Tag Archives: Bollywood

Movie Review: Heropanti 2 (2022)

Entertainment Factor: 3.5 Stars (out of 4)
Quality Factor: 1 Star

Watch Heropanti 2 on Amazon Prime

This review is a tribute to Dr. Julia Bulgaria, the star of Heropanti 2. She’s a veterinarian who wears a sash that reads “Prom Queen” over her cleavage-baring lab coat. She utters the line, “There’s a zombie party down the road,” with a straight face. Her name is DR. JULIA BULGARIA!

Heropanti 2 — which has nothing to do with the original Heropanti from 2014 — is an objectively bad movie. But Dr. Julia Bulgaria (Amber Doig-Thorne), flamboyant feather jackets, and Tara Sutaria’s casual champagne-tossing all play their part in making Heropanti 2 so bad it’s good.

Even before my new hero Dr. Bulgaria appears, the movie gives plenty of warning that it exists in a parallel universe where normal rules do not apply. The story opens with the villain Laila (Nawazuddin Siddiqui, whose commitment to his bonkers performance is unimpeachable) interrupting a magic show that he is performing in order to meet with his crew of henchmen. Laila’s plan is to steal all the money from every bank account in India on Tax Day. Laila stabs a guy to death while wearing a suit jacket with feathers on the shoulders and a bedazzled eagle on the back. Lesson? Don’t mess with a guy with such outrageous fashion sense.

Cut to Tiger Shroff, who plays a nerd named RJ. He wears glasses and suspenders and rides a bicycle throughout the Yorkshire town where he lives.

By this point, if you think this movie is not for you, cut your losses and move on. It’s doesn’t get any better.

RJ runs into Inaaya (Tara Sutaria) — England’s youngest self-made billionaire. How’d she get rich? “By making a game.” Inaaya thinks RJ is her ex-boyfriend Babloo, who ran off more than a year ago. And wouldn’t you know it, she’s right! “RJ” is really Babloo: a genius hacker who’s been in hiding after double-crossing Laila — who is Inaaya’s brother!!

With Babloo’s cover blown, Laila’s men track him down. Cue the acrobatic fight sequences — the whole reason anyone watches a Tiger Shroff movie. Babloo flips over cars and swings around poles, with the occasional assist from Inaaya.

During a pause in the fighting, Inaaya does something inexplicable and hilarious. She seductively offers Babloo a glass of champagne, pours a glass for herself, then — instead of setting the bottle down on the table behind her — casually tosses the bottle to the side as if she was tossing her jacket onto a chair. Off camera, we hear the sound of glass breaking. Now there is broken glass and champagne all over the floor! Why did she think that was a good idea? Such reckless insanity makes me love Inaaya — though not as much as I love Dr. Julia Bulgaria.

The sexy veterinarian enters the picture when Babloo and Inaaya flee to the countryside in search of a doctor to remove a bullet from Babloo’s behind. Babloo’s butt is so muscular that bullets cause only minor damage to it, allowing him to dance at the aforementioned “zombie party down the road” immediately after surgery. Dr. Bulgaria’s high level of skill also plays a part, no doubt.

For all its faults, Heropanti 2 pulls out all — well, most — of the stops to make its action sequences and dance numbers visually interesting. Not that they’re all good, but they are made with good-faith attempts at grandness. Tiger Shroff is a very good dancer, and Tara Sutaria is even better, so their performances hit the mark. A. R. Rahman’s soundtrack is inconsistent, with catchy tunes like “Miss Hairan” and boring slogs like “Dafa Kar” (the zombie party song).

Nothing about the story makes a lick of sense, and a plot structure that bounces around in time doesn’t help. Yet everything is so over-the-top silly that inconsistency doesn’t really matter. If whatever the hell it is that Heropanti 2 is doing works for you, you’ll have a great time. I did.

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Movie Review: Toolsidas Junior (2022)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Toolsidas Junior on Netflix

An overly-long first half keeps Toolsidas Junior from reaching its full potential, but a strong second half rewards those willing to stick with this underdog story.

