Tag Archives: Arunoday Singh

Movie Review: Viceroy’s House (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Viceroy’s House isn’t wholly successful, but maybe trying to depict the fraught months leading up to India’s Partition in a movie less than two hours long was never a venture that could succeed.

The biggest hurdle director Gurinder Chadha and her screenwriter husband Paul Mayeda Berges set for themselves is in trying to portray events in a way that is, if not objective, then at least fair. Most of the key players — fictional and historical — are shown as having good intentions and understandable motivations (except for the Muslims who work for the viceroy, who all agitate for an independent Pakistan). Yet knowing now of the refugee crisis that immediately followed Partition and the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan, is the focus on good intentions even desirable?

Viceroy’s House begins with the installation of Lord Louis Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) as the last viceroy, tasked with turning over the subcontinent to Indian rule. Even with independence on the horizon, Mountbatten maintains his aristocratic lifestyle, timing his servants to make sure they can dress him quickly enough for his satisfaction.

Mountbatten’s wife, Edwina (Gillian Anderson), and their teenage daughter Pamela (Lily Travers), are more aware of the value of softening the image of the British as rulers in favor of something more democratic. Edwina invites Indian guests to parties at the estate, asking the all-Indian kitchen staff to adjust the menu to cater to local tastes. When the sous chef complains in Hindi that all of his training is in English-style cooking, the Lady’s assistant Aalia (Huma Qureshi) translates his comments as polite assent to the request. It’s as though the movie itself doesn’t want its British characters to have to deal with the mess that their predecessors left, and as if the present viceroy’s family’s good intentions have wiped the slate clean.

In an effort to put the larger events in a more personal context, Viceroy’s House features a love story between Aalia and Jeet (Manish Dayal), one of Lord Mountbatten’s grooms. They love each other, but he is Hindu and she is Muslim, in addition to being betrothed to a nice man, Asif (Arunoday Singh), as fulfillment of her mother’s dying wish. Jeet wants Aalia to follow her heart, but she has not only Asif’s feelings to consider but the well-being of her blind father (played by Om Puri). Would they really be safe in a Hindu-majority India? Jeet’s naive faith in both a united India and in the power of love to conquer all lead him to dismiss Aalia’s concerns as a lack of courage.

Casting Hugh Bonneville as an aristocrat invites comparisons to his role as the Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey. Where the two stories differ is in their ability to entwine the lives of characters of different classes, thus providing a more complete picture of society at the time. Downton Abbey did so successfully through subplots like Lady Sybil helping Gwen the maid find a job as a secretary.

In Viceroy’s House, the Mountbatten’s lack such intimate connections to their staff. The wealthy Brits have ideas as to what might be troubling their servants, but they don’t know details. The whole feel of the film would have changed with better integration between the class-specific plots, such as Pamela learning of Aalia’s romantic problems and using her position to find a way for Aalia and Jeet to be together.

Where Viceroy’s House does succeed is showing the scope of the problems complicating the British departure from India. There are no easy solutions, and blood was already being shed when Mountbatten arrived. However, asking the audience to feel bad for Mountbatten — a representative of a white, foreign power that had been exploiting India for centuries — just because he personally didn’t create the problems he was asked to solve is a bit much.

The accomplished cast — which also includes Michael Gambon, Darshan Jariwala, Denzil Smith, and Neeraj Kabi — give laudable performances all around. Huma Qureshi is charming, and Arunoday Singh stands out in his few scenes. If the two of them can’t find quality parts in Bollywood, come to Hollywood, please!

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Movie Review: Mohenjo Daro (2016)

MohenjoDaro1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Even without context, Mohenjo Daro isn’t a very good movie, but it’s especially disappointing when considered within the landscape of recent Indian films and with regard to director Ashutosh Gowariker’s past achievements.

Gowariker’s story takes place in the ancient Indus Valley city of Mohenjo Daro, around 2,000 years B.C. Hrithik Roshan plays Sarman, a nearby farmer with a mysterious connection to the city that he doesn’t understand.

Sarman’s uncle Durjan (Nitish Bharadwaj) caves to Sarman’s relentless begging and allows his nephew to go to the Mohenjo Daro, albeit with warnings about the city’s many dangers. At forty-two, Roshan is too old play a character so immature that he opens the “only in case of life or death” package that his uncle gives him as soon as Durjan is out of sight.

