Tag Archives: Bipasha Basu

Interview with “Brown Nation” Star Omi Vaidya

Few Bollywood outsiders skyrocket to fame with their very first Hindi film, but that’s exactly what happened to Omi Vaidya when he played Chatur “Silencer” Ramalingam in the hit movie 3 Idiots. After a few years and several more Bollywood films, the Los Angeles native returned home to raise a family and resume his Hollywood career. His latest project is the Netflix comedy series Brown Nation.

Omi graciously answered some questions via email about Brown Nation and his documentary Big in Bollywood, which makes its Netflix debut in December. He also had lovely things to say about his Jodi Breakers and Players co-star Bipasha Basu, because, well, Omi’s just a doggone nice guy.

Kathy: How did you get involved with Brown Nation? Was it already a Netflix project when you came onboard?
Omi: “I met the director, Abi Varghese, in 2011 when my documentary, Big In Bollywood, won the audience award at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. We hit it off and in mid-2014, he approached me to play the role of Balan in a new sitcom he was creating called Brown Nation. This was an independent TV show with a cast of minority characters speaking in English, Hindi, and Gujarati and financed by private investors–not by a studio or TV company–which meant it may never have been picked up. But it also allowed the show to not be limited by the typical stories and cast of characters you see on American or Indian TV.”

Kathy: What do you like about the cast of the show?
Omi: “When I started shooting, I was astounded by the amount of talent that was on the set. The cast was selected over many months and the actors that were chosen perfectly fit the roles. Many of them also had a wealth of acting experience and some were veterans of comedy and improv. It’s really the level of talent that elevates Brown Nation to a great show you want to binge watch.”

Kathy: Where are you finding the best opportunities right now: India or America? Are you more partial to one storytelling format over another?
Omi: “I am finding great opportunities in both India and America. Both countries are having media revolutions in the kinds of stories they are telling, so it’s exciting to be able to partake in both! I especially like it when the lines blur between the two like they did in Brown Nation. I prefer the efficient storytelling and comedic sensibilities of Western cinema, however there’s an exuberance and excitement to Bollywood that you just can’t get anywhere else. Plus Bollywood stories hit on topics that can be more relatable to South Asians so there’s value in that as well.”

Kathy: After working steadily in India for a few years, what made you decide to come back to America when you did? Was there ever a time when you thought your career might keep you in India permanently?
Omi: “There was definitely a time when I considered living in India permanently. Fame and fortune can be very enticing. But moving to different country solely for career opportunity has its limits. After 3 years of continuous work in India, I had huge professional growth but little personal growth. That’s when I consciously chose to move back to America, because it is the place I was born, grew up, and understood more completely. Although I have a huge fanbase in India, most of my family is in America, and it’s a great place to raise my son who is now 16 months old. My wife, Minal, is also finishing her post-doc at the National Institute of Health. We have a great life, and I still get to do what I love. I strive for a well-rounded life where I am challenged everyday. So in that way, I am blessed.”

Kathy: Having worked in comedy in both the US and India, what do you see as the major differences in comedic styles/preferences between the two countries?
Omi: “I am making generalizations here and there are always exceptions. But in general, comedy in America can be more low-key and subtle and ironic,  while in India the jokes can be over the top and less sarcastic. India still has a rich tradition of using puns or wordplay in comedy or jokes being steeped in innuendo or double meanings. In America, pun or wordplay humor is not as common. Neither comedy style is superior to the other and both really reflect the audience tastes.”

Kathy: Apart from the classic 3 Idiots, which Hindi film are you most proud of?
Omi: “I’m somewhat proud of my work in Madhur Bhandarkar’s, Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji. Although it wasn’t a major hit, my story in the film was realistic and relatable and I got to play a Maharastrian–which is what I actually am! Using my own experiences and some of my mother tongue in the film was extremely satisfying and allowed me to cross an item off my bucket list. Actually, it’s made me add another item to that list: Someday act in a Marathi film!”

