Tag Archives: Juhi Chawla

Movie Review: Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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With Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (“How I Felt When I Saw That Girl“, ELKDTAL henceforth), debutant filmmaker Shelly Chopra Dhar set out to change how India thinks about LGBTQ people, both in terms of social acceptance and as an untapped well of cinematic storytelling possibilities. Her film is caring, thoughtful exploration of how a conservative family deals with a gay family member.

Sonam Kapoor Ahuja uses her star-power for good to play Sweety Chaudhary, a closeted lesbian from the Punjabi town of Moga. While on a trip to New Delhi, she ducks into a theater during play rehearsals to hide from a man we later learn is her brother, Babloo (Abhishek Duhan). Intrigued by Sweety’s good looks and her insightful critique of the awful play, its floundering writer, Sahil (Rajkummar Rao), helps her escape to a train station.

Sahil finds out where Sweety lives and heads to Moga under the pretext of running an acting workshop. There, a series of misunderstandings convince Sweety’s father Balbir (Anil Kapoor), her grandmother Gifty (Madhumalti Kapoor), and Sahil himself that Sweety is secretly in love with him.

Sweety explains to Sahil that she’s in love with a woman named Kuhu (Regina Cassandra). Babloo knows this and disapproves of his sister’s feelings, which is why he followed her to New Delhi and why she’d hidden from him in Sahil’s theater. Bereft of ideas for how to live a life true to herself, Sweety lets Sahil use his storytelling skills in a daring plan to win over her family and the town of Moga.

Director Shelly Chopra Dhar set herself the daunting task of making a movie that anyone could enjoy, but that would also open the minds of a particular segment of the audience. In an interview with The Telegraph, Chopra Dhar explains that her target audience was not progressive urbanites already accepting of LGBTQ people, but “people who’re genuinely not there”: those in smaller cities and towns in India who may have little personal exposure to gay people. So as not to risk scaring those people away, there is no same-sex kissing in ELKDTAL, only some affectionate hugging and hand-holding between Sweety and Kuhu — a choice consistent with the chaste way many mainstream Hindi films still depict straight romance.

Chopra Dhar also says in the interview that she had to consider ELKDTAL‘s setting when trying to reach her intended audience. Small-town folks might feel disconnected from an urban story, and a village setting could make the film seem too artsy and not commercial enough (which is why she made Balbir a rich factory owner). Although she wanted the serious message of acceptance to come through, she needed to relate to her audience in an uplifting way: “It’s not a dark and dingy film either. Why can’t it be a nice, bright film and be natural?”

ELKDTAL feels breezy and familiar, and its dramatic elements are balanced by two comic subplots. One involves the Chaudhary family staff — played by Seema Bhargava and Brijendra Kala, who is adorable in the film — betting on who Sweety will finally marry. Another features Juhi Chawla as Chatro, a goofy caterer with acting ambitions who catches Balbir’s eye. The tonal shifts between the comedy and drama elements aren’t seamless, but they never take the film off track.

In many ways, ELKDTAL‘s story is less about Sweety’s journey than how people react when she opens up to them. As the audience’s onscreen avatar, Sahil meets Sweety and decides she’s someone who deserves friendship and help, reinforcing the story’s message of judging someone by the content of their character. Sweety’s father, Balbir, already loves her, but he doesn’t see her for who she really is — in part because Sweety felt compelled to hide the truth from him. Balbir’s challenge is to accept what is, to him, a new facet of his daughter’s life, but also to see the way his own expectations for her made her life harder and less happy. It forces the audience to question whether we’ve let our own loved ones down by expecting them to be someone they’re not.

The downside to this narrative focus is that Sweety is acted upon more than she drives the action, but Kapoor Ahuja is fully engaged in every scene, her reactions always showing us how Sweety feels even when her character isn’t the center of attention. Same goes for Rao and Kapoor, whose love for his real-life daughter (Kapoor Ahuja) spills over into Balbir’s affection for Sweety. While ELKDTAL‘s laudable social goals are the perfect reason to start the movie, the film’s delightful performances make you want to see it through to the end.

