Tag Archives: Deepak Dobriyal

Movie Review: Hindi Medium (2017)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Hindi Medium strikes a perfect balance between the academic and the emotional, humorously illustrating how the class system impacts education.

While the title refers to the language of instruction — Hindi versus English — the film’s lessons translate internationally. The story is as relevant to America as it is to India, so audiences worldwide can easily connect with the material.

Raj (Irrfan Khan) and Mita Batra (Saba Qamar) own a successful bridal store in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk neighborhood. Though they have plenty of money, overprotective Mita worries that their middle-class status will limit future opportunities for their preschool-aged daughter, Pia (cute Dishita Sehgal). Mita convinces her reluctant husband to move to a fancier neighborhood, hoping that will help Pia gain entrance to one of the city’s prestigious elementary schools.

While the family has the money to afford their lifestyle upgrade, they lack the cultural and social capital to take advantage of it. Raj’s local tastes in music and food embarrass Mita in front of the Continental types she wants to befriend. Kids ignore Pia because she’s not English-fluent. When the Batras ask the few influential people they do know for help, they’re told that personal recommendations are taboo among this set. Bribery? Don’t even think about it.

There are myriad codes and status signifiers that Raj and Mitra don’t know about and have no hope of mastering, even with the help of a professional school-placement coach (Tillotama Shome). On top of that is an absurd layer of bureaucracy instituted by the schools simply because they can.

The most damning indictment of the class system is when the coach shares with them a common placement interview question for parents: “How will you introduce the concept of poverty to your child?” The children at these elite schools are so privileged and sheltered that they’ve never encountered a poor person, even in a city as crowded as Delhi.

The poor people from a nearby neighborhood already know that the system is rigged against anyone not from the upper crust, something Raj and Mita gradually realize for themselves. The couple finds a loophole when they learn that twenty-five percent of the spots at the elite schools are reserved for economically underprivileged students, who compete for spots via a lottery. The Batras decide to pose as poor temporarily in order to win one of the lottery spots, shifting house once again.

Writer-director Saket Chaudhary depicts the Batra’s behavior as reprehensible, but almost logical, using humor to ensure that the audience never loses affection for the characters. The Batra’s economic and social standing puts them in a uniquely desperate situation, especially within India where job inheritance within families is common. They’re successful enough to envision a broader future for their daughter beyond the walls of a Chandi Chowk bridal boutique, but doing so means breaking out of entrenched class hierarchy.

Chaudhary deserves kudos for the way he illustrates complex ideas like class and social capital, but particularly so for how he explains the importance of public schools — an ideal that mainstream American conservatives and liberals alike have forgotten, thanks to intense marketing by the for-profit charter school industry. The head of the local government school explains to the Batras that, when middle- and upper-class families put their children in private schools, it deprives the public schools of resources.

The director also makes an important point about poverty through the character of Shyam (Deepak Dobriyal), a kind neighbor who helps the Batras adjust to their newly “poor” status. “Living in poverty is an art,” he explains, as he and his wife Tulsi (Swati Das) teach Raj and Mita a whole new set of social skills appropriate for their diminished standing. Shyam insists that the poor don’t want charity, they want their rights. Just using the word “rights” scoffs at the idea that “opportunity” is enough.

Hindi Medium falls prey to some of the pitfalls of the Bollywood “issue movie” formula. There’s an awkwardly placed song number that interrupts the build-up to the climax, which is Raj giving a speech that no one has any reason to listen to. Chaudhary tries to invert the cliché with a twist on the requisite audience “slow clap,” but that’s trying to have it both ways.

Thanks to his immense talent, Khan comes out of this speech unscathed, the movie cementing his status as the thinking-person’s leading man of choice. Qamar handles Mita’s complexities beautifully, making even her most maddening qualities understandable. Yet another thing director Chaudhary does well is writing every character with their own goals and motivations. Having accomplished performers like Dobriyal and Amrita Singh (as the prep school principal) in supporting roles certainly helps.

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Movie Review: Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015)

PremRatanDhanPayo2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Devoted Salman Khan fans have expectations of movies starring their Bhai, and surely Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (“Received a Treasure Called Love“) fulfills their expectations. For moviegoers who aren’t hardcore Salman fans, the film seems too familiar.

Don’t get me wrong, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (PRDP, henceforth) is a fine enough film. It lives up to its billing as a spectacle, with colorful dance numbers and magnificent sets. The story is full of teary-eyed reunions and blossoming romance.

But this all feels like something we’ve seen before, and that’s coming from someone who hasn’t seen any of Salman’s three previous collaborations with writer-director Sooraj Barjatya. Salman plays the same character he always plays these days, no matter if he’s starring in an action flick or a romantic comedy.

Prem (Salman) is a supremely righteous devotee who narrates religious plays. His best friend, Kanhaiya (Deepak Dobriyal), is an actor who dresses in drag to perform the lead female roles in the plays. At Prem’s insistence, they donate all of the money they earn to a charity run by the beautiful Princess Maithili (Sonam Kapoor).