Writer-director Mridul Mahendra (listed in the credits as Mridul Toolsidass) based his film on a true story: his own. Perhaps that’s why it feels like there’s a lot of extraneous material in Toolsidas Junior — stuff personally important to the filmmaker that he wanted to include, even though it slows the pace of the film.

The movie opens with a snooker tournament at the Calcutta Sports Club in 1994. Toolsidas (Rajiv Kapoor, in his final film) is a bit of a showboat, doing tricks to impress his adoring 13-year-old son Midi (Varun Buddhadev). Toolsidas earns his spot in the next day’s finals, set to face the reigning champ: the villainous Jimmy Tandon (Dalip Tahil).

Toolsidas celebrates at the club bar with what he promises is just one drink. Hours later, Midi’s furious mom (Tasveer Kamil) sends him to collect his drunken dad. This is something Midi has clearly done numerous times. At the tournament finals, Jimmy uses a break in the action to trick Toolsidas into getting drunk, allowing the villain to come from behind and win for a sixth consecutive time.

Sensing turmoil in the family, Midi’s older brother Goti (Chinmai Chandranshuh) becomes convinced that the boys have to start earning money. A fan of get-rich-quick schemes, Goti wants to use Midi’s diligence and athletic aptitude to make a ton of money. Goti’s assumption that Midi will be naturally gifted at whatever sport he tries is ridiculous, but the film treats it seriously, devoting way too much time to Midi failing repeatedly and Goti getting mad at him. What should have been a brief montage drags on interminably.

The pace plods along even after Midi convinces Goti that there’s money to be made gambling on snooker. Plus, learning to play will give Midi the chance to avenge his dad’s loss and defeat Jimmy. Midi’s too young to play at the Sports Club, so he finds a pool hall in a seedy part of town where he meets his mentor: crusty, enigmatic former national champion Salaam Bhai (Sanjay Dutt). The process is so protracted that Midi’s training doesn’t begin until an hour into the film.

One can’t blame viewers for bailing out before this point, but this is when Toolsidas Junior gets good. Salaam Bhai has clever ways of explaining techniques to Midi, like equating various methods for striking the ball to the punching styles of Amitabh Bachchan, Rajinikanth, and Mithun Chakraborthy.

Salaam Bhai also uses the opportunity to teach Midi a lesson about economic class. Midi’s family has membership at an exclusive country club. Salaam Bhai is poor and always has been. When Midi takes a win on a technicality and passes up a chance to play, Salaam Bhai lights into Midi. A privileged kid like him can’t understand what it’s like to skip eating just to save enough money to play. Midi leaves food on his plate because he’s never has to worry where his next meal will come from. Ever the good student, Midi takes Salaam Bhai’s lesson to heart. There’s plenty of cruft in Toolsidas Junior, but Mridul Mahendra deserves credit for including this subplot in his story.

Varun Buddhadev is Bollywood’s go-to child actor of the moment for good reason. His performance in Toolsidas Junior is really solid, and it’s obvious how much effort he put into learning snooker for the film. The movie is at its best when Buddhadev and Sanjay Dutt interact with one another. They make a winning team.

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Movie Review: Jungle Cry (2022)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Jungle Cry — based on the true story of India’s surprise performance at the 2007 Under-14 Rugby World Cup — struggles to find its style, blunting the emotional impact of this underdog story. But if you’ve ever wanted to learn the rules of rugby, Jungle Cry is a great tutorial.

After an unnecessary voice-over giving background on the true story, the movie opens with a well-shot chase sequence. Four schoolboys run from some older men with a jar of stolen marbles, displaying incredible athleticism in their flight. A white man named Paul (Stewart Wright) witnesses their skills, convincing him he’s in the right place to find untapped rugby talent.

Any long-time watcher of Hindi-language films reflexively cringes as soon as a white person appears onscreen, knowing that these movies sometime are forced to hire non-actors (or at least actors who sound uncomfortable speaking native-level English) for these roles. But fear not. Jungle Cry is a British-Indian co-production, so all of the white actors are actually good. The film even employed Diane Charles as dialogue writer for the United Kingdom portions of the movie.

