Tag Archives: Ayushmann Khurrana

Movie Review: Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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First Vicky Donor, and now Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. Ayushmann Khurrana is the go-to actor for reproduction-themed romantic comedies.

Khurrana plays a shy ad-man named Mudit who has his eye on Sugandha (Bhumi Pednekar). His initial attempt to talk to her is interrupted when a performing bear tries humping Mudit’s leg, a comical introduction to the movie’s theme of frustrated sexual congress.

The couple winds up in a kind of hybrid love-marriage/arranged-marriage scenario in which their mutual attraction requires the approval of both families. Sugandha is troubled by her family’s desire to rush her to the altar: “Mummy, Mudit and I just met a few days ago.” “What a time you’re living in,” Mummy (Seema Bhargava Pahwa) replies. “At least you two got to meet.”

The addition of these interested parties into the relationship takes its toll on the couple before their romance can really begin. When Sugandha’s family leaves town, the lovebirds seize the opportunity to get frisky. Yet the pressure for things to go well — under the watchful gaze of portraits of Sugandha’s departed grandparents, no less — leave Mudit unable to perform.

Rather than work the problem out between themselves, Mudit insists that he solve his issue his way, enlisting his two buddies for help and freezing out Sugandha. This leaves her blaming herself for the issue, with her equally inexperienced friend Ginni (Anshul Chauhan) her only support.

The real source of trouble for the couple is their unwillingness to talk to each other, which is an unusual problem to have in a movie as dialogue-heavy as Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. Many words are said with little forward plot movement and not a lot of visual dynamism.

That said, Sugandha’s mom gets plenty of funny lines, especially during a sex-ed lecture to her adult daughter themed around Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. “What happens if Ali Baba can’t get into the cave?” Sugandha wonders aloud. Soon enough everyone in both families knows that Mudit can’t get an erection.

Although geared at an audience old enough to understand the ins and outs of human reproduction, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is sweet and not overly graphic. Khurrana is adorable, and Pednekar beautifully portrays Sugandha’s self-doubt and frustration throughout the couple’s ordeal.  The film just needed less talking and more action (and get rid of Jimmy Shergill’s awkward cameo, please).

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Movie Review: Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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Based on the book The Ingredients of Love by Nicholas Barreau — which itself draws inspiration from Cyrano de BergeracBareilly Ki Barfi (“The Sweet from Bareilly“) feels familiar but fresh. Delightful characters, wonderful performances, and a touching and funny love story make Bareilly Ki Barfi an example of the romantic comedy genre at its best.

Bitti (Kriti Sanon) is the black sheep of Bareilly, a tomboy with a fondness for booze and breakdancing. Her mother Sushila (Seema Bhargava Pahwa) frets that Bitti’s unladylike tendencies are driving away potential suitors. Her supportive father Narottam (Pankaj Tripathy) is happy to have a daughter off whom he can bum smokes.

Father and daughter are aware of the societal norms that Bitti is up against. “Being a girl is a complete disaster,” Bitti says. Narottam doesn’t have any wisdom for her, but he stays by her side as they stand on their balcony looking glum.

Bitti runs away from home, but a book she buys on the train platform entitled “Bareilly Ki Barfi” prompts her to return. The protagonist of the book, Babli, is the spitting image of Bitti. Assuming the book to be the work of a secret admirer, Bitti asks the bookseller, Munna (Rohit Choudhary), for help finding the author, a man named Pritam Vidrohi. Munna instead sends her to his best friend, Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurrana).

Five years earlier, Chirag wrote “Bareilly Ki Barfi” about his ex-girlfriend, Babli. In order to protect his identity, Chirag bullies timid Pritam (Rajkummar Rao) into claiming authorship. Chirag hopes that Bitti can replace Babli, but he doesn’t own up to being the book’s true author, vetting Bitti first. He instead acts as go-between for Bitti and “Pritam,” writing letters on his behalf, spending time with Bitti, and gradually falling in love.

Unable to put off Bitti’s requests to meet Pritam in person, Chirag and Munna track Pritam to Lucknow, where he fled to avoid the mobs of zealous book readers that never materialized (Bitti is the first person to ever buy the book). Pritam is as meek as ever, and it’s easy for Chirag and Munna to pressure him into returning to Bareilly. They force Pritam to adopt a brash, chauvinistic avatar designed to repulse Bitti, thus clearing the way for Chirag. Of course, things don’t work out the way Chirag plans.

