Tag Archives: Danny Denzongpa

Movie Review: Naam Shabana (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Taapsee Pannu’s supporting character Shabana was the best part of the 2015 spy thriller Baby, so spinning off an origin story for her made perfect sense. However, Naam Shabana is dull, doing neither the character nor the actress who plays her justice.

Too much time is spent on the “origin” part of Shabana’s story. We know that she is being recruited by a spy agency thanks to a number of long-distance shots of her overlaid with the markings of a camera’s viewfinder. It’s the same view through which two Indian spies scope out notorious gangster Mikhail in Vienna, right before Mikhail kills both of them.

The long-shots of Shabana are interspersed with the events of her ordinary college life. She’s on the university judo team, she hangs out with her pals, and she takes an economics class with Jai (Taher Shabbir Mithaiwala), a hunk with a crush on Shabana. She shares the details of her tragic childhood with Jai, adding backstory on top of backstory.

By the time the inciting incident triggers Shabana’s first contact with the head of the spy agency, Ranvir (Manoj Bajpayee), the movie is a quarter of the way over. There’s so much build up just get the ball rolling. Even then, the ball rolls very slowly.

Shabana first has to prove herself to the agency, even though they’ve been following her for years. There’s the obligatory training montage. Right when we’re ready for her to take the field and kick butt, Shabana disappears from the narrative for a full twenty minutes while other agents track down a crook named Tony (Prithviraj Sukumaran), whom they hope can lead them to Mikhail. When Shabana finally rejoins the fray, the action is interrupted by a ridiculous item number featuring Elli Avram.

Naam Shabana has about ninety minutes of material stretched to fill two-and-a-half hours. When one example of something would suffice, we’re shown two, just to pad things out. Although Baby creator Neeraj Pandey didn’t direct Naam Shabana — that credit belongs to Shivam Nair — Pandey did write the screenplay, complete with his tendency toward overly long runtimes.

A further disappointment is the way Shabana’s character is fleshed out from her small role in Baby. She’s mostly robotic, with a brief moment of hysteria that is drowned out by composer Sanjoy Chowdhury’s over-the-top score. (Did anyone else find the film’s closing theme awfully similar to the opening of “Day Tripper” by The Beatles?)

Shabana’s primary relationship is with her supportive but concerned mother (played by Natasha Rastogi). Their relationship provides the perfect opportunity to explore the natural pulling away from parents by young adults as they leave school and start their own lives–only taken to the extreme when the young adult becomes a spy. Instead, Mom simply vanishes from the story once Shabana joins the agency. It’s a huge miss in that it would’ve given a talented actress like Pannu more to do than just look cool in fight scenes (which she definitely does).

Cameos by key Baby cast members like Akshay Kumar, Anupam Kher, and Danny Denzongpa are well-integrated, but they come too late to rescue Naam Shabana from its plodding pace.

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Movie Review: Baby (2015)

BABY_poster_20152.5 Stars (out of 4)

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A lot happens in Baby, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. A choppy story structure and underdeveloped characters make Baby feel like a TV mini-series shoehorned into movie format.

Writer-director Neeraj Pandey’s broad vision pays dividends in certain ways. Globetrotting Indian counter-terrorist operative Ajay (Akshay Kumar) follows his targets to visually interesting places like Turkey, Nepal, and Saudi Arabia. Ajay’s luckier than his poor boss, Feroz (Danny Denzongpa), who only appears in scenes set in office buildings.

Ajay’s first mission — in which he tracks a rogue special agent to Istanbul — starts the movie on a promising note. Ajay extracts enough information to thwart a bomb blast, and the rogue operative foreshadows future attacks before killing himself.

The attacks are the work of a radical Muslim cleric in Pakistan, Maulana Mohammed Rahman (Rasheed Naz). Ajay must disrupt Maulana’s network — which includes a local recruiter, a jailed militant (Kay Kay Menon), and a corrupt businessman (Sushant Singh) — to get to Maulana.

What makes the plot so jarring is that Ajay’s participation is the only connecting thread between operations. (Feroz coordinates the missions, but he never gets to leave his office.) Ajay is alone on his first mission in Turkey, while his subordinate, Jai (Rana Daggubati), foils the bomb plot in India. New flunkies join Ajay for his next mission, and he gets a female sidekick, Shabana (Taapsee Pannu), for the mission after that. It’s only after the militant escapes from jail that Jai reenters the story, after an absence in real-time of over an hour.

Segmenting the story this way keeps Ajay from forging strong connections with his people, thereby lowering the stakes. Would Ajay care if Jai died? It’s not like Jai is his partner or a trusted friend. He’s just a guy who shows up when called on and disappears when he’s not needed.

Worse still is Ajay’s forced family narrative. He shares two scenes early on with his wife (Madhurima Tuli) and two kids, but the kids are never seen again after that. The wife — whatever her name is — reappears for a spy-movie cliché scene, in which she calls to reminds him about their daughter’s birthday while he’s in the middle of frisking a suspect.

