Tag Archives: Anurag Kashyap

Movie Review: Naam Hai Akira (2016)

NaamHaiAkira0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Naam Hai Akira is an endurance test, a fight to stay in one’s seat and finish the film instead of leaving the theater to do anything else. The movie is a disorganized, demoralizing disaster.

Naam Hai Akira (known as just Akira in India) is a remake of a Tamil film by Santha Kumar called Mouna Guru, a hit remade in two other languages besides Hindi. I haven’t seen the original, so I have no idea if it’s as messy as its Hindi remake. However, Naam Hai Akira is directed and co-written by A. R. Murugadoss, the man who screwed up Ghajini, his remake of the great film Memento. I’m inclined to place the blame on Murugadoss.

Murugadoss’s film swaps the gender of the film’s protagonist, a move that would seem progressive, if, again, the director didn’t screw it up so royally. Akira (Sonakshi Sinha) is first introduced as an adult, kneeling in the woods with a gun pointed at her head. Then the movie flashes back either three years or fourteen years — the movie contradicts itself — to Akira as a pre-teen in Jodhpur.

Little Akira witnesses a pair of young men throw acid in the face of a teen girl who rejects their advances. Akira reports them to the police, who let the men go because of their families’ political connections. After the men cut Akira’s face in retaliation, her father (played by Atul Kulkarni, who needs to play dad roles more often) enrolls her in karate class so she can learn to defend herself.

Ah yes, self-defense classes — the go-to solution to the problem of violence against women by those who don’t want to admit that men are the problem. It goes hand-in-hand with the notions that women can prevent rape by not wearing mini-skirts or by invoking God’s name when begging not to be raped.

Akira has to walk by an all-girls dance class to get to her all-boys-but-one karate class, just in case we’ve forgotten what society expects of girls. When she and her dad spot the same men harassing other women, Dad encourages her to beat the crap out of them. She uses her karate superpowers to do so, in the process splashing the bottle of acid intended for her onto the face of the main perpetrator.

Akira’s punishment for daring to confront sexual harassment is to spend the rest of her childhood in juvenile detention. The lesson of the movie is that violence is the province of men, and women who choose to use it will be punished and ultimately forced to martyr themselves to maintain a social order in which they are eternal, powerless victims.

There’s a lot of boring stuff that has to happen before we get to that completely depressing conclusion. As an adult, Akira is forced by her brother Ajay to move to Mumbai to live with him, his nasty wife, and their mother. This isn’t really clear, but it seems as though Ajay and Mom think Akira was wrong to stand up to those men years ago, and that her use of violence is a sign of some kind of mental defect. That’s the only way to explain what eventually happens, but again, it’s not clear at all.

This despite the fact that Akira is completely timid. She hardly speaks, and she consents to anything anyone asks of her. She only retaliates if someone physically attacks her first.

When the plot catches up to that opening scene in the woods, it takes a series of unbelievable mishaps before Akira even thinks about trying to escape. She just sits there — gun pointed at her forehead — while her would-be killers discuss the phone call they just got from their boss. They want to confirm the plan with him, but their cell phone died, so they leave one guy behind to guard Akira and another prisoner. They call their boss from a payphone, but then their van breaks down. Then they ride a bike back to the guy with the gun.

The whole freaking time, Akira just sits there, waiting to die. Only when the other prisoner makes a break for it does she try to get away. Never has an action hero possessed so little initiative or sense of self-preservation.

That scene is par for the course. Everything is spelled out in excruciating detail. In another sequence, one character says (in essence), “We need to file a missing persons report and name Inspector Manik in it.” Cut to a shot in the police station with Manik and his crooked coworkers, one of whom says, “They filed a missing persons report and named Manik in it.”

There’s a whole other storyline about a quartet of corrupt cops, led by a detective played by Anurag Kashyap, who’s one of the only good things about this movie (Akira’s wardrobe is the other). So much time is spent on the cops that Akira’s barely in half of the movie. When she gets mixed up in their crime by mistake, it’s because of moronic reasons that depend on everyone being as stupid as possible.

