Tag Archives: Divya Dutta

Movie Review: Fanney Khan (2018)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Fanney Khan on Amazon Prime
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

The corny family drama Fanney Khan lacks the self-awareness to notice its obvious thematic flaws.

Anil Kapoor’s title character is the only one that really matters in the film. Fanney traded in his life as a small-time band leader for a steady factory job following the birth of his daughter, Lata, whom he named after his favorite singer in the hopes that little Lata would one day achieve the stardom he never could himself.

Stardom proves hard to come by for Lata, however. As a teenager (played by Pihu Sand), Lata is repeatedly booed off stage at talent competitions by audiences and judges more interested in teasing her about her weight than listening to her sing. She finds her dad’s musical taste cheesy, but performing racy pop songs isn’t working for her either. Instead of allowing Lata to find her own way, the movie leaves it to Fanney to chart Lata’s course for her.

A chance encounter with the famous pop star Baby Singh (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) inspires Fanney’s boldest plan for Lata’s success. He kidnaps Baby and holds her for ransom — not for the money his family desperately needs, but in exchange for getting Lata in the recording studio with Baby’s manager, Kakkad (Girish Kulkarni). Fanney recruits his jobless friend, Adhir (Rajkummar Rao) to keep watch over Baby, but Adhir’s crush on the star makes him an ineffective guard.

Fanney Khan might have succeeded as a pedestrian-yet-heartwarming family film were it not for a bizarre minor theme that alters the movie’s moral message in a way that debutant writer-director Atul Manjrekar appears not to have noticed.

The theme is first introduced when Lata plans her next live performance with her best friend, Rhea (Barbie Rajput, who is fantastic in her few scenes). When Rhea speculates that many top female stars slept with producers or other benefactors in order to become famous, Lata’s mother, Kavita (Divya Dutta), slowly enters the room, accompanied by music as somber as the expression on her face. She forbids the two girls from discussing the topic, even though were Rhea and Lata were both grossed out by the prospect and not actually considering it.

The same somber musical accompaniment reappears when Fanney asks Baby if she’d ever been pressured into sex for the sake of her career, when Kakkad is alone in a hotel room with Lata, and when Kavita sees Lata dressed in a (modest) one shoulder gown that Kavita nevertheless finds too revealing.

This repeated focus on women’s bodies and sexuality as they relate to fame is meant to convey the moral that women’s bodies are not tradeable commodities.

How, then, does director Manjrekar fail to notice the irony that his protagonist kidnaps a woman in order to trade her body for his own daughter’s success?

Fanney Khan is not a black comedy, and the sex-for-fame cautionary subplot isn’t explicitly juxtaposed against the main plot. Fanney is unquestionably a hero, slow-clapped by the very cops who come to arrest him as a way of praising his fatherly devotion.

Perhaps the point of the subplot is to convey that men may do what they like with women’s bodies, but women themselves may not treat their bodies as commodities. None of the men in the film face any repercussions for mistreating or intending to mistreat women’s bodies. Not Fanney or Adhir for kidnapping Baby, and not the studio head who wants Baby to have an “accidental” wardrobe malfunction in order to garner publicity. The character of a female recording engineer is invented specifically so that Kakkad can leer at her, thus making it appear as though Lata is in moral jeopardy when she’s alone in a room with him later. That Kavita doubts for a second whether Lata actually slept with Kakkad shows how little the film’s writers think of women’s ability to make their own moral judgements.

Fanney Khan lets down its main cast, who are all very good in the movie. Sand acquits herself well in her film debut, and she shares a nice mother-daughter rapport with Dutta. Rai Bachchan is natural in the role of a superstar, of course, and Rao is entertaining as always. Kapoor is flat-out terrific as the ultimate family man, making Fanney all the more endearing through his enthusiasm and cheerfulness. One way Kapoor could turn Fanney Khan into a positive is by taking Fanney’s band and backup dancers on the road, because they are a hoot.

Links

Advertisements

Movie Review: Irada (2017)

irada3 Stars (out of 4)

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

A case of industrial espionage exposes an ecological crisis, awakening a federal investigator’s sense of justice in Irada. Debutant writer-director Aparnaa Singh’s movie survives early missteps to culminate in a satisfying, performance-driven second half.

