Tag Archives: Hindi

Movie Review: Apurva (2023)

1 Star (out of 4)

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A kidnapped woman fights for her life in the survival thriller Apurva, which is nowhere near as exciting as that summary makes it sound.

Apurva opens not with the title character — played by Tara Sutaria in what is clearly supposed to be her breakout, solo-heroine role — but with her kidnappers: a dull quartet of crude, violent thieves lead by Jugnu (Rajpal Yadav). Sukkha (Abhishek Banerjee) is second in command, with Balli (Sumit Gulati) and Chhota (Aaditya Gupta) rounding out the group. They beat people to death and have literal pissing contests out in the bleak Chambal desert. They’re too cliched to be scary, even though composer Ketan Sodha tries his best to make them seem so with some threatening background music.

After spending too much time with these dullards, we finally meet Apurva. She’s on a bus to Agra to surprise her fiance Sid (Dhairya Karwa) for his birthday. En route, Jugnu & Co kill the bus driver and rob the passengers. Sid calls during the robbery, and Sukkha answers, telling him they’re taking beautiful Apurva with them.

Just in case we doubted whether a man engaged to a woman who cares enough to surprise him for his birthday would actually want her back, we get a flashback and song montage detailing Apurva’s introduction to Sid and their bubbly courtship. With their mutual affection confirmed, we can rest assured that Apurva has a reason to live and that Sid will try to save her.

Thus Apurva endures one of the least-interesting movie kidnappings ever. She spends a good chunk of time knocked out after Chhota slaps her. At one point, an astrologer (Rakesh Chaturvedi Om) randomly wanders into the ruins of the village where they’re holding her, despite it being well off the road and miles from anyplace inhabited.

Things get even sillier when writer-director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat — the filmmaker responsible for last year’s awful movie Hurdang — tries to tie the astrologer’s presence into the plot via a flashback with Sid that only highlights just how illogical his involvement is. Then again, that kind of fits in a movie where I repeatedly yelled at the main character to “just run!” when she was sitting there, waiting for her captors to find her.

Apurva is so insubstantial that there’s little chance for Sutaria to show off any heretofore unseen acting chops. She spends much of the film slowly moving barefoot through the ruins or yelling while lifting heavy objects, despite the fact that there’s nothing around to muffle sounds and her captors would obviously hear her. The thieves are a bunch of hapless jackasses, and Sid isn’t present enough for Karwa to have an impact. If you want to watch a “woman in trouble” film, watch Anushka Sharma in NH10 instead.


Movie Review: Jawan (2023)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

When successful Tamil-film director Atlee decided to make his first Hindi movie, he went straight to the top of the Bollywood food chain and nabbed Shah Rukh Khan as his star. The resultant action-fest Jawan (“Soldier“) is a novel treat for fans of Hindi cinema.

Jawan‘s gorgeously shot introductory sequence sets the tone for the film. A man’s body floats down a river near a village along India’s border with China. He’s so severely injured that the local healer wraps him entirely in bandages, like a mummy. Months later, as the man lays comatose, Chinese troops stage a nighttime raid on the village, brutally slaughtering men, women, and children. As the healer prays to god to send them aid, the man (Shah Rukh Khan) awakens and kills all the Chinese troops.

From this sequence, we learn that this is intended to be a larger-than-life story not strictly grounded in realism. It’s also very bloody and violent. It introduces recurring themes like government indifference to the suffering of its citizens and a subsequent need for vigilante justice.

The story jumps thirty years into the future as a band of six women and another man whose head is wrapped in bandages (also Khan) hijack a Mumbai Metro train. One of the passengers is the daughter of crooked businessman Kalee Gaikwad (Vijay Sethupathi), and the hijackers demand a large ransom from him. They use that money to pay the debts of 700,000 impoverished farmers, earning the respect of both the hijacked passengers and the general public.

