Tag Archives: Indian

Movie Review: Brahmāstra Part One – Shiva (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

There’s a reason why you don’t use the phrase “first annual” to describe an event: you can’t guarantee the “second annual” event will actually happen. Writer-director Ayan Mukerji put extra pressure on himself when he titled the first film in his ambitious planned superhero trilogy Brahmāstra Part One – Shiva. Fortunately, Brahmāstra Part One is a solid foundation for future films in the franchise.

The movie opens with the establishment of the story’s foundational lore. Centuries ago, a group of sages received powerful weapons called astras, the most powerful of which is the Brahmāstra. The sages named their order the Brahmānsh, using their powers to protect humanity, keep the Brahmāstra from spinning out of control and destroying the world, and passing their powers down across the generations.

The powers themselves are pretty cool. One member of the Brahmānsh has the strength of a thousand bulls, another the agility of a monkey, and one can shoot snakes as arrows. It’s not totally clear how the powers are inherited, though. Some powers are explicitly tied to physical artifacts like bracelets, while others seem to transfer genetically and don’t require a sacred object. The first film in a planned series is the place to make those rules crystal clear.

In the present day, orphaned disc jockey Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor) is struck by a confluence of life-changing events in a temple during Durga Puja. He has visions of a scientist (Shah Rukh Khan, in a movie-stealing cameo) being tortured by three people with strange powers. He also sees a beautiful woman, Isha (Alia Bhatt), with whom he falls instantly in love.

As Isha and Shiva get to know one another, he has more visions in which the scientist reveals that an artist named Anish (Nagarjuna Akkineni) is in danger from the three strangers, and that the location of an ashram must be protected at all costs. Isha corroborates details of Shiva’s visions, and the two head out to warn Anish.

There they encounter the mysterious strangers, each wearing a piece of rock that emits a sinister red glow. Their beautiful, terrifying leader Junoon (Mouni Roy) wants to ignite the Brahmāstra’s full power and resurrect an entity called Dev. A battle ensues, but Shiva and Isha are able to reach the ashram.

The ashram is run by Raghu (Amitabh Bachchan), leader of the Brahmānsh and tutor for all astra wielders. He promises to explain Shiva’s visions and his strange connection to fire to him — and even tell him about his parents — but only if Shiva agrees to stay and send Isha back to the city.

Brahmāstra Part One employs a lot of superhero origin story tropes, right down to the main character being an orphan (a 30-year-old one at that). Character development isn’t high on Mukerji’s priority list, at least not in this phase of his saga.

Dialogue also isn’t a main priority, as much of what the characters utter is matter-of-fact or utilitarian. It’s also repetitive, as Isha says Shiva’s name fully 83 times, by one Reddit user’s count. It might even be more than that in the streaming video version, as Mukerji added some scenes to better establish the central romantic subplot.

Mukerji’s main focus in this first film is in establishing a visual language for the series. What he creates is stunning. Each scene is perfectly lit to focus the audience’s attention or set the emotional tone. Characters sport wardrobes in eye-catching hues. Best of all are the gorgeous ways the astras manifest, as collections of ethereal sprites of varying colors, depending on who wields them. Battles are vibrant as opposing magical forces clash, eschewing grittiness in favor of pure fantasy.

The scale of the film’s fight sequences feels appropriate. Battles are fought in enclosed spaces or in remote areas away from prying eyes, which makes sense, since the existence of the astras is supposed to be a secret. This approach provides a welcome respite from the tiresome city-wide destruction used in every Marvel film.

Brahmāstra Part One‘s sensory appeal is enhanced by an excellent soundtrack, written by Pritam and sung beautifully by Arijit Singh. The memorable songs come to life when performed by Ranbir Kapoor, who dances with a spontaneity that belies the hours of training that went into creating each song sequence.

Superhero origin stories have a formula for a reason, so Brahmāstra Part One – Shiva gets a pass for the elements that feel a little generic. Mukerji was smart to zero in on the aspects that set his film apart, including a distinctive look and approach to special effects that can enhance the array of possible superpowers yet to be introduced. I’m looking forward to Brahmāstra Part Two.

