Tag Archives: Anubhav Sinha

Movie Review: Article 15 (2019)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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A big city bureaucrat appointed to oversee a small town police department gets tangled in a web of politics, caste, and greed in the dynamite thriller Article 15.

Ayan (Ayushmann Khurrana) is the ideal audience avatar. He rolls into the town of Laalgaon, telling his girlfriend Aditi (Isha Talwar) over the phone that the place looks like something out of an ’80s movie. He notes the freshness of the country air. It’s a world apart from the large cities — domestic and international — that Ayan is used to.

Besides the predictable culture shock, there’s something strange about the town. Despite what Ayan said about the fresh air, there’s a pall over the town that bathes it and its inhabitants in sickly yellow or gray tones (per cinematographer Ewan Mulligan). Ayan meets a former classmate, Satyendra (Aakash Dabhade), who is evasive and twitchy instead of the cheerful friend Ayan remembers. The rest of the cops — led by Ayan’s second-in-command, Bhramadatt (Manoj Pahwa) — are eager to close the case of two Dalit (lower caste) girls who were reported missing days earlier and found murdered. Only Ayan seems interested in the whereabouts of a third girl reported missing with them.

At first, Ayan is too smug to see what’s really going on, buoyed his sense of worldliness and the power accorded his position. He accepts Bhramadatt’s assessment of the murders as “honor killings” committed by the girls’ fathers, and he’s dismissive of Gaura (Sayani Gupta), the sister of the third missing girl. Only when he discovers that Bhramadatt is stalling him on the results of the postmortem and when his own men are attacked by Dalit activists does Ayan realize that he’s missing crucial pieces of the puzzle.

Laalgaon is governed by a rigid, complicated interpretation of the caste system. There are layers within layers, so that everyone ranks slightly above or below someone else. It reinforces social systems governing occupations, food handling, even whose shadow is allowed to fall on whom.

Money perpetuates the caste system in town, even though using it to discriminate against certain groups is officially prohibited by Article 15 of the Indian Constitution. By marginalizing the lowest castes, the people at the top ensure a steady supply of what is essentially slave labor. American audiences will notice similarities to how the white power structure here replaced lost laborers following the abolition of slavery, as explained in Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th. The activist group in the Article 15 is in part a sort of militant labor union, and when they strike, the film shows in disgusting detail how dependent the town is on the workers who do the “dirty” jobs no one else wants.

Some people in Laalgaon have transcended certain aspects of their caste, such as Jatav (Kumud Mishra), who became a police officer with Bhramadatt’s help, even though his father was a school janitor. The status elevation turned Jatav into one of the most vocal critics of those below him, and his fear of falling back down the ladder keeps him subservient to those above. His eventual realization that turning his back on his people only made things worse is hard-earned and painful.

The scene that best captures the all-encompassing nature of Laalgaon’s power dynamics involves Bhramadatt and Jatav. As both men sob, Bhramadatt shakes Jatav, accusing him of ingratitude and endangering their very lives by aiding Ayan’s investigation. (More than one character states that the worst that will happen to Ayan is he’ll be transferred, while the locals who help him will be killed.) Though Bhramdatt ranks higher socially than Jatav, both serve the rich and politically connected at the top. Seeing these gray-haired men so terrified drives home how precarious their lives have always been in a place governed by something other than the rule of law.

Pahwa and Mishra are the standouts in a film full of amazing performances. Gupta is resolute in the face of a system designed not to help people like her. Same for Ronjini Chakraborty as the junior Medical Examiner who knows the truth of what happened to the murdered girls. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub’s portrayal of the Dalit revolutionary leader is terrific.

Aditi tells Ayan at one point that she doesn’t want him to be a hero, she wants him to be the man who doesn’t wait for the hero to arrive. That sentiment governs the way Khurrana plays Ayan. There’s a problem to solve, and Ayan does it without a lot of flash, using the skills he has at his disposal. Khurrana’s understated performance suits the movie perfectly.