The hijackers escape and return to their hideout: a women’s prison where the now-unbandaged man, Azad, is the warden. Because of its zero recidivism rate and emphasis on social welfare projects, Azad and the inmates win an international award. Cue a prison dance number!

If all this seems wild, well, it is. A ton of stuff happens across multiple timelines featuring a huge cast of characters. And I haven’t even touched on Azad’s matchmaking subplot, the cop Narmada (Nayanthara) who’s out to nab the hijackers, and an extended flashback starring Deepika Padukone.

Yet because of the terms laid out in Jawan‘s opening, none of this seems “too much.” Or maybe it’s “too much” in a good way. All these plot points are punctuated by exciting fights and chase scenes and a number of entertaining dance numbers. Atlee puts the pedal to the floor at the beginning and never lets up. There isn’t a boring moment in Jawan.

[Side note: I watched the “Extended Cut” of Jawan on Netflix, which is only one minute longer than the version released in theaters, as far as I can tell. The story is so dense as is that it doesn’t feel like it needs anything else, except for perhaps more backstory for all of Azad’s accomplices.]

Khan is thoroughly enjoyable in his multiple avatars and looks like he’s having fun while treating the material sincerely. Nayanthara and the women in Azad’s crew — including Sanya Malhotra — give nice performances in their supporting roles.

Padukone’s extended cameo appearance is a delightful surprise. Hers is the film’s most emotional subplot, and it’s enhanced not just by her steady acting but by some terrific music as well.

If there’s a weak point in Jawan, it’s Sethupathi’s turn as the villain. Sethupathi seems distant from the material and doesn’t make Kalee Gaikwad as menacing an adversary as Azad and company deserve.

But Jawan is bigger than any individual performance. It’s understandable that regular lead performers like Malhotra and Sunil Grover (who plays Narmada’s assistant Irani) would be willing to take small supporting roles to participate in such an epic story. Atlee and Shah Rukh Khan swung for the fences and hit a home run with Jawan.


Movie Review: Tumse Na Ho Payega (2023)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Do yourself a favor and only watch the first two-thirds of Tumse Na Ho Payega (“You Won’t Be Able to Do It“), when it appears to be an anti-capitalist parable about the moral, psychological, and social cost of growing a business to sate the voracious appetites of institutional investors.

Turn it off before you get to the part where, actually, turns out you just need to align yourself with a beneficent venture capital firm that will allow you to engage in “good” capitalism.

Ishwak Singh plays Gaurav, an office drone who gets fired when his boss overhears him complaining that his boring engineering job is boring. Against the advice of his mom Pooja (Amala Akkineni) and bossy neighborhood gossip Anu Aunty (Meghna Malik) — whose snobbish son Arjun (Karan Jotwani) is the youngest general manager in his financial firm’s history — Gaurav decides to start his own business.

Gaurav’s downstairs neighbor Pummy Aunty (Farida Dadi) is a great cook. Whenever he would bring a tiffin full of her dishes for lunch, his coworkers — young, single people living in Mumbai away from their parents — would go crazy for her tasty home-cooked meals. Gaurav gets the idea to recruit other aunties to make extra food to sell to office workers who are sick of takeout. Thus is born the food delivery service Maa’s Magic.

Maa’s Magic takes off with the help of Gaurav’s programmer buddy Mal (Gaurav Pandey) and his social media manager crush Devika (Mahima Makwana), who is currently dating that jerk Arjun. But being able to support themselves doing work they like isn’t enough to impress Arjun and Anu Aunty. Soon, Gaurav and Mal make a deal with an unscrupulous venture capitalist who pushes them to expand their business, even if it ruins everything good about Maa’s Magic.

At this point in the story, the movie’s message is obvious: don’t sell out for the sake of money. Being successful is about more than just money, and no amount will ever be enough to satisfy your naysayers. Making a difference in your community and being happy day-to-day is priceless.

Then Tumse Na Ho Payega throws all that feel-good stuff out the window to remind us that growth is paramount. In fact, you owe it to your customers to always grow your company. Speaking on behalf of customers, that’s a load of bunk.

