Tag Archives: Anupam Kher

Movie Review: The Big Sick (2017)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Our true natures are hard to hide. They find a way of bubbling to the surface, even during trying times. Such is the lesson learned by Kumail Nanjiani in The Big Sick, a movie about his real-life love story with his wife, Emily Gordon.

Nanjiani plays a version of himself in the movie, which was co-written by Gordon. “Emily” is played onscreen by Zoe Kazan. The film isn’t a strict biopic, as the action takes place in the modern day, and not when the couple met in the mid-2000s.

Kumail and Emily meet at a Chicago comedy club following one of his standup sets. As a busy grad student, she’s only looking for a one-night-stand, but love blossoms anyway. They make an adorable couple who genuinely like one another.

Yet Kumail’s family presents a huge obstacle to their future together, his parents having brought their traditional concepts of marriage with them from Pakistan when they moved to the United States more than a decade earlier. When Kumail’s dad, Azmat (Anupam Kher) refers to a cousin and “that white woman he lives with,” Kumail corrects him: “They’re married.”

Kumail’s mom Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) is so determined to find her son a Pakistani-American bride, she arranges a series of eligible young women to “drop by” when Kumail happens to be home for dinner. Emily’s discovery of the ongoing matchmaking attempts — and Kumail’s refusal to mention their relationship to his parents — crushes her.

Kumail’s unwillingness to be honest with his parents about his future plans doesn’t only weigh on him and hurt Emily. It keeps his parents from being able to accept their son for who he is: a  product of two national cultures.

All the women that Kumail’s mother parades in front of him are victimized by his indecision, as well. He dismisses the idea of arranged marriage, but these women don’t. Meeting them wastes their time and unfairly raises expectations. One woman, Khadija (Vella Lovell) — who herself is quite a catch — calls Kumail out for his self-centeredness. (If there are to be any other movies set in The Big Sick universe, I’d love to see a romantic comedy with Khadija as the main character.)

Kumail’s true nature can’t hide forever, especially not when he’s faced with a crisis. Days after an explosive break-up fight with Emily, she’s hospitalized with a an illness. It falls on Kumail to contact her parents — Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano) — who aren’t pleased to meet the man who broke their daughter’s heart. Kumail’s awkward small talk results in an off-color 9/11 joke, because that’s who he is: a comedian.

The affection Nanjiani and Gordon have for each other and their families is evident in the script, delivered lovingly by a dream cast. Updating their story for cinematic purposes allows director Michael Showalter to set a pace that provides room to breathe but never feels slow. Best of all, The Big Sick, is very, very funny.

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Movie Review: Naam Shabana (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Taapsee Pannu’s supporting character Shabana was the best part of the 2015 spy thriller Baby, so spinning off an origin story for her made perfect sense. However, Naam Shabana is dull, doing neither the character nor the actress who plays her justice.

Too much time is spent on the “origin” part of Shabana’s story. We know that she is being recruited by a spy agency thanks to a number of long-distance shots of her overlaid with the markings of a camera’s viewfinder. It’s the same view through which two Indian spies scope out notorious gangster Mikhail in Vienna, right before Mikhail kills both of them.

The long-shots of Shabana are interspersed with the events of her ordinary college life. She’s on the university judo team, she hangs out with her pals, and she takes an economics class with Jai (Taher Shabbir Mithaiwala), a hunk with a crush on Shabana. She shares the details of her tragic childhood with Jai, adding backstory on top of backstory.

By the time the inciting incident triggers Shabana’s first contact with the head of the spy agency, Ranvir (Manoj Bajpayee), the movie is a quarter of the way over. There’s so much build up just get the ball rolling. Even then, the ball rolls very slowly.

Shabana first has to prove herself to the agency, even though they’ve been following her for years. There’s the obligatory training montage. Right when we’re ready for her to take the field and kick butt, Shabana disappears from the narrative for a full twenty minutes while other agents track down a crook named Tony (Prithviraj Sukumaran), whom they hope can lead them to Mikhail. When Shabana finally rejoins the fray, the action is interrupted by a ridiculous item number featuring Elli Avram.

Naam Shabana has about ninety minutes of material stretched to fill two-and-a-half hours. When one example of something would suffice, we’re shown two, just to pad things out. Although Baby creator Neeraj Pandey didn’t direct Naam Shabana — that credit belongs to Shivam Nair — Pandey did write the screenplay, complete with his tendency toward overly long runtimes.