Article 15 has a few moments that feel a little preachy, but they’re born of director Anubhav Sinha’s and writer Gaurav Solanki’s passion for the film’s message of justice. Their movie is thoughtful and relevant, with jaw-dropping surprises. Article 15 is a must-see.


Movie Review: Ra.One (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

After heavily promoting the most expensive movie in Indian cinematic history, the makers of Ra.One created high expectations for their film. Even if it’s not the instant classic it aspired to be, Ra.One is exactly what it should be: a fun action flick with some great special effects.

The film stars Shahrukh Khan as a nerdy programmer named Shekhar. He lives in London with his wife, Sonia (Kareena Kapoor), and their son, Prateek (Armaan Verma), a preteen fascinated by the dark side. In order to improve his image in his son’s eyes, goody-two-shoes Shekhar creates a video game in which the villain is all but indestructible.

The virtual villain, Ra.One — whose name is a play on Raavan, the demon in the Ramayana — is programmed with an artificial intelligence that takes umbrage at being beaten by young Prateek, who plays under the gamer handle “Lucifer.” Ra.One accesses a prototype technology created by Shekhar’s company that imbues holograms with physical substance, allowing Ra.One to materialize in the real world and hunt Lucifer.

When Prateek figures out what has happened, he realizes his only hope is to make the game’s hero, G.One (a play on the Hindi word for “life”), corporeal as well. G.One looks exactly like Shekhar, only buffer and cooler. Will G.One be able to protect Prateek from the world’s ultimate villain?

$40 million — a monstrous budget for a Hindi movie — pales next to the hundreds of millions spent on Hollywood action films. But director Anubhav Sinha uses his resources wisely and gets great results. A chase through the streets of London is heart-stopping, as is a thrilling showdown between Ra.One and G.One in a junkyard.

It’s only when Sinha relies too much on computer-generated images do the limits of the budget show. G.One fights a gang of thugs with a CGI soccer ball that looks phony and insubstantial.

3-D is deployed in a satisfying way throughout, adding depth to scenes rather than projecting images out into the audience. It enhances the movie’s pleasing aesthetic. An early dream sequence and the final battle are stunning, with a high-contrast style reminiscent of director Tarsem Singh.

The film’s dance numbers are well-executed and full of energy. Khan and Kapoor genuinely look like they enjoy dancing together; they have a nice rapport off the dance floor as well. Shahana Goswami and Tom Wu round out the likeable cast of heroes as Shekhar’s coworkers, Jenny and Akashi.

At times, the movie’s ultimate message — that one should always, as my mom says, “do good and avoid evil” — gets muddled. Prateek isn’t just a moody preteen; he’s also somewhat of a bully, making jokes at the expense of an overweight classmate. I’m not sure he’d be so quick join the good guys if his life weren’t in danger, and Verma’s bland performance didn’t convince me otherwise.

Prateek’s not the only one with a nasty streak. Jokes that depict gays as uncontrollable sex addicts and make fun of Akashi for being Chinese (everyone calls him “Jackie Chan”) are, if not mean-spirited, then ill-considered.

Based on the number of prints distributed internationally and the inclusion of American rapper Akon on the soundtrack, the makers of Ra.One clearly hoped to expand the reach of the film beyond India. By that metric, were they successfully in creating a globally appealing action film?

Almost. Ra.One is undoubtedly entertaining, visually appealing and easy to understand for viewers who must rely on subtitles. But, at 155 minutes, it’s just too long. It’s hard to sustain an appropriate level of tension for that much time, and Ra.One falters during a dull 25-minute-long section in the middle in which nothing much happens besides the newly corporeal G.One clumsily navigating his surroundings.

Eliminate that 25-minute interlude and some of the insider Indian movie references, and Ra.One becomes a taut, 2-hour thriller with universal appeal. In that format, there’s no reason why it — or future Indian event films — can’t compete with East Asian martial arts flicks for fans of action films made outside of Hollywood.