Tag Archives: Esha Gupta

Movie Review: Baadshaho (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

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Baadshaho (“Kings“) — the latest collaboration between director Milan Luthria and writer Rajat Arora — is a disaster. It’s like they forgot what story they were telling as the movie went on.

In Rajasthan in 1975, a slimy politician named Sanjeev (Priyanshu Chatterjee) uses the federally declared “state of emergency” as a pretext to loot the ancestral wealth of Rani Gitanjali (Ileana D’Cruz) in retaliation for her rebuffing his sexual advances years earlier. Sanjeev sends the army — led by an officer played by Denzil Smith — to retrieve a treasure trove of gold from Gitanjali’s estate, arresting her on pretext of hiding it from the government.

It’s worth noting for the sake of international viewers that the role and duties of royal families like Gitanjali’s isn’t explained, nor is the government’s claim over ancestral wealth. The details of the “state of emergency” aren’t explained either, so it’s not totally clear why the story had to be set in the 1970s. Then again, the costumes and sets are so generic that the only clue that the story isn’t set in modern times is that no one has cell phones.

From inside prison, Gitanjali reconnects with her former security guard and lover, Bhawani (Ajay Devgn), who takes seriously his vow to always protect her. She tasks him not with rescuing her from jail but with making sure that her fortune never makes it to Sanjeev in Delhi. Bhawani assembles a team that includes a safecracker named Tikla (Sanjay Mishra), a woman with an unknown debt to Gitanjali, Sanjana (Esha Gupta), and Dalia (Emraan Hashmi), whose contribution to the group is tacky temporary tattoos and repetitive stories. Bhawani and Dalia trade unfunny quips that perhaps didn’t survive the translation from Hindi to English.

The army’s plan is to drive the gold eight hours to Delhi in an armored truck that looks like a bank vault on wheels, with multiple combination locks right on the back door — a design that renders the plan’s covert nature moot. The supposedly high-tech truck — which can be “tracked by radio” — includes a bright red button that can be pushed in the event of an emergency, turning the truck into an impenetrable bunker for the span of six hours. Obviously, this button plays a huge part in the story, right? One of the thieves gets trapped inside and needs to be rescued or something? Nope. No one ever pushes the button.

Driving the truck is Officer Seher, played by buff Vidyut Jammwal. Jammwal’s character in Commando 2 was introduced with a closeup of the actor’s bicep. Upping the ante, Baadshaho introduces Seher in a train cabin wearing nothing but his underwear.

Because the plan is so straightforward — there’s literally one paved road in the region that can handle the weight of such a heavy truck — obstacles and subplots are manufactured in order to make the movie run longer than an hour. Seher waits four days before setting off for Delhi, conveniently giving the thieves time to plan. Sanjana is grossed out by Dalia one scene, only to fall in love with him in the next scene for no reason.

One of the main reasons to cast Jammwal is to take advantage of his athleticism and martial arts skills. All we get in Baadshaho is a chase scene in which Jammwal runs at about sixty-percent speed so as to not immediately overtake Hashmi. Fight scenes are poorly executed, with actors falling from punches thrown nowhere near them. Bad editing obscures the action, which is often just shots of the actors’ bodies blocking views of the fight. Jammwal’s performance is still the best thing about Baadshaho, but we don’t get to see enough of him doing his signature stunts.

Worst of all is the film’s ending. Without spoiling any specifics, the movie’s climactic fight suddenly stops. The survivors — now in an entirely different location — express relief that the fight is over. Credits roll. What happened to everyone else?! Who lives? Who dies? Is justice done, and for whom?

It’s not even just that things end suddenly. Luthria and Arora don’t bother to resolve the film’s inciting incidents. It’s as though they lost track of the plot threads and forgot who the bad guys are. Beyond being unsatisfying, it’s simply bizarre. Without any kind of meaningful conclusion, Baadshaho is a total waste.

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Movie Review: Commando 2 (2017)

commando23 Stars (out of 4)

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Commando 2: The Black Money Trail is absolutely bonkers. If one is willing to accept the movie on its own terms, it’s a helluva fun and goofy ride.

Part of making peace with Commando 2 is accepting that it is not Commando: A One Man Army. While that movie had some quirks as well, its narrative was a straightforward story of two lovers on the run. The threats to the lovers were immediate and directed by a single villain, while the danger in Commando 2 is borne out of distrust for India’s political system.

Carrying over from the first movie to the second is the commando himself, Karan (Vidyut Jammwal). No mention is made of his love interest from the original film, Simrit (Pooja Chopra), so I guess they broke up.

