Tag Archives: Anil Kapoor

Movie Review: Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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With Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (“How I Felt When I Saw That Girl“, ELKDTAL henceforth), debutant filmmaker Shelly Chopra Dhar set out to change how India thinks about LGBTQ people, both in terms of social acceptance and as an untapped well of cinematic storytelling possibilities. Her film is caring, thoughtful exploration of how a conservative family deals with a gay family member.

Sonam Kapoor Ahuja uses her star-power for good to play Sweety Chaudhary, a closeted lesbian from the Punjabi town of Moga. While on a trip to New Delhi, she ducks into a theater during play rehearsals to hide from a man we later learn is her brother, Babloo (Abhishek Duhan). Intrigued by Sweety’s good looks and her insightful critique of the awful play, its floundering writer, Sahil (Rajkummar Rao), helps her escape to a train station.

Sahil finds out where Sweety lives and heads to Moga under the pretext of running an acting workshop. There, a series of misunderstandings convince Sweety’s father Balbir (Anil Kapoor), her grandmother Gifty (Madhumalti Kapoor), and Sahil himself that Sweety is secretly in love with him.

Sweety explains to Sahil that she’s in love with a woman named Kuhu (Regina Cassandra). Babloo knows this and disapproves of his sister’s feelings, which is why he followed her to New Delhi and why she’d hidden from him in Sahil’s theater. Bereft of ideas for how to live a life true to herself, Sweety lets Sahil use his storytelling skills in a daring plan to win over her family and the town of Moga.

Director Shelly Chopra Dhar set herself the daunting task of making a movie that anyone could enjoy, but that would also open the minds of a particular segment of the audience. In an interview with The Telegraph, Chopra Dhar explains that her target audience was not progressive urbanites already accepting of LGBTQ people, but “people who’re genuinely not there”: those in smaller cities and towns in India who may have little personal exposure to gay people. So as not to risk scaring those people away, there is no same-sex kissing in ELKDTAL, only some affectionate hugging and hand-holding between Sweety and Kuhu — a choice consistent with the chaste way many mainstream Hindi films still depict straight romance.

Chopra Dhar also says in the interview that she had to consider ELKDTAL‘s setting when trying to reach her intended audience. Small-town folks might feel disconnected from an urban story, and a village setting could make the film seem too artsy and not commercial enough (which is why she made Balbir a rich factory owner). Although she wanted the serious message of acceptance to come through, she needed to relate to her audience in an uplifting way: “It’s not a dark and dingy film either. Why can’t it be a nice, bright film and be natural?”

ELKDTAL feels breezy and familiar, and its dramatic elements are balanced by two comic subplots. One involves the Chaudhary family staff — played by Seema Bhargava and Brijendra Kala, who is adorable in the film — betting on who Sweety will finally marry. Another features Juhi Chawla as Chatro, a goofy caterer with acting ambitions who catches Balbir’s eye. The tonal shifts between the comedy and drama elements aren’t seamless, but they never take the film off track.

In many ways, ELKDTAL‘s story is less about Sweety’s journey than how people react when she opens up to them. As the audience’s onscreen avatar, Sahil meets Sweety and decides she’s someone who deserves friendship and help, reinforcing the story’s message of judging someone by the content of their character. Sweety’s father, Balbir, already loves her, but he doesn’t see her for who she really is — in part because Sweety felt compelled to hide the truth from him. Balbir’s challenge is to accept what is, to him, a new facet of his daughter’s life, but also to see the way his own expectations for her made her life harder and less happy. It forces the audience to question whether we’ve let our own loved ones down by expecting them to be someone they’re not.

The downside to this narrative focus is that Sweety is acted upon more than she drives the action, but Kapoor Ahuja is fully engaged in every scene, her reactions always showing us how Sweety feels even when her character isn’t the center of attention. Same goes for Rao and Kapoor, whose love for his real-life daughter (Kapoor Ahuja) spills over into Balbir’s affection for Sweety. While ELKDTAL‘s laudable social goals are the perfect reason to start the movie, the film’s delightful performances make you want to see it through to the end.

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Movie Review: Fanney Khan (2018)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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The corny family drama Fanney Khan lacks the self-awareness to notice its obvious thematic flaws.

Anil Kapoor’s title character is the only one that really matters in the film. Fanney traded in his life as a small-time band leader for a steady factory job following the birth of his daughter, Lata, whom he named after his favorite singer in the hopes that little Lata would one day achieve the stardom he never could himself.

