Tag Archives: Brijendra Kala

Movie Review: Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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With Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (“How I Felt When I Saw That Girl“, ELKDTAL henceforth), debutant filmmaker Shelly Chopra Dhar set out to change how India thinks about LGBTQ people, both in terms of social acceptance and as an untapped well of cinematic storytelling possibilities. Her film is caring, thoughtful exploration of how a conservative family deals with a gay family member.

Sonam Kapoor Ahuja uses her star-power for good to play Sweety Chaudhary, a closeted lesbian from the Punjabi town of Moga. While on a trip to New Delhi, she ducks into a theater during play rehearsals to hide from a man we later learn is her brother, Babloo (Abhishek Duhan). Intrigued by Sweety’s good looks and her insightful critique of the awful play, its floundering writer, Sahil (Rajkummar Rao), helps her escape to a train station.

Sahil finds out where Sweety lives and heads to Moga under the pretext of running an acting workshop. There, a series of misunderstandings convince Sweety’s father Balbir (Anil Kapoor), her grandmother Gifty (Madhumalti Kapoor), and Sahil himself that Sweety is secretly in love with him.

Sweety explains to Sahil that she’s in love with a woman named Kuhu (Regina Cassandra). Babloo knows this and disapproves of his sister’s feelings, which is why he followed her to New Delhi and why she’d hidden from him in Sahil’s theater. Bereft of ideas for how to live a life true to herself, Sweety lets Sahil use his storytelling skills in a daring plan to win over her family and the town of Moga.

Director Shelly Chopra Dhar set herself the daunting task of making a movie that anyone could enjoy, but that would also open the minds of a particular segment of the audience. In an interview with The Telegraph, Chopra Dhar explains that her target audience was not progressive urbanites already accepting of LGBTQ people, but “people who’re genuinely not there”: those in smaller cities and towns in India who may have little personal exposure to gay people. So as not to risk scaring those people away, there is no same-sex kissing in ELKDTAL, only some affectionate hugging and hand-holding between Sweety and Kuhu — a choice consistent with the chaste way many mainstream Hindi films still depict straight romance.

Chopra Dhar also says in the interview that she had to consider ELKDTAL‘s setting when trying to reach her intended audience. Small-town folks might feel disconnected from an urban story, and a village setting could make the film seem too artsy and not commercial enough (which is why she made Balbir a rich factory owner). Although she wanted the serious message of acceptance to come through, she needed to relate to her audience in an uplifting way: “It’s not a dark and dingy film either. Why can’t it be a nice, bright film and be natural?”

ELKDTAL feels breezy and familiar, and its dramatic elements are balanced by two comic subplots. One involves the Chaudhary family staff — played by Seema Bhargava and Brijendra Kala, who is adorable in the film — betting on who Sweety will finally marry. Another features Juhi Chawla as Chatro, a goofy caterer with acting ambitions who catches Balbir’s eye. The tonal shifts between the comedy and drama elements aren’t seamless, but they never take the film off track.

In many ways, ELKDTAL‘s story is less about Sweety’s journey than how people react when she opens up to them. As the audience’s onscreen avatar, Sahil meets Sweety and decides she’s someone who deserves friendship and help, reinforcing the story’s message of judging someone by the content of their character. Sweety’s father, Balbir, already loves her, but he doesn’t see her for who she really is — in part because Sweety felt compelled to hide the truth from him. Balbir’s challenge is to accept what is, to him, a new facet of his daughter’s life, but also to see the way his own expectations for her made her life harder and less happy. It forces the audience to question whether we’ve let our own loved ones down by expecting them to be someone they’re not.

The downside to this narrative focus is that Sweety is acted upon more than she drives the action, but Kapoor Ahuja is fully engaged in every scene, her reactions always showing us how Sweety feels even when her character isn’t the center of attention. Same goes for Rao and Kapoor, whose love for his real-life daughter (Kapoor Ahuja) spills over into Balbir’s affection for Sweety. While ELKDTAL‘s laudable social goals are the perfect reason to start the movie, the film’s delightful performances make you want to see it through to the end.

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Movie Review: Zero (2018)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Zero is a disaster for many reasons, but its biggest problem is that director Aanand L. Rai and writer Himanshu Sharma failed to realize that their film’s hero is a horrible person.

So why didn’t they notice that their creation, Bauua (Shah Rukh Khan), is an irredeemable prick? The filmmaking duo has a history of writing male leads who don’t respect the women they claim to love, like Kundan in Raanjhanaa and Manu in Tanu Weds Manu Returns. There’s also the assumption that Khan’s massive fanbase will automatically project their love for him onto his character, no matter who the character is or what he does.

Mostly they were blinded by the Zero‘s central conceit: using computer generated effects and film techniques similar to those used in the Lord of the Rings movies to shrink a superstar actor. Zero was never about the struggles of a man with dwarfism. If it were, they’d have at least gone through the pretext of casting a little person for the lead role. (Same goes for Anushka Sharma’s role as a woman with cerebral palsy.) This was always about spending a budget fives times as large as the filmmaking duo had previously worked with on fancy special effects and an expensive cast, trusting in those effects and stars to bring people to the theater — regardless of whether the movie was any good or not.

Other than his diminutive stature, nothing differentiates Bauua from any number of Bollywood male leads who believe their gender entitles them to anything they want. As the son of a rich father (played by Tigmanshu Dhulia), Bauua has coasted through life on Dad’s dime since dropping out of school in the tenth grade. Now aged 38 — Khan is 53, by the way — that means Bauua has spent twenty years doing absolutely nothing.