The investigator, Arjun Mishra (Arshad Warsi), doesn’t appear until the movie is more than thirty minutes old, which is one of the problems with Irada‘s first half. Only after Arjun arrives does the story really take shape, as it is his emotional journey that drives the narrative.

Instead, Irada opens with Parabjeet Walia, a character played by Naseeruddin Shah, the film’s other marquee star. Retiree Parabjeet trains his daughter, Riya (Rumana Molla), for the Air Force entrance exam, coaching her through swimming sprints in the local canal. A medical emergency reveals that Riya has cancer, likely from exposure to toxic canal water polluted by the local chemical factory.

While seeing a father watch his previously healthy child succumb to cancer is obviously affecting, Singh cuts corners with character development. We endure training montages when we should be getting to know more about the father and daughter and their relationship. Only much later do we learn that Parabjeet himself was a career military man, explaining Riya’s distress at her inability to follow in his footsteps. It’s as though Singh is so familiar with her characters’ backstories that she forgot to share them with the audience.

In fact, when we see Parabjeet again a year after Riya’s death, he has become a writer and part-time investigative journalist. He’s published a book, likely of poetry given his fondness for speaking in couplets, though the contents aren’t specified. He’s also become an authority on the shady corporate dealings of Paddy Sharma (Sharad Kelkar), wealthy owner of the chemical factory.

With the blessing of corrupt politician Ramandeep Braitch (Divya Dutta, who crushes every scene she’s in), Paddy is able to conceal his company’s polluting ways. The company disposes of waste through a process known as “reverse boring,” in which pollutants are injected into the ground where they can contaminate the local water supply. I’d never heard of reverse boring before Irada, and it’s not until the very end of the film that someone mentions that the process is illegal, which explains Paddy’s willingness to protect his secrets at any cost.

Paddy’s henchman, Jeetu (Rajesh Sharma), kidnaps an activist named Anirudh (Nikhil Pandey), triggering a series of events that exemplify the director’s tendency to forget that the audience doesn’t know her characters as well as she does. A journalist named Maya (Sagarika Ghatge) throws mud at Paddy during a speech. Someone watching the speech remarks that she and Anirudh are an item. This is followed by Maya wistfully remembering the romance she shared with Anirudh, in song form. We don’t know Maya or Anirudh well enough to care about them after seeing each of them in one brief scene, so a boring love song feels like time-wasting.

Arjun the federal inspector finally joins the story after Paddy’s plant explodes, the result of tampering from within. Ramandeep the politician wants Arjun to resolve the matter quickly, promising him a promotion if he does and reassignment to the dangerous hinterlands if he doesn’t.

Arjun’s character is initially all over the place. He condescendingly dismisses Maya’s offer to help, but he grills Jeetu based on minimal evidence. Arjun’s wall is covered in maps and photos linked together by pieces of string, in front of which he paces while blindfolded. Curse the BBC’s Sherlock for influencing every screenwriter since to make their detectives “quirky.”

In one unintentionally funny scene, Arjun deciphers a coded message about the explosion. He determines that the word “players” in the cryptic couplet refers to the number of competitors per team. He muses (incorrectly): “Volleyball has five players. Basketball has six players.” Cracking the code apparently depended on the solver not knowing the rules for sports, as Arjun arrives at the right answer.

When Arjun finally meets Parabjeet just before the midpoint, the movie gets really good, and it stays that way through the end. Parabjeet’s personal trauma opens Arjun’s eyes to the extent of the environmental tragedy, forcing the ambivalent bureaucrat to decide if it’s time for him to finally take a stand. Warsi and Shah are great in their scenes together, recreating their chemistry from the Ishqiya films.

With the story rolling, Singh gets great performances from the rest of her talented cast, including Sharma as the twitchy henchman and Ghatge, who handles the movie’s most thrilling scenes. It’s worth reiterating just how fun Dutta is as the entitled politician who’s too secure in her own power. Top-notch acting makes Irada worth a watch.

