Tag Archives: Boman Irani

Movie Review: Drive (2019)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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If you tried to make an uncool version of The Fast and the Furious, you could not make anything as uncool as Drive. Dharma Productions’ straight-to-Netflix heist film lacks sex appeal, thrills, and all of the other exciting qualities about the series they tried to emulate.

To ensure that everyone knows this is a Fast & Furious knockoff, Drive repeatedly shows different women in short shorts standing between two race cars, their backs to the camera, ready to drop a flag to start the race. There are lots of white women of average attractiveness wearing bikini tops and jean shorts, setting a low bar for what constitutes sexiness in Drive.

Jacqueline Fernandez is gorgeous as ever as notorious thief Tara, her cleavage working overtime to add some spice to this bland dish. Sapna Pabbi looks stunning as well, as Tara’s best bud, Naina. But when the two best looking men in the cast are Boman Irani and Pankaj Tripathi — who really do look quite handsome — you’ve got problems.

Tara, Naina, and her boyfriend Bikki (Vikramjeet Virk) are a trio of thieves who moonlight as underground street racers. They want to rob the Presidential Palace in Delhi, but they need the help of a mysterious fellow crook known as The King to pull off the job. Brash driver Samar (Sushant Singh Rajput) may be able to help them, but the crew is being watched by Irfan (Irani), an agent from the Prime Minister’s office.

Irfan takes command of the government agency that polices black money, run by corrupt bureaucrat Vibha Singh (Vibha Chhibber). Where do Vibha and her goon Hamid (Tripathi) hide the money they extort? In the Presidential Palace, of course!

A hallmark of movies directed by Drive‘s producer, Karan Johar, is characters rich enough to buy whatever their hearts desire. That flippant materialism is taken to an absurd extreme in Drive, where objects seem to manifest out of nothing. Need some mannequins to help explain the heist plan? Poof, they magically appear in the thieves’ lair. Need the world’s supply of gold lamé fabric to outfit hundreds of guests at an impromptu wedding? Done!

The most cynical example of this pointless extravagance is a video montage of a trip the group takes to Tel Aviv. It’s purely an advertisement paid for by Israel’s tourism bureau that has nothing to do with the rest of the plot. It’s just five minutes of them clubbing, swimming, and zip-lining. The montage the film’s only sequence shot with grainy handheld cameras, making it stand out for the blatant cash grab it is.

Drive‘s plot is simplistic but still makes no sense. Writer-director Tarun Mansukhani yada yadas a lot of the operation planning and Irfan’s investigation. Much is made of the core trio’s suspicion of outsiders, but they seem to have any number of random flunkies on call to pose as police officers and shepherd the stolen loot away from their crime scenes. Didn’t they learn anything from Total Dhamaal? Don’t let anyone else handle your loot!

There is exactly zero chemistry between Fernandez and Rajput, who smirks like a dope through much of the film. The characters never seem in any real danger, neither from cues we’ve come to expect from other movies (someone has to die just before or after the wedding, right? No.) nor from explicitly mentioned threats, such as the Presidential Palace guards’ standing “shoot on sight” order. This is a heist film with no stakes.

And my god, the driving! Samar impresses the crew by cruising around is a suped-up Tata Nano — which sorta looks like a Honda Fit — while wearing ugly brown loafers. Fancy cars like Ferraris and Porsches are all CGI. The most time the cast spends in actual cars is during a sequence in which they discuss their plans in a parking garage. Every thirty seconds, the camera cuts to them sitting in a different parked car. Why? The movie’s not called Park! It’s called Drive!

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Movie Review: Total Dhamaal (2019)

1 Star (out of 4)

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The good thing about watching Total Dhamaal on DVD is that my DVD player has a 1.5x speed option. Sitting through this at normal speed would be unbearable.

