Tag Archives: Drona

The Crisis of Faith in A Flying Jatt

There are a lot of interesting moral lessons under the glossy, colorful surface of A Flying Jatt. One aspect that has stuck with me since watching the fun superhero movie is how the film portrays the main character’s struggle with his religious faith.

The religiosity of characters is underplayed in Hollywood films in general, but it’s especially absent from the backstories of Hollywood superheroes. Their powers come from science (Spider-man) or space (Superman) or magic (Doctor Strange). Rarely are their powers divine in origin, with perhaps the exception of Thor.

In contrast, all of India’s celluloid superheroes — few as they are — have ties to the divine (I confess, I don’t remember Drona‘s origin story). Krrish‘s powers came from an alien, but the hero’s name is a derivation of Krishna. The villain in Ra.One is a creation of science (as is the hero, G.One), but his name is a play on the demon Ravana. Their stories are explicitly related to Hinduism.

A Flying Jatt is even more overtly religious than the Krrish films or Ra.One in that the hero’s powers are divine in origin. When threatened by an evil industrialist (played by Kay Kay Menon, also the villain in Drona) who wants to tear down a tree that bears a Sikh Khanda symbol, Aman (Tiger Shroff) prays to the tree for help. In a subsequent fight with the industrialist’s goon (played by Nathan Jones), Aman is slammed against the tree. A light shines, and the Khanda symbol is branded onto Aman’s flesh. Then lightning strikes, imbuing Aman with superpowers and launching his foe far enough away to give Aman time to master his new abilities before a climactic showdown.

What’s significant about Aman’s story arc is that, before the miracle at the tree, Aman doesn’t identify as religious (to the chagrin of his pious mother). He keeps his hair short and his face shaved, and he refuses to wear a turban. He eschews all the outward signs of his family’s Sikh faith.

When the industrialist first comes calling, the families who live in Aman’s neighborhood head to the tree to pray. Fearful Aman would rather sell the land — tree and all — to avoid a fight. He only prays at the tree as a last resort, when he’s out of ideas as to how to protect himself and his mother.

Even when Aman finally understands what has happened to him, he still hesitates to embrace his faith. His mother begs him to wear the turban that belonged to his father, himself a brave, pious man. Aman refuses, saying that he will only wear it when he feels that he can do so whole-heartedly. His skills and resolve are tested along with his faith, and only before the final battle does he choose to wear his father’s turban and the beginnings of a beard.

Aman’s doubt is important because rarely do we see any Hindi film characters at all questioning their belief in the divine. Religion is a part of virtually every Hindi film, especially since the lines separating culture and religion in India are blurry to non-existent. A character’s faith gives him context, defining his relationships to other characters and his place in the community. Thus, it’s a foregone conclusion that most characters in Hindi films are religious.

In a terrific article about Indian superheroes, Sankhayan Ghosh paraphrases mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik, who believes that “there is no place for angst” in the Indian idea of heroism. To have a Bollywood character with superpowers doubt not only himself but his belief in God is a big deal.

The thing about faith in the divine is that it requires belief in the absence of physical proof (unless you are Paresh Rawal’s character in OMG: Oh My God, who meets God in person). But even with the physical proof of a Khanda branded on his back and an array of superpowers at his disposal, Aman still hesitates. Like everyone else, his belief has to generate from within.

It’s a thoughtful message, and it relates to another theme in A Flying Jatt. Aman’s brother (played by Gaurav Pandey) tells Aman that the real heroes are those who fight injustice without the aid of superpowers. Aman’s crisis of faith extends that idea further, letting the audience know that it’s okay for normal people to have their doubts about God. If a guy who has been literally touched by the divine can be unsure, how much harder must it be for those with no concrete proof?

Too often, Bollywood heroes are shown as being infallible and above moral judgment. Ajay Devgn’s Bajirao Singham is allowed to break the rules of a democracy because he’s supposedly an instrument of divine justice — a mortal man who can fix all of society’s problems in whatever way he sees fit, no matter the collateral damage (this was especially a problem in Singham Returns). A Flying Jatt‘s Aman isn’t like that. He’s a protector, not an executioner. It’s refreshing to see a relatable Bollywood hero who appeals to the better angels of our nature rather than our base thirst for vengeance.

In Theaters April 16, 2010

There’s only one Bollywood movie playing in the Chicago area this weekend. Action flick Prince carries over for a second week at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and AMC Cantera 30 in Warrenville.

I’m a bit surprised that Eros Entertainment’s Paathshaala, starring Shahid Kapoor, isn’t opening in Chicago. The IPL cricket tournament has stalled movie releases internationally as well as in India. There’s a chance Chicago won’t get a new Hindi film until the star-studded Housefull releases on April 30.