Stardom proves hard to come by for Lata, however. As a teenager (played by Pihu Sand), Lata is repeatedly booed off stage at talent competitions by audiences and judges more interested in teasing her about her weight than listening to her sing. She finds her dad’s musical taste cheesy, but performing racy pop songs isn’t working for her either. Instead of allowing Lata to find her own way, the movie leaves it to Fanney to chart Lata’s course for her.

A chance encounter with the famous pop star Baby Singh (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) inspires Fanney’s boldest plan for Lata’s success. He kidnaps Baby and holds her for ransom — not for the money his family desperately needs, but in exchange for getting Lata in the recording studio with Baby’s manager, Kakkad (Girish Kulkarni). Fanney recruits his jobless friend, Adhir (Rajkummar Rao) to keep watch over Baby, but Adhir’s crush on the star makes him an ineffective guard.

Fanney Khan might have succeeded as a pedestrian-yet-heartwarming family film were it not for a bizarre minor theme that alters the movie’s moral message in a way that debutant writer-director Atul Manjrekar appears not to have noticed.

The theme is first introduced when Lata plans her next live performance with her best friend, Rhea (Barbie Rajput, who is fantastic in her few scenes). When Rhea speculates that many top female stars slept with producers or other benefactors in order to become famous, Lata’s mother, Kavita (Divya Dutta), slowly enters the room, accompanied by music as somber as the expression on her face. She forbids the two girls from discussing the topic, even though were Rhea and Lata were both grossed out by the prospect and not actually considering it.

The same somber musical accompaniment reappears when Fanney asks Baby if she’d ever been pressured into sex for the sake of her career, when Kakkad is alone in a hotel room with Lata, and when Kavita sees Lata dressed in a (modest) one shoulder gown that Kavita nevertheless finds too revealing.

This repeated focus on women’s bodies and sexuality as they relate to fame is meant to convey the moral that women’s bodies are not tradeable commodities.

How, then, does director Manjrekar fail to notice the irony that his protagonist kidnaps a woman in order to trade her body for his own daughter’s success?

Fanney Khan is not a black comedy, and the sex-for-fame cautionary subplot isn’t explicitly juxtaposed against the main plot. Fanney is unquestionably a hero, slow-clapped by the very cops who come to arrest him as a way of praising his fatherly devotion.

Perhaps the point of the subplot is to convey that men may do what they like with women’s bodies, but women themselves may not treat their bodies as commodities. None of the men in the film face any repercussions for mistreating or intending to mistreat women’s bodies. Not Fanney or Adhir for kidnapping Baby, and not the studio head who wants Baby to have an “accidental” wardrobe malfunction in order to garner publicity. The character of a female recording engineer is invented specifically so that Kakkad can leer at her, thus making it appear as though Lata is in moral jeopardy when she’s alone in a room with him later. That Kavita doubts for a second whether Lata actually slept with Kakkad shows how little the film’s writers think of women’s ability to make their own moral judgements.

Fanney Khan lets down its main cast, who are all very good in the movie. Sand acquits herself well in her film debut, and she shares a nice mother-daughter rapport with Dutta. Rai Bachchan is natural in the role of a superstar, of course, and Rao is entertaining as always. Kapoor is flat-out terrific as the ultimate family man, making Fanney all the more endearing through his enthusiasm and cheerfulness. One way Kapoor could turn Fanney Khan into a positive is by taking Fanney’s band and backup dancers on the road, because they are a hoot.

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Movie Review: Race 3 (2018)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Director Remo D’Souza knows how to stage a big-screen spectacle, yet he seems overwhelmed by the baggage that comes with Race 3.

Most of that weight comes in the form of Salman Khan, whose stardom requires an outsized chunk of narrative space and screentime. Trying to give sufficient due to all of the other well-known cast members in the film — an admirable goal, for sure — expands the runtime beyond what the story can comfortably accommodate. Add to that the pressure of being bigger and bolder than the two previous movies in a series known for its outlandishness, and it’s simply too much.

Race 3 is a sequel in name only. Returning cast members Anil Kapoor and Jacqueline Fernandez play different characters than they did in Race 2, and the story takes place in a different narrative universe.