The story’s disappointing twist stems from the fact that the movie is adapted from the mostly autobiographical book How I Braved Anu Aunty and Co-Founded a Million Dollar Company by Varun Agarwal. While the plot may be accurate to Agarwal’s experience, it makes for an inconsistent and ultimately disappointing narrative.

Also working against Tumse Na Ho Payega are dialogue and performances that are strictly utilitarian. There are some interesting sequences where the characters address the camera directly or in mocking voice-over conversations, but the film overall is forgettable.


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Movie Review: Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani (2023)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani on Amazon Prime

Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani is an overwhelming sensory experience. Every frame is full of vibrant colors, dynamic visuals, and stirring music. A packed movie theater provides the ideal immersive experience for this kind of film. However, watching at home — as I did on a TV screen with an audience of two — it’s harder to ignore the things about Rocky Aur Rani that don’t work.

The performances by the all-star cast are firmly in the category of Things That Work. Ranveer Singh plays the titular Rocky, heir to a sweets company established by his stern grandmother Dhanalaxmi Randhawa (Jaya Bachchan) and run by his equally stern father Tijori (Aamir Bashir). Rocky is nothing like his buttoned-up progenitors, as in he prefers to wear his garishly patterned shirts mostly unbuttoned. He speaks mangled English as he drives around in his expensive sports cars.

Rocky dotes on his grandfather Kanwal (Dharmendra), who suffers from mobility and memory issues. When grandpa utters the name “Jamini” and points to a torn old photo of a woman, Rocky sets out to find her.

Jamini (Shabana Azmi) turns out to be a former flame Kanwal met at a poetry conference, after he was already married to Dhanalaxmi. Rocky meets Jamini’s granddaughter Rani (Alia Bhatt) — a quick-witted TV news anchor — who helps reunite the former lovers on the sly. Coordinating secret meetings between the older couple sparks romance between the younger couple, despite some big differences between them. Rani is as educated and driven as Rocky is not, but ultimately hotness trumps all.

As with every Karan Johar-directed picture, it’s all about loving your family, so Rocky and Rani agree to spend three months (!!!) living with their respective future-in-laws to see if the two clans can co-exist. (Apparently, the love affair between Rocky’s grandpa and Rani’s grandma is not a deal breaker.) Rocky moves in with Rani’s cultured, liberal Bengali family and is immediately clowned upon, and granny Dhanalaxmi freezes out Rani. Things look bleak for our sexy heroes.

The drama, laughs, and heartache in Rocky Aur Rani are punctuated with some grand and truly memorable musical numbers, like the catchy “What Jhumka?” and the visually stunning celebration “Dhindhora Baje Re.” In a funny twist, the only time Rocky ever dresses in a sophisticated manner is during the song “Tum Kya Mile,” when he’s a figment of Rani’s imagination while she’s on a work trip in Kashmir.

The performances overall are charming, with Bhatt again showing that she’s at the top of her game as Rani. Singh is careful to make Rocky a goofball but not an irritant, and it’s always clear that there’s a real person inside the flashy attire. Bachchan also makes the most of her role as mean grandma.

That leads to one of the things that didn’t work for me about Rocky Aur Rani. I’m not sure how an unsophisticated guy like Rocky comes from the family he does. Knowing that he will one day take over the family business, wouldn’t his dad and grandma have sent him overseas to get an MBA and made sure he behaved with perfect decorum? Other than shaming him for his love of dancing, they don’t seem to care what he does. Rocky and his family feel like they belong in two different movies.

I also struggled to nail down the movie’s moral point of view. Rocky Aur Rani makes no secret of when it’s moralizing, with poignant music cueing the audience to pay attention to the meaningful bits. But some of the messages come from strange angles, such as when Rani’s mom Anjali (Churni Ganguly) makes Rocky wear a bra in public in order to teach him gender equality. I have doubts about the lingerie store’s employees participating in an act deliberately meant to humiliate a patron.

