Tag Archives: Hindi

Worst Bollywood Movies of 2020

When compiling my list of the Best Bollywood Movies of 2020, I was surprised to find that all five were Netflix Original productions or titles acquired by Netflix. Turns out the titles from my Worst Bollywood Movies of 2020 list have some commonalities, too. The two lowest ranked films on the list are both streaming on Hotstar, and the other three are on Amazon Prime. Let’s see which turkeys are my Worst Bollywood Movies of 2020.

Street Dancer 3D is one of two films on this list that I actually got to watch in a theater in 2020. I loved Street Dancer‘s progenitor ABCD and found ABCD 2 entertaining enough, but Street Dancer is just silly. The dancing in any Remo D’Souza-directed movie is as good as you’d expect it to be, but the plot is tiresome.

Durgamati: The Myth is one of the three straight-to-digital releases to make the list. The supernatural thriller is full of twists that could only work if characters behave in very specific ways that the protagonists couldn’t have predicted. Pass.

Varun Dhawan’s Coolie No. 1 reboot had high expectations placed upon it even before it became Amazon Prime’s big Christmas Day release. Still, it turned out to be an unfunny slog that felt dated and out-of-touch.

Baaghi 3 was the other film on this list that I got to watch in the theater. You’d think a big-budget action spectacle like Baaghi 3 would be improved by watching it on a huge cinema screen, but you’d be wrong. The whole movie is dumb and shouty, and even the action sequences are poorly choreographed. I hope I never have to hear Riteish Deshmukh yell “Ronnie!” ever again.

My Worst Bollywood Movie of 2020 — Laxmii — earned its spot for several reasons. The supernatural comedy in which Akshay Kumar plays a man possessed by the ghost of a transgender woman is just as problematic as one would expect it to be given that setup. The casting is bizarre, with one actor nine months older than the actor playing his father. The story is tedious. Finally, Laxmii commits the greatest sin a comedy film can commit: it’s not funny. That’s why Laxmii deserves its place as my Worst Bollywood Movie of 2020.

Kathy’s Worst Bollywood Movies of 2020

  1. Laxmii — stream on Hotstar
  2. Baaghi 3 — stream on Hotstar
  3. Coolie No. 1 — Buy or rent on iTunes/stream on Amazon Prime
  4. Durgamati — stream on Amazon Prime
  5. Street Dancer 3D — stream on Amazon Prime

Previous Worst Movies Lists

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Best Bollywood Movies of 2020

COVID-19 upended the Hindi movie industry (along with everything else) in 2020, but Bollywood fans still had plenty of new films to choose from — and a lot of great ones at that! My five favorite Hindi movies of 2020 had one thing in common: they all released directly on Netflix. Three were produced specifically for Netflix, while the streamer nabbed exclusive rights for the other two. Let’s see what topped my Best Bollywood Movies of 2020 list!

Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl was supposed to have a theatrical release, before COVID hit. While Janhvi Kapoor didn’t get to command the big screen in her first solo leading role, Netflix gave her patriotic movie plenty of hype for its streaming service debut just before Indian Independence Day. Kapoor proves that she’s got what it takes to carry a film, turning in a delightful performance opposite Pankaj Tripathi, who plays her father in the movie.

The most inventive film on the list is one of the titles produced specifically for Netflix. AK vs AK pits Anil Kapoor and Anurag Kashyap against one another, playing fictionalized versions of themselves in this darkly comical skewering of the Hindi film industry. Director Vikramaditya Motwane’s documentary-style filming makes this a compelling watch from start to finish.

Like AK vs AK, Ludo is another dark comedy made just for Netflix. In contrast to AK vs AK‘s gritty realism, Ludo is full of bright colors and peppy music, as its characters play their part in a game overseen by a pair of celestial narrators (one of whom is the film’s director, Anurag Basu).

Cargo was the only film on my list to screen anywhere before debuting on Netflix, having premiered at the Mumbai Film Festival in late 2019. It’s an endearingly low-tech science fiction movie about the afterlife. Writer-director Arati Kradav demonstrates how to make a movie with a strong visual identity on a comparatively limited budget — and with a charming story, too.

