Tag Archives: Chitrangda Singh

Movie Review: Gabbar is Back (2015)

GabbarIsBack1 Star (out of 4)

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Even the lowest common denominator deserves better than Gabbar is Back. Director Krish and writer A. R. Murugadoss take so many shortcuts in telling their anti-corruption tale that it’s a wonder they were able to stretch it into a feature-length film.

Gabbar is Back is based on Murugadoss’s Tamil film Ramanaa, which was also remade in Telugu and Kannada. I have no idea if any of the three previous versions make any more sense than Gabbar is Back. Maybe by the fourth time, Murugadoss just stopped giving a shit.

Movie plots have an inherent sense of economy. If characters are introduced, they need to propel the story forward or aid in its resolution. Murugadoss has no sense of economy. His story is a sprawl, full of extraneous characters and poorly integrated motivations.

“Gabbar” is an alias used by a physics professor named Adi (Akshay Kumar). His casual teaching attire — jeans and a hoodie, just like the kids wear these days — makes him popular enough to inspire dozens of his students to become kidnappers and murderers. It’s all cool, though. They only kill government officials who’ve taken bribes.

The police get nervous when public sentiment turns in Gabbar’s favor. We know this thanks to innumerable TV news reports and lazy man-on-the-street shots of random people talking about how great Gabbar is. A newspaper editor even shouts, “Stop the press!”

According to honest police constable Sadhu (Sunil Grover), the four high-ranking cops tasked with finding Gabbar all bribed their way into positions of power. Yet, when Gabbar targets the most crooked police officer in the city, it’s not one of the four officials who’ve already been identified as corrupt. It’s some other cop. Why introduce a whole new character when four others have already been set up as suspects?

Poor Sadhu figures out who Gabbar is, but he doesn’t get to apprehend him. Halfway through the film, Murugadoss introduces yet another government officer to lead the investigation. Why are there so many characters?!

Adi’s motivation for becoming a serial killer is mentioned exactly once, in song form. His family died when an unsafely built high-rise collapsed, yet Adi never mentions this to anyone. All his motivation warrants is a musical flashback.

Partway into the film, Adi’s personal revenge narrative takes over the anti-corruption plotline before jumping back again, with no attempt at artful integration. If Adi’s minions knew he was using them to carry out a vendetta against a private citizen, would they still risk criminal prosecution for him?

Another poorly integrated plot element is Shruti (Shruti Haasan), who adds nothing to the movie. She plays a moron who somehow passed the bar exam. She prefaces statements with, “According to Google…”, because she apparently doesn’t understand how search engines work.

There is no character development in Gabbar is Back, and the only narrative theme is “Corruption is bad.” Well, duh. That’s where screenwriting starts, not where it ends. Tossing in a couple of song cameos by Chritrangda Singh and Kareena Kapoor Khan isn’t enough, nor is having Akshay Kumar kick people. This theme has been addressed plenty of times before, and more skillfully. Murugadoss and Krish shouldn’t be rewarded for their laziness.

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Movie Review: Inkaar (2013)

Inkaarmovieposter0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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If director Sudhir Mishra’s goal with Inkaar (“Denial“) is to depict in painful detail the kind of gender discrimination women are confronted with every day, then mission accomplished. But Mishra doesn’t condemn such discrimination or suggest that change is possible. If anything, Inkaar is more about a sexual harasser’s redemption than justice for his victim.

One of Mishra’s many problems in telling the story that he co-wrote with Manoj Tyagi is that he thinks the black-and-white case of sexual harassment at the film’s center is a conflict with shades of grey. Hotshot advertising executive Rahul Verma (Arjun Rampal) propositions his former protegé and lover, Maya (Chitrangada Singh) for sex, and when she refuses, he threatens to destroy her career.

The framework for the plot is a series of interviews conducted by a social worker named Mrs. Kamdhar (Deepti Nawal), hired by the ad firm to determine who between Maya and Rahul is telling the truth. In a violation of any sort of professional protocol or victim’s rights, Maya and Rahul are deposed in front of their coworkers, some of whom are openly hostile to Maya. As the proceedings drag on, Mrs. Kamdhar brings Rahul into Maya’s session so they can “talk this out face to face,” as though this is a schoolyard tiff between children.

Mishra’s blindness to his own bias makes it impossible for him to tell a balanced story. He uses negative stereotypes of women to create Maya’s character without any narrative foundation. If there are to be any shades of grey in the case, then Maya must have some kind of agenda. She is routinely called “ambitious” — particularly by Rahul — a common slam against women deemed to be aiming above their station.