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Movie Review: Monica, O My Darling (2022)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Monica, O My Darling on Netflix

Sometimes, getting everything you ever wanted just isn’t worth it. Monica, O My Darling — based on mystery author Keigo Higashino’s story “Burûtasu No Shinzou” — explores the dangers that lurk at the top of the socioeconomic ladder.

Jay (Rajkummar Rao) worked his way up from nothing to become an engineer. He’s just been named to the board of directors of Unicorn Robotics, and he’s engaged to Niki (Akansha Ranjan Kapoor), the bubbly daughter of Unicorn’s founder and CEO.

Jay’s also about to lose everything thanks to an affair with the CEO’s assistant, Monica (Huma Qureshi). She tells Jay she’s pregnant with his baby, which she wants to keep. She’ll happily stay quiet about it so long as he pays her.

Jay considers confessing his infidelity to Niki. But when Niki relays a story about a man who cheated on her cousin and says her family will likely kill him or send him to jail, Jay believes her and says nothing.

The thing about Jay is, he’s ambitious but not ruthless. Not in the way rich people are. Not in the way his jealous future brother-in-law Nishi (Sikander Kher) is.

Nishi arranges a meeting with Jay and Arvind (Bagavathi Perumal) — the company’s head of accounting — at a seedy motel. (Special kudos to whoever is responsible for the delightfully bizarre animal art on the walls of the motel.) Apparently, Monica has told all three men that they are the father of her baby and demanded money from each of them. Nishi’s solution is to kill Monica and have Jay and Arvind dispose of the body. If they’re all involved, then none of them will rat on the others. There’s no way regular guys like Jay and Arvind would come up with something so dastardly on their own.

Of course, there are hiccups in the plan’s execution. People die, and Jay falls under suspicion from an unusual detective, ACP Naidu (Radhika Apte).

The tone of Monica, O My Darling isn’t that of a straightforward mystery, but it’s not as colorful and brash as another Netflix Original comic thriller, Ludo. Director Vasan Bala strikes a balance where the film feels simultaneously realistic and unrealistic. The audience is aware they’re watching a film — in particular in scenes when a frame appears around the edges of the screen to mimic the shape of an old TV console and the men imagine Monica scheming like a movie villain — but the stakes feel high nonetheless.

Perhaps the best example of this is in the film’s fight scenes. There are only a few fights in Monica, O My Darling, but they are the movie’s most emotionally impactful sequences. The fight choreography is loose to the point that it appears at first like the actors are just goofing around. As the fight drags on, the gravity of the situation builds and becomes oppressive.

The casting in Monica, O My Darling is outstanding. Rao is the perfect normal guy and Qureshi an ideal vamp. Perumal provides great comic relief. Sukant Goel is creepy as Gaurya — a childhood acquaintance of Jay who wants to be more important than he is. Kher and Apte chew through their scenery like a couple of sharks. They are so fun to watch.

The mystery driving the story forward is compelling, but the payoff is a little unsatisfying. It doesn’t meet Aristotle’s standard of “surprising yet inevitable.” Nevertheless, Monica, O My Darling is an engrossing film with a killer soundtrack. It’s a wonderful followup to Bala’s previous feature film: the excellent karate movie Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota (“The Man Who Feels No Pain.”)

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Movie Review: Dobaaraa (2022)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Science fiction films are rare in Bollywood, so when a sci-fi Hindi film doesn’t quite work, it’s extra disappointing. Dobaaraa — a remake of the 2018 Spanish film Mirage — doesn’t lean hard enough into sci-fi genre tropes, making it feel identity-less.

Night closes in on a subdivision in Pune in 1996, bringing with it a powerful electrical storm. 12-year-old Anay (Aarrian Sawant) consoles himself by watching old videos of his dad, who’s working abroad. As Anay switches the camera to record himself, he sees a commotion through the window of the house next door. He goes to investigate and winds up dead.