A further disappointment is the way Shabana’s character is fleshed out from her small role in Baby. She’s mostly robotic, with a brief moment of hysteria that is drowned out by composer Sanjoy Chowdhury’s over-the-top score. (Did anyone else find the film’s closing theme awfully similar to the opening of “Day Tripper” by The Beatles?)

Shabana’s primary relationship is with her supportive but concerned mother (played by Natasha Rastogi). Their relationship provides the perfect opportunity to explore the natural pulling away from parents by young adults as they leave school and start their own lives–only taken to the extreme when the young adult becomes a spy. Instead, Mom simply vanishes from the story once Shabana joins the agency. It’s a huge miss in that it would’ve given a talented actress like Pannu more to do than just look cool in fight scenes (which she definitely does).

Cameos by key Baby cast members like Akshay Kumar, Anupam Kher, and Danny Denzongpa are well-integrated, but they come too late to rescue Naam Shabana from its plodding pace.

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Movie Review: M.S. Dhoni — The Untold Story (2016)

m-s-dhonitheuntoldstory2 Stars (out of 4)

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Watching M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story leaves one encumbered with questions. Chiefly: “Why does this movie exist, other than to cash in on a nation’s love for its cricket captain?” The choice to make a fictionalized biopic about Dhoni’s life is bizarre.

The choice is especially weird because Mahendra Singh Dhoni has an unremarkable origin story. A gifted natural athlete, he chooses cricket over his first love, soccer, simply because his middle school team needs defenders. He excels quickly, gaining renown throughout the region. The community enthusiastically supports the lad, although his dad (Anupam Kher) also wants young Dhoni to study, just in case his sporting career doesn’t pan out.

Dhoni’s mundane childhood eats up the first hour of a three-hour-long movie. Yet writer-director Neeraj Pandey doesn’t allow enough time to explain the more complicated aspects of Dhoni’s career as he grows into a young man, played by Sushant Singh Rajput.

Audience members who don’t already understand the interconnections between India’s various cricket leagues — youth, national, semi-pro, etc. — are at a loss. Without such understanding, there are no meaningful stakes. When Dhoni misses out on a chance to play for the national under-19 team but gets called to play for another trophy instead, the significance and impact on his career trajectory aren’t explained.

The most compelling part of Dhoni’s journey comes during a multiple-year stint playing cricket for a team owned by a railroad that also requires its players to work for the railroad during the day. The company-provided accommodations sleep four people in a one-bedroom apartment. Is this how professional cricket in India works? Couldn’t he find better working conditions elsewhere? Why does a railroad even own a cricket team?

Pandey’s story doesn’t answer those questions, nor does it delve into Dhoni’s feelings during this lull. The closest we get to introspection is Dhoni telling his boss that he’s depressed, and the boss responding with a “life is like cricket” speech.

The real Dhoni is a charismatic guy, yet we see none of that spark in the fictional version. Rajput’s delivery is flat, his demeanor serious. Pandey’s Dhoni is sanitized to avoid any chance of offending the man himself (or his rabid fans).

Instead of casting a third actor to play Dhoni as a teenager, Pandey uses computer effects to shrink Rajput, similar to the technique used on Chris Evans in the first Captain America movie before scrawny Steve Rogers mutates into a superhero. The effects in M.S. Dhoni are not up to the same standard as those used in the Marvel movie, so Rajput just looks like a creepy, miniature version of his 30-year-old self. The brief sequence isn’t essential to the narrative, so it should’ve been left out.

M.S. Dhoni is a sports movie devoid of inspiration. A documentary would’ve been more compelling since it would’ve allowed us to hear from Dhoni in his own words, offering insight into the athlete’s persona that Pandey refuses to examine. There is no “untold story,” as promised by the subtitle.

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Movie Review: Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015)

PremRatanDhanPayo2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Devoted Salman Khan fans have expectations of movies starring their Bhai, and surely Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (“Received a Treasure Called Love“) fulfills their expectations. For moviegoers who aren’t hardcore Salman fans, the film seems too familiar.

Don’t get me wrong, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (PRDP, henceforth) is a fine enough film. It lives up to its billing as a spectacle, with colorful dance numbers and magnificent sets. The story is full of teary-eyed reunions and blossoming romance.

