Tag Archives: Arjun Rampal

Movie Review: Kahaani 2 (2016)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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It’s unrealistic to expect Kahaani 2 to replicate the success of a movie as special as Kahaani, but the sequel lacks many of the elements that made the original so memorable.

Writer-director Sujoy Ghosh again taps Vidya Balan to play a character named Vidya searching for a lost loved one in West Bengal. Kahaani 2‘s Vidya — Sinha this time, not Bagchi — is mother to a 14-year-old girl, Minnie (Tunisha Sharma), who is paralyzed from the waist down. The pair lives in the town of Chandan Nagar, about an hour away from Kolkata. Vidya returns from work to find her daughter missing, the girl’s phone and wheelchair left behind.

While the original Kahaani‘s Vidya spent the film tracking her missing husband with the help of a smitten police officer, the sequel’s Vidya is sidelined early on. It falls on a different cop, Inder (Arjun Rampal), to discover what’s going on when he stumbles upon an accident scene and recognizes the injured woman. However, he knows the victim by the name of Durga Rani Singh, not Vidya Sinha.

Inder’s only clue is Vidya/Durga’s diary, which chronicles events from eight years ago, when Minnie was six years old (played by cute Naisha Khanna) and the duo lived north in Kalimpong. Most of Balan’s scenes in the film are from these flashbacks. It’s frustrating that her character is inactive for much of the present-day storyline.

Inder takes the lead on the case as he adjusts to a new environment. A “gut feeling” gone wrong got him demoted from Kolkata to normally uneventful Chandan Nagar. Precisely how he earned his demotion isn’t explained, but all signs point to Inder being a decent guy. He’s got a sweet daughter and a wife, Rashmi (Manini Chadha), with whom he shares a playful antagonism. Even though Rashmi knows her husband is keeping something from her, she resists the urge to snoop in Vidya’s diary, waiting until Inder is ready to tell her the truth.

While Inder is a fine character, his problems aren’t are dire as Vidya’s, thus Ghosh’s choice to present the two character arcs in parallel doesn’t work. Vidya and Minnie find themselves in a life-or-death struggle, only for the action to cut to Inder fretting about whether his work on the case will earn him a promotion back to Kolkata. The stakes are so unequal that juxtaposing them makes Inder look more frivolous than he really is.

Balan is compelling in everything that she does, and Kahaani 2 is no different. It falls on her to deliver Ghosh’s message about the enduring trauma of sexual abuse, and she does so powerfully. Both girls who play Minnie do a lovely job and show tremendous promise. Also noteworthy is a sweet turn by Tota Roychoudhury as Arun, Vidya’s mild-mannered suitor in Kalimpong.

There are some beautifully vivid shots of Chandan Nagar at night, but the town doesn’t have a strongly defined identity the way that Kolkata did in the original Kahaani. That’s most obvious difference between the films, and — more than anything else — it is what marks Kahaani 2 as the inferior of the two movies.

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Movie Review: Rock On 2 (2016)

rockon22 Stars (out of 4)

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The realism that made the relationships in 2008’s Rock On!! so compelling is missing from Rock On 2, replaced by bizarre behavior masquerading as drama.

Following the events of the original film, the surviving members of the rock band Magik (RIP, keyboardist Rob) had a good run for about three years, playing shows and running their own recording label. Then the suicide of an aspiring musician broke them up once again.

Fast-forward five years to the present day, and formerly destitute guitarist Joe (Arjun Rampal) is a wealthy club owner and reality show judge. Drummer KD (Purab Kohli) still dabbles in music, leaving him with enough free time to narrate the film. Singer Adi (Farhan Akhtar) is living near Shillong on a farmers’ collective, despite having no background in farming whatsoever.

There’s a real logical leap required for Adi’s choices to make the slightest bit of narrative sense, let alone make him a hero. His overblown reaction to the aspiring musician’s suicide is to flee to the hinterlands of India (Shillong is on the other side of Bangladesh), not only breaking up his band and depriving Joe and KD of their source of income, but also abandoning his wife, Sakshi (Prachi Desai), and their then three-year-old son.

Somehow, Adi’s version of penance for playing a minor role in a troubled young man’s death means punishing everyone who loves and depends on him. As Adi puts it: “Every time I’ve tried to make music, I’ve hurt someone.” Substitute any other activity for “make music” to hear how dumb and selfish that rationale sounds: “Every time I’ve tried to clean the bathroom, I’ve hurt someone.”

