Tag Archives: Irrfan Khan

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.

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Movie Review: The Lunchbox (2013)

TheLunchbox3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Debutant director Ritesh Batra’s less-is-more style perfectly suits The Lunchbox: a seemingly simple story of an improperly delivered lunchbox that changes the lives of both the sender and the recipient.

Mumbai’s system of dabbawalas is one of the most fascinating systems engineered by humans, ripe for use as a movie plot device. Every day, thousands of dabbawalas (“lunchbox delivery men”, essentially) collect tens of thousands of lunchboxes filled with hot meals from residential and commercial kitchens, delivering them to offices across the city in time for lunch. Their rate of mistakes is estimated to be as low as 1-in-a-million.

Rather than let that one errant lunchbox go to waste, director Batra fashions a story in which a meal prepared by a neglected wife winds up in the hands of a curmudgeonly accountant.

When the wife, Ila (Nimrat Kaur), is returned an uncharacteristically empty lunchbox one afternoon, she thinks she’s found a way to get her distracted husband, Rajiv (Nakul Vaid), to pay attention to her. When Rajiv compliments Ila on her cauliflower — a dish she didn’t prepare that day — Ila realizes that there’s been a mix up, and someone else has started receiving her food.

She includes a note in the meal she sends the next day, thanking the unknown diner for his enthusiastic appetite. The accountant, Mr. Fernandez (Irrfan Khan), sends back another empty lunchbox — and a note commenting that the food was a bit too salty.

Ila’s relationship with Fernandez develops sweetly as they gradually include more personal details in their notes. Ila’s interactions with her mystery diner are aided by her upstairs neighbor, Auntie (Bharati Achrekar): a disembodied voice whose only evidence of physical being is the basket of ingredients she lowers out of the window to Ila.

The lightness of the early relationship between the lead duo turns more serious as reality sets in. Ila is a young, married woman with a daughter, and Fernandez is just weeks away from retirement. The story ends in a more believable way than a traditional love-conquers-all romantic comedy.

(That said, I’d love to see Batra direct a traditional romcom. He’s very good with the elements of that genre present in the first half of The Lunchbox.)

Batra perfectly emphasizes the theme of urban isolation in the story:

  • Rajiv won’t make eye contact with his wife.
  • Ila never sees her neighbor face-to-face.
  • Ila and Fernandez communicate only via written notes.
  • Fernandez watches through the window as his neighbors enjoy a family meal to which he’s not invited.
  • Even Ila’s parents live across town, their physical distance mirroring their emotional distance.

This sense of isolation is heightened by a soundtrack that prioritizes urban clamor over music. The sounds of trains and buses provide most of the background noise. The movie’s infrequent music is provided by the dabbawalas singing on their train ride home or by old film tunes piping down from Auntie’s window.

Still, Batra takes this notion of isolation further than he needs to by implicating marriage as one of those isolating forces. Obviously it can be, since in Ila’s case it keeps her tethered to a man who’s not interested in her. But the movie’s most prominent female characters all seem to consider marriage an institution of diminishing returns for wives, as love quickly fades into resentful caretaking. Perhaps it’s more realistic than in a typical film, but it’s overkill.

The performances in The Lunchbox are wonderful. Ila and Fernandez spend a lot of time reading notes or silently deciding what to do next, yet Kaur and Khan make every moment riveting.

The supporting cast is equally terrific. Auntie is a wonderful creation, and Achrekar does so much to enliven the character without ever appearing on screen.

Though Ila provides the impetus for Fernandez to reconnect with people, his best opportunity comes through Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), the eager young man hired to replace him. Shaikh needs a lot of help in order to fill Fernandez’s shoes, and Fernandez takes a long time to warm to the idea of mentoring him. Siddiqui’s great performance again proves that he’s as reliable an actor as there is.

The Lunchbox is something special, and hopefully the first of many great movies to come from a promising new director.