Paul’s mission is to train a team of Indian boys to play rugby for a tournament in the UK in just four month’s time. The head of the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences in Odisha, Dr. Samanta (Atul Kumar), relishes the opportunity to give a dozen of his students — all kids from impoverished villages — a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the world.

The Institute’s athletic director Rudra (Abhay Deol) disagrees. He recruited most of the boys to play soccer and thinks they won’t be able to learn a new sport. Rudra decides he’d rather quit than partake in this ultimately harmless experiment, even if it means leaving the students who’ve come to rely on him.

Even if this objection is grounded in reality, it’s a strange hill for Rudra to die on in a movie. It’s also weird that Dr. Samanta doesn’t immediately assign Rudra to be Paul’s much-needed translator, giving Rudra the chance to see the boys’ progress firsthand. The subplot feels like an attempt to force tension into the story, but it doesn’t achieve its goal.

This sequence relies a lot on awkward, documentary-style interviews with the adult characters. These interviews are interspersed throughout the plot, subdividing narrative sections and keeping the story from flowing naturally. This continues as the boys succeed in qualifying for the tournament and fly to England (with Rudra after Paul gets dengue), where they meet their team physical therapist, Roshni (Emily Shah). Shah struggles the most in the interview format, though she’s more comfortable in her scenes with Deol (who gives a solid performance).

Jungle Cry doesn’t differentiate the boys or give their characters distinct personalities (unlike another underdog Hindi sports film, Chak De India, where the members of the hockey team are just as important as their coach). It’s also unclear how old the boys are supposed to be. In reality, the team was made up of kids under the age of 14, and the tournament in the film is repeatedly referred to as a “junior tournament.” Yet the athletes from all the teams–Indian and otherwise–look a lot older than middle schoolers.

Where Jungle Cry excels is in explaining the rules of rugby and showing how the game is played. The explanation part is handled as Paul introduces the game to the boys. During the tournament, the camera is always positioned to show what is important about the action taking place. That could mean positioning the camera at field-level to see what happens to the ball during a scrum or pulling back just far enough to watch the logical sequence of passes as the ball progresses downfield. It’s instructive but also exciting as it shows the narrative of what’s happening on the field. Again, if you’ve ever wanted to learn about rugby, watch Jungle Cry.

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Movie Review: Thar (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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A veteran cop’s boring beat is upended by three murders and the arrival of a stranger in the Western noir Thar. Rajasthan is the ideal setting for a Western, and the stunning scenery is highlighted beautifully.

Inspector Surekha Singh’s (Anil Kapoor) decades-long career has been uneventful. Stationed in the Rajasthani town of Munabao in 1985, there’s little in the way of crime, except for the occasional drug bust of smugglers bringing heroin across the border from Pakistan.

All that changes in a single day. A married couple is found shot dead in their home, their daughter’s dowry stolen. Another dead man is found hanging from a tree, an axe embedded in his chest. For the first time in their careers, Singh and his partner Bhure (Satish Kaushik) feel like real police. They figure drug runners are responsible for the deaths, as they set about investigating the connection between the victims.

At the same time, a taciturn stranger arrives in town. He reluctantly gives his name: Siddharth (Harshvarrdhan Kapoor). He’s looking for a few men to help him move some antiques back to Delhi. Men in Munabao routinely work jobs in the city for months at a time, so his request isn’t unusual. A woman named Chetna (Fatima Sana Shaikh) assures him that her husband Panna (Jitendra Joshi) and his friends will be back in a matter of days, and Siddharth agrees to wait.

After Panna — an arrogant misogynist — and his compatriots return, it becomes clear that Siddharth’s intentions are not good. His polite interactions with Cheta are at odds with his actions when he’s going about his business. The mystery at the heart of Thar is: why is Siddharth doing what he’s doing?