It’s another example of the low stakes for Ajay. His family is never endangered by his job, and he hardly thinks about them. In fact, he’s rarely in any real danger at all. The terrorists don’t realize he’s onto them, so they go about their business until he shows up. If they were tracking him in return, it would’ve raised the tension.

The movie’s lengthy 150-minute runtime also keeps Baby from being a truly thrilling thriller. Though effective early on, Pandey employees the same tension-building camerawork patterns repeatedly, making scenes that should be intense predictable.

Kumar is well-suited to anchor this kind of film. He plays the role straight, allowing Anupam Kher to lighten the mood as a reluctant hacker. Kumar also cedes the movie’s most exciting fight scene to Pannu, who is terrific in her minor role.

Despite the film’s bloated runtime, its villains are woefully underdeveloped. Menon’s character doesn’t have any dialogue after his opening scene, which is a shame given some great non-verbal acting he does during his character’s escape from prison. The cleric Maulana spouts some ideology early on but is likewise mute for most of the rest of the movie.

The silent villains may be a deliberate choice on Pandey’s part. De-emphasizing the terrorist’s ideology brings to the forefront a political opinion expressed by both Feroz and Ajay. Feroz explains to the Prime Minister that, when young Indian Muslims choose to fight for Pakistan, it’s India’s fault for making them feel unwelcome in their own country. That inclusive sentiment is one that any government that values diversity should take to heart.

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Movie Review: Bang Bang (2014)

Bang_Bang_(2014_Film)2 Stars (out of 4)

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When Jimmy Shergill offers the villain of Bang Bang some “extra cheese,” he’s not just talking about a pizza topping. He’s describing the tone of the film. Either that or he’s priming the audience for the ridiculous product placement to come.

Shergill’s role in Bang Bang as Indian Army Colonel Viren Nanda is minor. He’s dead before the opening credits roll, murdered by Interpol’s most-wanted terrorist, Omar Zafar (Danny Denzongpa) — but not before giving a needlessly patriotic speech.

Zafar puts out a notice to the world’s criminals — via Facebook? Twitter? — offering a bounty for the Kohinoor: a giant diamond stolen from India by the British during Queen Victoria’s reign. The diamond is filched from the Tower of London by Rajveer (Hrithik Roshan).

While on the run from some goons, Rajveer pauses to romance Harleen (Katrina Kaif), a lovely bank receptionist who’s been stood up by her internet date. Harleen is the absolute, most completely pathetic woman in the whole world because she doesn’t have a boyfriend. No boyfriend means no potential husband, and according to Bang Bang, an unmarried woman’s life is a meaningless waste.

Harleen gets caught up in Rajveer’s run from Zafar’s gang. The adventure takes her to all the exotic places she’s only dreamed of visiting. That Harleen spends much of the film drugged and being dragged from place to place suits Kaif’s abilities.

There are moments in Bang Bang that are a lot of fun. The dance song during the closing credits — aptly titled “Bang Bang” — is super catchy. The action scenes are entertaining, if only slightly more believable than those from an earlier Roshan action flick, Dhoom 2. Some of the dialogue is really clever and funny.

However, Kaif and Roshan aren’t up to the best of the material. There’s no chemistry between the two — although a kiss between them goes a long way to erasing memories of Kaif’s clumsy liplock with Shahrukh Khan in Jab Tak Hai Jaan — and neither is a good enough comic actor to deliver the humorous lines. Yes, Roshan is jacked and has about 1% body fat. It doesn’t make him right for this part.

For all of the stuff that blows up, Bang Bang is dull. Plot lines resolve slowly, and time is wasted on shots (from the neck up) of Kaif looking wistful in the shower. The background score is unbelievably corny.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, there’s some really cynical product placement in Bang Bang. A pivotal scene is set in a Pizza Hut located on the top of a mountain, on the edge of a cliff, with no place for a parking lot. Nevertheless, the restaurant is crowded.

Not so crowded that Rajveer and Harleen can’t ponder the merits of thin versus stuffed crust, mind you. The kid behind the counter (Aditya Prakash) suggests a pan pizza as a compromise. The kid is the best actor in the film.

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Movie Review: Jai Ho (2014)

JaiHo0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Jai Ho is as lazy and lacking in self-awareness as a movie can be. It ignores its own shallow grasp of morality to promote the message of every recent Salman Khan movie: the answer to government corruption is a single, violent man.

Just how shallow is the take on morality in Jai Ho, a remake of a Telugu movie (Stalin) based on a Hollywood movie (Pay It Forward)? The notion of “paying it forward” — you help three people, then they each help three more people, and so on — is developed by a middle schooler in the Hollywood version, and by a man in his late forties in Jai Ho.

Of course it’s good to do nice things for other people. But the characters in Jai Ho talk about it so damned much, it’s as though the filmmakers think they invented the idea. “Generosity and helpfulness can benefit individuals and society? Who knew? Write forty minutes of dialogue to belabor the point!”

The title character, Jai (Salman Khan), who’s apparently a professional doer-of-favors, following his expulsion from the army, tries to popularize the notion of “paying it forward.” Everything is fine until his mom tells him that some people may not wish to participate, and that he shouldn’t be disappointed by that.