25 years later, new occupants move in to Anay’s old house. Antara (Taapsee Pannu) is unhappy in her marriage to Vikas (Rahul Bhat), but she’s trying to keep things civil for the sake of their 6-year-old daughter Avanti (Myra Rajpal). The couple’s college pal Abhishek (Sukant Goel) still lives in the neighborhood, and he tells them over dinner the story of what happened to Anay, his childhood best friend.

Vikas mentions later that it’s weird that Abhishek didn’t mention this when they bought the house, which is true. The movie ignores Abhishek’s omission, missing a chance to build tension by putting suspicion on him for the events to come.

After dinner, Abhishek explains more about Anay’s video camera, which Antara found in a closet in the boy’s old room. This information comes in handy later that night, when Antara is woken by an eerily similar electrical storm. Rather than head back to bed, she turns on Anay’s camera. She sees him in 1996, he sees her in 2021, and they are able to talk to each other. When he hears the commotion next door, she convinces him not to investigate. She saves his life but turns her own upside down in the process.

At this point (about a quarter of the way through the film), I was so sold on Dobaaraa that I turned it off so that I could watch it from the beginning with my husband. Whether in books, shows, or films, time-space anomalies are our jam. We recently finished watching the great 2016 Korean series Signal, which also features characters communicating across time via outdated tech, so Dobaaraa seemed like a great pick for a Saturday night movie.

Unfortunately, after we caught up the point where I’d stopped watching, the movie all but abandons its sci-fi trappings to become a lukewarm mystery in which the audience figures out what’s happening long before the main character does. Antara spends a ton of time grilling the people in her life about why they remember things differently, bogging down the story in dialogue that fails to progress the plot or develop the characters.

With a more traditional sci-fi approach to the story, Antara would try to figure out how to recreate the conditions that led her to contact Anay in the first place, and there might be more details about the nature of the electrical storm. If this were a true thriller, Antara would be up against a deadline or in peril herself. Without genre hooks or a true sense of urgency, Dobaaraa‘s conventional drama approach doesn’t really work, because the characters are less interesting than their situation.

A few scenes of Anay in the altered timeline where he survived have the level of danger associated with the thriller genre. But even then, it gets the beats wrong, putting Anay in harm’s way, only to change scenes before we see how he gets out of it.

There’s not a ton the actors can do with the script. Young Aarrian Sawant is pretty good as Anay. Taapsee Pannu builds sympathy for Antara in the early parts of the film but stalls out as her character’s emotional range shrinks. Antara may be frustrated in Dobaaraa‘s second act, but not as frustrated as the audience waiting for her to connect the dots.

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Movie Review: Laal Singh Chaddha (2022)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Laal Singh Chaddha — an official remake of Forrest Gump — was released with the expectation that it would be yet another blockbuster for Aamir Khan, along the lines of 3 Idiots and PK. Such a high bar was always going to be tough to clear. Laal Singh Chaddha is a perfectly nice movie, but that’s it.

In this version, the Forrest Gump character is Laal Singh Chaddha (Khan). He admits that he’s not too smart, but his life has been full of twists and turns. He recounts his story to his neighbors in a train carriage — an unwilling audience at first, but they wind up riveted by the end.

Young Laal (Ahmad Ibn Umar) grows up in a small farming town where he’s teased for wearing leg braces. His only friend is a girl named Rupa (Hafsa Ashraf). Laal follows every order from Rupa to the letter, so when she orders him to run from bullies, he does so, discovering that he no longer needs his braces.

When Rupa’s father murders her mother during a spat over money, Rupa comes to live with her aunt at Laal’s house, where the older woman works as a housekeeper. Rupa vows to get very rich when she grows up so that she never has to be on the receiving end of the kind of abuse that killed her mom.

Rupa (played as an adult by Kareena Kapoor) is a much more interesting character than Laal. Rupa’s motivations are understandable, and she’s willing to take risks to get what she wants. Those risks come with high-stakes consequences she’s forced to deal with.