Keeping Siddharth’s agenda a secret for as long as the movie does de-prioritizes his character development, blunting the emotional impact when his motivations are finally revealed. That said, Harshvarrdhan Kapoor is great at being mysterious. Nonverbal communication plays a big part in Siddharth’s interactions with Chetna, and Shaikh and Kapoor play off one another exceedingly well.

Relationships play a huge part in Inspector Surekha’s life. He’s got a supportive wife, and Bhure is his best friend, not just his coworker. Writer-director Raj Singh Chaudhary and editor Aarti Bajaj make a point to emphasize how much Bhure means to Surekha. Anil Kapoor and Satish Kaushik are a delightful duo. And Jitendra Joshi is really, really good at playing the loathsome Panna.

The desert location in Thar is not only crucial for making the way the story plays out possible. It’s also absolutely stunning. Though geographically and botanically distinct from the American Southwest, the area in Rajasthan where Thar was filmed feels like the perfect place to shoot a Western. The rocky hills spotted with scrubby brush make an ideal setting for a shootout.

One cautionary note for squeamish viewers is that Thar is very gory — more so than it needs to be to make its point about the nature of the violence being committed. But no one can say the makeup department didn’t do their job, that’s for sure.

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Movie Review: Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Gangubai Kathiawadi on Netflix

Alia Bhatt sparkles in filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi. Bhansali’s visuals are mesmerizing as ever, but the characters are the real stars.

Gangubai (Bhatt) was born Ganga, the educated daughter of a barrister. At 16, a man she loved tricked her into running away to Mumbai to pursue a movie career. There, he sold her to Sheela Mausi (Seema Pahwa), the owner of a brothel.

With her only choices being life as a sex worker or death, Ganga chose to live. Her first client nicknamed her Gangu, a moniker she adopted to mark this new phase of her life. When she became the madam of the brothel following Sheela Mausi’s death, the other women christened her Gangubai as a sign of respect.

Gangubai’s great strength is her empathy for the women around her. Her first act of defiance under Sheela Mausi is to take a handful of other women out to see a movie — hardly a radical act, but one that affirms their humanity. Gangubai knows that the only way to achieve her goals of securing safety and dignity for her fellow sex workers and education for their children is to put herself in a position of power, even if it means sacrificing her own personal happiness.

Gangubai succeeds because she’s great at understanding what motivates people. Bhansali drives that home by making sure that, in every scene, it is perfectly clear what every character wants. That goes for main characters and those in supporting roles. It’s so consistent throughout the film that it’s clearly something that Bhansali and co-writer Utkarshini Vashishtha put a lot of thought into.

Bhansali also pays a ton of attention to the way characters move. Choreography is obvious in the film’s two large-scale dance numbers, but it’s present in simpler gestures, too: the way someone tilts their head dismissively or the way Gangubai’s rival Raziabai (Vijay Raaz) sidles up behind her in an attempt to intimidate.

The focus on movement is most thrilling in the two love songs between Gangubai and Afshan (Shantanu Maheshwari), an apprentice tailor. Afshan leans back timidly as Gangubai leans in, tricking him into thinking she’s going to kiss him as she reaches for a bottle. Both songs “Jab Saiyaan” and “Meri Jaan” are super sexy, as Gangubai and Afshan move teasingly around each other. Maheshwari got his start in entertainment as a member of the Desi Hoppers dance crew, and his expert body control infuses every part of his performance. Casting him was an inspired choice.

Songs integrate into the story seamlessly — so much so that Gangubai Kathiawadi could make for a good starter “Bollywood-style” movie for someone who thinks they don’t like musicals. The song numbers fit perfectly within the flow of the story.

The only weak point in the film comes from another typical Bollywood element: a character giving a climactic speech in front of a crowd. The scene doesn’t have the same impact as it would have in real life, and it slows down the momentum. The movie also ends with a narrated outro that sounds like the closing paragraph from an elementary school social studies report.

Alia Bhatt’s charismatic performance can’t be praised enough. It’s a swaggering role, but it’s always clear why Gangubai is the way she is. Her brash persona is a necessary part of her plan to improve the lives of the women around her.

