Tag Archives: Deepika Padukone

Movie Review: Padmaavat (2018)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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A note on 3D: My local theater only carried Padmaavat in 3D, but I recommend watching the film in 2D, if possible. The 3D effects don’t enhance the experience, and the glasses dull the colors and details of the costumes and sets. 3D also adds a visual distance between the subtitles and the action, for those reliant upon subtitles.

Spoiler warning: Because Padmaavat is based on a centuries-old poem, I will discuss the end of the movie in this review.

Filmmakers can choose to make whatever movies they want. Why, then, would Sanjay Leela Bhansali choose to make Padmaavat? Why now, and why tell the story in this way? What does he want his audience to take away from this story? Even after watching the movie, I can’t answer those questions.

Bhansali’s story follows the parallel paths of two 13th century Indian rulers until they converge: the ambitious Muslim warrior Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) and the milquetoast Rajput king Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor). While ruthless Alauddin fights the Mongols and steals the sultanate of Delhi from his uncle, Ratan Singh searches for some replacement pearls after he gave away his wife Nagmati’s (Anupriya Goenka) favorite necklace.

Ratan Singh is waylaid in the pearl-producing kingdom of Singala (which resembles the Nopon Braidbridge in Noctilum from Xenoblade Chronicles X, for both of you out there who’ll get that reference), when the princess Padmavati (Deepika Padukone) accidentally shoots him with an arrow while hunting. They fall in love while he convalesces, and she returns with him to his palace in Chittor as his second wife.

Their trouble begins when the palace priest Raghav Chetan gets busted watching Ratan Singh and Padmavati make out. Banished, Chetan vows to destroy Chittor. He meets Alauddin, telling the sultan — who has an infamous Gollum-like obsession with precious things — that not only is Padmavati the most beautiful woman in the world, but Alauddin needs her in order to fulfill a bogus prophecy that sees him conquer the globe. Alauddin and his army head to Chittor to besiege Ratan Singh’s castle.

This is where things really fall apart for Ratan Singh as a character, at least in the way Bhansali depicts him. Whenever Ratan Singh mentions his “honor”, it signals that he’s about to do something incredibly stupid. On multiple occasions, he either underestimates Alauddin’s capacity for deceit or refuses to kill Alauddin and end the war, citing some mitigating rule of decorum that stays his hand. Whenever Padmavati tells him, “You know it’s a trap, right?” Ratan Singh just smiles and walks right into it.

Charlie-BrownAbove: Alauddin swears to Ratan Singh that this time he really will let him kick the football.

There comes a point when rigidly adhering to one’s principles is selfish, especially when it means not just your own death but the deaths of everyone you love, the deaths of all the innocent civilians you’ve vowed to protect, and the loss of your entire kingdom.

Then again, none of the characters in Padmaavat are written like real people, only symbols for concepts like honor (Ratan Singh), lust (Alauddin), beauty (Padmavati), treachery (Chetan), jealousy (Nagmati), and bravery (the Rajput fighters Gora and Badal). All the other soldiers and civilians are just there to take up space. What happens to them doesn’t matter. We know as much because the end notes only mention the place of Padmavati’s sacrifice in Rajput lore, with no mention of the hundreds of other women who killed themselves alongside her.

Ah, yes, the ritual suicide for which Padmavati is famous. The movie opens with a note that the film does not intend to endorse “sati,” the practice of women immolating themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres. That’s a little hard to believe given the glamorized way Bhansali depicts the mass suicide of the women of Chittor following Ratan Singh’s defeat on the battlefield. Rather than be captured by Alauddin’s army, Bhansali shows Padmavati and the palace women (and girls) resolutely marching to their death in an inferno, defiant tears filling their eyes but refusing to drop. The camera cuts away before we see them burn or hear their anguished screams, preserving their memories as paragons of virtue rather than showing the  charred corpses of the terrified victims of male egos run amok.

If Bhansali wanted to dress up Deepika Padukone in elaborate costumes, wasn’t there another ancient Rajput tale he could have picked? One that didn’t make a hero out of a woman for killing herself? Padmavati’s actions — though true to the original poem — don’t even match with her character in the film. As interpreted by Bhansali, Padmavati is a skilled archer and military tactician. Why should we believe that she wouldn’t first try to kill Alauddin herself, rather than follow her husband’s foolish lead and let Alauddin live to besiege another kingdom?

