Tag Archives: Arjun Rampal

Movie Review: Chakravyuh (2012)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Chakravyuh is the latest offering in the Bollywood sub-genre of topic-driven films. The concept of building a film with a political or social issue as the foundation — then adding a story and characters around it — generates films that patronize as often as they entertain. Recent topics to grace the screen have included fairness in education (Taare Zameen Par and Aarakshan), honor killings (Aakrosh and Ishaqzaade), and farmer suicides (Summer 2007 and Peepli Live).

Chakravyuh exemplifies how to do an issue picture the right way. It starts with an on-screen note explaining that the film is based on actual events in the Indian government’s ongoing struggle against the Naxalites, a Communist separatist group. Writer-director Prakash Jha finds the common threads in these real-life events and weaves them together into a cohesive narrative that presents all sides of a complicated conflict.

The first five minutes of Chakravyuh are spent bringing those audience members unfamiliar with Communist separatism in India up to speed. Jha efficiently explains who the Naxalites are and what they want, without belaboring the point for those who already understand the conflict.

The story is told from both sides of the conflict: the police hired to enforce the law, and the separatists who seek self-rule. Adil (Arjun Rampal) volunteers for the position of chief of police of the town of Nandighat: a rural town on the edge of Naxalite-controlled territory. Adil, full of confidence acquired during his relatively easy journey through life, sees himself as the only man who can drive out the Naxalites and restore local confidence in the Indian government.

Adil is only in town for a few days when he is shot in the line of duty. His ne’er-do-well friend, Kabir (Abhay Deol) — who was kicked out of the police academy for hitting a superior officer — sneaks into the police station to see Adil. Kabir offers to infiltrate the Naxalites and act as Adil’s informer.

Because of Adil’s overconfidence and Kabir’s nonchalance, they don’t appreciate what a dangerous idea this is until Kabir is being beaten up and shot at by both the cops and the Naxalites. After spending some time with the separatists and witnessing the way the police treat the locals when Adil isn’t watching, Kabir begins to sympathize with the group he was meant to destroy.

Chakravyuh‘s sets and scenes are gripping. Nighttime police raids are dark, disorienting, and terrifying. Villages of homes built largely of sticks fly hammer-and-sickle flags in their yards, as armed insurgents walk through town calling each other “comrade.” The Naxalite camp is little more than tarps strung up between trees in the forest.

Adil and Kabir are terrific characters to guide the audience through the film. Both have enough power to influence some events in their lives, but not enough power to actually end the conflict. Kabir, while valuable, is too new in camp to make it into the Naxalite inner circle. It takes Adil a long time to realize he’s merely a big fish in a small pond; the real power lies with the federal heads of the police department, the politicians who appoint them, and the industrialists who finance the politicians’ campaigns.

Rampal and Deol are both superb in their roles. Each man is sympathetic, if not always right. The history of their friendship is illuminated by minor glimpses into the past but is apparent in the way events play out in the present.

Esha Gupta does a nice job as Adil’s wife and fellow police officer, Rhea. She ardently defends Kabir, but her loyalties lie unambiguously with her husband and her badge. Manoj Bajpai is gripping as the Naxalite leader, Rajan, as is Anjali Patil as Juhi, Rajan’s executioner. The story of how Juhi came to join the insurgents captures the sense of frustration and helplessness that could drive a person to rebellion.

At the heart of Jha’s story is compassion for the poor and the seeming futility of their struggle for a better life. The villages in Chakravyuh lack plumbing, electricity, and medical facilities. When Adil puts antibiotic cream on a villager’s wound, the man’s face beams, accompanied by a corny, patriotic musical swell.

The Naxalites intimidate the villagers into brandishing weapons against the police, but the rebels also provide the people with a sense of control, a way to fight back against a government that ignores them until valuable natural resources are discovered under their land. At one point in the film, an army of paid thugs with machine guns rolls into town on bulldozers, bellowing through bullhorns that the government’s forced demolition of the town is “for your benefit.”

Chakravyuh places blame equally on the government and the Naxalites, while acknowledging that both parties undoubtedly regret needless bloodshed. Yet, with neither group willing to be the first to renounce violence, the conflict rages on, and it’s the poor people caught in the middle who suffer.