Other Indian movies showing around Chicagoland the weekend beginning Friday, April 16 include In Ghost House Inn: Harihar Nagar 3 (Malayalam), Prasthanam (Telugu) and Varudu (Telugu) at the Golf Glen 5, which continues to show IPL matches on weekend mornings. Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove is showing two Malayalam movies, Drona and My Big Father.

Movie Review: Prince (2010)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

2008’s Drona aspired to be an original, inspirational Indian superhero movie, but failed to reach its potential. Prince, while derivative of Western superhero movies, succeeds as a fun action flick sure to spawn a sequel.

Prince (Vivek Oberoi) is an anti-hero who makes James Bond look like a slacker. Prince is the world’s greatest thief, capable of pulling off outrageous international heists while avoiding capture. He has an arsenal of high-tech gadgets. He’s unbeatable in a fight. Women love him. And, to top it all off, he can dance.

The morning after a job, Prince wakes up to find a butler he doesn’t recognize tending to a mysterious bullet wound on his arm. He can’t remember anything about his life, not even his own name.

Prince is kidnapped by a secret Indian government agency operating covertly in South Africa. The agency leader, Colonel Khanna (Dalip Tahil), explains that Prince lost his memory while stealing a valuable antique coin. Of course, Prince doesn’t remember where he hid the coin.

His girlfriend and criminal partner, Maya, offers to help him. Prince doesn’t recognize Maya but accepts her help. Things get confusing when two other women show up, also claiming to be Maya.

Everyone Prince meets gives him conflicting information about why the missing coin is so special. Is it a tool to entrap a master criminal named Sarang? A magical artifact? A nano-weapon? The only way for Prince to learn the truth and recover his memory is to find the coin.

Prince works because it is self-aware. Hanging inside Prince’s “batcave” of gadgets and costumes are posters of Batman, Spider-man and Iron Man, American superheroes whose movies obviously inspired Prince.

The film is an improvement on one of producer Kumar Taurani’s previous efforts, Race. While Taurani hasn’t lost his love of preposterous explosions that make vehicles flip in midair, Prince‘s lead characters are more appealing that the jerks in Race.

When writing the inevitable sequels to Prince, there are a few flaws from the original that the filmmakers would be wise not to repeat. First are the disappointingly slow chase scenes. If terrain is too bumpy for jeeps and mopeds to operate at high speeds, shoot the scene in a different location.

Second is the woeful misuse of a shark tank. There is but one use for sharks in movies: eating people. That no one falls in the shark tank during a late scene is unforgivable.

Another underused prop is the villain Sarang’s bionic hand. While it looks like something out of Terminator, is doesn’t do anything apart from giving Sarang’s punches a little extra oomph. He could’ve at least, you know, crushed a guy’s throat with it or something.

Apart from a few missed opportunities for grisly deaths, Prince is a fun action movie that, while not mentally taxing, at least makes sense within the rules it sets for itself. In order to enjoy a 2 hour 15 minute Bollywood action movie, that’s often all that I require.

Opening February 26: Karthik Calling Karthik and Teen Patti

Two new Hindi movies open in Chicago area theaters on Friday, February 26, 2010. Karthik Calling Karthik stars Farhan Akhtar as the shy title character who secretly loves his coworker, Shonali (Deepika Padukone). Their lives change when Karthik gets a phone call from a man also claiming to be Karthik.

I’m not sure what to expect from KCK. The official description makes it sound like a romantic comedy, while the trailer makes it look like a thriller. But Akhtar and Padukone are my two favorite actors, so I trust them to make a compelling movie.

The other movie opening this weekend is Teen Patti. The thriller stars Amitabh Bachchan, R. Madhavan and Ben Kingsley as mathematicians who find a way to win at teen patti (a card game similar to poker) and recruit some college students to help them test their equation in casinos. The premise sounds similar to that of the 2008 Hollywood film 21.

Both films are showing at two suburban Chicago theaters this weekend: AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and AMC Cantera 30 in Warrenville.

The South Barrington 30 and Cantera 30 are carrying over My Name Is Khan for a third week, which continues showing at AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago and Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles as well. MNIK earned over $700,000 in its second week in U.S. theaters, bringing its total earnings to $3,253,168 so far.

3 Idiots leaves U.S. theaters after 9 weeks, having earned $6,523,103.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Drona (Malayalam — not Abhishek Bachchan’s Drona), Leader (Telugu), and Vinnai Thaandi Varuvayaa (Tamil) and Ye Maya Chesave (Telugu), which are the same movie filmed at the same time, only in different languages and with different actors in key roles. Both VTV and YMC feature music by A. R. Rahman.

