Tag Archives: Huma Qureshi

Movie Review: Viceroy’s House (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Viceroy’s House isn’t wholly successful, but maybe trying to depict the fraught months leading up to India’s Partition in a movie less than two hours long was never a venture that could succeed.

The biggest hurdle director Gurinder Chadha and her screenwriter husband Paul Mayeda Berges set for themselves is in trying to portray events in a way that is, if not objective, then at least fair. Most of the key players — fictional and historical — are shown as having good intentions and understandable motivations (except for the Muslims who work for the viceroy, who all agitate for an independent Pakistan). Yet knowing now of the refugee crisis that immediately followed Partition and the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan, is the focus on good intentions even desirable?

Viceroy’s House begins with the installation of Lord Louis Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) as the last viceroy, tasked with turning over the subcontinent to Indian rule. Even with independence on the horizon, Mountbatten maintains his aristocratic lifestyle, timing his servants to make sure they can dress him quickly enough for his satisfaction.

Mountbatten’s wife, Edwina (Gillian Anderson), and their teenage daughter Pamela (Lily Travers), are more aware of the value of softening the image of the British as rulers in favor of something more democratic. Edwina invites Indian guests to parties at the estate, asking the all-Indian kitchen staff to adjust the menu to cater to local tastes. When the sous chef complains in Hindi that all of his training is in English-style cooking, the Lady’s assistant Aalia (Huma Qureshi) translates his comments as polite assent to the request. It’s as though the movie itself doesn’t want its British characters to have to deal with the mess that their predecessors left, and as if the present viceroy’s family’s good intentions have wiped the slate clean.

In an effort to put the larger events in a more personal context, Viceroy’s House features a love story between Aalia and Jeet (Manish Dayal), one of Lord Mountbatten’s grooms. They love each other, but he is Hindu and she is Muslim, in addition to being betrothed to a nice man, Asif (Arunoday Singh), as fulfillment of her mother’s dying wish. Jeet wants Aalia to follow her heart, but she has not only Asif’s feelings to consider but the well-being of her blind father (played by Om Puri). Would they really be safe in a Hindu-majority India? Jeet’s naive faith in both a united India and in the power of love to conquer all lead him to dismiss Aalia’s concerns as a lack of courage.

Casting Hugh Bonneville as an aristocrat invites comparisons to his role as the Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey. Where the two stories differ is in their ability to entwine the lives of characters of different classes, thus providing a more complete picture of society at the time. Downton Abbey did so successfully through subplots like Lady Sybil helping Gwen the maid find a job as a secretary.

In Viceroy’s House, the Mountbatten’s lack such intimate connections to their staff. The wealthy Brits have ideas as to what might be troubling their servants, but they don’t know details. The whole feel of the film would have changed with better integration between the class-specific plots, such as Pamela learning of Aalia’s romantic problems and using her position to find a way for Aalia and Jeet to be together.

Where Viceroy’s House does succeed is showing the scope of the problems complicating the British departure from India. There are no easy solutions, and blood was already being shed when Mountbatten arrived. However, asking the audience to feel bad for Mountbatten — a representative of a white, foreign power that had been exploiting India for centuries — just because he personally didn’t create the problems he was asked to solve is a bit much.

The accomplished cast — which also includes Michael Gambon, Darshan Jariwala, Denzil Smith, and Neeraj Kabi — give laudable performances all around. Huma Qureshi is charming, and Arunoday Singh stands out in his few scenes. If the two of them can’t find quality parts in Bollywood, come to Hollywood, please!

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Movie Review: Jolly LLB 2 (2017)

jollyllb22.5 Stars (out of 4)

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In spite of a compelling performance by Akshay Kumar as Jolly LLB 2‘s flawed hero, narrative inconsistencies keep the well-intentioned black comedy from achieving its full potential.

Kumar plays Jolly Mishra — a different character from Arshad Warsi’s title character in the original Jolly LLB — an ambitious lawyer who yearns to be more than an errand boy for the more established attorney, Rizvi. In order to raise money to establish his own practice, Jolly assures a pregnant young widow, Hina (Sayani Gupta), that Rizvi will take on her case, collecting the fees from her up front and keeping them for himself.

Hina’s case is politically dangerous. She believes that her husband, Iqbal (Manav Kaul), was falsely arrested on terrorism charges and murdered by police, all for the sake of securing a promotion for notorious Officer Suryaveer Singh (Kumud Mishra). With crooked, wealthy Lucknow attorney Sachin Mathur (Annu Kapoor) defending Singh, every other lawyer knows that Hina’s case is a lost cause.