Total Dhamaal is a reboot of the Dhamaal franchise that began over a decade ago. It features some of the same actors but has nothing to do with the earlier movies. It’s an unofficial adaptation of the 1963 Hollywood comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Mad World henceforth), with disparate duos racing across the country in search of stolen loot.

The pilfered cash belongs to corrupt police commissioner Shamsher “Don” Singh (Boman Irani). Thieves Guddu (Ajay Devgn) and Johnny (Sanjay Mishra) brazenly steal Don’s money, only for their getaway driver Pintu (Manoj Pahwa) to run off with the suitcase full of cash himself.

After a series of interminable character introductions, Pintu is fatally injured in a plane crash in the middle of nowhere. He tells a bunch of motorists who come to check on him that he hid the money in a zoo hundreds of miles away. Those passersby include all the folks we met in the boring setup portion of the story: unhappily married couple Bindu (Madhuri Dixit Nene) and Avi (Anil Kapoor); good-for-nothing brothers Adi (Arshad Warsi) and Manav (Javed Jaffrey); and disgraced firefighters Lalaan (Riteish Deshmukh) and Jhingur (Pitobash Tripathy). Guddu and Johnny show up as well, but Pintu dies before confessing the exact location.

The duos hem and haw before agreeing that the first pair to find the money can keep it for themselves. Guddu and Johnny use trickery to get a head-start, but they run into Don and his sidekick Abbas (Vijay Patkar) along the way, who then join the pursuit as well.

There are some genuinely funny performances, which is not surprising given the caliber of the cast. Bindu’s withering stare when Avi’s “shortcut” gets them lost in a jungle is a highlight, as is the interplay between the crooked cops Don and Abbas. But director Indra Kumar’s poor storytelling gives his stars few opportunities to shine, weighing them down under a bloated plot and dull, repetitive jokes.

As obviously cribbed from Mad World as the film is, it’s baffling that Kumar and his writing team of Paritosh Painter, Ved Prakash, and Bunty Rathore didn’t use more of the original’s plot structure. In Mad World, the dying man’s revelation about the hidden money is the film’s opening scene, and the characters involved in the race are developed on the road. In Total Dhamaal, the deathbed confession doesn’t happen until forty minutes have elapsed, after all of the main players have been introduced in boring vignettes from their regular lives. These sequences are pointless because there is zero character development in Total Dhamaal, and it means that the road race only takes up about a third of the total runtime. The final third takes place at a zoo run by Prachi (Esha Gupta) that’s in danger of being demolished. The zoo’s monkey security guard is played by Hollywood monkey legend Crystal.

In order to pay his veteran cast, Kumar cut costs elsewhere. There is a remarkable amount of CGI used in the movie, even in the car chases. Almost all of Total Dhamaal was shot inside a studio, giving the movie a lifeless, artificial quality. While some footage of actual animals was used during the zoo sequences, for safety’s sake, there’s obviously a lot of compositing at work.

Total Dhamaal‘s great sin is that it isn’t funny. Jokes are extremely simplistic — often consisting of a man being kicked in the behind or almost hit in the crotch — but they are dragged out forever, as if it were possible for the audience to have missed something. The jokes also follow a formula: Character A notices danger over Character B’s shoulder and warns Character B three times before B finally turns and sees the trouble approaching. Then they both scream. This formula repeats multiple times, and it never gets any more clever. Scenes jump from one character duo to the next without any attempt at graceful transitions.

Sonakshi Sinha’s cameo in the song “Mungda” is the best part of Total Dhamaal, so I’ll just embed the song video below and save you the trouble of watching the movie.

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Movie Review: Welcome to New York (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Note: This is a review of the 2D version of the movie.

Welcome to New York has plenty of laughs for the hardest of hardcore Bollywood fans, packaged in an enjoyable fish-out-of-water comedy.

When I say “hardcore,” I mean it. It’s not enough to be familiar with the biggest Bollywood hits of recent years. Welcome to New York requires an appetite for industry gossip, knowledge of awards shows, and a fondness for Karan Johar–particularly his talk show, Koffee with Karan.