Links

Movie Review: Badlapur (2015)

Badlapur_Poster3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Badlapur is a jaw-dropping thriller that examines the perils of revenge. After a pair of delightful comic performances in his two previous films, Varun Dhawan shines as a grieving husband who becomes a monster.

Heed the tagline at the end of the Badlapur trailer: “Don’t miss the beginning.” The movie opens with a bank robbery and carjacking. The owner of the car (played by Yami Gautam) and her young son are killed in gruesome — if somewhat accidental — fashion during the escape attempt. One of the robbers (played by Vinay Pathak) flees with the loot, while the other, Liak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), turns himself in to the police.

Badlapur‘s plot follows two parallel stories: Liak’s life behind bars, and the quest for revenge undertaken by Raghu (Dhawan), husband of Misha (Gautam) and father of their son.

The movie is clearly inspired by the Korean film I Saw the Devil — most obviously in a scene in which a man in a car pulls up to a stranded female motorist — which was remade in India last year as Ek Villain. Badlapur is a more fitting successor to the Korean film than the acknowledged remake.

What differentiates Badlapur‘s lead character from the secret service agent at the core of I Saw the Devil is that Raghu has no special skills to aid his revenge quest. He works in advertising before the murders, and takes a job as a factory foreman after Liak is imprisoned.

Because he’s just a regular guy, Raghu’s plans seem a little disorganized. It’s not clear when he will feel his vengeance complete. He intends to wait until Liak’s twenty-year prison sentence is over, then follow Liak when he retrieves his share of the money from Harman (Pathak), his accomplice. Raghu’s timetable is accelerated when a well-meaning-but-naive charity worker, Shoba (Divya Dutta), asks Raghu to petition for Liak’s early release so he can seek medical treatment.

Raghu is content to wait to enact his revenge upon Liak and Harman, but he has far less patience for the women who willingly maintain relationships with the criminals. This goes for Shoba, Harman’s wife, Koko (Radhika Apte), and especially Liak’s girlfriend, Jimli (Huma Qureshi).

Jimli is first to experience Raghu’s rage. Because she is a prostitute, Raghu has no compunction about raping her, thus “ruining” her for Liak. That Raghu feels his money can compensate Jimli for the rape is the sign that he’s gone off the deep end. When Liak asks him what makes the two of them so different, Raghu doesn’t have a good answer.

Every performance in Badlapur is pitch perfect. Dutta and Apte are sympathetic, and Qureshi is superb. Pathak doesn’t get as much screentime as Siddiqui, but he features in the movie’s best scene, in which Harman and Raghu silently size each other up as they ride in an elevator.

Siddiqui is great, but Liak’s character is tricky to embrace. There’s only so much he can do since he spends much of the film in jail, and every scene reinforces that he’s a bad guy. The volume of storytime devoted to Liak has less to do with the character and more to do with a desire to keep Siddiqui on screen for as long as possible.

In only his fourth film, Dhawan extends his acting range in impressive fashion. His portrayal of Raghu is chilling. He’s far scarier than Liak or Harman, but he also has the capacity to act normal when it serves his purpose.

Badlapur has trouble maintaining momentum early on. Raghu’s brutalization of Jimli is followed by flashbacks to his romance with Misha and low-key scenes of Liak’s exploits in jail. Raghu feels a bit absent from the film’s ultimate resolution, but perhaps that fits given that he isn’t a criminal mastermind capable of engineering a dramatic climax.

One thing director Sriram Raghavan excels at is sound design. There isn’t much in the way of background music in Badlapur, and the movie is often punctuated by street noise like barking dogs. The undercurrent of everyday sounds makes the film feel more realistic, heightening its impact.

Not a movie for the faint of heart, Badlapur rewards its audience with great performances and a nuanced take on the revenge genre. If nothing else, it establishes Varun Dhawan as the most exciting young actor in Bollywood today.

Links

Movie Review: Ragini MMS 2 (2014)

Ragini_MMS_21.5 Stars (out of 4)

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

Trying to understand a movie like Ragini MMS 2 (RMMS2, henceforth) is a futile exercise. It’s not that the movie is especially complex. It simply has some of the worst English subtitles I’ve ever seen in a Hindi movie.