This time, Kapoor plays Shamsher Singh, an arms dealer living in exile in the Middle East after being falsely accused of illegal dealings back in India. He hopes to return home with the help of his stepson Sikander (Khan) and his twin children, Sanjana (Daisy Shah) and Suraj (Saqib Saleem). The family is assisted by Shamsher’s right-hand-man, Raghu (Sharat Saxena), and Sikander’s bodyguard and best friend, Yash (Bobby Deol).

Shamsher’s favoritism for Sikander has driven a wedge between the half-siblings over the course of decades, further inflamed when their mother’s will gives half of the family fortune to Sikander, forcing the twins to share the remaining half. When Yash’s new girlfriend Jessica (Jacqueline Fernandez) is revealed to have once romanced Sikander, the crew combusts.

The characters and their relationships are established via long scenes of dialogue that fall flat. Then, the Race story formula — with characters tricking one another, but planning ahead because they know their targets know they’re being tricked, etc. — kicks into full effect, necessitating even more boring dialogue. No individual character is particularly interesting, though the scheming twins had potential had D’Souza and franchise screenwriter Shiraz Ahmed pushed things in an edgier direction.

So much downtime allows one to imagine the Race 3 characters in other, potentially better movies. Shah and Saleem as creepy twins in a horror flick or sinister thriller. An action comedy starring Kapoor and Saxena, with Rajesh Sharma — who appears in Race 3 as Shamsher’s hometown friend — as their beleaguered younger sidekick. Fernandez starring in, well, anything else that utilizes her bubbly personality.

Fernandez and Shah feature in Race 3‘s most entertaining fight scene, flying through the air in a nightclub tussle. Shah has another fun bit when her long designer gown hampers her ability to kick her opponents — until she cuts a slit down the side with a dramatic flourish.

With an ace choreographer like D’Souza behind the camera, one expects mind-blowing dance numbers, yet Race 3‘s numbers are mostly forgettable (in part because of the need to accommodate Khan’s limited range of motion). The exception is “Selfish”, which stands out for the wrong reasons. Shah trained in aerial dance just for the number, yet the camera hardly captures her face, giving the impression that she used a body double, when I don’t think she did. There is also a group of backup dancers positioned so far behind the lead couple that they are often out of focus, which all but encourages the audience to ignore the lead couple in the foreground and instead strain to make out what’s happening behind them.

Action scenes throughout the film overuse slow-motion and are treated with a distracting effect that desaturates the image for a few seconds at a time. If randomly changing the image from color to black & white and back is the only way to hold an audience’s attention during a car chase, you’ve got big problems.

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Movie Review: Mirzya (2016)

mirzya3 Stars (out of 4)

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Mirzya is a feast for the eyes and ears, an ambitious tale of doomed love. Sadly, the lovers leave something to be desired.

Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra weaves past and present together in a story written by Gulzar and based on the Punjabi folktale Mirza Sahiban. For the sake of an international audience who may be unfamiliar with the folktale, the characters in Mirzya freely quote Shakespeare’ Romeo and Juliet, just so we all know where this is going.

As children, Munish and Suchitra are inseparable. He chivalrously carries her schoolbag, even though she’s several inches taller than him. Suchitra lies to save Munish when he forgets his homework yet again, literally taking a hit from the teacher for him. Munish can’t bear to see Suchitra harmed, but the revenge he takes upon the teacher leads to the two being separated.

Many years later, Suchitra (Saiyami Kher) is engaged to rich, handsome Karan (Anuj Choudhry). Scenes from Suchitra’s adult life are intercut with a fantastical series of flashbacks from ancient times. In these flashbacks, Suchitra is Sahiba, princess of a tribe of warriors. As the strongest men compete for her hand in marriage, Sahiba’s gaze favors a bold archer named Mirzya (Harshvardhan Kapoor, son of Anil Kapoor), an outsider of whom her family disapproves.

The present-day Mirzya is Adil, a groom at Karan’s stable. Karan tasks Adil with teaching Suchitra how to ride a horse. For no apparent reason, Suchitra assumes that Adil is really Munish. Of course, she is correct.

Everything about Mirzya is visually stunning, from the cast to the costumes to the settings. The vast, rocky valley to which Mirzya and Sahiba escape looks like it was made to be the preferred setting for lovers on the run. When the screen isn’t saturated in the brightly colored costumes of lithe dancers, austere greys evoke the heartache to come.

Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s soundtrack is a wonder, mixing traditional melodies with modern metal and jazz riffs. Mehra turns up the volume during song numbers, then dramatically cuts out all other sounds save footsteps or the flapping of a bird’s wings once the song ends. The effect is thrilling.