The extremely meta setting for Welcome to New York is the 18th International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards, which were held in New York City last year. As in real life, Johar plays the host of the awards show. His actual co-host, Saif Ali Khan, is replaced in the film by Riteish Deshmukh, playing a self-deprecating version of himself who bemoans his underpaid, B-list status.

In order to boost viewership in India, awards show organizers Gary (Boman Irani) and Sophia (Lara Dutta) create a talent contest, giving two winners the chance to perform onstage during the show. Sophia uses the contest to sabotage the show and get back at Gary, choosing the two worst entries among all the submissions as the winners.

Those winners are Teji (Diljit Dosanjh), a small-town repo man and wannabe actor, and Jeenal (Sonakshi Sinha), a feisty fashion designer. Whisked away to New York, the two must overcome their differences to navigate their flashy new surroundings and make their dreams come true.

Meanwhile, an angry Karan Johar doppelgänger named Arjun (also played by Johar) plans to kidnap his lookalike before the awards show. Teji accidentally foils one kidnapping attempt, thinking he’s playing a version of the Rapid Fire Round from Koffee with Karan.

The plotlines aren’t well-integrated, but it hardly matters, given how silly the movie is. Teji’s and Jeenal’s budding friendship is sweet to watch, and Dosanjh and Sinha are both effortlessly likeable. Dosanjh’s Teji gets most of the fish-out-of-water jokes, such as when he calls Jeenal’s terrycloth robe a “coat that looks like a towel.” Their characters have some amusing interactions with Aditya Roy Kapur and Sushant Singh Rajput that play off of people’s mistaken tendency to conflate actors with their roles.

When it comes to playing a role, no one in Welcome to New York does so more enthusiastically than Karan Johar, who plays the most outrageous version of himself imaginable. He’s vain, snarky, and snobbish, and he’s hilarious. He gets to spout lines like, “You are a traitor, Riteish Deshkmukh.” The payoff to subplot in which Karan advises Rana Daggubati on his career after Baahubali is worth the price of admission alone. Lara Dutta and Boman Irani being as great as always is a nice bonus.

The most disappointing element of Welcome to New York is its music. Songs range from forgettable to annoying, and there’s precious little dancing to speak of.

Casual fans may find Welcome to New York too “inside baseball,” but Bollywood junkies will see their obsession pay off in a multitude of self-referential gags. The actors seem like they had fun making the movie, and that quality translates to an enjoyable experience for the audience.

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Movie Review: Housefull 3 (2016)

Housefull32 Stars (out of 4)

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Lies. Manipulation. Betrayal. When considered from the perspective of the three female leads, Housefull 3 is a tragedy, not a comedy.

Wealthy sisters Gracy (Jacqueline Fernandez), Jenny (Lisa Haydon), and Sarah (Nargis Fakhri) live in London with their doting father, Batuk Patel (Boman Irani, playing a different character from the first two Housefull films, but with the same name). The beautiful, accomplished women — Gracy is a doctor, Jenny an artist, and Sarah a philanthropist — have grown up under the shadow of a curse: catastrophe befalls anyone in their family who marries, thus their father has forbidden them from ever falling in love.

However, Batuk’s family curse is a ruse to hide a more treacherous reason for keeping the women single. The sisters’ entire lives are built upon lies told by their own father.

Despite Batuk’s warnings, the women find romance. Gracy loves Sandy (Akshay Kumar), a wannabe footballer who dreams of owning a soccer club just so he can give himself a place on the roster. Jenny loves Teddy (Riteish Deshmukh), an aspiring race car driver who can’t find a sponsor. Sarah loves Bunty (Abhishek Bachchan), an untalented rapper who wants to start his own record label.

The three men realize that the only way to finance their delusional dreams is by marrying wealthy women. They set their sights on the three sisters, vowing to do whatever it takes to get their hands on a share of the Patel fortune.

