Tag Archives: Bollywood

Movie Review: Ram Setu (2022)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Ram Setu on Amazon Prime

Ram Setu is interesting because it explains many of the limitations placed on the Hindi film industry by India’s current political environment, then proceeds to exemplify all of the problems it identifies. It’s a thought-provoking movie, albeit for the wrong reasons.

The story is set in 2007, allowing the filmmakers to plausibly deny that the movie is about present day India. Atheist archeologist Aryan (Akshay Kumar) discovers important artifacts in Afghanistan that reinforce the country’s connections to India via the Silk Road. Aryan notes that the whole region shares a cultural history, regardless which religion predominates, past or present.

It’s significant that writer-director Abhishek Sharma has his main character voice the merit of preserving history based on cultural import — which often aligns closely to religious import, to be fair — because Sharma spends the rest of the movie ignoring that nuanced sentiment in favor of pandering to religious zealots.

Aryan is hired by the Indian government to write a paper declaring that Ram Setu — a now-submerged land bridge connecting India to Sri Lanka — is a naturally occurring structure. This crucial step will allow shipping magnate Indrakant (Nassar) to demolish part of the bridge for speedier ocean transit. There are environmental concerns about the project, too, but they are nothing compared to the vociferous opposition by Hindu groups who believe that Rama himself built the bridge.

Aryan’s wife Gayatri (Nushrratt Baruccha) is a believer and warns Aryan against getting involved. He does anyway. Due to the ferocity of the protests, Aryan is scapegoated and suspended, and the couple’s son is bullied at school. Aryan figures that the only way to clear his name is to accept Indrakant’s offer to investigate Ram Setu personally and prove that it is not a man-made structure.

Indrakant and his villainous lackey Bali (Pravesh Rana) are condemned for demanding Aryan and the other researchers — including environmental scientist Dr. Rebello (Jacqueline Fernandez) and geologist Dr. Gabrielle (Jeniffer Piccinato) — cherry-pick their findings to support the bridge’s destruction rather than follow the evidence where it leads. Yet Ram Setu does the exact same thing. It lays out plenty of plausible counter-arguments, but it ends up with Aryan being converted and publicly declaring that God is real.

Sharma writes a couple of courtroom scenes in which the lawyer for the state argues that that even if Ram Setu was man-made, Aryan hasn’t proven that Rama was the one who built it. And further, why is the bridge’s significance to Hindus more important than its significance to Christians and Muslims? All these claims could fall under the cultural value statement that Aryan himself made earlier in the film, especially if they are considered collectively. But Aryan insists that Rama is the architect and that Hinduism’s claims on the bridge are the only ones that matter.

Based on the positions Sharma writes for the opposition, he knows what a movie that trusts in the intelligence of its audience would sound like. Unfortunately, he took to heart one of the lessons Aryan learns: don’t anger the mob. The end result is a movie that feels pandering, and therefore forgettable.

The adventure aspects of the film are not bad in concept, but there wasn’t the budget to execute them properly. There’s lots of obvious green-screen usage, with backgrounds and environments that feel fake. The practical sets that are used are pretty good.

Performances across the board are uneven, with Kumar being needlessly shouty at times. His emoting in the film’s lone dance number is unappetizing. Telugu star Satyadev Kancharana is a welcome addition to the story as helpful Sri Lankan tour guide AP.

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Movie Review: Mission Majnu (2023)

1 Star (out of 4)

Watch Mission Majnu on Netflix

Not much thought went into Mission Majnu, but the filmmakers probably figured they didn’t need to bother. Slap together a bunch of cliches from the historical patriotic genre playbook that’s so popular in Bollywood right now, and voilà! — Mission Majnu.

The film kicks off its spy story with a soapy romance set in mid-1970s Pakistan. Humble tailor Tariq (Sidharth Malhotra) falls for a stunningly gorgeous, blind woman Nasreen (Rashmika Mandanna). They get married over the objections of her father, who owns a garment shop that makes military uniforms and therefore knows just how little Tariq earns. Nevertheless, love prevails.

Little do Nasreen and her father know that Tariq is actually Amandeep Singh — an Indian spy who’s been living in Pakistan for an indeterminate period of time. We know very little about Tariq/Amandeep other than his father was a traitor, and so the son became a spy as a kind of penance for Dad’s misdeeds. His instructor at the academy R.N. Kao (Parmeet Sethi) — who serves for a time as India’s RAW chief — says Amandeep was the best student he’d ever had.