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Movie Review: Heroine (2012)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Let me illustrate the failure of director Madhur Bhandarkar’s Heroine with an anecdote from the showing I attended. During a completely serious moment late in the film, Arjun Rampal’s character, Aryan, tells Kareena Kapoor’s Mahi tenderly, “You look beautiful.” The audience laughed.

Heroine is so overwrought and lacking in subtlety that it’s impossible to take seriously. Emotional switches are flipped on a dime, accompanied by dramatic musical cues that are unnecessary because Kapoor’s instantaneous turns from happy to sobbing, shaking fury make it impossible to misinterpret Bhandarkar’s intent.

Kapoor plays Mahi, a superstar actress whose position at the top of the Bollywood hierarchy is threatened by newcomers willing to bribe entertainment journalists with shopping vacations. Mahi’s personal life is on the fritz, too, as her married actor boyfriend, Aryan, dawdles on his way to divorce court.

The couple breaks up, Mahi abuses pills, goes through a PR makeover, dates an athlete (played by Randeep Hooda), and does an indie film to gain some acting chops. The indie film debacle results in a night of drunken lesbianism with a co-star (played by Shahana Goswami). Mahi cries a lot through the melodramatic course of her career, angrily smoking cigarette after cigarette, as if they are responsible for her personal and professional troubles.

Kapoor’s performance is all over the place. I don’t fault her, because I think it’s what Bhandarkar wanted. The problem is that, no matter what she does, Mahi is always wrong. Things always end badly for her. She’s a character with no control over her destiny. It’s hard to connect with a character in such a helpless position. The moral of the story seems to be, “Don’t become an actor.”

When not in emotional roller coaster mode, the film is too “inside baseball.” I’m interested in the film industry, and even I couldn’t care less about scenes in which Mahi discusses changes to the marketing budget with her production team.

The good elements of Heroine are limited to Goswami’s awesome cleavage and multiple shirtless shots of Hooda and Rampal. The dance number “Halkat Jawani” is entertaining, too.

There are two scenes from Heroine that will stick with me because I’m not sure how to explain them, both involving reading material. In one scene, a slimy co-star invites Mahi back to his hotel room, hoping to seduce her. Before she arrives, he places a James Patterson novel on a bedside table. What is this supposed to signify about him? “Hey, Mahi, I know nothing turns chicks on more than popular genre fiction.”

In another scene, an argument between Mahi and Aryan is observed with fiendish glee by up-and-coming actress pretending to be engrossed in an Archie comic. Why Archie? What’s the symbolism? What does it mean?!?!

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Movie Review: Rascals (2011)

Zero Stars (out of 4)

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Director David Dhawan is responsible for my worst Bollywood movie of 2009: Do Knot Disturb. Dhawan looks on track to reclaim the title this year with Rascals, a movie that exemplifies filmmaking at its laziest.

Let me start with a small example of the laziness that permeates Rascals. Early in the film, a tough guy named Anthony (Arjun Rampal) walks into a bar to watch a soccer game, and he places a bet on Brazil. Cut to the TV for a shot of the game, and it’s a game between Germany and Argentina.

A mistake like that wouldn’t have been a big deal if the movie was otherwise competently made. But here’s what it tells me about Dhawan’s level of respect for the audience: he has none. He thinks that moviegoers will be happy to spend two hours watching Ajay Devgn and Sanjay Dutt slap each other while Kangana Ranaut struts around in a bikini.

The problems stem from the crap story at the heart of Rascals. The plot is essentially a dumbed-down version of Bluffmaster!, but without a moral compass. Devgan and Dutt play Bhagat and Chetan (respectively), a pair of thieves who each independently steal from Anthony on the same day. Both flee to Bangkok, where they become rivals for the affections of Khushi (Ranaut).

Bhagat and Chetan spend the bulk of the film trying to thwart each other’s advances on clueless Khushi. Anthony doesn’t reenter the story until the last twenty minutes or so.

Rascals feels much longer than its two-hour runtime. Scenes are introduced without any set-up, and frequently without narrative purpose. Despite having two action stars as its leads, there are few action scenes, but lots of boring conversations between characters. Ranaut’s shrill delivery makes these scenes almost unbearable.

It’s not entirely Ranaut’s fault that her character so irritating. Khushi isn’t written to have any sort of depth or personality: she’s a dumb sex object, as is the only other major female character in Rascals, an escort named Dolly (Lisa Haydon).