The plot is so full of self-references that I’m getting a headache just trying to summarize it. The “found footage” from the original Ragini MMS inspires a director named Rocks (Parvin Dabas) to film a fictional reenactment at the haunted house where the allegedly real events took place. Basically, RMMS2 is a (real) movie that tells the story of the making of a (fictional) movie that is a rehashing of some (fictional) found footage that was the basis for another (real) movie.

Rocks explains that he elected not to cast any stars in his movie in order to allow the audience to become absorbed in the story. In reality, it’s RMMS2 director Bhushan Patel’s meta way of explaining to theaudience why they just paid for tickets to a movie with few known actors.

The film reaches its self-referential apex when Rocks introduces his lead actress: Sunny Leone (Sunny Leone). Like the real-life actress, Sunny the character is also a former porn star, something we’re never allowed to forget as she strips, licks, and fakes orgasms through the rest of the film.

The film crew arrives at the house and ignores all the signs of its haunting. The only one who doesn’t is the movie’s writer, Satya (Saahil Prem), who apparently insisted on filming at this location, though it’s never explained why.

While the film crew unknowingly prepares to die in gruesome ways, psychologist Dr. Dutta (Divya Dutta) tries to figure out what caused Ragini (Kainaz Motivala) from the found footage to lose her marbles. Ragini tells Sunny — who meets the young lady at an insane asylum while researching her film role — that she’s been possessed by a witch. Dr. Dutta, woman of science, concurs.

This is particularly funny because the movie opens with a disclaimer that it is not trying to promote superstition. It then proceeds to use science as a tool to validate superstition. The Archeological Society of India posts a sign near the haunted house warning people to stay away after sunset. Dr. Dutta — who must be good since she’s from New York — performs an exorcism. Try that in New York, and they take away your license.

These mixed messages about superstition are still clearer than any information conveyed by the English subtitles. There are large stretches of the film in which the subtitles disappear entirely. That includes all voice-overs, such as Dr. Dutta’s vital explanation of the witch’s origins. And, for some reason, one of the nurses at Ragini’s insane asylum is never subtitled.

The English subtitles for spoken English dialogue are terrible. When Dr. Dutta says, “Built in 1920,” the subtitles read, “Built in 1930.” Sunny says, “Global warming,” and the subtitles read, “Not yet.” The name of the character Gina (Anita Hassanandani) — who sports a visible tattoo of her own name written in English — is always written as “Tina.”

Lest you think this is a problem just for non-Hindi speakers, the witch’s Marathi dialogue isn’t subtitled either.

Sunny Leone is actually pretty good in the film. She’s obviously sexy, especially in an effective dream sequence number near the movie’s midway point. She’s intense and scary during a scene in which the witch takes control of her body.

The scene itself is somewhat subversive, playing with the anxieties someone like Leone provokes in a culture in which on-screen kissing only recently lost its taboo. Her possessed character howls “Fuck me!” at Satya, turning what would normally be an enticing offer into something grotesque and terrifying.

But I’m wary of giving RMMS2 more credit than it deserves. Why does Sunny become aggressively sexual when possessed by the spirit of a grieving mother? And, if the spirit is just looking for absolution, why the need for an exorcism?

The answer to both question is, “Because this is what happens in horror movies.” Conventions are used because they are conventions, not because they serve any narrative purpose. The truth is, Ragini MMS 2 hopes that you’ll be too distracted by Leone’s cleavage to notice the gaps of logic and poorly-matched subtitles.

Links

 

Movie Review: Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013)

BhaagMilkhaBhaag3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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

American audiences are used to seeing biographies of famous people whose histories we already know: Abraham Lincoln, Jackie Robinson, etc. It’s delightful to come across a personal story that is totally fresh, at least to audiences outside of India. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is a fine tribute to a man whose life deserves to be made into a movie.

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag begins at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. Milkha Singh (Farhan Akhtar) leads the field in the 400 meters until he turns to look behind him, a move inexplicable to those watching the race. He finishes the race in fourth place. Milkha subsequently turns down an opportunity to lead an Indian delegation to Pakistan to compete in a friendly race, despite being India’s most famous athlete.

