Tag Archives: Jaideep Ahlawat

Movie Review: Commando — A One Man Army (2013)

Commando_(2013_film)3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

With Commando — A One Man Army, Producer Vipul Shah and director Dilip Ghosh set out to make a realistic action film in the vein of Jackie Chan films, heavily reliant on martial arts and without lots of special effects, cable harnesses, or technological assistance. They achieved their goal in spades. Commando is an exciting action film with a strong Indian identity.

Commando‘s lead character, Karan (Vidyut Jamwal), is an elite Indian soldier captured when his helicopter crashes in China. Federal politicians force Karan’s superior officer, Colonel Sinha (Darshan Jariwala), to disavow all knowledge of Karan to avoid a war with the Chinese, who assume Karan is a spy. Karan escapes after a year of torture.

Following this introduction, the action shifts abruptly to a small north Indian town not far from the Chinese border. The town is besieged by a drug lord named AK (Jaideep Ahlawat) whose scariness is enhanced by eyeballs that appear to be entirely white, devoid of irises or pupils. AK wants to marry Simrit (Pooja Chopra) — the daughter of a local leader — to ease his foray into politics, but Simrit runs away, rather than marry such a monster.

Her escape attempt is nearly foiled, until she literally runs into Karan at the bus station. Karan beats up a dozen bad guys in spectacular fashion, and the two flee AK together.

Despite the sudden shift from a Chinese torture chamber to an Indian small town, the narrative is really straightforward: two young, good-looking people fall in love while running for their lives. The action is the main attraction, but in the “Making of” extra on the DVD, Shah and Ghosh specify that this is first and foremost a love story.

That’s part of the reason why Commando is so successful: it’s very, very Indian. This is not The Raid: Redemption, another realistic action movie (which I loved) whose main character is a somber, seemingly invincible he-man. Commando is a fairly traditional, Bollywood-style romance, complete with an item number and a love song set on a beach. Only this romance results in lots and lots of dead people.

Commando is brutal but not overly gory, involving lots of blood but no guts. The South African action team that choreographed the fight sequences did a wonderful job showcasing Jamwal’s athleticism, honed from years of training in the south Indian martial art kalaripayattu.

Jamwal is spectacular in Commando. He plays his character as gruff, but not humorless. His grace and ferocity in fight sequences is thrilling to watch. I’m hopeful that Jamwal’s brand of full-throttle fighting will shift the standards for future Bollywood action fare away from the ubiquitous slap-fests reliant upon heroes in harnesses dodging bullets in Matrix-style slow motion.

Chopra does a nice job making Simrit more than just a damsel in distress. Simrit is brave and ready to fight, even if she does scream when she sees a snake, early on. She’s able to keep up with Karan as they run through the forest, having wisely packed a pair of sensible shoes in her getaway bag.

Ahlawat’s AK is one of my favorite Hindi-film villains in a long time. AK is truly scary, and not just because of his eyes. Not content to play the aloof don and let his underlings do his dirty work for him, he directly kills a lot of people himself, even those who’ve helped in his pursuit of Karan and Simrit. The fact that he follows up a bunch of murders with a dance number featuring Natalia Kaur just makes AK all the more sinister.

In addition to the great stunts and performances, Commando is a beautiful movie to look at. Sejal Shah’s cinematography captures the wonder of the forests around Manali, where the bulk of the chase footage was shot. The film’s score is varied, with everything from surf rock to metal to mariachi music.

I hope Commando inspires Indian filmmakers to take more risks with the type of action films they make. Jamwal’s impressive performance should make him a hot commodity in Bollywood. This is one of my favorite Hindi films of the year.

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Movie Review: Gangs of Wasseypur — Part 1 and Part 2 (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent Part I and Part II at iTunes
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Gangs of Wasseypur debuted on the festival circuit as a five-hour-plus Indian crime epic. When it finally released into theaters (and on DVD), the film was chopped into two halves, released months apart as Gangs of Wasseypur Part I and Part II. It’s a decision that makes sense from a distribution standpoint, but it does the film a disservice.

