Tag Archives: Arjun Kapoor

Movie Review: Half Girlfriend (2017)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Half Girlfriend is a tiresome retread of a familiar Bollywood setup. The world within the film exists for the manipulation and satisfaction of the male lead character, regardless of the toll it takes on the woman he pursues.

Just as in another problematic movie from earlier in 2017 — Badrinath Ki DulhaniaHalf Girlfriend tries to justify its outdated formula by having its main character hail from a state with a bad reputation regarding gender equality. Half Girlfriend‘s Madhav (Arjun Kapoor) is from Bihar, a state that borders Badrinath’s Uttar Pradesh. Neither movie is interested in actually addressing the causes or consequences of inequality in either state, just in appropriating a regressive mindset so that the female lead can be treated as a prop rather than a real person.

Lest we dismiss Madhav as some uneducated hick, the story — based on a book by Chetan Bhagat and adapted for the screen by Tushar Hiranandani and Ishita Moitra — emphasizes that he’s the son of a royal family. He lives in a mansion with his mother (played by Seema Biswas), who runs a school in their small town.

Yet, Madhav is so privileged and insulated that only after he graduates with a degree in sociology from St. Stephens College in Delhi does he ask his mother, “Why don’t any girls attend our school?” How did he not notice that earlier?!

As with so many Bollywood heroes before him, it’s Madhav’s job to bend the universe to his will. That primarily takes the form of him forcing everyone to engage with him in Hindi, even though instruction at St. Stephens is conducted exclusively in English. No matter how high the stakes, Madhav steadfastly refuses to apply himself enough to become proficient in English. The movie rewards him at every turn by having English speakers claim to have understood Madhav’s “heart,” if not his words.

Then there’s Riya (Shraddha Kapoor), with whom Madhav is smitten on first sight. “Such a beautiful girl plays basketball?” he wonders, insultingly. He’s apparently never heard of hoops legend/fashion model Lisa Leslie, which is surprising since Madhav’s a b-ball nut and a big fan of “Steven Curry.”

The basketball in Half Girlfriend is absolutely terrible, by the way. The camera only shoots the actors from the shoulders up since apparently neither of them learned how to dribble for their roles as college athletes. (Frankly, their entire performances in Half Girlfriend lack commitment.) Also, a scene in which Madhav wildly airballs dozens of attempted half-court shots is unbelievable. That’s a shot serious basketball players practice for fun from an early age.

Once Madhav decides that he wants beautiful, popular Riya for his own, he follows her everywhere, memorizing every detail she posts on Facebook. They strike up a friendship on the court, but she’s clearly not interested in him romantically. She pulls her hand away whenever he tries to touch it. Well, she tries to, but Madhav literally won’t let her go.

Madhav’s roommate Shailesh (Vikrant Massey) — who is otherwise the voice of reason in the film — says that the only way to know Riya’s feelings for sure is to “get her in the room.” In case that didn’t sound rapey enough, Madhav locks the door once Riya is inside. When Riya resists Madhav’s attempted seduction (the author writes euphemistically), he gets violent with her. Riya refuses to talk to him after that, triggering a sad musical montage of Madhav screwing up in a basketball game because he’s too upset to concentrate. Boo hoo.

Madhav’s violence toward Riya renders a romance between them unsatisfactory. However, because we know the beats of the male-entitlement Bollywood romance storyline, we know that Riya won’t be able to rid herself of Madhav that easily.

Half Girlfriend is monstrously unfair to Riya. Every man in her life is abusive to her in some way.  While Madhav claims to love Riya, he refuses to accept a relationship with her on her terms; he wants to possess her. Rather than protecting Riya, the older women in her life insist that she tolerate the intolerable and put a man’s needs before her own. Riya is utterly alone. If told from her perspective, Half Girlfriend would be a horror movie.

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Mr. Mom versus Ki and Ka

If you read my review, you know I have a lot of problems with Ki and Ka. It wasn’t the humorous exploration of gender roles promised in the trailer, but rather a disorganized reinforcement of Bollywood tropes that favor men at the expense of women.

Given how non-progressive writer-director R. Balki’s movie is, I wanted to know how Ki and Ka compares to an older film about spouses swapping traditional gender roles: 1983’s Mr. Mom, written by John Hughes and directed by Stan Dragoti. Note: spoilers for both movies follow.

Though the two movies differ markedly in their general setups, they do share some very specific details in common — leading one to believe that Balki has at least seen Mr. Mom, even if he didn’t quite get the point of it. Both movies feature wives who work in advertising, both of whom earn promotions when they create campaigns offering discounts on food products traditionally purchased by women. In both movies, the stay-at-home husband plays cards with neighborhood housewives and leads them in an exercise program.

