Tag Archives: Gurinder Chadha

Movie Review: Viceroy’s House (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Viceroy’s House isn’t wholly successful, but maybe trying to depict the fraught months leading up to India’s Partition in a movie less than two hours long was never a venture that could succeed.

The biggest hurdle director Gurinder Chadha and her screenwriter husband Paul Mayeda Berges set for themselves is in trying to portray events in a way that is, if not objective, then at least fair. Most of the key players — fictional and historical — are shown as having good intentions and understandable motivations (except for the Muslims who work for the viceroy, who all agitate for an independent Pakistan). Yet knowing now of the refugee crisis that immediately followed Partition and the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan, is the focus on good intentions even desirable?

Viceroy’s House begins with the installation of Lord Louis Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) as the last viceroy, tasked with turning over the subcontinent to Indian rule. Even with independence on the horizon, Mountbatten maintains his aristocratic lifestyle, timing his servants to make sure they can dress him quickly enough for his satisfaction.

Mountbatten’s wife, Edwina (Gillian Anderson), and their teenage daughter Pamela (Lily Travers), are more aware of the value of softening the image of the British as rulers in favor of something more democratic. Edwina invites Indian guests to parties at the estate, asking the all-Indian kitchen staff to adjust the menu to cater to local tastes. When the sous chef complains in Hindi that all of his training is in English-style cooking, the Lady’s assistant Aalia (Huma Qureshi) translates his comments as polite assent to the request. It’s as though the movie itself doesn’t want its British characters to have to deal with the mess that their predecessors left, and as if the present viceroy’s family’s good intentions have wiped the slate clean.

In an effort to put the larger events in a more personal context, Viceroy’s House features a love story between Aalia and Jeet (Manish Dayal), one of Lord Mountbatten’s grooms. They love each other, but he is Hindu and she is Muslim, in addition to being betrothed to a nice man, Asif (Arunoday Singh), as fulfillment of her mother’s dying wish. Jeet wants Aalia to follow her heart, but she has not only Asif’s feelings to consider but the well-being of her blind father (played by Om Puri). Would they really be safe in a Hindu-majority India? Jeet’s naive faith in both a united India and in the power of love to conquer all lead him to dismiss Aalia’s concerns as a lack of courage.

Casting Hugh Bonneville as an aristocrat invites comparisons to his role as the Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey. Where the two stories differ is in their ability to entwine the lives of characters of different classes, thus providing a more complete picture of society at the time. Downton Abbey did so successfully through subplots like Lady Sybil helping Gwen the maid find a job as a secretary.

In Viceroy’s House, the Mountbatten’s lack such intimate connections to their staff. The wealthy Brits have ideas as to what might be troubling their servants, but they don’t know details. The whole feel of the film would have changed with better integration between the class-specific plots, such as Pamela learning of Aalia’s romantic problems and using her position to find a way for Aalia and Jeet to be together.

Where Viceroy’s House does succeed is showing the scope of the problems complicating the British departure from India. There are no easy solutions, and blood was already being shed when Mountbatten arrived. However, asking the audience to feel bad for Mountbatten — a representative of a white, foreign power that had been exploiting India for centuries — just because he personally didn’t create the problems he was asked to solve is a bit much.

The accomplished cast — which also includes Michael Gambon, Darshan Jariwala, Denzil Smith, and Neeraj Kabi — give laudable performances all around. Huma Qureshi is charming, and Arunoday Singh stands out in his few scenes. If the two of them can’t find quality parts in Bollywood, come to Hollywood, please!

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Movie Review: Bride and Prejudice (2004)

BrideAndPrejudice2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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I first saw director Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice in the theater, not long before I started watching Hindi films in earnest. Though the film is still cute, a second viewing feels like a step into a Bollywood uncanny valley.

As hinted at by the title, the movie is Chadha’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The action is relocated to Amritsar, where the story focuses on the Bakshi family and their four single daughters.

Eldest daughter Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar) catches the eye of wealthy London NRI Balraj (Naveen Andrews), who is accompanied on his visit to India by his sister Kiran (Indira Varma) and friend Will Darcy (Martin Henderson). Darcy takes a shine to Jaya’s beautiful sister, Lalita (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), but the two get off to a rocky start.

Both potential romances veer off course upon the arrival of two other suitors: a rich NRI from L.A., Mr. Kholi (Nitin Ganatra), and Darcy’s nemesis, Johnny Wickham (Daniel Gillies).

Despite the trappings of a stereotypical Bollywood movie — colorful wedding sets and big dance numbers — Bride and Prejudice has more in common structurally with Broadway musicals. In a typical Hindi film, the songs that accompany dance numbers are intended to be sold as soundtrack singles, so their lyrics are more about mood and general feelings than the literal expressions of one’s thoughts.

By contrast, the song lyrics in Bride and Prejudice are the characters’ internal and external monologues set to music, and dance numbers arise from that. For example, the lyrics to the song that Lalita and her friends sing while shopping for last-minute wedding items refer specifically to the woman getting married and to the festivities taking place in Amritsar.

The effect is weird. Perhaps Chadha would have been better served to start Bride and Prejudice onstage before filming it. A theatrical run would have forced the story to define itself as musical theater rather than a confused Bollywood hybrid. Also, it would have given the composers time to craft better music. Most of the songs in Bride and Prejudice are awful, especially “No Life Without Wife.”

The highlight of revisiting the film is spotting all of the stars who would later establish themselves in other roles. The film released during the first season of Lost, in which Andrews starred. Gillies would make his mark as Elijah in the TV series The Vampire Diaries and its spin-off, The Originals. Varma — who looks amazing in the movie — presently plays the dangerous Ellaria Sand in Game of Thrones.