Kathy: What are the plans for the release of Big in Bollywood?
Omi: “Big in Bollywood, the documentary that shows my rise to fame in India, is releasing on Netflix by the end of the year. It’s the true story roller-coaster of a film that follows a struggling actor who hits it big, and the perils of a meteoric rise to fame. Please follow me on Twitter @omionekenobe to find out more about the film and it’s release date.” (Since our interview, the Netflix release date for Big in Bollywood was announced as December 31.)

Kathy: Bonus fangirl question: I love Bipasha Basu, and you’ve worked with her twice. Do you have any good Bipasha stories?
Omi: “Bipasha Basu is a great woman and person. Many of the actors in India come from film families, and therefore they come to the set with a chip on their shoulders, as if it’s their right to be famous and respected. But actors like Bipasha and Madhavan came from middle-class homes, and they have retained that modesty and down-to-earth nature. Bipasha has presented a strong, smart woman figure to young Indians who may be looking for someone to look up to. And she’s beautiful too! When we shot Players in the northern-most city in Russia, Murmansk, it didn’t matter who was a star or not. None of the cast was recognized by the locals. But it didn’t matter what restaurant we went to; all eyes went to Bipasha. Even if she dressed like a bum, Russian men would still try to make conversation with her. They would say, ‘You work in Bollywood?’ ‘I know Raj Kapoor!’ ‘Awara Hoon!'”

Thanks so much, Omi! Check out Brown Nation on Netflix right now, and watch Big in Bollywood when it debuts on Netflix on December 31, 2016.

Movie Review: Alone (2015)

Alone3 Stars (out of 4)

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A horror movie starring Bipasha Basu (or anyone, for that matter) as a pair of conjoined twins sounds like a recipe for disaster. But Alone is creepy, well-paced, and far better than one would expect it to be.

Basu plays Sanjana, the surviving member of a pair of identical twins once joined at the waist. Her deceased sister, Anjana (also Basu, in flashbacks), wore glasses, making it possible to tell the two apart.

Sanjana’s marriage to Kabir (Karan Singh Grover) is suffering due to her co-dependence. Her survivor’s guilt led them to flee her family home in Kerala. When her mother is seriously injured in a suspicious accident, Sanjana and Kabir return to the home haunted by memories of Anjana. But is it just Anjana’s memory haunting the place, or Anjana herself?

The married couple shares a complicated dynamic. Who can blame Sanjana for having emotional issues, considering her mother’s present ill health and her unresolved guilt about her sister’s death? Apparently Kabir can. He’s unsympathetic toward his wife, which is shocking given that he’s known the twins since childhood and should be able to understand their unique bond.

It’s only after a psychologist, Dr. Namit (Zakir Hussain), tells him to stop being such a jerk that Kabir starts treating his wife with the understanding she deserves. Kabir’s early bad behavior only looks worse when he and the doctor finally see proof that Sanjana’s troubles aren’t all in her mind; her sister’s spirit really is out to kill her.

Alone‘s plot has a lot of twists and turns, appropriately mirroring Sanjana’s disturbed mental state. Any confusion as to why events proceed the way they do is resolved in satisfying fashion by the story’s end. The clever way the tale is told looks even better upon further reflection.

The acting is uneven, partly due to the way the characters are written. There’s only so much Grover can do to make a jerk like Kabir appealing. Basu struggles initially to make scared, fragile Sanjana relatable, but her character evolves as the movie proceeds, culminating in a fun, crazy climax. The two attractive leads share a steamy chemistry during the film’s love scenes.

For a Hindi movie, Alone is fairly scary, without resorting to gross visuals or gore. The large, dark house sets a spooky mood where one can easily imagine seeing things moving about in the night. The movie doesn’t shy away from jump scares, and it features some nice misdirection.

I admit, I expected Alone to be more unintentionally funny than anything else. It only is on a couple of occasions, as when Basu has to simulate a poltergeist attack by flinging herself onto the ground and into walls. There is also some not-so-subtle innuendo in the lyrics of a love song sung by a male vocalist: “I’ll trickle drop by drop and stay on your body.”