Karan now works for some elite secretive unit of the government, tracking money launderers overseas and killing them in encounters. He makes sure to have one of his sidekicks shoot him and plant the gun on the bad guy’s body, so as to not get tied up in court on suspicion of extrajudicial killings. Due process does not exist in Commando 2.

Following a scene of some shady dealings in Taiwan, Karan gets the most perfect introduction imaginable. Our first glimpse of him is a closeup of Jammwal’s bulging bicep. Director Deven Bhojani knows that his film’s greatest asset is Jammwal’s heavily muscled body and the wondrous things it can do, usually some combination of running, jumping, kicking, and punching. Karan’s solo assault on a Taiwan high-rise is a great way to start the movie.

(While Commando 2‘s camera spends a lot of time lingering on Jammwal’s chiseled bod, let’s take a moment to appreciate how impossibly handsome he is, as well. I found it very upsetting whenever the bad guys punched him in his perfect face.)

As soon as Karan recovers from his bullet wounds, his boss (played by Adil Hussain) tasks him with bringing to justice the most notorious money launderer of all: Vicky Chaddha (Vansh Bhardwaj), who was recently apprehended in Malaysia with his wife, Maria (Esha Gupta).

However, Chaddha has so much dirt on India’s rich and powerful that the whole government could be brought down if he names names. Delhi’s Home Minister (Shefali Shah) assembles a team of morally flexible police officers to bring Vicky and Maria back to India and recover the laundered funds, before quietly dispatching the married couple. Karan weasels his way onto the team, which consists of brutal lead officer Bakhtawar (Freddy Daruwala), obligatory computer hacker Zafar (Sumit Gulati), and vain gun-for-hire Bhavana (Adah Sharma).

Materialistic Bhavana’s broadly humorous character feels out-of-step with the movie’s tone until one realizes that her entrance signals a shift from fairly serious to absolute mayhem. There are twists upon twists as Karan and the bad guys both claim to know that the other side knows what they have planned, thus necessitating a whole new plan to throw the other side for a loop. The story was clearly written starting at the end and working backward, so trying to make sense of it while it unfolds is a recipe for a headache.

Once one accepts these new conditions, one is free to enjoy Commando 2 in all its silliness. Not only is Karan an unrivaled martial artist, he’s a tech wizard, too. In a “high-tech forensic lab,” he analyzes the audio from a security camera video and concludes: “That means that the church is on the banks of a river, and there’s a bird sanctuary nearby.”

Since Karan is part of a team, he has to share some of the fighting duties with Bakhtawar and Bhavana, who acquit themselves well. There’s a cleverly choreographed scene in which Karan and Bhavana beat up a gang of assassins, he with a lead pipe and she with an iron chain. Never mind that the fight takes place in an airplane graveyard situated immediately next to a glamorous shopping mall, or that they are fighting a bunch of white ninjas on stilts.

As tough as he is, Karan does have a weakness for women. He gets all googly-eyed when Maria saunters into the room in a catsuit, one of the many sublimely-tailored outfits she wears that leave not an inch of fabric to spare.

Such a weakness is a nice addition to Karan’s character, humanizing him and giving Jammwal license to have a bit of fun. His incredible stunts would be enough, but Jammwal is too good of an actor to limit him in such fashion. Gupta is always terrific as the bombshell, and even Sharma is likable in spite of her character’s chatterbox tendencies.

Commando 2 isn’t as great as the first Commando, but it’s still really darned entertaining. I enjoyed watching it and would watch it again. That’s more than enough for me to recommend it.

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Movie Review: Rustom (2016)

Rustom3 Stars (out of 4)

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An open-and-shut murder case turns out to be anything but in Rustom, a movie based on a real-life case from 1959. Period costumes and decor give this drama a stylish flair.

The title character Rustom Pavri (Akshay Kumar) is a decorated Navy officer. His ship returns to Mumbai — then Bombay — ahead of schedule, causing him to catch his wife Cynthia (Ileana D’Cruz) in an extramarital affair with their mutual friend, Vikram (Arjan Bajwa).

Rustom returns to his ship to check a gun and ammunition out of the munitions cabinet, logging the withdrawal with the duty officer. He heads to Vikram’s mansion where he shoots the wealthy playboy to death, then turns himself into the police.

Chief Police Inspector Vincent Lobo (Pawan Malhotra) is immediately suspicious of Rustom’s calm demeanor, his refusal to be housed in a Navy jail, and his insistence on representing himself at trial. To Vikram’s bereaved sister, Priti (Esha Gupta), Rustom’s actions feed her hopes of an easy victory in court.