In Mr. Mom, Jack (Michael Keaton) is an automotive engineer who gets laid off from his job. He takes over the care of the house and the family’s three children when his wife Caroline (Teri Garr) finds a marketing job.

Jack assumes that being a homemaker will be easy compared to engineering, only to discover just how much he doesn’t know. He struggles with everyday chores and his own sense of self-worth, now that he’s not the breadwinner. Caroline explains that what carried her through her eight years as a stay-at-home mom was a sense of pride in a job well done, whether it’s a task as simple as cleaning the kitchen or as complex as raising good kids.

Mr. Mom is an out-and-out comedy, and a very funny one at that. Jack’s struggles are played for laughs, especially in the hilarious sequence featuring an overloaded washing machine, three home repair people, and a runaway vacuum nicknamed “Jaws.”

That sequence highlights what is probably the root problem in Ki and Ka. For all of the lip-service Kabir (Arjun Kapoor) pays to the difficulty and nobility of housework, he never struggles with it. It’s not hard for him.

Kabir has no more previous experience taking care of a house than Jack does. Kabir grew up wealthy, presumably with servants in addition to his own mother to run the family mansion. We know that he earned an MBA, but after that, he makes no mention of having done anything like studying cooking or home maintenance. As far as we are shown, Kabir is just a 28-year-old jobless guy living in his childhood bedroom until he marries Kia (Kareena Kapoor Khan).

When he actually becomes Kia’s househusband, he does so with no problems. On their first morning together, he clears the clutter, gets himself ready, and makes breakfast all before Kia and her mom (Swaroop Sampat) wake up. When he botches their morning coffee, the joke is on the women, not him.

Kabir is then free to redecorate the family apartment as the train depot of his childhood dreams (removing all trace of Kia and her mom from the decor in the process, by the way). After folding laundry and cooking, his time is his own, freeing him to shop for clothes with his new lady friends.

Unlike Jack in Mr. Mom, Kabir does little household cleaning. Kia’s longtime maid handles the dirty work. Even during the narrative’s short-lived budget crisis plot point, Kabir deems the maid’s services essential, even though her salary is one of the couple’s biggest monthly expenses. Why is she essential? They only live in a two bedroom apartment, with no kids. How hard is that to keep clean?

It’s harder to tell an insightful story about gender roles when the main characters are upper class. They keep a maid because they can afford to, allowing Kabir the time to become a celebrity icon of social progress while still making it home to cook dinner.

Because Kabir is rich — and always has been — he never pays a price for his unusual lifestyle choice. Wealthy people live by different rules than the rest of us anyway, so how is his experience analogous to anyone who’s not an elite? What social price would Kabir and Kia have to pay if she were the ad firm’s receptionist rather than an executive? Sure, Kabir’s dad doesn’t approve, but Kabir has already disinherited himself and written his dad off as the stick-in-the-mud he is.

Ki and Ka makes it seem as if being a homemaker is so easy anyone can do it, disregarding the social, emotional, and practical challenges of the job. Even though Mr. Mom is more than thirty years old, it’s more insightful as to what being a stay-at-home spouse entails — and it’s a lot more entertaining, too. You can buy or rent Mr. Mom at Amazon or iTunes.

Movie Review: Ki and Ka (2016)

KiAndKa0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Don’t be fooled into thinking that Ki and Ka (“His and Hers“) is a progressive examination of gender roles in contemporary India. This is Mansplaining: The Movie.

Kareena Kapoor Khan plays Kia, a marketing executive with a clear career path: get promoted to vice president of her company and eventually become CEO. She knows that marriage and especially kids often hamper women professionally, so she’s not interested in either.

She meets Kabir (Arjun Kapoor), son of a rich construction magnate. Rather than inherit his father’s empire, Kabir wants to follow in his deceased mother’s footsteps and be a homemaker.

However, we don’t see any evidence of Kabir working toward that goal. We don’t see him cooking, cleaning, or organizing — none of the activities that are central to the job of homemaking. All we see during his courtship of Kia is him hanging out in bars or tooling around a playground on his Segway. Apparently, his aspirations are enough for him to get his dream job, despite the fact that he’s both unqualified and unmotivated.

But that’s the point of writer-director R. Balki’s film: Kabir’s desire to defy gender stereotypes makes him a hero. He’s lauded for his choice, going so far as to appear on TV on Woman’s Day to explain to everyone how noble he is for cooking and tidying up. He fails to note that he still employs a maid to do dirty work like dusting.