When Sarman arrives at the metropolis he finds a place governed by greedy politicians fearful of the merciless senate leader Maham (Kabir Bedi) and his bully of a son, Moonja (Arunoday Singh). Maham orders a tax increase, even as farmers struggle with diminishing yields due to Mahan’s damming of the river.

Sarman is fed up and ready to head home when, wouldn’t you know it, he spots a beautiful woman who makes him change his mind. (Conveniently, everything of import in Mohenjo Daro happens at exactly the right moment.) The woman is Chaani (Pooja Hegde), daughter of the head priest (Manish Chaudhary) and The Chosen One of Mohenjo Daro.

Chaani presents all kinds of problems in the story (none of which are Hegde’s fault). Right after Sarman admonishes his buddy and traveling companion Hojo to stop ogling women, Chaani shows up in an outfit that demands ogling. Her backless, floor-length dress has slits all the way up both thighs, a cutout to expose her navel, and a pushup bra. So, it’s bad when other men leer at women, but not when Sarman does it?

Then there’s the part about Chaani being The Chosen One. A prophesy at the time of her birth decreed that she would make a decision that would usher in a new era for Mohenjo Daro, but she never makes such a decision. She’s just a bystander as the people forget about her divine destiny and declare Sarman the savior of Mohejno Daro.

With very little written or archeological evidence to go by, Gowariker was free to style his version of Mohenjo Daro as he wished. The results are bizarre, not in a fanciful way but in an impractical one. In addition to feathers and several kilos of metal beads, Chaani’s elaborate headdress has slices of geodes that hang next to her face. One can only imagine how annoying it must have been for Hegde to have slabs of rock clanking against her cheek in nearly every scene. And don’t get me started on helpful city guard Lothar’s (Diganta Hizarika) 1980s side-ponytail.

There are weird visual nods to classic Christian stories from Hollywood, too. In flashbacks, Maham is styled like an evil Jesus. Narendra Jha as the crazy prophet Jakhiro looks like Charlton Heston’s Moses from The Ten Commandments.

The lack of historical data was an opportunity to create something visually stunning, but Mohenjo Daro just isn’t. Worse, it looks really bad when compared to last year’s historical epic, Baahubali: The Beginning. In every respect — costuming, CGI, fight scenes, musical numbers — Mohenjo Daro looks like a lackluster version of Baahubali, with a less compelling story.

The bland, obvious plot is perhaps the most shocking element of Mohenjo Daro. Gowariker has a great track record for writing and directing engrossing stories that subtly convey his political ideals. Lagaan had poor, rural Indians literally beating the British at their own game. Swades showed how innovation and dedication to community can circumvent the slow movement of government. Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey saw young Indians pushed to violence by oppressive British rule. In Jodhaa Akbar, Roshan played a progressive emperor who embraced multiculturalism.

Gowariker ditches the nuance and character motivations of his previous films for cliched populism. Sarman declares that The People are fed up paying the senate’s taxes, and The People cheer in unison, somehow instinctively knowing that this outsider is the savior who can lead them out of poverty, and causing them to forget about the crew of murderous hill goons Maham employs as bodyguards, a la Tyrion Lannister.

It’s too easy. The idea that all of India’s (or anywhere’s) problems could be solved if the masses would rise up as one behind a charismatic leader is lazy and unsatisfying, whether the action takes place in the modern day or thousands of years ago. It absolves the masses of having to do the hard work that was such an important part of Lagaan, Swades, and Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey. Just wait around for a messiah — but not the woman we thought was The Chosen One. This other guy instead.

Even the manner in which the story is presented is ham-handed. A. R. Rahman provides a score full of uncharacteristically garish musical cues. The single corniest moment sees one character tell another, “something something something YOUR FATHER,” followed by a noisy instrumental blast and a zoom to closeup on the listener’s face.

There are also none of the culture-clash elements from Gowariker’s previous films present in Mohenjo Daro. Sarman is an outsider, but it’s not really a problem. He adapts to life in the city almost immediately, making friends and falling in love without a hitch. Then again, there’s not enough to Chaani’s character to make her a complicating factor. She’s there to look pretty, which Hegde does exceedingly well.

The actors aren’t to blame for Mohenjo Daro‘s shortcomings. No one is particularly good or bad, although I did enjoy Singh’s performance as the thwarted heir apparent more than I have some of his past work. This will be one of Roshan’s most forgettable roles.