But Rustom has a few things working in his favor. Erach (Kumud Mishra) — a publisher from the same Parsi community as Rustom — uses his newspaper to run stories painting the officer in a favorable light, driving sales and tainting the jury pool at the same time. Erach’s contentious relationship with the trial judge (Anang Desai) provides the film’s comic relief.

Also on Rustom’s side is public sentimentality toward soldiers, a bias that Rustom himself exploits. When representing himself at trial, Rustom casually responds to the prosecutor’s (Sachin Khedekar) complaint about the symbolic impact of the officer’s uniform by saying that wearing his uniform is one of his unchangeable habits, just like breathing or defending his country.

Director Tinu Suresh Desai shows the power of the uniform in an early scene whose significance is easy to miss. Fresh off his ship, Rustom stops to buy some flowers for Cynthia from a street vendor. Just in the background, a pair of young women stare dreamily at Rustom, likely envisioning themselves the lucky recipients of a bouquet from a handsome man in uniform someday.

Writer Vipul K. Rawal draws from the way the jury was influenced in the real case of Officer K. M. Nanavati to make observations about the way blind veneration of the military can lead society to overlook the shortcomings of both individual officers and larger institutions. His story is critical, but not cynical.

Probably the biggest selling point for Rustom is its visual appeal. Costume designer Ameira Punvani showcases a stunning array of attire, adding ostentatious touches to the wardrobes of the wealthy siblings, Vikram and Priti. There are also loads of classic cars and furniture pieces to drool over among the set dressings.

Completing the period aesthetic is the cast, smartly assembled by Shruti Mahajan. Malhotra looks like he was plucked straight from a mid-century detectives catalog. Bajwa was born to play a rich, 1950s Lothario. The way he leers at Cynthia is positively nauseating, and I mean that as a compliment.

Gupta suits the film perfectly as well, poured into her glamorous cocktail attire, haughty expression permanently in place. I wish there were more to her character, but one can’t fault Priti’s single-minded drive to bring her brother’s killer to justice.

By necessity, Rustom has to play his cards close to the vest, so this isn’t one of Kumar’s flashier roles. Still, he fills Rustom with enough charm and intelligence to keep both the audience and the other characters guessing about his endgame.

D’Cruz gets to show the most emotional range as Cynthia, a woman overwhelmed by guilt and loneliness. There’s more to the story than she realizes, leaving her to suffer from a mistake that may or may not be entirely her fault. D’Cruz does a fine job containing Cynthia’s inner torment behind a brave public face.

Rustom is an entertaining movie, its vibrant style counting for a lot, given the relative dearth of period films in Bollywood. It’s also patriotic without being blindly so. Overall, it’s worth a watch.

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Movie Review: Humshakals (2014)

Humshakals_poster0 Stars (out of 4)

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How does a filmmaker who goes out of his way to set a low bar for himself still fail to make a movie that’s even slightly funny or appropriate? Director Sajid Khan achieves that feat with Humshakals (“Lookalikes“), his worst film yet in a career full of horrible films.

Khan opens Humshakals with an allegedly humorous director’s note about having forgotten something important a wise man once told him. Then he introduces his main character, Ashok (Saif Ali Khan), a millionaire moonlighting as a terrible standup comedian. Later, Ashok and his best friend, Kumar (Riteish Deshmukh), are tortured by being forced to watch Khan’s awful 2013 film Himmatwala.

Ashok’s bad jokes are pertinent because they set up a theme that runs through all of Khan’s movies: a lack of respect for women. Even if Khan doesn’t personally feel that way, he panders to the segment of the audience that does.

Ashok’s jokes are straight out of my 8-year-old nephew’s joke book, yet TV presenter Shanaya (Tamannaah Bhatia) finds them unironically hilarious. Beautiful and stupid: Khan’s ideal woman.

Shanaya’s not the only mental lightweight in the movie. Ashok and Kumar are imprisoned in a mental asylum by Ashok’s evil uncle, Mamaji (Ram Kapoor), alongside a pair of identical lookalikes, also named Ashok (Saif) and Kumar (Riteish), only the lookalikes have the mental capacity of children.

In yet another knock against women, the asylum’s psychologist, Dr. Shivani (Esha Gupta), falls instantly in love with Stupid Ashok when he tells her she’s pretty. Shivani — a doctor — is so insecure and desperate to have her physical appearance validated that she agrees to marry the first man who compliments her, even if he has the intellectual capacity of a grade schooler.

