Tag Archives: Diljit Dosanjh

Movie Review: Welcome to New York (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Note: This is a review of the 2D version of the movie.

Welcome to New York has plenty of laughs for the hardest of hardcore Bollywood fans, packaged in an enjoyable fish-out-of-water comedy.

When I say “hardcore,” I mean it. It’s not enough to be familiar with the biggest Bollywood hits of recent years. Welcome to New York requires an appetite for industry gossip, knowledge of awards shows, and a fondness for Karan Johar–particularly his talk show, Koffee with Karan.

The extremely meta setting for Welcome to New York is the 18th International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards, which were held in New York City last year. As in real life, Johar plays the host of the awards show. His actual co-host, Saif Ali Khan, is replaced in the film by Riteish Deshmukh, playing a self-deprecating version of himself who bemoans his underpaid, B-list status.

In order to boost viewership in India, awards show organizers Gary (Boman Irani) and Sophia (Lara Dutta) create a talent contest, giving two winners the chance to perform onstage during the show. Sophia uses the contest to sabotage the show and get back at Gary, choosing the two worst entries among all the submissions as the winners.

Those winners are Teji (Diljit Dosanjh), a small-town repo man and wannabe actor, and Jeenal (Sonakshi Sinha), a feisty fashion designer. Whisked away to New York, the two must overcome their differences to navigate their flashy new surroundings and make their dreams come true.

Meanwhile, an angry Karan Johar doppelgänger named Arjun (also played by Johar) plans to kidnap his lookalike before the awards show. Teji accidentally foils one kidnapping attempt, thinking he’s playing a version of the Rapid Fire Round from Koffee with Karan.

The plotlines aren’t well-integrated, but it hardly matters, given how silly the movie is. Teji’s and Jeenal’s budding friendship is sweet to watch, and Dosanjh and Sinha are both effortlessly likeable. Dosanjh’s Teji gets most of the fish-out-of-water jokes, such as when he calls Jeenal’s terrycloth robe a “coat that looks like a towel.” Their characters have some amusing interactions with Aditya Roy Kapur and Sushant Singh Rajput that play off of people’s mistaken tendency to conflate actors with their roles.

When it comes to playing a role, no one in Welcome to New York does so more enthusiastically than Karan Johar, who plays the most outrageous version of himself imaginable. He’s vain, snarky, and snobbish, and he’s hilarious. He gets to spout lines like, “You are a traitor, Riteish Deshkmukh.” The payoff to subplot in which Karan advises Rana Daggubati on his career after Baahubali is worth the price of admission alone. Lara Dutta and Boman Irani being as great as always is a nice bonus.

The most disappointing element of Welcome to New York is its music. Songs range from forgettable to annoying, and there’s precious little dancing to speak of.

Casual fans may find Welcome to New York too “inside baseball,” but Bollywood junkies will see their obsession pay off in a multitude of self-referential gags. The actors seem like they had fun making the movie, and that quality translates to an enjoyable experience for the audience.

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Movie Review: Phillauri (2017)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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There’s so much to love about Phillauri on its own merits, but it also represents something important within the Hindi-film industry. This film is the product of an actress taking control of her career, in effect saying to the industry, “This is the caliber of movie I think the audience wants and the type of quality role female performers deserve.” It’s a powerful statement packaged within a fun, touching romantic-comedy.

Phillauri is the second movie by Clean Slate Films, a production house run by actress Anushka Sharma and her brother, Karnesh. As with Clean Slate’s first movie, the excellent 2015 revenge thriller NH10, Sharma stars in Phillauri in a role that explicitly addresses gender issues in a progressive way.

Sharma plays a ghost named Shashi, whose spirit has been trapped in a tree since her death many years ago. She’s ripped from her arboreal abode when a young man with an unlucky love life — Kanan (Suraj Sharma) — marries her tree in an effort to improve his luck before marrying his childhood sweetheart, Anu (Mehreen Pirzada). Shashi and Kanan are shocked to find themselves metaphysically hitched following the tree ceremony — especially Kanan, since he’s the only living person who can see Shashi.

As Kanan copes with the stress of preparing for his wedding to Anu with a ghost in tow, Shashi tries to recall how she died. She finds the modern world unfamiliar and too liberal for her taste — she’s scandalized by Anu’s backless dress and Kanan’s whiskey-drinking grandmother — but seeing a DJ spinning a record at the young couple’s engagement party brings back a flood of memories.

Flashbacks show us Shashi’s hometown of Phillaur outside of Amritsar in the early 20th Century. Traveling salesmen bring a phonograph to town to show off the latest technology, and Shashi sneaks out of the house to listen to the music, against the wishes of her overly protective and status-conscious older brother.

Beautiful Shashi is spotted at the phonograph demonstration by a popular local singer who goes by the nickname “Phillauri” (Diljit Dosanjh), a name that can be applied to anyone who hails from the town of Phillaur. He asks Shashi why she doesn’t sneak away to listen to his bawdy tunes the way the other single women do. She chastises him for wasting his platform on tacky frivolities instead of using it to elevate his audience, inspiring them with poetic lyrics and opening their minds to new ideas. He has the opportunity to reach an audience that others don’t have access to, particularly women during this time period.