Amandeep is tasked with finding out information about Pakistan’s burgeoning nuclear weapons program. The film opens by saying that Pakistan started developing nukes in response to losing the war with India in 1971, painting Pakistan as over-reactionary sore losers. Moments later, the narrator clarifies that actually, Pakistan didn’t start its nuclear program until after India tested its first nuclear weapon in 1974 with Operation Smiling Buddha.

This is par for the course in Mission Majnu. India’s actions are always justified even when they are problematic, and any politicians who think about engaging in diplomacy with Pakistan are naïve wimps. Likewise, Pakistan is portrayed as fundamentally deceitful, and their sweets aren’t as good as Indian sweets. No level of insult is too petty.

With a viewpoint rooted in such simplistic nationalism, there can be no question as where Amandeep’s loyalties lie. Duty to country obviously has to win. There’s no tension or moral conflict regarding his marriage to Nasreen, unlike the emotional tug-of-war the main character faces in the much better historical spy drama Raazi (which came out back when movies with political nuance were still acceptable).

Nasreen isn’t much of a character. As written, she exists to give a Amandeep a reason to be emotionally conflicted (even though he’s not), but to never get in his way. Nasreen is perpetually smiling and supportive, grateful that someone was willing to marry her despite her blindness. She’s aware that her husband keeps secrets from her but she doesn’t press him about it, despite the enormous cost she (unknowingly) pays for those secrets.

Any intrigue in the story happens at a national level. Israel is just as worried about Pakistan developing a nuclear weapon as India and has its own spies on the case. But if Israel is mistaken about where the test is happening and bombs the wrong site, India will be on the receiving end of retaliation from Pakistan. Therefore, it’s imperative that India’s spies — which include Aslam (Sharib Hashmi) and Raman Singh (Kumud Mishra) in addition to Amandeep — get the correct location. But even this crisis is handled in a cheesy manor, with imminent destruction being averted just as a countdown from ten reaches one.

Malhotra is quite hammy in Mission Majnu. He plays up his “aw shucks” simple tailor act while goading Pakistan’s generals into bragging about the nuke program, then furrowing his brow and looking concerned when they divulge useful intelligence — as though they wouldn’t notice his abrupt change in demeanor mid-conversation. When Raman Singh shaves his beard and ditches the Muslim scholar garb he’s been wearing for ten years, no one in town cares. And don’t get me started on Aslam’s ridiculous method for reaching for a phone when assassins are after him.

Mission Majnu was cobbled together from tropes and cliches we’ve seen a million times before. Give the movie about as much thought as the filmmakers did — none at all.

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Movie Review: Double XL (2022)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Double XL on Netflix

Double XL is a trainwreck. Good intentions can’t save a movie so utterly clueless.

Rajshri (Huma Qureshi) wants to be a sports broadcaster, and Saira (Sonakshi Sinha) aspires to be a fashion designer. Both face discrimination in their personal and professional lives for being overweight. A chance meeting convinces the two to travel to London for a week, working together to enhance their portfolios and build a lasting friendship.

It’s a simple story setup that in no way requires the forty minutes of annoying backstory that leads up to the two meeting. In fact, the setbacks that bring them together — Rajshri is denied the chance to audition for a job because of her weight, and Saira discovers her boyfriend is cheating on her with a thin woman — should have been used to introduce the main characters and establish them as underdogs.

Rather, much of the superfluous character development actually makes the characters less likeable. Both Rajshri and Saira yell at service workers or people who aren’t in decision-making roles about unfair policies, despite knowing that the person they are screaming at isn’t responsible or able to fix the situation. The solution to systemic discrimination is not bullying.

The story of Double XL feels like it was made with minimal effort and zero research. Rajshri and Saira are both 30 but act like they were frozen in time after they earned their bachelors degrees and only recently thawed out. In the intervening years, they appear to have learned nothing about career paths in their chosen fields and instead expect to be magically elevated to the top of their industries, just as soon as the powers that be can look past their weight.

For a movie about weight bias, it has very little insight to offer on the topic. When characters discuss the subject, it’s with a surface-level understanding that is belabored to death. Some problems that aren’t necessarily weight-related are made so for the sake of keeping the film on topic. The movie offers nothing new to viewers already attuned to weight bias, and it won’t do much to change to the minds of those who weren’t concerned or aware of the problem.