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Movie Review: Gunday (2014)

Gunday2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Editor’s note: So, a lot of people have been coming to this review via IMDb, because Gunday is — after just one week in theaters — already the lowest-rated movie of all time. Lower than The Hottie and the Nottie, Birdemic, and even Manos: The Hands of Fate. As of February 22, it’s at 1.2/10, a full .8 ahead of its nearest competitor.

Is Gunday really that bad? As a movie, no. You can read below how I thought it was problematic, but passable.

Then why is it ranked as IMDb’s worst movie ever? It looks like the movie’s portrayal of the Bangladesh Liberation War has angered a lot of people, who have coordinated to give it as many 1/10 reviews as possible. Look at the IMDb user reviews, and several of them have the exact same title: “Manipulating Bangladesh’s Liberation War history.”

Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with the true events that Gunday references. So while I still think it’s okay as a film, I certainly wouldn’t vouch for it being historically accurate!

Abrupt changes in tone and an abundance of slow-mo keep Gunday (“The Outlaws“) from establishing its own voice or finding a rhythm.

The story begins in 1971 at the end of the war that established Bangladesh as an independent nation. 14-year-old orphans Bikram (Darshan Gurjar) and Bala (Jayesh V. Kardak) survive the deprivation of a refuge camp by working as gun runners. When Bala shoots an army officer to save Bikram’s life, the boys flee to Calcutta.

Fast-forward ten years, and Bikram (Ranveer Singh) and Bala (Arjun Kapoor) are the unofficial kings of Calcutta, controlling all of the city’s black market commodities. The buddies do everything together, while savvy Bikram keeps Bala’s temper in check.

As soon as the guys’ present-day circumstances are established, an anchor drops onto the plot in the form of a love interest: a cabaret dancer named Nandita (Priyanka Chopra).

The premise that two guys are such good buddies that they decide to share the same girl could be cute in a more lighthearted movie than this one. But Gunday starts out grim, and it returns to being so once Nandita chooses one guy over the other. The thirty-minute wacky romantic-comedy interval doesn’t fit.

That’s not the only aspect of Gunday that doesn’t make sense tonally. Action sequences vary from dramatic and realistic to outright loony. Bala causes an earthquake before shooting up through the ground, as though propelled by a geyser. A fish is wielded as a deadly weapon.

The goofy action sequences are pretty entertaining, but again, they don’t feel right in the context of the movie. Gunday would’ve been better had writer-director Ali Abbas Zafar established surreal action as the dominant tone of the movie.

Such a tone would’ve also explained the volume of slow-motion used in the film. Walking, running, dancing: seemingly every form of motility is presented in slow-motion. The impact of the two scenes in the movie that actually benefit from the treatment is dulled by its application to so many mundane activities.

There is a ridiculous amount of skin on display in Gunday, and not just by Chopra’s cabaret dancer. In the movie’s funniest fight scene, Bikram and Bala exchange blows, ripping off each other’s shirts in the process. The shirts come off in slow-mo (of course), exposing Singh’s and Kapoor’s hairless, tanned, greased-up, muscular torsos. It’s not supposed to be as hilarious as it is.

As much attention as is given to the guys’ muscles — with special attention paid to Singh’s perky buns — Irrfan Khan wins for Best Body, and he gets to keep his clothes on.

Khan’s star power is on full display as the police inspector tasked with bringing down Bikram and Bala and returning order to Calcutta. Saurab Shukla’s understated role as the lawyer who watches over Bikram and Bala is also notable.

Chopra is fine as Nandita, though she’s not given much to do besides look sexy, early on. Her performance improves as Nandita realizes the consequences of having strained the friendship between the two gangsters.

It almost seems as if the role of Bikram was written with Singh in mind, and his charisma is undeniable. Kapoor is very good at playing edgy anti-heroes, and it’s a shame when Bala gets turned into a mindless beefcake goofball during the romance portion of the movie. His hair-trigger is shelved for the sake of song-and-dance numbers and out-of-place comedy bits.

As a surreal dark comedy or action flick, Gunday could’ve been really interesting, but there’s no place for light romantic tomfoolery in such a film. A clear vision rather than a please-all approach would’ve done wonders.