However, Maya doesn’t do anything aggressively ambitious other than perform her job well. At one point, she takes a dead-end job in Delhi just to get away from Rahul, but she’s so good that she gets reassigned to New York, where her stellar performance earns her a seat on the firm’s Board of Directors.

Rahul is the only one who claims that Maya is gunning for his job. She voices no such desire, and neither does anyone else in the firm believe that’s what she wants. Yet Mishra uses Rahul’s paranoia as sufficient evidence of Maya’s ambition.

Mishra further stacks the odds against Maya by routinely depicting her as a drunk. On the flip side, Rahul’s childhood is nostalgically shown in flashbacks, his father teaching him lessons about male pride. Cutaways in the present show Rahul tending to his ailing dad, affirming Rahul as a loyal family man.

Early in Maya’s career at the ad firm, she and Rahul — her mentor — become romantically involved. Much is made of the sexual relationship’s ramifications for Maya’s career, but no one questions whether it is appropriate for Rahul. He sleeps with an exec from another firm and a model working on an ad campaign, and no one raises concerns about how his behavior affects his company’s image. It’s taken for granted that a man can sleep with whomever he chooses, without consequence.

The real giveaway of Mishra’s bias is the different standard by which everyone in the film judges Maya’s and Rahul’s professional conduct. Her one professional transgression is that she pitches an idea that Rahul had originally conceived — and rejected — to a client without crediting Rahul. Everyone in the meeting flips out, as though this is the absolute worst thing one can do in a professional setting.

However, the characters barely react at all to Rahul’s much more detrimental conduct. First, he admits to deliberately withholding crucial client information from Maya in order to tarnish her image, resulting in the firm losing the client’s business. Rahul costs his company millions of dollars, and no one bats an eye.

Second, he admits in the hearing to propositioning Maya with sexual favors in exchange for a better working relationship. Adjourn the meeting, Mrs. Kamdhar! Prepare Rahul’s termination letter!

But that’s not what happens. Everyone in the meeting — including Mrs, Kamdhar — buys Rahul’s horrendous excuse: he only sexually harassed her to avoid doing what he really wanted to do, which was slap her.

Mishra could’ve let that comment hang, but instead, he tries to make violence against women sexy. He shows Rahul and Maya silhouetted against a blue background, Maya’s hair flying as her head snaps in response to Rahul’s slaps.

Inkaar depicts violence and harassment of women as titillating tabloid fodder in a world of unchallenged patriarchy. Rather than fire a male sexual predator who has cost his employer millions of dollars, the boss, KK (Kaizaad Kotwal) — who tells Maya that by filing the sexual harassment complaint, she proves that “women are too weak and emotional for senior management positions” — proposes not only terminating and counter-suing Maya, but making sure she can’t get a job at any other firm in India.

Maya’s only allies in the office aren’t in a position to help her. Even the supposedly neutral and experienced mediator Mrs. Kamdhar is susceptible to bribes and Rahul’s flirtatious flattery. She fails to render a verdict because Maya and Rahul “both seem to believe what they are saying.”

The resolution to the conflict is decided by Rahul, who gets the chance to redeem himself. Maya doesn’t determine her own fate, and nothing in the resolution suggests her co-workers feelings toward her have improved. Mishra’s message in Inkaar confirms entrenched patriarchy, warning women to be grateful that sexual harassment exists as an alternative to violence.

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Movie Review: Joker (2012)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Have you ever listened to a four-year-old girl tell a story? They usually sound something like this: “There once was a princess who flew to the moon, and then they ate cake, but she was really a donkey, and her dad was a mailman. The end.” That four-year-old girl’s story has better continuity than Joker.

Scientist Agastya (Akshay Kumar) is in danger of losing his research funding after his experimental device fails to make contact with extraterrestrials. He’s given one month to complete the project when his girlfriend, Diva (Sonakshi Sinha), informs Agastya that his brother called. His father is sick, and Agastya must return to India at once.

In India, Diva learns why Agastya kept his family a secret: he comes from a village whose population descended from patients who escaped from an insane asylum. Everyone in Paglapur is wacky, including Agastya’s brother, Babban (Shreyas Talpade), who speaks only in gibberish. (The film doesn’t bother to explain how gibberish-speaking Babban was able to communicate the message about Agastya’s sick father over the phone to Diva.)

Eventually the truth comes out: Agastya’s dad isn’t really sick. The local river has been dammed, and the villagers need Agastya’s help to get the dam removed so they can water their crops.