Throughout the film, the women have no idea that they are being used by their boyfriends. Their father’s lies eventually put their very lives at risk. In a perfect world, the sisters would take their money and run, ditching all of the men who’ve deceived them.

But this Housefull 3, the third installment of a franchise built on the disposability and interchangeability of it female characters. Gracy, Jenny, and Sarah are hollow shells in sparkly outfits. For them to appreciate the degree to which they’ve been manipulated, they’d have to be fully realized humans, which they are not.

Instead, the story focuses on the three loser boyfriends who feign various disabilities to deceive first Batuk and later Urja Nagre (Jackie Shroff) a recently paroled mafia don. There are mistaken identities, wacky fight scenes, and people running around flailing their hands in the air. It feels so very tired.

Housefull 3 also feels cheap, as if directing duo Sajid-Farhad were instructed to spend as little as possible in order to maximize profits. Teddy’s big car race pits him against just one other driver on a giant track. When Teddy has to fake blindness, he uses a regular walking cane, not the white cane used by blind people. The climactic fight scene takes place in a wax statue factory full of rejects from Madame Tussaud’s, including a statue of The Rock with oversized ears.

The plot is stretched to maximum thinness to lengthen the amount of time between the few important plot revelations that exist, padded out with Bollywood in-jokes and movie references. Chunky Pandey’s character Aakhri Pasta is brought back for a third time because, well, why not?

One point in Housefull 3‘s favor concerns Kumar’s character, who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder. Sandy has an angry alternate personality named Sundi whose sole goal is to cause Sandy suffering, but Sundi does so in ways that are more annoying than harmful. One funny sequence finds Sundi in a bathroom, rubbing liquid hand soap in Sandy/Sundi’s eyes and kicking his shin against a towel rack.

Beyond Sandy’s cartoonish internal nemesis, there isn’t much clever or new in Housefull 3, and it’s hard to see a way to freshen up the formula for a fourth time. Maybe it’s time to close the doors on this franchise for good.

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Movie Review: Youngistaan (2014)

Youngistaan2 Stars (out of 4)

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Youngistaan shares much in common with the 1993 Hollywood film Dave. Both are about regular guys shoved into the political spotlight, only to realize that they are now in a position to positively impact the lives of ordinary citizens. Dave is a better movie, so watch that instead.

Jackky Bhagnani stars in Youngistaan as Abhi, a game developer living in Japan with his longtime girlfriend, Avni (Neha Sharma). They are living life to the fullest, as we learn from nearly fifteen minutes of songs and scenes of them having fun.

The party stops when Abhi’s father, the Indian Prime Minister (played by Boman Irani), succumbs to cancer in an Orlando, Florida, hospital. They aren’t really in Orlando but somewhere in Australia, so why not just say they’re in Australia? It’s not like Orlando is famous for its cutting-edge cancer centers — unless there’s some new Epcot pavilion that went in since I last visited.

On his deathbed, Abhi’s father explains the state of Indian politics to his son and makes a request. A new prime minister will be installed, but the position is temporary. With election season just three months away — and with the ruling party polling so unfavorably — the interim prime minister is unlikely to be reelected. Accepting the nomination would be political suicide. That’s why Dad wants Abhi to accept the nomination and use his short window of opportunity to make a difference.

This does not sit well with Avni, who knows that a 28-year-old prime minister will be seen as a joke. She also worries about the strain the job will put on their relationship, although she underestimates how drastic the changes will be. That’s one of the hallmarks of Youngistaan: characters are repeatedly unprepared for events, solely as a matter of plot convenience.

Abhi quickly discovers how conservatism and infighting hamper political progress, and his suggestions are dismissed. He tries to win over young voters by playing hockey, which seems desperately uncool.