Then there’s Rocky’s speech about making socially regressive missteps because he wasn’t taught not to. Singh’s delivery is heartfelt, but it’s strange to hear Rocky ask for leniency because he didn’t know it was rude to make fun of people for their skin color or weight. The whole thing feels like a aging white male standup comic in America lamenting that “you can’t say anything anymore” before ranting about “snowflakes.”

To reiterate what I stated at the start of this review, I think these plot issues may be less glaring when one is watching Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani in a theater on a giant screen with surround sound. Unfortunately, now that its theatrical run is over, the inconsistencies are more apparent.


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Movie Review: Khufiya (2023)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Buy Escape to Nowhere at Amazon

Filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj is gifted at adapting plays and books into killer screenplays, from his Shakespeare trilogy (Maqbool, Omkara, and Haider) to 7 Khoon Maaf, based on the Ruskin Bond short story “Susanna’s Seven Husbands.” His latest — Khufiya — is based on Amar Bhushan’s espionage novel Escape to Nowhere, but the resulting film is not one of Bhardwaj’s most successful adaptations.

Khufiya‘s setup is pretty straightforward. It’s 2004, and a mole within India’s intelligence bureau RAW leaked information that got one of their operatives killed. RAW needs to find out who the mole is working with and how they’re transferring sensitive documents.

In the years since the 1999 Kargil War, both India and Pakistan worked in secret to influence elections in Bangladesh. It’s there that an Indian operative named Heena (Bangladeshi actress Azmeri Haque Badhon) is murdered at a swanky party while trying to poison Pakistani Brigadier Mirza (Shataf Figar).

RAW officer Jeev (Ashish Vidyarthi) quickly and correctly identifies an employee named Ravi (Ali Fazal) as the source of the leak. Jeev lets his most trusted deputy Krishna (Tabu) lead the operation to follow Ravi as a way of getting payback for Heena’s death. Though they may not have publicly acknowledged it, it’s clear that Krishna’s partnership with Heena was more than just professional.

The spy stuff is fun, as Krishna’s crew bugs Ravi’s house with hidden cameras and follow him around town. There’s some suspicion that Ravi’s wife Charu (Wamiqa Gabbi) is helping him transfer documents, but she mostly hangs out at home smoking weed and dancing to old film songs in her underwear.

When they finally discover who Ravi’s working for, the truth reveals a web of global geopolitics that is more complicated than India versus Pakistan, spy versus spy. The second half of the film switches the focus from Krishna and India to another character in another location, similar to Gone Girl.

Khufiya‘s two standout performers are Badhon as Heena and Gabbi as Charu. Badhon is ideal as a sexy vamp. Gabbi is sassy and adorable as Charu when she thinks no one is watching her and heartbreaking when the consequences of Ravi’s double-dealing come to bear. Fazal is totally solid as Ravi.

Tabu’s Krishna is stoic as she puts her pain on the back-burner to focus on the mission at hand. Despite Krishna being the main character, we don’t get to know her as well as I wanted to, and Tabu doesn’t get to show the emotional range she’s capable of.

That’s because the screenplay isn’t a great adaptation of the novel. The movie feels very much like it was based on a book, with lots of subplots, complex international relations, and character introspection. There’s so much going on that Bhardwaj would’ve been better either turning Khufiya into a series or cutting some subplots out of the final draft.

Making Khufiya into a series would have allowed more time to showcase all the subplots — particularly Krishna’s relationship with Heena — while enabling more in-depth character development and opportunities to establish atmosphere. The midpoint character point of view switch also would have felt more organic. As it stands, the movie feels simultaneously too dense and not dense enough.

If Bhardwaj was set on shooting Khufiya as a film, it would’ve been fair to axe Krishna’s ex-husband Shashank (played by Atul Kulkarni) and their teenage son Vikram (Meet Vohra) from the plot. As is, they seem like afterthoughts who don’t add enough to Krishna’s arc. The only reason to keep them is that it gives Bhardwaj an excuse to work a couple of Shakespeare references into the story, with Vikram starring in a production of Julius Caesar and having a Tempest poster hanging on his bedroom wall.