She’s surrounded by some colorful characters brought to life by even more great performances. Pahwa is appropriately loathsome as Sheela Mausi, and Raaz’s Raziabai is chilling. Ajay Devgn is terrific in his extended cameo as the helpful gangster Rahim Lala.

Best of all are those closest to Gangubai. Maheshwari’s Afshan is adorable, and Indra Tiwari is sensational as Gangubai’s best friend and sidekick Kamli. Bhatt’s lead performance deservedly gets most of the attention, but the ensemble around her is terrific as well.

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Series Review: Aranyak (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Aranyak on Netflix

Aranyak is Netflix India’s answer to Twin Peaks. With a compelling story and right-sized episodes, the supernatural (or is it?) murder mystery is made to be binged.

Aranyak takes place in the perpetually overcast fictional mountain town of Sironah, surrounded by a dense forest. Police officer Angad Malik (Parambrata Chattopadhyay) arrives to take over duties from Kasturi Dogra (Raveena Tandon), who’s taking a leave of absence from the force to deal with family issues.

On the day Angad arrives, a French tourist named Julie (Breshna Khan) reports her teenage daughter Aimee (Anna Ador) missing. Angad and Kasturi bicker over who should lead the case until Aimee’s body is found hanged in a tree. The cops agree to work together, putting Kasturi’s leave on hold.

Aimee’s death hits Sironah hard because of its similarities to a series of murders 19 years earlier that left over a dozen young women dead and the residents of the town emotionally scarred — none more so than Kasturi’s father-in-law Mahadev (Ashutosh Rana). He led the investigation into the murders but was unable to find the killer known as the “leopard man.”

The leopard man is a figure of local myth: a murderous beast and also the steward of a crop of “mystery mushrooms” that cure disease, but at a grievous cost to those who consume them. Whether the killer from 19 years ago was a man or a monster remains up for debate in Sironah.

One curious fact about the new crime is that all the rich and politically-connected residents in town seem to know that something bad happened to Aimee before the police do. Local politician Jagdamba (Meghna Malik) and sketchy rich guy Kuber Manhas (Zakir Hussain) try to leverage that information to their advantage.

There are many more characters and possible suspects. The story — written by Rohan Sippy and Charudutt Acharya — does a nice job of keeping all of them somehow connected to the crimes of the present or past. Each of the series’ eight episodes runs about 40 minutes, giving enough time to flesh out characters and their motivations without getting bogged down in backstory.

The runtime gives enough space to deal with the themes that Aranyak shares with Twin Peaks: collective trauma, whether evil exists as an independent entity or whether it’s simply individual moral corruption, and how “good” people reckon with this evil in their midst.

One of the more interesting characters is the politician Jagdamba. Her position is in jeopardy because her young adult son Kanti (Tejaswi Dev Chaudhary) was previously convicted of rape. She wants to protect him, but she also believes that he committed the current crime and fears that he might do it again. She’s concerned not just because he’s a political liability, but because she doesn’t want him to hurt anyone else — yet she’s not sure how to stop him. She loves her son, but he might be irredeemable.

This subplot fits with the show’s focus on the dangers faced by women, be it rape, murder, roofies, or cyberstalking. The stakes are raised for Kasturi because she has a daughter, Nutan (Tanseesha Joshi), who is the same age as Aimee. One of the commonalities between Aimee’s death and the murders from 19 years ago is that the police weren’t able to prevent any of them, only respond to them after the fact.

Aranyak has a few glaring flaws. Kasturi does stupid things that put people in danger, and she’s never heard of the jugular vein. Action scenes in the final episode defy the laws of space-time. The finale’s closing shot is sincerely crazy. The whole reason I watched the show was because Shah Shahid of the Split Screen Podcast warned me that the show’s final seconds were nuts, and he was right.

That said, the story build-up to that point is solid enough to make time invested in Aranyak worthwhile. Consistently good performances help, too, with special acknowledgement of Joshi as Nutan and Wishveash Sharkholi as Bunty, her boyfriend. Though the story feels complete as is, I’m very curious to see where Season 2 would go, based on the finale’s closing seconds.