There’s so much more that could have been done with this story, especially since Bhansali appears to have taken some liberties with the original poem (based on a cursory Wikipedia search). The theme of jealousy could’ve been brought to the fore, not just in the rivalry for Ratan Singh’s affection between Nagmati and Padmavati but in the jealousy toward Padmavati felt by Alauddin’s slave and consort, Malik Kafur (Jim Sarbh). The fact that Alauddin and Malik are lovers and it’s depicted as no big deal is Padmaavat‘s greatest strength.

However, that relationship also plays into the characterization of Alauddin as a dirty, feral creature, one who snarls while tearing meat off the bone with his teeth and who will have sex with anyone. He is also Muslim, as we are constantly reminded by the green flags bearing a crescent moon that flank him at all times. Bhansali goes to such lengths to conflate Alauddin’s base appetites with his religion that it becomes gross.

Singh, for his part, makes the most of his problematic character, overshadowing Kapoor in all of their scenes together. Sarbh likewise seems to enjoy his free rein. Padukone looks regal — as does Aditi Rao Hydari, who plays Alauddin’s wife — but she has little to do once she leaves her forest kingdom.

Virtually all of the scenes between Padmavati and Ratan Singh are shot in slow-motion, the two of them making moon eyes at one another. This reliance on slow-mo — which extends to battle scenes as well — highlights just how little actually happens in the movie, both in terms of plot and character development. Padmaavat looks gorgeous, as Bhansali’s movies always do, but looks aren’t everything.

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Movie Review: Raabta (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

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Even in movies about reincarnation, where the audience knows that the lead couple is fated to be together, we still have to want them to be together in the first place. Raabta (“Connection“) gets that part of the formula wrong, pairing a likable woman with an immature moron.

It’s hard to overstate just how awful Shiv (Sushant Singh Rajput) is as a main character. He’s an entitled boor who hits on every white woman he sees, assuming them to be easy and stupid. A new job in Budapest gives him plenty of opportunities to be an abominable lech.

Of course, when he meets a lovely Indian expat named Saira (Kriti Sanon), Shiv is immediately ready to settle down with her. The presumed inherent moral superiority of Saira’s race and national heritage make it okay for her to jump straight into bed with Shiv, while the flirtatious white women Shiv dates are depicted as disposable tramps.

Saira can’t explain the depth of her attraction to Shiv (and neither can the audience). She senses it has something to do with her vivid nightmares of drowning, and his sudden appearance in them. Shiv dismisses her suspicions, always eager to downplay her concerns and dictate the terms of their conversations.

But Saira’s not alone in suspecting a connection to the past. Debonair rich guy Zak (Neerja‘s Jim Sarbh) has seen visions of Saira as well, from an ancient time when they were once in love. They meet when Saira and Shiv agree to the dumbest possible test of their fidelity: hitting on other people at a party to see if they are as attracted to anyone else as they are to each other. Shiv promptly rips off his shirt and jumps in a pool with some blondes, and Saira flirts with Zak, who is as classy and mysterious as Shiv is tacky and vapid.

Genre convention holds that Zak will turn out to have sinister intentions that endanger Shiv’s and Saira’s preordained romance. The problem is that Zak is objectively better in every regard than Shiv. Yes, even after Zak kidnaps Saira. That’s how deplorable Shiv is.

Rajput does his character no favors, turning in the worst performance of his career. Besides being annoying in the present, Shiv’s past self — Jillan — talks in a Christian-Bale-as-Batman growl, augmented by bug-eyed twitching. The only redeeming quality either version has is a set of six-pack abs (which Zak also may have; we just don’t get to see).

Sanon’s brief career has been distinguished by capable performances in roles with zero agency. Much like Sanon’s character in her debut film, Heropanti, Saira has no control over her own body. Shiv and Zak push, pull, and grab her at will, arguing over which of them she “belongs” to.