But this all feels like something we’ve seen before, and that’s coming from someone who hasn’t seen any of Salman’s three previous collaborations with writer-director Sooraj Barjatya. Salman plays the same character he always plays these days, no matter if he’s starring in an action flick or a romantic comedy.

Prem (Salman) is a supremely righteous devotee who narrates religious plays. His best friend, Kanhaiya (Deepak Dobriyal), is an actor who dresses in drag to perform the lead female roles in the plays. At Prem’s insistence, they donate all of the money they earn to a charity run by the beautiful Princess Maithili (Sonam Kapoor).

On their way to meet the princess in person for the first time, the guys are intercepted by representatives of the princess’s betrothed, Prince Vijay (also Salman). Prem looks exactly like the prince, who is presently comatose following an attempt on his life by his scheming younger brother, Ajay (Neil Nitin Mukesh). Vijay’s right-hand man, Deewan Saheb (Anupam Kher), convinces Prem to temporarily pose as the prince, giving Prem the perfect opportunity to spend time with the princess.

While posing as the prince, innocent Prem comes to learn that Vijay is kind of a jerk. Complicated family dynamics — Vijay is his father’s firstborn, Ajay was born to their father’s second wife — have strained the relationship between the brothers. Their younger half-sisters — Chandrika (Swara Bhaskar) and Radhika (Aashika Bhatia) — by their father’s mistress have turned their back on the family completely.

Worst of all, from Prem’s perspective, is that Vijay is mean to Maithili. The royal couple argues all the time, and Vijay once tried to get fresh with Maithili (a big no-no to Prem, who doesn’t even approve of kissing before marriage).

Prem takes his opportunity as Vijay to try to heal the relationship between the siblings and to make things right with Maithili. If he can’t have her himself, at least he can lay the foundation for a happy marriage to Vijay. Prem asks her to list all of Vijay’s faults, which she does in song form. Unfortunately for international fans, the song lyrics in PRDP are not subtitled.

As one would expect, Salman is almost always the focus of attention. This myopia means that the villainous machinations against Vijay take place primarily offscreen. The revelation of who was plotting what and why is abrupt and confusing.

If you’re going to cast Neil Nitin Mukesh as the villain, use him. Don’t give him fewer than thirty minutes of total screentime, especially in a movie that’s nearly three hours long.

Same goes for Deepak Dobriyal, whose character is sidelined once they get to Vijay’s palace. Dobriyal is one of those actors who has my attention whether he’s the focus of the scene or not. Again, if you’re going to cast him, use him.

Prem describes his relationship with Kanhaiya thusly: “You’re my compulsory companion.” That’s a good description of any character who plays sidekick to Salman. Salman’s characters are often written as being unconcerned by money, which means that it falls to his “compulsory companions” to pay for everything Salman’s characters buy. Since Salman’s characters are usually supposed to embody moral purity, why are they always mooches?

PRDP delivers a bunch of songs, many of which are lavish spectacles. Sonam is pretty, and Salman is heroic. Things proceed pretty much as expected. A happy ending is all but guaranteed.

I don’t know that that’s enough to make PRDP a must-see movie for its own sake. For a holiday weekend outing with family and friends, it’s reasonably entertaining (although the lengthy runtime is a challenge, especially if your theater doesn’t have an intermission break). But is it unique? Is it memorable? I’m not so sure.

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Movie Review: Dirty Politics (2015)

DirtyPoliticsZero Stars (out of 4)

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About three-quarters of the way through the movie, my hands grip my head as if trying to contain an imminent explosion. I scream, “What is happening?!” and tear at my hair. That sums up the entire experience of watching Dirty Politics.

The movie’s problems are immediately apparent, most obviously so in the way the film looks. The camera never stops moving. It doesn’t matter if the movement obscures the faces of the characters who are speaking: camera movement is paramount! The action can be dramatic, such as a crane shot from directly overhead that swoops down to ground level then back up again. It can be more subtle, such as persistent zoom-ins on actors’ faces.

In one shot, the camera rapidly zooms in to closeup and pulls back twice in the span of about three seconds. A judge says, “Court is adjourned,” and the camera pans from the judge up to a clock above his chair, even though there’s no significance to the clock or the time of day. Then the same shot is repeated a few minutes later, again for no reason.