At least twice more Khan asserts the belief that a woman’s most important quality is her appearance. Shivani, Shanaya, and Mishti (Bipasha Basu) — a doctor, a TV presenter, and Rich Ashok’s estate manager — save the day by baring their midriffs and performing a racy dance number.

The worst is what happens when hefty Mamaji’s lookalike, Johnny (Ram), dresses in drag to help Rich Ashok and Rich Kumar. As soon as Johnny appears on screen in a dress and wig, the soundtrack is punctuated with elephant sound effects. Not when Johnny is dressed as a man of exactly the same proportions, only when he’s pretending to be a woman.

When a woman’s only value is how sexually appealing she is to straight men, there’s no greater character flaw than being overweight or unattractive. It’s such an egregious flaw that it deserves ridicule, even though an overweight man does not.

Khan really, really likes to poke fun at people he thinks are abnormal. Jokes are made at the expense of overweight women, little people, gays, Koreans, and especially the mentally ill. Everyone in the movie with a mental illness is also portrayed as being intellectually deficient.

Know who else Khan thinks are hilarious? Nazis. The asylum’s warden (played by Satish Shah) wears an SS uniform and prays to a photo of Adolf Hitler. He gives a “Heil Hitler” salute and threatens to send Ashok and Kumar to the “gas chamber.” Because there’s nothing funnier than genocide.

In addition to lacking empathy or an appropriate sense of humor, Khan is also a thief. Stupid Ashok mistakes a model of an orphanage for an “orphanage for ants,” a joke lifted from 2001’s Zoolander (I’ve included a video of the original below). Khan stole a joke from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles for Himmatwala, so this is a pattern.

On top of all these offenses, Humshakals just plain sucks. Shots are out of focus. The plot moves at a snail’s pace. The songs are soulless. The choreography is lazy. The acting is bad, even though Ram Kapoor tries to humanize his characters.

With this track record of misogyny, intellectual property theft, and general disrespect for large segments of the global community, it’s time for actors to question whether appearing in a Sajid Khan film is worth the paycheck. I hope that the actors in Humshakals didn’t realize how offensive the movie was as they were making it (although Saif and Riteish should’ve known better when asked to prance around as a pair of gay stereotypes). I’m trying not let this piece of garbage tarnish my respect for them as performers, but it’s difficult.

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Movie Review: Jannat 2 (2012)

jannat22.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Jannat 2 is another Bollywood non-sequel sequel. Emraan Hashmi returns to play a different character than the one he played in 2008’s Jannat (“Heaven”), and neither of the storylines intersects in any way. With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jannat 2 is not entirely successful.

This time, Hashmi plays Sonu, a low-level gun dealer eager to leave his life of crime after he meets a beautiful doctor named Jaanvi (Esha Gupta). But Sonu is hounded by Pratap (Randeep Hooda), a detective determined to end the Delhi gun trade for good. Pratap blackmails Sonu into helping him track down Mangal Singh Tomar (Manish Chaudhary), the head of the illegal gun manufacturing business. Pratap promises to set Sonu free once Mangal is behind bars, assuming that Sonu survives.

Hashmi and Hooda are skilled at playing unsavory heroes, and they give strong performances in Jannat 2. Hashmi is effective at conveying the desperation of Sonu’s situation: twitchy and frantic while deceiving Mangal as Pratap’s informant, wide-eyed and hopeful when he’s with Jaanvi.

Hooda likewise plays Pratap as a man who’s barely holding things together, but driven by a mission. Pratap is cool and composed when he’s intimidating Sonu, but he privately turns to alcohol to dull the memories of his wife’s murder. Only his sidekick, Dadda (Brijendra Kala), really understands the amount of pain Pratap is in, and Kala imbues Dadda with much sadness and sympathy.

Sonu has a sidekick of his own, Balli (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), who admits to being the more cowardly of the duo. He becomes more desperate throughout the movie, as he sees his friend pulling away from him and toward Jaanvi. Balli practically begs Sonu not to leave him, reminding Sonu that he will always be a crook and not the kind of stand-up guy Jaanvi deserves. Ayyub’s performance is another highlight of the film.

As much attention as Jaanvi is given as the impetus for Sonu’s change, Jannat 2 is really about the relationships between men: Sonu and Balli; Pratap and Dadda; and, most importantly, Sonu and Pratap. Jaanvi isn’t in the scene most critical to Sonu’s character growth, but Pratap is.