A reliance upon stereotypes is another example of creative laziness in Rascals. Women are stupid and only good for sex; white women are particularly slutty (as evidence by the suspiciously high number of scantily clad, blonde backup dancers in Thailand); men are sex-crazed.

Not wanting to let an opportunity for casual racism slip by, Dhawan includes a scene in which Bhagat and Chetan are caught up in a bank robbery. The robbers are all black Africans. In Thailand.

I won’t go so far as to say that Dhawan is racist or sexist (though I can’t figure out why he thought it was cool to have Anthony vent his anger toward Bhagat and Chetan by slapping his innocent sister in the face). I just think he’s careless. Careless about the messages his movies send, not to mention careless about details.

Details like having the characters in Rascals celebrate Christmas just days after they celebrated Valentine’s Day.

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Movie Review: We Are Family (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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I tried to write my review of We Are Family right after seeing it yesterday, but I was too drained. The movie — a remake of the 1998 Hollywood film Stepmom — has a depressing enough premise, but it goes all out to maximize the waterworks.

The remake’s star cast is anchored by Kajol. She plays Maya, a divorced mother of three kids who’s not quite over her globetrotting photographer ex-husband, Aman (Arjun Rampal). When Aman brings his new girlfriend, Shreya (Kareena Kapoor) to his youngest child’s birthday party, Maya and the kids immediately despise her.

When Shreya inadvertently endangers the youngest daughter, Anjali (Diya Sonecha), Maya forbids her from ever seeing the kids again. Maya then discloses to Aman — on the condition of secrecy — that she has cervical cancer. He agrees to move back home to help out and dumps Shreya with no explanation. Everyone is miserable.

Shreya drops by with a present for Anjali, and Maya decides that, if she succumbs to cancer, her kids are going to need a replacement mom. She tells Shreya about her medical condition and asks her to move into the house. This allows Maya to supervise Shreya’s training in the motherly arts.

Career-girl Shreya has little aptitude for childcare, and Maya is hard on her. The kids begin to warm up to their stepmom-in-training, irritating Maya, even though it was she who invited Shreya back into her kids’ lives.

Kajol and Kapoor both give incredible performances. They convey so much with just a look. The movie is primarily about two women trying to understand their roles in a complicated family, and the most touching moments are between Maya and Shreya.

Rampal manages to keep Aman from becoming a villain. He’s unreliable, but he’s not a bad guy. The kids’ parts are similarly well-acted, especially considering how irritating child actors can be. Little Anjali and her older brother, Ankush (Nominath Ginsburg), are curious, without being too wise for their years.

The break-out star of the movie is Aanchal Munjal, who plays teenage daughter Aleya. Her home life gets turned upside down right at the age when she’s transitioning into young adulthood, a challenging task under the best of circumstances. Munjal plays Aleya as resentful, but not wholly without reason, and not without empathy.

The movie falls apart in the final act, when Maya’s condition worsens. At that point, the film becomes an orgy of grief. There are multiple scenes involving crying children, clearly designed to provoke sympathetic tears in the audience. The ploy works the first several times, but eventually loses its effectiveness.

After the movie was over, I had a headache from all of the crying (my own and the characters’) and just wanted to take a nap. It was 3 p.m. My Friday night was already ruined.

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Opening September 3: We Are Family

This weekend’s new Hindi release is a big one: We Are Family — a remake of the 1998 Hollywood film Stepmom — starring Kajol, Kareena Kapoor and Arjun Rampal. Because of the familiar plot and talented cast, this is probably a good movie for Bollywood newbies.

In the Chicago area, We Are Family opens on Friday, September 3, 2010 at the AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 30 in Warrenville. Click here for nationwide theater information. The movie has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 55 min.

Peepli Live sticks around for a fourth week at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30 and Cantera 30. The Golf Glen 5 is also carrying over Lafangey Parindey for a third week.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Penn Pattanam (Malayalam) and Thakita Thakita (Telugu) at the Golf Glen 5.

Movie Review: Raajneeti (2010)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Early in Raajneeti (“Politics”), a veteran politician worries that the hot-headed young members of his party will screw up everything that he and his allies have worked for their whole lives. And that’s exactly what happens in this political soap opera.