It’s hard to find the cops all that menacing anyway, since they are terrible at covering up their crime, foolishly involving dozens of people instead of just killing those who know and dumping the bodies in another jurisdiction. This is Corrupt Movie Cops 101.

Nothing happens in Naam Hai Akira unless by happenstance or plain idiocy, and all of it takes frigging forever. Sinha could be a fine action star, but she needs a better movie than this. Good grief, it’s so awful.

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Streaming Video News: June 22, 2015

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with one new addition to the catalog. Director Anurag Kashyap’s Ugly is now available for streaming. The movie didn’t open theatrically in the US, so this is a great opportunity for American fans of Hindi films.

For everything else new on Netflix, check out Instant Watcher.

Movie Review: Bombay Velvet (2015)

BombayVelvet2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Bombay Velvet is a great-looking film held together by an unstable linchpin: its charismatic but problematic lead character, Johnny Balraj. Ranbir Kapoor is mesmerizing in the role, but Johnny can’t shoulder the story’s weight.

Johnny and his best friend, Chimman (Satyadeep Misra), grew up picking pockets on the streets of Bombay (now Mumbai) during the years after partition. As young men, Johnny puts his penchant for fighting to use, earning extra cash as a brawler. Imported Hollywood gangster movies show him a more glamorous, exciting life than the one he has. Johnny tells his friend, “I’m going to be a big shot, Chimman.”

The guys start out working as the muscle for a mobster named Khambatta (Karan Johar), who puts Johnny in charge of Bombay Velvet, a nightclub that provides cover for Khambatta’s illicit deals. Johnny falls for the club’s star jazz singer, Rosie (Anushka Sharma), a woman who’s been used by men all her life.

Khambatta’s illegal operations are set within Bombay’s evolution into a powerful global business center, but there isn’t enough historical context provided for international audiences to really get a handle on what’s going on. There are subplots about communists versus capitalists and union protests that aren’t fully explored.

I didn’t realize for about an hour that Khambatta ran a newspaper in addition to being a gangster, and that his chief rival, Jimmy Mistry (Manish Chaudhary) — who plants Rosie in the club as his mole — is another newspaper man. Did newspaper owners really have such powerful connections back in the day in Bombay? Is the story even realistic? It’s hard to tell from the context provided.

The nightclub itself is gorgeous, the kind of fancy supper club that now only exists in movies. The music is catchy and evocative. The gowns that Rosie performs in are works of art. Overall, this is a really beautiful film, never more so than during violent shootouts.

Sharma is great as a woman who is damaged but not broken. Kapoor is a coiled spring, his lithe frame suiting a character who has survived thanks to his scrappiness.

As exciting a character as Johnny is, he doesn’t quite work as a believable lead in this kind of film. He’s too impulsive to entrust with the power he’s given as the face of Bombay Velvet, a face sporting perpetual bruises at odds with the fancy clothes Johnny wears.

Much is made of the fact that Johnny isn’t book smart — the subtitled translation of Johnny’s slang into appropriate English colloquialisms is outstanding — but he’s not street smart either. He doesn’t understand the game the big shots are playing, so it’s impossible for him to work the situation to his advantage. When the elites don’t capitulate to his bullying, one wants to ask him, “Did you really think that would work?”

In other gangster movies, Johnny would be the dimwitted sidekick whose short temper gets him killed. It’s as if Joe Pesci’s Tommy in Goodfellas switched roles with Ray Liotta’s Henry.

The audience’s avatar in Bombay Velvet is Chimman, who looks at his friend with a combination of devotion, concern, and pity. (Misra’s restrained performance steals the show.) He knows how good they have it compared to their old life, and he knows where they are in the pecking order.

One suspects that, if Chimman were the alpha in the friendship, maybe he and Johnny could eventually become big shots. But he’s not, and they are both doomed by Johnny’s groundless ambition.