Laal, on the other hand, floats through life like a feather on the wind — an obvious visual metaphor the film uses during the opening credits. He doesn’t want anything other than to be with Rupa, and when he can’t be, stuff just happens to him.

A selling point for both Forrest Gump and Laal Singh Chaddha is that both lead characters accidentally wind up in proximity to pivotal events in national history. When Forrest Gump released in 1994, the technology used to put Tom Hanks’ character into historical footage was cutting edge. Thanks to the advent of Photoshop and proliferation of deepfakes in the twenty years since Atul Kulkarni started his Indian adaptation of the screenplay, the altered archival videos in Laal Singh Chaddha are no longer so novel.

There’s also the fact that the movie has little to say about the historical events it features. They exist more as name checks, and Laal’s proximity is often no more consequential than a fan’s attendance at a sporting event.

The magnitude of these historical events belie the film’s themes, which are actually quite small and personal in nature. The moral lessons are things like loyalty and following through on promises even when there’s no one around to hold you accountable. This isn’t a movie about a man who changes the world.

There’s nothing wrong with Laal Singh Chaddha‘s modest goals. It’s a totally watchable film, if a bit too long. Mona Singh is sweet as Laal’s loving mother. Aamir Khan’s wide-eyed performance is not dissimilar from his turn in PK, although that was a better movie.

Kareena Kapoor turns in a masterclass in acting in every scene she’s in. It’s almost unimaginable that she wasn’t first choice for the role (which was reputedly supposed to go to Manushi Chhillar). She may not play the title character, but Laal Singh Chaddha belongs to Kareena Kapoor.

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Movie Review: Maja Ma (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Maja Ma on Amazon Prime

Who we are is a complicated question because so much of our identity is relational. Descriptors like wife, mother, sister, friend, or co-worker all depend on there being at least one specific person on the other side of the equation. Navigating all those identities is tricky enough before we introduce individual identities that can be broader yet also more personal: artist, woman, gay, or straight. Maja Ma follows the members of the Patel family as a rumor makes them examine their own identities and their relationships with each other.

Tejas Patel (Ritwik Bhowmik) is trying to convince the wealthy parents of his Indian-American girlfriend Esha Hansraj (Barkha Singh) to allow him to marry their daughter. Tejas already passed a lie detector test required by Texans Bob (Rajit Kapoor) and Pam Hansraj (Sheeba Chaddha) to ensure that he isn’t just after the family’s money. The real challenge is a meeting between the families in India to prove that the Patels embody Bob’s idea of true Indian values. Bob believes anything less might harm Bob’s future campaign to become mayor of Houston.

The Patel family is pretty typical — dad Manohar (Gajraj Rao), mom Pallavi (Madhuri Dixit), Tejas, and his sister Tara (Srishti Shrivastava) — but Tara is the wildcard. She’s working on her PhD in gender studies, and she’s a vocal supporter of LGBTQIA+ rights. She’s so vocal that even the advocacy group she volunteers for asks her to tone down her fiery rhetoric to spare them the negative press.

Pallavi is supportive of her daughter, but she’s not keen on discussing sexuality with her. During an argument in which Tara presses her mom to admit whether she would have accepted Tara if she was gay (she’s not), Pallavi blurts out that she herself is a lesbian. It’s an effective way to end the argument, but Tara suspects that maybe there’s some truth behind her mom’s words.

When the Hansraj family arrives in town, the Patels do their best to tolerate their insufferable future in-laws for Tejas’s sake. Bob leers at Pallavi and says things like, “Exotic,” during her welcome ritual. When Tara serves snacks, Pam asks her if she’s menstruating (she’s not) since Bob won’t eat any food prepared by a woman who is.

At a festival that night, the host shows a video recorded by one of the nosy neighborhood kids that includes secretly recorded footage of Pallavi’s confession during her argument with Tara, sending the whole town into an uproar. Women exclude Pallavi from their activities, Manohar’s manhood is mocked, and Bob and Pam threaten to call off the engagement — unless Pallavi can pass a lie detector test.

