Tag Archives: Javed Jaffrey

Movie Review: War Chhod Na Yaar (2013)

War_Chhod_Na_Yaar_Theatrical_Poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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War Chhod Na Yaar (“Let’s Forsake War“) is neither as good nor as bad as it could have been. Given that the movie is a comedy about a war between India and Pakistan, the fact that it’s not a disaster is something of a success in its own right.

War Chhod Na Yaar (WCNY, henceforth) avoids many potential pitfalls by laying blame for the ongoing hostilities between India and Pakistan far up the chain, and not at the feet of the soldiers on the front lines. The film blames politicians hungry for votes, foreign powers hungry for money, and news outlets hungry for sensational headlines.

The action takes place primarily at a pair of army outposts along the border. The soldiers on opposite sides of the barbed wire fence exist under an informal truce built on the playfully contentious friendship between Indian Captain Raj (Sharman Joshi) and Pakistani Captain Qureshi (Javed Jaffrey), who secretly meet at night to play cards.

Their peace is threatened when the Indian Defense Minister (Dalip Tahil) reveals to a reporter, Rut (Soha Ali Khan), that war will break out in two days time. They travel to the Indian outpost where the minister enlists Rut’s help in creating a propaganda video to be released after the fighting begins. The minister quickly gets out of Dodge, but Rut stays to find out what life is really like for the soldiers. She and Raj fall in love in the process.

Many of the jokes come at the expense of the Pakistani Army, who are portrayed as bumbling due to chronic malnourishment. The leader of the Pakistani troops, Commander Khan (Sanjai Mishra), is supposed to be played for laughs, but his character isn’t well-defined enough to really be funny. He’s a collection of character flaws rather than a character with flaws.

Another problem is that many of the jokes rely on Hindi wordplay and rhymes, and they don’t survive the translation into English. Likewise, certain jokes rely on regional and cultural knowledge that international audiences lack.

Joshi and Jaffrey are charming as the friendly officers, but Khan doesn’t pull off the reporter role. The soldiers from two hostile countries engage in a singing competition, but Rut doesn’t find it newsworthy enough to record with her video camera.

Tahil plays not only the Indian Defense Minister, but the defense minister from Pakistan, America, and China. The Chinese defense minister would’ve been recognizable in his army uniform and Chairman Mao hairstyle, so I could’ve done without the potentially offensive eye makeup. (And why are the Chinese minister’s two bodyguards African?) But Tahil is pretty funny as the American defense chief, who’s clearly modeled on George W. Bush.

WCNY portrays China and America as pitting India and Pakistan against each other in a proxy war. The U.S. gets off relatively easy under accusations of profiteering. China, on the other hand, is repeatedly criticized for flooding India and Pakistan with cheaply made products. The Pakistani army is so ineffective because all of their Chinese-made weapons are defective.

WCNY falls prey to a common mistake: over-explaining things rather than trusting the audience to interpret events for themselves. When the predetermined nature of the war is revealed on Rut’s cable news network, the film cuts to reaction shots of ordinary citizens as they take to the streets in outrage.

All the movie needs to show is the ruse revealed. The audience can figure out what would come next. The movie doesn’t need to show man-on-the-street interviews of random people saying how bad corruption is. We know it is!

I doubt that WCNY will inspire many other filmmakers to tread the tricky ground of India’s ongoing tension with Pakistan, but it does show that it’s possible to do so without being offensive. Now the trick is to make it funny.

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Movie Review: Besharam (2013)

Besharam2 Stars (out of 4)

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Besharam (“Shameless”) was likely sold to investors using the following equation: Ranbir Kapoor + antics = super hit. The equation will probably prove correct, but that doesn’t mean that Besharam is a great movie.

Writer-director Abhinav Kashyap is so confident in Ranbir’s ability to charm audiences that he offers only the barest hint of a plot. The movie starts with a brutal scene of a gang led by Bheem Singh Chandel (Javed Jaffrey) blowing up a police van with a rocket launcher and siccing an attack dog on an officer. The gangsters disappear for forty-five minutes, until they hire Babli (Ranbir) to steal a car for them.

In the interim, we get to know Babli, a mechanic who supplements his income by fencing stolen automobiles with the help of his best friend, T2 (Amitosh Nagpal). Their profits fund the orphanage where they grew up and still reside as adults. The head of the orphanage, Masterji, knows that Babli and T2 are crooks, but he takes the money anyway, while expressing hopes that the younger boys will grow up to find legitimate jobs.

Babli meets a beautiful woman, Tara (Pallavi Sharda), who’s unimpressed with his sleazy come-ons. Spurred by the challenge, Babli pursues Tara, only to inadvertently steal her new Mercedes on Chandel’s behalf. Having hurt Tara, Babli finally discovers that other people are affected negatively by his actions.

From this point in the story, most movies would focus on Babli’s character development as he reforms his ways to impress the girl and right the wrongs he’s committed. Kashyap takes the opposite tactic. Babli is made into a hero, with everyone — including Tara — apologizing to him for having judged him too harshly and vowing to emulate his shameless ways.