I don’t blame cinematographer Panveer Selvam for this travesty of technique as much as I do director K.C. Bokadia, who also wrote this farce. Bokadia’s vision for Dirty Politics is obviously shaped by a fundamental misunderstanding of how to make movies.

The story opens in the middle of a search for missing dancer-turned-politician Anokhi Devi (Mallika Sherawat). We know this because the characters say the name “Anokhi Devi” about a hundred times in the first ten minutes. Characters are introduced in quick succession without a sense of where they fit into the larger story, and an absence of backstory is keenly felt.

Anokhi Devi’s appearance via flashback more than twenty minutes into the runtime doesn’t really clear things up. Her dancing grabs the attention of political party leader Dinanath (Om Puri). In exchange for sex, Dinanath promises to make her the party’s candidate in the next election. Naturally.

There’s a hullabaloo because a gangster named Mukhtiar (Jackie Shroff) wants the same candidacy. He gets a great introduction from Anokhi Devi’s secretary, Banaram (Rajpal Yadav), who announces his arrival at her house: “He’s Mukhtiar. A well-known goon of our area.”

Dirty Politics is full of hilariously ponderous lines. When Anupam Kher’s character Mishra — who is a CBI officer and a lawyer who’s sixty days away from retirement(!) — presents his case in court, the defense attorney responds: “He is very cleverly trying to make his points strong.” Eloquently said, man who doesn’t realize that he’s describing the very nature of his own job.

One can only imagine how Bokadia managed to rope so many talented actors into this doomed project. In addition to vets like Kher, Shroff, and Puri, Naseeruddin Shah his a role as an activist who steals the movie’s absurd closing scene. Govind Namdeo’s overacting is the height of comedy. Atul Kulkarni and Sushant Singh remind us why they are rarely called upon to play action heroes.

Shah’s character has a daughter whose sole narrative purpose is to be raped in order to blackmail him. There are only three women in the whole movie, and all of them are brutalized: two in order to intimidate their relatives, and Anokhi Devi for aspiring to a more meaningful purpose than that of Dinanath’s mistress.

Puri and Sherawat deserve some modest praise for fumbling through the most awkward sex scenes in cinema history. If Bokadia was counting on sex to sell Dirty Politics, he obviously didn’t watch any footage of his movie as it was being shot.

One can only fathom the sheer terror racing through the mind of editor Prakash Jha as he received each batch of footage. “How am I supposed to make a movie from this?” he asks himself. “There’s nothing to work with!” Hence how we end up with the exact same reaction shot of Jackie Shroff staring at a desk — his jaw muscles twitching — four times in succession.

Bonus: Everything you need to know about the lack of craft that went into making Dirty Politics, in just twelve seconds!

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Movie Review: The Shaukeens (2014)

The_Shaukeens_23.5 Stars (out of 4)

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The Shaukeens (“The Romantics“) is more than just a cute story about a trio of sexagenarians who refuse to act their age. With its unique story structure and top-notch performances, it’s one of the best Bollywood comedies in recent memory.

Akshay Kumar plays a fictionalized version of himself in the film, which opens with a Kumar dance number. His narration explains that he has an integral part in the story of three lonely Delhi men who get into trouble while looking for love in Mauritius.

The three men are Lali (Anupam Kher), a shoe store owner whose religious wife won’t put out; KD (Annu Kapoor), a lecherous bachelor; and Pinky (Piyush Mishra), a widowed spice merchant too shy to talk to the pretty massage parlor owner across the street.

After being rejected by some local prostitutes for being too old, the guys try their luck while on vacation in Mauritius. They rent a house from a beautiful young woman, Ahana (Lisa Haydon), who returns early from her own trip after she breaks up with her boyfriend.

Ahana is gorgeous, but she’s a kook. She’s an aspiring fashion designer who makes hats from used toothpicks and decorates a pair of sunglasses with painted toenail clippings. Her emotions change minute-to-minute, driven by the numbers of likes she’s getting on Facebook. Haydon is just as funny as Ahana as she was in her foul-mouthed performance in Queen.

When Ahana discovers that Akshay is in town filming a movie, she asks rhetorically, “Who do I have to sleep with to meet Akshay Kumar?” The guys take this offer seriously and start trying to unite Ahana with her celebrity crush in order to cash in on the reward.