The music is terrific, as it is in every Bhardwaj picture (he’s also the film’s composer). Singer Rahul Ram plays a holy man, and his songs “Bujhee Bujhee” and “Mann Na Rangaave” are soundtrack highlights.

Khufiya is by no means bad. It just could have been better.


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Movie Review: Country of Blind (2023)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

It’s fair to calibrate expectations for an independent film with a smaller budget, but Country of Blind‘s problems are not really an issue of limited finances — with one glaring exception.

Writer-director Rahhat Shah Kazmi’s update of H. G. Wells’s 1904 short story “The Country of the Blind” relocates the action from the mountains of Ecuador to the Himalayas. In ancient India, a narrated voice-over explains, a tribe of people fled a war to the safety of a hidden valley. Soon after they arrived, a mysterious illness caused the people to lose their sight and for babies to be born blind. An avalanche cut the valley off from access to the outside world, and the tribe was forgotten to history.

In the 18th century, Indian mountaineer Abhimanyu (Shoib Nikash Shah) leads his European friends up an unexplored peak. He slips and falls, tumbling all the way down to the hidden valley. With no equipment to climb back up the mountain, he heads into the valley to find a way out. There, he meets the descendants of that ancient tribe, who have been totally blind for generations.

Abhimanyu is quickly disabused of the notion that his ability to see will afford him special privileges among the tribe. He can’t even explain the concept of sight to them, since none of them have ever experienced it. Further, he’s so bad at adapting to their sightless ways of living that he’s treated like a clumsy child.

The tribe’s adaptations should be a highlight of the film, but the few that are shown are rudimentary or counterintuitive. They developed a system of paths made from different materials to convey meaning to the walker based on the texture (cool!), but the main path is made of round, grapefruit-sized cobbles that must be traversed slowly so as not to slip (huh?). Also, people in the valley work over open flames without tying back their long hair.

The only reason these dubiously safe scenarios can be used in the movie is because none of the actors in the main cast is blind (as far as I know). In long shots featuring lots of extras, it’s possible to spot some extras looking down at the uneven cobblestone path so as not to lose their footing.

While Abhimanyu is initially eager to return to civilization, he hesitates when he meets a beautiful woman named Gosha (Hina Khan). Of course, he really only likes her because of her looks, which are only important to him because he can see. Country of Blind explores this in an interesting way that ultimately turns the film into more of a parable than the original short story.

While the acting is generally pretty good, the actors aren’t responsible for relaying large portions of the story, which is instead delegated to the voice-over narrator. The compact plot is padded out with flashbacks to stuff that happened earlier in the film and shots of Abhimanyu just looking around. These aren’t problems of limited finances but of editing and screenplay organization.

The one place where the producers clearly cut corners is with the film’s English subtitles, which are riddled with misspellings and grammatical errors. Besides being distracting, they’re bad enough to be confusing at points. Any non-Hindi speakers interested in watching Country of Blind may want to wait to see the film is picked up by one of the major streaming services, who typically re-subtitle movies before putting them on their platforms.


Movie Review: Jaane Jaan (2023)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Jaane Jaan / Suspect X on Netflix

In Jaane Jaan (also known as “Suspect X“) — filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh’s adaptation of the novel The Devotion of Suspect X — Ghosh showcases the same gifts for establishing atmosphere and directing actors as he displayed in 2012’s brilliant thriller Kahaani.

Much of what made Kahaani so engrossing were the subtle interactions between characters, like the tender way Officer Rana looks at pregnant Vidya, the woman he’s helping search for her missing husband. He’s smitten with her, even though he (and we) know they can never be together. Jaane Jaan is full of poignant glances and meaningful expressions that command the audience’s attention even more powerfully than a flashy action sequence.

