Tag Archives: Ashish Vidyarthi

Movie Review: Khufiya (2023)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj is gifted at adapting plays and books into killer screenplays, from his Shakespeare trilogy (Maqbool, Omkara, and Haider) to 7 Khoon Maaf, based on the Ruskin Bond short story “Susanna’s Seven Husbands.” His latest — Khufiya — is based on Amar Bhushan’s espionage novel Escape to Nowhere, but the resulting film is not one of Bhardwaj’s most successful adaptations.

Khufiya‘s setup is pretty straightforward. It’s 2004, and a mole within India’s intelligence bureau RAW leaked information that got one of their operatives killed. RAW needs to find out who the mole is working with and how they’re transferring sensitive documents.

In the years since the 1999 Kargil War, both India and Pakistan worked in secret to influence elections in Bangladesh. It’s there that an Indian operative named Heena (Bangladeshi actress Azmeri Haque Badhon) is murdered at a swanky party while trying to poison Pakistani Brigadier Mirza (Shataf Figar).

RAW officer Jeev (Ashish Vidyarthi) quickly and correctly identifies an employee named Ravi (Ali Fazal) as the source of the leak. Jeev lets his most trusted deputy Krishna (Tabu) lead the operation to follow Ravi as a way of getting payback for Heena’s death. Though they may not have publicly acknowledged it, it’s clear that Krishna’s partnership with Heena was more than just professional.

The spy stuff is fun, as Krishna’s crew bugs Ravi’s house with hidden cameras and follow him around town. There’s some suspicion that Ravi’s wife Charu (Wamiqa Gabbi) is helping him transfer documents, but she mostly hangs out at home smoking weed and dancing to old film songs in her underwear.

When they finally discover who Ravi’s working for, the truth reveals a web of global geopolitics that is more complicated than India versus Pakistan, spy versus spy. The second half of the film switches the focus from Krishna and India to another character in another location, similar to Gone Girl.

Khufiya‘s two standout performers are Badhon as Heena and Gabbi as Charu. Badhon is ideal as a sexy vamp. Gabbi is sassy and adorable as Charu when she thinks no one is watching her and heartbreaking when the consequences of Ravi’s double-dealing come to bear. Fazal is totally solid as Ravi.

Tabu’s Krishna is stoic as she puts her pain on the back-burner to focus on the mission at hand. Despite Krishna being the main character, we don’t get to know her as well as I wanted to, and Tabu doesn’t get to show the emotional range she’s capable of.

That’s because the screenplay isn’t a great adaptation of the novel. The movie feels very much like it was based on a book, with lots of subplots, complex international relations, and character introspection. There’s so much going on that Bhardwaj would’ve been better either turning Khufiya into a series or cutting some subplots out of the final draft.

Making Khufiya into a series would have allowed more time to showcase all the subplots — particularly Krishna’s relationship with Heena — while enabling more in-depth character development and opportunities to establish atmosphere. The midpoint character point of view switch also would have felt more organic. As it stands, the movie feels simultaneously too dense and not dense enough.

If Bhardwaj was set on shooting Khufiya as a film, it would’ve been fair to axe Krishna’s ex-husband Shashank (played by Atul Kulkarni) and their teenage son Vikram (Meet Vohra) from the plot. As is, they seem like afterthoughts who don’t add enough to Krishna’s arc. The only reason to keep them is that it gives Bhardwaj an excuse to work a couple of Shakespeare references into the story, with Vikram starring in a production of Julius Caesar and having a Tempest poster hanging on his bedroom wall.

The music is terrific, as it is in every Bhardwaj picture (he’s also the film’s composer). Singer Rahul Ram plays a holy man, and his songs “Bujhee Bujhee” and “Mann Na Rangaave” are soundtrack highlights.

Khufiya is by no means bad. It just could have been better.