There’s nothing that Sinha and Qureshi — two actors I enjoy — can do performance-wise to save this film, and they get no help from the supporting cast. It’s further confounding that Qureshi co-produced Double XL and didn’t remedy its obvious shortcomings. I really wanted to like this film. I just couldn’t.

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Movie Review: Phone Bhoot (2022)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Phone Bhoot on Amazon Prime

Phone Bhoot is almost a very good movie. It has a distinct style and point of view, and Ishaan Khattar gives a hypnotic performance. But it badly needs editing.

It’s not just that Phone Bhoot is too long (though it is, especially for a comedy) or that scenes are too slow (though they are). It’s that all the cruft in the film makes the jokes less funny than if they were quick hits. There’s a reason why the Hamlet quote “Brevity is the soul of wit” endures over the centuries.

For example, take how the film’s main characters acquire their superpowers. Friends Major (Siddhant Chaturvedi) and Gullu (Khattar) are two horror-obsessed slackers. While fixing the glowing eyes of their Frankenstein-like monster statue named Raaka, our heroes are electrocuted. Instead of just convulsing for a few seconds then dropping, director Gurmmeet Singh has the camera repeatedly cut between Major, Gullu, and Raaka as the humans convulse for what feels like forever. The prolonged electrocution sequence has been a tired Bollywood comedy trope for a long time.

When the guys wake up, they find that they can see ghosts. Specifically, they can see Ragini (Katrina Kaif), a beautiful spectre who makes them a proposition. She will help them start an exorcism business, thereby earning enough to pay back the money that the guys owe their fathers. In exchange, they have to help her with a favor, no questions asked.

An interesting theme that comes up as the trio’s exorcism business takes off is the financial ramifications of death. The ghost of a young woman haunts the family of the man who killed her in a hit-and-run not just because of the unfairness of her life being cut short. It’s also because the woman was the breadwinner for her aging parents, who now live in poverty. Other ghosts have similar stories. It’s a thoughtful acknowledgement that justice may be best served in forms other than jail time or equivalent physical punishment.

Another cool thing about Major and Gullu is that they are obsessed expressly with Indian horror movies. There are very few references to Hollywood horror films in the movie, and all of the posters and props in their apartment are from older Bollywood flicks. Ragini’s name obviously comes from the Ragini MMS series, and I’m sure there are tons of other references for those with a deeper knowledge of spooky Hindi classics than I have.

Unfortunately, as with the electrocution sequence, the movie draws too much from outdated comedy and storytelling styles. Jokes last so long that they stop being funny. The story moves too slowly, especially since there isn’t really a b-plot. There’s plenty of room in the narrative for characters like the Major’s and Gullu’s dads to reappear to check on their unconventional sons’ progress, or for there to be more to the guys’ thin association with a witch whose name translates in the English subtitles as Wicky Witch (Sheeba Chaddha).

Likewise, it would’ve been better to have the guys encounter the movie’s villain Aatmaram Shastrashakti (Jackie Shroff) earlier in the story, rather than keep the evil sorcerer sequestered in the underground lair he’s leasing from Big Trouble in Little China‘s David Lo Pan.

Another disappointment is that the songs and choreography are forgettable. None of the numbers will rank among Kaif’s greatest hits, despite pairing her with an excellent dancer like Khattar. (Chartuvedi holds his own on the dance floor, too.)

Kaif’s performance is solid as the stand-in for the audience, rolling her eyes at the two dopes she’s forced to rely on for help. Chaturvedi’s mugging as Major is a bit much at times but mostly fits with his character’s personality. Khattar is the real standout, totally immersing himself in every scene, no matter how silly, and reacting authentically.

Were it 30 minutes shorter, Phone Bhoot would be a real winner.

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Movie Review: Govinda Naam Mera (2022)

1 Star (out of 4)

Watch Govinda Naam Mera on Hulu

Watching Govinda Naam Mera feels like watching a video played backwards. Writer-director Shashank Khaitan started with the outcome he wanted, then engineered his story in reverse to achieve that end amidst a series of shocking revelations. But when you play the story forward, you find that the biggest reveals of all are an inscrutable plot and characters that never engender sympathy.

The title character is played by Vicky Kaushal, who projects far more charisma than the movie deserves. Govinda is a wannabe choreographer and background dancer living in large home bequeathed to him by his father — who ditched his first wife and son to marry Govinda’s mom, Asha (Renuka Shahane). Govinda is married to Gauri (Bhumi Pednekar), a woman who hates him as much as he hates her. His dance partner Suku (Kiara Advani) is also his mistress.