Abhi’s real problem is that he and Avni insist on living together and delude themselves into thinking that no one will find out. Even though they plan on getting married someday — and they’ve already been together for three years — Avni wants to do it on their terms and not just to make Abhi’s career easier. This is dumb, especially since hiding their relationship forces Avni to live essentially under house arrest. She’s so bored, she paints a picture of a fetus (I’m not kidding).

I’ve bagged on Jackky Bhagnani in the past, but he’s okay in Youngistaan. So is Sharma, although her character is frequently reduced to a stereotypical jealous girlfriend. Farooq Shaikh plays the role of Abhi’s wise, old advisor with such scholarly aloofness that you could have substituted him with a cartoon owl and no one would have noticed.

The politics in Youngistaan may make sense to people familiar with Indian democracy, but they are too convoluted for outsiders. At least the characters state the time frame — Abhi has three months to get things done — so the stakes are clear.

Things should have been more understandable given how slowly all of the characters talk. The plot unfolds at a snail’s pace, interrupted by man-on-the-street interviews of nobodies telling the audience how they are supposed to feel. The climax is ten minutes of characters watching election returns on TV.

Given how young the electorate of India is, Youngistaan had a real opportunity to address their aspirations and motivate them to action. Instead, writer-director Syed Ahmed Afzal gives us politics as usual.

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Movie Review: Dilwale (2015)

Dilwale1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Dilwale is a generic Frankenstein cobbled together from elements of countless other Bollywood comedies and romantic dramas, lurching from one predictable plot point to the next. Given the talent and budget at director Rohit Shetty’s disposal, the result is disappointing.

Shahrukh Khan plays Raj, a man absurdly devoted to the happiness of his younger brother, Veer (Varun Dhawan), so much so that he tears up and starts to shake whenever anyone mentions having a younger brother. Raj’s big secret is that he was adopted and is not Veer’s biological brother.

So Shahrukh plays a character with the same name as the one he made famous in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, with the same backstory as the one he played in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. See what I mean about Frankenstein?

When Veer falls in love with a beautiful woman named Ishita (Kriti Sanon) — whom he calls Ishu just so he can repeatedly say, “Ishu, this is a big issue” — it prompts Raj to flashback to his own failed romance.

With no scene transition of which to speak, we are transported fifteen years into the past, when “Raj” went by the name Kaali and worked as a gangster in Bulgaria. There he meets a lovely artist named Meera (Kajol, Shakrukh’s love interest both DDLJ and K3G), and they break each other’s hearts. Surely this can’t be the last we see of Meera, right?

The plot unfolds predictably, as obstacles arise in Veer’s and Raj’s paths to romance. These obstacles would disappear if Raj and Meera would stop withholding information that is unpleasant but not earth-shattering, but writer Yunus Sajawal can’t seem to think of a better way to delay the inevitable happy ending for more than two-and-a-half hours.

Further dragging out the film is a ridiculous anti-drug subplot that could not have been handled with any less subtlety. Boman Irani plays the world’s cuddliest drug kingpin, King. When King’s men try to strongarm a barkeep named Uncle Joe into dealing their goods — by banging a huge bag of weed on the cashier stand, in front of everyone in the bar — Uncle Joe responds with some incredibly direct dialogue (courtesy of writers Sajid-Farhad): “I won’t sell your drugs here. Youngsters come here to have fun.”

The “Drugs are bad, m’kay?” subplot reaches its hypocritical crescendo when Veer, his sidekick Siddhu (Varun Sharma), and well-meaning miscreant Mani (Johnny Lever), get completely drunk on booze and self-righteousness while burning a bag of King’s drugs.

Siddhu is the fourth comic role I’ve seen Sharma play, which I think gives me enough information to definitively say that Varun Sharma is not funny.

But being funny isn’t really the point in Dilwale, where roles are cast not by suitability but by similarity. Need some outrageous older comic bit players? Hire Lever and Sanjay Mishra. Does the bad guy need a bald right-hand man? Hire Pradeep Kabra.