Adi’s commitment to his new farming community isn’t as solid as he thinks it is. Days after rejecting an in-person plea from KD, Sakshi, Joe, and Joe’s wife, Debbie (Shahana Goswami), to return to Delhi, a suspicious fire destroys the farmers’ crops and homes. Adi gives the farmers some cash and heads back to his old life, telling the farmers to call him if they have any problems.

More than a month goes by without Adi giving so much as a thought to his buds in Shillong, let alone check on them to make sure they’re okay. When his former right-hand man finally rings to say that everyone is starving, Adi yells, “Why didn’t you call me sooner?!” Probably because he was trying not to die, you entitled dope!

Adi’s solution to raise awareness of the farmers’ plight is, not surprisingly, to hold a Magik reunion benefit concert, including new band members Jiah (Shraddha Kapoor) and Uday (Shahshank Arora, whose role is too small for an actor of his caliber). Yet dumbass Adi has the bright idea to hold the concert in a field in Shillong, Woodstock-style.

Consider all the reasons why this is stupid. All of the infrastructure for the concert — stage, restroom facilities, equipment storage — has to be built from scratch, at great expense. All the people with the money to afford concert tickets — the farmers are all broke, remember — live far away, meaning they have to travel (at great expense) just to get to the show.

Joe owns a freaking music club! Just have the concert at his place and charge a couple hundred bucks a ticket! All that money that went into setting up the stupid concert and travel expenses could’ve gone directly to the farmers instead of enabling Adi to waste it on another vanity project to ease his troubled conscience.

Joe is the only rational character in the story, dutifully fulfilling his responsibilities, while refusing to be blamed for things that aren’t his fault. Yet he’s written as a kind of villain, just because he considers events in context and isn’t guided entirely by his emotions. Joe, you’re the real hero of Rock On 2.

P.S. Since this is a movie about a rock band, I should mention the music. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy did a great job writing songs in distinct styles for Jiah and for Magik. Shraddha Kapoor has a good voice, and her character gets the film’s best songs, including “Tere Mere Dil” and “Udja Re” (both embedded below). Magik’s numbers are okay, but I don’t think I can keep trying to convince myself that I like Farhan Akhtar’s singing voice.

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Movie Review: Inkaar (2013)

Inkaarmovieposter0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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If director Sudhir Mishra’s goal with Inkaar (“Denial“) is to depict in painful detail the kind of gender discrimination women are confronted with every day, then mission accomplished. But Mishra doesn’t condemn such discrimination or suggest that change is possible. If anything, Inkaar is more about a sexual harasser’s redemption than justice for his victim.

One of Mishra’s many problems in telling the story that he co-wrote with Manoj Tyagi is that he thinks the black-and-white case of sexual harassment at the film’s center is a conflict with shades of grey. Hotshot advertising executive Rahul Verma (Arjun Rampal) propositions his former protegé and lover, Maya (Chitrangada Singh) for sex, and when she refuses, he threatens to destroy her career.

The framework for the plot is a series of interviews conducted by a social worker named Mrs. Kamdhar (Deepti Nawal), hired by the ad firm to determine who between Maya and Rahul is telling the truth. In a violation of any sort of professional protocol or victim’s rights, Maya and Rahul are deposed in front of their coworkers, some of whom are openly hostile to Maya. As the proceedings drag on, Mrs. Kamdhar brings Rahul into Maya’s session so they can “talk this out face to face,” as though this is a schoolyard tiff between children.

Mishra’s blindness to his own bias makes it impossible for him to tell a balanced story. He uses negative stereotypes of women to create Maya’s character without any narrative foundation. If there are to be any shades of grey in the case, then Maya must have some kind of agenda. She is routinely called “ambitious” — particularly by Rahul — a common slam against women deemed to be aiming above their station.

However, Maya doesn’t do anything aggressively ambitious other than perform her job well. At one point, she takes a dead-end job in Delhi just to get away from Rahul, but she’s so good that she gets reassigned to New York, where her stellar performance earns her a seat on the firm’s Board of Directors.

Rahul is the only one who claims that Maya is gunning for his job. She voices no such desire, and neither does anyone else in the firm believe that’s what she wants. Yet Mishra uses Rahul’s paranoia as sufficient evidence of Maya’s ambition.

Mishra further stacks the odds against Maya by routinely depicting her as a drunk. On the flip side, Rahul’s childhood is nostalgically shown in flashbacks, his father teaching him lessons about male pride. Cutaways in the present show Rahul tending to his ailing dad, affirming Rahul as a loyal family man.

Early in Maya’s career at the ad firm, she and Rahul — her mentor — become romantically involved. Much is made of the sexual relationship’s ramifications for Maya’s career, but no one questions whether it is appropriate for Rahul. He sleeps with an exec from another firm and a model working on an ad campaign, and no one raises concerns about how his behavior affects his company’s image. It’s taken for granted that a man can sleep with whomever he chooses, without consequence.