Milkha’s coach from his Army days explains that his pupil turned down the offer not out of embarrassment for having lost the race. Rather, he blames Pakistan for the deaths of his parents thirteen years earlier, during the riots that followed partition. The last words young Milkha heard his father say were, “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag!” (“Run Milkha Run!”). Those were the same words his national team coach yelled during the Olympics that caused Milkha to turn, expecting to see the swordsman on horseback that he ran from as a boy.

The Army coach, Gurudev (Pawan Malhotra, who gives a touching performance), narrates Milkha’s history to his national team coach, Ranveer (Yograj Singh), and a government representative while on a train ride to Milkha’s home, where they hope to convince Milkha to change his mind and lead the Indian delegation to Pakistan. The significant events of Milkha’s life are told out of sequence, but flashbacks flow seamlessly from one time period to the next.

Though the film is primarily populated with male characters — Milkha’s friends, competitors, fellow soldiers, and coaches — women play a significant role in directing Milkha’s destiny. His decision to join the army is spurred by a desire to impress a young woman, Biro (Sonam Kapoor). At the time, the army supplied the athletes for the Indian Olympic team, so Biro’s part in getting Milkha into the military is critical. Kapoor and Akhtar share a sweet chemistry together.

It’s just as important to Milkha to make his older sister, Isri (Divya Dutta) proud, since she raised him following the deaths of their parents. Dutta is powerful in the film, particularly during a scene in which Isri and Milkha are reunited in a refuge camp.

A third female influence in Milkha’s life is Stella (Rebecca Breeds), an Australian woman he meets at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. The consequences of their brief fling lead Milkha to rededicate himself to his training, setting up an impressive time-lapse jump rope sequence that highlights the amazing physical transformation Akhtar underwent for his role. Breeds does a super job, and her scenes with Akhtar are incredibly sexy.

The trip to Australia is one of the few speed bumps in the film. The abrupt transition into the new setting is perhaps meant to emphasize how out of place Milkha feels in a foreign country, but it just feels clunky. A country-western style dance number in an Aussie bar is awkward, and the song isn’t very good either. It could’ve been cut from the film without being missed.

Other scenes that could’ve been cut feature a beautiful Indian Olympic swimmer named Perizaad (Meesha Shafi). While her role in Milkha’s real life may have been important, scenes of her flirting with Milkha don’t move the story forward.

Apart from a few unnecessary scenes, the film earns its 188 minute runtime. Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra paces the story well and includes some clever shots to pack in as much information as possible. For example, a closeup of a hand holding a stopwatch occupies the right half of the screen, while Milkha breaks through the finish line again and again. Each time, the stopwatch shows Milkha’s time improving.

Of course, the Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is nothing without Akhtar, and he is spectacular. His physical transformation is impressive, but more so is the way he adapts Milkha depending on the situation. He gives a complete picture of Milkha in his various roles: little brother, lover, soldier, champion. It’s a joy to watch.

By following some of the typical structure of sports movies, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is easily accessible to any audience, regardless of whether one has previously heard of Milkha Singh before or not. Here’s hoping international audiences give this film a chance. Milkha Singh is someone worth knowing.

Links

Movie Review: Special 26 (2013)

Special_Chabbis_movie_poster3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

If the movies have taught us anything about being a professional thief, it’s to never openly declare that you’re going to retire after “one last job.” This final job is always more risky and complicated than any previous job, and your odds of getting caught are much higher than normal. Better to take your present pilfered earnings, move to Aruba, and spend the rest of your life on the beach.

Of course, the main characters of Special 26 (also written as Special Chabbis) fail to heed the lesson of countless movie thieves before them and find themselves on the verge of retirement with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) breathing down their necks. They may be foolish, but their exploits make for an entertaining film.

Ajay (Akshay Kumar) leads a group of three other robbers — Sharma (Anupam Kher), Joginder (Rajesh Sharma), and Iqbal (Kishor Kadam) — who pose as government officials to raid the homes of corrupt politicians and businessmen. Their victims are more worried about bad publicity should news of their corruption be made public, so they never report the theft of their ill-gotten gains to the police.