The whole movie is uninspired because the point is not to do anything unique or innovative but to evoke memories of earlier, better films starring the same people. The only way Shetty could have tried any less hard would be not to have made the movie at all.

By only looking to the past for inspiration, Dilwale winds up peppered with sexist insults. Siddhu repeatedly steals from Veer, but he’s forgiven because he says that he only did it so that he could take his girlfriend to the movies and out for coffee. The incident is brushed off by the men onscreen, who agree that women are greedy and high-maintenance.

Jokes are also made about Kajol’s weight, based on the assumption that she — like all women — is perpetually dieting. What is this, a Cathy comic strip from 1982? Beyond being tacky and outdated, the jokes are undermined by the fact that Kajol is stunning. Her gorgeousness is the movie’s lone selling point.

There is a stretch of a few minutes when Kajol saves a scene that should be stupid, and one briefly thinks, “Ooh, this could get interesting.” That hope is short-lived when Meera falls in love with Raj just because he loves her. To quote Cathy, “Ack!”

Kajol is better than this. Shahrukh is usually better than this. Varun is definitely better than this. Kriti’s character is so level-headed that she seems like she wandered onto the wrong set. Dilwale is not the Kajol-Shahrukh romantic reunion we deserve.

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Movie Review: PK (2014)

PK3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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PK — filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani’s exploration of religion — is a laugh riot. Hirani points out the absurdities of religious customs without causing offense by filtering his observations through an innocent protagonist: an alien called PK (“Tipsy”).

A spaceship drops the alien (played by Aamir Khan) in the middle of a desert in Rajasthan, with no clothes and no ability to communicate. The first human PK comes into contact with steals the glowing pendant that allows PK to contact his ship and request a lift home.

PK’s best chance to recover his pendant comes when he meets a rookie TV journalist named Jaggu (Anushka Sharma) in Delhi. Six months removed from a heartbreaking end to a whirlwind romance in Belgium with a grad student named Sarfraz (Sushant Singh Rajput), Jaggu is stuck reporting dull human interest stories about depressed dogs.

Hesitant as Jaggu is to believe PK’s alleged otherworldly origins, she’s intrigued by his take on human religion. Everyone he asks for help finding his pendant tells him, “Ask God.” But which god? How is he supposed to pray in order to get an answer?

PK’s bumbling attempts to navigate varying faiths are hilarious. He gets the nickname “Tipsy” because everyone assumes he must be drunk in order to be so clueless. Seeing wine served in a Christian church, he brings two bottles to a mosque. Whenever someone pulls back a hand to slap him, PK puts stickers depicting Hindu deities on his cheeks, since no one would dare slap Ganesha or Shiva. PK calls the stickers “self-defense.”

Even though the jokes relate to religions more common in India than in the West, the movie supplies enough information for international audiences to get the jokes without needing to know anything about Jainism or Hinduism. Besides, the point of the jokes is that they could be made about any religion anywhere in the world.

From the perspective of international accessibility, PK is as good as it gets. The English subtitles are phenomenal, incorporating slang like “chillax” and “kaput.”

A terrific cast helps, too. Sharma and Rajput are completely adorable together. She strikes the perfect balance as an ambitious career woman principled enough not to exploit her vulnerable new friend. Boman Irani is great in a small role as Jaggu’s boss.

Another great supporting performance comes from Sanjay Dutt, playing a band leader who befriends PK shortly after his arrival on Earth. Like Jaggu, he’s canny but honestly fond of the befuddled extraterrestrial.

Khan is tremendous as PK. He’s earnest and not at all goofy, making the ridiculous situations PK finds himself in that much funnier. It’s especially fun to watch PK adapt to his environment. He learns which mistakes will provoke a slap, and he’s always a step ahead of the angry mob chasing him. A scene in which PK figures out how money works is side-splitting.

The story slows down in the second half as laughs give way to serious questions of exactly what the faithful get for their devotion. However, the ultimate payoff to PK’s and Jaggu’s story is beautifully done.