But Alone dashed my low expectations and delivered a solid horror film. Except for an overly long scene involving a religious ritual, the momentum never flags. The story gets progressively more interesting and complicated, and the payoff is satisfying. It’s an entertaining flick.

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Movie Review: Creature 3D (2014)

creature2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Hindi horror movies are few and far between, and monster movies are rarer still. Taking into consideration the largely nonexistent infrastructure of screenwriters, directors, and visual effects artists that specialize in monster movies, my expectations for Creature 3D were low. While it lived down to my expectations, Creature 3D is so bad, it’s good.

Here’s an example of how Creature 3D qualifies for “so bad, it’s good” status: the humanoid monster’s roar is literally a guy saying, “Roar.” Not making a roar sound, but saying the word, “Roar.”

The creature’s victims are primarily guests and employees of the Glendale Forest Hotel, a place that sounds more like a rehab clinic than a mountain resort, according to my brother (with whom I watched the film). The hotel belongs to Ahana (Bipasha Basu), who left Delhi following her father’s death. Her hopes of a fresh start in the hinterlands are dashed when a monster starts eating her clients.

The monster also interrupts a budding romance between Ahana and Kunal (Imran Abbas), one of her guests. Kunal is supposedly a famous author, but he gets mysterious phone calls asking if he’s done what he came to the hotel to do.

Do Kunal’s mysterious phone calls or the events that drove Ahana from the city have any connection to the creature? No. Unlike American horror movies in which a supernatural attack is often a response to a sin committed — why do you think the teens making out in a car are always first to die? — Ahana’s encounter with the creature is just a case of bad luck. So says Professor Sadanand (Mukul Dev), a zoologist familiar with the creature.

If there’s a moral to the story, it’s that one can’t run from one’s problems. However, the problems that drove Ahana from the city aren’t the kind that can be fought. She’s just grieving her dead dad. Kunal guilt-trips Ahana for taking anti-anxiety medication, which he considers a moral weakness.

Ultimately, Ahana decides to stay and fight the creature, because there wouldn’t be a second half of the movie if she didn’t.

As for the hybrid man-lizard creature itself, oh, boy. It’s entirely computer generated, so it lacks the physical presence of a man in a suit or even a puppet. Some of its movements are neat, but it feels fake and never scary.

In fact, it’s almost like writer-director Vikram Bhatt — who probably has more experience with the horror genre than anyone else presently working in Hindi cinema — went out of his way to make Creature 3D not scary. There isn’t a single frightening moment in the film.

There’s no payoff in scenes where you expect a jump scare. When Ahana and Kunal stand in front of a window, the creature doesn’t pop up on the other side of the glass. Instead, the camera cuts to a window on the other side of the room, and we see the creature’s hand reach over the windowsill before he slowly pulls himself over it. Several shots are just pans across a blank wall with growling sounds in the background that end with the monster coming into the room through an open door.

Far scarier than the monster is Kunal, who spends the bulk of the movie leering at Ahana. One of the film’s song sequences — “Hum Na Rahein Hum” —  is just Kunal staring at Ahana while she goes about her day. Whether she’s buying flowers or driving through the woods, he’s always lurking. I’ve included a link to the hilarious music video below the review.

Mukul Dev is the real hero of the film, providing most of the unintentional comedy. Even though the professor saves a dining room full of people by scaring the monster with fire, his elaborate plan to kill the creature doesn’t involve flames. Instead, it requires “an old bus” and a human dummy covered in meat.

When that plan doesn’t work, the professor must rescue Ahana and Kunal using — you guessed it — fire. This sets up the single greatest shot in the whole film. Instead of soaking his jacket in gasoline, running to the old bus, setting the jacket on fire, and throwing it into the bus to give Ahana and Kunal a chance to escape, Professor Sadanand lights the jacket on fire first and then starts running. The sight of Mukul Dev running down the road trying not to get burned by his flaming sport coat is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

Despite a tremendously boring final twenty minutes, there are abundant reasons to watch Creature 3D: Kunal lurking seductively in the woods. The creature’s “roar.” Mukul Dev’s flaming sport coat. Meat dummy.