Unfortunately, the central love story has problems, chiefly relating to the ages of the characters when significant events take place. When Munish and Suchitra reunite as adults, they are far too old to enter into such an obviously doomed relationship without awareness of the consequences, both for themselves and for others. It’s easy to forget that Romeo and Juliet were young teenagers in their story, at that histrionic age where couples are one day professing to love each other like no people have ever loved before, only to break up the following week when Juliet catches Romeo making out with another girl at the homecoming dance.

Even in the original Mirza Sahiban, the two childhood companions don’t fall in love until adolescence, the age at which they are first able to experience feelings of sexual attraction. By contrast, Munish and Suchitra are separated at the age of nine, before they have the physical capacity to experience those feelings for one another. Yet, as soon as they meet as adults, they fall into a romantic attraction, despite having only previously had a platonic childhood relationship.

This raises an important question of whether the triumph of destiny is always the most satisfying outcome when it comes to storytelling. Why does destiny necessarily trump experience? Before her fateful reunion with Munish, Suchitra is totally in love with Karan, who seems like a nice guy. They are attracted to one another and enjoy each others company. This isn’t a forced marriage.

There’s also no sense that Suchitra is pining for Munish. Had she never met him, it seems likely she would have married Karan and lived happily ever after with him in his gigantic palace. Would that have perhaps been the more interesting outcome: one member of a fated pair taking action to end a deadly reincarnation cycle, allowing them and their families to live in peace?

Gulzar’s retelling of the myth doesn’t give a compelling reason why Suchitra should be with Munish. Then again, the characters are hardly more than archetypes, so it’s difficult to ascribe motivations to any of them beyond carrying out their expected roles. Light character development also makes it hard to get much sense of Kher’s or Kapoor’s potential, both of them acting in their Hindi film debuts.

Despite all that, there are reasons why stories of doomed love endure, and Mirzya is about as beautiful to look at and listen to as can be. A familiar story allows the audience to enjoy other elements of the film, even at the expense of the plot.

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Movie Review: Welcome Back (2015)

WelcomeBack1 Star (out of 4)

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Even at their best, writer-director Anees Bazmee’s movies are mediocre. At their worst, they are unbearable. Welcome Back is one of the worst.

In the eight years since the events of Welcome, gangsters Uday (Nana Patekar) and Majnu (Anil Kapoor) have left their criminal pasts behind, striking it rich as hoteliers in Dubai. Deciding that it’s time to get married and start their own families, they fall for the same woman: an heiress named Chandni (Ankita Shrivastava), who’s always accompanied by her mother, Maharani (Dimple Kapadia).

The guys’ marriage plans are put on hold when Uday’s father (also played by Patekar) reveals that Uday has another sister — Ranjhana (Shruti Haasan) — he needs marry off first. The “decent” guy they find for her, Ajju (John Abraham), turns out to be a don pretending to be something he’s not — just like Uday and Majnu.

The plot unfolds at furious pace but burns out quickly. After the first thirty minutes or so, very little that happens feels necessary. Everything else appears to be the indulgence of Bazmee’s whims. Helicopters? Camels? Vampire dance party? Check.

Welcome Back‘s story spins so far out of control that Bazmee doesn’t even try to give the film a real ending. He leaves his characters hanging in mid-air, literally and figuratively.

Watching the film becomes an endurance test in the second half, when Naseeruddin Shah shows up as yet another don, Wanted Bhai. At this point, Welcome Back descends to Gunda-level geographic incoherence. Wanted lives in a mansion on an island only accessible by plane. Yet — while on the island — Uday and Majnu are able to drive to a desert and to a mountain range. They also find a graveyard on the island, evoking more memories of Gunda:

It’s hard for any performances to stand out in a movie that requires its characters to behave so stupidly, but Shrivastava is pretty good as a gold digger. Her covert expressions of disgust while wooing the much older bachelors are funny. Kapadia is also exceedingly glamorous.

Another member of the cast stands out for the wrong reasons. Shiney Ahuja plays Wanted’s drug-addicted son, Honey, who is obsessed with Ranjhana. (Azmee doesn’t even bother explaining how Honey knows Ranjhana.)

In 2011, Ahuja was convicted of raping a member of his household staff and sentenced to seven years in prison. He is out on bail while appealing his conviction (a major difference from the American justice system, where sentences are effective immediately, and appeals are adjudicated while the defendant is behind bars).