Worst Bollywood Movies of 2008

There were plenty of movies in contention for the title of “Worst Bollywood Film of 2008.” Recent lousy offerings like Ghajini, Karzzzz, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! and Yuvvraaj threatened to overshadow crummy films from earlier in the year like Krazzy 4, Roadside Romeo and Summer 2007.

I decided to select the absolute worst movie of the year from films that I awarded zero stars when I reviewed them. Abhishek Bachchan starred in two of those movies: Sarkar Raj and Drona. I was tempted to give the dubious honor to Love Story 2050, if only because it suggested that we’ll all still be playing the Xbox 360 forty years from now.

But the worst movie of the year had to be the one that was most painful to watch, the one that wasn’t bad in a funny way (like Sarkar Raj, Drona and Love Story 2050), but was just bad. Based on those criteria, the Worst Bollywood Film of 2008 is Golmaal Returns. No other movie approached its level of immaturity and ineptitude. Everything about it was annoying, and if I hadn’t been reviewing it, I would’ve walked out of the theater after thirty minutes.

Congratulations, Golmaal Returns. May you never return again.

Movie Review: Drona (2008)

Zero Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

I’d been looking forward to Drona more than any other Hindi film scheduled for release this year. I am a fantasy and superhero film junkie. Maybe that’s why I found Drona so disappointing.

First-time director Goldie Behl took elements from popular Western fantasy flicks and tossed them into a film with a flimsy narrative, without understanding why films like The Fellowship of the Ring and The Matrix were so successful.

Drona begins with an orphaned boy named Adi living as the ward of a strict stepmother who dotes on her biological son. It’s essentially the same opening as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Fast forward to Adi as a young man, working in his stepmother’s shop and covering for his incompetent stepbrother. It’s not clear exactly how old Adi is supposed to be, but I’m sure he’s not supposed to be 32, as is Abhishek Bachchan, the actor who plays him.

Strange things start to happen when a cheesy magician named Riz Raizada (Kay Kay Menon) comes to town. See, Riz isn’t just a half-rate prestidigitator with a fauxhawk. He’s also a demon. He sends his black-cloaked henchman (a la The Black Riders in Fellowship) after Adi.

Adi is saved by Sonia (Priyanka Chopra), a mystical ninja chick wearing an unflattering pirate bandanna and boots that look like garbage bags wrapped in caution tape.

Turns out, Adi is the heir in long line of heroes, called Drona, whose duty it is to protect the Nectar of Immortality from demons like Riz Raizada. It’s not clear on whose behalf the Drona protect the Nectar of Immortality. If it could save him from dying at the hands of a demon (as has apparently happened to all previous Drona) why doesn’t Adi just drink the stuff himself?

Instead, Adi seeks out the location of the Nectar of Immortality in order to protect it from Raizada, completing tasks along the way. After each task — each of which is supposedly the last thing he needs to do before finding the Nectar — he learns that there’s just one more thing he’s gotta do first.

Raizada, like any villain worth his salt, simply lets Adi lead him to the treasure.

Nothing about the plot is particularly original, but most fantasy films owe their plots to something that came before. The problem is that the world Adi is asked to step into as Drona doesn’t feel complete, nor do its problems feel imminent or even all that dangerous: two factors that made The Matrix so engaging.

The alternate dimension in which the Nectar exists includes the requisite magical dwarf and invisible staircase — but it also has locomotives. Adi inherits the Drona costume worn by his father, and presumably all of the Dronas throughout time — and yet the boots have zippers. Time and again, Behl fails to consistently integrate technology into his magical world.

It’s not even clear what danger an immortal Raizada poses to the world, apart from an eternity of his crappy magic shows. Sure, Riz has henchmen who beat up a few people, and he’s got some creepy marionettes who stabbed a guy on his command, but the magician doesn’t have a grand evil plan.

Such plot incongruities could be forgiven if we actually cared about the characters. I didn’t. Chopra’s character shows up out of nowhere, because, apparently, as there is a line of Dronas, there is also a line of sidekicks.

Adi fails to inspire as a hero. He never does anything to earn our respect or prove that he deserves the powers he’s inherited. It’s not even clear what his powers are, except that he seems periodically able to punch stuff very hard.

I admire Goldie Behl’s goal of giving Indian children a hero to look up to, played by a familiar actor who speaks their language, instead of superheroes imported from America. But Drona won’t cut it.