Whether Pallavi’s confession is actually true is immaterial in the sense that everyone in her life changes the way they treat her anyway. Manohar’s concerns are the most understandable since Pallavi being a lesbian alters the foundations of their marriage. Tejas is willing to haul his mom off to conversion therapy if it means he can still marry Esha. Tara is thrilled at the prospect of having a lesbian mother, as it would give her more credibility in her gay rights organization.

One of the counselors in Tara’s organization emphasizes that it’s entirely up to Pallavi whether she decides to publicly embrace being a lesbian. The reactions by her family, the Hansrajs, and everyone else in the neighborhood show that doing so would not come without a cost. In addition to being a lesbian, Pallavi is a mother and a wife — two roles she’s let define her knowing that other options were not available to her when she was of marriageable age.

As far as the audience knows, Pallavi loves being a mom and being part of her community, and she and Manohar have an amicable relationship. Is making a public declaration worth risking damage to the other parts of her life she’s spent decades building? Director Anand Tiwari and writer Sumit Batheja compassionately provide context for a heart-wrenching decision people are still forced to make in places where it is not safe to come out.

Maja Ma also thoughtfully depicts the changing family dynamics as adult children finally realize that their parents are more than just “Mom” and “Dad.” Likewise, Manohar’s attempts to rekindle the physical romance in his marriage are handled with grace and good humor. This is a movie that is very fond of the main family at its core.

Conversely, Bob and Pam are shown to be buffoons who get away with awful behavior because they have money. One curious point is that the movie gives Esha a pass for tolerating her parents’ rude, bigoted behavior. Her unconditional love of them is painted as a good thing, but that doesn’t mean she should condone their abuse. Far less emotional growth is demanded of her than the other adult children in the film, and it seems like a missed opportunity.

Still, Tiwari’s and Batheja’s attempts to address as the many complications that would arise from Pallavi’s confession is worth applauding, as are the performances by Maja Ma‘s terrific cast.

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Movie Review: Babli Bouncer (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Babli Bouncer on Hulu

Babli Bouncer puts a fun spin on a boilerplate Bollywood main character: the small-town slacker with a heart of gold. Tamannaah Bhatia turns in a stellar performance in the leading role, showcasing her skill as a physical comedian.

Babli (Bhatia) hails from a village on the outskirts of Delhi famous for producing wrestlers and bodybuilders. Many of the young men in town work as bouncers at Delhi nightclubs, but it’s widely known that Babli is just as tough as any of the guys. She’s not ambitious, knowing that marriage and kids are on the horizon (not that she’s mad about that). Her predetermined future enables her to coast, waiting for life to come to her.

It does in the form of Viraj (Abhishek Bajaj), the handsome son of a local school teacher. Viraj is educated and worldly — pretty much the opposite of Babli. She is immediately smitten. When Viraj politely offers to meet Babli for lunch should she ever find herself in Delhi, Babli makes it her mission to get a job in the city.

Thankfully, the club where Babli’s friend Kukku (Sahil Vaid) works is in need of lady bouncers to deal with rowdy female patrons. Soon enough, Babli is working at Kukku’s club and living in Delhi with her buddy Pinky (Priyam Saha), who teaches there. Babli thinks she’s perfectly positioned to get closer to Viraj.

In loads of other Hindi films where a man plays a similar type of lead role, the already-perfect hero sets his sights on a beautiful woman who fails to appreciate him until he uses his physical strength to save her. That she will fall in love with him by movie’s end is a given, so there’s no need to develop either character.

Babli Bouncer uses a similar character template but rejects the inevitable conclusion. Instead, Babli is depicted as flawed but lovable. When she’s confronted with her own shortcomings, she doesn’t like what she sees and chooses to fix them — not in order to win someone’s heart, but so she can be proud of herself. And her efforts at self-improvement amplify the things that were already good about her.