One of the themes of Bareilly Ki Barfi is that we are who we are. Bitti won’t change herself to suit the demands of a conservative potential groom. Pritam’s tough-guy act has the unexpected effect of imbuing his natural helpfulness with a cool air, instead of his usual subservient aura. By refusing to acknowledge his true identity, Chirag deprives himself and Bitti of the love they both want.

Munna says something interesting to Chirag as his buddy’s manipulation of Pritam intensifies: “You’re not the villain.” It’s meant to absolve Chirag of wrongdoing, but it highlights the way Chirag’s deceit is changing him for the worse. The longer he continues the charade, the further he strays from the man he and Bitti want him to be.

While the plot of Bareilly Ki Barfi echoes stories that have come before, the setting and characters provide a refreshing update. Bitti and her family are so likeable, and Pritam’s Amitabh Bachchan-inspired boss act is a hoot.

There’s also a lot to like about the story’s construction. Barielly Ki Barfi is directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari (who debuted with 2016’s impressive Nil Battey Sannata) and written by her husband, filmmaker Nitesh Tiwari. An economy of characters ensures that everyone matters, even minor players like Pritam’s mom and Bitti’s best friend, Rama (Swati Semwal). A runtime of around two hours keeps the action moving, allowing the Tiwaris to wrap the movie up before it becomes tiresome.

Best of all is the cast. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Khurrana and Rao as Chirag and Pritam. Khurrana is a master of facial expressions, from his brilliant smiles for Bitti to his stony glares for Munna. Rao has the challenging job of essentially playing two parts and switching between them often, and he does so with ease. The whole supporting cast is terrific as well.

This is the Kriti Sanon performance I’ve been waiting for. She’s been little more than a helpless damsel in distress in her first two Hindi films, and it’s gratifying to see that she’s capable of so much more. Hopefully filmmakers follow Tiwari’s lead and look beyond Sanon’s beauty,  capitalizing on her humor and ease in front of the camera.

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Movie Review: Meri Pyaari Bindu (2017)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Meri Pyaari Bindu (“My Sweet Bindu“) puts a clever spin on a familiar story in a way that allows its talented lead couple to shine. Debutant screenwriter Suprotim Sengupta is one to watch.

Bollywood is awash in stories about a man who falls for a woman — often based on the woman’s appearance alone — who then makes it his mission to win the woman’s affections in return. These one-sided romances are often portrayed as a matter of destiny: the woman simply doesn’t realize that she’s meant to be with the man, so he must convince her. Meri Pyaari Bindu also tells a love story from a man’s perspective, but he is not some hero of destiny. He’s just a guy.

Abhi (Ayushmann Khurrana) is a successful — if slightly embarrassed — writer of pulp horror-romance novels living in Mumbai. He’s spent three years struggling to write a love story of literary merit. His concerned parents dupe him into returning to Kolkata in order to shake his writer’s block and force him to interact with the outside world once again.

The problem is Abhi’s obsession with “the one that got away”: Bindu (Parineeti Chopra), his childhood sweetheart. The mementos he finds in his parents’ home — most significantly a mix tape of old movie songs — prompt Abhi to write about his past with Bindu.

This version of the past is deliberately told from Abhi’s point of view, and it can’t be taken as a completely objective, even in his characterization of Bindu. In his recollection, the first thing she did upon meeting him was to hand him a pair of headphones, instructing him: “Listen to this. It will change your life.” The scene is a direct reference to Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State, one of the most commonly cited examples of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope — a free-spirited female character written as a romantic interest for a stuffy or depressed male character. The fact that Bindu and Abhi are six-years-old when this happens highlights the absurdity of Abhi’s perception of Bindu as his own personal wake-up-call.

As Abhi’s recollections progress forward in time, it becomes apparent to both him and the audience that there’s more to Bindu than her carefree persona suggests. She has plans of her own that may not include Abhi. Both of them learn as they get older that holding on too tightly to dreams that cannot be will only hurt the dreamer.