Like Cargo, my Best Bollywood Movie of 2020 was another feature debut by a woman filmmaker with a bold aesthetic sense. Anvita Dutt’s gothic horror flick Bulbbul is almost shocking in its use of color, from the cautionary red glow of the night sky over early 20th century Bengal to the shadowy blue interiors obscuring dangers within the lord’s mansion. Its story condemns not only those who perpetrate violence against women, but the men who enable violence as well, whether deliberately or through willful ignorance. Bulbbul is a movie I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since I saw it.

Kathy’s Best Bollywood Movies of 2020

  1. Bulbbul — stream on Netflix
  2. Cargo — stream on Netflix
  3. Ludo — stream on Netflix
  4. AK vs AK — stream on Netflix
  5. Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl — stream on Netflix

Previous Best Movies Lists

Movie Review: Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan on Amazon Prime

Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (“Be Extra Careful of Marriage“, SMZS henceforth) — Bollywood’s first mainstream romantic comedy about a gay couple — is at its most effective when it leans into genre traditions.

Aman Tripathi (Jitendra Kumar) and Kartik Singh (Ayushmann Khurrana) are a dating couple living in Delhi. Aman’s parents Shankar (Gajraj Rao) and Sunaina (Neena Gupta) don’t know that their son is gay, but Kartik is sure they’ll be accepting. The dating couple meets up with the family on a train on the way to Aman’s cousin Goggle’s (Maanvi Gagroo) wedding outside of Allahabad.

On route to the wedding venue, Shankar spots Aman and Kartik kissing. Shankar’s dramatic negative reaction provokes the couple to kiss again, this time in the middle of the dance floor in front of all the wedding guests. Despite Shankar’s and Sunaina’s hilarious attempts to explain the kiss as some sort of family tradition, Goggle’s fiance cancels the wedding, and the Tripathi’s return to Allahabad.

Rather than embrace Aman as he is, his parents insist that he can be converted if removed from Kartik’s influence. They go so far as to get Aman engaged to a cute young woman named Kusum (Pankhuri Awasthy), who is all too eager to marry him.

The rest of SMZS is essentially the second half of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, but if Raj was trying to save Kuljeet from marrying Simran instead of the other way around. In DDLJ, Raj’s strategy was to convince Simran’s family that he was the best person for her to marry. In SMZS, Kartik’s approach is less personal and more about asserting Aman’s right to choose who he wants to date and marry, regardless of gender.

Perhaps SMZS would have struck a stronger emotional chord had Kartik used more of Raj’s strategy. This is a film about a family, but Kartik’s aggressive tactics and the Tripathis’ intransigence make it hard to see how he would fit in if he and Aman did marry. Scenes in which Kartik is emotionally vulnerable play as though they are meant to convince Aman of his loyalty — something that is never really in question — rather than prove his worthiness to the Tripathis.

Writer-director Hitesh Kewalya uses SMZS as an educational opportunity, focusing more on the moral and legal grounds for Aman’s relationship with Kartik instead. This plays into some of the issues that hampered the film SMZS spun off from: 2017’s Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, which Kewalya wrote but did not direct. Both stories periodically lose momentum as the plot gets bogged down in dialogue-heavy scenes.

The slow narrative pace is mitigated by the terrific performances by the entire cast. Awasthy is especially hilarious as Kusum, whose ostentatious shyness feels straight out of an old movie.

One of Kewalya’s strong points is his ability to write humorously about adult topics (Shubh Mangal Saavdhan was about impotence) in a way that never feels vulgar. SMZS is family-friendly. If one of the goals of the film is to normalize the depiction of gay relationships in mainstream Hindi cinema, making it a movie that is accessible to all ages is a great way to accomplish that.

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Opening March 11, 2021: Roohi

With the Bollywood theatrical release calendar filling up, the Janhvi Kapoor-Rajkummar Rao horror comedy Roohi is first out of the gate, opening in Chicago area theaters on March 11, 2021.

Roohi opens on Thursday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville. (Streaming partner: Netflix) It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min. All three theaters offer Roohi as a Private Rental option, priced at $249 at the River East 21 and South Barrington 24 and $199 at the Naperville 16.

