Tag Archives: Hema Malini

Movie Review: Shimla Mirchi (2020)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Sholay director Ramesh Sippy’s Shimla Mirchi spent five years on the shelf before it found a buyer, but the content feels even more dated than that.

The romantic comedy stars Rajkummar Rao as Avi, a grumpy single guy who’s been dragged along on his family’s annual vacation to Shimla. His mood changes when Naina (Rakul Preet Singh) sprints by him, fresh from a photo shoot at her friend’s bridal boutique. One look at Naina’s heaving bosom and toned abs, and Avi is in love.

It is important to note that, in Shimla Mirchi, “love” happens the instant a man sees a beautiful woman. It is also important to note that a woman’s most lovable attribute is her torso, hence why Naina wears crop tops almost exclusively throughout the film. Avi is frequently shown ogling her bare waist, because he’s in love.

Avi’s problem is that he gets tongue-tied whenever he tries to tell a woman that he loves her. (Could the problem be that his instinct is to introduce himself to women he’s never met with “I love you” before “Hi, I’m Avi”?) He takes job at Naina’s cafe in the hopes of getting to know her better. When he still can’t muster the courage to speak up, he writes her an anonymous love letter.

Naina’s not interested in her own beau, but she sees the letter as an opportunity to cheer up her mom, Rukmini (Hema Malini), who’s lonely after her husband Tilak (Kanwaljit Singh) left her for a younger woman. Naina readdresses the love letter to her mom and has Avi deliver it — leading Rukmini to believe that Avi is her secret admirer.

The high-concept story by writers Kausar Munir, Vipul Binjola, and Rishi Virmani yields a number of cute moments, as when Rukmini stops her dance practice to sneak after Avi, bells around her ankles jingling whenever she moves. When Naina realizes that Avi is way overqualified to work as her handyman, she jumps to the wild and funny conclusion that he’s involved in a nefarious international plot that inexplicably begins with the takeover of a small cafe in Shimla.

There’s a nice relationship between Naina, Rukmini, and Tilak’s mother (Kamlesh Gill), who lives with them. Naina has cut off contact with her father, and even his own mother thinks he’s a jerk. They want Rukmini to rediscover her sense of self-worth, and the film doesn’t even hint at trying to reunite the family.

Yet even the best elements of the film are good, but not great. The acting is fine, if uninspired. The story is cute but forgettable. Shakti Kapoor plays the quirkily-named Captain Uncle, who exists to move the plot along when the writers couldn’t think of a better way to do so.

Then there are the elements that make Shimla Mirchi seem like it came out of a time capsule. The mistaking of lust for love and the objectification of Naina’s body are the worst examples. Captain Uncle makes some racist jokes about East Asian languages. Avi has a friend, Jude (Tarun Wadhwa), who rotates through a series of indistinguishable white girlfriends who don’t speak but are always wrapping themselves around him. He ditches the last one when he spots a pretty Indian girl in Desi attire and immediately falls in love with her (naturally).

Shimla Mirchi feels like the product of a filmmaker who started his career back when times were different. When objectifying women was the norm. When you could crack racist jokes because there was no internet and few people outside your intended audience would watch your movies. There’s nothing outrageously offensive in Shimla Mirchi. It just doesn’t feel current.


Retro Review: Sholay (1975)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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I’ve seen a lot of recent Hindi movies, but I knew my Bollywood education was incomplete until I saw Sholay. After watching the nearly three-and-a-half hour behemoth, I understand why it’s a classic. But that doesn’t mean it’s a movie without flaws.

Sholay (“Embers”) is the preeminent example of the “curry western,” the Indian version of the “spaghetti western” popular in the United States in the mid-1960s. Its story and style borrow liberally from films like The Magnificent Seven and Once Upon a Time in the West.

Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan play thieves recruited by one of their former jailers, Thakur (Sanjeev Kumar), to capture a bandit leader. This bandit murdered the jailer’s family and has spent the subsequent years robbing the jailer’s poor village. Veeru (Dharmendra) and Jai (Bachchan) initially agree to the job for the reward money but fall in love with two women from the village, giving them added incentive to succeed.

At its best, Sholay is an exciting action film. An early chase scene in which a coal-fired train is pursued by bandits on horseback contains some amazing cinematography. The camera cuts from static long shots of bad guys falling from their horses to a dynamic shot from Jai’s point of view as he rolls onto his back to fire at an assailant approaching from above.

Another highlight is the romance between Jai and Radha (Jaya Bhaduri), Thakur’s widowed daughter-in-law. Unlike the heroine in Once Upon a Time in the West, who tries to fulfill her deceased husband’s dream of building a railroad depot, Radha’s widowhood renders her a virtual ghost. She seems expected to exist in perpetual mourning, executing her household chores in silence. The longing looks between Radha and Jai defy social convention, adding poignancy.

But Sholay has one undeniable flaw: it’s too long. To justify a runtime of approximately 200 minutes, every shot needs to feel essential. Sholay doesn’t meet that standard.

There’s a lengthy sequence early in the movie that involves Jai and Veeru getting intentionally thrown in jail, only to break out and split the reward money with the pal who turned them in. The sequence is supposed to be funny as the thieves trick their high-stepping jailer with a Hitler mustache, but the jokes feel forced and the Hitler references a bit too casual.

Another failed comic device is plucky horse-cart driver Basanti (Hema Malini), Veeru’s love interest. She has a few touching moments, but she’s written to be annoying. The problem with deliberately annoying movie characters is that they annoy the audience as well as their fellow characters.

While many of the songs in Sholay are memorable — “Yeh Dosti” and “Mehbooba Mehbooba” in particular — their accompanying dance numbers bring the action to a halt.

The movie’s final battle is completely preposterous but is executed in a way that elevates it to campy art. For that reason alone, it’s hard to dislike Sholay. It’s certainly a classic, but it’s not a film for Bollywood newcomers.