Unfortunately, the village was left off the survey maps created in the 1940s, and none of the regional bureaucrats want to claim jurisdiction over Paglapur. One of the bureaucrats compares the village to the joker in a deck of cards: it exists, but it doesn’t belong to any of the suits (or, in Paglapur’s case, states).

I think the bureaucrat’s explanation is where the movie lost me for good. What a dumb justification for a movie title. It’s not a great analogy in the first place, and the title is meant to prey on moviegoers’ mental shortcuts. “I think Akshay Kumar is funny, and a joker is someone who is funny, so Joker must be another funny Akshay Kumar movie. Take my money, please!”

The surprise for those unfortunate moviegoers is that Kumar plays the straight man in Joker. He spends an uncharacteristically small amount of time running around and screaming, compared to many of his recent roles. Not only is Kumar himself not funny, neither is the rest of the cast.

Babban’s ceaseless gibberish is particularly grating. It’s the most annoying vocal tic I’ve heard since that character in Golmaal Returns who speaks only in vowels.

All the wacky character tics — the guy who thinks he’s a king, the guy dressed like a centurion, the kid who thinks he’s a lamp — are cover for an inane plot that seems like it’s being made up as it goes along. Events happen with no consideration for how to get from Point A to Point B. Director Shirish Kunder just has everyone act nuts to distract the audience from the radical shifts in the plot.

There’s a mystery that runs throughout Joker: where are all the women? There’s not a single female villager in Paglapur — apart from Diva, who has little to do in the film besides look bemused — yet ladies materialize from nowhere whenever a song-and-dance number starts. The absence of estrogen in town may explain why Babban falls for the first woman he sees, a news reporter played by Minissha Lamba, in one of the most underused cameos I’ve ever seen.

So, what are the positives about Joker? Chitrangda Singh looks gorgeous in the item number “Kaafirana.” Agastya’s American nemesis, Simon (Alexx O’Nell), has a magnificent head of curly red hair. Joker‘s runtime is mercifully short, at just about 100 minutes. Those probably aren’t good enough reasons to spend $10 on a movie ticket.

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Movie Review: Yeh Saali Zindagi (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Yeh Saali Zindagi (“This Darn Life”) is a modern attempt at film noir that goes overboard with the “noir.” Many scenes are so dark that you can’t tell what’s happening.

It’s one thing when visual darkness is meant to conceal dark deeds, such as when the hero, Arun (Irrfan Khan), sees the lounge singer he loves, Priti (Chitrangda Singh), kissing another man in a shadowy hallway. Arun then uses the cover of night to follow Priti and the man, only to see her and her new beau kidnapped by a gang of thugs.

But the majority of the time, the darkness onscreen just seems like a failure to provide adequate lighting for the shot. Inside the cell where the lead thug, Kuldeep (Arunoday Singh), hatches a plan to spring his boss, Bade (Yashpal Sharma), from jail, the light coming in from the windows isn’t strong enough to illuminate the faces of the schemers, even if it is atmospheric.

More clumsy is a later scene on a balcony in which Kuldeep, recently freed from jail, frets about his failing marriage to a corrupt jailor, Satbeer (Sushant Singh). The sun is behind the actors, so there’s no way to see Kuldeep’s expression as he breaks down; the only way to interpret his anguish is from his sobbing. If I were one of the actors, I’d be upset that no one could actually see my performance.

The story unfolds through the parallel experiences of Arun and Kuldeep. Kuldeep mistakenly kidnaps Priti, thinking she’s the politician’s daughter engaged to Shyam (Vipul Gupta), the man Arun saw in the hallway with Priti. When Kuldeep and his gang realize their mistake, they don’t have a Plan B. Instead, they rely on Priti to come up with a way to get their ransom: Bade’s freedom.

Given how inept this gang is, it’s a wonder Priti doesn’t go straight to the police when she’s allowed out of their hideout. Instead, she turns to Arun. But she really believes the gang will kill Shyam, so she plays her part and returns to the hideout. The fact that they’re willing to let her live, despite the fact that she knows their identities, indicates that perhaps they’re not really up for murder.

Shyam’s unwillingness to try to help himself further removes any urgency from the situation. It’s not clear what Priti sees in him, other than the fact that she thinks he’s rich (he’s not). Once she learns that he’s broke, why not split?

There’s not much in the way of action, as Arun’s rescue attempt primarily involves bank transfers. The characters and side plots are only okay, the music unremarkable. Couple all that with the shadowy cinematography, and there’s just not much in Yeh Saali Zindagi to hold one’s attention.

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