On their way to meet the princess in person for the first time, the guys are intercepted by representatives of the princess’s betrothed, Prince Vijay (also Salman). Prem looks exactly like the prince, who is presently comatose following an attempt on his life by his scheming younger brother, Ajay (Neil Nitin Mukesh). Vijay’s right-hand man, Deewan Saheb (Anupam Kher), convinces Prem to temporarily pose as the prince, giving Prem the perfect opportunity to spend time with the princess.

While posing as the prince, innocent Prem comes to learn that Vijay is kind of a jerk. Complicated family dynamics — Vijay is his father’s firstborn, Ajay was born to their father’s second wife — have strained the relationship between the brothers. Their younger half-sisters — Chandrika (Swara Bhaskar) and Radhika (Aashika Bhatia) — by their father’s mistress have turned their back on the family completely.

Worst of all, from Prem’s perspective, is that Vijay is mean to Maithili. The royal couple argues all the time, and Vijay once tried to get fresh with Maithili (a big no-no to Prem, who doesn’t even approve of kissing before marriage).

Prem takes his opportunity as Vijay to try to heal the relationship between the siblings and to make things right with Maithili. If he can’t have her himself, at least he can lay the foundation for a happy marriage to Vijay. Prem asks her to list all of Vijay’s faults, which she does in song form. Unfortunately for international fans, the song lyrics in PRDP are not subtitled.

As one would expect, Salman is almost always the focus of attention. This myopia means that the villainous machinations against Vijay take place primarily offscreen. The revelation of who was plotting what and why is abrupt and confusing.

If you’re going to cast Neil Nitin Mukesh as the villain, use him. Don’t give him fewer than thirty minutes of total screentime, especially in a movie that’s nearly three hours long.

Same goes for Deepak Dobriyal, whose character is sidelined once they get to Vijay’s palace. Dobriyal is one of those actors who has my attention whether he’s the focus of the scene or not. Again, if you’re going to cast him, use him.

Prem describes his relationship with Kanhaiya thusly: “You’re my compulsory companion.” That’s a good description of any character who plays sidekick to Salman. Salman’s characters are often written as being unconcerned by money, which means that it falls to his “compulsory companions” to pay for everything Salman’s characters buy. Since Salman’s characters are usually supposed to embody moral purity, why are they always mooches?

PRDP delivers a bunch of songs, many of which are lavish spectacles. Sonam is pretty, and Salman is heroic. Things proceed pretty much as expected. A happy ending is all but guaranteed.

I don’t know that that’s enough to make PRDP a must-see movie for its own sake. For a holiday weekend outing with family and friends, it’s reasonably entertaining (although the lengthy runtime is a challenge, especially if your theater doesn’t have an intermission break). But is it unique? Is it memorable? I’m not so sure.

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Movie Review: Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015)

tanu-weds-manu-returns-poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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Tanu Weds Manu Returns is the feel-bad romantic comedy of the year. Lighthearted moments are undercut by a cynicism about the institution of marriage that leaves one feeling melancholy at best, depressed at worst.

2011’s Tanu Weds Manu was a conventional romcom about a pair of opposites: wild-child Tanu (Kangana Ranaut) and steadfast Manu (R. Madhavan). Tanu Weds Manu Returns (TWMR, henceforth) picks up after the first four years of their miserable marriage.

Tanu is so desperate to get out of her marriage that she has Manu committed to a London mental institution. She later feels bad, calling Manu’s friend Pappi (Deepak Dobriyal) to rescue her husband while she flies back to India.

The couple wind up at their respective family homes in different cities (the geography in TWMR is confusing for international audiences). Tanu flirts with her parents’ tenant, Chintu (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), and unwisely reconnects with her short-tempered ex-boyfriend, Raja (Jimmy Shergill). Manu notices a college athlete who is the spitting image of Tanu, only with a pixie cut. He stalks Kusum (also Ranaut) until she relents, and they start dating.

Manu falling for his wife’s younger lookalike is a cute story setup, but it gets creepier the more serious the relationship becomes. Pappi warns that the new relationship is a bad idea — especially since it begins before Tanu and Manu are officially divorced — but he doesn’t call Manu’s obsession what it is: weird.

It hard to know who to root for in this movie. Tanu and Manu are both incredible jerks to each other. Tanu is arrogant and lacks empathy. Manu is selfish but wishy-washy. He doesn’t even possess enough will to make his climactic decision on his own, without prompting.

Worse, TWMR makes the characters’ circumstances so dire that its impossible to resolve the story in a satisfying way. There are really only a handful of things that one spouse could say to the other that would permanently destroy their marriage. When Tanu is at her most pitiable, Manu says one of those things to her. It’s crushing to watch.

Director Anand L. Rai and writer Himanshu Sharma give themselves only two possible outcomes: either Tanu and Manu get back together, or Manu weds Kusum and says good-bye to Tanu forever. Neither option feels good, and both are bad for Kusum.