Kareena Kapoor Khan plays Maya, a single mother living in the West Bengal hill town Kalimpong with her 14-year-old daughter Tara (Naisha Khanna). One day, the nightmare Maya has feared for almost fifteen years comes true: her husband Ajit (Saurabh Sachdev) — a sleazy Mumbai cop who dabbles in human trafficking — finally tracks her and Tara down. Though Maya assumes that Ajit is there for her, his intentions are more sinister.

Maya’s next door neighbor Naren (Jaideep Ahlawat) — a respected but aloof mathematics teacher — is reticence personified, but he’s a keen observer. He puts some clues together (thanks in no small part to their apartment building’s paper-thin walls) and determines that Maya is in trouble. He knocks on her door at a crucial moment, offering mother and daughter an unexpected but desperately needed lifeline.

Days after Ajit’s arrival, another stranger comes to Kalimpong: dashing Mumbai police officer Karan Anand (Vijay Varma). He hopes to find Ajit and use him to bring down the human trafficking racket he’s a part of. Soon enough, Karan figures out Maya’s connection to Ajit. And he’s surprised to meet his old college buddy and fellow martial artist, Naren.

By the time Karan arrives, Ajit is nowhere to be found. The three characters engage in a delicate dance, careful not to disclose more information than they should while trying to figure out what each other knows. It’s a dangerous situation because Naren knows how smart Karan is, and it won’t be long before he assumes Maya is involved with Ajit’s disappearance. Complicating things further is that both men are attracted to Maya.

All three of the main actors give some of the best performances of their careers in Jaane Jaan. Varma moves Karan through the world with the easy confidence of a man with looks, brains, charm, and authority. He instantly befriends his new partner on the local police force, Sundar Singh (Karma Takapa). Even when Karan is focused, he’s physically relaxed.

Karan is the opposite of Naren, who Ahlwat plays with imposing rigidity and minimal expressions. Ahlawat’s job is to convey the complexity of Naren’s feelings through microscopic movements of facial muscles and barely perceptible changes in appearance. It’s a daunting challenge, but Ahlawat pulls it off beautifully. Naren is a fully realized character of great emotional depth, even though those around him can hardly tell. He’s misjudged, but he also engages in some problematic behavior, so he’s more complicated than just a sympathetic underdog.

Kapoor Khan is excellent in guiding Maya through the storm that upends her life when Ajit and Karan come to town. Whether Maya is afraid, resolute, standoffish, or vulnerable, Kapoor Khan executes everything that’s asked of her with precision.

The masterful acting isn’t limited to the main three characters and their battle of wits. Sachdev’s Ajit is a total slimeball. Khanna is wonderful as a young teen forced to shoulder unfair burdens. Characters like Officer Singh and Maya’s well-intentioned but nosy co-worker Prema (Lin Laishram) are delightfully performed and give Jaane Jaan a real sense of place.

Kalimpong is the perfect location for a mystery, full of twisting roads, hidden alleys, and towering hills. Low-hanging clouds obscure and conceal, yet its beautiful vistas and lush forest invite exploration. With Jaane Jaan, Sujoy Ghosh shows again that he knows exactly what he’s doing.


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Movie Review: Neeyat (2023)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Neeyat (“Motive“) draws from classic mystery stories, though it falls short of becoming a classic itself.

Ram Kapoor plays AK, a wealthy industrialist on the run from the Indian government due to shady financial dealings. He hasn’t paid his employees in two years, leading to at least eight suicides by people on his payroll suffering financial distress.

AK gathers his closest friends and family members at his Scottish castle — the eerily named Highgrave Manor — to celebrate his birthday. Everyone invited is subsidized by AK in one way or another, whether it be the boarding school tuition he pays for his niece Sasha (Ishika Mehra) or the jewels he buys his much-younger girlfriend Lisa (Shahana Goswami). They all depend on him to maintain their lavish lifestyles.

