Tag Archives: Amit Trivedi

Movie Review: Bhavesh Joshi Superhero (2018)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

Hindi cinema loves a vigilante, that one good man who fights against a corrupt system. Bhavesh Joshi Superhero takes that template in a fresh, contemporary direction, addressing problems that are uniquely Indian but tie in with struggles being fought around the world.

After the government crushes their political opposition group, young activists Bhavesh (Priyanshu Painyali) and Siku (Harshvardhan Kapoor) take their fight for justice to YouTube. Wearing paper bags over their heads, they confront lawbreakers for infractions like public urination and traffic violations, while their videographer buddy Rajat (Ashish Verma) records the encounters.

Years of small-scale victories but no systemic change take their toll on the trio, emotionally and also physically when the occasional video subject decides to fight back. Siku and Rajat are ready to move on, accepting a broken social contract as an annoying inconvenience in their otherwise comfortable middle class lives. Unemployed Bhavesh resents his friends for quitting before the fight is won.

Things come to a head when Bhavesh uncovers evidence of a scam to divert water from the municipal supply. He doesn’t have all the pieces to the puzzle, but he’s willing to take risks to find them. Siku’s too preoccupied with a potential job transfer to Atlanta and how that will affect his relationship with his girlfriend Sneha (Shreiyah Sabharwal) to care.

India’s water infrastructure problems are uniquely complicated, and basing the story’s big crime around it roots the film in a specific place. Yet the characters’ frustrations are relatable to anyone who isn’t rich.

It’s an especially interesting choice by writer-director Vikramaditya Motwane — whose impressive resume includes Udaan, Lootera, and Trapped — and his co-writers Abhay Koranne  and filmmaker Anurag Kashyap to set up a class conflict within the main trio. Siku is an engineer and Rajat a journalist, so they have options that Bhavesh does not. Bhavesh sympathizes with the underclass because he’s a member of it. Champions of workers rights across the globe face the same challenge: how to motivate members of the middle class for whom matters like access to water or healthcare are merely academic, not an urgent need.

Much of the press leading up to the film’s release focused on Harshvardhan Kapoor, the son of a prominent acting family, in his second movie after a disastrous debut (at least from a box office perspective). He’s perfectly fine in this, as are Verma and Sabharwal. The movie’s villains are likewise well acted, although I found their relationships a little complicated due to my unfamiliarity with job titles within the Indian bureaucracy.

The real surprise is Priyanshu Painyuli as Bhavesh. He pivots easily from Bhavesh’s exuberance during happy times to his simmering rage when things start to fall apart. Bhavesh is frequently lit in red to emphasize his righteous anger and revolutionary spirit, and Amit Trivedi’s dynamic score sets the perfect tone.

Even though Bhavesh Joshi Superhero draws from Bollywood’s vigilante legacy, it makes the case that social movements aren’t a solo effort. They require a group of people working together. One person may sacrifice more than the others, but you can’t change the world alone.

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Movie Review: Secret Superstar (2017)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

Uplifting songs and a goofy cameo by Aamir Khan cushion the hard-hitting elements of Secret Superstar, which carefully addresses domestic abuse in a film meant for families. It’s an impressive debut by writer-director Advait Chandan.

Right away, we sense that 15-year-old Insia (Zaira Wasim) has bigger problems than her upcoming music competition and her nosy little brother, Guddu (Kabir Sajid Shaikh). Insia’s mother Najma (Meher Vij) is the only person on the train platform wearing sunglasses when she arrives to pick her daughter up from a class trip. As Insia suspects, Najma is concealing a black eye, courtesy of Insia’s father, Farookh (Raj Arjun).

Though Farookh primarily reserves physical violence for his wife, his anger controls every member of the household. Insia is a talented singer and songwriter, but Farookh considers music frivolous. He’d rather she not even enter a singing contest she’d likely win, if it means having to travel to Mumbai for the final round.

Farookh’s job interview in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, provides Najma, Insia, and Guddu with a brief respite from his wrath. They use the opportunity to set up an online identity for Insia using a covertly purchased laptop. Insia’s songs become a sensation on YouTube, in part because she records them while concealing her identity under a niqab and posting under the intriguing moniker: Secret Superstar.

As fame and fortune become a real possibility for Insia, the unfairness of her reality intrudes. She’s her little brother’s protector, and her mother’s as well, to the degree that she’s able. The truth is her father would rather have his daughter live by his rules, even if it means forsaking money the family needs. Allowing Insia to pursue her dreams for her own sake would never occur to him.

Secret Superstar is particularly effective at depicting the fraught relationship between mother and daughter. Insia resents her mother for staying with an abusive husband and endangering them all. The girl is partially correct — Najma is better equipped for endurance than daring — but Insia’s immaturity limits her perspective. Najma is illiterate, giving her good reason to worry about her ability to care for her children on her own. Besides, Najma is a safer target for Insia’s frustration than the real perpetrator, her father.

Insia has two important allies. First is Chintan (Tirth Sharma), a nice boy at her school with a crush on her. Since he has a cell phone and she doesn’t, Chintan becomes Insia’s link to her second ally: movie music producer Shakti Kumar (Aamir Khan). Blackballed by the industry following an adultery scandal, Shakti is in desperate need of a singer for his new film, and he hopes that Secret Superstar can put him back on top again.

Wasim played Khan’s daughter in 2016’s box office smash Dangal, and the affection the actors share is apparent in their scenes together. That bond helps to integrate Khan’s character into the story, where he serves as comic relief, while also being the only adult in whose presence Insia is truly physically safe. Her home is filled with violence, her school practices corporal punishment, and her tutor ignores the girl’s obvious terror and insists that Insia have her father sign a failed quiz. Shakti doesn’t just offer her hope for the future — he protects her in the present.