I am avoiding movie theaters until I get the COVID-19 vaccine, which likely won’t be until this summer. I look forward to reviewing Roohi and other upcoming Hindi theatrical releases when they become available for streaming in the US.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend:

Movie Review: The Girl on the Train (2021)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Watch The Girl on the Train on Netflix
Buy the novel at Amazon

It seemed strange for actor Parineeti Chopra and others associated with the Hindi adaptation of The Girl on the Train to tweet a message the day before the film’s release asking people to avoid spoiling the ending of the film on social media. This is a movie based upon another movie based upon a book, all sharing the same name. It’s easy to find plot summaries of the previous two versions of The Girl on The Train online. What could there be to spoil?

In an effort to distinguish this version of The Girl on the Train (TGOTT, henceforth), writer-director Ribhu Dasgupta added and changed elements of the original novel and the Hollywood film based on it. The results of those alterations make TGOTT feel as though it was written for the sake of its plot twists, and not for the purpose of telling a meaningful story.

Parineeti Chopra plays Mira Kapoor, a lawyer living in London and coping with tragedy. Mira and her husband Shekhar (Avinash Tiwary) were in a car accident three years earlier that left her with mild amnesia and caused her to lose the baby she was carrying. She turned to alcohol to deal with the grief, and Shekhar left and married someone new, compounding Mira’s loss.

Every day, Mira takes the train past her old house to torment herself. She’s also become obsessed with a woman who lives a few doors down from her old place who looks like she has the perfect life. Nusrat (Aditi Rao Hydari) is pretty, a beautiful dancer, and has a handsome husband. When Mira rides past the house and sees Nusrat hugging a man other than her husband one day, Mira becomes incensed. She drunkenly goes to Nusrat’s home, determined to stop her from ruining her marriage the way that Mira feels she did with her own relationship with Shekhar.

When Mira wakes up the next day, she has a massive wound on her forehead and no memory of how it got there. Police inspector Dalbir Kaur (Kirti Kulhari) questions Mira, whose identification card was found near the scene of a violent crime that occurred during Mira’s blackout. As Kaur and the cops try to link Mira to the crime, Mira undertakes her own investigation. Could Mira really have been capable of violence, even if she doesn’t remember it?

The success of the movie hinges on Chopra’s performance. Bless her heart, she tries. To be fair, Mira is drunk and angry for most of the film, so it’s not a role that requires much subtlety. But Chopra’s yelling, snorting, and stuporous lolling about push Mira into something more darkly comical than befits the film.

Let’s revisit Mira’s head wound. It covers half of her forehead, and it is disgusting. Why Mira opts not to cover it with a bandage to prevent infection or at least spare others from having to look at it, no one knows. Then again, it doesn’t much matter since only one person even remarks on it — and then only after she’s greeted Mira and hugged her. That no one asks Mira normal questions like “How do you feel?” or “Do you need a doctor?” defies explanation.

The bones of the the story are good, providing director Dasgupta with themes of psychological trauma, women’s fertility, substance abuse, and toxic relationships to draw upon. But in the end he discards them all for a finale that has nothing to say about anything. If the goal of TGOTT is purely to deceive the audience, then mission accomplished, I guess.

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Movie Review: Ludo (2020)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Ludo on Netflix

The movie Ludo uses its namesake board game as a metaphor for life, its characters one dice roll away from fortune or ruin. Writer-director Anurag Basu’s black comedy is beautifully made and laugh-out-loud funny.

Anyone who has played the games Aggravation, Sorry!, or Trouble is familiar with how Ludo works. Players from four different colored corners of the game board roll dice, moving their pieces around the board in the hopes of being the first to get all their pieces safely “home.” Basu assigns different characters to the colored corners, and they meet up with one another throughout the story. Right at the center is Sattu Bhaiya (Pankaj Tripathi), a hard-to-kill gangster with ties to all of them.

In the red corner is Sattu’s former right-hand man Bittu (Abhishek Bachchan), fresh out of prison and eager confront his old boss. Bittu charges in after a meeting between Sattu and the yellow corner’s Akash (Aditya Roy Kapur), who needs Sattu’s help removing a sex tape from the internet. The blue corner’s Rahul (Rohit Suresh Saraf) is at Sattu’s hideout as well, having been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

An explosion sets the characters off in different directions. Rahul drives off with some of Sattu’s stolen cash and a cute, opportunistic nurse named Sheeja (Pearle Maaney). Akash also hits the road, joined by Shruti (Sanya Malhotra) the woman from the sex tape who’s due to marry someone else in a matter of days. Bittu’s plan to find a way back into the life of the wife who left him while he was in jail and the young daughter who doesn’t remember him is derailed when he meets another precocious little girl, Mini (Inayat Verma), who needs help faking her own kidnapping in order to get her distracted parents’ attention.