The real giveaway of Mishra’s bias is the different standard by which everyone in the film judges Maya’s and Rahul’s professional conduct. Her one professional transgression is that she pitches an idea that Rahul had originally conceived — and rejected — to a client without crediting Rahul. Everyone in the meeting flips out, as though this is the absolute worst thing one can do in a professional setting.

However, the characters barely react at all to Rahul’s much more detrimental conduct. First, he admits to deliberately withholding crucial client information from Maya in order to tarnish her image, resulting in the firm losing the client’s business. Rahul costs his company millions of dollars, and no one bats an eye.

Second, he admits in the hearing to propositioning Maya with sexual favors in exchange for a better working relationship. Adjourn the meeting, Mrs. Kamdhar! Prepare Rahul’s termination letter!

But that’s not what happens. Everyone in the meeting — including Mrs, Kamdhar — buys Rahul’s horrendous excuse: he only sexually harassed her to avoid doing what he really wanted to do, which was slap her.

Mishra could’ve let that comment hang, but instead, he tries to make violence against women sexy. He shows Rahul and Maya silhouetted against a blue background, Maya’s hair flying as her head snaps in response to Rahul’s slaps.

Inkaar depicts violence and harassment of women as titillating tabloid fodder in a world of unchallenged patriarchy. Rather than fire a male sexual predator who has cost his employer millions of dollars, the boss, KK (Kaizaad Kotwal) — who tells Maya that by filing the sexual harassment complaint, she proves that “women are too weak and emotional for senior management positions” — proposes not only terminating and counter-suing Maya, but making sure she can’t get a job at any other firm in India.

Maya’s only allies in the office aren’t in a position to help her. Even the supposedly neutral and experienced mediator Mrs. Kamdhar is susceptible to bribes and Rahul’s flirtatious flattery. She fails to render a verdict because Maya and Rahul “both seem to believe what they are saying.”

The resolution to the conflict is decided by Rahul, who gets the chance to redeem himself. Maya doesn’t determine her own fate, and nothing in the resolution suggests her co-workers feelings toward her have improved. Mishra’s message in Inkaar confirms entrenched patriarchy, warning women to be grateful that sexual harassment exists as an alternative to violence.

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Movie Review: Roy (2015)

Roy_film_poster1 Star (out of 4)

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Roy is full of so much talking and so little action that it should have been an audiobook instead of a movie. Then again, with such dull dialogue, who would listen to it?

Arjun Rampal plays Kabir, a celebrity film director. Kabir is the kind of narcissistic jerk who stomps out his cigarette butts on the floor of a hotel hallway and who uses a manual typewriter while flying on a plane.

After the success of Guns and Guns 2, Kabir is stymied by writer’s block while working on Guns 3. The first fifteen minutes of Roy consist of shots of Kabir sitting idly in front of the typewriter, brushing his teeth, feeding his fish, and fending off the concerned inquiries of his excessively patient producer, Meera (Shernaz Patel).

In the world of Roy, news reports consist entirely of details of Kabir’s romantic life and reports of art theft. A TV report about a painting stolen in Malaysia prompts Kabir to take his crew there to film Guns 3. There, Kabir becomes smitten with an independent movie director, Ayesha (Jacqueline Fernandez).

[Correction: In addition to art theft and Kabir’s romantic life, news reports in Roy also feature extensive coverage of indie film festivals. Just like real life.]

Kabir casts an actress who looks exactly like Ayesha to play the romantic interest in Guns 3, opposite his protagonist, Roy (Ranbir Kapoor). There is absolutely no explanation offered for Ayesha’s doppelgänger.

Action — such as it is — switches between Kabir and Ayesha in the real world and Roy and the lookalike, Tia, in the movie world of Guns. Both worlds are dominated by boring, pseudo-intellectual conversations, punctuated by languid song montages in which people drive around in cars or Roy rides a motorcycle.

Given that Kabir is an emotionally stunted pre-teen trapped in a 40-year-old body, nothing he or Roy says on the nature of being contains any kind of insight. There’s so much undirected angst in the dialogue, it’s like it was written by the guys from the ’90s band Bush.

An excess of ennui in their characters yields clunky, detached performances by Rampal and Kapoor. Fernandez — whose beauty is the best thing Roy has going for it — is better in scenes as Tia, in which she plays an heiress trapped in a 1960s time warp, at least as far as her teased hair is concerned.