Early in the film, a raid on a minister’s house is inadvertently aided by the local police, fooled into thinking that Ajay and his crew are CBI investigators. Two of the police officers — Ranveer (Jimmy Shergill) and Shanti (Divya Dutta) — are fired for their part in the debacle. In order to clear his name, Ranveer gathers evidence on Ajay’s crew and turns it into the real CBI, where he works with CBI officer Waseem (Manoj Bajpai) to foil Ajay’s “one last job.”

The story, set in 1987, is based on a real-life heist. The film has cool period flavor in everything from the costumes to the musical score. Even the movie’s lone chase scene eschews modern CGI in favor of a low-tech footrace, which is plenty exciting without special effects. The film’s runtime could’ve been shortened a bit, but it’s never boring.

What really makes the movie is uniformly great acting by the whole cast. It’s nice to see Kumar drop the wacky comedy-action routine in favor of a more muted performance. Ajay doesn’t have the depth of some of the other characters, but Kumar plays him as a confident leader.

While one just expects greatness from Anupam Kher, it is still fun to watch him work. He’s terrific as Sharma, the nervous Nellie of the bunch. He projects confidence while posing as an investigator, but shrinks with worry when he’s alone with Ajay. Even the hair at his temples gets in on the act: slick and orderly while on the job, messy and pointing in all directions when he’s at home.

Rajesh Sharma and Kishor Kadam are solid as the other members of the crew, but I wish their characters would’ve been fleshed out. Same for the two female characters in the film, Shanti, and Ajay’s love interest, Priya (Kajal Agarwal). Jimmy Shergill has the most substantial supporting role as Ranveer, and he’s tremendous.

The best performance of the lot is by Manoj Bajpai. As with Kher, this isn’t a surprise, but Bajpai is more interesting to watch than just about any other actor. I would happily watch a film that was nothing but three hours of Manoj Bajpai walking toward the camera with an intense look on his face. There’s a lot of that in Special 26, so I was in heaven.

Links

Movie Review: Dangerous Ishhq (2012)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Dangerous Ishhq (“Dangerous Love”) looks like a good movie, but visually pleasing sets and costumes can’t make up for poor performances.

Karisma Kapoor returns from a nine-year acting hiatus to play Sanjana, a supermodel preparing to move to Paris. She cancels her trip when she senses that something bad is going to befall her boyfriend, Rohan (Rajneesh Duggal). Her premonition proves correct when Rohan is kidnapped the next day.

Sanjana, who suffers a concussion during the kidnapping, wakes up in the hospital. She sees Rohan laying on the floor in the hallway suffering from a stab wound to the abdomen, only Rohan appears to be wearing a wig and insists on calling her “Gita.” When a horde of torch-wielding villagers storm the hospital — then promptly disappear — Sanjana knows something strange is going on.

Neetu (Divya Dutta), a mutual friend of the couple and a doctor at the hospital, doesn’t attribute Sanjana’s hallucination to her serious head injury or the shock of the kidnapping. Dr. Neetu suggests that Sanjana is probably seeing visions from her past lives. A hypnotist who specializes in past-life regression assures Sanjana, “Modern psychiatrists have accepted reincarnation.” (No, they haven’t.)

A hypnotized Sanjana sees a vision of the Rohan she saw in the hospital. His name is Iqbal, and Sanjana’s is, of course, Gita. Neetu’s even there, as Gita’s sister, Chanda. Sanjana uses the information from her past-life regression to inform/muck up the investigation into Rohan’s kidnapping, lead by Detective Singh (Jimmy Shergill).

As she regresses further back through two other previous lives, Sanjana realizes how events from the past have shaped the present, fueled by a grudge hundreds of years old.

While I don’t believe in reincarnation and past-life regression, I don’t mind it as a storytelling device. However, the rules of reincarnation need to be applied consistently. Divya Dutta is present in three of the past lives, but not the fourth, when her role is usurped by actress Gracy Singh. Rohan’s brother plays an important part in one past life, but not the others. The rules change depending on the needs of the plot.

The past life gimmick allows the movie to utilize some cool sets and gorgeous costumes. Kapoor is decked out in everything from modern platform heels, to the garb of a village girl in 1947, to courtly attire from the 16th century. The temple and palace settings are beautiful, showcased by top-notch cinematography.