This story turn just doesn’t work. Babli, through his self-centered carelessness, not only steals from Tara, he endangers the lives of everyone he cares about, including all the kids at the orphanage. Masterji, T2, and their friend, Bhura, are beaten and kidnapped because of Babli, yet no one is upset with him.

Kashyap tries to blame Babli’s flaws on classism. Tara is set up as an elitist who’s only interested in money and status and who looks down on a mechanic like Babli. First of all, why shouldn’t she be allowed to marry a peer who (like her) has a high-status job? Second, and more importantly: BABLI STOLE HER FRIGGING CAR!

Babli also claims that, because he’s an orphan, he had no one to teach him right from wrong. So, didn’t he pick up any sense of morality in school? And what the hell does Masterji teach the kids at the orphanage? “Here’s a roof over your heads and some food. Figure the rest out yourselves.”

Babli’s orphan status is used to shoehorn Ranbir’s real-life parents, Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, into the movie as a pair of married police officers. As soon as they mention that they never had children, it’s obvious that Babli won’t be an orphan by movie’s end.

For what it’s worth, Ranbir is really darned charming. His charisma is the only thing that makes the movie watchable. Ranbir is at his best in scenes with Nagpal, as the friendship between Babli and T2 is the movie’s strongest relationship.

What I’ve always enjoyed about Ranbir is his ability to shine in a variety of roles, but Besharam may mark the start of Ranbir Kapoor: The Franchise. I fear that Ranbir has earned so much industry clout that he’ll be pigeonholed into “charming” roles, playing the role of Ranbir much in the way superstars like Salman Khan, Shahrukh Khan, and Akshay Kumar seem to play the same type of character in every movie. It’s a trap that can be avoided, but only if he’s careful.

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Movie Review: Boom (2003)

Boom_movie_poster1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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2003’s Boom was brought to my attention by Shah Shahid of Blank Page Beatdown as an example of a movie that is so bad that it is actually good. Shah Shahid is absolutely correct. This is a terrible movie that is a lot of fun to watch.

Let me clarify what, in my opinion, makes a movie “so bad, it’s good.” The movie must be entertaining or funny in an unintentional way. “So bad, it’s good” movies can never be made ironically or with any kind of self-awareness. They result from the earnest efforts of a filmmaker that fall woefully short of competence and quality.

There also has to be a sort of inevitability to the failure, as though anyone reading the script would think, “This will never work.” And yet the filmmaker manages to secure the money to make it and convinces people to participate in the filming, in spite of what should be glaring flaws. My best Bollywood example — before having seen Boom — is Jism 2. Birdemic and The Room are my favorite American examples.

Boom meets all the criteria. Writer-director Kaizad Gustad clearly envisioned making a sexy, edgy crime flick to push the boundary of what passes for good taste in India. It fails miserably.

Setting the action within the fashion industry allows Gustad to cast his three main actresses for their willingness to don revealing outfits, and not for their acting ability. In the film’s opening scene, a bra-less Padma Lakshmi struts the catwalk in a see-through shirt, the opening salvo in a barrage of breasts that continues throughout the film.

Lakshmi plays Sheila, one of a trio of model friends that includes Katrina Kaif (in her film debut) as Rina. The group is led by Anu (Madhu Sapre), who’s presumably in charge because she’s the only native-born Indian. The foreign-born status of Sheila and Rina — who speak primarily in English in the film — is mentioned often, seemingly to justify their wearing skimpier outfits than Anu.

The friends find themselves in trouble when Anu fights with another model in the middle of a fashion show, and dozens of stolen diamonds spill onto the runway from their hiding place in the model’s hairdo. The other model flees, leaving the three ladies to account for the missing diamonds.

The diamonds were supposed to make their way to Dubai, home of crime boss Bade Mia (Amitabh Bachchan) and his brother, Medium (Gulshan Grover). Bade’s co-conspirator in Mumbai, Chhote Mia (Jackie Shroff), sends his muscle, Boom (Javed Jaffrey), to force the trio of models to cooperate. Things get complicated when Boom starts making his own plans, with the help of the models’ maid, Bharti (Seema Biswas).

The plot doesn’t make a lick of sense. Boom’s scheme to get out of debt to Bade involves stealing Bade’s own diamonds from him, then selling them back to Bade. This is the same Bade who snaps one of his employees necks because the toilet paper in his hotel was folded incorrectly. Sending a bunch of inexperienced models in to negotiate with Bade and Medium seems phenomenally stupid.

Also stupid: getting the models high before forcing them to rob a bank, although the mass-hallucination dance party that they experience mid-robbery is spectacular.

Predictably, the film’s ending makes no sense. Turns out Bharti and Bade’s oft-humiliated secretary, Alice (Zeenat Aman), are criminal masterminds in their own right. Apparently, they schemed for years in the hope that, one day, Anu would accidentally pick a fight with the one model who happened to be smuggling diamonds, thereby providing them with a means to ascend to the top of the underworld.