Debutant writer-director Vikramjit Singh has a good sense for framing shots, and the movie is quite pretty. Sadly, the visual interest ends there, since Singh focuses all his attention on writing bland dialogue instead of considering what it would look like when delivered onscreen.

Without additional assistance on the script, Singh’s story feels hollow. Even after Kabir undergoes his supposed metamorphosis from spoiled man-child to emotionally mature adult, he still does something incredibly selfish.

Ayesha is on her way to a film festival in another country. For independent filmmakers, festivals provide opportunities to network and drum up publicity and funds for their next projects. Wealthy, connected Kabir stops Ayesha at the airport, telling her, in essence, “If you love me, you won’t get on the plane.”

Kabir puts his own desires ahead of Ayesha’s career, which is all the more selfish since Kabir’s got more than enough cash to buy his own plane ticket and go with her. Considering that Singh’s debut film features A-listers like Kapoor, Rampal, and Fernandez, it’s not surprising that he has an easier time identifying with a celebrity like Kabir rather than a struggling filmmaker like Ayesha.

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Opening February 13: Roy and MSG

The romantic thriller Roy — starring Ranbir Kapoor, Jacqueline Fernandez, and Arjun Rampal — hits Chicago area theaters on February 13, 2015.

Roy opens on Friday at 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. 26 min.

Also opening at MovieMax on Friday is MSG: The Messenger of God, which has a runtime of 3 hrs. 17 min.

Shamitabh carries over for a second week at MovieMax, Cantera 17 and South Barrington 30, which also holds over Baby for a fourth week.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Temper (Telugu w/no subtitles) at MovieMax, Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale, and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, and Yennai Arindhaal (Tamil w/English subtitles) at MovieMax and Seven Bridges. MovieMax also carries Anegan (Tamil) and Malli Malli Idi Rani Roju (Telugu), as well as English-language coverage of the India vs. Pakistan Cricket World Cup match on Saturday night.

Streaming Video News: June 2, 2014

New on Netflix streaming is the 2013 spy thriller D-Day, starring Irrfan Khan, Arjun Rampal, Rishi Kapoor, and Huma Qureshi. I think about D-Day more often than any other film from last year, and I look forward to watching it again.

Eros Now debuted Purani Jeans on its streaming service a couple of days ago. The coming-of-age film from last month didn’t open in North American theaters, so it’s great that fans over here finally have a way to watch it.

Best Bollywood Movies of 2013

What stands out most on my Top Ten list for 2013 is the diversity of genres represented. No matter what you’re in the mood for, there’s a really good movie on this list. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)

Want a fun teen dance flick? Check out ABCD: Any Body Can Dance.
Looking for a good sports movie or biopic? Try Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.
In the mood for a family drama set in the underworld? You’ve gotta see Aurangzeb.

In addition to the great variety on the list, all the movies mentioned are accessible to an international audience. Familiarity with Hindi movies and their structure may enhance one’s appreciation of Phata Poster Nikla Hero or Commando: A One Man Army, but a lack of prior experience shouldn’t keep Bollywood newcomers from enjoying them. In fact, Commando‘s best selling point is that it’s a martial arts action flick with a romantic dance number in the middle.

2013 was a great year for films featuring ensemble casts. Movies like Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola and D-Day showcase the work of veteran stars, while Shuddh Desi Romance and Kai Po Che! — both of which star Sushant Singh Rajput — feature up-and-comers with bright futures ahead of them.

D-Day also features my single favorite scene in any movie from 2013: a heartbreaking song montage about the doomed relationship between an assassin (Arjun Rampal) and a prostitute (Shruti Haasan).

My favorite Hindi movie of 2013 offers the perfect mix of passion and drama in a beautiful setting. If I could dream up an ideal romantic movie, it would be Lootera. [Buy it on DVD here.]

Writers Vikramaditya Motwane and Bhavani Iyer took a short story by O. Henry and adapted it to depict a tumultuous time period in India, as family fortunes were dismantled in the years following partition. Imagine trying to cope with the heightened emotions of first love while your way of life is turned on its head. Such are the circumstances for Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha) and her beau, Varun (Ranveer Singh).

Fans of Victorian literature or contemporary period dramas like Downton Abbey: Lootera is made for you.

Best Bollywood Movies of 2013

  1. Lootera — Buy at Amazon
  2. D-Day — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  3. Kai Po Che! — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  4. Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola — Buy/rent at Amazon
  5. Shuddh Desi Romance — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  6. Commando: A One Man Army — Buy at Amazon
  7. ABCD: Any Body Can Dance — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  8. Aurangzeb — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  9. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  10. Phata Poster Nikla Hero — Buy at Amazon

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