There’s not enough substance here to tell if Mohenjo Daro could have been more than it is. It’s just the unfortunate product of a talented filmmaker who appears to have lost his way, sublimating his ideals for pandering that pleases no one.

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Movie Review: Main Tera Hero (2014)

MTH_Poster3 Stars (out of 4)

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Ever since the traumatizing experiences of watching Do Knot Disturb and Rascals, director David Dhawan’s name has struck fear in my heart. But after last year’s cute comedy Chashme Baddoor and now Main Tera Hero (“I’m Your Hero“), I have less reason to fear.

Main Tera Hero infuses the romantic comedy genre with action to accompany some impressive dance numbers. The hero at the center is played by Varun Dhawan (David’s son), whose substantial charisma hints at a long career ahead for a young actor in only his second film.

Varun plays Seenu, a worthless trickster so loathed in his hometown of Ooty that all the residents wave a gleeful farewell to him when he boards the train to Bangalore. He arrives at university and begs a statue of Krishna — who talks back — to help him focus on his studies. Seenu turns to see beautiful Sunaina (Ileana D’Cruz), hair streaming in the breeze, and he interprets her appearance as a sign from God. Seenu doesn’t linger to hear Krishna bemoan having a devotee dim enough to mistake a gust of wind for divine intervention.

Seenu’s pursuit of Sunaina is complicated by the fact that Angad (Arunoday Singh) — a burly police officer with anger issues — already has his eyes on her. Seenu turns the mischievous nature that made him so loathed in Ooty into an asset, and he tricks Angad into letting him court Sunaina.

D’Cruz rocks some great facial expressions throughout the movie, but she’s at her best during this courtship phase. Seenu tries to win Sunaina with the song “Palat Tera Hero Idhar Hai,” but Sunaina spends most of the song being startled by him. It’s hilarious to watch her jump as a horn plays behind her or Seenu surprises her at a movie theater.

Seenu’s pursuit is derailed at the movie’s halfway point when a secret admirer of his — Ayesha (Nargis Fakhri), a gangster’s daughter — tricks Seenu into coming to Bangkok to rescue Sunaina. This twist isn’t set up well, but it provides an excuse to get Varun, D’Cruz, and Fakhri into swimsuits and chilling poolside at a Bangkok mansion. That’s the whole point of the movie, right?

There’s plenty of skin on display, as well as an overabundance of pelvic thrusts. David Dhawan repeatedly positions the camera on the ground and points it up at Varun’s crotch. Thanks for pointing out exactly where Varun’s penis is, David, since we couldn’t see it through his pants.

More than just a thrusting pelvis, Varun does some good work in Main Tera Hero. He’s always engaged, throwing in subtle gestures and glances that maintain interest while Seenu does utilitarian things like walk from Point A to Point B. He’s also a tremendous dancer, and the movie’s several dance numbers allow him to show off.

Main Tera Hero has a really strong supporting cast, from Rajpal Yadav as Angad’s much abused sidekick, Peter, to Saurab Shukla as Ayesha’s father’s much abused sidekick, Balli. Ayesha’s father (played by Anupam Kher in an awesome wig) speaks with an echo, a tic that resulted from him being born in a valley. The “echo” is just Kher saying the same word three or four times at the end of a sentence, making the joke that much funnier.

The echo bit fits nicely with other surreal elements — like talking statues and balloons that wink — that help make sense of the random sound effects of which director Dhawan is fond.

The weak link in the cast is Fakhri. Though she speaks more Hindi dialogue in Main Tera Hero than she has in her previous films, she still sounds like she’s reading a cue card for the first time when she delivers lines in her native English.

There are also gender-bias flaws inherent in this kind of male-hero-centered film. Seenu falls in love with Sunaina on first sight, and uses his love to justify his pursuit of her despite her repeated objections. Later, Seenu fails to see the hypocrisy in his condescending dismissal of Ayesha’s love-at-first-sight for him. That kind of love, he claims, is mutual, even though it took several days for Sunaina to fall for him.

Accepting those flaws, Main Tera Hero is nevertheless pretty harmless. It has some laughs, energetic dance numbers, and an attractive cast. It’s exactly what it’s supposed to be.

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Movie Review: Jism 2 (2012)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Jism 2: To Love Her is to Die is simultaneously ridiculous and wildly entertaining. The “sequel” is related to 2003’s Jism (“Body”) in name only.

