Tag Archives: Imtiaz Ali

Movie Review: Jab Harry Met Sejal (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Jab Harry Met Sejal (“When Harry Met Sejal“) feels like a movie constructed in reverse, only concerned with where the characters wind up, but not how or why they reach their destination. A lack of motivating factors makes it hard to invest in the characters, regardless of our affection for the actors playing them.

Harry (Shah Rukh Khan) finances his itinerant womanizing as a tour guide in Europe, bouncing from city to city on the run from memories that ultimately aren’t traumatic enough to warrant their blue-filtered flashbacks.

Before Harry can leave the airport after waving farewell to his latest batch of tourists, one member of the group flags him down, in need of help. Sejal (Anushka Sharma) lost her engagement ring, and she won’t return to India until she finds it. She’s sure she lost it in Amsterdam. Or was it Prague?

The first red flag in Jab Harry Met Sejal is that, despite having spent the last month leading Sejal, her fiance, and their families across Europe, Harry has to ask her name. Did he not learn it during the previous thirty days they spent in each other’s proximity? Not even by accident?

It’s suspicious that Sejal appears to have made no impression whatsoever on Harry, in spite of her undeniable beauty and his reputation as a guy who notices beautiful women. There is an uncomfortable subplot about Sejal’s insecurity about her sex appeal and her specific desire for Harry to find her sexy — a desire that manifests early in their ring-hunting adventure, well before Sejal develops any attraction to Harry (who evidently made as little an impression on her during her family vacation as she did on him).

If the point of Sejal’s engagement-ring-wild-goose-chase isn’t for her to create an opportunity to act upon a preexisting attraction to Harry, then what the hell is she doing? She blackmails Harry into working for her, threatening to falsely report him for sexual misconduct if he doesn’t. Sejal is sort of trying to live it up before her marriage to a guy named Rupen, but we don’t know enough about Sejal, Rupen, or their relationship to understand what’s really driving her actions.

During the course of her journey with Harry, Sejal declares herself his temporary girlfriend, complete with spooning benefits — but only until she finds her ring, she warns, cautioning him not to fall for her. The fake molestation threat plus her (kind of) leading him on gives the whole story an icky Men’s Rights vibe, made worse by Sejal’s classist assumption that she can buy an infinite amount of Harry’s time for the right price.

The temporary girlfriend idea is too stupid a conceit for people of the characters’ ages and intelligence levels — Sejal is a lawyer, for Pete’s sake — to concoct on their own. Writer-director Imtiaz Ali doesn’t seem to care why the characters get together, just that they do. He trusts that the audience’s desire to see characters played by Khan and Sharma get together — as they did in the delightful Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi — will trump their desire for narrative authenticity.

Khan looks amazing, smouldering and magnetic as ever. Sharma is goofy and adorable, especially during an awkward dance scene in a night club. Their performances are darned good, even while playing characters who don’t feel like real people. Ali is a much more talented filmmaker than this. Relying on his actors to shoulder the weight of an entire movie without a solid story to support them isn’t fair.

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Movie Review: Tamasha (2015)

Tamasha2 Stars (out of 4)

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Tamasha (“Spectacle“) doesn’t give as much as it asks of its audience in return. Writer-director Imtiaz Ali asks the audience to buy into his characters’ romantic struggles without giving enough reasons why we should care.

The romance is founded on a questionable gimmick: two strangers meet while vacationing in Corsica, and they vow to spend a week together pretending to be people they are not. They take on identities from old films, with the man (Ranbir Kapoor) posing as Don, and the woman (Deepika Padukone) assuming the moniker Mona Darling.

Their courtship hinges on the two of them not knowing a thing about one another, which means that the audience doesn’t know anything about them either. All we know about Don is that he liked stories as a kid and presently — the Corsica sequence is a flashback — performs as a tin man in a stage play. We know nothing about Mona.

The false identity gimmick makes it hard to care about these mysterious characters as they cavort about France. Ali trots out his signature trope — the spontaneous parade — in the song “Matargashti,” an event that is supposed to be charming but comes off as forced and unrealistic.

Several years after their French dalliance, Mona and Don meet again in Delhi, revealing to each other their true names: Tara and Ved. However, Ved is a boring, goateed tech guy — nothing like the ebullient Don. Tara tries a relationship with Ved, but finds that she longs for the side of him that she met in Corsica.

