Tag Archives: Harshvardhan Kapoor

Movie Review: AK vs AK (2020)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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AK vs AK is the most novel Hindi film to release in 2020, but novelty is just part of its appeal. Director Vikramaditya Motwane’s meta take on the Indian film industry — and two members of it in particular — is smart, insightful, and a lot of fun.

The AKs of the title are Anil Kapoor and Anurag Kashyap, who play outlandish versions of themselves, as do other members of the Kapoor family. The story is fictional but trades on the participants’ real-life reputations and circumstances. AK vs AK‘s Anurag is a temperamental and self-important arthouse director who feels he deserves more acclaim, while Anil is an aging star who’s slow to accept that his biggest films are behind him.

Anil’s character seems further removed from the real person (no offense to Anurag), but he serves to highlight both the importance of the Bollywood star system and the refusal of many of the men within it to acknowledge the passage of time, insisting on playing college students into their fifties. The fact that Kapoor chose to play the character as he does in AK vs AK shows why he’s the model for aging gracefully in Bollywood.

The story opens with Anurag and Anil onstage for a question and answer session with film students. They trade barbs, bringing to the surface a simmering resentment from when Anurag was a young filmmaker and Anil turned down a role in one of his movies. Anil accidentally spills water on Anurag’s expensive shoes, and Anurag retaliates by throwing water in Anil’s face.

All of this is captured by a video camera operated by Yogita (Yogita Bihani), a filmmaker shadowing Anurag for a documentary project. Yogita helps Anurag concoct an audacious revenge plan to kidnap Anil’s daughter Sonam (playing herself) and film Anil’s search for her. Anurag believes this will cement his directorial genius by capturing Anil’s most realistic performance ever.

What follows is a nighttime chase, as Anil tries to find Sonam before sunrise, at which time the kidnappers who’ve nabbed Sonam have promised to kill her. A video of a tearful Sonam bound and gagged convinces Anil that Anurag is not joking. The two cruise around in Anil’s SUV along with Yogita, who documents the search.

The chase involves a stop at Anil’s house to put in a cursory appearance at his own birthday party to placate his suspicious family, who don’t know about the kidnapping. Anil and Anurag get in a fistfight and destroy a Christmas tree, but it’s somehow not even the funniest part of the sequence at the house. That honor goes to Anil’s son Harsh (playing himself), who is desperate to work with a director of Anurag’s caliber. Harsh acts out his pitch to play an action figure while Anil tries to get him to leave, ending with Harsh screaming about AK vs AK director Vikramaditya Motwane ruining his career when their movie Bhavesh Joshi Superhero flopped. It’s insidery, but hilarious.

Those familiar with the Hindi film industry will get more out of AK vs AK than those who aren’t. I’m sure I missed some references to films from earlier in Kapoor’s career. That said, the overall story is totally comprehensible for those who aren’t Bollywood fans. The way it’s shot — with long takes and clever camera angles that keep Yogita out of frame except for when she’s part of the story — is reason enough to watch it.

There’s also a great examination of the price of stardom. In his most vulnerable moments, Anil can’t get anyone to help him without first taking a selfie with them. Years of entertaining people onscreen isn’t enough for a cop or taxi driver to give Anil information without demanding an additional toll. Not only does he not get special treatment in his hour of need, he doesn’t even get the same courtesy one would afford a complete stranger.

Motwane walks a fine line, making sure the audience always knows how to react to a given scene. AK vs AK is funny when it’s supposed to funny and sad when it’s supposed to be sad. Even the uncomfortable moments where the audience is forced to consider whether something is funny or not clearly feel intentional. Motwane always makes great movies, and AK vs AK is no exception.

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Movie Review: Bhavesh Joshi Superhero (2018)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

Hindi cinema loves a vigilante, that one good man who fights against a corrupt system. Bhavesh Joshi Superhero takes that template in a fresh, contemporary direction, addressing problems that are uniquely Indian but tie in with struggles being fought around the world.

After the government crushes their political opposition group, young activists Bhavesh (Priyanshu Painyali) and Siku (Harshvardhan Kapoor) take their fight for justice to YouTube. Wearing paper bags over their heads, they confront lawbreakers for infractions like public urination and traffic violations, while their videographer buddy Rajat (Ashish Verma) records the encounters.

Years of small-scale victories but no systemic change take their toll on the trio, emotionally and also physically when the occasional video subject decides to fight back. Siku and Rajat are ready to move on, accepting a broken social contract as an annoying inconvenience in their otherwise comfortable middle class lives. Unemployed Bhavesh resents his friends for quitting before the fight is won.

Things come to a head when Bhavesh uncovers evidence of a scam to divert water from the municipal supply. He doesn’t have all the pieces to the puzzle, but he’s willing to take risks to find them. Siku’s too preoccupied with a potential job transfer to Atlanta and how that will affect his relationship with his girlfriend Sneha (Shreiyah Sabharwal) to care.

India’s water infrastructure problems are uniquely complicated, and basing the story’s big crime around it roots the film in a specific place. Yet the characters’ frustrations are relatable to anyone who isn’t rich.