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Movie Review: Dasvi (2022)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Dasvi on Netflix

Comedies made for an audience of all ages aren’t often considered prestige viewing, but they’re no less difficult to get right. Dasvi does just that, telling a story with broad appeal that never feels dumbed-down, thanks to solid performances and terrific story structure.

Abhishek Bachchan stars as Ganga Ram Chaudhary, Chief Minister (CM) of the state of Harit Pradesh. He’s used to getting his way, flaunting his power by transferring a local police officer he deems too strict and shutting down a proposal to build a school in favor of building a mall.

When he’s thrown into jail pending a bribery investigation, his life doesn’t change that much. Suck-up prison guard Satpal (Manu Rishi Chadha) gives Chaudhary special accommodations, and Chaudhary’s timid wife Bimla Devi (Nimrat Kaur) fills in as CM, taking direction from her husband over the phone.

All that changes when the prison gets a tough new warden, Jyoti Deshwal (Yami Gautam Dhar). Wouldn’t you know, she’s the same strict cop Chaudhary had transferred before he went to jail. She axes Chaudhary’s special privileges, including his daily calls to Bimla Devi, who’s left to govern on her own. Jyoti mocks Chaudhary’s eighth-grade education, calling him an “uncouth bumpkin.”

This hit to his pride — and his desire to avoid manual labor — inspires Chaudhary to take on the challenge of earning his high school diploma while behind bars. If he fails, he promises to drop out of politics.

Chaudhary is a fun comic hero because his flaws are obvious to the audience, but not to him. We know his dismissive attitude toward education needs to change, but why should it while he’s living the life he wants? When he finally gets on the right path, it’s a fun twist that his biggest obstacle is not the warden but his own wife, who’s come to enjoy the power that comes with being the CM.

A lot of the jokes in Dasvi stem from verbal faux pas committed by Chaudhary and Bimla Devi. Not all of the wordplay humor translates, but Laxminarayan Singh does a good job of nailing most of the jokes via the English subtitles (as when Bimla Devi insists that they build an “effigy” of her, when she means “statue”).

But Dasvi isn’t so much a laugh-out-loud comedy as it is one that lets the powerful make fools of themselves. The film doesn’t rely on tacky jokes or goofy sound effects, instead letting well-drawn characters highlight what’s funny about a perverse situation. This is all possible thanks to a carefully constructed screenplay by Suresh Nair and Ritesh Shah and some ace direction by Tushar Jalota, who helms his first feature film.

The cast does exactly what it needs to do to set the right tone, giving characters the right mix of silliness and sentiment. Abhishek Bachchan, Yami Gautam Dhar, and Nimrat Kaur carry most of the load, but supporting actors like Manu Rishi Chadha and Arun Kushwaha — who plays the math wiz bicycle thief Ghanti — complete the world-building.

Dasvi feels a lot like a Hollywood comedy in its structure, but it still makes room for a Bollywood-style dance number and a closing speech about the importance of education (for better or worse). It fits that such a widely accessible film would debut on Netflix, a platform always looking to reach a global audience. Making an all-ages film that families around the world can enjoy watching together is a worthy goal and no mean feat.

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Movie Review: Sharmaji Namkeen (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Rishi Kapoor’s final film is a charming story of a man trying to navigate his unplanned retirement. Sharmaji Namkeen is a lovely way to send off a legend.

A critical fact to know going in is that Kapoor passed away before the filming of Sharmaji Namkeen was complete. In a brief video before the movie starts, Kapoor’s son Ranbir explains that they considered various ways to finish the film but ultimately settled on having actor Paresh Rawal take over Kapoor’s role for the scenes he wasn’t able to film.

Though Kapoor and Rawal aren’t exactly lookalikes, the transitions between scenes are pretty seamless, thanks to rigorous attention to costume continuity. Though one doesn’t become blind to the difference, the premise of two actors sharing the same role is easy to roll with.