While all this is happening, the characters from the green corner are trying to get out of their own mess. Alu (Rajkummar Rao) has been in love with Pinky (Fatima Sana Shaikh) since childhood, although she never reciprocated his feelings. Pinky turns up with her baby to ask for Alu’s help getting her husband Manohar (Paritosh Tripathi) out of jail, where he languishes, wrongly accused of a murder committed by Sattu.

Director Basu doesn’t judge his characters for wanting what they want, even if what they want isn’t exactly good for them. Alu is the best example of this. He knows his one-sided devotion to Pinky gets him into trouble and keeps him perpetually single, but he’s miserable when she’s not around. Is it so bad for him to not want to feel awful?

Bittu’s story is the most complicated and emotional. He spent six years waiting to get back to his daughter — who was an infant when he went to prison — but she doesn’t know he exists. She thinks Bittu’s ex-wife’s new husband is her father. Spending time with Mini gives Bittu a chance to act in a fatherly role, making him question whether what he wants for himself is really what’s best for his daughter.

Bachchan’s performance when he’s playing Bittu the Gangster comes off as more pouty than menacing, but he’s terrific as Bittu the Dad. Little Inayat Verma is impossibly adorable, and she and Bachchan are so much fun together. Yet we know their relationship is only temporary. Almost all of Bittu’s options will leave him brokenhearted.

Given Pankaj Tripathi’s recent track record of stealing virtually every movie he’s in, Basu wisely put Tripathi in the middle of things from the start. His character’s introduction — dramatically exposing his inner thigh to pull a gun from a leg holster — is perfection. After the cute pairing of Bittu and Mini, Sattu is part of the film’s second best partnership. While he’s bedridden, Sattu forms a friendship with no-nonsense nurse Lata Kutty (Shalini Vatsa), one of the few people he can’t intimidate. It’s unexpected and delightful.

To keep his dark comedy from becoming too dark, Basu amplifies its other elements. Bright colors differentiate the storylines, but they also cheer up even violent scenes. Character closeups feel a little closer than normal. The excellent soundtrack and score by Pritam are prominent in the mix, setting the tone overtly. Ludo is loud, both aurally and visually, but it feels just right.

Links

Movie Review: Coolie No. 1 (2020)

1 Star (out of 4)

Watch Coolie No. 1 on Amazon Prime

One of the questions at the heart of Coolie No. 1 is, “Why can’t a poor man marry a rich woman?” In this case, the answer is: “Because he doesn’t deserve her.”

Coolie No. 1 is a remake of the 1995 film of the same name, both of which are directed by David Dhawan. I have not seen the original, so this review will focus solely on the remake.

The coolie in question this time is Raju (Varun Dhawan), head of the porters at a railway station in Mumbai. Raju defends his elderly coworker from an abusive jerk Mahesh (Vikas Verma), not with his wits but with his fists. In the scuffle, Mahesh is exposed as a drug dealer and arrested.

One witness to the fight is pandit Jai Kishen (Javed Jaffrey), who is on his way home after bringing a prospective groom to the mansion of hotelier Jeffrey Rosario (Paresh Rawal). When Rosario insults Jai Kishen and the groom, declaring that his daughters will only marry men even richer than himself, Jai Kishen vows revenge. He plans to trick Rosario into getting his daughter Sarah (Sara Ali Khan) married to a poor man, and Raju seems like the perfect pawn for his scheme. Raju takes one look at a photo of Sarah and is onboard.

Raju poses as Raj, the son of the king of Singapore. Sarah is smitten with how humble Raj is despite being so rich, and Rosario is smitten with Raj’s apparent fortune. Only after the handsome couple is wed does Rosario begin to doubt Raj’s identity. When Rosario spots Raj working at his old job, the coolie improvises, inventing a heretofore unmentioned identical twin brother — compounding his original lie and making things exponentially more complicated.

