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.
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.
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.
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).
Gangs of Wasseypur debuted on the festival circuit as a five-hour-plus Indian crime epic. When it finally released into theaters (and on DVD), the film was chopped into two halves, released months apart as Gangs of Wasseypur Part I and Part II. It’s a decision that makes sense from a distribution standpoint, but it does the film a disservice.
Gangs of Wasseypur is truly a single film written with a place for a pause in the middle to grab snacks, not for a break of several weeks. Like those who saw the film in the theater, I watched the DVDs weeks apart, and I think the viewing experience suffered for it. If you have the opportunity to watch both parts of Gangs of Wasseypur back-to-back, do it.
With that caveat, how does the film stand up as a cohesive work? Director Anurag Kashyap is something of an outlier in Indian cinema due to his willingness to let scenes breathe and unfold at their own pace. It’s wonderful to watch, but not indefinitely. There’s so much material in Gangs of Wasseypur that I would have enjoyed it more as two distinct films with two sets of midpoints, climaxes, and denouements. As it exists, Gangs of Wasseypur is a bit too much.
The plot chronicles a story of revenge that spans multiple generations of two families in the town of Wasseypur. After the British depart India in 1947, a young industrialist named Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia) assumes control of the local mine. He hires a goon named Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) to force the local laborers to work in deplorable conditions.
One night, Ramadhir overhears Shahid talking to his son, Sardar Khan, and his cousin, Nasir (Piyush Mishra, the film’s narrator) about his plans to kill Ramadhir and take over the mine himself. Ramadhir acts first, luring Shahid to his death, though his plot to murder Sardar and Nasir fails. Young Sardar vows to one day murder Ramadhir in retaliation, eventually passing on his hatred of the industrialist to his own sons.
That setup encompasses about the first hour of the film. The remaining four hours deal with the ongoing power struggle between the Singhs and the Khans and the resulting bloodshed. This is a gory film by any standard, but especially so compared to other Hindi films.
The bulk of the story centers on the two most charismatic members of the Khan family: Sardar (Manoj Bajpai) and his second oldest son, Faizal (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Rather than murdering Ramadhir outright, Sardar plots to become his equal and destroy everything Ramadhir has built. Sardar makes a fortune stealing iron ore and intimidating the populace. This long game gives Sardar time to raise a family (or two) while plotting his revenge.
Sardar is an interesting choice for a lead character because he’s an awful person, regardless of his tragic beginnings. In addition to being a violent crook, he’s a terrible husband to his first wife, Nagma (Richa Chadda), whom he abandons to marry a second woman, Durga (Reema Sen), whom he eventually leaves to return to Nagma. At various times, Sardar neglects his four sons with Nagma and his one son with Durga. To varying degrees, all of his children hate him as much as they fear and respect him.
Such a negative character only works as a lead because Manoj Bajpai is so talented. Sardar shares moments of genuine affection with both of his wives when he’s not being a total narcissist. Bajpai plays Sardar with such swagger and menace that it’s easy to understand how he achieves the success he does.
Faizal is not much like his father. With an older brother, Danish (Vineet Singh), as Sardar’s natural heir, Faizal can waste his time getting stoned. Circumstances eventually force him to take a more active role in the family business, and Faizal proves to be unexpectedly ruthless.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui owns every scene he’s in. He’s talented enough to make scenes in which Faizal sits starring some of the most riveting scenes in the movie. Faizal’s conflicted feelings about his violent lifestyle make him more relatable than his father, and he’s downright charming as he woos the lovely Mohsina (Huma Qureshi).
The problem inherent in revenge films is that the characters often have little room for growth. Either they get their revenge, or they don’t, whether by choice or failure. Revenge is an okay motive for a shorter movie, but my interest waned after the third hour or so.
Also at around the three-hour mark, the story pushes two new characters to the forefront: Sardar’s two youngest sons, Definite (Zaishan Quadri) and Babua (Aditya Kumar). At that point — about 60% of the way through the film — I didn’t have the energy to get invested in two essentially brand new characters. Had Gangs of Wasseypur Part II been a proper sequel, the introduction of the new characters wouldn’t have seemed so late.
What ultimately makes the film worth seeing is Kashyap’s directing style. In addition to letting the scenes breathe, he uses music to incredible effect. He has mastered the montage. In addition to star turns by Bajpai and Siddiqui, Kashyap gets great performances out of the rest of the cast as well.
Gangs of Wasseypur would’ve been better as two distinct films, but I applaud Kashyap’s effort in trying to push the boundaries of Indian cinema.
A recipe is more than just a set of suggestions on how to cook a dish. It’s a series of rules that establish the very nature of the dish itself. Put your eggs on the griddle before you stir in the milk and flour, and you wind up with scrambled eggs, not pancakes.
Like a recipe, a movie has certain rules that need to be followed in a specific order. Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana (LSTCK, henceforth) doesn’t follow the rules, and, as a consequence, fails to create a satisfying end product.
Kunal Kapoor stars as Omi Khurana, a young man who fled his hometown in Punjab to make it big in London. After ten fruitless years, Omi owes a lot of money to a loan shark. Omi promises to get the loan shark’s money from his grandfather, the owner a popular restaurant in his hometown. Omi vows to return to London with the money and fulfill his dream, though the film doesn’t specify what that dream is.
Omi returns to find that much has changed in the decade since he left. His grandfather — creator of the restaurant’s namesake dish, Chicken Khurana, and the only one who knows the dish’s secret ingredient — has dementia. Without Grandpa in the kitchen, the restaurant failed. Omi’s only hope of getting the money to pay his debt is if he can recreate his grandfather’s famous dish and sell the recipe to the owner of a rival restaurant.
Further complicating Omi’s life is that the childhood sweetheart he left behind, Harman (Huma Qureshi), is now engaged to Omi’s cousin, Jeet (Rahul Bagga), though neither seems happy about it.
The performances in LSTCK are strong overall. The characters are portrayed realistically and not as outrageous caricatures, even when they are supposed to be sort of goofy, like Omi’s crazy Uncle Titu (Rajesh Sharma). The Khurana family is a sympathetic bunch, particularly Jeet, who’s clearly troubled by something.
LSTCK also has great music that’s used expertly. It enhances the experience, augmenting the emotions on display. I wish the lyrics were subtitled, but I understood the songs’ messages even without knowing the words.
A failure to place plot points in proper narrative order undercuts the good aspects of LSTCK. For example, before the halfway point in the movie, the secret ingredient to Chicken Khurana is revealed to the audience in flashback. Omi, who isn’t privy to the information, spends most of the second half of the film failing in his attempts to recreate the dish. It’s frustrating and tedious to watch, since it’s no longer a mystery to the audience.
The other big narrative problem is that the inevitable happy ending actually precedes the climactic showdown with the villain. And when the loan shark finally does show up, Omi doesn’t even resolve the problem himself. It’s not enough that Omi gets his happy ending. He should have to earn it.