As the biggest star and leading character in Bride and Prejudice, Rai Bachchan leaves something to be desired. Her dialogue delivery is stilted, and her angry outbursts are tepid. She and Henderson lack chemistry.

Her performance — along with all the others in the film — is overshadowed by Ganatra’s comic turn as the tacky braggart Kholi. He is so desperate to share his American dream that he insults the very women he’s trying to woo. His pathetic and annoying acts are balanced by his sincerity, so his shtick never gets tired.

The presence of Kholi, Darcy, and Balraj in India raises questions about the assumptions outsiders — NRIs included — make about Indians, particularly Indian women. It’s a fascinating topic, but the way it’s dealt with is so on the nose that it feels like the characters are checking items off a list of stereotypes.

For all its shortcomings, Bride and Prejudice is certainly interesting and ambitious. Some adjustments to the story structure and soundtrack might have given it more lasting appeal.

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Movie Review: It’s a Wonderful Afterlife (2010)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Many American comedies of the 1980s were characterized by amusing situations, rather than genuinely humorous dialog (think Mannequin or Soul Man). The decades haven’t been kind to films of this style, because they simply aren’t funny. The British comedy It’s a Wonderful Afterlife relies on this ’80s style of humor, and as such, already feels dated.

The movie opens with a man — having been force-fed too much spicy curry in by a faceless villain — receiving treatment in a hospital room, only to have his stomach explode, spraying its contents all over the room. There’s no context for the gag, so it’s not at all humorous, just disgusting. Not a good way to start a movie.

The exploding man is explained to be the latest victim of a serial killer targeting members of the Indian community in the London suburb of Southall. The police, led by inspector Smythe (Mark Addy), enlist the help of a detective of Indian descent named Raj (Sendhil Ramamurthy) to search for clues within the community.

Raj is the childhood friend of Roopi (Goldy Notay), an overweight young woman still recovering from being dumped by her fiance. Roopi’s mother, Mrs. Sethi (Shabana Azmi), is desperate to see her daughter married — so desperate that she’s been killing prospective husbands that have rejected Roopi, as well as their family members, using her culinary skills.

Mrs. Sethi is haunted by the ghosts of her victims, who can’t move on until Mrs. Sethi is dead. The only other person who can sense the ghosts is Roopi’s best friend, Linda (Golden Globe winner Sally Hawkins), who’s renamed herself Geetali after a spiritual awakening on a trip to India. Mrs. Sethi promises to kill herself after Roopi is married, provided the ghosts help her accomplish her mission.

It’s a Wonderful Afterlife is full of missed opportunities. The ghosts, who should be a goldmine of humor, instead offer bland observations and little in the way of assistance to Mrs. Sethi, as they have no supernatural powers. Their decaying visages are pointlessly gross.

Mrs. Sethi should be a source of comedy herself, but she’s dull as well. She never exhibits a hint of the kind of rage one would need to feel in order to commit murder (all but one of the murders happen off-screen). Her conversations with the ghosts are just boring exposition.

Part of the movie’s problem is that the Roopi and her mother get overshadowed by the ghosts, the cops, and especially Linda. Much screen time is spent on Linda’s psychic abilities, scenes in which Roopi, the heroine, acts as a passive observer. Roopi’s budding romance with Raj is shown in a short musical montage, yet a multiple scenes are devoted to Linda’s engagement to Dev (Jimi Mistry). Linda’s even the star of the film’s climax, a revolting homage to the movie Carrie.

Sally Hawkins is good as Linda, and newcomer Goldy Notay gives a strong performance as Roopi as well. I’d have preferred that she be given more to do, as the movie is all about Roopi’s want of a husband, after all. Still, there’s not much that could have saved It’s a Wonderful Afterlife — not even a pandering shot of Sendhil Ramamurthy shirtless — since the alleged comedy just isn’t funny.

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Opening October 8: It’s a Wonderful Afterlife

One new Bollywood movie opens in the Chicago area the weekend beginning October 8, 2010, though it’s technically not a true Bollywood movie. It’s a Wonderful Afterlife is a British film by Gurinder Chadha, the director of Bend It Like Beckham. The comedy about a mother in a London suburb who’s dead-set on finding a groom for her daughter features some Hindi and Punjabi dialog. It also stars Indian-American actor Sendhil Ramamurthy, best known for playing Mohinder on the TV series Heroes.

It’s a Wonderful Afterlife opens on Friday at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 30 in Warrenville. It has a runtime of 1 hr. 40 min.

Hindi romantic comedy Anjaana Anjaani carries over for a second week in theaters after earning $517,608 in the U.S. during its opening weekend. It continues its run at the AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago, Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30 and Cantera 30.

Also getting a second week in theaters is sci-fi epic Enthiran, in all its various iterations. The Golf Glen 5 has all three versions: Enthiran (Tamil), Robot (Hindi) and Robo (Telugu). The South Barrington 30 carries over Robot, while Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove carries over Enthiran.

Action comedy Dabanng continues for a fifth week at the Cantera 30.

The only other Indian movie showing in the area this weekend is the Telugu film Khaleja, showing at the Golf Glen 5 and at Sathyam Cinemas.

Tonight — Wednesday, October 6 — presents an opportunity to see some of Bollywood’s stars in a more serious light. The docudrama 1 a Minute addresses the shocking fact that, around the world, a woman dies of breast cancer every 69 seconds. In the movie, stars from Hollywood and Bollywood recount their own experiences with cancer. The cast list includes Bollywood legend Mumtaz, Kites star Barbara Mori, Indian politician Priya Dutt, as well as the film’s writer and producer, Indian-American actress Namrata Singh Gujral.

1 a Minute debuts in theaters across the U. S. tonight, followed by a live discussion by cast members. Check the film’s official website for theater locations near you.