Sharma knows first-hand about the film industry’s continuing focus on the youth and beauty of female performers, resulting in short careers and insubstantial roles as eye-candy alongside one of a handful of middle-aged male actors. Like some of her female contemporaries, Sharma is using her hard-earned star power and connections to bankroll movies that feature strong women in uplifting roles. When her character in Phillauri talks about using one’s platform for good, it’s a statement of her own purpose and a challenge to the men who dominate the film industry in front of and behind the camera to do the same.

Sharma also deserves kudos in her capacity as a producer for assembling a top-notch crew to make Phillauri. Helming his first picture, director Anshai Lal gets great performances from his cast — Suraj Sharma’s high-pitched whimpering is a hoot — in a film that looks fabulous, also thanks to cinematographer Vishal Sinha. The costumes by Veera Kapur are as lush as Sameer Uddin’s score, which makes the tear-jerking climax all the more memorable. Writer Anvita Dutt’s screenplay is tight and layered.

It’s unfortunate that not all of the songs’ lyrics are subtitled in English. Some are, when the lyrics are of particular plot significance, but there’s no reason why all of the songs shouldn’t be. Failing to do so puts international audiences at a disadvantage.

Yet a lack of subtitles doesn’t impede understanding because the script is “high-concept” done right. Phillauri‘s entertaining and heartfelt story translates just fine.

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Movie Review: Udta Punjab (2016)

UdtaPunjab4 Stars (out of 4)

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Several years ago, an affluent community near me realized it had a heroin problem. It did so when a pair of high school students — disturbed by the overdose deaths of three classmates within a single school year — filmed fellow students discussing their own drug use.

The students screened their documentary Neuqua on Drugs for a library auditorium full of horrified school administrators, media, and parents. The adults in the room were shocked that such a problem had festered under their overprotective noses. This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen in neighborhoods with million-dollar homes. It wasn’t supposed to happen to “good” kids.

Punjab is in the middle of its own drug crisis, without the resources of a wealthy American suburb to fight it, nor the collective will to protect a generation of potential Ivy Leaguers. Writer-director Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab (“Punjab on a High“) provides context and scope for the state’s drug problems in a film that is as entertaining as it is enlightening.

A quartet of lead characters showcase different aspects of the crisis. Musician Tommy (Shahid Kapoor) made a fortune churning out songs celebrating drug culture. Just as it becomes apparent that Tommy’s own drug abuse is hampering his ability to write new music, he’s arrested, the easy scapegoat in a police attempt to look like they are cracking down on drugs.

That’s impossible to do, however, when the cops themselves are profiting from the drug trade. Officer Sartaj (Diljit Dosanjh) even complains that police deserve bigger bribes to look the other way when truckloads of narcotics cross the border. Only when Sartaj’s younger brother, Balli (Prabhjyot Singh), is hospitalized from an overdose does the young cop realize his part in fomenting the problem.

Dr. Preeti Sahni (Kareena Kapoor Khan) is more than happy to place blame on Sartaj and the police. She operates a rehab clinic, so she’s seen first-hand the devastation drugs wreak on individuals, their families, and the community at large. Eager to thank the doctor for helping to dry out Balli and atone for his own profiteering, Sartaj joins forces with Preeti to trace the drugs to their source.

Sartaj locates the region’s main distribution hub, a compound where a young woman nicknamed Bauria (Alia Bhatt) is imprisoned as a sex slave. When Bauria found a packet of powder — thrown over the Pakistani border discus-style — in the field where she worked, she’d hoped to sell it and get rich. Only the intended recipients of the packet found out, capturing her, hooking her on drugs, and using her to service clients, including the police chief, who happens to be Sartaj’s cousin.

Everything and everyone in Udta Punjab is connected, right down to the poster of Tommy hanging on Balli’s wall. In the same way that the character’s lives entwine, so do the region’s fortunes. It only takes a few corrupt cops and politicians to sustain a catastrophe that keeps the beds at Preeti’s clinic full.

Chaubey’s story — co-written by Sudip Sharma — wisely embeds the drug crisis within the purview of ordinary life. Crops still need to be harvested, and love still blossoms, as it does between Sartaj and Preeti. His crush on the beautiful doctor develops quickly, but he’s too shy to express his feelings, intimidated as he is by her intelligence. He gathers the intel, but she has to explain to him (and thus the audience, thankfully) the intersection between government officials, chemical manufacturers, and the gangsters controlling the drug trade. She grows increasingly charmed by his enthusiasm and dedication.

Rooting the narrative within a real-life framework requires room for humor as well, tinted appropriately dark given the subject matter. Chaubey juxtaposes funny moments with grim ones, occasionally blending the comic with the tragic in the same scene. For example, a singer croons, “Her smile makes the flowers bloom,” over a shot of Bauria vomiting.

The film’s performances are likewise balanced between the straightforward deliveries of Kapoor Khan and Dosanjh, and the wilder turns of Bhatt and Kapoor. The horrors of Bauria’s circumstances are made clear but not dwelt upon, focusing instead on the character’s strength and ingenuity, movingly depicted by Bhatt. Kapoor plays Tommy with a manic energy that doesn’t dissipate even when the singer is sober.

Chaubey’s film is perfectly balanced, in every respect. That makes the Censor Board controversy surrounding Udta Punjab‘s release seem even more ridiculous. There’s nothing in the film that comes close to glorifying drug use, so attempts to stall its release with demands that every reference to Punjab be removed is simply an attempt by vested interests to deny that Punjab has a drug problem. People in my own community and thousands of Punjabi citizens know the truth: while politicians bury their heads in the sand, people are dying.

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