It’s hard to buy in to Coolie No. 1, because it never acknowledges the harm done to Sarah for the sake of chastening her father. Sarah is tricked into falling for a man who lies to her about his identity, promises her a lifestyle he knows he can’t deliver, then traps her in a legally binding marriage contract. Would she have married him if she’d known he was working class? Maybe. We have no way of knowing.

Part of that is because Sarah is written as an empty shell. She’s too vapid to be suspicious of Raju. She earnestly fears for his safety when his charade keeps him away from home overnight. She eagerly tackles the housework in their dilapidated apartment, as though she didn’t grow up in a mansion full of servants (I guess women are just supposed to be innately good at cleaning). She’s a beautiful blank slate who reacts the way the plot needs her to react.

Coolie No. 1 is yet another film that thinks goodness is conferred upon its main character just by virtue of his being the main character, regardless of what he actually does. It’s significant that Raju doesn’t tell Sarah the truth until she accidentally discovers his deception. He wasn’t struck by a pang of conscience, nor did he try to enlist her help. He planned to keep lying to her indefinitely. How exactly does that make him a good guy?

For non-Hindi speakers, jokes in Bollywood comedies don’t always survive the translation via subtitles. But much of the wordplay humor in Coolie No. 1 is in English, and it’s still not funny. Rosario’s rhyming shtick and Raju’s Mithun Chakraborthy impression grow tired almost immediately. The physical humor in the movie isn’t amusing either.

As for the film’s positive points, it does have a number of entertaining, large-scale dance numbers (although the one where Rosario peeps through the window of his daughter’s hotel room while she’s on her honeymoon is creepy). Shikha Talsania and Sahil Vaid are likable as Sarah’s sister Anju and Raju’s friend Deepak, respectively, who fall in love amidst the drama.

Varun Dhawan and Sara Ali Khan are both forgettable. In fact, let’s just forget this remake ever happened.

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Movie Review: The White Tiger (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch The White Tiger on Netflix
Buy the novel at Amazon

“Rich men are born with opportunities they can waste.” So says a driver who realizes he has one chance to break out of the master-servant paradigm that has defined his life and kept him trapped in poverty.

Balram (Adarsh Gourav) narrates the story of his success via a series of emails written to Wen Jiabao ahead of the Chinese Premier’s visit to Bangalore in 2010. Ever the opportunist, Balram hopes to align himself with what he believes is the world’s rising power, as the influence of the West recedes.

The emails paint a clear picture of how social, economic, and political systems in India concentrate power and wealth. Balram’s family comes from a sweet-making caste in a small village north of Delhi. A third of the money everyone in town earns goes to the landlord, a stern man called The Stork (Mahesh Manjrekar) with a violent son known as The Mongoose (Vijay Maurya). Apart from a few rupees for incidentals, the rest of the money earned by the men in Balram’s family goes to Balram’s grandmother (Kamlesh Gill) — the only member of the large clan who doesn’t go hungry.

Through patience, observation, and quick wit, Balram secures himself a position as the driver for The Stork’s youngest son Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), recently returned from New York with his Indian-American wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra Jonas). The gig allows Balram to finally utilize the English language skills he picked up as a precocious kid. Ashok, Pinky, and Balram move to Delhi in order to facilitate some bribery on behalf of The Stork, with the threat that any misstep on Balram’s part could cause The Stork to murder Balram’s whole family.

In Delhi, it becomes apparent how the entrenched master-servant system limits the imaginations of those involved. Ashok doesn’t like when his brother and father hit Balram, but doesn’t try to make Balram a full-fledged employee with rights either. The expectation is that Balram will work hard for Ashok’s family for minimal pay until they decide to get rid of him. That’s it.

Even Balram starts to see how his upbringing has filtered his expectations. When Pinky asks him what he wants to do in life, it seems like an absurd question. He already achieved his goal of getting out of working at his family’s tea shop when he got this job. What else is there? Even if Balram had a bigger dream, he has no money or connections. The only people he knows who could help him are Ashok and his family, and they’ve made it clear they’d never do that.

Dangerous circumstances force Balram to choose whether to continue viewing himself as disposable the way that his bosses do, or to assert his right to self-determination. In order to overcome what he calls the “servant mindset,” Balram needs the fortitude of the rarest of creatures: the white tiger.