The version of Akshay Kumar in the movie is an alcoholic jerk who’s desperate to be taken seriously as an actor. While the guys try to weasel their way into his company for Ahana’s sake, Akshay tries to impress an eccentric, award-winning director (played by Subrat Dutta), who has Akshay practice his lines with a chihuahua. For reference, Akshay has a card with photos of himself displaying different emotions. It’s hilarious, and I want one.

Every few years, Kumar takes a break from wacky slapstick roles and loud action flicks to do a movie that reminds you that he can really act. This is one of those movies. He plays everything totally straight, and he’s so funny as a result.

Kher, Kapoor, and Mishra share a great camaraderie. Their characters are distinct and balance each other out, but they’re all equally over their heads in their romantic pursuit of Ahana. KD is sleazy in an endearing kind of way. As the least educated of the group, Pinky gets the most jokes made at his expense, but he also gets the funniest bits. Who forgets to pack a swimsuit for a beach vacation?!

The story includes some weird breaks in form throughout, including a dream sequence, a hallucinatory dance number, and a single instance of fourth-wall-breaking dialogue delivery. Director Abhishek Sharma and writer Tigmanshu Dhulia go far enough to keep audience members on their toes without pushing them away.

The Shaukeens released with relatively little fanfare, which is a shame. This is a movie sure to amuse anyone who appreciates a well-told story and who is sick of formulaic movies.

[Update: A comment below by Dr. Lunch reminded me of a point I wanted to make. The Shaukeens will feel accessible to international audience members because it’s plotted a lot like a 1980s Hollywood comedy. Also working in its favor is that it’s light on references to other Bollywood movies, a common source of jokes in Hindi films that can create a barrier for those without a depth of Bollywood knowledge.]

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Movie Review: Super Nani (2014)

Super_Nani_Revised_Poster1 Star (out of 4)

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With its old-fashioned morality and hokey melodrama, Super Nani (“Super Grandma“) is targeted at female senior citizens. Yet, were I a woman in my golden years, I’d feel pretty damned insulted that the only roles the men who wrote and directed this film can imagine for me are that of doting mother, housekeeper, and sex object.

Rekha plays the titular Super Nani, Bharti Bhatia, whose family treats her like dirt. Her kids are sick of her meddling in their lives, and her husband, R. K. (Randhir Kapoor), is just plain mean to her. Bharti bears their insults while privately judging their life choices and accrediting their success to her prayers.

When her daughter, Gargi, announces her plan to enter a “live-in relationship,” the music swells and the camera zooms to close-up of Bharti’s face as dramatically as if Gargi had said she’d killed someone.

Bharti’s grandson, Mann (Sharman Joshi), arrives from America and can’t stand to see his grandmother go unappreciated. Against Bharti’s will — and with the help of a dreadlocked Anupam Kher — Mann goads her into becoming a model.

Let’s examine the problems here. Bharti’s independence is totally forced from outside, not generated from within. Apart from a few prayers asking God why her family isn’t nicer to her, Bharti is unwilling to demand respect for herself.

(Mann even calls shenanigans on Bharti’s piety, telling her that God doesn’t make miracles, people do. Take that, devout old ladies!)

When Mann generates his plan to help Nani get her groove back, he doesn’t draw on any of her life experience. He says, in essence, “You used to be hot. Let’s make you a model!” Cue some creepy exchanges in which Mann appears to have the hots for his grandmother.

Why not have Bharti succeed at something unrelated to her appearance? R.K. always shouts that her place is in the kitchen, so why not have her become a famous chef?

After Bharti becomes a successful model, she’s uses her Nani superpower — guilt — to shame her kids into apologizing to her. But her guilt trip isn’t strong enough on its own to convince them, and it’s totally ineffective on R.K. Again, Mann has to rescue his grandmother by shaming the rest of the family into respecting her.

So much of the movie rides Mann’s shoulders, and Joshi is just awful in the role. He shouts and overacts, heedless of tone. The only actor who doesn’t have cause to be embarrassed by her performance in this movie is Rekha. She’s tragic in a reserved way, and quite funny when she gets the chance to be. The haunted-house-old-lady makeup she sports before her model makeover is a joke.

Being grateful for the kindness of a mother (or a father) is obviously good, but Super Nani seems like a backhanded tribute.

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