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Movie Review: Kuttey (2023)

0.5 Star (out of 4)

The joyless, immature heist film Kuttey (“Dogs“) is an inauspicious feature debut for writer-director Aasmaan Bhardwaj (son of filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj, who co-wrote and produced Kuttey).

Kuttey opens in 2003 in a remote police outpost in western Maharashtra. Officer Paaji (Kumud Mishra) listens as jailed Maoist fighter Lakshmi (Konkona Sen Sharma) explains that he’ll never find freedom as a lackey in an oppressive system. She’s proven right when Paaji’s superior officer slaps him for treating Lakshmi compassionately, then rapes Lakshmi in front of him.

Thirteen years later, Paaji is still a cop, but he’s earning money on the side doing jobs for the drug dealer Khobre (Naseeruddin Shah) with fellow cop, Gopal (Arjun Kapoor). Khobre instructs the pair to murder a rival dealer, which they do, along with killing dozens of people at a pool party.

Actually, the rival dealer survives the assassination attempt, albeit in a coma. Paaji’s and Gopal’s boss bribes them to keep their involvement quiet in exchange for a hefty payout. They turn to another sketchy cop named Pammi (Tabu) for advice and learn from her pal Harry (Ashish Vidyarthi) about the route Harry’s armored truck takes on its nightly rounds to refill ATMs with cash. Paaji and Gopal both decide to rob the truck, though not together. Other people get wind of the plan, and chaos ensues.

Kuttey is an extremely violent movie, with a body count in the dozens. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Films full of pointless violence can still make a point themselves. But Kuttey doesn’t. It is violent in an attempt at edginess that just comes across as cruel. Couple that with the passionless sex scenes and foul language, and the film feels like the product of a particularly sheltered middle schooler who finds swearing, sex, and gore in movies endlessly thrilling because they are new to him.

The characters are so poorly defined that there’s no reason to care about any of them. We don’t know enough about these people or or their circumstances to get invested. It also strips all the deaths of meaning since there’s no sense of who is or isn’t deserving of grisly murder or what kind of void they’ll leave behind when they are gone. The goal seems to be the highest body count possible, achieved by any means.

With such hollow characters to work with, the performances in Kuttey are nothing special. That goes for Tabu as well, whose assignment is to cuss and chew scenery. Pammi spends an agonizingly long time telling the parable of the scorpion and the frog, even though everyone already knows it because so many other movies have used it. The whole film moves way too slowly despite having a runtime under two hours.

There’s also an issue with how violence is administered in Kuttey. Virtually every character is subjected to violence. But only women are done so in a punitive way, and not just because they are an obstacle in someone’s pursuit of a greater goal. Besides Lakshmi’s rape, the scene at the pool party thrown by the rival drug dealer is especially problematic. As Paaji and Gopal walk towards the rival dealer to shoot him and his “Nigerian” counterparts (one of whom has an American accent), some unaware bikini-clad white women push the cops into the pool as a joke. Gopal can’t swim, and the women laugh at him as he’s rescued by the American guy. When Gopal recovers enough to pick up his gun, he shoots the laughing women first.


Movie Review: Rahasya (2015)

Rahasya3 Stars (out of 4)

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Rahasya is a solid police procedural, with an intriguing pool of suspects in the murder of a teenage girl. Inspired by a real case, the movie elucidates the way ordinary secrets can come back to haunt us.

The mystery begins when the body of 18-year-old Ayesha Mahajan (Sakshi Sem) is discovered by the family maid, Remi (Ashwini Kalsekar). Sometime between 11 p.m. and 6:30 a.m., Ayesha was murdered in her own bedroom, her throat slashed.

It seems obvious to police Inspector Malwade (Nimai Bali) that Ayesha was murdered by her father, Dr. Sachin Mahajan (Ashish Vidyarthi). Dr. Mahajan was angry at discovering his daughter’s sexual relationship with a Muslim neighbor boy, Riyaz (Kunal Sharma), and he killed her in drunken fit of rage, Malwade assumes. Never mind that Riyaz is nowhere to be found, and that the other member of the household staff, Chetan (Manoj Maurya), also absconded during the night.