Several axes hang over Govinda’s head, though there’s no timeline as to when any of them will fall. Suku wants Govinda to divorce Gauri, but Gauri won’t agree until he repays her dowry money. Govinda owes money to a cop from whom he illegally bought a gun, for some reason. And Govinda’s stepbrother Vishnu is about to win a lawsuit that will force Govinda to relinquish rights to his house, leaving him homeless and penniless. Then Govinda gets involved with a drug dealer, further complicating matters.

As the story proceeds, characters act in ways that suit neither their personalities nor the situation. Just as the audience reaches a maximum level of confusion, a card appears on screen reading something like “3 Days Earlier.” This happens over and over again — as though the point of the story structure is to trick the audience.

Because we don’t see the events in sequence, there is no tension or ambiguity about the outcome. We only ever learn the truth of characters plans after they’ve succeeded (or not). It also means we don’t get to see relationships between the characters develop. We only get the “ta-da!” reveal that people were working together all along, but not how such cooperation changed their relationship.

The worst example of a story element that exists solely for the reveal is Govinda’s mom. The audience learns early in the film that she’s not really partially paralyzed and in need of a wheelchair, but is faking it all to garner sympathy. Yet she’s been doing it for fifteen years! There’s no story reason for her to perform this long con (and make her own life more difficult), except to shock other characters when she eventually reveals the truth.

One of the selling points of Govinda Naam Mera is the chance to watch Kaushal and Advani dance together. Their performances in that regard do not disappoint. But save yourself a bunch of time and trouble and just watch this YouTube playlist of songs from the movie.

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Movie Review: Blurr (2022)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Blurr on Zee5

Blurr — a remake of the 2010 Spanish movie Julia’s Eyes — is like two movies in one. The first half is a compelling thriller about a married couple at odds with each other about how to deal with a family tragedy. The second half is an inadequately-set-up horror film.

Gayatri (Taapsee Pannu) gasps for breath as she wakes from a nightmare about her identical twin sister, Gautami (also Pannu). She convinces her reluctant husband Neel (Gulshan Devaiah) to drive to the forest cabin where Gautami lives to check on her. There, they find Gautami’s body hanging from a noose in the attic.

The police are eager to close the case on Gautami’s apparent suicide, but Gayatri sensed in her dream that her sister wasn’t alone when she died. Gautami hated rap music, but her stereo blasts it out at full volume when turned on. Gayatri heard the whining sound of a camera flash in her dream — a sound she hears again in the house and around town as she and Neel decide their next steps.

Gayatri’s relationship with Neel is the most interesting part of Blurr. He acts sketchy, but he’s also right that maybe Gayatri doesn’t want to accept the obvious. After all, Gautami had been blind for the last year, the result of a degenerative eye condition that Gayatri also has. Given that the condition is exacerbated by stress, Neel’s worried about his wife’s health. Pannu and Devaiah have a terrific chemistry whether their characters are fighting or reminiscing about the good times. They make a great on-screen duo.

Eventually, Neel’s fears come true, and Gayatri is forced to undergo emergency surgery to restore her sight. She must keep her eyes bandaged for two full weeks in order for them to properly heal. Instead of recovering in the hospital, Gayatri insists on returning to her sister’s house.

This is purely a plot convenience to endanger Gayatri, but it makes little sense given her state of mind to this point. Before the surgery, she was convinced that the unknown person she believes killed her sister was following her and was able to enter her house at night. Staying in a fully staffed hospital is obviously safer, so her insistence on recuperating at home is absurd.

Gayatri’s loss of eyesight dovetails with the film’s theme of social invisibility. Multiple characters mention feeling as though people look past them — a cue to the audience to pay attention to characters on the periphery of the story. But writer-director Ajay Bahl is so stingy with clues that invested viewers will not find their diligence rewarded. The film’s last act is more of a survival horror story than it is a mystery.

Even though the second half of Blurr is a letdown, it’s generally an engaging and watchable thriller. Yet the biggest mystery of all is not what happened to Gautami, but why the killer needs a darkroom to develop Polaroid photos.

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Movie Review: Brahmāstra Part One – Shiva (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

There’s a reason why you don’t use the phrase “first annual” to describe an event: you can’t guarantee the “second annual” event will actually happen. Writer-director Ayan Mukerji put extra pressure on himself when he titled the first film in his ambitious planned superhero trilogy Brahmāstra Part One – Shiva. Fortunately, Brahmāstra Part One is a solid foundation for future films in the franchise.