Azmee says that he didn’t take Ahuja’s conviction into account when casting him in Welcome Back, simply believing that Ahuja fit the part. “I am a filmmaker,” Bazmee told IANS, “and I do not think about anything more than that.”

Are we supposed to believe that there were no other actors who could have played this particular supporting role? While Azmee may not be bothered by Ahuja’s criminal past, many people will be. When we see Ahuja grinding on Shrivastava in a “sexy” dance number, it’s impossible not to reminded of the fact that he was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman.

Acting in films is a privilege, not a right. There was no reason for Azmee to cast Ahuja in this role at the expense of another actor without a violent criminal past. If Azmee can’t appreciate why this is a problem, is he the right person to helm a multi-million dollar film?

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Movie Review: Dil Dhadakne Do (2015)

DilDhadakneDo4 Stars (out of 4)

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One can never completely know what to expect when one walks into a theater, but when you get what you subconsciously wanted, you know the feeling. Dil Dhadakne Do (“Let the Heart Beat“) inspired that feeling for me. Writer-director Zoya Akhtar deftly wrangles a mammoth cast and innumerable subplots into a thoroughly enjoyable comedy about a dysfunctional family.

Many things are going wrong for the wealthy Mehra family. Neelam (Shefali Shah) endures her husband Kamal’s (Anil Kapoor) serial cheating. Their son, Kabir (Ranveer Singh), doesn’t want to inherit the family business, which is going bankrupt. Their daughter, Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra), is being pressured to give up her own successful company to have a child with Manav (Rahul Bose), the husband she doesn’t love.

With all of their close friends and business associates accompanying them on a ten-day Mediterranean cruise in honor of Neelam & Kamal’s 30th wedding anniversary, the Mehras try to pretend that everything is okay. Confined on a ship with dozens of associates with their own grudges and motivations, it’s impossible to keep up the front for long.

Part of the Mehra’s pretending requires them to not talk about uncomfortable things, even with one another. That becomes untenable when Kabir falls in love with Farah (Anushka Sharma), a dancer who works on the ship. She doesn’t fit with his role as the dutiful heir apparent — a role that he doesn’t even want — but he doesn’t know how to live any other way. In just a few days, he can’t envision a future without her.

As serious as the consequences of their relationship are, Kabir’s romance with Farah builds in a sweet, flirtatious way. Kabir’s seduction of Farah in the song “Pehli Baar” is equal parts playful and sexy. It’s an incredibly effective use of a choreographed number to advance the narrative (so much more so than the typical Bollywood romantic fantasy number involving a woman in a ball gown atop a windy sand dune).

Singh is something to behold in Dil Dhadakne Do. He contains his normally boundless energy, unleashing it in the dance numbers but otherwise playing it cool. His chemistry with Sharma is super. Her character is smitten but wary, given her far-less-stable financial footing.

Even better is the relationship between Singh and Chopra, playing adult children who still make faces behind their parents’ backs. So many of their scenes feel authentic: like the way Kabir calls his sister “Dude,” and his claim that the ice cream he steals from her bowl tastes better because it’s flavored with her annoyance. Their immaturity together belies an unbreakable allegiance.

It surely helps that Akhtar’s own brother, Farhan — who has a great supporting role as Ayesha’s former flame — wrote the film’s dialogue. Credit also to Akhtar’s co-writer, Reema Kagti, for a script with so many moving parts but no loose ends. It’s always clear which of the dozen or so aunties are aligned with whom, and which fellow businessmen are looking to gain an advantage.

Akhtar let scenes breathe, taking advantage of the sprawling cruise ship to allow characters to cover lots of physical ground while lost in thought. She has a top-notch cast at her disposal, and she gets the best out of her performers. Some of the best moments consist of knowing glances and wordless exchanges. She even gives the film’s villain, Manav, some funny reaction shots as he fends off his wife’s high-speed, anger-fueled tennis volleys.

The theme of women’s equality (or the lack thereof) runs throughout the film, through Manav’s possessive attitude toward Ayesha to Neelam’s willingness to tolerate Kamal’s infidelity because of her financial dependence on him. The subject is explored in a thoughtful way without seeming preachy, often presented as the younger generation trying to explain their beliefs to an older generation more comfortable with traditional gender roles.