It’s a risky move to establish Bindu as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, since it requires the audience to invest enough in her to enjoy the payoff as she is revealed to be a nuanced character in her own right. Sengupta successfully pulls it off, and in doing so tells an unconventional but totally relateable love story. Debutant director Akshay Roy shows a knack for commercial cinema in the way he interprets Sengupta’s tale.

Few actors do “exasperated” better than Khurrana, and he gets to deploy his best hangdog expression liberally in Meri Pyaari Bindu. He’s a fine match for Chopra, who gets a wider range of emotions to work with in the film, from spunky to defeated to resolute. Her performance during a scene in which Bindu faces harsh reality is particularly moving.

It’s refreshing to see a Hindi romantic-comedy that knows how to bend the rules of the genre to make something that feels new. Meri Pyaari Bindu trusts in the intelligence of its audience, and the audience is rewarded for watching it.

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Movie Review: Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015)

DumLagaKeHaisha4 Stars (out of 4)

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Author’s note: Thanks to my friend, Melanie, for loaning me her Blu-ray of Dum Laga Ke Haisha! Check out her Letterboxd page.

Without flashy effects or a lavish budget, Dum Laga Ke Haisha tells an enchanting tale that is as fun and immersive as any film out there.

The title — which is translated in the English subtitles as “Heave Ho, Carry That Load” — has a double meaning. It refers metaphorically to shouldering the burdens of marriage but also to a literal race in which a husband carries his wife, the setting for the film’s climactic scene.

Prem Tiwari (Ayushmann Khurrana) is a 25-year-old high school dropout living in Haridwar in 1995. He’s essentially a professional maker of mixtapes, working in a little shop full of cassettes that best exemplifies the film’s excellent production design. His family hopes to improve their financial situation by finding Prem a wife with a job, so they settle on Sandhya (Bhumi Pednakar), a teacher.

Despite the fact that Prem is a man of limited prospects — Prem’s nemesis, Nirmal (Chandrachoor Rai), buys the town’s first CD player, spelling doom for Prem’s business — he’s insulted that his family wants him to wed a woman who is overweight. He accedes to the marriage, but refuses to consummate it. Well, at least for one night.

The story follows Prem and Sandhya as they struggle to reconcile their previous expectations of married life with their actual experience of it. Their potential for happiness hinges on Prem, who hides his deep self-loathing and feelings of failure behind a shield of pride.

In Dum Laga Ke Haisha (DLKH, henceforth), marriage is depicted as more of a public institution than a private one between two people. When Sandhya moves into her husband’s family’s cramped home, she relinquishes all personal privacy. The one telephone is in the hall near the kitchen, so every conversation is overheard. Her in-laws and her husband’s aunt sleep on cots right outside to the matrimonial bedroom. Everyone in the house knows whether or not Prem and Sandhya are having sex.

It’s fascinating to see sex dealt with so frankly in a Hindi movie. The act is a matter of public importance in the sense that, once the marriage is consummated, it’s more difficult to back out. Prem’s mother hears the bed creaking in the other room, and her first instinct is to call her daughters and tell them about it.

The Tiwari family home is a frequent setting in DLKH, and shots featuring too many people crowded into too small a space are reminiscent of Ankhon Dekhi, a terrific movie in which Sanjay Mishra also plays the patriarch.

Director Sharat Katariya and cinematographer Manu Anand also evoke memories of Wes Anderson films in their use of camera pans and in absurdly humorous scenes, including one in which the leader of the local men’s club hoists one of its members onto his back in order to demonstrate proper wife-carrying technique.

Everything in DLKH depends on Prem deciding to take responsibility for his own future, rather than blaming everyone else for his failings. He comes just close enough to causing the audience to lose faith in him, but he doesn’t thanks to Khurrana, who plays the put-upon everyman as well as anybody.

More importantly, we never give up on Prem because of Sandhya. She’s such a complete character — snarky but sensitive and with a sense of justice — that we trust her judgment. If she sees potential in Prem, it must be there. Padnekar is so endearing and funny, she makes Sandhya impossible not to love.

The supporting roles in DLKH are rich and well-defined. As frustrating as Prem’s catty aunt is, we understand why she is the way she is. Same with all of the parents in the film, who react to the possible breakup of Prem and Sandhya’s marriage as though they are the aggrieved parties.