The movie opens with the establishment of the story’s foundational lore. Centuries ago, a group of sages received powerful weapons called astras, the most powerful of which is the Brahmāstra. The sages named their order the Brahmānsh, using their powers to protect humanity, keep the Brahmāstra from spinning out of control and destroying the world, and passing their powers down across the generations.

The powers themselves are pretty cool. One member of the Brahmānsh has the strength of a thousand bulls, another the agility of a monkey, and one can shoot snakes as arrows. It’s not totally clear how the powers are inherited, though. Some powers are explicitly tied to physical artifacts like bracelets, while others seem to transfer genetically and don’t require a sacred object. The first film in a planned series is the place to make those rules crystal clear.

In the present day, orphaned disc jockey Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor) is struck by a confluence of life-changing events in a temple during Durga Puja. He has visions of a scientist (Shah Rukh Khan, in a movie-stealing cameo) being tortured by three people with strange powers. He also sees a beautiful woman, Isha (Alia Bhatt), with whom he falls instantly in love.

As Isha and Shiva get to know one another, he has more visions in which the scientist reveals that an artist named Anish (Nagarjuna Akkineni) is in danger from the three strangers, and that the location of an ashram must be protected at all costs. Isha corroborates details of Shiva’s visions, and the two head out to warn Anish.

There they encounter the mysterious strangers, each wearing a piece of rock that emits a sinister red glow. Their beautiful, terrifying leader Junoon (Mouni Roy) wants to ignite the Brahmāstra’s full power and resurrect an entity called Dev. A battle ensues, but Shiva and Isha are able to reach the ashram.

The ashram is run by Raghu (Amitabh Bachchan), leader of the Brahmānsh and tutor for all astra wielders. He promises to explain Shiva’s visions and his strange connection to fire to him — and even tell him about his parents — but only if Shiva agrees to stay and send Isha back to the city.

Brahmāstra Part One employs a lot of superhero origin story tropes, right down to the main character being an orphan (a 30-year-old one at that). Character development isn’t high on Mukerji’s priority list, at least not in this phase of his saga.

Dialogue also isn’t a main priority, as much of what the characters utter is matter-of-fact or utilitarian. It’s also repetitive, as Isha says Shiva’s name fully 83 times, by one Reddit user’s count. It might even be more than that in the streaming video version, as Mukerji added some scenes to better establish the central romantic subplot.

Mukerji’s main focus in this first film is in establishing a visual language for the series. What he creates is stunning. Each scene is perfectly lit to focus the audience’s attention or set the emotional tone. Characters sport wardrobes in eye-catching hues. Best of all are the gorgeous ways the astras manifest, as collections of ethereal sprites of varying colors, depending on who wields them. Battles are vibrant as opposing magical forces clash, eschewing grittiness in favor of pure fantasy.

The scale of the film’s fight sequences feels appropriate. Battles are fought in enclosed spaces or in remote areas away from prying eyes, which makes sense, since the existence of the astras is supposed to be a secret. This approach provides a welcome respite from the tiresome city-wide destruction used in every Marvel film.

Brahmāstra Part One‘s sensory appeal is enhanced by an excellent soundtrack, written by Pritam and sung beautifully by Arijit Singh. The memorable songs come to life when performed by Ranbir Kapoor, who dances with a spontaneity that belies the hours of training that went into creating each song sequence.

Superhero origin stories have a formula for a reason, so Brahmāstra Part One – Shiva gets a pass for the elements that feel a little generic. Mukerji was smart to zero in on the aspects that set his film apart, including a distinctive look and approach to special effects that can enhance the array of possible superpowers yet to be introduced. I’m looking forward to Brahmāstra Part Two.

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Movie Review: Monica, O My Darling (2022)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Monica, O My Darling on Netflix

Sometimes, getting everything you ever wanted just isn’t worth it. Monica, O My Darling — based on mystery author Keigo Higashino’s story “Burûtasu No Shinzou” — explores the dangers that lurk at the top of the socioeconomic ladder.

Jay (Rajkummar Rao) worked his way up from nothing to become an engineer. He’s just been named to the board of directors of Unicorn Robotics, and he’s engaged to Niki (Akansha Ranjan Kapoor), the bubbly daughter of Unicorn’s founder and CEO.