The universality of PK‘s subject mater, the accessible way it’s presented, the nicely incorporated song-and-dance numbers, and the fact that this is just a damned funny movie make PK a great starter Bollywood film.

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Movie Review: Happy New Year (2014)

Happy_New_Year_Poster_(2014_film)3 Stars (out of 4)

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Director Farah Khan knows how to give the people what they want. Happy New Year is exactly what it’s supposed to be: loud, flashy, sexy, and tons of fun.

Everything you need to know about the film’s tone is conveyed in the first five minutes, during which a muddy, shirtless Shahrukh Khan is sprayed clean with a hose. It’s so overt that one can’t help but laugh, while simultaneously being wowed by Khan’s ripped abs.

Khan plays Charlie, a guy who’s been down on his luck ever since his father (played by Anupam Kher) was framed for robbery by Charan Grover (Jackie Shroff), a diamond merchant. Charlie’s chance for revenge comes when Grover publicly announces his plans to transfer some diamonds through Dubai, holding them in a safe at the Atlantis, The Palm hotel.

First Charlie recruits his dad’s old buddies: explosives expert Jag (Sonu Sood) and safe cracker Tammy (Boman Irani). He rounds out the team with Jag’s hacker nephew, Rohan (Vivaan Shah), and Nandu (Abhishek Bachchan), a drunk who’s a dead ringer for Grover’s son, Vicky (also Bachchan). The crew agrees to the job before Charlie tells them the kicker: they have to enter the World Dance Championship in order to get into the hotel.

Even though the plan is for Rohan to get the team to Dubai by rigging the vote, they have to at least appear like a real — if somewhat inept — dance troupe. Nandu recruits Mohini (Deepika Padukone), an exotic dancer, to help them, though she’s kept out of the loop regarding the team’s true mission.

Mohini is the film’s best comic relief. She’s enamored of men who can speak English, so she falls instantly in love with Charlie. Her eyes glaze over when he says something as simple as, “Excuse me,” and a breeze magically appears to blow her hair. During one song-and-dance number, things catch on fire or explode every time she touches him.

Padukone deserves as much credit for her fit body as Khan does for his. She’s in amazing shape, as evidenced by her athletic dance moves in the song “Lovely.”

Director Khan — who also co-wrote the film — goes out of her way to treat Mohini’s bar dancer character with respect, reminding the audience that women choose such professions for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with a lack of morals. Padukone does a wonderful job depicting Mohini’s resolve and self-respect.

The director’s progressive gender politics come through in the amount of skin she chooses to show as well. In a reversal of Bollywood norms, there are far more shots of Sood’s and Khan’s naked torsos than Padukone’s bare abdomen.

There’s also a nice example in Happy New Year of the difference between a racist character and a racist movie. The WDC’s defending champs hail from North Korea. When uneducated Nandu refers to the champs as Chinese, claiming that “they all look alike,” Charlie immediately rebukes him for it and greets the team in Korean.

On the other hand, the movie uses gay jokes as punchlines far too casually. Explicitly gay characters are costumed outrageously, and romantic overtures from one man to another are always shown as laughable or scary.

There’s also a brief shot in the film that will at the very least be jarring to Western audiences. The hotel vault holding the diamonds is lined by dozens of bodyguards of different ethnicities. The guard next to the door appears to be a white man, and he has a tattoo of a swastika on his right arm. I know that the swastika is a positive symbol in Hinduism, and perhaps the man is Indian. But in the West, the only white men with swastika tattoos are Neo-Nazis. Either way, in deference to international sensitivities, the filmmakers likely should’ve covered the tattoo.

Those issues aside, Happy New Year is exactly the lighthearted fare audiences want from a Bollywood spectacle. The characters are motivated by love for their family and country. Dance numbers feature colorful costumes and pyrotechnics. The talented cast supplies plenty of laughs. Kudos to Director Khan for giving her audience their money’s worth.