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Gangs of Wasseypur Opens in U.S. Theaters

GoWDirector Anurag Kashyap’s five-hour crime epic Gangs of Wasseypur made a splash on the festival circuit in 2012. It released theatrically in India but didn’t make the journey overseas. Finally, on Friday, January 16, 2015, select AMC theaters across the United States will carry Gangs of Wasseypur Part I. The following Friday, January 23, those same theaters will carry Gangs of Wasseypur Part II. Both parts of the film will run for one week only.

Through a stroke of luck, my local public library ordered Gangs of Wasseypur on DVD back in 2012, so I was able to review it back then. It’s a fascinating movie, unlike any other Hindi film I’ve seen. However, my viewing experience suffered by having to wait several weeks in between watching Part I and Part II.

The one-week break between the theatrical releases of Part I and Part II sounds about right in order to maintain the film’s momentum. Fans of Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Manoj Bajpayee will want to make a point of seeing this on the big screen.

Follow this link to see if Gangs of Wasseypur is playing in a theater near you.

Movie Review: Bhoothnath Returns (2014)

BhoothnathReturns2 Stars (out of 4)

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Bhoothnath Returns is only intermittently entertaining, because writer-director Nitesh Tiwari fails to take his target audience into account. Why does a film geared toward children have a runtime of 155 minutes? And why are so many of those minutes devoted to discussions of how to file paperwork?

2008’s Bhoothnath (“Lord of Ghosts“) starred Amitabh Bachchan as the titular not-so-scary ghost. The sequel finds Bhoothnath the target of jokes up in Ghost World — which looks a lot like Hogwarts — due to his inability to scare children.

Bhoothnath returns to earth to redeem his reputation, only to run into another fearless kid who can see him, even though no one else can. Savvy street urchin Akhrot (Parth Bhalerao) teams up with Bhoothnath, solving the problems of other earth-bound ghosts and earning money. As their friendship grows, Bhoothnath realizes that Akhrot’s future will never be secure while murderous thugs like Bhau (Boman Irani) run the government. Thus is born India’s first campaign to elect a ghost to political office.

For a while, the discussions of the bureaucratic technicalities surrounded Bhoothnath’s run are entertaining, aided by Sanjay Mishra’s funny performance as Bhoothnath’s lawyer. As the second half of the film rolls on, the story gets bogged down in heavy-handed patriotic speeches and lengthy montages depicting differing versions of what will happen on election day.

There is a surfeit of montages in Bhoothnath Returns. Instead of briefly panning the camera across the festively decorated grounds before Bhoothnath’s big rally, Tiwari devotes in excess of a minute to a sped-up version of the decoration of the rally grounds. When the movie is already so long, why devote more than a few seconds to something no one cares about?

The movie’s strangest sequence also takes place in montage form. As Bhoothnath comes to grips with depth of India’s problems, the song “Sahib” plays accompanied by a montage of photos of desperate, starving people. It’s very grim for a movie geared toward kids, especially since the impoverished state of Akhrot’s own neighborhood is already established.

It’s also hypocritical. Earlier in the film, Akhrot derisively mentions making money from foreign tourists looking to experience Slumdog Millionaire in person. How is turning images of peoples’ suffering into a music video in a major motion picture any different?

The film’s tedious heavy-handedness rankles because it detracts from an otherwise cute movie. Irani’s villain is the right mix of sinister and clownish. Bachchan is both grudging and caring as he puts up with his willful young friend.

Bhalerao does a terrific job as Akhrot, cracking wise but never coming off as a jerk. The young actor is great in a touching scene in which Akhrot tries to conceal the risks of their venture from Bhoothnath.

All the fine performances can’t keep Bhoothnath Returns from turning into a glorified public service announcement. Encouraging people to vote is a worthy goal, but it has to be done within the context of the story.

The pro-voting message comes across clearly through the story of Bhoothnath Returns, but Tiwari doesn’t leave well-enough alone, tacking on at least twenty minutes of condescending speeches. Jarring celebrity cameos by Ranbir Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap, and Shahrukh Khan — whose presence is the only one that makes a lick of narrative sense — just add to the feeling that Bhoothnath Returns is as much an overly long PSA as it is a movie.