The story itself is entertaining enough, but Bhatia makes Babli sparkle. She’s a tomboy with a bit of swagger, and Bhatia’s every movement and mannerism suits the character perfectly. It’s heartbreaking to watch naive Babli wholeheartedly laugh along with Viraj’s city friends because she doesn’t realize they’re laughing at her, not with her. Bhatia’s spot-on characterization, spirited dancing, and quality fight scenes make for an overall great performance.

Saurabh Shukla is wonderful as Babli’s sympathetic father, and Saha and Vaid make great buddies for Babli. The resolution to lovelorn Kukku’s subplot deserved more airtime, but Vaid does a nice job selling it as written.

Babli Bouncer gets everything right that similar stories with male lead characters usually get wrong. Director Madhur Bhandarkar and co-writers Amit Joshi and Aradhana Debnath wrote a title character who is charming from the get-go but with room to grow. It’s a delight to watch Babli chart her own path.

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Movie Review: Ek Villain Returns (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Ek Villain Returns on Netflix

Eight years after its release, Ek Villain finally got a sequel. Ek Villain Returns is a marked improvement over the original.

The sequel begins with a shocking attack at a party. A man disguised with a smiley-face mask tosses revelers about the apartment in search of his target: an up-and-coming singer named Aarvi (Tara Sutaria). She records the moment he finally finds her on her phone, pleading with him by name: “Gautam.” But is that really who’s behind the mask?

Flashing back six months, we learn that Gautam (Arjun Kapoor) is the spoiled son of a wealthy man. Gautam wants to win at all costs, and he sees boosting Aarvi’s career as a way to do so. Their unscrupulous partnership leads to a romance that fractures when Gautam betrays Aarvi.

The last person to speak with Aarvi before the party attack is a driver for a ride share service named Bhairav (John Abraham). Bhairav — who is also a part-time zookeeper at a zoo that clearly lacks professional accreditation — is questioned by the police and released, but of course there’s more to his story.

Bhairav gets his own six-month flashback to him stalking a woman named Rasika (Disha Patani) who works in clothing store. She works on commission, so she’s happy enough to have a reliable customer, and they do form something of a friendship. Because he has no romantic or sexual experience, he thinks they’re in love.

Like its predecessor, Ek Villain Returns is about toxic masculinity. Whereas Ek Villain faltered by implying that there were things that women could have done to prevent being murdered by a misogynistic killer, Ek Villain Returns is clearer in affirming that women are autonomous beings who can make their own choices and need not be perfect. They also need not return the affection of any man who gives it to them, and that prioritizing men’s feelings over women’s is unfair and dangerous.

By establishing all of the characters as flawed, those who are capable of growing are given space to do so. Gautam and Aarvi are arrogant and unethical, but not beyond redemption. Rasika is a bit flippant, but she’s seen mostly through the lens of Bhairav’s perception of her — and it’s hard to trust that his perception of her is accurate, since he wants something from her. One of Bhairav’s problems is that he’s only interested in one side of a given story, and he assumes the worst of every woman he encounters.

Here’s the thing about Bhairav: if you’re going to have a character who can’t get a date despite having the face and body of John Abraham, he’s got to be much more socially awkward or creepy than the movie makes him out to be. (Also, there’s a nineteen-year age difference between Abraham and Patani. Ew.)

The issues with Bhairav are mostly a case of filmmaker Mohit Suri wanting to have his cake and eat it, too. He needs Bhairav to be a dangerous incel, but he wants steamy scenes between Abraham and Patani as well. We get the steamy scenes at the expense of Bhairav being as weird as he should’ve been.

That said, all of the actors understand what’s being asked of them and get the job done. Patani and Abraham are sexy. Kapoor and Sutaria have a more playful romance and share a great rapport. This is a couple I’d like to see paired up again in the future.

Overall, Ek Villain Returns knows what kind of movie it wants to be and gets things mostly right. And it represents a big step up from the film that spawned it.

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Movie Review: Cuttputlli (2022)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Cuttputlli on Hulu

Cuttputlli (“Puppet“) is a prime example of one of Bollywood’s biggest problems at present: taking films that were successful elsewhere and remaking them without improving the story or remediating problematic elements.