Everyone in the cast excels in their roles. Khan is funny and sincere. Sharma is gawky and adorable, and Shaikh is just cute, period. Arjun terrifies even when he’s not raising a fist. But Secret Superstar belongs to Wasim and Vij. Wasim has the presence of a much older and more experienced actress. The quality of the work she’s done in her first two films — which she completed before she even turned seventeen — is remarkable. Vij is likewise captivating and moving in her part, and she and Wasim work beautifully together.

The soundtrack of Secret Superstar — with songs written by Amit Trivedi and sung by Meghna Mishra — suits the film well in that it sounds lyrically and musically like it could have been created by a teenage girl on her guitar. In a clever bit of character-development-by-way-of-musical-arrangement, the song “Main Kaun Hoon” starts as an acoustic YouTube recording session in Insia’s bedroom, only to be re-orchestrated mid-song as she daydreams of performing onstage at an awards show. It’s clever and makes the music more dynamic.

Moviegoers squeamish about violence should know that little contact is shown, with director Chandan instead focusing on the aftereffects (both physical and emotional). Secret Superstar is not to be missed.

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Movie Review: Shaandaar (2015)

Shaandaar3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Shaandaar (“Fabulous“) is not as polished as director Vikas Bahl’s runaway hit from 2014, Queen, yet there’s plenty to like in this romantic comedy. Bahl’s unique vision warrants a viewing.

Driving to his eldest daughter’s wedding at an English palace, Bipin (Pankaj Kapur) literally runs into a haughty motorcyclist (played by Shahid Kapoor). They engage in a war of words, inflamed by the googly eyes the biker makes at Bipin’s younger daughter, Alia (Alia Bhatt).

Bipin is dismayed when the biker turns out to be the family’s wedding coordinator, Jagjinder Joginder. Jagjinder immediately charms the bride-to-be, Isha (Sanah Kapoor), and her tough-as-nails grandmother (Sushma Seth).

As if the troublesome wedding coordinator weren’t bad enough, Bipin’s future in-laws — the Fundwanis — are a bunch of tacky boors. The groom-to-be, Robin (Vikas Verma), is a musclebound narcissist who shows up to his own wedding shirtless.

Shaandaar has a number of selling points. The relationship Bipin shares with his daughters is warm, though he’s particularly fond of Alia, whom he adopted as a little girl. Alia and Isha are protective of one another, especially since Isha’s mother and grandmother are quick to remind Alia that she is not Bipin’s biological child.

Alia and Shahid make a fun and attractive couple. Though both of their characters are precocious, Alia’s eyes twinkle with a particular mischievousness. Their frequent daydreams manifest in the form of flashbacks and hallucinations. When Jagjinder first sees Alia, he’s so smitten that he sees the dragonflies embroidered on her sweater take flight and swarm colorfully about her.

Some of the film’s flashbacks are animated, with Naseeruddin Shah on voiceover duty. The very opening to Shaandaar is a cartoon retelling of Alia’s adoption that explains the tension within the family. Though clever, the sequence is overly long.

That’s perhaps Shaandaar‘s single biggest problem: it’s too long. There are a number of scenes that should have been cut, since they fail to advance the plot or tell us anything about the characters that we don’t already know.

On a couple of occasions, the film’s negative characters — like Grandma, Robin, and Harry Fundwani (Sanjay Kapoor) — use offensive insults. For example, Harry asks a squinting Jagjinder if he is Chinese. The use of these insults is supposed to reflect poorly upon the speaker, but there’s ample evidence that the villains are the villains. The movie doesn’t need to trade in harmful stereotypes in order to establish that.

Robin’s character is the most offensive. His whole storyline is that he doesn’t want to marry Isha because she is overweight, and he makes sure that everyone knows that he finds her unappealing. While Isha has a moment of triumph later in the film, it feels as though it comes at too high a cost.

In fact, it’s time to retire the trope that marrying an overweight woman is a form of punishment. Movies like Dum Laga Ke Haisha and even Shaandaar empower their female characters, but too often the trope is used as a punchline. Akshay Kumar’s character in Singh Is Bliing flees the state rather than marry a heavy woman. It’s a tired plot device. Bollywood storytellers need to find a new reason for male characters not to want to marry female characters, preferably one that doesn’t have to do with the female characters’ looks.

As narrowly defined by her appearance as her character is, Sanah Kapoor is really terrific as Isha. Sanah comes across naturally, despite this being her first film. Perhaps acting alongside her brother (Shahid) and father (Pankaj) helped evoke such a comfortable, charming performance.

Another highlight of Shaandaar is the choreography by Bosco-Caesar that accompanies Amit Trivedi’s catchy tunes. It’s hard to resist dancing along to “Shaam Shaandaar” and “Gulaabo.”

Shaandaar warrants a special warning for international viewers like myself. The movie is less accessible than other mainstream Hindi films. From a practical standpoint, the English subtitles appear on screen in a white font with no drop-shadow, rendering them invisible against light backgrounds. When the characters speak in English, the words spoken are often different from those written in the subtitles.

There are additional problems from a contextual standpoint. Harry — the head of the Fundwani family — talks incessantly about his status as a “Sindhi” ambassador and his feeling that every person of repute is a “Sindhi.” The significance of being a Sindhi isn’t explained at all, which is frustrating, because this is all Harry ever talks about.

Because of Shaandaar‘s flaws, it can’t be called a complete success. It fulfills genre obligations by being both funny and romantic, but it’s definitely not a movie for everyone. Still, it doesn’t look like any other romantic comedies out there, and it deserves accolades for that. If only more filmmakers were as ambitious as Vikas Bahl.

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