Akhtar sets the right tones throughout Dil Dhadakne Do, interspersing serious ideas and insightful commentary without ever veering too far from the film’s comedic core. It’s funny, thought-provoking, and tear-jerking in all the right places. There’s so much to like in Dil Dhadakne Do.

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Movie Review: Shootout at Wadala (2013)

ShootoutAtWadala3 Stars (out of 4)

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Two men reminisce about the circumstances that led them to abandon their idealistic principles for a more practical, cynical approach to morality. One man is a gangster, the other the police officer who has mortally wounded the former. Such is the opening of Shootout at Wadala, a thrilling action film that raises moral questions with no easy answers.

The film is based the real-life extrajudicial killing of mobster Manya Surve in 1982. It was the first officially documented “encounter killing” by the Mumbai police, setting the stage for decades of unofficially sanctioned police murders of known gangsters. As at-odds as the practice is with the rule of law, the film makes the case that both the police and Surve felt that circumstances left them with no good choices.

As Manya (John Abraham) slowly bleeds to death in the back of a police van, he tells Officer Baaghran (Anil Kapoor) how his promising college career gave way to a life of crime. In 1970, Manya was unfairly jailed for life as an accessory to a murder committed by his step-brother. Manya quickly learns that an ability to instill fear is his best defense in jail.

Eight years later, Manya and his crony, Munir (Tusshar Kapoor), escape prison. Rather than settling for being underlings in someone else’s gang, they recruit members and form their own.

The action periodically returns to the present day so that Baaghran can recall events from his own perspective. Just before Manya’s prison break, Mumbai was run by a ruthless gang of murderers and rapists lead by a man named Mastan. The police watch in frustration as the gang members they arrest bribe their way back onto the streets.

An enterprising newspaperman suggests that the police employ sibling thugs the Haskar brothers — Zubair (Manoj Bajpai) and Dilawar (Sonu Sood) — to clean up Mastan’s gang. It puts the police in the uncomfortable position of choosing which underground syndicate will control the city. When Manya’s gang runs afoul of the Haskar brothers, leading to even more violence, Officer Baaghran and the rest of the police force decide to deal with the problem without waiting for the judicial system’s approval.

Writer-director Sanjay Gupta makes the case that, regardless of the morality of their decisions, both Manya and Baaghran felt forced into their choices by a broken system. The cops are outgunned by the criminals and have no support from judges or politicians. As a result, the public doesn’t trust the police to keep them safe. Locking up innocent bystanders and low-level crooks like Manya and his step-brother temporarily soothes the cops’ sense of futility, even if it creates bigger problems later.

Even while acknowledging the moral conundrum, Gupta manages to make his movie very cool. The background score is atmospheric, and everyone looks awesome in their early-’80s get-ups, especially Bajpai and Sood (as seen on the poster above). Mustaches and aviator sunglasses abound.

Manya’s plotline also includes a complicated love story. His college sweetheart, Vidya (Kangna Ranaut), encourages Manya to rescue his step-brother, who then stabs his attacker while Manya restrains him, to Manya’s shock and horror. Manya resents Vidya’s role in his imprisonment and her seeking his permission to move on with her life; she blames him for robbing them of their future together. When they reunite after Manya’s escape, both the love and resentment remain. Abraham and Ranaut portray this tension expertly.

After an information-packed first hour, the film starts to drag. A couple of song montages are clumped together in the middle of the film, and there are three ridiculous item numbers. (Sunny Leone’s abundant cleavage in the song “Laila” will prompt easily scandalized audience members to run screaming from the theater.)

There’s also a funny training montage early in the film. In an effort to disguise Abraham’s Hulk-ish physique, Manya’s college student avatar is forced to don absurdly oversized shirts. In prison, Manya enlists a mentor to transform him into a fighting machine in the span of a month. Cue the training montage in which Manya is suddenly transformed into a Mr. Universe competitor!

A couple of silly problems aside, Shootout at Wadala distills a complicated true story into a stylish and entertaining action flick that also engages the brain.

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Opening May 3: Shootout at Wadala

One new Hindi movie opens in the Chicago area on May 3, 2013. Sadly, it’s not Bombay Talkies*, but Shootout at Wadala looks like it could be a cool action flick. The trailer features Anil Kapoor using wet laundry to beat up a guy, for Pete’s sake!

Shootout at Wadala opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, 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. 25 min.