Despite the tagline on the movie poster — “Why always the same story?” — Tamasha is a too familiar tale of a bubbly woman teaching a bland guy how to live. As per the template, Tara has no identity of her own apart from her role in Ved’s personal growth.

Tara also has a buttoned-up corporate job, but how does she feel about it? Why aren’t scenes of her at work shot with the same grey tone that colors scenes of Ved at work, as though he’s walking under a cloud even indoors? What does she want from life, other than to be with Ved? Padukone does her best within her characters’ limitations, as does Kapoor.

As a lead character, Ved is a disappointment. He blames his mundane existence on his father, who pushed him into engineering. When Tara points out that there’s more to Ved than his job, he lashes out at her, as though angered at her nerve for suggesting that he is the source of his own unhappiness.

A lot of people hate their jobs, but it doesn’t make them dull automatons in their off hours. There’s a reason why plenty of authors are former lawyers who wrote their debut novels in spare hours over the weekend. If you have a story to tell, you find a way to tell it. Ved chose to be a dull jerk, and it’s unpleasant to watch him punish Tara for his own choices.

There’s a trivial-sounding question that actually gets at the heart of why Ved fails as a lead character: why is he in Corsica? Are we supposed to believe that an over-scheduled working stiff like Ved planned a solo vacation in an exotic resort spot like an island off the coast of France? Since everything we know about Ved points to the answer “no,” then what is he doing there? I’m curious as to whether Imtiaz Ali knows.

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Opening November 25: Tamasha

Director Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha gets an early release in the United States to capitalize on Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday. The romance — starring Deepika Padukone and Ranbir Kapoor — opens on Wednesday, November 25, 2015, two days before it opens in India.

Tamasha opens on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. in seven Chicago area theaters: : AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 35 min.

Prem Ratan Dhan Payo carries over for a third week at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and Woodridge 18.

On Thursday, Size Zero (Telugu w/English subtitles) opens at the Cantera 17, Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, and Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale, which also carries its Tamil version: Inji Iduppazhagi.

Kumari 21F (Telugu w/English subtitles) carries over at the Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge.

Box Office: February 21-23

The terrific drama Highway opened in 97 North American theaters on February 21, 2014, earning $326,654 in its first weekend (according to Box Office Mojo). Its per screen average of $3,368 bested all but three films in the top twenty. While $326,654 is a respectable return, it’s less than the first-week earnings of director Imtiaz Ali’s past projects.

In the summer of 2009, Love Aaj Kal produced Ali’s best-ever box office results in North America. Love Aaj Kal earned $1,241,762 from 102 theaters in its opening weekend ($12,174 average), ultimately raking in $2,430,083.

Ali’s unconventional romantic drama Rockstar performed well when it debuted in the fall of 2011, earning $612,235 from 112 theaters ($5,466 average) in its opening weekend. Rockstar went on to gross a total of $986,697.

Another summer romantic comedy scored for Ali in 2012, when Cocktail — a movie Ali wrote, but did not direct — earned $647,956 from 96 North American theaters in its first weekend ($6,750 average).

Over the course of their four- or five-week theatrical runs in North America, the total earnings for Ali’s past movies were nearly double what they earned in their opening weekend in theaters. Highway could fall short of doubling its initial take for a couple of reasons.

First, the release of Shaadi Ke Side Effects — a more conventional rom-com starring Vidya Balan and Farhan Akhtar — on February 28 could put a serious dent in Highway‘s second-weekend earnings. None of Ali’s other projects faced any new competition in their second weekend.

Second, Highway is likely to lose a significant number of screens on March 7 when three relatively high-profile movies release on the same day: Gulaab Gang, Total Siyapaa, and Queen.

For Highway to ultimately earn around $600,000 in North America, it’s going to need positive word of mouth to drive people to the theater this week and through next weekend. Given that I’ve heard from a couple of people who’ve already watched it twice in the theater, a $600,000 total is possible.

In its second weekend in U.S. and Canadian theaters, Gunday earned $122,188 from 118 screens ($1,035 average), bringing its total to $842,637 (according to Bollywood Hungama).

That may sound impressive, but consider that Hasee Toh Phasee posted average third week earnings of $1306 per screen ($36,587 from 28 screens) in the same weekend. While Hasee Toh Phasee‘s overall total is lower — $634,099 so far — it remains a better investment for theaters than Gunday.