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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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Opening July 19: Ramaiya Vastavaiya and D-Day

Two new Hindi films are set to open in Chicago area theaters on July 19, 2013. First up is the romantic comedy Ramaiya Vastavaiya, directed by Prabhu Deva.

Ramaiya Vastavaiya opens on Friday at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrinton 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. All three theaters list different runtimes for the film, ranging from 2 hrs. 20 min. to 2 hrs. 30 min.

Also new in theaters this week is the thriller D-Day, starring Irrfan Khan, Arjun Rampal and Rishi Kapoor.

D-Day also opens on Friday at all of the above theaters. The runtimes listed for it range from 2 hrs. 15 min. to 2 hrs. 33 min.

After earning $647,112 in its opening weekend in U.S. theaters, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag carries over for a second week at all three of the above theaters, plus the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. Many cinemas have reduced the number of daily showings of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag in order to accommodate this week’s four new Hollywood releases, so check the listings before you head to the theater.

If you just can’t get enough Irrfan Khan, Life of Pi gets a limited national re-release on Friday, showing locally at the South Barrington 30.

Other Indian movies playing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Maryan (Tamil), Saptapadii (Gujarati), and the Telugu films Kevvu Keka and Sahasam.

In Theaters November 21, 2012

Most Chicago area theaters have rearranged their schedules to accommodate new releases debuting on Wednesday, November 21, to take advantage of Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday crowds. That’s bad news for one of last week’s new Hindi releases.

Son of Sardaar is dropping out of some area theaters and seeing its daily showings cut back at others. Come Wednesday, Son of Sardaar will only be playing at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville.

Last week’s other big Diwali release, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, is unaffected by the mid-week schedule update. Having earned a total of $1,941,805 in the U.S. so far, JTHJ carries over at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, AMC River East 21 in Chicago, and Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie.

Two of Wednesday’s new releases — though not Hindi movies themselves — feature popular Bollywood actors in prominent roles. Anupam Kher stars in The Silver Linings Playbook, while Life of Pi stars Bollywood veterans like Irrfan Khan, Tabu, and Adil Hussain. Both of these English-language films open on November 21 at all five of the theaters mentioned above, as well as many other theaters in the Chicago area.

Movie Review: Hisss (2010)

1 Star (out of 4)

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When a director disowns a movie she spent months filming, you know the finished product must really stink. That’s exactly what American director Jennifer Lynch did, following the release of the Hindi film Hisss.

Lynch claims that producers wrested control of the film away from her during the editing process, ultimately creating a movie that little resembles her vision for the project. The filmmaking process was so trying that a documentary about Lynch’s experience called Despite the Gods is currently making the festival circuit. Now that’s a movie I want to see.

Hisss is ultimately a good-looking version of the type of schlocky, low-budget monster movies regularly shown on the Syfy channel. Compared to any other films, it’s a mess.

It’s not just a mess; it’s messy. By Bollywood standards, Hisss is incredibly gory. Also, compared to standard Bollywood fare, there’s a lot of nudity and explicit sexuality (although a scene showing Mallika Sherawat humping a ten-foot-long snake puppet would be unusual in any type of film).

Hisss’s (not often I get to use the same letter four times consecutively!) premise is that an American man named George (Jeff Douchette) must prevent his death from brain cancer by stealing the immortal essence of a snake goddess, or nagin. In order to lure the nagin, he captures her male cobra mate, played by the aforementioned snake puppet.

The nagin assumes the human form of Mallika Sherawat in order to search for her stolen mate. While in the guise of a seductive and frequently naked woman, the nagin seizes the opportunity to murder some male human rapists and abusers in gruesome fashion. All that’s left of one of her victims are his undigested bones, cellphone, and Pamela Anderson t-shirt.

The strange deaths are investigated by Vinkram (Irrfan Khan), a detective dealing with his wife’s recent miscarriage and a mentally ill mother-in-law. Vinkram’s wife, Maya (Divya Dutta), assists her husband when a lovely, mute, naked woman — the nagin — is brought to the police station. Maya’s ill mother is the only one who sees a connection between the woman and the deaths.