When Hina learns from Rizvi that he never agreed to take her case, she realizes that Jolly duped her, declaring as much in front of Jolly, his wife Pushpa (Huma Qureshi), and his father, who spent decades working as Rizvi’s legal secretary. Devoid of hope, Hina kills herself. Rizvi fires Jolly, and Jolly’s father tells his son he never wants to see him again.

Jolly is a complicated character. He’s a doting husband to drunken Pushpa and a loving father to their son, but he doesn’t work for any ideals higher than his own ambition. It’s impossible to pay penance for driving Hina to suicide, but Jolly takes on her case in the hopes of righting some of the wrongs he did by her and her family. Kumar’s grounded performance makes us believe that Jolly can become a better man by the end of the movie than he is at the beginning.

The case pits Jolly — who has the truth on his side — against the nakedly corrupt Mathur, who is sleazy in typical sleazy movie lawyer fashion. The presiding Judge Tripathy (Saurabh Shukla) isn’t explicitly corrupt, just distracted by his daughter’s upcoming nuptials.

Tripathy is the weak link in Jolly LLB 2. It’s hard to figure out how exactly he fits into the story. He’s not funny enough to provide true comic relief, but he’s clearly too light for a somewhat grim case involving suicide and extrajudicial police killings. He’s prone to drawing out conversations, leading to dull patches. Unlike the other characters, his balance is off.

The judge is also tasked by the script with driving the tension in the courtroom, but he’s not consistent in the way in which he does so. Tripathy believes or discounts witnesses’ testimony depending on the needs of the story at that moment, not because of any internal logic. Some of his other decisions are so blatantly provocative that it dispels the illusion of organic story flow. We can all but see writer-director Subhash Kapoor pulling the strings.

In Jolly LLB 2‘s favor, Kumar and Qureshi look great together and share a comfortable rapport. Rajiv Gupta is the film’s unsung hero as Jolly’s harried assistant, Birbal. Shukla’s dance sequence as Tripathy rehearses for his daughter’s wedding is pretty funny.

Jolly LLB 2‘s sentiment is admirable, especially at a time when citizens in India and around the world are desperate for reassurance that their justice systems aren’t fundamentally irreparable. The story just needed more refining to maintain a consistent tone throughout.

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Movie Review: Badlapur (2015)

Badlapur_Poster3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Badlapur is a jaw-dropping thriller that examines the perils of revenge. After a pair of delightful comic performances in his two previous films, Varun Dhawan shines as a grieving husband who becomes a monster.

Heed the tagline at the end of the Badlapur trailer: “Don’t miss the beginning.” The movie opens with a bank robbery and carjacking. The owner of the car (played by Yami Gautam) and her young son are killed in gruesome — if somewhat accidental — fashion during the escape attempt. One of the robbers (played by Vinay Pathak) flees with the loot, while the other, Liak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), turns himself in to the police.

Badlapur‘s plot follows two parallel stories: Liak’s life behind bars, and the quest for revenge undertaken by Raghu (Dhawan), husband of Misha (Gautam) and father of their son.

The movie is clearly inspired by the Korean film I Saw the Devil — most obviously in a scene in which a man in a car pulls up to a stranded female motorist — which was remade in India last year as Ek Villain. Badlapur is a more fitting successor to the Korean film than the acknowledged remake.

What differentiates Badlapur‘s lead character from the secret service agent at the core of I Saw the Devil is that Raghu has no special skills to aid his revenge quest. He works in advertising before the murders, and takes a job as a factory foreman after Liak is imprisoned.

Because he’s just a regular guy, Raghu’s plans seem a little disorganized. It’s not clear when he will feel his vengeance complete. He intends to wait until Liak’s twenty-year prison sentence is over, then follow Liak when he retrieves his share of the money from Harman (Pathak), his accomplice. Raghu’s timetable is accelerated when a well-meaning-but-naive charity worker, Shoba (Divya Dutta), asks Raghu to petition for Liak’s early release so he can seek medical treatment.

Raghu is content to wait to enact his revenge upon Liak and Harman, but he has far less patience for the women who willingly maintain relationships with the criminals. This goes for Shoba, Harman’s wife, Koko (Radhika Apte), and especially Liak’s girlfriend, Jimli (Huma Qureshi).