But plot irregularities are the least of Boom‘s problems. The performances are crazy, across the board. Kaif and Sapre are almost unbearable in their big screen debuts, making Lakshmi look like Meryl Streep by comparison. Aman and Biswas are fine, given the odd tasks that are required of them, including Aman doing a table dance in a conference room.

All of the male characters — apart from Medium — are completely wacky, and bless the actors for playing them as such. Bachchan sports a white wig and drives around a Toys R’ Us in a child-sized motorized car. Shroff growls through his dialog while sitting behind a desk that his female assistant lives under. He also licks a newspaper photo of Bo Derek.

Did I forget to mention that Boom features Bo Derek in the world’s most under-utilized cameo? Besides having her photo licked and having Bade bark to Alice, “Get me Bo!”, Bo — who’s in either Mumbai or Dubai (or both?) for a book signing — is only seen in Bade’s dream sequence, emerging from the ocean in a gold saree. She has no dialog and doesn’t interact with anyone else in the cast.

While the model characters dress rather butch when they’re not sporting bikini tops, Bade and Chhote wear outfits that even Liberace would consider garish. Bade dresses in all white (to match his wig), favoring lacy shirts with flouncy sleeves. Chhote wears black hot pants with a shirt that appears to actually be a lady’s sheer, fur-trimmed robe.

Jaffrey’s Boom is equally over-the-top. His giant handgun is an obvious metaphor for his penis, made that much more obvious when he lays it on his lap, barrel pointed toward his face, and strokes it for a good two minutes. When he’s not stroking his gun, he pokes the models in the breasts with it as a way of emphasizing his conversational points.

As is always the case with “so bad, it’s good” movies, a written account of Boom‘s oddities does not do it justice. It must be seen to be believed. It’s awful, but it’s always entertaining.

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Movie Review: The Forest (2009)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

My favorite sub-genre of film is the killer animal movie. While a movie like Jaws rises to levels of brilliance, most are the formulaic gross-out fodder typically found on the Syfy channel on a Saturday night: stuff like Dinoshark or Mega Piranha. I enjoy them all.

The Forest falls somewhere in between brilliant and formulaic in terms of quality. The story is entertaining, the plot well-organized, and the scenery is gorgeous. But uneven acting and a bizarre end sequence keep The Forest from reaching its full potential.

Writer-director Ashvin Kumar creates a story born from concern about the health of Indian forests. Humans seeking land encroach upon forested areas, creating avenues by which poachers can more easily murder vulnerable animals. A result of the clash of two worlds is that 150 people are killed by tigers and leopards in India annually, according to a note at the start of the film.

The human interlopers in The Forest are a married couple: Radha (Nandana Sen) and Pritam (Ankur Vikal). Their relationship is troubled because of both his infidelity and their inability to have children. Pritam takes his wife to a wildlife reserve in the hopes that they’ll be able to work things out in a more peaceful setting.

City dwellers Pritam and Radha are clearly out of their element in the forest, emphasized by the fact that they speak English and the locals do not (at least not to each other). Most of the film’s dialog is in English, because either Pritam or Radha is in almost every scene.

In the preserve, veteran game warden Bhola Ram (Tarun Shukla) explains to Pritam that the overnight lodge is closed because of a man-eating leopard in the area. Abhishek (Javed Jaffrey) — a local cop who happens to be Radha’s ex-boyfriend — agrees to escort the couple to the lodge, along with his preteen son, Arjun (Salim Ali Zaidi). So much for the privacy Pritam was hoping for.

As the truth of the couple’s problems and Abhishek’s desire to reunite with Radha are revealed, the man-eating leopard makes its presence known.

In a scenario made for tension, the acting feels subdued. Abhishek isn’t quite menacing enough to seem like a mortal threat to Pritam, his rival. And Sen and Vikal deliver their dialog flatly until a scene in which Radha and Pritam explode in anger. There needs to be more buildup to the dynamic scenes when characters are in danger.

As I mentioned earlier, the scenery is breathtaking. The ruins of an old temple show us that man has no place here. Camera shots of wildlife are beautiful, and even the man-eating leopard is well-handled, apart from a couple of awkward CGI shots.

The results of the leopard’s attacks are pretty gnarly, but in a good way. There’s the right amount of gore to indicate that the creature is a killer, even if it’s not the biggest animal in the forest.

In fact, it is a leopard-inflicted injury that sets up a bizarre series of events that taint the movie’s conclusion. One character is wounded and bleeding profusely, yet none of the other characters attempt even the most rudimentary first aid. He bleeds out over the course of a half hour, and everyone seems to forget about him entirely whenever they leave his room. Ultimately, a voiceover attempts to explain the wounded man’s fate.

With a runtime of less than ninety minutes, there is enough time for Kumar to have provided a more satisfying conclusion and answer a few other nagging questions (big and small) the movie raises. For one: if the lodge was closed, why was some man giving Pritam a massage after he and Radha arrived there?

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