Prithvi (Arjun Rampal) and Veerendra (Manoj Bajpai) are rising stars in a political party headed by Veerendra’s father, Bhanu. Bhanu’s brother, Chandra (Chetan Pandit) — who’s also Prithvi’s father — is his right-hand man. Chandra’s youngest son, Samar (Ranbir Kapoor), returns from studying in New York for his uncle’s birthday party.

When Bhanu suffers a stroke on his birthday, it sets off a power struggle between Prithvi and Veerendra, who sees himself as rightful heir to lead the party, despite his villainous mustache and penchant for satin suits. Handsome Prithvi is more popular, but he’s not such a great guy either. Bhanu recovers enough to name Chandra acting president in the hopes of maintaining party unity. It doesn’t work.

Veerendru tries to consolidate his power by taking under his wing a popular local athlete interested in running for office. The jock, Sooraj (Ajay Devgan), is the adopted son of Chandra’s chauffeur — and also the secret love-child of Chandra’s wife, Bharti (Nikhila Trikha), making him Pritvi & Samar’s older half-brother.

When Veerendru and Sooraj resort to violence to achieve their ambitions, Samar steps in to help his brother (the one he knows about, not the secret half-brother). Aiding him is Bharti’s brother, Brij (Nana Patekar), who’s long been the family’s clean-up man. The violence spirals out of control, ruining the lives of everyone involved.

With so many characters, it’s hard to keep track of everyone in Raajneeti. Oops, I left out two of the women critical to the story. There’s Sarah (Sarah Thompson, who played Eve in the final season of Angel), Samar’s American girlfriend. And there’s Indu (Katrina Kaif), who loves Samar but is forced into a political married to Prithvi by her wealthy father.

The story sounds convoluted, and it is. But the filmmakers take nearly three hours to tell the story, allowing enough time to give each character depth. There are no heroes in Raajneeti, and no one’s really innocent apart from Sarah, and that’s only because she’s an outsider.

I found Sarah’s perspective invaluable in the film. Every Hindi movie I’ve seen on the topic portrays Indian politics as violent and corrupt. It makes me wonder why anyone would want to enter the field, given the high mortality rate of Bollywood politicians. It was nice to have an onscreen avatar acting as shocked by the carnage as I was.

Indu also plays an important role, giving women a voice in a male-dominated arena. While she could’ve acted a few scenes more forcefully, Kaif is competent in her portrayal of a manipulated woman. It’s an ambitious choice for Kaif, and the right one if she’s looking to branch out from comedies.

While no one character dominates the screentime, Raajneeti wouldn’t work without Patekar as Brij. His character is involved in almost every critical decision, even if peripherally. Brij is a clean-up man who never gets his own hands dirty, allowing him to remain in good standing with the constituents. Patekar plays him as cool and controlled, manipulating people with a smile.

Brij is the eye of a storm that spirals out of control in the last 30 minutes of the movie. Subtle intrigues are abandoned for an orgy of violence that strains credulity. An important rule that the old politicians adhered to is to always get someone else to pull the trigger for you. The young upstarts forget that, and an unnecessary bloodbath ensues. It might make for a good movie, but it seems like bad politics.

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Opening June 4: Raajneeti

This weekend’s new Hindi release is the political drama Raajneeti. Its ensemble cast includes Ajay Devgan, Katrina Kaif, Ranbir Kapoor and Arjun Rampal.

In the Chicago area, Raajneeti is showing at the AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago, AMC Randhurst 16 in Mount Prospect, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and AMC Cantera 30 in Warrenville. The movie has an official runtime of 2 hrs. 58 min.

Kites, having earned $1,554,744 in the U.S. so far, carries over for a third week at the Pipers Alley 4, Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30 and Cantera 30.

Kites: The Remix earned $24,869 in its opening weekend at 40 U.S. theaters — a per screen average of just $622.

Other Indian films showing in the Chicago area the weekend beginning June 4, 2010 include Singam (Tamil) and Vedam (Telugu) at the Golf Glen 5. Singam is also showing at Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove.

Movie Review: Housefull (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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These days, it’s safe to assume that any movie starring Akshay Kumar is a slapstick comedy. Such is the case with Housefull. Yet the strength of the cast and some well-executed bits make Housefull better than the average Bollywood screwball comedy.

Kumar plays Aarush, a guy whose luck is so bad that a casino pays him to walk around the gaming floor when the house is losing too much money, jinxing the players just by being near them. When his girlfriend turns down his marriage proposal, he flies to London to commiserate with his childhood buddy, Bob (Ritesh Deshmukh).