Jimli is first to experience Raghu’s rage. Because she is a prostitute, Raghu has no compunction about raping her, thus “ruining” her for Liak. That Raghu feels his money can compensate Jimli for the rape is the sign that he’s gone off the deep end. When Liak asks him what makes the two of them so different, Raghu doesn’t have a good answer.

Every performance in Badlapur is pitch perfect. Dutta and Apte are sympathetic, and Qureshi is superb. Pathak doesn’t get as much screentime as Siddiqui, but he features in the movie’s best scene, in which Harman and Raghu silently size each other up as they ride in an elevator.

Siddiqui is great, but Liak’s character is tricky to embrace. There’s only so much he can do since he spends much of the film in jail, and every scene reinforces that he’s a bad guy. The volume of storytime devoted to Liak has less to do with the character and more to do with a desire to keep Siddiqui on screen for as long as possible.

In only his fourth film, Dhawan extends his acting range in impressive fashion. His portrayal of Raghu is chilling. He’s far scarier than Liak or Harman, but he also has the capacity to act normal when it serves his purpose.

Badlapur has trouble maintaining momentum early on. Raghu’s brutalization of Jimli is followed by flashbacks to his romance with Misha and low-key scenes of Liak’s exploits in jail. Raghu feels a bit absent from the film’s ultimate resolution, but perhaps that fits given that he isn’t a criminal mastermind capable of engineering a dramatic climax.

One thing director Sriram Raghavan excels at is sound design. There isn’t much in the way of background music in Badlapur, and the movie is often punctuated by street noise like barking dogs. The undercurrent of everyday sounds makes the film feel more realistic, heightening its impact.

Not a movie for the faint of heart, Badlapur rewards its audience with great performances and a nuanced take on the revenge genre. If nothing else, it establishes Varun Dhawan as the most exciting young actor in Bollywood today.

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Streaming Video News: June 2, 2014

New on Netflix streaming is the 2013 spy thriller D-Day, starring Irrfan Khan, Arjun Rampal, Rishi Kapoor, and Huma Qureshi. I think about D-Day more often than any other film from last year, and I look forward to watching it again.

Eros Now debuted Purani Jeans on its streaming service a couple of days ago. The coming-of-age film from last month didn’t open in North American theaters, so it’s great that fans over here finally have a way to watch it.

Movie Review: Dedh Ishqiya (2014)

DedhIshqiya4 Stars (out of 4)

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There are times when the most appropriate review of a really good movie boils down to: “GO WATCH THIS MOVIE RIGHT NOW!” Dedh Ishqiya merits such praise.

Dedh Ishqiya combines many genres by being equal parts comedy, thriller, mystery, and romance, with a bit of action thrown in as well. The particular combination gives the movie its own unique flavor that builds on the tone of its predecessor, Ishqiya. Writer-director Abhishek Chaubey and his co-writer/producer, Vishal Bhardwaj, create a wonderful, distinct world for their two thieving protagonists: Khalu (Naseeruddin Shah) and his nephew, Babban (Arshad Warsi).

The events of the sequel pick up with the two crooks still in debt to Khalu’s brother-in-law, Mushtaq (Salman Shahid). The pair get separated during a jewel heist, until Babban discovers Khalu posing as a poet hoping to woo an aristocrat’s widow.

The lovely widow, Para (Madhuri Dixit-Nene), and her protective assistant, Muniya (Huma Qureshi), aim to find the widow a new husband via a poetry contest. Khalu’s main competitor is Jaan Mohammad (Vijay Raaz), a gangster desirous of a more respectable social position.

Khalu and Babban are great, dynamic characters. Babban’s lack of impulse control drives most of the laughs, while Khalu’s romantic nature causes problems in his professional life. Aspiring Romeos should study Shah’s performance for how to properly look like you’re in love with a woman. Stare at a woman the way Khalu stares at Para, and she’s yours.

Dixit-Nene and Qureshi get the meatier roles, both because their characters are new and because Khalu and Babban wear their hearts on their sleeves. The women are complex and intriguing, but not cagey. We want to know more, and they draw the audience in as easily as they do the thieves.

As mentioned above, Khalu and Para have wonderful chemistry. They both find themselves in a position to finally live for themselves, rather than on behalf of other people in their lives. At 46, Dixit-Nene would in reality be a very young widow, but she brings such grace and wisdom to the role that she gives the impression of being older than she looks.

The relationship between Babban and Muniya is more tumultuous and results in some entertaining gender-role reversals. Babban’s role as pursuer is short-lived, and Muniya quickly steers them into a physical relationship. Fearing that Muniya doesn’t share his romantic feelings, he worries that she thinks he’s nothing but a whore: an ironic twist, given his own fondness for prostitutes.