Nevertheless, he confidently turns down all the potential brides chosen by the matchmaker (played by Brijendra Kala) until he spots a photo of Aafia (Anushka Sharma). Bauua is initially turned off by the tremors caused by Aafia’s cerebral palsy, but he decides her use of a wheelchair makes them more-or-less equal. Never mind that he’s a high school dropout and she’s a world-renowned rocket scientist.

Bauua’s defining moment is his response to being rejected by Aafia after a presumptuous proposal in front of a bunch of elementary school students. Bauua shows up at a press conference to publicly humiliate Aafia, stating that while she may be able to lead a mission to Mars, she can’t pick up the pen he just dropped on the ground. Pleased with himself, he walks away, only to hear a commotion behind him as Aafia crawls on the ground and lifts the pen.

What Bauua does is unforgivable, yet Aafia immediately forgives him and their love blossoms. Aafia’s inexplicable forgiveness of Bauua is a clear example of Bollywood’s desperate need for female storytellers. Rai & Sharma aren’t done humiliating Aafia yet, as Bauua ditches her to take his shot with the country’s sexiest actress, Babita Kumari (Katrina Kaif, in the movie’s only role with any semblance of believable humanity).

After the intermission break, Zero goes full bonkers. Bauua replaces a chimpanzee training for a space mission (which is totally not insulting to little people or anything).

I’m not sure if it’s an intentional homage, but Zero has a lot of parallels to my favorite So-Bad-It’s-Good movie: Gunda. Both have a monkey and a baby that shows up out of nowhere. Vengeful Bauua frequently speaks in movie lines, Gunda‘s Bulla in couplets. There are montages that make no geographical sense, as when Bauua spends a song stumbling through Times Square, downtown Orlando, and Huntsville, Alabama — all of which are supposed to be the same place, apparently. Zero‘s opening dream sequence even reminded me of the scene in Gunda where Bulla’s sister is raped.

All of which is to say, Zero is a terrible movie. The only reason it merits even a half-a-star rating is because Katrina Kaif is so damned good in her role. The rest of the movie is a trash fire.

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Movie Review: Jannat 2 (2012)

jannat22.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Jannat 2 is another Bollywood non-sequel sequel. Emraan Hashmi returns to play a different character than the one he played in 2008’s Jannat (“Heaven”), and neither of the storylines intersects in any way. With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jannat 2 is not entirely successful.

This time, Hashmi plays Sonu, a low-level gun dealer eager to leave his life of crime after he meets a beautiful doctor named Jaanvi (Esha Gupta). But Sonu is hounded by Pratap (Randeep Hooda), a detective determined to end the Delhi gun trade for good. Pratap blackmails Sonu into helping him track down Mangal Singh Tomar (Manish Chaudhary), the head of the illegal gun manufacturing business. Pratap promises to set Sonu free once Mangal is behind bars, assuming that Sonu survives.

Hashmi and Hooda are skilled at playing unsavory heroes, and they give strong performances in Jannat 2. Hashmi is effective at conveying the desperation of Sonu’s situation: twitchy and frantic while deceiving Mangal as Pratap’s informant, wide-eyed and hopeful when he’s with Jaanvi.

Hooda likewise plays Pratap as a man who’s barely holding things together, but driven by a mission. Pratap is cool and composed when he’s intimidating Sonu, but he privately turns to alcohol to dull the memories of his wife’s murder. Only his sidekick, Dadda (Brijendra Kala), really understands the amount of pain Pratap is in, and Kala imbues Dadda with much sadness and sympathy.

Sonu has a sidekick of his own, Balli (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), who admits to being the more cowardly of the duo. He becomes more desperate throughout the movie, as he sees his friend pulling away from him and toward Jaanvi. Balli practically begs Sonu not to leave him, reminding Sonu that he will always be a crook and not the kind of stand-up guy Jaanvi deserves. Ayyub’s performance is another highlight of the film.

As much attention as Jaanvi is given as the impetus for Sonu’s change, Jannat 2 is really about the relationships between men: Sonu and Balli; Pratap and Dadda; and, most importantly, Sonu and Pratap. Jaanvi isn’t in the scene most critical to Sonu’s character growth, but Pratap is.

In fact, there’s not much for Jaanvi to do except stare blankly into the distance, looking pretty. Gupta gets a pass for failing to animate Jaanvi in her debut role, especially since the character is let down by poor writing.

For a doctor, Jaanvi is not very bright. Sonu spends the whole film lying to her that he runs a textile shop, and Jaanvi is never suspicious, despite never having actually seen his shop. The day after Sonu is released from a five-month incarceration — which he is up front about — he donates a large sum of money to Jaanvi’s hospital. Doesn’t she wonder how this guy was able to come up with so much money on short notice the day after getting out of the clink? (He earned it by selling booze illegally.) Doesn’t she wonder why he never introduces her to his family or friends, even as they discuss marriage?

A further knock against Jaanvi is that she’s mean to Sonu. When he seeks treatment for a hand wound at her hospital, she squeezes his injured hand in retaliation for getting fresh with her. She’s disdainful of him until he gives he donates his ill-gotten gains to her hospital, and then a song sequence convinces her that she’s in love. There’s no reason for Sonu to fall for a jerk like Jaanvi, apart from the fact that she’s pretty.

The writing throughout is film’s weakest aspect, beyond Jaanvi’s complete unlikability. Plot twists are predictable but not logical or inevitable. There’s no sense of the flow of time. Watch Jannat 2 for the performances by the leading men and their sidekicks, but don’t expect much from the story.

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