Kapoor and Rawal play Brij Gopal Sharma, a manager at an appliance company who’s forced to take an early retirement at age 58. Having devoted his whole life to his work, Sharmaji doesn’t know what to do with his newfound free time.

Sharmaji’s eldest son Rinku (Suhail Nayyar) has strong opinions about proper activities for a retiree — opinions he’s more comfortable expressing now that he’s the family breadwinner. Younger son Vincy (Taaruk Raina) just wants to go unnoticed as he fails his way through college.

One thing Sharmaji is good at is cooking, having taken over kitchen duties after his wife passed away. Rinku rejects Sharmaji’s idea of opening a snack shop, deeming cooking an unseemly profession for a middle-class retiree. Sharmaji’s best friend Chaddha (Satish Kaushik) suggests that he cater a party for a group of well-heeled women — a gig that would be easy enough to keep secret from Rinku. Thus begins Sharmaji’s second chapter as a professional chef and his friendship with a bunch of fun-loving ladies.

On a related note, the footage of food in Sharmaji Namkeen is beautifully shot by cinematographer Piyush Puty. Everything Sharmaji cooks looks scrumptious.

Sharmaji Namkeen is refreshing because it has plenty of conflict but no villains. Sharmaji and Rinku are both stubborn, with strong opinions about how the other one should live his life. Their cycle of keeping secrets from each other just to avoid a fight isn’t healthy or sustainable, but there isn’t any malice in it. They’re both just slow to adjust to their new reality.

While the theme about love and loyalty between family members is stated overtly, there’s a related theme about the importance of friends. The love-hate friendship between Sharmaji and Chaddha is adorable, but the support Sharmaji finds with his new circle of women is equally endearing. Given the prevalence of loneliness among seniors, Sharmaji Namkeen is a nice reminder that it’s never too late to make new friends.

Kapoor’s performance is very strong, establishing Sharmaji as persnickety but kind-hearted. Rawal matches Kapoor’s tone so well that the character feels totally cohesive. It’s wonderful that writer-director Hitesh Bhatia and his crew found a way to complete Sharmaji Namkeen. It’s a very enjoyable film.

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Best and Worst Bollywood Movies of 2021

2021 was a rough year, and one of the things that had to take a backseat for me was movie reviews. After a few months of catching up on some of last year’s releases, I feel like I’ve finally seen enough to pick some titles for my annual Best of and Worst of lists.

Here are my best and worst Bollywood movies of 2021, starting with the best:

Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar is one of director Dibakar Banerjee’s finest films — which is saying a lot, considering his sterling body of work! Parineeti Chopra and Arjun Kapoor play a banker and her kidnapper on the run from assassins out to kill both of them. It’s a beautifully-paced thriller that allows enough time for substantial character development as well as an examination of the expectations and limitations placed on women by patriarchy and capitalism. It’s for sure my favorite film of 2021.

Bollywood has produced several successful horror comedies in recent years, and Bhoot Police is right on trend. Saif Ali Khan and Arjun Kapoor (again!) play brothers who conduct sham exorcisms, only to find out that ghosts might be real after all. Themes about sibling bonds and the unique relationship each child has with their parents are expertly woven into the story. I’m jealous of the terrific screenplay, written by the trio of director Pavan Kirpalani, editor Pooja Ladha Surti, and co-writer Sumit Batheja.

Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui is Bollywood’s first mainstream romantic comedy with a transgender lead. Though it might have benefited from more transgender representation in front of and behind the camera, it does demonstrate the commercial viability of stories about transgender people. Plus, it’s a very enjoyable movie with likeable, complex leading characters.

2021 also had a lot of good but not great titles that fell somewhere in between — movies like The White Tiger, Haseen Dillruba, Tribhanga: Tedhi Medhi Crazy, and The Girl on the Train. (Just gonna note here that all four of these titles are Netflix Original Films.)

Of course, 2021 also had its share of duds as well. Here are my worst movies of the year:

Dybbuk is a ghost story with nothing to say about anything. It’s not even fun in a stupid way.

Bhuj: The Pride of India chronicles an interesting part of India’s 1971 war with Pakistan, but the story as it’s told is truncated to fit into a single movie. This would have been better as a series.

