A young police inspector in a small town navigates challenges in her professional and personal life in the comedy Kathal: A Jackfruit Mystery. Writer-director Yashowardhan Mishra gets a lot right in his feature debut, even though the story loses focus as it goes on.
Sanya Malhotra plays Mahima Basor, a police inspector in the small town of Moba. She’s achieved a lot in her short career and her superiors are pleased with her work, but some of the male constables who work under her quietly resent taking orders from a woman.
Further complicating matters is that one of those constables is her boyfriend, Saurabh Dwivedi (Anant Joshi). He supports Mahima’s career success, but his dad refuses to let them marry until Saurabh is promoted to inspector, too.
Fresh off Mahima’s arrest of a notorious gangster, she is assigned an even more important case — find the thief who stole two jackfruits off the tree in politician Munnalal Pateria’s (Vijay Raaz) garden. These aren’t just any jackfruits. They’re a special Uncle Hong variety that pickles exceptionally well.
Everyone except Pateria realizes what a ridiculous misuse of police resources this endeavor is. It’s funny to watch Mahima roll her eyes in the background as the investigation stirs up lingering resentments between Pateria and his son-in-law, which gets everyone else in the family involved.
This is when the story is at its best — as an interpersonal comedy that happens at an intimate scale, in a town small enough where everyone knows each other’s business. For example, no detail of the theft is too small for enthusiastic local reporter Anuj (Rajpal Yadav), who has little other news to cover.
Kathal loses its way when it expands the story beyond Moba’s borders into other villages, and the investigation uncovers more serious crimes. Pateria’s family recedes in importance, which is a shame because the characters and their influence over the town make the movie a lot of fun.
The plot gets diluted as the scope broadens. While the crime at the heart of the jackfruit case is trivial, what it reveals about power and police accountability is not. Same goes for the conflict that arises within Mahima’s relationship with Saurabh.
The introduction of weightier material doesn’t make Kathal any more important of a film. It was important already. Kathal is very close to being a very good movie. But the escalation in its latter stages overextends the runtime and distracts from the characters and a location that made up such an enjoyable, well-defined world.
I’m skeptical about any Luv Ranjan project. The filmmaker owes his career to the unfortunate box office success of sexist comedies like 2015’s deplorable Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2. So I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar.
Ranjan’s objective with Tu Jhoothi Main Makkar (TJMM, henceforth) is simple: show sexy people having a good time in exotic locations accompanied by a catchy soundtrack with some big dance numbers. To that end, it’s mission accomplished.
Ranbir Kapoor plays Mickey Arora, son of a wealthy, tight-knit family. In addition to helping run one of the family’s businesses — how his periodic strolling through an auto showroom helps is anyone’s guess — Mickey runs a secret side operation orchestrating breakups. He and his buddy Manu (Anubhav Singh Bassi) stage elaborate schemes on behalf of lovers who want to ditch their partners with minimal hard feelings or reputational damage.
While accompanying Manu on a trip to Spain to celebrate his engagement to Kinchi (Monica Chaudhary), Mickey falls for Kinchi’s gorgeous best friend Tinni (Shraddha Kapoor). Despite her reservations about dating a guy who’s never had to work for a boss who isn’t also his dad, Tinni and Mickey grow closer while frolicking in swimwear and cavorting about town. Both Kapoors look incredibly fit in this film, and their dance numbers are a lot of fun.
Mickey and Tinni return to Delhi and make things official, first by introducing Tinni to Mickey’s family. The Arora’s have no chill and quickly monopolize all of the couple’s time. This isn’t a problem for Mickey, but it is for Tinni. She places a call to the breakup expert — who uses a modulator to disguise his voice — and asks for help ending her relationship with Mickey.
Only in the movies would Mickey not immediately recognize his own girlfriend’s voice. More movie cliches follow once Mickey figures things out, including his professional instructions for Tinni to make Mickey jealous with a fake ex-boyfriend and to try to make Mickey cheat with her fake beautiful friend. (The fake ex and the fake friend are played by Kartik Aaryan and Nushrratt Bharuccha, respectively, who both starred in Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2).
Much of the conflict in TJMM could have been avoided had the characters simply talked to one another, but at least they are motivated by doing what they believe the other one wants. That fits with Mickey’s business ethos of trying to minimize the emotional fallout from breakups, but the couple is slow to realize that they are really only punishing themselves by not addressing their issues directly. The film is thoughtful about the way the borders of a romantic relationship extend out to encompass the families of the two people involved.
That said, TJMM is inherently conservative and too centered on Mickey. We see details of Tinni’s life only as they relate to Mickey. His family gets ample screentime, but we only get brief glimpses of Tinni’s family. While the two male friends regularly talk about their romantic relationships with one another, Tinni and Kinchi never do.
In the course of running his breakup business, Mickey spouts off a bunch of simplistic maxims about the behavior patterns of men and women that sound old-fashioned and a bit sexist. There’s also a moment where Mickey vows to get revenge on Tinni for lying to him — an unfortunate callback to the cruel revenge plots that make up the second half of Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2.
Yet despite it faults, TJMM mostly has its heart in the right place. The characters really do try to do right by one another, even when their efforts are misguided. And the film hits all the right notes for the kind of upbeat, escapist fantasy it aspires to be.
Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga is Netflix India’s most broadly appealing Original movie to date. The high-concept heist film set aboard a passenger jet feels like a ’90s throwback, in a good way. It’s an entertaining thriller — so long as you don’t think about it too critically.
Yami Gautam stars as Neha, a flight attendant for a Middle Eastern airline who is swept off her feet by a charming passenger, Ankit (Sunny Kaushal). Their whirlwind romance hits turbulence when creditors come after Ankit to replace some stolen diamonds. His financial troubles become more urgent when Neha learns that she is pregnant.
Ankit’s plan is to steal some diamonds while they are transported from a fictional Middle Eastern country to India aboard a passenger flight, but he needs Neha’s help to pull of the heist. Neha’s own father was a thief, and while she vowed to keep her baby away from a life of crime, Ankit’s plan seems like the only way forward.
The plane that Neha, Ankit, and the diamonds are on is hijacked by extremists who demand that a dissident jailed in India be set free. This is a good setup for a story.
Some novelists who write without outlines talk about creating characters, putting them into situations, and letting the nature of the characters dictate how they get out of trouble. It doesn’t feel like that’s how Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga was written. The outcome was decided first, then the characters actions were reverse-engineered to achieve that outcome, with mixed results here.
If the only goal is to surprise the audience, that might be a reasonable way to construct a screenplay — but it requires detailed attention to continuity and character motivation. When the film is over, the audience should not ask, “Would the characters really have acted that way?” Unfortunately, that question lingers at the end of Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga.
That said, it is possible to watch Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga without getting hung up on details. Yami Gautam is quite good as a woman in a difficult position with high stakes for her and the people she loves. Sharad Kelkar is also solid as the intelligence officer brought in to investigate the hijacking. The first two-thirds of the film moves along at a good clip.
Things bog down during the investigation, as the truth is explained via flashbacks. The dialogue writing also gets annoying, especially when the passengers deplane and intelligence officers call out the names of the people they’d like to interrogate. Instead of just calling out a couple of times, they do so repeatedly. They yell, “Who is the flight marshal?” seven times, “Who is Bhanu Yadav?” nine times, and “Neha Grover?” a full eleven times.
Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga isn’t perfect, but it’s suitable Saturday night popcorn fare — and you don’t have to leave your house to watch it.
I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with today’s debut of the lavish Hindi period drama Jubilee. The first four episodes released today, with four more episodes to follow on April 14 (the afternoon of April 13 in the United States).
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