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Movie Review: Bombay Talkies (2013)

Bombay_Talkies3 Stars (out of 4)

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Bombay Talkies is a collection of short films by four young directors, created to honor one hundred years of cinema in India. The results are mixed, but the two best shorts make the whole film worth watching.

Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh by Karan Johar

Johar’s short — a story of a gay tabloid intern (played by Saqib Saleem) who upends the life of his married boss (Rani Mukerji) — is the least successful of the four films. It doesn’t feel like a complete story, but rather a subplot of a full-length feature. The events depicted in the short would’ve made a nice catalyst for the further development of Mukerji’s character or an interesting interlude in a longer movie about Saleem’s character, struggling to find his way both as a young adult and as a gay man who’s been cast out from his family. The short film as it stands doesn’t work.

Star by Dibakar Banerjee

Banerjee’s effort is much more polished and showcases the incredible talent of Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Siddiqui plays Puradev, a failed actor who hops from job to job while waiting for his big break. Banerjee’s narrative includes some charming whimsical elements, such as Puradev’s pet emu and the disappointed ghost of his acting mentor. Siddiqui shines in a great scene in which Puradev pantomimes the events of his day for his daughter’s amusement.

Sheila Ki Jawaani by Zoya Akhtar

Akhtar’s short is the best of the bunch. Her story concerns a little boy named Vicky (Naman Jain) who wants to be a dancer, much to the chagrin of his macho father (played by Ranvir Shorey). Vicky’s idol, actress Katrina Kaif, appears to him in a vision, encouraging him to follow his dreams covertly. He gets further support from his understanding older sister, Kavya (Khushi Dubey).

Like Banerjee’s short, Akhtar’s movie includes some fantastical elements, celebrating the way in which movies allow us to envision a more magical version of reality. Hindi movies rarely feature child protagonists, so it’s refreshing to see a story that focuses on the concerns of children. Jain and Dubey are terrific.

Kaif’s advice to Vicky — be true to your dreams, but don’t broadcast them — seems like a bit of a bummer until her audience is taken into consideration. Vicky — like all children — has so little control over his present circumstances that there’s wisdom in trying to make his day-to-day life easier until he’s an adult and can do what he wants. It’s also a warning to parents to remember that children need respect as individuals as much as they need guidance and protection.

Murabba by Anurag Kashyap

After Akhtar’s delightful short, Kashyap’s film is a downer. His story follows a rural guy named Vijay (Vineet Kumar Singh) on his quest to meet Amitabh Bachchan and get him to take a bite of a piece of preserved fruit. Vijay’s father believes he’ll be cured of his ailments if he eats the rest of the fruit blessed by Bachchan’s bite, and he sends his son on a fool’s errand. Given the security retinues of modern stars, Vijay’s task is practically impossible to complete, and much suffering is inflicted upon the dutiful son in the process. It’s not fun to watch, and the payoff isn’t worth it.

“Apna Bombay Talkies”

The quartet of films is followed by a cheesy song-and-dance number featuring clips of old films and lip-syncing by current Bollywood stars. It’s almost as painfully self-congratulatory as the celebrity role-call song “Deewangi Deewangi” from Om Shanti Om, but it’s not as well choreographed. Check it out:

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Movie Review: Gangs of Wasseypur — Part 1 and Part 2 (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Gangs of Wasseypur debuted on the festival circuit as a five-hour-plus Indian crime epic. When it finally released into theaters (and on DVD), the film was chopped into two halves, released months apart as Gangs of Wasseypur Part I and Part II. It’s a decision that makes sense from a distribution standpoint, but it does the film a disservice.

Gangs of Wasseypur is truly a single film written with a place for a pause in the middle to grab snacks, not for a break of several weeks. Like those who saw the film in the theater, I watched the DVDs weeks apart, and I think the viewing experience suffered for it. If you have the opportunity to watch both parts of Gangs of Wasseypur back-to-back, do it.