Jay’s also about to lose everything thanks to an affair with the CEO’s assistant, Monica (Huma Qureshi). She tells Jay she’s pregnant with his baby, which she wants to keep. She’ll happily stay quiet about it so long as he pays her.

Jay considers confessing his infidelity to Niki. But when Niki relays a story about a man who cheated on her cousin and says her family will likely kill him or send him to jail, Jay believes her and says nothing.

The thing about Jay is, he’s ambitious but not ruthless. Not in the way rich people are. Not in the way his jealous future brother-in-law Nishi (Sikander Kher) is.

Nishi arranges a meeting with Jay and Arvind (Bagavathi Perumal) — the company’s head of accounting — at a seedy motel. (Special kudos to whoever is responsible for the delightfully bizarre animal art on the walls of the motel.) Apparently, Monica has told all three men that they are the father of her baby and demanded money from each of them. Nishi’s solution is to kill Monica and have Jay and Arvind dispose of the body. If they’re all involved, then none of them will rat on the others. There’s no way regular guys like Jay and Arvind would come up with something so dastardly on their own.

Of course, there are hiccups in the plan’s execution. People die, and Jay falls under suspicion from an unusual detective, ACP Naidu (Radhika Apte).

The tone of Monica, O My Darling isn’t that of a straightforward mystery, but it’s not as colorful and brash as another Netflix Original comic thriller, Ludo. Director Vasan Bala strikes a balance where the film feels simultaneously realistic and unrealistic. The audience is aware they’re watching a film — in particular in scenes when a frame appears around the edges of the screen to mimic the shape of an old TV console and the men imagine Monica scheming like a movie villain — but the stakes feel high nonetheless.

Perhaps the best example of this is in the film’s fight scenes. There are only a few fights in Monica, O My Darling, but they are the movie’s most emotionally impactful sequences. The fight choreography is loose to the point that it appears at first like the actors are just goofing around. As the fight drags on, the gravity of the situation builds and becomes oppressive.

The casting in Monica, O My Darling is outstanding. Rao is the perfect normal guy and Qureshi an ideal vamp. Perumal provides great comic relief. Sukant Goel is creepy as Gaurya — a childhood acquaintance of Jay who wants to be more important than he is. Kher and Apte chew through their scenery like a couple of sharks. They are so fun to watch.

The mystery driving the story forward is compelling, but the payoff is a little unsatisfying. It doesn’t meet Aristotle’s standard of “surprising yet inevitable.” Nevertheless, Monica, O My Darling is an engrossing film with a killer soundtrack. It’s a wonderful followup to Bala’s previous feature film: the excellent karate movie Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota (“The Man Who Feels No Pain.”)

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Movie Review: Dobaaraa (2022)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Science fiction films are rare in Bollywood, so when a sci-fi Hindi film doesn’t quite work, it’s extra disappointing. Dobaaraa — a remake of the 2018 Spanish film Mirage — doesn’t lean hard enough into sci-fi genre tropes, making it feel identity-less.

Night closes in on a subdivision in Pune in 1996, bringing with it a powerful electrical storm. 12-year-old Anay (Aarrian Sawant) consoles himself by watching old videos of his dad, who’s working abroad. As Anay switches the camera to record himself, he sees a commotion through the window of the house next door. He goes to investigate and winds up dead.

25 years later, new occupants move in to Anay’s old house. Antara (Taapsee Pannu) is unhappy in her marriage to Vikas (Rahul Bhat), but she’s trying to keep things civil for the sake of their 6-year-old daughter Avanti (Myra Rajpal). The couple’s college pal Abhishek (Sukant Goel) still lives in the neighborhood, and he tells them over dinner the story of what happened to Anay, his childhood best friend.

Vikas mentions later that it’s weird that Abhishek didn’t mention this when they bought the house, which is true. The movie ignores Abhishek’s omission, missing a chance to build tension by putting suspicion on him for the events to come.

After dinner, Abhishek explains more about Anay’s video camera, which Antara found in a closet in the boy’s old room. This information comes in handy later that night, when Antara is woken by an eerily similar electrical storm. Rather than head back to bed, she turns on Anay’s camera. She sees him in 1996, he sees her in 2021, and they are able to talk to each other. When he hears the commotion next door, she convinces him not to investigate. She saves his life but turns her own upside down in the process.