As a dangerous storm closes in, event manager Tanveer (Danesh Razvi) sends the rest of the staff home before the only bridge leading to the castle is raised, stranding everyone there for the night — but a late arriving guest reveals AK’s ulterior motives. AK announces at dinner that he plans to turn himself and all of his remaining assets over to the Indian authorities, and that CBI officer Mira Rao (Vidya Balan) is there to take him into custody the following morning when her cohorts from Scotland Yard arrive.

This causes an uproar as the guests realize that their gravy train is about to derail. All of them have reason to stop AK from carrying out his plan. When he falls over a cliff to his death, officer Mira tries to determine which of the guests turned murderer.

There are lots of characters (in the colloquial sense) among the characters, played to varying degrees of success. Kapoor’s AK is boisterous, but not over-the-top. Same cannot be said for Rahul Bose’s depiction of AK’s hard-partying, bisexual brother-in-law Jimmy, whose big reactions border on cartoonish.

Subtle performances from Goswami as the current girlfriend, Shashank Arora as AK’s neglected stepson Ryan, Dipannita Sharma as AK’s former flame Noor, and Neeraj Kabi as Noor’s husband Sanjay steady the film and help to maintain movement as the investigation into AK’s death kicks into gear.

The big question mark among the characters is Mira. She’s part quirky detective and part taciturn loner, and Balan never quite hits the right tone to make her feel believable. Due to Mira’s penchant for describing the situation with technical specificity, one of the characters refers to her as a “walking encyclopedia.” It’s a nod in the direction of a brainiac detective like Sherlock, but she lacks his charisma.

Further, writer-director Anu Menon shows some of Mira’s tics — like her periodically eating butterscotch hard candies — that seem like they are going to meaningful but ultimately aren’t. The thing about detective stories is that the audience has been trained to pay attention to the smallest details, making the choice of what to include in the narrative crucially important. If something isn’t going to be either a clue or a red herring, leave it out.

That said, the setting — an isolated castle in Scotland on a stormy night — is evocative, making the whole film feel very comfortable for genre fans. While not perfect, Neeyat does what it needs to do to meet the needs of mystery aficionados.


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Movie Review: Thank You for Coming (2023)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Bhumi Pednekar showcases her ability to master any kind of material in the sex-positive comedy Thank You For Coming. Unfortunately, poor pacing and inconsistent world-building keep this progressive story from reaching its full potential.

Pednekar plays Kanika Kapoor, an energetic single woman in her early 30s with an unfulfilling sex life. The film opens with a recounting of all of the disappointing men she’s dated, from a selfish high school boyfriend to a much older professor (played by Anil Kapoor). After we receive all this background and are introduced to her gynecologist mom and conservative grandmother, we learn Kanika has decided to marry a well-to-do nerd named Jeevan (Pradhuman Singh). Better to be hitched and unsatisfied than alone and unsatisfied, she figures.

For some reason, all of Kanika’s exes are invited to the couple’s engagement party. After a drunken night, Kanika wakes up in her hotel room alone. The only thing she remembers is that she finally had her first orgasm, but she doesn’t know who was with her when it happened. She and her pals set out to find the mystery lover before the wedding takes place.

Kanika’s hotel room revelation marks the halfway point in the story, which is way too late in the proceedings, especially since the material that proceeds it is only okay. Besides a few funny moments from Kanika — made all the more entertaining by Pednekar’s committed delivery — there’s a lot of dialogue that isn’t particularly humorous or informative. Critical information that will be relevant later is said in passing rather than shown, so it hardly even registers as something that might be important to the story.

One strange choice by director Karan Boolani and writers Radhika Anand and Prashasti Singh is that they hardly feature Kanika’s cool and very movie-friendly job. A new acquaintance Rushi (Shehnaaz Gill, who is bubbly and fun in her role) says that she is a super fan of Kanika’s work as a food blogger. The only time we see Kanika actually working is in a single, brief scene where her friend’s teenage daughter Rabeya helps her take some food photos. That’s it.