Further reducing Saira to object status is that she’s socially isolated in a way the two men aren’t. Shiv has parents in India, and his best friend Radha (Varun Sharma) accompanies him to Budapest. Zak has dozens of paid servants and bodyguards and can turn out hundreds of guests to a party on short notice. Saira, on the other hand, works alone, was orphaned at age two, and sees her boyfriend driven off by Shiv in the span of ten minutes. She has no connections to anyone, making it easier for the two men to do with her as they please.

If there is any bright spot in Raabta, it is Jim Sarbh. He takes a role that could have easily become cartoonish and makes Zak unhinged but understandable. Zak wants Saira as fulfillment of an ancient promise but also because she’s the only other person who shares his belief that the past is repeating itself. Shiv refuses to entertain Saira’s reincarnation story, belittling her as crazy despite the fact that she’s correct — yet another knock against these star-crossed lovers.

Sarbh’s cool charisma starkly contrasts Rajput’s over-the-top antics. It’s time for filmmakers to shift Sarbh from the compelling villain slot into leading man roles (and maybe consider demoting Rajput).

The biggest star in Raabta is Deepika Padukone, who performs an unenthusiastic item number for the title track. She sways and walks the runway, and that’s about it. I hope she got a ton of money for doing next to nothing, if only to serve as a cautionary tale for filmmakers considering such transparent casting stunts.

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Movie Review: Bajirao Mastani (2015)

BajiraoMastani3 Stars (out of 4)

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The historical epic Bajirao Mastani scores high marks for scale and style, but its message of religious tolerance is perhaps its real selling point.

The movie’s title bears the names of the renowned battle commander Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) and his second wife, Mastani (Deepika Padukone). Bajirao served as prime minister of the Maratha Empire in the early 1700s.

Though already married to Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra), Bajirao falls in love with Mastani while helping her to free her father’s besieged castle. Mastani herself is an accomplished warrior, a fact that impresses Bajirao as much as her beautiful looks and graceful dancing.

Before returning home, Bajirao gifts Mastani his dagger, unaware that this constitutes a marriage pact among her people. This presents a huge problem not just because Bajirao already has a wife, but because Mastani was raised in her mother’s Muslim faith, not in the Hindu faith of Mastani’s father and Bajirao himself.

When Mastani follows Bajirao to his home in Pune, she is shunned by Bajirao’s mother, Radhabai (Tanvi Azmi), who lodges Mastani in a whorehouse and appoints her the humiliating position of court dancer. Undeterred, Mastani publicly professes her love to Bajirao, who builds her a palace of her own. This does not go over well.

(Before continuing, I want to point out that, when Bajirao returns home with Mastani, he and Kashibai already have a preteen son, Nana. Given the lack of familial affection between Bajirao and Nana, I wasn’t sure if he was actually their biological son, or just some kid from the household that Kashibai calls “son.” Nana is, in fact, their child.)

The anger directed at Mastani and Bajirao by Bajirao’s mother, brother, and son is primarily based on her religion and its perceived pollution of the family line. Bajirao’s tragic flaw is his underestimation of the depth of his family’s hatred.

Kashibai has the biggest grievance against Bajirao for breaking their matrimonial vows, but she’s a pragmatist. She has a house to run while Bajirao is off sacking cities, so she is less outwardly hostile toward Mastani than her in-laws. Yet there is fury in Chopra’s eyes while Kashibai goes through the motions of keeping the peace. By virtue of her position — and Chopra’s performance — Kashibai is the film’s most interesting character.

Bajirao himself is devoted but oblivious. He’s supposedly as skilled a diplomat as he is a fighter, but he reads the vibe in his household all wrong. He acts as though he’s entitled to do what he likes without realizing that his threats are no match to his family’s hatred of Muslims. The limitations of the character don’t leave much room for Singh to shine, although his buff physique certainly fits the part.

Mastani’s character also feels underwritten. After her introduction as a fierce warrior, that aspect of her persona is diminished, replaced by an emphasis on a more passive kind of femininity. According to Wikipedia (for whatever it’s worth), the real Mastani accompanied Bajirao on his battles. It would have been fun to see more of that, although Padukone’s dancing is quite a treat.

The film’s early battle sequence is impressive, emphasizing the key players while still feeling expansive. Dim pre-dawn lighting gives a sinister tone to the fight. There’s also an effective scene later in the film as Bajirao imagines his destiny manifesting as a shadow army on black horses.

Designer Anju Modi’s costumes and jewelry pieces are so stunning as to merit a museum exhibit. The film’s sets are lavish, the dance numbers beautifully choreographed.

Tales of star-crossed lovers are always popular, but writer-director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s choice of this particular pair is timely. Bajirao and Mastani love beyond the borders of religion, condemned by a society with hearts too small to tolerate such a union.

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Movie Review: Tamasha (2015)

Tamasha2 Stars (out of 4)

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Tamasha (“Spectacle“) doesn’t give as much as it asks of its audience in return. Writer-director Imtiaz Ali asks the audience to buy into his characters’ romantic struggles without giving enough reasons why we should care.

The romance is founded on a questionable gimmick: two strangers meet while vacationing in Corsica, and they vow to spend a week together pretending to be people they are not. They take on identities from old films, with the man (Ranbir Kapoor) posing as Don, and the woman (Deepika Padukone) assuming the moniker Mona Darling.

Their courtship hinges on the two of them not knowing a thing about one another, which means that the audience doesn’t know anything about them either. All we know about Don is that he liked stories as a kid and presently — the Corsica sequence is a flashback — performs as a tin man in a stage play. We know nothing about Mona.

The false identity gimmick makes it hard to care about these mysterious characters as they cavort about France. Ali trots out his signature trope — the spontaneous parade — in the song “Matargashti,” an event that is supposed to be charming but comes off as forced and unrealistic.

Several years after their French dalliance, Mona and Don meet again in Delhi, revealing to each other their true names: Tara and Ved. However, Ved is a boring, goateed tech guy — nothing like the ebullient Don. Tara tries a relationship with Ved, but finds that she longs for the side of him that she met in Corsica.

Despite the tagline on the movie poster — “Why always the same story?” — Tamasha is a too familiar tale of a bubbly woman teaching a bland guy how to live. As per the template, Tara has no identity of her own apart from her role in Ved’s personal growth.

Tara also has a buttoned-up corporate job, but how does she feel about it? Why aren’t scenes of her at work shot with the same grey tone that colors scenes of Ved at work, as though he’s walking under a cloud even indoors? What does she want from life, other than to be with Ved? Padukone does her best within her characters’ limitations, as does Kapoor.

As a lead character, Ved is a disappointment. He blames his mundane existence on his father, who pushed him into engineering. When Tara points out that there’s more to Ved than his job, he lashes out at her, as though angered at her nerve for suggesting that he is the source of his own unhappiness.

A lot of people hate their jobs, but it doesn’t make them dull automatons in their off hours. There’s a reason why plenty of authors are former lawyers who wrote their debut novels in spare hours over the weekend. If you have a story to tell, you find a way to tell it. Ved chose to be a dull jerk, and it’s unpleasant to watch him punish Tara for his own choices.

There’s a trivial-sounding question that actually gets at the heart of why Ved fails as a lead character: why is he in Corsica? Are we supposed to believe that an over-scheduled working stiff like Ved planned a solo vacation in an exotic resort spot like an island off the coast of France? Since everything we know about Ved points to the answer “no,” then what is he doing there? I’m curious as to whether Imtiaz Ali knows.

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Opening November 25: Tamasha

Director Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha gets an early release in the United States to capitalize on Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday. The romance — starring Deepika Padukone and Ranbir Kapoor — opens on Wednesday, November 25, 2015, two days before it opens in India.

Tamasha opens on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. in seven Chicago area theaters: : AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 35 min.

Prem Ratan Dhan Payo carries over for a third week at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and Woodridge 18.

On Thursday, Size Zero (Telugu w/English subtitles) opens at the Cantera 17, Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, and Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale, which also carries its Tamil version: Inji Iduppazhagi.

Kumari 21F (Telugu w/English subtitles) carries over at the Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge.

Movie Review: Piku (2015)

Piku3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Rather than the broad, scatological comedy hinted at by the movie’s trailers, Piku is a thoughtful, funny movie about the fraught relationship between an adult children and their ailing, aging parents.

Director Shoojit Sircar and screenwriter Juhi Chaturvedi are proving to be Bollywood’s most interesting behind-the-scenes partnership. Following their surprise hit debut Vicky Donor and the somber war film Madras Cafe (for which Chaturvedi wrote the dialogue), Piku is the duo’s most refined work yet.

Deepika Padukone plays Piku, a 30-year-old Delhi architect who doubles as caretaker for her ailing 70-year-old father, Bhaskor (Amitabh Bachchan). Piku’s mother is dead, and the only help she has in caring for cranky Bhaskor is the patient servant Budhan (Balendra Singh).

Piku is a carbon copy of her dad. Both are intelligent and confident, but also stubborn, opinionated, critical, and unable to admit mistakes. Bhaskor’s blindness to his own failings is particularly troublesome. On principle, he refuses to let Piku marry, lest she waste her intellect as a stay-at-home wife. However, he sees no hypocrisy in calling her home from the office every time he imagines a rise in his blood pressure or temperature.

Their relationship is the focus of the entire film, and there isn’t a lot of action, even when father, daughter, and servant hit the road to visit the family home in Kolkata. The owner of a taxi service, Rana (Irrfan Khan), gets to observe and comment on the family dynamic when pressed into driving them on their 1,500 km journey.

Where Piku differs from many other films about family relationships is that it eschews broad themes. There are no speeches or generalizing statements about love, the importance of family, or the challenges of aging. Piku and Bhaskor don’t learn from each other or Rana; they don’t evolve.

The characters in the film are who they are, and they all know it. Bhaskor and Piku argue without creating permanent rifts. Detailed discussions of medical conditions devolve into laughter. This is a movie about accepting life as it is, making it work, and finding humor in odd places.

It’s a joy to watch the actors portray fully developed characters with such honesty, and Sircar allows the performances to shine. Instead of cutting between closeups of individual actor’s faces as one delivers a line and another reacts, Sircar shoots most of the film’s conversations so that all the actors’ faces are within the frame, simultaneously. When Bhaskor says something ridiculous, we see Piku and Rana look at each other and stifle giggles in real time, all while Budhan naps in the background.

The superb performances are further confirmation of the cast members’ immense talents. Bachchan highlights the absurdities inherent in Bhaskor without making him into a joke. Khan brings warmth and perspective into the story through Rana.

Piku teeters on the brink of unlikability without falling off, thanks to Padukone. The character is a woman whose reserve of patience has been exhausted by her father, and she doesn’t suffer anyone who makes her life harder than it already is. The qualities that make her difficult are the same that make her endearing. She wins over Rana with her wisdom and sharp humor.

Rana and Piku don’t have a typical, dramatic Bollywood love story, but it’s romantic nonetheless. For two hard-headed single people with demanding families and jobs, more drama is the last thing they want. An allegiance based on understanding and compassion is much sweeter and more satisfying.

While the film’s trailer is full of references to bowel movements, they don’t dominate the movie. There’s one visual gag — in which a sink clogged by tea leaves is meant to evoke images of something more disgusting — that should’ve been left out. The movie is too clever for such a cheap joke.

Sircar and Chaturvedi show a real understanding of the emotional complexities of the parent-child relationship as it shifts over time, and the cast is the perfect group of actors to bring the story to life. Piku is really something special.

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Opening May 8: Piku

One new Hindi movie opens in the Chicago area on May 8, 2015. Piku stars Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone as a father and daughter on a road trip, chauffeured by Irrfan Khan.

Piku opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min.

Gabbar is Back gets a second weekend at all of the above theaters except the River East 21.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Uttama Villain (Tamil w/English subtitles) at the Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, and MovieMax, which also carries the Telugu version of Uttama Villain, India Pakistan (Tamil), Bhaskar the Rascal (Malayalam), Oru Vadakkan Selfie (Malayalam), OK Kanmani (Tamil), OK Bangaram (Telugu), and S/O Satyamurthy (Telugu).

Bollywood Box Office: October 24-26

Happy New Year got off to a roaring start in its first weekend in North American theaters. From October 24-26, 2014 — plus some Thursday night preview showings — Happy New Year earned $2,076,873 from 280 theaters ($7,417 average per screen). That’s the biggest opening weekend performance of the year by a wide margin over second place Bang Bang, which earned $1,410,383 from 292 theaters.