Dutta and Irrfan bear no responsibility for the movie’s failures. Both are solid in the movie’s only compelling storyline, as they cope with the possibility of never becoming parents. Scenes involving Maya’s childlike mother are sometimes awkward but reinforce that Maya and Vinkram are good people.

The other storylines aren’t nearly as interesting. It’s hard to get invested in the nagin’s journey, since she never speaks, and the closest she ever gets any kind of meaningful character development is when she’s molting. The nagin is less of a tortured-soul type of monster like Dr. Jekyll or the wolfman than she is a killing machine. She’s Jaws with a taste for misogynists.

Few acting demands are placed upon Sherawat beyond occasional bouts of wordless howling. Half-naked writhing is her main contribution to the film, and she does an admirable job of it. Her character is just too undeveloped to garner sympathy.

Least sympathetic of all is George. Most of his dull scenes are filmed in a windowless underground room where he electrocutes the snake puppet as part of his plan to attract the nagin. George periodically surfaces to abuse and murder his Indian assistants, who should realize that whatever money he’s offering isn’t worth the risk of being shot by George or eaten by a giant snake.

Given the scenes that made it in to the final cut of Hisss, I’m not sure that Lynch’s version would’ve been a masterpiece. Still, I would’ve liked to have seen it. Regardless, Despite the Gods is bound to be more entertaining than the film that spawned it.

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Movie Review: Paan Singh Tomar (2010)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Paan Singh Tomar lived a fascinating life. A gifted athlete betrayed by his government, his story went largely unnoticed until thirty years after his death. But the movie made about him doesn’t quite do him justice.

The film opens in 1980 with a sort of framing device: a reporter seeks an interview with the legendary dacoit (“bandit”) Paan Singh Tomar. I say it’s only sort of a framing device because the action of the last thirty minutes of the film all takes place after the interview.

Paan Singh (as he’s referred to) explains that he’s not a bandit, but a rebel. He narrates his story to the reporter, starting in 1950 as a young army officer. Paan Singh (Irrfan Khan) angles for a spot on the national track and field team — an offshoot of the army — because the athletes get larger portions of food at mealtime than soldiers do.

Since TVs weren’t common household items at the time, Paan Singh’s athletic achievements go largely unnoticed outside the big cities. His wife doesn’t learn that he’s set a new record in the steeplechase until he tells her himself on one of his brief trips home to his small town.

Paan Singh leaves the army when a cousin, Bhanwar Singh (Jahangir Khan), attempts to seize all of the local farmland for himself. Paan Singh is offered the chance to move his family to safety and coach the national track and field team, but he elects to fight for his farm. He asks the local police for help, citing his service to the country in the army and in competitive athletics. The police have never heard of Paan Singh Tomar, but they know Bhanwar well, thanks to the generous bribes he pays them.

Unable to stop his cousin peacefully, Paan Singh and the other displaced farmers wage a guerrilla war against Bhanwar.

The events of Paan Singh Tomar’s life are certainly exciting enough to inspire a feature film. The problem is in the way the plot unfolds. It’s as though writer-director Tigmanshu Dhulia is ticking off boxes on a biographical checklist, rather than telling a story. Scenes are too brief, ending abruptly before moving on to the next too-brief scene.

In an effort to hit all of the biographical highlights, character development is minimized. Paan Singh’s wife, Indra (Mahie Gill), has little to do apart from submit to her husband’s groping on his brief visits home. I’d have thought she’d have a lot to say about his choice to spend his military career away from her and their children, only to spend the rest of his life running from the law. We never hear her side of the story.

There’s little time allowed to explore the motivations of the characters, and that includes those of Paan Singh himself. The nobility of his choice to fight for his family farm is tempered somewhat by the means by which he finances his guerrilla war. He and his gang kidnap people and use the ransom to buy weapons. But, even after the situation with Bhanwar is resolved, the kidnappings continue. Why?

Was retaking his farmland for his family Paan Singh’s real goal? Was it simply revenge? Is he really a rebel or just a vigilante?

