Tag Archives: Habib Faisal

Movie Review: Fan (2016)

Fan3 Stars (out of 4)

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Shahrukh Khan’s dual role highlights the dangers of celebrity obsession in the smart thriller Fan.

Gaurav Chandna (Khan) is a lifelong fan of actor Aryan Khanna (also Khan). Twenty-something Gaurav bears an uncanny resemblance to his hero, albeit a bit skinnier and with a smaller nose. The physical similarities and a carefully honed impression of the star make Gaurav the reigning champ in a local talent competition, three years running.

Leaving behind his mother (Deepika Amin) and father (Yogendra Tiku) in Delhi, Gaurav heads to Mumbai to present his talent show trophy to Aryan as a birthday gift. It’s harder to meet the star than Gaurav expects, so he finds a more effective plan to get Aryan’s attention: assaulting the up-and-coming actor who’s been stealing Aryan’s spotlight.

Aryan himself is known for his temper, and his attempt to scare Gaurav straight backfires. How do you fight someone who looks just like you?

Given that this is a movie about an actor endangered by a fan — starring the same superstar in both roles — one might expect Fan to side squarely with Aryan. Writer Habib Faisal’s story is more complex than that, however. There’s an element of “celebrities are people, too” to the story, but Gaurav’s character is richly developed. The temptation to tell Gaurav to ditch his obsession and get a life ignores the fact that he has a life. He enjoys impersonating Aryan. His obsession defines him. Trying to brute force his devotion out of him won’t work.

The relationship between celebrities and their admirers is the backdrop to a real thriller. A foot-chase through Dubrovnik is especially exciting and takes advantage of the gorgeous scenery. The movie is great-looking overall, thanks to director Maneesh Sharma and cinematographer Manu Anand.

The only time the movie falters is near the end. The pacing slows so much that the audience is out of steam by the time the climax arrives. While the climactic nighttime setting is striking, the darkness makes the action a bit hard to follow.

One easy-to-miss shot in Fan is worth noting. During a man-on-the-street montage of citizens reading news, members of a movie theater audience are shown checking their phones. Including a shot like this only serves to normalize this frustrating behavior. Doesn’t director Sharma want the audience to pay attention to his own movie?

Khan does a wonderful job with both roles. It takes a while to get used to the makeup and CGI effects used to turn him into Gaurav, but the character is well-crafted. Same goes for Aryan, who is less complicated but who is forced to make the harder decisions.

It’s fun to see Khan back in roles that emphasize substance as much as style. Fan is a thought-provoking thrill ride.

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Movie Review: Daawat-e-Ishq (2014)

Daawat-e-Ishq_official_release_poster1 Star (out of 4)

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Daawat-e-Ishq (“Feast of Love“) wants to be a strong social statement against dowries. In reality, it’s a fantasy film for men’s rights supporters.

The movie opens with a card explaining that, though the practice of dowry payments has been illegal since 1961, one woman is killed every hour in India because her family cannot afford to pay the fee demanded by her prospective husband’s family. Despite being an ace student, star athlete, and total knockout, no man will marry Gullu (Parineeti Chopra) because of the measly dowry her widowed father (played by Anupam Kher) can afford on his law clerk’s salary.

After having her heart broken by a rich guy named Amjad, whose family demands an outrageous sum to approve the marriage, Gullu decides to use the law to her advantage. She and her father leave Hyderabad for Lucknow, where they assume false identities in order to land Gullu a rich husband.

After the wedding, the plan is for Gullu to file a suit against the groom’s family accusing them of dowry extortion (section 498a in the Indian penal code). Presumably, the family will settle out of court, and Gullu and her dad will have enough money to move to America so that she can become a shoe designer.

Gullu and her dad pick Taru Haidar (Aditya Roy Kapur) — a restaurateur from a rich family — as their mark. Unfortunately for Gullu, Taru is nice, virtuous guy who doesn’t like that his parents have asked for a dowry. Gullu must decide whether to confess her scheme or take Taru’s money and break his heart.

Thus does a movie about the evils of a system which unfairly punishes women turn into a tale with a wealthy man as the system’s true victim.

For a movie as mind numbingly slow as Daawat-e-Ishq, the twist that positions Taru as the victim still comes as a shock. His character doesn’t even show up until forty minutes into the film, and he’s introduced as a loud, tacky boor. His victimization is supposed to sting not because of who he is or the audience’s affection for him but for what he represents: an innocent man exploited by a law designed to protect women.

There are so many reasons why the movie doesn’t work, and all can be laid at the feet of writer-director Habib Faisal. Faisal asks his talented cast to overact. The film looks dingy and flat. For a movie about a chef with “Feast” in the title, precious little time is devoted to Taru’s culinary creations. The camera pans quickly past the dishes with nary a description or lingering shot.