Kabir’s deification comes at Kia’s expense. She apologizes over and over again: for hurting his feelings, for taking him for granted, for being jealous. Other than saying “sorry” for crying too loudly during their initial meeting, Kabir never apologizes to Kia because the screenplay never puts him in a position to do so. In typical Bollywood hero fashion, Kabir is infallible, incapable of doing wrong because he is a man.

It’s worth noting another sequence which chucks any remaining vestiges of Ki and Ka‘s feminist credibility out the window. Kabir starts an exercise program for the women in his building, premised on the ideas that all women think they are fat and that they secretly want to be ogled by strange men on the street.

If Balki’s dated takes on equality weren’t problem enough, the movie is lifeless. The first fifteen minutes of Kabir & Kia’s courtship is a sequence of barroom conversations, with cinematographer P. C. Sreeram’s camera making constant, incremental zooms to give the illusion of dynamism while the actors just sit there. The most excitement we get is a shot of Kia walking slowly alongside Kabir as he rides his Segway. Even the song numbers are mostly montages.

The screenplay’s structure leaves much to be desired. There are no subplots at all, and only a couple of hollow supporting characters. Neither Kia nor Kabir have any friends until they magically appear for scenes in which everyone talks about how great Kabir is, never to be heard from again.

None of the conflicts between the couple lasts more than a few minutes, and there’s nothing at stake in any larger sense either. Their relationship is never in danger, as emphasized by a climax that is literally impossible to have unfold in the tidy way it does.

Characters repeatedly refer to Kabir as “every woman’s dream husband.” The goal of feminism is not to make men do chores. If Ki and Ka is R. Balki’s idea of social progress, he’s missed the point.

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Movie Review: Tevar (2015)

Tevar_Official_Poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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Arjun Kapoor’s lead character seems more like an interruption than a necessary element of Tevar (“Attitude“).

Don’t get me wrong: as the story is constructed, the fate of Sonakshi Sinha’s character, Radhika, depends entirely upon Kapoor’s Pintu. That’s because Radhika is the most embarrassingly helpless character Sinha has played yet, which is saying something. Instead of a hapless plot device, I wish she’d been capable of saving herself — rendering Pintu altogether unnecessary.

Because Tevar is just another formulaic, hero-driven, Bollywood action flick, the movie opens with a lengthy introduction of Pintu. Surprise, surprise: he’s a slacker who just wants to hang out with his buddies, who repeatedly tell him how cool he is. As is typical in such films, his only flaw is a lack of a girlfriend. Not that he couldn’t get one if he wanted one. He just doesn’t want some chick to cut into his bro time.

Once Pintu’s intro is over, we get to the movie that I really wanted to see. Manoj Bajpayee plays Gajendar, a goon who does the dirty work for his older brother, a politician played by Rajesh Sharma. Gajendar falls madly in love with Radhika when he sees her dance in a concert.

On the advice of his sidekick, Kakdi (Subrat Dutta), Gajendar tries to impress the much younger Radhika, doffing his sweater vest in favor of jeans and a motorcycle jacket. The attempt fails. Gajendar is further humiliated by Radhika’s reporter brother, who threatens to take down both Gajendar and his brother if he contacts Radhika again.

Here’s what I wanted from Tevar: Gajendar tries to pretend he’s something he’s not in order to win Radhika. When that doesn’t work, he resorts to his old, violent ways. Radhika has to figure out how to stop Gajendar and save her family. Why shouldn’t the heroine be the one with “attitude” for a change?

What I got was Radhika waiting helplessly for someone to rescue her. Pintu just happens to get there first. Whenever Radhika takes control of her own destiny, she does something idiotic like leave her hiding place to check on the well-being of Pintu, who is essentially invincible.

That invincibility neuters all the fight sequences. Stuff breaks and people go flying, but the scenes lack gravity and danger. The epic eye roll Gajendar gives when Pintu rises from what should’ve been a mortal blow is spot on.

Pintu’s invincibility is such a powerful aphrodisiac for Radhika that’s she’s willing to abandon the complicated plan to get her to safety just to hear Pintu say, “I love you.” It’s stupid and insulting.

Sinha’s cringe-inducing performance aside, the acting in Tevar is pretty good. Kapoor is charming when the script permits him to be. Bajpayee is one of Bollywood’s go-to villains for a reason. It’s hard to take your eyes off of him.

Yet Dutta managed to steal my attention from Bajpayee on a number of occasions, not with anything flashy, but by doing little things to make Kakdi seem like a real person, not just an automaton who performs only when he’s the focus of a scene. While Gajendar is in the foreground, staring transfixed by Radhika’s dancing, Kakdi is in the background ushering people to their seats and clapping along with the music.

