” Shortly thereafter, Hunny wears a polo shirt sporting a Confederate flag patch. Not content to just be boring, Fukrey has to be racist, too.

The movie might make a little sense if Bholi had heard about Choocha’s prophetic dreams and decided to exploit his abilities for her own gain. But why do Choocha and Hunny need to go to her at all? The first time they won the lottery, why didn’t they save a little of their winnings and do the same thing the next day? That’s how gambling works: you win a little bit, and you keep playing hoping to win even more.

Since Hunny and Choocha know their system works, why haven’t they been exploiting this system for years, amassing a huge fortune? Just how dumb do you have to be to screw this up?

It’s not possible to care about characters this stupid. I hoped that Bholi would get sick of these morons and kill them for kicks. She doesn’t, so there’s really no good reason to see Fukrey.

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Movie Review: Always Kabhi Kabhi (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Always Kabhi Kabhi (“Always Sometimes Sometimes”) is one of the rare Hindi movies that specifically targets a teenage audience. Perhaps that rarity has something to do with the fact that most teen movies are pretty much the same, and Always Kabhi Kabhi is no different.

The many similarities in teen movies have to do with the similarities in the lives of teenagers — particularly middle-class teens — across the globe. Academic pressures, tested friendships, budding romances and family friction are universal.

Those are precisely the problems afflicting the students at St. Mark’s High School, a private school in Delhi. Slacker Sam (Ali Fazal) has the hots for the pretty new girl, Aishwarya (Giselli Monteiro), who’s threatening to steal the spotlight from stubborn Nandy (Zoa Morani). This interpersonal drama plays out to the amusement of Sam’s best bud and Nandy’s nemesis, nerdy Tariq (Satyajeet Dubey).

St. Mark’s hosts a Shakespeare festival, and Sam and Aishwarya land the lead roles in Romeo and Juliet. The whole setup is very High School Musical, complete with several song-and-dance routines. (Producer Shahrukh Khan adds his star power to a number during the closing credits.)

The young lead actors are generally competent, though none stands out as Bollywood’s next big star. Monteiro moved to India from Brazil to play Harleen Kaur in 2009’s Love Aaj Kal, a role with minimal dialog. She gets a few more lines as Ash, but her acting lacks conviction. Perhaps language is still an obstacle for Monteiro.

For American audiences, Always Kabhi Kabhi has some novel cultural differences that could make it more interesting than other teen fare. At a dance club, Sam smokes his first joint. Almost as if the joint were alarmed, the cops immediately swarm the club, and Sam gets busted. The cops bribe him in order to keep the matter from his parents. If only American teens had such an option.

Also, Ash’s mother pushes her to shoot some modeling photos wearing — gasp! — a bikini. Ash looks as though her mother has just sold her in to prostitution. Her reaction is understandable within its cultural context and seems positively quaint compared to the antics of the kids on Jersey Shore.

Every once in a while, it’s refreshing to see a movie that is truly friendly for all audiences. The characters aren’t especially wild (or realistic, for that matter), but their harmlessness shouldn’t be held against them. Always Kabhi Kabhi isn’t profound, but nothing says it has to be.

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