The screenplay is the film’s biggest problem. As mentioned above, Taru isn’t introduced until forty minutes have elapsed, time that is instead spent on Gullu’s futile romance with Amjad and a couple of lifeless songs. The romance between the leading couple is compressed into a single song, which isn’t enough time for Chopra and Kapur to develop any kind of chemistry.

Faisal lets down his heroine in the way he transforms her from an unappreciated modern woman into a ruthless criminal mastermind. The circumstances that prompt her to concoct her extortion scheme aren’t dire enough to warrant it, and the whole plan seems out of character for a woman who takes pride in succeeding on her own merits.

Gullu’s heel-turn opens the door for a song in which the “black magic woman” wreaks havoc “while the mustache studs looked on in dismay.” Taru’s lawyer friend shouts, “All the girls of India will learn a lesson that they shouldn’t trick innocent boys into 498a.” I’m sure the twenty-four women murdered today over dowry would feel properly chastened, were they still alive to do so.

The most telling indicator of where Daawat-e-Ishq falls on the moral spectrum is its epilogue, featuring the rich guy, Amjad. He finally stands up to his parents, telling them that he won’t accept a dowry from his future bride. Not because their regressive ideas cost him the one woman he really loved, but because, dammit, he’s tired of being treated like a piece of meat, an object that can be sold to the highest bidder. And the women of the world collectively rolled their eyes…

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Movie Review: Bewakoofiyaan (2014)

Bewakoofiyaan_Poster3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Do not be fooled by the title of Bewakoofiyaan (“Stupidities“). There’s nothing stupid about this movie. Director Nupur Asthana and writer Habib Faisal use a familiar romantic comedy formula to tell an unexpectedly thoughtful story about how economics affect romantic relationships and one’s sense of self-worth.

Life is sweet for marketing executive Mohit (Ayushmann Khurrana). He’s got a new job, a new car, and a beautiful, successful banker girlfriend, Mayera (Sonam Kapoor). Mohit’s driving instructor/life coach warns that one never knows what problems lie down the road, but as long as Mohit has Mayera, everything will be okay.

Mohit’s plans to marry Mayera hit a roadblock when he meets her stubborn father, V.K. Sehgal (Rishi Kapoor). After struggling to raise his daughter on the modest salary of a government bureaucrat, Sehgal believes that Mayera must marry a man with a lot more money than Mohit.

Just when Sehgal decides to give Mohit a probationary run as a candidate for future son-in-law, the real disaster strikes: Mohit loses his job. His pride keeps him from taking jobs he considers beneath his MBA status, and the financial stress of keeping up with their free-spending social circle wears on both Mohit and Mayera. All this while they hide Mohit’s unemployment from Sehgal.

Asthana establishes the appropriate humorous tone for Bewakoofiyaan given the characters. These people are executives, so scenes are funny without devolving into clownish wackiness, reliant more upon sly facial expressions than slapstick.

The secret of Bewakoofiyaan‘s success is Faisal’s story construction. The story never drags, and scenes don’t outstay their welcome. Themes are stated early and recur throughout the story. Faisal really, really knows how to write a screenplay.

One of my favorite aspects of the screenplay is a B-story that puts Sehgal in a similar position to Mohit, even though he doesn’t know it. Forced to retire at age sixty, Sehgal feels — like Mohit — that his skills that aren’t being utilized. He secretly enlists Mohit to help him find a job, over Mayera’s objections. Seghal’s introduction to the wonders of email, Google, and video games is very amusing.

The two jobless men form a bond, but they don’t suddenly become best pals. That wouldn’t make sense. Seghal is still stubborn, and Mohit still hates the idea of begging Seghal for anything, even Mayera’s hand. Yet their bond pays dividends for both by movie’s end.

Khurrana and Rishi Kapoor both do a great job at making their flawed characters sympathetic from the beginning and showing slow but steady growth. Both characters — united in their love for Mayera — must come to terms with the fact that they can’t provide for Mayera as well as she can for herself and decide what that means for them as men.

During an argument with Mohit, Mayera complains that she’s had to curtail her shopping since he lost his job. It’s a testament to Sonam Kapoor’s talent that she’s able to make this complaint sound reasonable rather than whiny. Mayera’s no less affected by Mohit’s job loss than he is, just in different way.

All this exploration of male ego and the side effects of job loss aside, Bewakoofiyaan is still a Yash Raj Films romantic comedy. There are exotic locations, a pair of flashy dance numbers, and an easily accessible story. It just deserves extra credit for being smarter than it needed to be.

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