At this point (about a quarter of the way through the film), I was so sold on Dobaaraa that I turned it off so that I could watch it from the beginning with my husband. Whether in books, shows, or films, time-space anomalies are our jam. We recently finished watching the great 2016 Korean series Signal, which also features characters communicating across time via outdated tech, so Dobaaraa seemed like a great pick for a Saturday night movie.

Unfortunately, after we caught up the point where I’d stopped watching, the movie all but abandons its sci-fi trappings to become a lukewarm mystery in which the audience figures out what’s happening long before the main character does. Antara spends a ton of time grilling the people in her life about why they remember things differently, bogging down the story in dialogue that fails to progress the plot or develop the characters.

With a more traditional sci-fi approach to the story, Antara would try to figure out how to recreate the conditions that led her to contact Anay in the first place, and there might be more details about the nature of the electrical storm. If this were a true thriller, Antara would be up against a deadline or in peril herself. Without genre hooks or a true sense of urgency, Dobaaraa‘s conventional drama approach doesn’t really work, because the characters are less interesting than their situation.

A few scenes of Anay in the altered timeline where he survived have the level of danger associated with the thriller genre. But even then, it gets the beats wrong, putting Anay in harm’s way, only to change scenes before we see how he gets out of it.

There’s not a ton the actors can do with the script. Young Aarrian Sawant is pretty good as Anay. Taapsee Pannu builds sympathy for Antara in the early parts of the film but stalls out as her character’s emotional range shrinks. Antara may be frustrated in Dobaaraa‘s second act, but not as frustrated as the audience waiting for her to connect the dots.

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Movie Review: Laal Singh Chaddha (2022)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Laal Singh Chaddha — an official remake of Forrest Gump — was released with the expectation that it would be yet another blockbuster for Aamir Khan, along the lines of 3 Idiots and PK. Such a high bar was always going to be tough to clear. Laal Singh Chaddha is a perfectly nice movie, but that’s it.

In this version, the Forrest Gump character is Laal Singh Chaddha (Khan). He admits that he’s not too smart, but his life has been full of twists and turns. He recounts his story to his neighbors in a train carriage — an unwilling audience at first, but they wind up riveted by the end.

Young Laal (Ahmad Ibn Umar) grows up in a small farming town where he’s teased for wearing leg braces. His only friend is a girl named Rupa (Hafsa Ashraf). Laal follows every order from Rupa to the letter, so when she orders him to run from bullies, he does so, discovering that he no longer needs his braces.

When Rupa’s father murders her mother during a spat over money, Rupa comes to live with her aunt at Laal’s house, where the older woman works as a housekeeper. Rupa vows to get very rich when she grows up so that she never has to be on the receiving end of the kind of abuse that killed her mom.

Rupa (played as an adult by Kareena Kapoor) is a much more interesting character than Laal. Rupa’s motivations are understandable, and she’s willing to take risks to get what she wants. Those risks come with high-stakes consequences she’s forced to deal with.

Laal, on the other hand, floats through life like a feather on the wind — an obvious visual metaphor the film uses during the opening credits. He doesn’t want anything other than to be with Rupa, and when he can’t be, stuff just happens to him.

A selling point for both Forrest Gump and Laal Singh Chaddha is that both lead characters accidentally wind up in proximity to pivotal events in national history. When Forrest Gump released in 1994, the technology used to put Tom Hanks’ character into historical footage was cutting edge. Thanks to the advent of Photoshop and proliferation of deepfakes in the twenty years since Atul Kulkarni started his Indian adaptation of the screenplay, the altered archival videos in Laal Singh Chaddha are no longer so novel.

There’s also the fact that the movie has little to say about the historical events it features. They exist more as name checks, and Laal’s proximity is often no more consequential than a fan’s attendance at a sporting event.

The magnitude of these historical events belie the film’s themes, which are actually quite small and personal in nature. The moral lessons are things like loyalty and following through on promises even when there’s no one around to hold you accountable. This isn’t a movie about a man who changes the world.

There’s nothing wrong with Laal Singh Chaddha‘s modest goals. It’s a totally watchable film, if a bit too long. Mona Singh is sweet as Laal’s loving mother. Aamir Khan’s wide-eyed performance is not dissimilar from his turn in PK, although that was a better movie.

Kareena Kapoor turns in a masterclass in acting in every scene she’s in. It’s almost unimaginable that she wasn’t first choice for the role (which was reputedly supposed to go to Manushi Chhillar). She may not play the title character, but Laal Singh Chaddha belongs to Kareena Kapoor.

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