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New Trailers: August 15, 2014

The long-awaited trailer for director Farah Khan’s Happy New Year is out, and, dang, does that movie look like it was expensive to make. HNY stars three actors who I will watch no matter what movie they are in — Shahrukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, and Boman Irani — so I’m stoked. HNY is set to open on Diwali, which falls on October 23, 2014.

Also opening on October 23 is Rang Rasiya, a historical drama that played film festivals in 2008 but couldn’t secure a theatrical release until now. To say that Rang Rasiya will get crushed at the box office by Happy New Year is an understatement. Nevertheless, it features Randeep Hooda in various wigs and fake mustaches, so I’m looking forward to it.

Movie Review: Bhoothnath Returns (2014)

BhoothnathReturns2 Stars (out of 4)

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Bhoothnath Returns is only intermittently entertaining, because writer-director Nitesh Tiwari fails to take his target audience into account. Why does a film geared toward children have a runtime of 155 minutes? And why are so many of those minutes devoted to discussions of how to file paperwork?

2008’s Bhoothnath (“Lord of Ghosts“) starred Amitabh Bachchan as the titular not-so-scary ghost. The sequel finds Bhoothnath the target of jokes up in Ghost World — which looks a lot like Hogwarts — due to his inability to scare children.

Bhoothnath returns to earth to redeem his reputation, only to run into another fearless kid who can see him, even though no one else can. Savvy street urchin Akhrot (Parth Bhalerao) teams up with Bhoothnath, solving the problems of other earth-bound ghosts and earning money. As their friendship grows, Bhoothnath realizes that Akhrot’s future will never be secure while murderous thugs like Bhau (Boman Irani) run the government. Thus is born India’s first campaign to elect a ghost to political office.

For a while, the discussions of the bureaucratic technicalities surrounded Bhoothnath’s run are entertaining, aided by Sanjay Mishra’s funny performance as Bhoothnath’s lawyer. As the second half of the film rolls on, the story gets bogged down in heavy-handed patriotic speeches and lengthy montages depicting differing versions of what will happen on election day.

There is a surfeit of montages in Bhoothnath Returns. Instead of briefly panning the camera across the festively decorated grounds before Bhoothnath’s big rally, Tiwari devotes in excess of a minute to a sped-up version of the decoration of the rally grounds. When the movie is already so long, why devote more than a few seconds to something no one cares about?

The movie’s strangest sequence also takes place in montage form. As Bhoothnath comes to grips with depth of India’s problems, the song “Sahib” plays accompanied by a montage of photos of desperate, starving people. It’s very grim for a movie geared toward kids, especially since the impoverished state of Akhrot’s own neighborhood is already established.

It’s also hypocritical. Earlier in the film, Akhrot derisively mentions making money from foreign tourists looking to experience Slumdog Millionaire in person. How is turning images of peoples’ suffering into a music video in a major motion picture any different?

The film’s tedious heavy-handedness rankles because it detracts from an otherwise cute movie. Irani’s villain is the right mix of sinister and clownish. Bachchan is both grudging and caring as he puts up with his willful young friend.

Bhalerao does a terrific job as Akhrot, cracking wise but never coming off as a jerk. The young actor is great in a touching scene in which Akhrot tries to conceal the risks of their venture from Bhoothnath.

All the fine performances can’t keep Bhoothnath Returns from turning into a glorified public service announcement. Encouraging people to vote is a worthy goal, but it has to be done within the context of the story.

The pro-voting message comes across clearly through the story of Bhoothnath Returns, but Tiwari doesn’t leave well-enough alone, tacking on at least twenty minutes of condescending speeches. Jarring celebrity cameos by Ranbir Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap, and Shahrukh Khan — whose presence is the only one that makes a lick of narrative sense — just add to the feeling that Bhoothnath Returns is as much an overly long PSA as it is a movie.

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