Kusum is the movie’s redeeming element. She’s an independent tomboy, but she’s also sweet and honest. She’s reluctant to get romantically involved with anyone because, if the relationship negatively affects her athletics, it will make it that much harder for other girls from her village to get scholarships in the future. That Manu pursues her anyway is a sign of his selfishness.

Ranuat’s acting abilities are widely acclaimed, and it’s fun to see her pull off two very different roles in the same movie with such ease. Dobriyal is also entertainingly twitchy as Pappi. Manu’s not much of character as it is, and Madhavan doesn’t add much.

In addition to an unsatisfying story, international audiences will be hampered by poorly translated subtitles. Minor spelling errors — such as writing “apologies” instead of “apologize” — hint at greater problems in translating the humor from Hindi to English. The crowd of mostly native Hindi speakers at my showing laughed uproariously to lines that, in English, read as utilitarian.

Watch Tanu Weds Manu Returns for Kangana Ranaut. Just don’t expect to have a lot of fun while doing it.

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Retro Review: Omkara (2006)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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There’s something compelling about director Vishal Bhardwaj’s movies: the dark atmosphere, the impending sense of doom, the heroes who are just barely heroic. I just wish I understood Hindi well enough to fully appreciate them.

More accurately, I’d need to understand Hindi and a handful of colloquialisms from Uttar Pradesh, where Bhardwaj grew up. A knowledge of U.P. politics and the associated gangster culture would also be useful. My cultural and linguistic deficiencies hampered my enjoyment of the first Bhardwaj film I watched, 2009’s Kaminey.

Cultural differences troubled me less in Bhardwaj’s 2006 movie Omkara, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello. Prior familiarity with the story certainly helped, as did an English-language book that was written about the movie’s development.

The book — Stephen Alter’s Fantasies of a Bollywood Love Thief — is essential for appreciating the film’s dialogue. English subtitles are often translated in a way that compromises the subtleties of the original words. Alter, who speaks Hindi, explains the true meaning of the words and gives context for the dialogue, making sense of the movie’s otherwise confusing opening scene.

According to the scene’s subtitles, Langda (Iago in Shakespeare’s play) discusses with Rajju (Roderigo) the difference between a “fool” and a “moron.” The two words are used somewhat interchangeably in American English, so the conversation seems odd and not very insightful.

Alter explains that the Hindi words translate more accurately to “fool” and “fucking idiot.” The scene — and the message Langda is conveying to Rajju — makes more sense with the uncensored translation; it ends with Landga explaining that, while they were talking, Rajju’s fiancee, Dolly (Desdemona), ran off with Omkara (Othello). Rajju realizes too late that he’s not a mere fool, but a fucking idiot.

The rest of the story follows the original, even though the setting has changed. Instead of a soldier in the Venetian army, Omkara is a gangster working in the service of a U.P. politician. The action takes place in the modern-day, as evidenced by the fact that the gangsters carry cell phones. Yet the town at the center of events is small and rural, evoking the story’s timeless quality.

Omkara (Ajay Devgan) and Dolly (Kareena Kapoor) are happy together, even though she’s defied her father to be with the illegitimate son of a village leader and his servant. During the course of their wedding planning, Omkara is promoted to a political position. When picking his successor as gang leader, he defies expectations and chooses Kesu (Vivek Oberoi) — a college-educated city kid — over his childhood friend, Langda (Saif Ali Khan).

Langda commences an attack on Kesu’s character, subtly trying to convince Omkara that Kesu is having an affair with Dolly. He’s aided by Dolly’s spurned suitor, Rajju (Deepak Dobriyal). Langda’s wife, Indu (Konkona Sen Sharma), inadvertently gives him the piece of physical evidence to validate his lie, and the tragedy unfolds.

The acting in Omkara is as nuanced as Langda’s machinations. Dolly and Kesu are youthful, charming, and utterly bewildered by Omkara’s suspicion. Rajju is twitchy and eager to reclaim his stolen bride. Omkara’s authoritative facade only breaks in front of Dolly, who coaxes smiles out of him with a glance.

Saif Ali Khan’s Langda walks a thin line. He’s vengeful, but not without cause; devious, but not totally malicious. His only interest is ousting Kesu from the position he wants. However, he fails to consider the toll this will take on Dolly and, by extension, Omkara, his benefactor.

Konkona Sen Sharma’s Indu is the film’s most relatable character. She’s caring, funny and smart enough to figure out that something is wrong. She probably could’ve solved the problems between Dolly, Kesu and Omkara, if only her husband weren’t secretly working against her.

Another highlight of Omkara is the music, especially the sexy dance tune “Beedi.” Bhardwaj got his start in Bollywood as a composer, and the music he’s written for Omkara sets the mood perfectly.

It’s hard to recommend a movie that requires further reading to really understand, but Omkara is worth it. The acting, atmosphere and music are of such high quality that American film fans should just enjoy the ride, knowing that Stephen Alter’s book will clear up some of the confusion. Vishal Bhardwaj is a director of such talent that it would be a shame to overlook his work because of a few cultural differences.