The remake of the 2018 Tamil thriller Ratsasan stars Akshay Kumar as Arjan, a wannabe filmmaker who is obsessed with serial killers. We are told that Arjan is 36, driving audience members to immediately Google how old Akshay Kumar is (he’s 54). Arjan can’t find any takers for his slasher screenplay, so he uses Compassionate Appointment rules to take over his deceased father’s job as a police officer (with proper training first).

Arjan’s fledgling movie career is hardly mentioned again, which is a missed opportunity. The whole point of introducing it is to establish Arjan as an amateur profiler, differentiating him from the members of the police force in the small town where Arjan is assigned to work, alongside his brother-in-law Narinder (Chandrachur Singh).

When a missing teenage girl’s mutilated body is discovered, Arjan quickly recognizes the similarities to another murder that occurred in a nearby town a month earlier. But police chief Gudia Parmar (Sargun Mehta) ignores Arjan’s suggestion because he’s a rookie. She defaults to her usual method of beating anyone who can be loosely connected to the victim until they confess, whether they’re guilty or not.

Arjan is upset by the chief’s preference of violence over investigation. This could have led to an interesting examination of the problems with contemporary policing and its unbalanced incentive structure, but Cuttputlli isn’t that kind of movie. It has a conventional plot whereby one good guy must catch one bad guy, giving no airtime to the structures and systems that make such crimes possible.

Take for example a subplot about one potential suspect. A high school math teacher is able to sexually abuse his female students by threatening to report their poor class performance to their parents. Arjan’s own niece Payal (Renaye Tejani)–who exists in this movie solely to be victimized repeatedly–says that her parents were once so angry when she brought home a bad report card that they broke a television set. The film treats the line about the broken TV as a throwaway, rather than proof that unrealistic parental expectations actually might contribute to an environment that allows the predatory teacher to thrive.

Arjun stops the teacher before he’s able to assault Payal, kicking the man in the junk so ferociously that it sends him to the hospital. Arjun has become the thing that once disgusted him — a violent cop — but his reaction is condoned because he’s the hero of the story, granting him the right to mete out extrajudicial punishment as needed.

Cuttputlli‘s approach to violence is troublesome. The first victim’s mutilated face is shown for shock value, but lingering on each successive dead girl’s scarred visage feels exploitative. The film also follows the discovery of the first victim with a wacky scene in which Arjan chats with a forgetful grandpa who is delighted to discover that his wife is dead. The juxtaposition is uncomfortable, and the joke isn’t even funny (plus grandpa is never mentioned again either).

The conclusion to Cuttputlli is ridiculous. There was no reason to keep it the same as filmmaker Ram Kumar’s original film, but director Ranjit Tewari and writer Aseem Arrora seem determined not to make any improvements in their reboot. Mission accomplished, I guess.

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Movie Review: Good Luck Jerry (2022)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Good Luck Jerry on Hulu

The vibe of director Siddharth Sen’s debut feature Good Luck Jerry feels like a toned-down Ludo or Looop Lapeta. But trendy aesthetics can’t compensate for a disorganized screenplay and a lack of character development.

Janhvi Kapoor lends her undeniable charisma to Jerry Kumari, a young woman willing to do whatever it takes to provide for her family after her father’s death. Jerry’s mom Sharbati (Mita Vashisht) isn’t happy about her daughter’s job at a massage parlor, but the family needs the money, especially while Jerry’s younger sister Cherry (Samta Sudiksha) finishes school.

Their financial situation gets worse when Sharbati is diagnosed with lung cancer. Unable to get a loan for Sharbati’s treatment, Jerry uses a serendipitous connection to put a risky scheme into action.

While shopping at a market with Cherry, Jerry is forced by a neck-brace-wearing gangster named Timmy (Jaswant Singh Dalal) to recover a packet of drugs hidden in the men’s restroom. There are police all over the market, but they won’t suspect a young woman of carrying drugs. Jerry succeeds, and Timmy lets the sisters go. The next day, Jerry finds Timmy and convinces him to hire her as a drug runner on a permanent basis.

