Tag Archives: Arjan Bajwa

Movie Review: Rustom (2016)

Rustom3 Stars (out of 4)

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An open-and-shut murder case turns out to be anything but in Rustom, a movie based on a real-life case from 1959. Period costumes and decor give this drama a stylish flair.

The title character Rustom Pavri (Akshay Kumar) is a decorated Navy officer. His ship returns to Mumbai — then Bombay — ahead of schedule, causing him to catch his wife Cynthia (Ileana D’Cruz) in an extramarital affair with their mutual friend, Vikram (Arjan Bajwa).

Rustom returns to his ship to check a gun and ammunition out of the munitions cabinet, logging the withdrawal with the duty officer. He heads to Vikram’s mansion where he shoots the wealthy playboy to death, then turns himself into the police.

Chief Police Inspector Vincent Lobo (Pawan Malhotra) is immediately suspicious of Rustom’s calm demeanor, his refusal to be housed in a Navy jail, and his insistence on representing himself at trial. To Vikram’s bereaved sister, Priti (Esha Gupta), Rustom’s actions feed her hopes of an easy victory in court.

But Rustom has a few things working in his favor. Erach (Kumud Mishra) — a publisher from the same Parsi community as Rustom — uses his newspaper to run stories painting the officer in a favorable light, driving sales and tainting the jury pool at the same time. Erach’s contentious relationship with the trial judge (Anang Desai) provides the film’s comic relief.

Also on Rustom’s side is public sentimentality toward soldiers, a bias that Rustom himself exploits. When representing himself at trial, Rustom casually responds to the prosecutor’s (Sachin Khedekar) complaint about the symbolic impact of the officer’s uniform by saying that wearing his uniform is one of his unchangeable habits, just like breathing or defending his country.

Director Tinu Suresh Desai shows the power of the uniform in an early scene whose significance is easy to miss. Fresh off his ship, Rustom stops to buy some flowers for Cynthia from a street vendor. Just in the background, a pair of young women stare dreamily at Rustom, likely envisioning themselves the lucky recipients of a bouquet from a handsome man in uniform someday.

Writer Vipul K. Rawal draws from the way the jury was influenced in the real case of Officer K. M. Nanavati to make observations about the way blind veneration of the military can lead society to overlook the shortcomings of both individual officers and larger institutions. His story is critical, but not cynical.

Probably the biggest selling point for Rustom is its visual appeal. Costume designer Ameira Punvani showcases a stunning array of attire, adding ostentatious touches to the wardrobes of the wealthy siblings, Vikram and Priti. There are also loads of classic cars and furniture pieces to drool over among the set dressings.

Completing the period aesthetic is the cast, smartly assembled by Shruti Mahajan. Malhotra looks like he was plucked straight from a mid-century detectives catalog. Bajwa was born to play a rich, 1950s Lothario. The way he leers at Cynthia is positively nauseating, and I mean that as a compliment.

Gupta suits the film perfectly as well, poured into her glamorous cocktail attire, haughty expression permanently in place. I wish there were more to her character, but one can’t fault Priti’s single-minded drive to bring her brother’s killer to justice.

By necessity, Rustom has to play his cards close to the vest, so this isn’t one of Kumar’s flashier roles. Still, he fills Rustom with enough charm and intelligence to keep both the audience and the other characters guessing about his endgame.

D’Cruz gets to show the most emotional range as Cynthia, a woman overwhelmed by guilt and loneliness. There’s more to the story than she realizes, leaving her to suffer from a mistake that may or may not be entirely her fault. D’Cruz does a fine job containing Cynthia’s inner torment behind a brave public face.

Rustom is an entertaining movie, its vibrant style counting for a lot, given the relative dearth of period films in Bollywood. It’s also patriotic without being blindly so. Overall, it’s worth a watch.

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Movie Review: Bobby Jasoos (2014)

BobbyJasoos3 Stars (out of 4)

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Vidya Balan shines again in Bobby Jasoos (“Bobby the Detective“). Her contrarian tomboy private investigator makes for a charming lead character whose independent spirit gets her into trouble.

30-year-old Bobby (Balan) wants nothing more than to work as a detective in Hyderabad. Rejected by a proper investigative firm, she scrapes by on minor jobs, such as steering prospective brides away from TV news anchor Tasawur (Ali Fazal), who wants to stay single but is too cowardly to tell his parents. She even extorts money from her cousin Afreen (Anupriya Goenka), whose secret affair with the goon Lala (Arjan Bajwa) would displease the family.

Bobby gets her big break when a rich man, Aneez Khan (Kiran Kumar), asks her to find a young woman, with no information other than the woman’s name and the location of a birthmark. When Bobby succeeds, she gets a big payday and the name of another girl Khan wants found. But why is Khan looking for these women?

Lacking formal training and an office staff, Bobby’s methods involve a lot of trial and error — and a lot of costumes. The disguise gags are cute, and Balan is passable in drag. But ultimately, Bobby solves her mysteries with her wit and not silly outfits.

She’s assisted by a trio of sidekicks: restaurateur Munna (Aakash Dahiya), internet cafe owner Shetty (Prasad Barve), and mobile phone seller Sohail (Tejas Mahajan). Their friendships with Bobby are sweet, establishing her as likeable as well as talented. They also stand in contrast to her difficult homelife.

Despite the support of a doting mother (Supriya Pathak) and a younger sister, Noor (Benaf Dadachandji) — who perfectly encapsulates their sibling rivalry with the line “Go die! Come back soon.” — Bobby can’t win over her traditional father (Rajendra Gupta). He’s past the point of tolerating her career ambitions, and he only wants her to get married like all the other women her age.