The case draws the interest of Central Bureau of Investigation agent Paraskar (Kay Kay Menon), who finds the answer offered by the police too convenient. Specifically, he doubts that Sachin could have slashed Ayesha’s throat so precisely given how drunk he was.

Paraskar’s investigation — with the help of his dutiful assistant, Parvez (Abhinav Sharma) — uncovers additional motives that shine the spotlight on everyone from staff members to neighbors. It also puts Paraskar in the crosshairs of the real killer.

Menon’s captivating performance is the main reason to watch Rahasya. Writer-director Manish Gupta knows this, so he employs closeups of Menon’s face liberally, encouraging the audience to focus on his star. Detective Paraskar’s initial quirkiness is short-lived, allowing the character to establish an identity distinct from all the Sherlock clones out there. He’s meticulous and principled, chasing down each lead while ignoring his wife’s suggestion to just take a bribe and be done with it.

The mystery itself is compelling, with each suspect and theory laid out in turn. Only during Paraskar’s final reveal do things slow down. Right when the audience wants the answers, director Gupta delays with flashbacks and interruptions by the suspects. It’s not a fatal flaw, but it is frustrating.

Gupta’s spin on a true crime story highlights the dangers of jumping to conclusions. While everyone is innocent until proven guilty, those with the strongest motives may be those you least suspect.


Movie Review: R… Rajkumar (2013)

R..._Rajkumar_Theatrical_poster_(2013)1 Star (out of 4)

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Director Prabhu Deva’s schizophrenic style strikes again. In R… Rajkumar, he derails an enjoyable action rom-com with a casual treatment of violence against women.

The double shame is that the character who suffers most from this misogyny, Chanda (Sonakshi Sinha), is a strong female character. Yet the script reduces her to a plot device, beaten and threatened with rape just to inspire the heroic deeds of the title character, Romeo Rajkumar (Shahid Kapoor).

Romeo, a hired thug, comes to town to join a gang headed by Shivraj (Sonu Sood), a drug lord at war with a rival opium dealer, Parmar (Ashish Vidyarthi). He falls in love with Chanda at first sight, becoming so lovestruck that it hampers his ability to carry out his duties on behalf of Shivraj.

Romeo’s love-induced impairment repeatedly endangers the life of his fellow henchmen and best friend, an apparently unnamed goon played by Mukul Dev. Their playfully antagonistic friendship is the highlight of the movie, even though it mostly disappears in the second half of the film.

The humor in Romeo’s friendship and in his pursuit of Chanda are hard to reconcile in the context of a movie that treats violence against women as a given. Chanda is brutally lashed with a belt a dozen times by her uncle, who objects to her romance with Romeo. In the very next scene, the same uncle is seen clowning around with his underlings, accompanied by a flatulence sound effect.

Is the audience supposed to ignore the beating the uncle administered to his niece just seconds earlier? Is he supposed to be a source of comic relief or a monster? It’s one thing for the uncle to abuse his underlings; they signed up for the job. Chanda is beaten because she is a woman.

In another scene, Shivraj threatens Chanda in order to provoke Romeo: “I’ll tie her up and rape her in front of you.” However, in the English subtitles, the word “rape” is censored, written as “r**e.” So rape is too vile a word to read, but not too vile an act to depict onscreen or use as a threat?

It’s so frustrating because R… Rajkumar is otherwise pretty good. Romeo and Chanda develop a sweet relationship over the course of the film. Kapoor shows a wide range in his performance, and his dancing is top-notch, as always. Sinha is brave and resolute while enduring all the abuse the script throws at her.

I wish I could recommend R… Rajkumar, but I just can’t. It portrays violence against women as a social norm, something a woman can only escape if she has a boyfriend with superhuman strength to defend her. Why couldn’t this just be a fun movie and not a regressive piece of social commentary?