Even with his lack of character development, Khan gives a gripping performance as Paan Singh. As the movie progresses, it’s easy to get caught up in Khan’s charisma. It’s only after the movie ends that the questions of “Why?” come to the forefront. Paan Singh Tomar doesn’t offer enough answers.

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Opening March 2: London Paris New York and Paan Singh Tomar

Will rom-com fatigue doom London Paris New York, one of two new Bollywood movies opening this weekend in Chicago area theaters? With four romances having opened in the last three weeks — and the dismal U.S. box office performances of last weekend’s new films — it’s a very real concern.

London Paris New York (LPNY) stars Ali Zafar and Aditi Rao Hydari in a love story set in three of the world’s most beautiful cities.

LPNY opens on Friday, March 2, 2012, at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. The movie is rated PG-13 and has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 40 min.

Predictably, the two romantic comedies released last weekend split the audience share, to the detriment of both. Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya (the better of the two films) had the better weekend, earning just $94,583 in the United States. Jodi Breakers fared worse, earning a paltry $52,618. It departs area theaters on Thursday.

Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya carries over for a second week at the Golf Glen 5 and South Barrington 30, which also brings back Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu for a fourth week. Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu‘s U.S. theater earnings stand at $1,130,842.

This weekend’s other new Hindi release, Paan Singh Tomar, opens on Friday at the South Barrington 30. It stars Irrfan Khan as an elite athlete who becomes a rebel fighter. It has a runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min.

Other Indian movies playing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Aravaan (Tamil), Ee Adutha Kaalathu (Malayalam), Ishq (Telugu), and Love Failure (Telugu).

Movie Review: Yeh Saali Zindagi (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Yeh Saali Zindagi (“This Darn Life”) is a modern attempt at film noir that goes overboard with the “noir.” Many scenes are so dark that you can’t tell what’s happening.

It’s one thing when visual darkness is meant to conceal dark deeds, such as when the hero, Arun (Irrfan Khan), sees the lounge singer he loves, Priti (Chitrangda Singh), kissing another man in a shadowy hallway. Arun then uses the cover of night to follow Priti and the man, only to see her and her new beau kidnapped by a gang of thugs.

But the majority of the time, the darkness onscreen just seems like a failure to provide adequate lighting for the shot. Inside the cell where the lead thug, Kuldeep (Arunoday Singh), hatches a plan to spring his boss, Bade (Yashpal Sharma), from jail, the light coming in from the windows isn’t strong enough to illuminate the faces of the schemers, even if it is atmospheric.

More clumsy is a later scene on a balcony in which Kuldeep, recently freed from jail, frets about his failing marriage to a corrupt jailor, Satbeer (Sushant Singh). The sun is behind the actors, so there’s no way to see Kuldeep’s expression as he breaks down; the only way to interpret his anguish is from his sobbing. If I were one of the actors, I’d be upset that no one could actually see my performance.

The story unfolds through the parallel experiences of Arun and Kuldeep. Kuldeep mistakenly kidnaps Priti, thinking she’s the politician’s daughter engaged to Shyam (Vipul Gupta), the man Arun saw in the hallway with Priti. When Kuldeep and his gang realize their mistake, they don’t have a Plan B. Instead, they rely on Priti to come up with a way to get their ransom: Bade’s freedom.

Given how inept this gang is, it’s a wonder Priti doesn’t go straight to the police when she’s allowed out of their hideout. Instead, she turns to Arun. But she really believes the gang will kill Shyam, so she plays her part and returns to the hideout. The fact that they’re willing to let her live, despite the fact that she knows their identities, indicates that perhaps they’re not really up for murder.

Shyam’s unwillingness to try to help himself further removes any urgency from the situation. It’s not clear what Priti sees in him, other than the fact that she thinks he’s rich (he’s not). Once she learns that he’s broke, why not split?

There’s not much in the way of action, as Arun’s rescue attempt primarily involves bank transfers. The characters and side plots are only okay, the music unremarkable. Couple all that with the shadowy cinematography, and there’s just not much in Yeh Saali Zindagi to hold one’s attention.

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