Dutta shows some real menace in spots, too, as when Kakdi strolls in slow motion toward Pintu, flanked by armed guards. Maybe there’s room for another go-to villain in town.

Ultimately, Tevar sublimates its unique elements in order to give us more of the same. Putting a different actor in the role of morally righteous superman doesn’t change anything.

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Opening January 9: Tevar

The first Bollywood film to hit Chicago area theaters in 2015 is Tevar, opening January 9. The action drama stars Manoj Bajpayee, Arjun Kapoor, and Sonakshi Sinha.

Tevar opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, MovieMax Cinemas 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.

PK carries over for a fourth week at all of the above theaters (except for the River East 21), plus the AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

Other Indian movies playing at MovieMax this weekend include Gopala Gopala (Telugu), Nagaravaridhi Naduvil Njan (Malayalam), Mukunda (Telugu), Chinnadana Nee Kosam (Telugu), and Lingaa (Tamil).

New Trailer: November 11, 2014

Sonakshi Sinha is imperiled yet again in Tevar, which releases theatrically on January 9, 2015. This time, she needs to be saved from Manoj Bajpayee by Arjun Kapoor. Kudos to Subrat Dutta for landing roles in seemingly every movie these days: Bheera in Roar, the eccentric director in The Shaukeens, and now one of Manoj’s henchmen in Tevar. Check out the trailer:

Movie Review: Finding Fanny (2014)

Finding_Fanny_Theatrical_release_poster3 Stars (out of 4)

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“No one deserves an incomplete love story.” Finding Fanny humorously and thoughtfully explores the ways that waiting for an answer suspends us in time.

The above quote is spoken by the film’s narrator, Angie (Deepika Padukone), a 26-year-old widow living in Pocolim, a tiny town in Goa. Life’s forward progress stopped for Angie when her husband (Ranveer Singh) choked to death on their wedding cake, though she’s serene about her situation. She lives with her mother-in-law, Rosie (Dimple Kapadia), the queen bee of Pocolim.

Angie’s best friend is Ferdie (Naseeruddin Shah), the town’s mailman. His forward progress stopped forty-six years ago when he wrote a letter proposing marriage to a girl named Fanny Fernandez, but never received a response. He’s the only boy in the church choir with white hair.

One night, the letter Ferdie mailed to Fanny is slipped under his door, unopened and undelivered. Angie organizes a trip to help Ferdie find Fanny and discover what her answer would have been. She enlists the help of her mother-in-law, her recently returned childhood sweetheart, Savio (Arjun Kapoor), and Don Pedro, (Pankaj Kapur), a visiting artist obsessed with voluptuous Rosie and owner of the town’s only car.

Of course the brief road trip winds up far more complicated than expected, and tensions flare within the group. Ferdie reveals to Savio the reason why his formerly close friendship with Rosie ended, and Savio fights with Angie about what would’ve happened had he married her instead. Don Pedro’s lecherous ogling of Rosie doesn’t help matters.

Finding Fanny is a beautiful looking film, thanks to cinematographer Anil Mehta. There are lots of wonderful individual shots — Angie’s face as she stares pensively out the open car window, for example — as well as wide shots showing the vastness of the world outside of Pocolim that never before interested Rosie, Ferdie, or Angie. The visual beauty is enhanced by Mathias Duplessy’s vibrant score.

The actors keep their performances subdued. Much is communicated non-verbally, especially by the expressive faces of Padukone and Shah. At the same time, the characters are all funny, none more so than Kapadia’s Rosie. The members of the traveling party are eccentrics, not outrageous goofballs or weirdos.

The glaring exception to the subtly rule is a Russian man who now owns Fanny’s childhood home. His delivery is so loud and exaggerated in comparison to the other performances that it feels out-of-place.

Perhaps the film’s biggest fault lies in the development of Angie’s character (though that’s not a slight on Padukone’s terrific portrayal). It’s obvious what every other character wants: Savio wants Angie; Don Pedro wants Rosie; Ferdie wants the Fanny of his memories; and Rosie wants to live a dignified life that she controls.

It’s never clear what Angie wants, other than to reunite Ferdie with Fanny. She speaks in important-sounding vagaries that don’t really mean anything. Is the point that she’s still too young to know what she wants? That we should be at peace with what we have? I was never sure. That’s a letdown for a character who’s not only the film’s narrator, but also the most important person in the lives of Ferdie, Rosie, and Savio.

Still, Finding Fanny is one of the more intriguing movies to come out of Bollywood this year. The fact that the dialogue is in English just adds to the intrigue. It’s unique, enjoyable, and worth a watch.

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