Raaz is perfectly sleazy as the wannabe aristocrat, though not so sinister as to detract from the movie’s humorous tone. Manoj Pahwa, who frequently plays broad comic characters, gets a more subdued role as a poet forced to aid the gangster. The payoff for Pahwa’s character is simply amazing.

Vishal Bhardwaj’s music is terrific, as always. The dilapidated mansion in which most of the story takes place is gorgeous. And we get to see Madhuri Dixit-Nene dance! There’s nothing not to love about Dedh Ishqiya.

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New Trailer: November 10, 2013

The first trailer for Dedh Ishqiya is out. The dialogue-heavy trailer doesn’t have subtitles, so non-Hindi speakers will miss out on much of the fun, but the film retains the look of its predecessor, Ishqiya. Given how much I liked the original and how much I like this cast, I’m really looking forward to Dedh Ishqiya‘s release on January 10, 2014.

(Proposal for a trilogy: Dead Ishqiya. Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi as zombie grifters.)

Movie Review: D-Day (2013)

D-DayPoster4 Stars (out of 4)

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At least twice in D-Day, Rishi Kapoor’s character Goldman utters the phrase, “Everyone has a price,” as movie villains are wont to do. He fails to heed another truism that the Indian spies pursuing him know all too well: there’s a limit to every person’s utility. Reach yours, and you become expendable.

D-Day introduces the arms dealer Goldman at the start of his reign of terror in 1993. Twenty years and several hundred dead bodies later, India finally gets its chance to nab Goldman at his son’s wedding in Pakistan. India can’t afford to mount the kind of raid the Americans used to catch Bin Laden without risking all-out war, so Chief of Intelligence Ashwini (Nassar) — who’s days away from retirement, naturally — activates a sleeper agent he placed in Karachi years ago.

The agent, Valli (Irrfan Khan), has spent years establishing a life in Karachi, complete with his own barber shop, a wife, and a son. When called upon to do his duty for his country, he’s assisted by three other agents: explosives expert Zoya (Huma Qureshi), getaway driver Aslam (Aakash Daahiya), and cagey mercenary Rudra (Arjun Rampal).

The film shows the crew’s exciting capture of Goldman early on, before backtracking to their initial meeting. Events catch up to Goldman’s capture at the halfway point in the film and proceed from there. Predictably, things don’t go as smoothly as planned.

Even though D-Day contains certain clichéd spy-movie elements — the raid that doesn’t go as planned, the retiring chief — the movie is so well-constructed that it reminds us why those clichés exist. The chief is under a time limit; he has to see this through before he loses his power. If Goldman is captured without incident, there’s no second half to the movie.

D-Day so carefully executes the formula that the audience has come to expect that it’s able to turn some of those expectations on their heads. For example, the movie subverts the kind of romantic song-break familiar to Bollywood fans. Lovers stare longingly into each others eyes while romantic music plays, only one of the lovers is in the process of being brutally victimized by a third party. It’s so damned clever yet completely moving at the same time, that I found myself crying even while my jaw gaped in astonishment.

There’s not a bad performance in the bunch, but Irrfan and Rampal deserve special plaudits for their tense rivalry. Valli’s struggles with the fact that his loyalty to India could cost him his wife and son provoke the ire of misanthropic Rudra, who only begrudgingly accepts that he needs Valli’s knowledge of the local terrain.

D-Day also has a couple of strong female characters, and not in the current Hollywood sense of “strong” meaning a woman who is able to physically overpower men. Qureshi gets to do a bit of fighting, but her strength lies in keeping the crew on task while coping with fears that she’ll never see her husband again. Shruti Haasan has an important role as Pooja, a prostitute whom Rudra shacks up with to save money (rooms in Karachi brothels are apparently more affordable than hotels). Pooja knows Rudra will leave her like every other man she services does, but her eyes give away the faintest hint of hope.

While D-Day is an all-out entertaining spy thriller, it’s aware of the nuances of Pakistani-Indian relations. It makes it clear that victim-aggressor status is fluid and subjective, and it gives credit to the intelligence agencies of both countries for knowing that as well. When war is always a possibility, sometimes allowing your opponent to save face is the most prudent course of action.

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Streaming Video News: May 31, 2013

The 2012 comedy Luv Shuv Teh Chicken Khurana is now available for streaming on Netflix. I wasn’t a fan of the movie’s disorganized story structure, but Kunal Kapoor and Huma Qureshi do a nice job as the romantic leads.