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Movie Review: Humshakals (2014)

Humshakals_poster0 Stars (out of 4)

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How does a filmmaker who goes out of his way to set a low bar for himself still fail to make a movie that’s even slightly funny or appropriate? Director Sajid Khan achieves that feat with Humshakals (“Lookalikes“), his worst film yet in a career full of horrible films.

Khan opens Humshakals with an allegedly humorous director’s note about having forgotten something important a wise man once told him. Then he introduces his main character, Ashok (Saif Ali Khan), a millionaire moonlighting as a terrible standup comedian. Later, Ashok and his best friend, Kumar (Riteish Deshmukh), are tortured by being forced to watch Khan’s awful 2013 film Himmatwala.

Ashok’s bad jokes are pertinent because they set up a theme that runs through all of Khan’s movies: a lack of respect for women. Even if Khan doesn’t personally feel that way, he panders to the segment of the audience that does.

Ashok’s jokes are straight out of my 8-year-old nephew’s joke book, yet TV presenter Shanaya (Tamannaah Bhatia) finds them unironically hilarious. Beautiful and stupid: Khan’s ideal woman.

Shanaya’s not the only mental lightweight in the movie. Ashok and Kumar are imprisoned in a mental asylum by Ashok’s evil uncle, Mamaji (Ram Kapoor), alongside a pair of identical lookalikes, also named Ashok (Saif) and Kumar (Riteish), only the lookalikes have the mental capacity of children.

In yet another knock against women, the asylum’s psychologist, Dr. Shivani (Esha Gupta), falls instantly in love with Stupid Ashok when he tells her she’s pretty. Shivani — a doctor — is so insecure and desperate to have her physical appearance validated that she agrees to marry the first man who compliments her, even if he has the intellectual capacity of a grade schooler.

At least twice more Khan asserts the belief that a woman’s most important quality is her appearance. Shivani, Shanaya, and Mishti (Bipasha Basu) — a doctor, a TV presenter, and Rich Ashok’s estate manager — save the day by baring their midriffs and performing a racy dance number.

The worst is what happens when hefty Mamaji’s lookalike, Johnny (Ram), dresses in drag to help Rich Ashok and Rich Kumar. As soon as Johnny appears on screen in a dress and wig, the soundtrack is punctuated with elephant sound effects. Not when Johnny is dressed as a man of exactly the same proportions, only when he’s pretending to be a woman.

When a woman’s only value is how sexually appealing she is to straight men, there’s no greater character flaw than being overweight or unattractive. It’s such an egregious flaw that it deserves ridicule, even though an overweight man does not.

Khan really, really likes to poke fun at people he thinks are abnormal. Jokes are made at the expense of overweight women, little people, gays, Koreans, and especially the mentally ill. Everyone in the movie with a mental illness is also portrayed as being intellectually deficient.

Know who else Khan thinks are hilarious? Nazis. The asylum’s warden (played by Satish Shah) wears an SS uniform and prays to a photo of Adolf Hitler. He gives a “Heil Hitler” salute and threatens to send Ashok and Kumar to the “gas chamber.” Because there’s nothing funnier than genocide.

In addition to lacking empathy or an appropriate sense of humor, Khan is also a thief. Stupid Ashok mistakes a model of an orphanage for an “orphanage for ants,” a joke lifted from 2001’s Zoolander (I’ve included a video of the original below). Khan stole a joke from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles for Himmatwala, so this is a pattern.

On top of all these offenses, Humshakals just plain sucks. Shots are out of focus. The plot moves at a snail’s pace. The songs are soulless. The choreography is lazy. The acting is bad, even though Ram Kapoor tries to humanize his characters.

With this track record of misogyny, intellectual property theft, and general disrespect for large segments of the global community, it’s time for actors to question whether appearing in a Sajid Khan film is worth the paycheck. I hope that the actors in Humshakals didn’t realize how offensive the movie was as they were making it (although Saif and Riteish should’ve known better when asked to prance around as a pair of gay stereotypes). I’m trying not let this piece of garbage tarnish my respect for them as performers, but it’s difficult.