Fans of Hindi films may want to check out Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which features Bollywood vets Om Puri and Shabana Azmi in supporting roles. It opens locally on Friday at Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema in Chicago.

Other Indian movies playing locally this weekend include Greeku Veerudu (Telugu) at both the Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge and the Golf Glen 5, which also carries Ethir Neechal (Tamil), Gunde Jaari Gallanthayyinde (Telugu), and Immanuel (Malayalam).

*Director Karan Johar tweeted that Bombay Talkies will release internationally after it premieres at the Cannes Film Festival on May 19.

Movie Review: Race 2 (2013)

Race_2_Poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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There were moments in Race 2 when I really wanted to like the movie, if only my brain would let me. Giving any aspect of Race 2 more than a passing thought renders it utterly silly.

Race 2 picks up not long after the events of the original Race from 2008. (Though not essential, it does help to have seen the original film.) Ranveer Singh (Saif Ali Khan) arrives in Istanbul to cheat casino magnate Vikram Thapar (Rajesh Khattar) out of his properties in revenge for a wrong that Ranveer doesn’t immediately specify. Ranveer then transfers ownership of the casinos to street-fighter-turned-billionaire Armaan Mallik (John Abraham).

If Ranveer’s generosity toward Armaan seems too good to be true, that’s because it is. Ranveer’s really out to get revenge on Armaan for another unspecified wrong, but Armaan knows Ranveer’s out to get him. And Ranveer knows that Armaan knows that Ranveer’s out to get him. And then Ranveer steals the Shroud of Turin.

Race 2 owes a lot to early James Bond movies, what with characters always being one step ahead of each other and wielding crazy gadgets like Armaan’s digital playing cards, whose faces can be manipulated on an iPhone operated by his half-sister, Alina (Deepika Padukone). The characters also fall into the Bond villain trap of talking too much and over-complicating things when a bullet to the head would be a surer and simpler way to kill someone.

Anil Kapoor returns in the sequel as R.D., a goofy, now-retired detective with a soft spot for Ranveer. R.D. has a new, bubble-brained assistant named Cherry (Ameesha Patel) who exists only to provide R.D. opportunities to make double entendres. Jacqueline Fernandez plays Armaan’s girlfriend, Omisha, a woman with a connection to Ranveer’s girlfriend in the original Race, Soniya (Bipasha Basu).

Race 2 is the movie equivalent of an email written in all caps. Everything about it is relentlessly intense. It feels as though approximately forty percent of the movie consists of shots of characters strutting in slow-motion while a fan blows on them and a heavy metal guitar wails in the background. Directing duo Abbas-Mustan want to make sure that the audience is absolutely clear that Race 2 is AWESOME! SEXY! EXCITING! COOL!

Let me illustrate this with a video of the song “Allah Duhai Hai,” which sums up the intensity the movie tries to maintain for all of its two-and-a-half hours:

This excess could be funny if the movie had any sense of humor about itself, but it doesn’t. Ranveer, Armaan, Alina, and Omisha are all deadly serious as they double cross one another, no matter how ridiculous the circumstances.

Padukone and Fernandez are the two strongest performers in the cast, carrying off their roles with sex appeal and an air of danger. Kapoor and Patel are amusing enough, and Khan is competent as usual.

Abraham is the weak link. Despite being cast for his beefcake body, there’s nothing menacing about him. He’s supposed to be the most fearsome man in Turkey, but only if you’re dumb enough to challenge him to a fistfight.

The story moves quickly enough to hold one’s attention, even though everything that happens is silly and unable to be explained by the retroactive continuity Abbas-Mustan were obviously hoping would clear everything up. The Turkish-influenced musical score is the film’s best element. Race 2 is less annoying that the original Race, but that’s hardly a recommendation.

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Opening January 25: Race 2

Of all the movies that I never needed to see, a sequel to 2008’s idiotic Race is near the top of my list. Nevertheless, Race 2 hits the big screen on January 25, 2013. Let’s hope Deepika Padukone and Jacqueline Fernandez can help returnees Saif Ali Khan and Anil Kapoor make this Race a more enjoyable experience than the first one.

Race 2 opens on Friday at five Chicago area theaters: 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.

The only other Hindi film showing locally is Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, which gets a third week at the South Barrington 30.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Naayak (Telugu), Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu (Telugu), Tu Mera 22 Main Tera 22 (Punjabi), and both the Tamil and Telugu versions of Vishwaroopam.