Jai’s realization that his idea may not be universally embraced causes him to lose his mind. In a blind rage, he attacks a guy harassing a street urchin. The guy just happens to be connected to a corrupt politician who winds up trying to murder Jai’s family. The situation is resolved by Jai fighting dozens of guys single-handedly and Suniel Shetty plowing through traffic in a tank.

Let’s get this straight: Jai’s responds to learning that there are mean people in the world by going on a violent rampage, endangering his family and friends and any unfortunate motorists who get in the way of Suniel Shetty’s tank. Way to make the world a better place, Jai!

What’s even more depressing is that violence really is Jai’s only recourse to stop the corrupt bureaucrat, played by Danny Denzongpa. The only evidence of systemic political change as a result of Jai’s gory heroics is that another politician — played by Mohnish Bahl — decides to look the other way.

The movie relies on emotional pandering in place of solid storytelling. Producer-director Sohail Khan trots out handicapped kids anytime he wants to bring the audience to tears and soldiers when he wants to stoke the fires of patriotism. Lest the audience fail to grasp the cinematic shorthand, there are musical cues and sound effects to let them know what emotions they are supposed to feel.

As with most of Salman Khan’s recent roles, his character’s only flaw at the beginning of the movie is that he doesn’t yet have a girlfriend. Daisy Shah is shoehorned into the story to fill the love interest role, even though she has nothing to do with the main plot. She’s never imperiled because of her relationship with Jai, she doesn’t partake in Jai’s do-gooder scheme, and she disappears during the climax.

There is exactly one good thing about Jai Ho, and that is Naman Jain as Jai’s young nephew, Kabir. He’s legitimately funny, and he’s by far the best actor in the bunch. Jai Ho should’ve made Kabir the main character, borrowing more from Pay It Forward and less from Stalin. That might’ve been a good movie.

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Movie Review: Boss (2013)

Boss2 Stars (out of 4)

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Boss has some great individual elements that could make up either a great action comedy or a serious revenge thriller, but combining them together in the same movie doesn’t work.

The tone of the film changes without a moment’s notice, and it’s too much to ask the audience to follow along. One minute, we’re expected to be horrified by violence; the next minute, we’re supposed to laugh at it. Lighthearted scenes are followed by a brother threatening to slap his sister unless she locks herself in her room until he says she can come out. Boss never settles on what kind of movie it is.

The story structure is also odd. The film begins with a flashback to a teenage boy saving the life of the mafia don Big Boss (Danny Denzongpa). The don takes the boy under his wing, christening him Boss. Since this is obviously Akshay Kumar’s character as a teen, we expect to then see the man Boss has grown into.

Instead, the story switches to Boss’s father, Satyakant (Mithun Chakraborty), fifteen years later, still lamenting that his eldest son (known to him as Surya) is a criminal. Satyakant sends his younger son, Shiv (Shiv Pandit), to Delhi where the young man gets into trouble defending his lady-love, Ankita (Aditi Rao Hydari), from a creepy politician’s son, Vishal (Aakash Dabhade). The lovers star in a romantic music video on a yacht before Ankita’s homicidal cop brother, Ayushman (Ronit Roy), arrests Shiv.

Finally, thirty minutes into the movie, Satyakant vows to swallow his pride and ask Surya/Boss to save Shiv. When Boss is introduced, on-screen titles read: “Akshay Kumar in and as Boss.” After a funny, five-minute-long fight scene, the opening credits roll. The movie is already a quarter of the way over!

As a comedy, Boss is pretty entertaining. There are some clever scenes, such as Boss trying to surreptitiously beat up some assassins without his father noticing. There’s a humorous recurring bit involving Boss’ “portable rocking chair,” created when his henchman form a human-pyramid-style throne and sway in unison.

As a revenge thriller, Boss is also effective. Chakraborty is strong as the patriarch who chooses his principles over his troubled son. For my money, Roy is the scariest villain in Bollywood. The cold expression in his eyes after Ayushman tosses Satyakant down a flight of stairs is chilling. And nothing beats his method for quieting a group of rowdy grade schoolers: give them a gun and urge them to play Russian roulette.

But these elements belong in different movies. There’s no way to successfully integrate them. Emotional scenes are interrupted by comic relief characters, and again, it’s hard to discern how director Anthony D’Souza expects the audience to feel about violence. It’s funny when Boss breaks a coconut on someone’s head, but not so funny when he impales a sawblade in someone’s chest.

Boss — which is all about relationships between men — portrays women unfavorably. The visual that accompanies Shiv praising Ankita’s eyes, voice, and “mind-blowing attitude” is Aditi Rao Hydari emerging from a pool wearing a bikini. Party scenes feature white women in skimpy outfits getting drunk, though item girl Sonakshi Sinha gets to dance in a modest cocktail dress and abstain from alcohol.

For good measure, Ayushman uses his girlfriend to frame Shiv for rape. Frame him for any other crime, but not rape. Not in a movie that is primarily a comedy.

There’s a lot to like in Boss, enough so that it’s never boring. It just should’ve been two separate movies.

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