Director Ramin Bahrani’s adaptation of Arvind Adiga’s novel is thorough in its world building but lets Balram’s particular viewpoint set the tone of the film. Balram is a loner, so something like collective action never crosses his mind. His choices, for good or ill, make sense for who he is, especially as defined by Gourav’s terrific lead performance.

Chopra Jonas — who co-produced the film — hits it out of the park as Pinky, a woman who wants to do good but doesn’t have the full context for the situation or the agency to make significant changes even if she did. With Rao’s history of playing likeable characters, it’s all the more frustrating when Ashok won’t stand up to his dad and brother to demand better treatment for Balram. Then again, he’s as much a product of his environment as everyone else, which is exactly the problem The White Tiger examines.

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Movie Review: Tribhanga (2021)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Tribhanga on Netflix

A matriarch’s serious illness gives her family occasion to examine their troubled relationships in Tribhanga: Tedhi Medhi Crazy. One big structural flaw hampers this otherwise insightful and well-acted depiction of complicated family dynamics.

Nayan (Tanvi Azmi) is a celebrated author and head of the Apte family. She has a stroke and falls into a coma while dictating her autobiography to her ghost writer, Milan (Kunaal Roy Kapur). Nayan’s daughter Anu (Kajol), a famous and temperamental actress, rushes to Nayan’s bedside with her own adult daughter, Masha (Milthila Palkar).

One of Anu’s first reactions is to joke that at least she won’t have to listen to Nayan talk for a change. Anu and her brother Robindro (Vaibhav Tatwawaadi) don’t try to hide their disdain for their mother just because she’s ill. Nayan made some radical, progressive choices in her life, such as giving her children her own surname following her divorce from their father. However, she never considered the potential negative impacts those choices could have on her kids, nor the price they would pay for her devotion to her writing.

Those hard early years forged an unshakeable alliance between Anu and Robindro and influenced Anu’s own parenting style. Anu and Masha are joined at the hip, but there’s still space for Masha to have her own separate, affectionate relationship with Nayan. Masha seizes upon the opportunity presented by her grandmother’s hospitalization to learn more about the men who were once important in Nayan’s life.

The key man in Nayan’s life at present is Milan, who is the biggest problem in Tribhanga. He’s not a real character so much as a human plot device created to stoke drama and move the story forward. His interactions with the other characters are unnatural, as though Milan has no understanding of human emotions. His awkwardness stands out, given how authentic all of the other characters feel and how well-performed they are, especially by Kajol and Palkar.

Milan — who spends almost as much time in Nayan’s hospital room as Anu — cannot understand why Anu hates her mother. When Anu finally tells him why, her anger seems perfectly justifiable. Milan responds by showing her a video of Nayan addressing the subject matter directly. So Milan already knew the reason, yet still could not understand Anu’s feelings.

Tribhanga is only writer-director Renuka Shahane’s second feature film (her first in Hindi), so maybe relying so heavily on Milan for plot progress is a matter of inexperience. It might also be a matter of not trusting other characters and their actors to more the story forward organically. Instead, Milan interrupts scenes that promise to reveal family history in a more natural, light-hearted way — such as when Anu and Robindro reminisce over their aunt’s delicious ladoos — just to say something dumb that makes Anu mad and cuts the scene short.

In a film about how parental choices affect children, having Milan lurk around the hospital feels like another unwanted choice imposed upon Anu via Nayan and director Shahane. In reality, would anyone want a non-family member whom no one but the comatose patient even likes hanging around in a small hospital room? Other characters could have given Anu insight into her mother’s thoughts just as easily as Milan, especially since the film relies on flashbacks and not just Milan’s interview footage to present Nayan’s side of the story.

The film also stumbles a bit when making comparisons between Anu’s parenting style and Nayan’s, treating some actions as equivalent when they aren’t. Same for comparing Anu’s reaction to her childhood with Masha’s. The film suggests that Masha’s decision to marry into a conservative, patriarchal family as the logical response to being raised by a single mother, as though families only exist in those two forms with nothing in between.

Director Shahane is onto something with Tribhanga. She knows how to write complex women characters and build interesting relationships for them. Trusting in the audience to follow those characters through a story that develops organically is the next step.

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Movie Review: AK vs AK (2020)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch AK vs AK on Netflix
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

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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