Still, great visuals and an intriguing storytelling device are overshadowed by lousy acting. Jimmy Shergill seems disinterested. Divya Dutta is good, but she isn’t given enough to do.

Rajneesh Duggal is in a tough position, because Rohan spends so much time kidnapped and off-screen. It’s hard to be concerned about him when we don’t know anything about him. The movie doesn’t bother to explain the motive for Rohan’s kidnapping in the modern day, or even what his job is. When we do see Rohan or his other incarnations, he bears a kindly but bland expression on his face.

Ultimately, the burden of carrying Dangerous Ishhq falls on Karisma Kapoor, who is clearly rusty after her hiatus. She gets better as the film goes on, but the early image of her emotionless good-bye scene with Rohan as Sanjana prepares to leave for Paris lingers. Even in  the film’s final scene, the tears roll down Kapoor’s cheeks, but there’s no emotion in her eyes.

Links

Movie Review: Hisss (2010)

1 Star (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

When a director disowns a movie she spent months filming, you know the finished product must really stink. That’s exactly what American director Jennifer Lynch did, following the release of the Hindi film Hisss.

Lynch claims that producers wrested control of the film away from her during the editing process, ultimately creating a movie that little resembles her vision for the project. The filmmaking process was so trying that a documentary about Lynch’s experience called Despite the Gods is currently making the festival circuit. Now that’s a movie I want to see.

Hisss is ultimately a good-looking version of the type of schlocky, low-budget monster movies regularly shown on the Syfy channel. Compared to any other films, it’s a mess.

It’s not just a mess; it’s messy. By Bollywood standards, Hisss is incredibly gory. Also, compared to standard Bollywood fare, there’s a lot of nudity and explicit sexuality (although a scene showing Mallika Sherawat humping a ten-foot-long snake puppet would be unusual in any type of film).

Hisss’s (not often I get to use the same letter four times consecutively!) premise is that an American man named George (Jeff Douchette) must prevent his death from brain cancer by stealing the immortal essence of a snake goddess, or nagin. In order to lure the nagin, he captures her male cobra mate, played by the aforementioned snake puppet.

The nagin assumes the human form of Mallika Sherawat in order to search for her stolen mate. While in the guise of a seductive and frequently naked woman, the nagin seizes the opportunity to murder some male human rapists and abusers in gruesome fashion. All that’s left of one of her victims are his undigested bones, cellphone, and Pamela Anderson t-shirt.

The strange deaths are investigated by Vinkram (Irrfan Khan), a detective dealing with his wife’s recent miscarriage and a mentally ill mother-in-law. Vinkram’s wife, Maya (Divya Dutta), assists her husband when a lovely, mute, naked woman — the nagin — is brought to the police station. Maya’s ill mother is the only one who sees a connection between the woman and the deaths.

Dutta and Irrfan bear no responsibility for the movie’s failures. Both are solid in the movie’s only compelling storyline, as they cope with the possibility of never becoming parents. Scenes involving Maya’s childlike mother are sometimes awkward but reinforce that Maya and Vinkram are good people.

The other storylines aren’t nearly as interesting. It’s hard to get invested in the nagin’s journey, since she never speaks, and the closest she ever gets any kind of meaningful character development is when she’s molting. The nagin is less of a tortured-soul type of monster like Dr. Jekyll or the wolfman than she is a killing machine. She’s Jaws with a taste for misogynists.

Few acting demands are placed upon Sherawat beyond occasional bouts of wordless howling. Half-naked writhing is her main contribution to the film, and she does an admirable job of it. Her character is just too undeveloped to garner sympathy.

Least sympathetic of all is George. Most of his dull scenes are filmed in a windowless underground room where he electrocutes the snake puppet as part of his plan to attract the nagin. George periodically surfaces to abuse and murder his Indian assistants, who should realize that whatever money he’s offering isn’t worth the risk of being shot by George or eaten by a giant snake.

Given the scenes that made it in to the final cut of Hisss, I’m not sure that Lynch’s version would’ve been a masterpiece. Still, I would’ve liked to have seen it. Regardless, Despite the Gods is bound to be more entertaining than the film that spawned it.

Links