Movie Review: Highway (2014)

Highway4 Stars (out of 4)

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Writer-director Imtiaz Ali’s great strength is his ability to relate emotional truth. His characters act the way that regular people do, not the way that movie characters are supposed to.

Highway is the fullest realization of Ali’s gift for conveying truth. It often feels more like a documentary than a work of fiction. It’s an astounding accomplishment.

Smart directorial choices heighten the sense of immersion in the main plot. Past events and scenes not featuring the movie’s main character, Veera (Alia Bhatt), are primarily shown within a frame, while current events take up the whole screen.

The film begins with un-subtitled footage of preparations for Veera’s wedding, shown within a black frame. Veera doesn’t look particularly happy in any of the footage.

The image fills up the whole screen in order to show Veera sneaking out of her house to meet her betrothed, Vinay (Arjun Malhotra), who’s not pleased to act as Veera’s chauffeur on a nighttime jaunt. She says she feels stifled in the bustling house and wants to run away. He would rather get home as soon as possible.

The couple stumbles into a robbery at a gas station, and Veera is taken hostage by a gang of petty thieves led by Mahabir (Randeep Hooda). Only once they’ve made their escape do the thieves realize they’ve captured a rich man’s daughter, and they’re not happy about it. They know that Veera’s father will use all of his substantial resources to find her, so they hit the road with Veera in tow.

Veera’s initial fear gives way to fascination as she sees parts of India that she never knew existed. It occurs to her that, even though she’s vacationed all over the world, she’s never seen anything outside of her hotel.

It cannot be overstated how brilliant Alia Bhatt is as Veera. So much is demanded from her — from expressing childlike wonder to terror to heartbreak — and she excels at every turn. A simple scene in which Veera laughs with delight at the sight of a roaring mountain river is impeccable.

Hooda is perfectly cast as Mahabir, who winds up growing nearly as much as his young captive does. Gruff and taciturn by nature, Mahabir slowly allows Veera to coax vague information about his troubled past out him, forming a bond with her that he wishes didn’t exist.

Mahabir’s gang is freer than their leader is in expressing their amusement with their charge. One of the goons — Aadoo (Durgesh Kumar) — is particularly charming, staring at Veera with the same wide-eyed fascination with which she regards nearly everything she sees.

So much about Highway is beautiful: the performances, the mountain scenery, A.R. Rahman’s gorgeous score. There are a number of times when not much seems to happen, but those are some of the best moments. Ali allows the audience time to breathe and soak in the atmosphere he’s created. It’s a wonderful experience.

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Opening February 21: Highway

One of my most anticipated movies of 2014 — director Imtiaz Ali’s Highway — opens on February 21. According to the director, stars Alia Bhatt and Randeep Hooda shot most of the movie without a script.

Highway opens on Friday in five area theaters: AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min.

After a solid opening weekend, Gunday continues for a second week at all of the above theaters, plus the AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. The cute rom-com Hasee Toh Phasee gets a third weekend at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Ezhu Sundara Rathrikal (Malayalam) and Idhu Kathirvelan Kadhal (Tamil). The Tamil remake of Band Baaja BaaraatAaha Kalyanam — plays at the AMC Loews Streets of Woodfield 20 in Schaumburg and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge.

New Trailers: December 16, 2013

With the new year just around the corner, there are a ton of new trailers out promoting movies scheduled for release in 2014. Let’s start with the biggest flick first: Salman Khan’s Jai Ho, opening January 24.

The trailer — like most of the trailers below — doesn’t have English subtitles, so I’m obviously missing out on the dialogue. Based on the visuals, I can’t see what differentiates this from any other recent Salman Khan film. I find Salman charming, but I’m tired of watching him play the same part: a morally perfect, invincible hero whose only character flaw is that he doesn’t have a girlfriend at the start of the movie. I want to see Salman play a character with room for growth: a washed up boxer who takes to the ring for one last fight, even though it might kill him; an upright family man who risks his reputation to save his wife and kids; an undercover cop whose constant lion-roaring threatens to blow his cover.

Next up is the romantic comedy Hasee Toh Phasee, releasing on February 7. Parineeti Chopra is terrific, so I’m looking forward to this.

The excellent costumes look like reason enough to see Gunday when it comes out on February 14.

Check out the gorgeous scenery in director Imtiaz Ali’s Highway, opening February 21.

 

Movie Review: Cocktail (2012)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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An attractive cast and raucous party scenes are the lure Cocktail uses to draw the audience into an exploration of modern romance and female friendship. It’s a frothy concoction that packs a punch.