In fact, there’s not much for Jaanvi to do except stare blankly into the distance, looking pretty. Gupta gets a pass for failing to animate Jaanvi in her debut role, especially since the character is let down by poor writing.

For a doctor, Jaanvi is not very bright. Sonu spends the whole film lying to her that he runs a textile shop, and Jaanvi is never suspicious, despite never having actually seen his shop. The day after Sonu is released from a five-month incarceration — which he is up front about — he donates a large sum of money to Jaanvi’s hospital. Doesn’t she wonder how this guy was able to come up with so much money on short notice the day after getting out of the clink? (He earned it by selling booze illegally.) Doesn’t she wonder why he never introduces her to his family or friends, even as they discuss marriage?

A further knock against Jaanvi is that she’s mean to Sonu. When he seeks treatment for a hand wound at her hospital, she squeezes his injured hand in retaliation for getting fresh with her. She’s disdainful of him until he gives he donates his ill-gotten gains to her hospital, and then a song sequence convinces her that she’s in love. There’s no reason for Sonu to fall for a jerk like Jaanvi, apart from the fact that she’s pretty.

The writing throughout is film’s weakest aspect, beyond Jaanvi’s complete unlikability. Plot twists are predictable but not logical or inevitable. There’s no sense of the flow of time. Watch Jannat 2 for the performances by the leading men and their sidekicks, but don’t expect much from the story.

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Movie Review: Raaz 3 (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Note: This review covers the 2D version of the movie, not the 3D version.

I am not a fan of horror movies. I startle easily, and I’ve been known to walk out of the theater if a film is too intense. With that in mind, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed Raaz 3.

Despite being the third film in the horror series, Raaz 3 isn’t a true sequel. None of the characters from the previous Raaz (“Secret”) films carry over into this one, though actors Emraan Hashmi and Bipasha Basu are back for a second round.

This time, Basu plays Shanaya, a superstar actress who sees her fame being usurped by a new starlet, Sanjana (Esha Gupta). When conventional prayers don’t work, Shanaya turns to black magic to dethrone Sanjana. Shanaya enlists her boyfriend, Aditya (Emraan Hashmi), to help her carry out her evil plans.

Aditya, himself a successful director, helps out of love for Shanaya and obligation to her for furthering his movie career. He casts Sanjana in his new film as a means to poison her with an evil concoction that traps her soul in the spirit world. When the spell starts to have real world consequences beyond Sanjana’s emotional torment, Aditya realizes that being loyal to Shanaya was a mistake.

As with most horror films, the scares are the gilding on a traditional morality tale. Raaz 3 is really about the dangers of ego, jealousy, and the pursuit of fame, embodied by Shanaya. A neat shot early in the film captures Shanaya sitting in her luxurious apartment in front of a wall-sized photo of her own face. Her whole apartment is a tribute to herself, and Shanaya sees a threat to her standing in the industry as a threat to her very existence.

Basu is magnificent as Shanaya. She strikes the perfect balance of rage, vulnerability, and egomania. Her fear is understandable, and that’s what makes it so dangerous. Basu plays every scene perfectly, shedding tears as Shanaya reels Aditya in, turning ice-cold the second he consents to help her.

Hashmi likewise hits the right notes with Aditya, a guy whose good nature makes him an easy target. There are some great shots of Aditya as doctors and priests speculate as to what’s wrong with Sanjana, his face revealing his internal debate over whether he should admit his role in her suffering.

Esha Gupta is outshone by her costars. It’s only her second role, so I’ll cut her some slack, but she plays Sanjana all wrong early on. Sanjana, who’s supposed to be the innocent young actress uncorrupted by fame — the foil to Shanaya — aggressively pursues Aditya romantically on the set of their film. She comes across as desperate for love, almost as desperate as Shanaya is for fame.

Even though it’s nearly 140 minutes long, Raaz 3 is paced well enough to never feel slow, and characters are given time to develop. Director Vikram Bhatt doesn’t miss an opportunity for a callback (you didn’t think you’d seen the last of that creepy clown in the photo with Sanjana, did you?). There are some cool sets as well, from Shanaya’s glamorous apartment to the eerie pond in the slum where she bargains with the evil spirit.

The fact that I was able to endure the whole movie inside the theater indicates that Raaz 3 is probably tame by the standards of hardcore horror fans. There are a number of jump scares that are (mercifully) predictable, and those don’t even start until 30 minutes into the movie. It’s minimally gory, but its R rating is reason enough to leave the kids at home.

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