The film’s main gimmick is that director Pooja Bhatt cast Canadian porn actress Sunny Leone in the lead role, Leone’s first outside of the adult film industry. Jism 2‘s opening lines, spoken by Leone (actually, by the actress who dubbed Leone’s Hindi dialog), are: “My name is Izna. I’m a porn star.”

This revelation has no bearing on the plot. The only indications that she’s a porn star are her penchants for pale pink lip gloss and platform heels. I suspect the profession is mentioned to condone the fact that Izna has sex with both male leads. Would that behavior have been unacceptable had Izna been a doctor or a bank teller?

Izna is recruited by an unspecified government agency to seduce her ex-boyfriend, Kabir (Randeep Hooda), a former intelligence officer turned terrorist. He has “data” the agency wants. Don’t expect satisfying answers about what the data is, the nature of the agency, or why Kabir went rogue.

Izna finds herself in a sticky situation when the agency officer who recruited her, Ayaan (Arunoday Singh), falls for her. Will she be able to betray her former flame, even though he still carries a torch for her?

Leone exceeds expectations by not being terrible. The spunky newcomer is undeniably gorgeous, and she makes a determined effort to convey Izna’s conflicted emotions. However, her acting is overshadowed by her heaving bosom. Leone’s lips are parted in all scenes except for those showing her sleeping, her mouth-breathing allowing her to achieve perpetual breathlessness and maximum breast movement.

Hooda likewise tries really hard to make Kabir mysterious and sexy. This performance should establish Hooda as Bollywood’s go-to actor for smoldering intensity. Given the volume of Leone’s cleavage on display, there aren’t nearly enough shots of Hooda shirtless on balance.

Compared to the performances of his costars, Singh appears in most scenes to have been recently roused from a nap. While Leone heaves her little heart out, Singh just stands there, delivering his lines limply.

I think it’s time to have a discussion as to whether or not Arunoday Singh is leading-man material. He’s not a great actor, and his high-pitched voice doesn’t match his beefy frame. Yes, he’s tall and muscular, but he’s not handsome, no matter how often the female characters in movies such as Aisha insist that he is. He’d make a fine villain or bodyguard/sidekick, but cast alongside a hunk like Randeep Hooda, Singh gets blown out of the water.

The height differential between Singh and Hooda presents continuity problems in Jism, 2 as Leone is forced to change footwear mid-scene, depending which actor she’s paired with. She wears heels as she leaves the towering Singh for a jungle meeting with the much shorter Hooda and emerges from the underbrush wearing flats.

How did this jungle meeting come about, you wonder. Izna invites Kabir to discuss their unresolved feelings in person via a truly hilarious text message: “Meet me in the jungle next to the highway.” An ideal spot to rekindle a romance! I wanted Kabir to show up late, apologizing: “I went to the forest next to the turnpike by mistake.”

The text message exemplifies the most unintentionally funny aspect of Jism 2: Izna is a terrible seductress. In a flashback to her initial meeting with Kabir years earlier — the scene isn’t introduced as a flashback, so for a time I wondered why the former lovers didn’t recognize one another — Izna falls in love with Kabir after he lets her off the hook for a crime. She expresses her feelings to him in a love letter written in her own blood!

Somehow, Izna’s batshit crazy overture works. Kabir repeatedly sniffs the letter, as if inhaling her perfume: AB+.

Even the romance scenes veer into creepy territory. Both of the guys sneak into Izna’s bedroom and spy on her while she sleeps, clad in uncomfortable-looking lingerie. Liplocks routinely end with the kissers joined by strings of spittle. Leone writhes and arches her back like a champ, but shots of Kabir sucking on Izna’s toes are just gross.

Just for the sheer craziness of it all, I think I’m recommending Jism 2 as a must-see. It’s not good, but it’s certainly entertaining in spurts.

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Movie Review: Yeh Saali Zindagi (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Yeh Saali Zindagi (“This Darn Life”) is a modern attempt at film noir that goes overboard with the “noir.” Many scenes are so dark that you can’t tell what’s happening.

It’s one thing when visual darkness is meant to conceal dark deeds, such as when the hero, Arun (Irrfan Khan), sees the lounge singer he loves, Priti (Chitrangda Singh), kissing another man in a shadowy hallway. Arun then uses the cover of night to follow Priti and the man, only to see her and her new beau kidnapped by a gang of thugs.

But the majority of the time, the darkness onscreen just seems like a failure to provide adequate lighting for the shot. Inside the cell where the lead thug, Kuldeep (Arunoday Singh), hatches a plan to spring his boss, Bade (Yashpal Sharma), from jail, the light coming in from the windows isn’t strong enough to illuminate the faces of the schemers, even if it is atmospheric.