Country girl Meera (Diana Penty) arrives in London to reunite with her husband Kunal (Randeep Hooda), only to learn that the marriage was a scam to cheat her out of her dowry money. Alone in an unfamiliar city, Meera meets Veronica (Deepika Padukone), a party girl. Veronica’s decadent lifestyle is financed by her wealthy absentee father, and she offers Meera a place to stay without a second thought. Though opposites in temperament, the women become best friends.

During a night on the town, Veronica plays a prank on Gautam (Saif Ali Khan), a serial flirt who hit on Meera when she first arrived in London. Veronica and Gautam become romantically involved, and he moves into Veronica’s house as well, forming a truce with Meera.

In order to get his mother (Dimple Kapadia) to stop pressuring him about marriage, Gautam admits that he’s in a relationship. When Mom arrives unexpectedly from India, Gautam says that prim, proper Meera is his girlfriend, not drunk, half-naked Veronica. The charade continues on a South African vacation where things get predictably complicated.

The story is organized as a classic Bollywood tale-of-two-halves. The first half of the film is lighthearted as the friends get to know each other. Some of the best laughs come courtesy of Gautam’s uncle, played by Boman Irani.

The second half of the film becomes an interesting character study with meaningful dialog. Writers Imtiaz Ali and Sajid Ali offer insightful commentary on modern, hook-up culture through the characters of Gautam and Veronica.

As soon as Gautam starts his sham relationship with Meera, everyone in the audience knows that things will end badly, but Gautam honestly doesn’t. He thinks he can say sweet things to Meera and that she won’t fall for him, and that he can do this in front of Veronica without making her jealous. He treats his “no strings attached” status with Veronica as a contract, a shield from future emotional attachment. Khan is very good in the scenes when Gautam finally realizes that this is not the case.

Padukone is likewise captivating when Veronica finally appreciates the hollowness of her party lifestyle. “I know what everyone thinks of me,” she says, heartbreakingly. Veronica fights dirty for the life she thinks she wants, a life that seems destined for Meera but not her. As misguided as she is, Veronica is very relatable.

Debutant actor Penty jumps into the deep end with Cocktail. Khan and Padukone are talented and sexy and have an established rapport, having worked together as romantic leads in Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal. Even Hooda, Irani, and Kapadia are superb in their supporting roles. Penty’s performance isn’t quite as nuanced as those of her fellow cast members — she needs to learn to emote with her eyes and work on her dance moves — but she’s not a distraction. Meera isn’t as flashy as Veronica or Gautam, and Penty’s restrained performance suits her character.

The few complaints I have about the movie have to do with the sound design. There’s a paucity of background music in the first half, making it feel as though the scenes lack a connective thread. Also, the music that is there gets mixed very loud relative to the dialog, like when television commercials are significantly louder than the shows they interrupt.

If you watch enough movies, it becomes easy to predict how a plot will progress. With about thirty minutes remaining in Cocktail, I wrote the note: “How will this end?” It’s a lot of fun to be taken along for the ride for a change.

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Movie Review: Rockstar (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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The trailer for Rockstar presented the movie as a typical rom-com in which a dork melts an ice queen’s heart before the interval, only to have obstacles to their love thrown in their path for the second half of the movie. Rockstar is less conventional than that. At times, it’s an extended music video, at others a hypnotic tale of passion. It’s not always successful, but director Imtiaz Ali deserves credit for trying something different.

As in Ali’s two previous hits — Jab We Met and Love Aaj KalRockstar features a hero unable to articulate his feelings for his beloved, even if it means losing her to another man. This time the tongue-tied protagonist is Janardhan (Ranbir Kapoor), a dorky college kid with superstar ambitions.

Cafeteria-owner Khatana (Kumud Mishra) tells Janardhan that his life has been too easy, and that all musicians must suffer for their art. Janardhan’s real problem is a lack of charisma and a fondness for unflattering sweater vests, but that’s not much of a movie set-up.

Janardhan humiliates himself in a clumsy effort to woo the most popular girl in school, Heer (Nargis Fakhri), who’s already engaged to a rich guy from Prague. The two become pals, and she gives him the stage name “Jordan.” She also gives him an opportunity to express his feelings for her and perhaps forestall her marriage. He doesn’t take it, and Heer heads to Prague.