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Movie Review: Race 2 (2013)

Race_2_Poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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There were moments in Race 2 when I really wanted to like the movie, if only my brain would let me. Giving any aspect of Race 2 more than a passing thought renders it utterly silly.

Race 2 picks up not long after the events of the original Race from 2008. (Though not essential, it does help to have seen the original film.) Ranveer Singh (Saif Ali Khan) arrives in Istanbul to cheat casino magnate Vikram Thapar (Rajesh Khattar) out of his properties in revenge for a wrong that Ranveer doesn’t immediately specify. Ranveer then transfers ownership of the casinos to street-fighter-turned-billionaire Armaan Mallik (John Abraham).

If Ranveer’s generosity toward Armaan seems too good to be true, that’s because it is. Ranveer’s really out to get revenge on Armaan for another unspecified wrong, but Armaan knows Ranveer’s out to get him. And Ranveer knows that Armaan knows that Ranveer’s out to get him. And then Ranveer steals the Shroud of Turin.

Race 2 owes a lot to early James Bond movies, what with characters always being one step ahead of each other and wielding crazy gadgets like Armaan’s digital playing cards, whose faces can be manipulated on an iPhone operated by his half-sister, Alina (Deepika Padukone). The characters also fall into the Bond villain trap of talking too much and over-complicating things when a bullet to the head would be a surer and simpler way to kill someone.

Anil Kapoor returns in the sequel as R.D., a goofy, now-retired detective with a soft spot for Ranveer. R.D. has a new, bubble-brained assistant named Cherry (Ameesha Patel) who exists only to provide R.D. opportunities to make double entendres. Jacqueline Fernandez plays Armaan’s girlfriend, Omisha, a woman with a connection to Ranveer’s girlfriend in the original Race, Soniya (Bipasha Basu).

Race 2 is the movie equivalent of an email written in all caps. Everything about it is relentlessly intense. It feels as though approximately forty percent of the movie consists of shots of characters strutting in slow-motion while a fan blows on them and a heavy metal guitar wails in the background. Directing duo Abbas-Mustan want to make sure that the audience is absolutely clear that Race 2 is AWESOME! SEXY! EXCITING! COOL!

Let me illustrate this with a video of the song “Allah Duhai Hai,” which sums up the intensity the movie tries to maintain for all of its two-and-a-half hours:

This excess could be funny if the movie had any sense of humor about itself, but it doesn’t. Ranveer, Armaan, Alina, and Omisha are all deadly serious as they double cross one another, no matter how ridiculous the circumstances.

Padukone and Fernandez are the two strongest performers in the cast, carrying of their roles with sex appeal and an air of danger. Kapoor and Patel are amusing enough, and Khan is competent as usual.

Abraham is the weak link. Despite being cast for his beefcake body, there’s nothing menacing about him. He’s supposed to be the most fearsome man in Turkey, but only if you’re dumb enough to challenge him in a fistfight.

The story moves quickly enough to hold one’s attention, even though everything that happens is silly and unable to be explained by the retroactive continuity Abbas-Mustan were obviously hoping would clear everything up. The Turkish-influenced musical score is the film’s best element. Race 2 is less annoying that the original Race, but that’s hardly a recommendation.

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Movie Review: Raaz 3 (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Note: This review covers the 2D version of the movie, not the 3D version.

I am not a fan of horror movies. I startle easily, and I’ve been known to walk out of the theater if a film is too intense. With that in mind, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed Raaz 3.

Despite being the third film in the horror series, Raaz 3 isn’t a true sequel. None of the characters from the previous Raaz (“Secret”) films carry over into this one, though actors Emraan Hashmi and Bipasha Basu are back for a second round.

This time, Basu plays Shanaya, a superstar actress who sees her fame being usurped by a new starlet, Sanjana (Esha Gupta). When conventional prayers don’t work, Shanaya turns to black magic to dethrone Sanjana. Shanaya enlists her boyfriend, Aditya (Emraan Hashmi), to help her carry out her evil plans.