The title of Worst Bollywood Movie of 2021 belongs to the dreadful Akshay Kumar action flick Sooryavanshi. Part of director Rohit Shetty’s “cop universe,” Sooryavanshi the character is annoying. Sooryavanshi the movie is lazily written and hateful toward Muslims. I’m not sure why Shetty felt like he had to expand his “universe” (just kidding, of course I know: $$$), but he’d have been better off just making Singham sequels until the end of time.

Kathy’s Best Bollywood Movies of 2021

  1. Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar — stream on Amazon Prime
  2. Bhoot Police — stream on Hulu
  3. Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui — stream on Netflix

Kathy’s Worst Bollywood Movies of 2021

  1. Sooryavanshi — stream on Netflix
  2. Bhuj: The Pride of India — stream on Hulu
  3. Dybbuk — stream on Amazon Prime

Previous Best Movies Lists

Previous Worst Movies Lists

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Movie Review: Sooryavanshi (2021)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

The third member of Rohit Shetty’s “cop universe” of cinematic heroes — Sooryavanshi — is introduced in his namesake film. It’s even worse than I expected it to be.

The plot draws from the standard Bollywood “supercop” genre playbook. A sleeper cell of Islamic terrorists is planning an attack on Mumbai, and the only man who can stop them is Veer “Surya” Sooryavanshi (Akshay Kumar). What differentiates the film is the degree to which it leans into lazy genre tropes and outright harmful stereotypes.

First among the lazy tropes is that patriotism is a blanket excuse for reckless or immoral actions. Shootout in a crowded marketplace? Extrajudicial murder of unarmed perpetrators? Engaging in a firefight with a suspect while your son is in the car, leaving the boy wounded? All okay, so long as they’re done for the sake of the country.

This feeds into the second lazy trope: that patriotism is the only personal quality that matters. There’s a theme in the movie about the importance of family, but it only pertains to Surya’s wife Ria (Katrina Kaif), not Surya. Ria wants to protect their son Aryan from Surya’s blinkered commitment to duty, and she’s painted as the villain for wanting to move to Australia without her husband. Never is it mentioned that maybe Surya should not have married or procreated if his duty to country prevents him from ever prioritizing his family and may require him to put them in danger. But that leads us back to the first lazy trope: Surya’s patriotism excuses him being an awful father and husband.

Another lazy “supercop” trope is that the hero is the only person who can defeat the villains. No one else in the vast local and federal anti-terrorism infrastructure is up to the task. When Surya takes one afternoon off at Ria’s insistence, one of his team members dies (making Ria the bad guy once again).

One caveat: Sooryavanshi skirts this lone-hero trope in its climactic sequence by including cameos from the other members of Shetty’s “cop universe” — Simmba (Ranveer Singh) and Singham (Ajay Devgn). Together, the trio defeats the terrorists in a climactic showdown that lacks spatial orientation. Lots of stuff explodes, but rarely ever within the same frame as the star actors, ruining the immersion.

All the cameos do is remind the audience that Devgn is the only actor of the three with the charisma to pull off this type of character. That Singham wins the final fight in this, another hero’s movie, just cements that.

Beyond an over-reliance on tropes — which can be forgiven if a movie is fun — Sooryavanshi is deplorable in its depiction of Muslims. It builds the plot around the harmful stereotype that every Muslim man deserves suspicion as either a possible terrorist or a corrupter of Hindu women. The only way to prove that you’re a patriotic Indian Muslim is to join the police force or collaborate with them, despite knowing that they engage in torture and extrajudicial murder.

It makes for depressing viewing. When it’s not depressing, it’s annoying thanks to Surya’s pathological inability to remember people’s names. The joke is revisited frequently, and it’s never funny.

The only positives in Sooryavanshi are Javed Jaffrey’s grounded performance as a veteran counter-terrorist agent and Akshay Kumar’s entertaining hand-to-hand fight scenes, of which there are too few. But for them, the film would be irredeemable.

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