The conflict with her father helps flesh out Bobby’s character. She’d headstrong and confident, but she’s also desperate for her father’s approval. Nevertheless, she can’t be someone she’s not. Balan is the perfect choice to portray a character who is feisty yet vulnerable, and a fine role model for girls. The film is extremely family friendly.

Another selling point in Bobby Jasoos‘ favor is Ali Fazal. His subtly humorous reactions are pitch-perfect, as poor Tasawur tries to cope with Bobby’s impulsiveness while unwittingly falling for her. Fazal and Balan share a wonderful chemistry.

The mystery at the center of the movie is its weakest element. It’s not particularly challenging, and the payoff is melodramatic. However, if this movie is just a setup for future mysteries starring the character Bobby Jasoos, I can happily live with it.

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Movie Review: Crook (2010)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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There’s a lot going on in the subtext of Crook regarding the different facets of racism and the immigrant’s struggle to balance integration with tradition. With a different structure– one that allowed the subtext more time to develop — Crook could’ve been a truly memorable movie.

The hero of Crook is Jai (Emraan Hashmi), a small-time video pirate in India. His adoptive father sends him to Australia under a false identity in order to give Jai a fresh start. Jai starts his new life in Melbourne as Suraj, a taxi driver working his way to permanent residency (unless he can find a cute Australian woman to marry first).

Two Aussie women catch Jai’s eye: a blonde stripper named Nikki (Shella Alan) and a student of Indian descent named Suhani (Neha Sharma). Nikki quickly falls for Jai, but Suhani’s strict brother, Samarth (Arjan Bajwa), intends to marry her to someone else.

Further complicating matters is a series of racially motivated attacks on Indian-Australians by white Australians. Suhani tries to bring Australians of all colors together and is frustrated by Jai’s unwillingness to get involved. Jai fears attracting police attention by participating in protests. If the police discover his true identity, he could be sent back to India.

Crook portrays racism as a two-way street. The white Australians who attack Indians are villains, but so are traditionalists like Samarth, who rejects Australian culture in the hopes of recreating India on a new continent. The only innocents are people like Suhani, who respects the values of her family as much as the values that dominate her adopted homeland.

Such nuance presents a problem in that it makes Jai’s decision not to take a stand look decidedly unheroic. He spends most of the movie running away from trouble. While it makes sense given his false identity, the threat of deportation isn’t as imminent or thrilling as, say, the threat of death.

Further, since the audience knows that eventually Jai has to get involved, he needs to take a stand much earlier in the film than he does. It takes more than half of the movie before Jai finally tells Suhani the truth about his past. Even then, he still insists that the racial tension inflaming the city isn’t his problem. A film hero needs to take charge of his destiny in a more definitive way than Jai does.

While the set up of the love story is fine, it doesn’t leave enough time for the action in the second half of the movie to unfold. When violence breaks out, characters undergo abrupt personality changes and plot points feel rushed.

Overall, Crook is a fun ride with some interesting moral observations. It just falls a bit short of its potential.

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Movie Review: Hide & Seek (2010)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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I am a coward when it comes to horror movies, so I was pleased to find Hide & Seek: a horror movie tame enough that I could actually watch it, instead of just covering my eyes with my hands.

The premise of the film is conventional: something went terribly wrong at a Christmas party among a group of six teenage friends, and twelve years later — when the pals are all around thirty — a killer takes revenge against the former pals.

Hide & Seek reveals a huge casting mistake early on by using two different sets of actors to play the characters as young adults and as thirty-somethings. At the time of the party, all of the characters have obviously gone through puberty, so they’re not going to change much in appearance in the span of a dozen years (apart from stylistic choices and a few pounds gained or lost). But none of the young actors look anything like their older counterparts. As more mature adults, one of the women is taller than a man who used to tower over her.

The opening credit sequence features a montage of clips from the Christmas party before the actions shifts to the present, twelve years later. I spent the first half-hour of the movie trying to reconcile which adult characters were supposed to be which teens from the party footage, in addition to what the relationships were between the characters then and now. Rather than keeping track of six characters, it was like keeping track of twelve.

The confusion could’ve been avoided by changing the time frame a bit, employing a single set of actors to play, say, 22-year-old college students and 34-year-old professionals.

The main character is Om (Purab Kholi), who spent twelve years in a mental asylum, after the events of the Christmas party. Shortly after he’s released, his old flame, Jyotika (Mrinalini Sharma), contacts him and he receives a cryptic message. The other party attendees — Om’s brother, Abhi (Sameer Kochhar); wallflower Gunita (Amruta Patki); thug Jaideep (Arjan Bajwa); and Jaideep’s former lackey, Imran (Ayaz Khan) — all receive the same message. Everyone is kidnapped and locked in a shopping mall.

A villain dressed as Santa Claus explains via video that they must play a game of hide and seek. If they try to escape, Santa will kill them. Om and Jyotika run off to hide together while Gunita, Jaideep and Imran go their separate ways. Abhi promises to come find them all after twenty minutes.

As the bewildered former pals try to figure out why they’ve been kidnapped and who’s wearing the Santa suit, old rivalries come to the surface. Flashbacks to the party slowly reveal what happened that night and who’s behind the deadly game playing itself out in the mall.

The idea of being punished for past crimes is nothing new, but there is some degree of ambiguity to the actions of some of the friends. I’m not so sure they all deserve to be punished, but, then again, I’m not a homicidal maniac.

This is not a movie for serious horror movie fans. It’s not scary, and it’s not even that atmospheric. But, if the mere sight of Freddy Kruger is enough to give you nightmares, Hide & Seek is a watchable baby step into the world of horror movies.

Links

  • Hide & Seek at IMDb