Aditya, himself a successful director, helps out of love for Shanaya and obligation to her for furthering his movie career. He casts Sanjana in his new film as a means to poison her with an evil concoction that traps her soul in the spirit world. When the spell starts to have real world consequences beyond Sanjana’s emotional torment, Aditya realizes that being loyal to Shanaya was a mistake.

As with most horror films, the scares are the gilding on a traditional morality tale. Raaz 3 is really about the dangers of ego, jealousy, and the pursuit of fame, embodied by Shanaya. A neat shot early in the film captures Shanaya sitting in her luxurious apartment in front of a wall-sized photo of her own face. Her whole apartment is a tribute to herself, and Shanaya sees a threat to her standing in the industry as a threat to her very existence.

Basu is magnificent as Shanaya. She strikes the perfect balance of rage, vulnerability, and egomania. Her fear is understandable, and that’s what makes it so dangerous. Basu plays every scene perfectly, shedding tears as Shanaya reels Aditya in, turning ice-cold the second he consents to help her.

Hashmi likewise hits the right notes with Aditya, a guy whose good nature makes him an easy target. There are some great shots of Aditya as doctors and priests speculate as to what’s wrong with Sanjana, his face revealing his internal debate over whether he should admit his role in her suffering.

Esha Gupta is outshone by her costars. It’s only her second role, so I’ll cut her some slack, but she plays Sanjana all wrong early on. Sanjana, who’s supposed to be the innocent young actress uncorrupted by fame — the foil to Shanaya — aggressively pursues Aditya romantically on the set of their film. She comes across as desperate for love, almost as desperate as Shanaya is for fame.

Even though it’s nearly 140 minutes long, Raaz 3 is paced well enough to never feel slow, and characters are given time to develop. Director Vikram Bhatt doesn’t miss an opportunity for a callback (you didn’t think you’d seen the last of that creepy clown in the photo with Sanjana, did you?). There are some cool sets as well, from Shanaya’s glamorous apartment to the eerie pond in the slum where she bargains with the evil spirit.

The fact that I was able to endure the whole movie inside the theater indicates that Raaz 3 is probably tame by the standards of hardcore horror fans. There are a number of jump scares that are (mercifully) predictable, and those don’t even start until 30 minutes into the movie. It’s minimally gory, but its R rating is reason enough to leave the kids at home.

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Opening September 7: Raaz 3

Raaz 3 — another sequel that’s not really a sequel — opens in Chicago area theaters on September 7, 2012. The 3D horror film stars Emraan Hashmi and Bipasha Basu.

Raaz 3 opens on Friday at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 (2D only) in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 (3D only) in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 (2D and 3D) in Warrenville. The film is rated R and has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 30 min. Read my review of the film here.

Despite opening to dismal collections of just $105,865 from seventy-four U.S. theaters, Joker gets a second week at the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 17. For comparison’s sake, the Tamil film Mugamoodi earned $55,501 from just twenty-two screens in its U.S. debut last weekend.

Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi gets a third weekend at the South Barrington 30, while Ek Tha Tiger sticks around for a fourth week at all of the above theaters.

Other Indian movies playing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Desperate Endeavors (English), Mugamoodi (Tamil), Run Baby Run (Malayalam), and the Telugu films Shirdi Sai and Sudigadu.

I’m sad to report that the streaming video service Mela is shutting down on September 15. I updated my article on the best ways to stream Bollywood movies on the iPad to reflect the news.

In the days that Mela remains active, I recommend using it to watch the exceptional documentary Supermen of Malegoan. If you’re a masochist, check out the Hindi horror film Ghost, the current leader in the race for my worst Bollywood film of 2012. Other movies I’ve reviewed via Mela include Hate Story, Bumboo, Chaurahen, and The Forest.

The Toronto International Film Festival is underway, and this year’s City to City spotlight shines on Mumbai. The great political thriller Shanghai is among the ten films featured in the select program.

Today marked the release of the trailer for Rani Mukerji’s Aiyyaa, which opens in theaters on October 12: