Tag Archives: Dharmesh Yelande

Movie Review: Banjo (2016)

banjo1 Star (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

One of the reasons I started reviewing Bollywood films was so that I could warn non-Hindi speakers and those without Indian cultural roots about movies that don’t translate well internationally. Banjo is one of those movies. Botched English subtitles and not enough context make Banjo confusing.

There are a number of problems with the subtitles. Dialogue spoken by off-camera characters — including the narrator — is frequently not subtitled at all. When it is, the subtitling is incomplete or improperly synchronized. Even the spoken English dialogue is sometimes written incorrectly in the subtitles, so who knows how well the Hindi dialogue is translated.

The missing subtitles are troublesome because Banjo is already terrible in regard to context. It’s often unclear why things are happening.

Let’s start with the film’s female lead, Chris (Nargis Fakhri). She’s an American musician or DJ — the subtitles and dialogue contradict each other — in need of two songs to submit to a music festival in New York. She gets an audio file from her friend, Mikey (Luke Kenny) — whose name is written as “Mickey” — of a band performing at a Ganesh Chaturthi festival, and she drops everything to fly to Mumbai and find them.

For reasons that aren’t made clear, it is apparently impossible for Mikey and Chris to find the band he recorded at the festival. I guess simply asking people in the neighborhood is not an option, which is unfortunate because literally everyone knows who they are.

The band is fronted by Taraat (Riteish Deshmukh), the group’s vocalist and banjo player. His day job is shaking down people for money at the behest of a local politician, Patil. The other three members of the band are drummers: a mechanic named Grease (Dharmesh Yelande in an embarrassing wig), a paperboy named Paper, and another guy named Vaja.

With zero leads, Chris is forced to turn to the slimy uncle of her New York friend Mira (Shruthi Mathur). The subtitles cut out right as Uncle gives Chris an assignment, but this is what I surmise the assignment to be: go to a particular slum and take unflattering photos of it, and Uncle will use the photos to have the place condemned so that a rich builder can demolish it and build a high-rise. I have no idea how much of that Uncle directly conveys to Chris, but she heads to the slum, camera in hand.

There, she’s introduced to Patil, who may or may not understand why she’s really there to take pictures. I’m not sure. The guide he assigns to show her around is Taraat.

Here’s where the film really falls on its ass. Writer-director Ravi Jadhav doesn’t explain why, but apparently it’s disreputable to be a banjo player (or one of his backup drummers). This is kind of important because Taraat lies to Chris when she asks if he knows any banjo players. All of the conflict in the first half is built around this lie, conveniently maintained by no one slipping up and outing Taraat by accident.

After watching the whole movie, I have no idea why it’s so bad to be a banjo player. Maybe Indian viewers understand, but it isn’t explained in the story. Without context, the central conflict of the first half of the film makes no sense.

Then again, the conflict in the second half of the film doesn’t make any sense either. The truth is revealed, and Chris forms a band with them…wait, what’s her role in the band? She sings a few lines, but she doesn’t seem to write the music, so why is Chris suddenly in charge?

Chris sucks because she can only see her predicament in terms of herself. She NEEDS a song for the festival, and Taraat and co. HAVE to help her! She can’t understand why these guys who live in a slum want to be paid for playing and don’t like working for exposure.

She’s also totally, totally uncool. I’ve seen better dancing at an Iowa wedding reception than Chris’s rigid, off-tempo bobbing. The movie’s single dumbest moment is when another musician filches one of her belongings. “He stole the plectrum,” she yells. You know what a plectrum is? It’s a freaking guitar pick. No one calls it a plectrum!

Nargis Fakhri is miscast as Chris. A better choice for a cool American would be Lisa Haydon. Besides Fakhri’s stiffness, her delivery is all wrong when she speaks in her native English. I can only imagine how bad she sounds in Hindi.

Riteish Deshmukh is much more fun to watch in dramatic roles than in the slapstick sidekick parts that pay his bills, but he deserves a better movie than this. Banjo doesn’t make enough sense to enjoyable, despite a decent soundtrack. Skip it.

Links

Advertisements

Movie Review: ABCD 2 (2015)

ABCD22.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

ABCD 2 tries way too hard. Earnest efforts pay off in the spectacular dance numbers, but the movie’s ham-handed moral and patriotic themes only inspire eye rolls.

ABCD 2 is not a direct followup to 2013’s ABCD: Any Body Can Dance. Many of the actors from the original are in the sequel, but in different roles. Prabhu Deva again plays a choreographer named Vishnu, but he’s not the same guy, which is needlessly confusing.

Vishnu 2.0 is a drunk, washed up Mumbai choreographer. He gets a chance at a fresh start when a disgraced hip-hop crew led by Suru (Varun Dhawan) asks for his help in winning an international competition in Las Vegas.

While the original ABCD was aimed at teenagers, ABCD 2 skews younger, with sophomoric humor and more explicit moral lessons woven into the story. Yet that’s what makes the redemption arc of Suru’s crew so darned awkward.

At the start of the film, Suru’s crew, the Mumbai Stunners, is the most popular group on an Indian TV dance competition show. During the show’s finale, the judges — one of whom is ABCD 2 director Remo D’Souza, playing himself — bust Suru and his buddy Vernon (Sushant Pujari) for copying the choreography of a hip-hop group from the Philippines. The Stunners are branded cheaters and thrown off the show.

The consequences haunt Suru, Vernon, and other members of the group like Vinnie (Shraddha Kapoor), even at their day jobs. That prompts Suru to reform the Stunners and beg Vishnu’s help, hoping that victory in Vegas will prove their talent to the Indian audience that shunned them.

The problem is that Suru and Vernon — though mostly Suru — really did cheat, but they never admit it or apologize for it. They are punished by being kicked off the show, but they aren’t sorry. Even as his friends are ridiculed because of his devious actions, Suru doesn’t ask for their forgiveness.

The redemption-without-remorse lesson is a strange moral to preach to children. Worse, they meet the Filipino team they stole from at the Vegas dance competition, and no one mentions the theft. The Stunners act like fanboys, and the Filipino team praises them for their heart.

If someone stole my work and passed it off as his own, then tried to act like he was my biggest fan, I wouldn’t be grateful. I’d be pissed.

Other subplots fail to tug the heartstrings as intended. Suru tries to honor the memory of his dead mother, a famed dancer. Crew-member Vinod (Punit Pathak) is not only deaf and mute, but also routinely coughs up blood. There’s a long-lost son. The crew finds their mojo only when they embrace their Indian roots and dance to absurdly patriotic/religiously tinged songs.

The most successful subplot involves the only two female members of the crew: Vinnie and Olive (Lauren Gottlieb), an Indian-American dancer who joins them in Vegas. When Olive gets too flirty with Suru for Vinnie’s liking, the two talk about it rather than devolving into a catfight. It’s nice to see the two women portrayed so positively.

Plot problems aside, the dancing is the real reason anyone goes to see ABCD 2, and in that regard it does not disappoint. These days, even big budget Bollywood movies only feature one or two large-scale choreographed numbers, but ABCD 2 has a bunch of them. On top of that, spotlight performances showcase just how skilled the cast members are. The talent level of pro dancers like Gottlieb, Pujari, Pathak, and Dharmesh Yelande (who plays Dharmesh) cannot be overstated.

Part of what made ABCD so successful was that the cast consisted of professional dancers who acted. It gave cohesiveness to the production. The integration of Kapoor and Dhawan — professional actors who dance — into the cast of dancers is mostly successful. They aren’t just good dancers as far as actors are concerned; they are very, very good dancers, period.

However, Dhawan occasionally stands out from his crewmates, most noticeably in the song “Happy Hour.” It’s not that he’s performing poorly, just that the thousands of extra hours men like Pujari, Pathak, and Yelande have spent dancing gives their movements a fluidity and crispness that Dhawan can’t precisely replicate.

Sushant Pujari was my standout performer in the original ABCD, and it’s nice to see his role elevated in the sequel. His acting has improved enough that Bollywood casting agents need to give him a lot more attention.

Even though the plot is geared toward a youthful audience, there is a ton of toned flesh on display for older moviegoers. Kapoor and Gottlieb both look amazing, and every guy in the crew is ripped. If you are a fan of hot, shirtless dudes, then the climactic dance number is for you.

ABCD 2 is not as good as ABCD. However, there’s unlikely to be another Bollywood production this year that has the volume and quality of dancing that ABCD 2 has. Go see it if you want to get your groove on (but forgo the 3D upcharge).

Links

Movie Review: ABCD: Any Body Can Dance (2013)

Anybody-can-dance3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Indian production houses have recently been fumbling with attempts to make movies targeted at urban teens with disposable income. ABCD: Any Body Can Dance is the first film to really hit its target audience. It’s vibrant and fresh without feeling condescending.

ABCD follows a familiar formula. An adult with something to prove whips a scruffy bunch of kids into shape, helping them grow as individuals and as a group of friends. It’s Chak De India, but with dancing instead of field hockey. This isn’t a knock on ABCD. The formula works, so why not use it? A good formula executed poorly results in a bad movie. Thankfully, ABCD is well-executed.

Prabhu Deva anchors the film as Vishnu. Booted as the lead choreographer at Mumbai’s most popular dance studio to make way for a flashy new choreographer from New York, Vishnu contemplates returning to his native Chennai. His friend and fellow dance teacher, Gopi (Ganesh Acharyaas), talks Vishnu into staying in town for a few more days, during which time Vishnu spots some talented young people dancing at a religious festival.

The dancers are divided into two rival factions headed by Rocky (Salman Yusuff Khan) and D (Dharmesh Yelande). Rocky’s crew immediately accepts Vishnu’s offer to mentor them, but D’s crew needs more convincing. Vishnu must get Rocky and D to set their egos aside for the group to have any chance of beating Vishnu’s former studio, JDC, in the national televised dance competition, “Dance Dil Se” (“Dance From the Heart”).

Vishnu’s new school gets a boost when a former student, Rhea (Lauren Gottlieb), defects from JDC after the head of the school, Jahangir (Kay Kay Menon), makes a pass at her. Menon is great as the slimy director of the studio. Gottlieb, a former competitor on So You Think You Can Dance in the U.S., does a nice job in her debut role in a Hindi film. Obviously, she’s an incredible dancer.

The dancing is ABCD‘s selling point, and it does not disappoint. All of the routines — from flashy stage numbers to solo performances in the rehearsal space — are really entertaining. The 3D effects added to the big routines don’t add much, but they aren’t distracting either.

For the most part, the acting is solid. All of the younger cast members — many of whom made their names on dance competition shows in India — do a great job, as does Prabhu Deva. Ganesh Acharyaas overacts as Gopi, turning what could’ve been a warm character into a source of distraction. Also distracting is Pankaj Tripathi in a minor role as a politician in a neck brace who speaks in an inexplicably bizarre voice.

Another problem in ABCD is the lack of development of all but a few characters. There are about a dozen additional dancers in the Vishnu’s group, and only a few of their names are spoken in the movie. Director Remo D’Souza could’ve dispensed with a needless anti-drug subplot to at least give the supporting characters names.

Something about the ethnic makeup of the dancers at JDC struck me as funny. The Mumbai school, which performs a style that is mostly Western contemporary, is made up of Indian boys and white girls. There isn’t a single Indian girl in the company. There’s no explanation for why this is, nor does it keep JDC from being the most popular dance group in India. It’s weird.

What I especially enjoyed about the dancing in ABCD is the way the numbers refrain from objectifying the women in the cast, treating them as equal members of the company. There are no item girls in ABCD. It’s refreshing.

If anything, the men in the cast are the ones being objectified. The dance crew is mostly made up of young, fit dudes who spend a lot of time with their shirts off. As a woman who sees a lot of Hindi movies, it was nice to be the target audience for a sexy dance number for a change.

Links