The new gig earns Jerry more than enough money, but it earns her enemies among the drug dealers as well. Timmy’s boss sets her up to fail with a job that’s too big to pull off — at least not without the help of her family.

In keeping with the colorful dark comedy style of movies like Ludo and Looop Lapeta, Good Luck Jerry‘s world is populated by weirdos. Jerry has to fend off romantic overtures from 40-something wannabe rapper Rinku (Deepak Dobriyal), and Cherry has her own suitor who hounds her while dressed in a groom’s attire. The criminals she meets are quirky, though not as memorable as Pankaj Tripathi’s neck-brace-wearing gangster Sattu from Ludo.

If anything, Good Luck Jerry seems like a watered-down version of other films in the same genre. It’s not as visually interesting, the characters are forgettable, and the comedy isn’t edgy enough. Also, Jerry’s final scheme seems overly complex, and the movie makes no attempt to explain how she, her mom, and her sister were able to pull it off.

Even though it’s based on the Tamil film Kolamaavu Kokila, the screenplay feels like an early draft. Jerry doesn’t grow at all; she begins and ends the movie as a woman who will do anything for her family. Sheer volume of characters — and the inflated runtime that comes with them — is treated as more important than fewer, more impactful ones. Dobriyal’s Rinku suffers particularly from this. He and Jerry don’t have much of a relationship, so including him in a climactic shootout doesn’t actually raise the stakes for Jerry. He just takes up space and screentime.

Kapoor, Sudiksha, and Vashisht share a delightful rapport and make a really cute family. Good Luck Jerry needed more of them and less of everybody else.

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Movie Review: Hurdang (2022)

Zero Stars (out of 4)

The social drama Hurdang fails to build a persuasive case for the odious politics it endorses.

Hurdang is set at a college campus in Allahabad in 1990. Local goon and opportunist Loha Singh (Vijay Varma) wants to increase his political profile. He seizes upon the announced implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations — which would increase the number of university admissions and government jobs reserved for people from Other Backward Classes — as an opportunity to stoke unrest on campus and gain attention.

Loha uses his right-hand man Daddu (Sunny Kaushal) to activate the upper caste students at several area colleges. Daddu is enrolled in university, but you’d hardly know it since he never studies or goes to class. He carries multiple guns with him and is quick to point them at anyone who gives him even a minor hassle.

Daddu’s pitch to get the students to protest against the government is that the predominantly upper caste students currently enrolled in university have made their plans expecting a certain amount of government jobs to be available to them upon graduation, and that changing the rules now unfairly penalizes them. The movie makes only passing mention of the generational damage caused by systemic caste discrimination.

Writer-director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s choice to put Daddu at the center of this story is absurd. Daddu has no chance of graduating as a result of his own (non-existent) efforts, so he plans to get the final exam questions from Loha in advance and cheat. He does not see his own cheating as being at odds with the system of meritocracy he believes exists and that the reservation system supposedly undermines. What matters to the narrative is that Daddu is a victim.

The notion of Daddu as a victim is even more ridiculous considering the privileges Daddu enjoys thanks to his relationship with Loha — and by extension the politicians Loha works for. Twice, Daddu steals a baton from a police officer and beats the officer with it, and he never faces any consequences for it. Daddu is above the law in almost every respect, but the film really wants viewers to feel sorry for him.

Bhat’s story is so lopsided that it barely acknowledges that people from lower castes exist, let alone suffer under a system rigged against them. Daddu’s much more academically talented girlfriend Jhulan (Nushrratt Bharuccha) is herself from a lower caste — a fact that’s only relevant for a scene in which her father tells her to wait until the reservation quota has been updated to take her finals so that she’ll have an easier time getting a government job. Jhulan is portrayed as virtuous for wanting to test right away and pass on her own merits. From the movie’s perspective, benefiting from a rule change is more egregious than stealing an exam and cheating.

The political position Bhat takes with his story is gross, but he doesn’t even do a good job of defending it. Hurdang is awful.

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