Katariya’s take on marriage is fresh, insightful, heartwarming, and hilarious. DLKH is an absolute must-see.

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Bollywood Box Office: January 30-February 1

Poor, poor Hawaizaada. Family friendly Hindi movies don’t stand much of a chance at the North American box office as it is, but the historical fantasy performed especially poorly here. During its debut weekend — January 30-February 1, 2015Hawaizaada earned $16,546 from 66 theaters for a dismal per-screen average of $251.

Hawaizaada‘s failure strikes another blow against leading man Ayushmann Khurrana’s once promising career. His debut film, 2012’s Vicky Donor, was a surprise hit, taking in $169,209 from 50 North American theaters ($3,384 average) in its first weekend, with final earnings of $549,001. Its success owed more to its racy subject matter — sperm donation — than its leading man, however.

Khurrana’s subsequent films didn’t fare nearly as well here. 2013’s Nautanki Saala! opened with $92,851 from 61 theaters ($1,522 average), ultimately earning $127,844. 2014’s Bewakoofiyaan fared even worse, with first-weekend earnings of $67,738 from 66 theaters ($1,026 average), and total earnings of $106,800.

I’ve enjoyed all of Khurrana’s films, so his ability isn’t the problem. The Bollywood fan base in North America is motivated by name recognition, which Khurrana doesn’t yet have. His best bet for earning it would be to pair with another notable male star, maybe for a buddy comedy. Unfortunately, his next two projects — Dum Laga Ke Haisha and Agra Ka Daabra (which is a great title) — feature him as the solo male lead. I don’t see his international box office prospects turning around any time soon.

Other Hindi movies still in theaters include:

  • Baby: Week 2; $165,732 from 77 theaters ($2,152 average); $694,509 total
  • Dolly Ki Doli: Week 2; $22,155 from 14 theaters ($1,583 average); $164,186 total
  • PK: Week 7; $16,627 from 13 theaters ($1,279 average); $10,535,369 total
  • Tevar: Week 4; $16 from one theater; $166,342 total

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Hawaizaada (2015)

Hawaizaada3 Stars (out of 4)

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Director Vibhu Puri makes a promising debut with Hawaizaada (“Free Flying”, according to the English subtitles), a historical fantasy about an Indian inventor who built an airplane eight years before the Wright brothers.

Legend has it that, in 1895, an unmanned aircraft built by Shivkar Bapuji Talpade flew for several minutes, though scant evidence exists to prove the story. A note at the start of Hawaizaada clarifies that the film is not biographical, but merely inspired by Talpade.

The truth of the legend isn’t as important to Hawaizaada as what it represents: hope. England ruled India during Talpade’s lifetime, a fact that the movie suggests as a possible explanation for why so little information remains regarding his experiments. If the world learned that an Indian independently built a flying machine, the British could have no longer justified their occupation by claiming that Indians were uneducated primitives in need of their civilizing oversight.

Ayushmann Khurrana plays “Shivy” Talpade, the clever but aimless son of a well-to-do Mumbai family. When his father throws him out of the house, Shivy moves in with Shastry (Mithun Chakraborty), an eccentric inventor who looks like a bespectacled Mark Twain. Shastry makes Shivy his apprentice, and they start building an airplane.

Shastry’s home is a wonder. He lives aboard a beached ship, cluttered with Rube Goldberg machines and models of his various inventions. The models — and the plane he and Shivy eventually build — have a cool steampunk aesthetic. There are dozens of birdcages, housing the pigeons whose flight patterns he studies.

The houseboat is but one amazing set in a great-looking film. Every location is full of detail, whether it’s a bedroom full of mirrors or a simple village street. Puri — who served as an assistant director on Saawariya and The Blue Umbrella, two visually sumptuous films — stamps his vision on every scene, right down to the richly colored costumes.

In addition to Shivy’s disapproving father and some suspicious British officers, the other wrinkle in his life is Sitara (Pallavi Sharda), a dancing girl with whom Shivy has fallen in love. She’s realistic about the infeasibility of their relationship, given their difference in social standing. But Shivy is both a romantic and a reformer, ever hopeful that love can conquer all.

Khurrana and Sharda make a likeable pair, with her playing the film’s most grounded character. Some of the acting is occasionally hammy, with Chakraborty the main offender.