Movie Review: Ek Thi Daayan (2013)

Ek_Thi_Poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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Was the TV edit of Ek Thi Daayan (“Once There Lived a Witch”) released to theaters by mistake? There’s a lot missing from the story: important stuff like character establishment and a coherent mythology. Absent those, Ek Thi Daayan doesn’t really work.

The film jumps into the action so quickly that it neglects to properly introduce the main characters. Following a stylish animated opening credits sequence, we find our hero at work on stage. Bobo the Baffler (Emraan Hashmi) — one of India’s top illusionists, despite his ridiculous name — levitates his assistant at the top of a burning rope. The trick is monitored from a control room by Bobo’s girlfriend, Tamara (Huma Qureshi), and their young orphan friend, Zubin.

Bobo visually and aurally hallucinates a little girl, later revealed to be his long-deceased younger sister, Misha. Bobo misses his cue, and the assistant is badly burned. Backstage, Tamara complains that this is the third time Bobo has hallucinated mid-performance this month. Has no one in the media noticed that India’s top magician has literally burned through a bunch of assistants recently?

While Tamara complains to the priest at Zubin’s orphanage that she can’t get Bobo to commit to marriage — an apparent obstacle to their plans to adopt Zubin — Bobo wanders into an obviously haunted apartment building. In what turns out to be his childhood apartment, he again hallucinates that he sees Misha. Tamara arrives and points out that it’s not Misha, just the dead girl’s creepy-ass favorite doll.

They head home, a love song plays, and the couple has sex — in front of the scary doll.

Already twenty minutes into the movie, we still don’t have any reason to care about Bobo, Tamara, or Zubin, apart from the fact that they’re our only options. Are they good people? Are we supposed to aspire to be rich, famous magicians? Where the hell did they find this orphan kid anyway?

Doesn’t matter. Bobo gets professionally hypnotized, and the rest of the first half of the film is a flashback to the repressed memories of 11-year-old Bobo and the circumstances of Misha’s death. Was his dad’s second wife, Diana (Konkona Sen Sharma), really a witch, or was the boy just angry at her for replacing his mom?

There are clearly paranormal elements at work, but director Kannan Iyer and writers Vishal Bhardwaj and Mukal Sharma throw lore around willy-nilly, without a clear description of the rules of their supernatural world. Where do witches and demons come from? Can they be permanently destroyed? What does Bobo have to do with them? Are his repressed memories some kind of magical amnesia or the result of childhood fright?

There are so many unanswered questions and unclear relationships that it’s difficult to become invested in the characters. While the movie is atmospheric, the story is so straightforward that it lacks tension. The few jump-scares that exist are telegraphed.

It’s too bad, since there are some decent performances in Ek Thi Daayan. Konkona Sen Sharma is delightfully sinister, while not so overt as to eliminate the possibility that young Bobo has judged her unfairly. The young actors who portray Bobo and Misha are both talented.

Hashmi and Qureshi are solid, though their characters lack depth. Kalki Koechlin shows up in the second half as an obsessive fan of Bobo’s. Koechlin’s performance is similarly good, but it’s overshadowed by the fact that Bobo and Tamara aren’t unnerved by her character openly stalking Bobo.

With a runtime of just over two hours, Ek Thi Daayan isn’t long enough (by Bollywood standards) to become boring, but it never offers the audience much incentive to care. With more careful control of the story structure and establishing a mythology, this could have been quite good. Maybe it will make more sense if the DVD contains a director’s cut.

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Opening April 19: Ek Thi Daayan

Even though I’m a huge chicken, I am really excited about the new Hindi horror film opening in Chicago area theaters on April 19, 2013. Ek Thi Daayan (“Once There Lived a Witch”) has an incredible cast: Emraan Hashmi, Konkona Sen Sharma, Kalki Koechlin, and Huma Qureshi.

Ek Thi Daayan opens on Friday at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. Its runtime is listed variously as 2 hrs. 10 min. and 2 hrs. 30 min.

Last weekend’s new release, Nautanki Saala!, gets a second week at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago and the South Barrington 30, which is also holding over Chashme Baddoor for a third week.

Other Indian movies playing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include the Telugu movies Chinna Cinema and Gunde Jaari Gallanthayyinde, Amen (Malayalam), and both the Tamil and Telugu versions of Udhayam NH4. The Cinemark Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale has Sadda Haq (Punjabi), while the Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge carries over Baadshah (Telugu).