Bob, a card dealer, is married to Hetal (Lara Dutta), who works as a cocktail waitress. Within hours of his arrival, Aarush accidentally destroys Bob & Hetal’s home, along with their pet parrot. Hetal takes pity on Aarush, who has no other family or friends. She herself is estranged from her father, Batuk (Boman Irani), who wanted her to marry a wealthier man than Bob.

The couple arranges a marriage between Aarush and Devika (Jiah Khan), the daughter of a wealthy casino owner. But on their honeymoon in Italy, Devika reveals that she agreed to the marriage only to pacify her father, who disapproved of her Anglo boyfriend. Distraught, Aarush tries to kill himself, only to be rescued by the lovely Sandy (Deepika Padukone).

Aarush’s bad luck inspires most of the jokes in the early part of the movie but becomes less important the more characters are introduced. Housefull transitions into a comedy about mistaken identities, usually involving characters pretending to be married to someone to whom they are not.

The slapstick humor in Housefull is, at times, surprisingly funny. One example is a fistfight between Aarush and a monkey. On paper, it sounds stupid. But slow-motion closeups of a human fist hitting a monkey in the jaw, followed by a closeup of Aarush taking a small monkey fist to the cheek, accompanied by a Rocky-inspired soundtrack, manage to be hilarious onscreen.

Chunky Pandey also deserves praise for his turn as Akhri Pasta, the half-Indian, half-Italian hotel owner (his father was named Spaghetti Pasta). He wears a leisure suit and speaks in a jumble of Italian, Spanish and celebrity names: “Mama mia! Gracias. Al Pacino.” Pandey takes the role far enough to sell it, but not so far as to be annoying. It shouldn’t be so funny, but it is.

Besides being a bit predictable, the movie has two big flaws. The ending scene is too long and unfunny. If a movie is going to last more than two-and-a-half hours, it had better be for a good reason.

The second problem is a moment of racial insensitivity. It’s minor compared to some other Hindi films (Kambakkht Ishq and All the Best, for instance), but it points to a lack of understanding of when a joke crosses the line.

In order to validate a lie, Hetal borrows a baby to pass off as her own. The only kid to be found on short notice is the son of her black co-worker. When Hetal’s father remarks on the unexpected race of his grandson, Aarush (who’s pretending to be Hetal’s husband) blurts out that his mother was from Africa.

That’s where the joke should have ended. But Aarush begins to jump up and down holding an imaginary spear, mimicking a Maasai tribesman.

It’s not a joke born out of malice, but it trades on a stereotype in a way that lacks self-awareness. It’s awkward enough to draw attention to itself, ruining the sense of being immersed in the movie.

* Housefull has a posted runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min., but it’s actually closer to 2 hrs. 35 min.

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Opening April 30: Housefull

The end of the IPL tournament marks the return of Bollywood movies to theaters. This weekend’s big release is the screwball comedy Housefull, about an unlucky guy who tries to lift his curse by finding true love. The impressive cast list includes Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone, Ritesh Deshmukh, Lara Dutta, Arjun Rampal, Jiah Khan and Boman Irani.

Housefull opens on Friday, April 30 at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and AMC Cantera 30 in Warrenville.

Other Indian movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend include Darling (Telugu), Pappy Appacha (Malayalam), Simha (Telugu) and Sura (Tamil) at the Golf Glen 5.

In Theaters April 23, 2010

There’s only one Hindi movie playing in the Chicago area the weekend beginning April 23, 2010. Paathshaala, starring Shahid Kapoor, is showing at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles.

I expect next weekend’s new release, Housefull — which stars Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone, Ritesh Deshmukh, Lara Dutta, Arjun Rampal and Jiah Khan — to open in a number of theaters across Chicagoland, hopefully bringing the spring Bollywood drought to an end.

This weekend, the Golf Glen 5 is also showing the English-language movie called Anything For You. It stars Sam Ghosh as an Indian-American doctor torn between commitment to his wife and his feelings for an American girl.

Other Indian movies playing around Chicago this weekend include Darling (Telugu), Pramani (Malayalam) and Prasthanam (Telugu) at the Golf Glen 5, which continues to broadcast IPL cricket matches on weekend mornings. Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove is showing the Telugu movies Leader and Kedi.