A number of helpful characters fill out the story, including Shivy’s nephew/sidekick, Narayan (the adorable Naman Jain), and his old band leader, Khan (Jameel Khan).

Some of Shivy’s most ardent cheerleaders are women. Not only does he have Sitara in his corner, but also his sister-in-law and the wife of a local lord. The women know that Shivy’s success would strike a blow against both the British and the wealthy Indian men aligned with them. A new era of change — heralded by an airplane’s flight — could mean more opportunities for women.

Hawaizaada has a packed soundtrack, with some great songs. “Dil-e-Nadaan,” sung by Khurrana, is a standout. But a few songs feel like filler, stretching out a movie that’s already longer than it needs to be.

International audience members may find one plot thread confusing. Shivy and Shastry take some of their clues on airplane design from the Vedas, and they occasionally quote scripture that isn’t translated in the English subtitles. It’s not vital in order to follow the plot, but one does feel a bit left out.

Go watch Hawaizaada. Not only is it an uplifting story, but it’s a chance to experience the work an emerging director with a distinct aesthetic point of view. I want to see what Vibhu Puri does next.

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Movie Review: Bewakoofiyaan (2014)

Bewakoofiyaan_Poster3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Do not be fooled by the title of Bewakoofiyaan (“Stupidities“). There’s nothing stupid about this movie. Director Nupur Asthana and writer Habib Faisal use a familiar romantic comedy formula to tell an unexpectedly thoughtful story about how economics affect romantic relationships and one’s sense of self-worth.

Life is sweet for marketing executive Mohit (Ayushmann Khurrana). He’s got a new job, a new car, and a beautiful, successful banker girlfriend, Mayera (Sonam Kapoor). Mohit’s driving instructor/life coach warns that one never knows what problems lie down the road, but as long as Mohit has Mayera, everything will be okay.

Mohit’s plans to marry Mayera hit a roadblock when he meets her stubborn father, V.K. Sehgal (Rishi Kapoor). After struggling to raise his daughter on the modest salary of a government bureaucrat, Sehgal believes that Mayera must marry a man with a lot more money than Mohit.

Just when Sehgal decides to give Mohit a probationary run as a candidate for future son-in-law, the real disaster strikes: Mohit loses his job. His pride keeps him from taking jobs he considers beneath his MBA status, and the financial stress of keeping up with their free-spending social circle wears on both Mohit and Mayera. All this while they hide Mohit’s unemployment from Sehgal.

Asthana establishes the appropriate humorous tone for Bewakoofiyaan given the characters. These people are executives, so scenes are funny without devolving into clownish wackiness, reliant more upon sly facial expressions than slapstick.

The secret of Bewakoofiyaan‘s success is Faisal’s story construction. The story never drags, and scenes don’t outstay their welcome. Themes are stated early and recur throughout the story. Faisal really, really knows how to write a screenplay.

One of my favorite aspects of the screenplay is a B-story that puts Sehgal in a similar position to Mohit, even though he doesn’t know it. Forced to retire at age sixty, Sehgal feels — like Mohit — that his skills that aren’t being utilized. He secretly enlists Mohit to help him find a job, over Mayera’s objections. Seghal’s introduction to the wonders of email, Google, and video games is very amusing.

The two jobless men form a bond, but they don’t suddenly become best pals. That wouldn’t make sense. Seghal is still stubborn, and Mohit still hates the idea of begging Seghal for anything, even Mayera’s hand. Yet their bond pays dividends for both by movie’s end.

Khurrana and Rishi Kapoor both do a great job at making their flawed characters sympathetic from the beginning and showing slow but steady growth. Both characters — united in their love for Mayera — must come to terms with the fact that they can’t provide for Mayera as well as she can for herself and decide what that means for them as men.

During an argument with Mohit, Mayera complains that she’s had to curtail her shopping since he lost his job. It’s a testament to Sonam Kapoor’s talent that she’s able to make this complaint sound reasonable rather than whiny. Mayera’s no less affected by Mohit’s job loss than he is, just in different way.

All this exploration of male ego and the side effects of job loss aside, Bewakoofiyaan is still a Yash Raj Films romantic comedy. There are exotic locations, a pair of flashy dance numbers, and an easily accessible story. It just deserves extra credit for being smarter than it needed to be.

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