With that caveat, how does the film stand up as a cohesive work? Director Anurag Kashyap is something of an outlier in Indian cinema due to his willingness to let scenes breathe and unfold at their own pace. It’s wonderful to watch, but not indefinitely. There’s so much material in Gangs of Wasseypur that I would have enjoyed it more as two distinct films with two sets of midpoints, climaxes, and denouements. As it exists, Gangs of Wasseypur is a bit too much.

The plot chronicles a story of revenge that spans multiple generations of two families in the town of Wasseypur. After the British depart India in 1947, a young industrialist named Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia) assumes control of the local mine. He hires a goon named Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) to force the local laborers to work in deplorable conditions.

One night, Ramadhir overhears Shahid talking to his son, Sardar Khan, and his cousin, Nasir (Piyush Mishra, the film’s narrator) about his plans to kill Ramadhir and take over the mine himself. Ramadhir acts first, luring Shahid to his death, though his plot to murder Sardar and Nasir fails. Young Sardar vows to one day murder Ramadhir in retaliation, eventually passing on his hatred of the industrialist to his own sons.

That setup encompasses about the first hour of the film. The remaining four hours deal with the ongoing power struggle between the Singhs and the Khans and the resulting bloodshed. This is a gory film by any standard, but especially so compared to other Hindi films.

The bulk of the story centers on the two most charismatic members of the Khan family: Sardar (Manoj Bajpai) and his second oldest son, Faizal (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Rather than murdering Ramadhir outright, Sardar plots to become his equal and destroy everything Ramadhir has built. Sardar makes a fortune stealing iron ore and intimidating the populace. This long game gives Sardar time to raise a family (or two) while plotting his revenge.

Sardar is an interesting choice for a lead character because he’s an awful person, regardless of his tragic beginnings. In addition to being a violent crook, he’s a terrible husband to his first wife, Nagma (Richa Chadda), whom he abandons to marry a second woman, Durga (Reema Sen), whom he eventually leaves to return to Nagma. At various times, Sardar neglects his four sons with Nagma and his one son with Durga. To varying degrees, all of his children hate him as much as they fear and respect him.

Such a negative character only works as a lead because Manoj Bajpai is so talented. Sardar shares moments of genuine affection with both of his wives when he’s not being a total narcissist. Bajpai plays Sardar with such swagger and menace that it’s easy to understand how he achieves the success he does.

Faizal is not much like his father. With an older brother, Danish (Vineet Singh), as Sardar’s natural heir, Faizal can waste his time getting stoned. Circumstances eventually force him to take a more active role in the family business, and Faizal proves to be unexpectedly ruthless.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui owns every scene he’s in. He’s talented enough to make scenes in which Faizal sits starring some of the most riveting scenes in the movie. Faizal’s conflicted feelings about his violent lifestyle make him more relatable than his father, and he’s downright charming as he woos the lovely Mohsina (Huma Qureshi).

The problem inherent in revenge films is that the characters often have little room for growth. Either they get their revenge, or they don’t, whether by choice or failure. Revenge is an okay motive for a shorter movie, but my interest waned after the third hour or so.

Also at around the three-hour mark, the story pushes two new characters to the forefront: Sardar’s two youngest sons, Definite (Zaishan Quadri) and Babua (Aditya Kumar). At that point — about 60% of the way through the film — I didn’t have the energy to get invested in two essentially brand new characters. Had Gangs of Wasseypur Part II been a proper sequel, the introduction of the new characters wouldn’t have seemed so late.

What ultimately makes the film worth seeing is Kashyap’s directing style. In addition to letting the scenes breathe, he uses music to incredible effect. He has mastered the montage. In addition to star turns by Bajpai and Siddiqui, Kashyap gets great performances out of the rest of the cast as well.

Gangs of Wasseypur would’ve been better as two distinct films, but I applaud Kashyap’s effort in trying to push the boundaries of Indian cinema.

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