To this point — about the first hour of a 2-hour 40-minute movie — the story is laid out rather predictably: the kids have fun in seedy back alleys and amidst beautiful scenery in Kashmir, the setting for Heer’s wedding. The snowy mountain passes and gorgeous costumes are a real highlight.

Things veer from the expected during the film’s second hour. It begins not chronologically, but rather with a reporter investigating Jordan’s early career. It’s two years after Heer’s wedding, and Khatana recounts the emotion collapse that preceded Jordan’s rise to Indian rock stardom. An international music competition brings Jordan to Prague where he and Heer rekindle their interrupted romance, despite her now-married status.

Much of this storyline unfolds through A.R. Rahman’s incredible soundtrack. The second hour of Rockstar is primarily a string of music videos, the lyrics of Jordan’s music (voiced by Mohit Chauhan) providing insight into his emotional growth in way he can’t express in conversation. Thankfully, the lyrics are translated really well, allowing the story to unfold in an intriguing way.

Kapoor and Fakhri are terrific together. Their love scenes are sexy and passionate. Fakhri’s big screen debut is a promising one, as she plays Heer with the right mix of vulnerability and strength.

It’s unfortunate, then, that the movie ends the way that it does. While the movie’s main character is clearly Jordan, the second hour of the film gives equal weight to the choices both he and Heer must make. As the movie shifts into its third and final timeframe, Heer’s choices are taken from her, reducing her from a lead character to a mere catalyst for Jordan’s emotional growth.

That disservice to Heer’s character — along with an awkward bridge between the final shot of the movie and the closing credits, made up of scenes of Jordan and Heer in happier times — left me with mixed feelings about the movie. It’s uneven (and too long, of course), but the solid performances, beautiful scenery and intriguing story-telling mechanism make it worth a trip to the theater.

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Retro Review: Jab We Met (2007)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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The recent release of Milenge Milenge prompted me to watch Jab We Met (“When We Met”), a 2007 romantic comedy. Both movies star Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor (no relation). Had I not committed myself to reviewing the movie, I would’ve turned off Jab We Met within the first 45 minutes.

The movie’s first act is a prolonged meet-cute between the two leads, Aditya (Shahid) and Geet (Kareena). Aditya, emotionally exhausted by legal battles over the rights to his deceased father’s wealthy corporation, wanders the streets in the kind of depression that only exists in movies. He stares at nothing, silently boarding buses and trains, with no idea where he’s going.

He’s a lot more mobile in his melancholia than most depressed people. If the movie was going for authenticity, Aditya would’ve left the boardroom, headed home, and crawled into bed.

On the train, Aditya is verbally assailed by a fellow passenger, Geet. To call her a chatterbox is insufficient; Geet won’t shut up. She jabbers in a manner that, like Aditya’s ambulatory despondency, only exists on film. She flits from topic to topic without pause, utterly self-absorbed and failing to notice Aditya’s blank stare out the window.

The clueless chatterbox is one of my most hated movie clichés, because she doesn’t exist in real life. At least not in such an extreme and irritating form. An ordinary person wouldn’t last a minute on the receiving end of such a soliloquy before faking a trip to the bathroom and finding an empty seat at the other end of the train, thus depriving the clueless chatterbox of her audience.

Writing deliberately annoying characters is tricky because — as with Geet — they often wind up annoying the audience as well as their fellow characters. An example of annoying-done-right can be found on the television show Glee. Supporting characters refer to the main character, Rachel, as annoying, but she rarely acts in a way that’s irritating to us viewers. We get that she annoys the other characters, without having to be annoyed ourselves.

Through a series of idiotic decisions, Geet gets herself stranded at a station, minus her wallet and luggage. She berates Aditya into helping her, then berates cab drivers and beverage vendors on the way to her parents’ house. Geet’s abuse of service workers further diminishes her attractiveness.

Thus ends the first 45 minutes of a 140-minute-long movie.

The rest of the movie is pleasant enough, as Aditya finally engages with his surroundings. There are colorful wedding decorations and Geet’s equally colorful family to liven things up. But, for the most part, the remainder of Jab We Met is just above average.

The big problem is Geet. Though Kareena Kapoor does a fine job acting the part, Geet is not a nice character. She starts out annoying and fails to develop throughout the film. She reacts but doesn’t grow, remaining clueless until the last few minutes of the movie. It’s hard to believe a decent, rich guy like Aditya couldn’t have found someone better.

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