More clumsy is a later scene on a balcony in which Kuldeep, recently freed from jail, frets about his failing marriage to a corrupt jailor, Satbeer (Sushant Singh). The sun is behind the actors, so there’s no way to see Kuldeep’s expression as he breaks down; the only way to interpret his anguish is from his sobbing. If I were one of the actors, I’d be upset that no one could actually see my performance.

The story unfolds through the parallel experiences of Arun and Kuldeep. Kuldeep mistakenly kidnaps Priti, thinking she’s the politician’s daughter engaged to Shyam (Vipul Gupta), the man Arun saw in the hallway with Priti. When Kuldeep and his gang realize their mistake, they don’t have a Plan B. Instead, they rely on Priti to come up with a way to get their ransom: Bade’s freedom.

Given how inept this gang is, it’s a wonder Priti doesn’t go straight to the police when she’s allowed out of their hideout. Instead, she turns to Arun. But she really believes the gang will kill Shyam, so she plays her part and returns to the hideout. The fact that they’re willing to let her live, despite the fact that she knows their identities, indicates that perhaps they’re not really up for murder.

Shyam’s unwillingness to try to help himself further removes any urgency from the situation. It’s not clear what Priti sees in him, other than the fact that she thinks he’s rich (he’s not). Once she learns that he’s broke, why not split?

There’s not much in the way of action, as Arun’s rescue attempt primarily involves bank transfers. The characters and side plots are only okay, the music unremarkable. Couple all that with the shadowy cinematography, and there’s just not much in Yeh Saali Zindagi to hold one’s attention.

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Movie Review: Mirch (2010)

2.5 Stars (4 Stars)

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Mirch (“Chili Pepper”) stands out from other Bollywood fare because of its subject matter: women’s sexuality. It’s a topic that makes some people skittish, yet Mirch addresses it with a sense of humor. However, the otherwise amusing movie fails to reach its full potential.

The movie is actually a series of four short stories — two set in the ancient past, two set in modern times — held together by a framing device. A rookie screenwriter, Maanav (Arunoday Singh), can’t find anyone willing to buy his original screenplay because the subject matter is deemed too dark and not “sexy” enough. So Maanav comes up with another plan: turn four stories from the ancient Panchatantra into a film.

The four stories all feature sexually liberated women who use their wits to get the better of their jealous, promiscuous spouses. Maanav’s girlfriend, a movie editor named Ruchi (Shahana Goswami), convinces her producer boss Nitin (Sushant Singh) to listen to Maanav’s pitch, even though it appears Nitin has his own designs on Ruchi.

The four stories unfold as Maanav’s narration gives way to cinematic depiction, starting with the two historical vignettes. First is the story of a frisky wife (Raima Sen) whose manual laborer husband becomes suspicious of her eagerness to hop in the sack with him.

Second is a story of a young bride (Konkona Sen Sharma) married to an impotent old king. The bride is desperate to lose her virginity, and she chooses a young courtier (also played by Arunoday Singh, who appears in two other stories as well) to do the deed. However, the courtier will only consent if the bride agrees to do it in front of her husband.

The characters in the “real life” storyline acknowledge a need for stories set in modern times, shifting the time period forward for the final two stories. Sen returns in the third story as another devoted wife whose husband (Shreyas Talpade) tests her fidelity. Sharma likewise returns for the fourth vignette, as a wife who catches her husband (Boman Irani) trying to cheat on her.

All of the stories start with straightforward premises but end with a twist: either the wife turns the tables on her husband, or she was hiding a secret all along. In every case, the stories acknowledge the fact that women have their own desires apart from fulfilling their husbands needs. Sen and Sharma carry the movie, playing their characters as provocative rather than overtly sexual.

While the vignettes have their charms, the framing device is uneven. The interludes between the mini-movies seem to be driving toward a love triangle finale that would force Ruchi to choose between Maanav and Nitin. A new character is introduced at the last minute, seemingly invalidating the implication that Nitin was ever interested in Ruchi.

Mirch also makes the unfortunate mistake of putting a character in blackface. When the husband in the third story dons a disguise in order to seduce his wife, he covers his skin in dark makeup. It’s a crude attempt at humor that’s loaded with racist undertones. A wig and a fake mustache would have been sufficient.

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