Incorporating food into films would’ve been an easy way to provide visual interest in a movie prone to telling, not showing. Plus, one of the film’s themes is about Kanika accepting herself as she is, and being a popular food blogger would seem to be a pretty big endorsement of one’s self-worth. Instead, the movie reduces Kanika’s whole being down to her floundering sex life.

Thank You for Coming makes compelling points about the double standards held against women who pursue sexual satisfaction. It’s particularly effective in a subplot featuring Rabeya that calls back to Kanika’s own troubled high school romance and its effects on her reputation.

Still, there’s too much dull, inessential fluff in Thank You for Coming, keeping it from being the snappy comedy it should be. Pednekar is a delightful lead, but the story lets her down.


Movie Review: Satyaprem Ki Katha (2023)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Satyaprem Ki Katha aspires to be a social issue picture that feels less heavy-handed than other Hindi films about important topics sometimes do. It almost meets its goals, but it trips just before crossing the finish line.

One of Satyaprem Ki Katha‘s selling points is that its characters are nuanced and have room to grow. Kartik Aaryan plays Satyaprem, whom everyone calls Sattu. He’s a nice but mediocre guy who’s been left behind as his peers advanced in their careers and romantic relationships. He tends the house with his dad/best friend Narayan (Gajraj Rao) while his mom Diwali (Supriya Pathak) and sister Sejal (Shikha Talsania) earn money teaching dance and exercise classes.

Sattu pines for the beautiful woman he saw dancing at last year’s holiday function: Katha (Kiara Advani), daughter of wealthy shop owner Harikishen Kapadia (Siddharth Randeria). When Sattu doesn’t see Katha at this year’s function, her father tells him that she felt unwell and stayed home. Sattu sneaks into the Kapadia mansion to confess his feelings, arriving just in time to stop Katha’s suicide attempt from succeeding.

Worried that Katha’s recent breakup with her rich boyfriend Tapan (Arjun Aneja) and her newly revealed mental health problems will tarnish Katha’s reputation among the upper crust, Harikishen marries her off to the first suitable groom he finds: Sattu. Katha agrees to the marriage, but only because her dad threatens to kill himself if she doesn’t. The look of heartbreak and betrayal on Katha’s face as she leaves home after the wedding is devastating.

Understandably, the marriage starts off rocky. The fact that Katha won’t let Sattu sleep in the same room as her becomes hot neighborhood gossip. As unsympathetic as Katha’s father is to his daughter, he kindly explains to Sattu that something awful must have happened for Katha to have attempted suicide. Sattu takes his time earning Katha’s trust, helping her to open up and reveal the trauma she’s been hiding.

Harikishen is a good example of what Satyaprem Ki Katha — directed by Sameer Vidwans and written by Karan Shrikant Sharma — does well in terms of character creation. All of the characters are multidimensional, sometimes holding contradictory views or changing their stance depending on the circumstances. Narayan is the same way, counseling Sattu on patience and understanding, but only until the family is threatened by scandal.

Such complexity makes the characters feel believable and gives the actors a chance to demonstrate their range. Advani nails her part, but Aaryan understands what’s being asked of him, too, saving his smarmy grins for dream-sequence dance numbers. Pathak and Rao are also quite good as Sattu’s concerned parents.

Speaking of dance numbers, the inclusion of several song sequences lightens a film that deals with heavy subjects, but without being jarring or tonally inconsistent.

For all the good work Vidwans and Sharma do creating characters who address complicated issues from multiple angles, the moral center of the film falls apart as the story draws to a close. What had been a good example of how to exercise patience with victims and take their accounts seriously becomes yet another film where a victimized woman is sidelined and the male hero is centered. By the end, it’s Sattu who decides the proper way for Katha to heal, and he defines what constitutes justice.

I’m not willing to write Satyaprem Ki Katha off entirely just because it doesn’t stick the landing. There’s some value to be found in dissecting the ways the movie gets things wrong at the end, as well as what it gets right early on. Still, it’s a bummer to see it come so close only to fall apart.


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