It’s an especially interesting choice by writer-director Vikramaditya Motwane — whose impressive resume includes Udaan, Lootera, and Trapped — and his co-writers Abhay Koranne  and filmmaker Anurag Kashyap to set up a class conflict within the main trio. Siku is an engineer and Rajat a journalist, so they have options that Bhavesh does not. Bhavesh sympathizes with the underclass because he’s a member of it. Champions of workers rights across the globe face the same challenge: how to motivate members of the middle class for whom matters like access to water or healthcare are merely academic, not an urgent need.

Much of the press leading up to the film’s release focused on Harshvardhan Kapoor, the son of a prominent acting family, in his second movie after a disastrous debut (at least from a box office perspective). He’s perfectly fine in this, as are Verma and Sabharwal. The movie’s villains are likewise well acted, although I found their relationships a little complicated due to my unfamiliarity with job titles within the Indian bureaucracy.

The real surprise is Priyanshu Painyuli as Bhavesh. He pivots easily from Bhavesh’s exuberance during happy times to his simmering rage when things start to fall apart. Bhavesh is frequently lit in red to emphasize his righteous anger and revolutionary spirit, and Amit Trivedi’s dynamic score sets the perfect tone.

Even though Bhavesh Joshi Superhero draws from Bollywood’s vigilante legacy, it makes the case that social movements aren’t a solo effort. They require a group of people working together. One person may sacrifice more than the others, but you can’t change the world alone.

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Movie Review: Mirzya (2016)

mirzya3 Stars (out of 4)

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Buy the soundtrack at Amazon or iTunes

Mirzya is a feast for the eyes and ears, an ambitious tale of doomed love. Sadly, the lovers leave something to be desired.

Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra weaves past and present together in a story written by Gulzar and based on the Punjabi folktale Mirza Sahiban. For the sake of an international audience who may be unfamiliar with the folktale, the characters in Mirzya freely quote Shakespeare’ Romeo and Juliet, just so we all know where this is going.

As children, Munish and Suchitra are inseparable. He chivalrously carries her schoolbag, even though she’s several inches taller than him. Suchitra lies to save Munish when he forgets his homework yet again, literally taking a hit from the teacher for him. Munish can’t bear to see Suchitra harmed, but the revenge he takes upon the teacher leads to the two being separated.

Many years later, Suchitra (Saiyami Kher) is engaged to rich, handsome Karan (Anuj Choudhry). Scenes from Suchitra’s adult life are intercut with a fantastical series of flashbacks from ancient times. In these flashbacks, Suchitra is Sahiba, princess of a tribe of warriors. As the strongest men compete for her hand in marriage, Sahiba’s gaze favors a bold archer named Mirzya (Harshvardhan Kapoor, son of Anil Kapoor), an outsider of whom her family disapproves.

The present-day Mirzya is Adil, a groom at Karan’s stable. Karan tasks Adil with teaching Suchitra how to ride a horse. For no apparent reason, Suchitra assumes that Adil is really Munish. Of course, she is correct.

Everything about Mirzya is visually stunning, from the cast to the costumes to the settings. The vast, rocky valley to which Mirzya and Sahiba escape looks like it was made to be the preferred setting for lovers on the run. When the screen isn’t saturated in the brightly colored costumes of lithe dancers, austere greys evoke the heartache to come.

Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s soundtrack is a wonder, mixing traditional melodies with modern metal and jazz riffs. Mehra turns up the volume during song numbers, then dramatically cuts out all other sounds save footsteps or the flapping of a bird’s wings once the song ends. The effect is thrilling.

Unfortunately, the central love story has problems, chiefly relating to the ages of the characters when significant events take place. When Munish and Suchitra reunite as adults, they are far too old to enter into such an obviously doomed relationship without awareness of the consequences, both for themselves and for others. It’s easy to forget that Romeo and Juliet were young teenagers in their story, at that histrionic age where couples are one day professing to love each other like no people have ever loved before, only to break up the following week when Juliet catches Romeo making out with another girl at the homecoming dance.

Even in the original Mirza Sahiban, the two childhood companions don’t fall in love until adolescence, the age at which they are first able to experience feelings of sexual attraction. By contrast, Munish and Suchitra are separated at the age of nine, before they have the physical capacity to experience those feelings for one another. Yet, as soon as they meet as adults, they fall into a romantic attraction, despite having only previously had a platonic childhood relationship.

This raises an important question of whether the triumph of destiny is always the most satisfying outcome when it comes to storytelling. Why does destiny necessarily trump experience? Before her fateful reunion with Munish, Suchitra is totally in love with Karan, who seems like a nice guy. They are attracted to one another and enjoy each others company. This isn’t a forced marriage.

There’s also no sense that Suchitra is pining for Munish. Had she never met him, it seems likely she would have married Karan and lived happily ever after with him in his gigantic palace. Would that have perhaps been the more interesting outcome: one member of a fated pair taking action to end a deadly reincarnation cycle, allowing them and their families to live in peace?

Gulzar’s retelling of the myth doesn’t give a compelling reason why Suchitra should be with Munish. Then again, the characters are hardly more than archetypes, so it’s difficult to ascribe motivations to any of them beyond carrying out their expected roles. Light character development also makes it hard to get much sense of Kher’s or Kapoor’s potential, both of them acting in their Hindi film debuts.

Despite all that, there are reasons why stories of doomed love endure, and Mirzya is about as beautiful to look at and listen to as can be. A familiar story allows the audience to enjoy other elements of the film, even at the expense of the plot.

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