Gangs of Wasseypur is truly a single film written with a place for a pause in the middle to grab snacks, not for a break of several weeks. Like those who saw the film in the theater, I watched the DVDs weeks apart, and I think the viewing experience suffered for it. If you have the opportunity to watch both parts of Gangs of Wasseypur back-to-back, do it.

With that caveat, how does the film stand up as a cohesive work? Director Anurag Kashyap is something of an outlier in Indian cinema due to his willingness to let scenes breathe and unfold at their own pace. It’s wonderful to watch, but not indefinitely. There’s so much material in Gangs of Wasseypur that I would have enjoyed it more as two distinct films with two sets of midpoints, climaxes, and denouements. As it exists, Gangs of Wasseypur is a bit too much.

The plot chronicles a story of revenge that spans multiple generations of two families in the town of Wasseypur. After the British depart India in 1947, a young industrialist named Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia) assumes control of the local mine. He hires a goon named Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) to force the local laborers to work in deplorable conditions.

One night, Ramadhir overhears Shahid talking to his son, Sardar Khan, and his cousin, Nasir (Piyush Mishra, the film’s narrator) about his plans to kill Ramadhir and take over the mine himself. Ramadhir acts first, luring Shahid to his death, though his plot to murder Sardar and Nasir fails. Young Sardar vows to one day murder Ramadhir in retaliation, eventually passing on his hatred of the industrialist to his own sons.

That setup encompasses about the first hour of the film. The remaining four hours deal with the ongoing power struggle between the Singhs and the Khans and the resulting bloodshed. This is a gory film by any standard, but especially so compared to other Hindi films.

The bulk of the story centers on the two most charismatic members of the Khan family: Sardar (Manoj Bajpai) and his second oldest son, Faizal (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Rather than murdering Ramadhir outright, Sardar plots to become his equal and destroy everything Ramadhir has built. Sardar makes a fortune stealing iron ore and intimidating the populace. This long game gives Sardar time to raise a family (or two) while plotting his revenge.

Sardar is an interesting choice for a lead character because he’s an awful person, regardless of his tragic beginnings. In addition to being a violent crook, he’s a terrible husband to his first wife, Nagma (Richa Chadda), whom he abandons to marry a second woman, Durga (Reema Sen), whom he eventually leaves to return to Nagma. At various times, Sardar neglects his four sons with Nagma and his one son with Durga. To varying degrees, all of his children hate him as much as they fear and respect him.

Such a negative character only works as a lead because Manoj Bajpai is so talented. Sardar shares moments of genuine affection with both of his wives when he’s not being a total narcissist. Bajpai plays Sardar with such swagger and menace that it’s easy to understand how he achieves the success he does.

Faizal is not much like his father. With an older brother, Danish (Vineet Singh), as Sardar’s natural heir, Faizal can waste his time getting stoned. Circumstances eventually force him to take a more active role in the family business, and Faizal proves to be unexpectedly ruthless.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui owns every scene he’s in. He’s talented enough to make scenes in which Faizal sits starring some of the most riveting scenes in the movie. Faizal’s conflicted feelings about his violent lifestyle make him more relatable than his father, and he’s downright charming as he woos the lovely Mohsina (Huma Qureshi).

The problem inherent in revenge films is that the characters often have little room for growth. Either they get their revenge, or they don’t, whether by choice or failure. Revenge is an okay motive for a shorter movie, but my interest waned after the third hour or so.

Also at around the three-hour mark, the story pushes two new characters to the forefront: Sardar’s two youngest sons, Definite (Zaishan Quadri) and Babua (Aditya Kumar). At that point — about 60% of the way through the film — I didn’t have the energy to get invested in two essentially brand new characters. Had Gangs of Wasseypur Part II been a proper sequel, the introduction of the new characters wouldn’t have seemed so late.

What ultimately makes the film worth seeing is Kashyap’s directing style. In addition to letting the scenes breathe, he uses music to incredible effect. He has mastered the montage. In addition to star turns by Bajpai and Siddiqui, Kashyap gets great performances out of the rest of the cast as well.

Gangs of Wasseypur would’ve been better as two distinct films, but I applaud Kashyap’s effort in trying to push the boundaries of Indian cinema.

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