However, Happy New Year‘s opening weekend earnings fall short of Shahrukh Khan’s biggest ever opening weekend in the United States and Canada. That honor goes to last year’s Chennai Express — also co-starring Deepika Padukone — which earned $2,416,213 from 196 theaters.

Among the three films Khan and Padukone have starred in together, Happy New Year ranks third in terms of per-screen average in North America. Its $7,417 ranks behind Chennai Express ($12,328) which ranks behind 2007’s Om Shanti Om ($15,474). Yet Happy New Year‘s average is still high enough to rank third for this year, behind only The Lunchbox and 2 States.

Other Hindi movies showing in North American theaters over the weekend include:

  • Bang Bang: Week 4; $19,536 from 20 theaters; $977 average; $2,578,746 total
  • Haider: Week 4; $3,326 from six theaters; $554 average; $1,036,098 total
  • The Lunchbox: Week 35; $160 from one theater; $4,050,393

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

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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Movie Review: Finding Fanny (2014)

Finding_Fanny_Theatrical_release_poster3 Stars (out of 4)

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“No one deserves an incomplete love story.” Finding Fanny humorously and thoughtfully explores the ways that waiting for an answer suspends us in time.

The above quote is spoken by the film’s narrator, Angie (Deepika Padukone), a 26-year-old widow living in Pocolim, a tiny town in Goa. Life’s forward progress stopped for Angie when her husband (Ranveer Singh) choked to death on their wedding cake, though she’s serene about her situation. She lives with her mother-in-law, Rosie (Dimple Kapadia), the queen bee of Pocolim.

Angie’s best friend is Ferdie (Naseeruddin Shah), the town’s mailman. His forward progress stopped forty-six years ago when he wrote a letter proposing marriage to a girl named Fanny Fernandez, but never received a response. He’s the only boy in the church choir with white hair.

One night, the letter Ferdie mailed to Fanny is slipped under his door, unopened and undelivered. Angie organizes a trip to help Ferdie find Fanny and discover what her answer would have been. She enlists the help of her mother-in-law, her recently returned childhood sweetheart, Savio (Arjun Kapoor), and Don Pedro, (Pankaj Kapur), a visiting artist obsessed with voluptuous Rosie and owner of the town’s only car.

Of course the brief road trip winds up far more complicated than expected, and tensions flare within the group. Ferdie reveals to Savio the reason why his formerly close friendship with Rosie ended, and Savio fights with Angie about what would’ve happened had he married her instead. Don Pedro’s lecherous ogling of Rosie doesn’t help matters.

Finding Fanny is a beautiful looking film, thanks to cinematographer Anil Mehta. There are lots of wonderful individual shots — Angie’s face as she stares pensively out the open car window, for example — as well as wide shots showing the vastness of the world outside of Pocolim that never before interested Rosie, Ferdie, or Angie. The visual beauty is enhanced by Mathias Duplessy’s vibrant score.

The actors keep their performances subdued. Much is communicated non-verbally, especially by the expressive faces of Padukone and Shah. At the same time, the characters are all funny, none more so than Kapadia’s Rosie. The members of the traveling party are eccentrics, not outrageous goofballs or weirdos.

The glaring exception to the subtly rule is a Russian man who now owns Fanny’s childhood home. His delivery is so loud and exaggerated in comparison to the other performances that it feels out-of-place.

Perhaps the film’s biggest fault lies in the development of Angie’s character (though that’s not a slight on Padukone’s terrific portrayal). It’s obvious what every other character wants: Savio wants Angie; Don Pedro wants Rosie; Ferdie wants the Fanny of his memories; and Rosie wants to live a dignified life that she controls.

It’s never clear what Angie wants, other than to reunite Ferdie with Fanny. She speaks in important-sounding vagaries that don’t really mean anything. Is the point that she’s still too young to know what she wants? That we should be at peace with what we have? I was never sure. That’s a letdown for a character who’s not only the film’s narrator, but also the most important person in the lives of Ferdie, Rosie, and Savio.

Still, Finding Fanny is one of the more intriguing movies to come out of Bollywood this year. The fact that the dialogue is in English just adds to the intrigue. It’s unique, enjoyable, and worth a watch.

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