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Movie Review: Gulaab Gang (2014)

Gulaab_Gang2 Stars (out of 4)

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When international media outlets report of new horrors inflicted upon Indian women on a seemingly daily basis, there’s a need for inspiring films to provide relief. Gulaab Gang‘s tale of female empowerment has its heart in the right place but isn’t introspective enough to leave a lasting mark.

Inspired by the real-life Gulaabi Gang of activists in Uttar Pradesh, Gulaab Gang follows the exploits of a fictional gang of female vigilantes, lead by Rajjo (Madhuri Dixit). A sequence at the start of the film — inexplicably voiced-over by a man instead of a woman — explains that Rajjo turned to activism when she was denied an education as a girl. This is as much insight into any of the characters as the movie provides.

In addition to admonishing abusive husbands, the dozens of members of the Gulaab Gang fix problems in the village when corrupt bureaucrats or out-numbered policemen won’t. Landlord cut off your electricity? Boss won’t pay your wages? The Gulaab Gang will fix it!

The gang is also responsible for educating the youth of the village. Rajjo repeatedly states that she wants to build a school for the village, but doesn’t her compound already serve that purpose? It’s never made clear why a new school building is important enough that it can be used to blackmail Rajjo.

The movie fails to identify some of the key characters. Rajjo has two young lieutenants, and one of them — a woman with a nose ring played by Priyanka Bose — is never named, as far as I could tell. The other, Mahi (Divya Jagdale), is only named in the last thirty minutes of the film.

The last thirty minutes are relentlessly depressing for Rajjo and her crew. Rajjo’s arch-nemesis — a politician named Sumitra Devi (Juhi Chawla, whose smugness evokes Manoj Bajpayee in similar roles) — goes beyond trying to discredit Rajjo to advocating for the murder of the whole gang.

Gulaab Gang builds such an air of hopelessness in its final act that the resolution feels abrupt and inadequate. A dance number before the climactic battle doesn’t help.

Where the movie excels is in building a case that women can carry action movies. The fight sequences are more realistic than most Bollywood rural action flicks — no one flies twenty feet into the air after taking a punch — but are just as satisfying.

The best moment in the Soumik Sen-directed film involves a chilling act of violence committed by the gang against a rapist who’s gone for a swim. As they carry the man into his father’s house and deposit him on a couch, Mahi says with an exhausted air, “We had a hard time getting him out of the water.” The camera cuts to a floor-level shot of empty pant-legs dangling as a gang member sets a pair of sandals beneath them, where feet should be.

The problem with the violence in Gulaab Gang is that its implications are never fully explored. A reporter asks Rajjo why her gang often resorts to violence — admittedly as a second option after peaceful means fail — and Rajjo responds in essence, “Because it works.” There’s no reason why women can’t be as violent as men, but an examination of how the gang sees their actions as different would have been interesting.

Another tendency that deserves more attention is the gang’s habit — Sumitra Devi is even worse about this — of humiliating men, even when they can meet their goals without doing so. When in a position of power, the women are just as apt to target their opponent’s gender-specific weaknesses as the men are in the same position.

Gulaab Gang‘s story needed more nuance to be truly considered a game changer. Still, it’s nice to see a Bollywood action film that doesn’t center around the heroics of a one-man army for a change.

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Movie Review: Son of Sardaar (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Ajay Devgn has something of an uneven record when it comes to the comedic roles he chooses. His deadpan delivery suits films like Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? and Bol Bachchan, while his attempts at goofier roles in movies like All the Best and Rascals fall flat. Devgn hits the right wacky notes in Son of Sardaar, a silly film that has its heart in the right place.

Devgn plays Jassi, a Punjabi living in London who returns to the small town he left as a child, stumbling into a long-simmering family feud. Turns out Jassi’s father and the patriarch of the Sandhu family killed each other in a fight, and Sandhu’s heirs have vowed to avenge his death.

The new head of the Sandhu family, Billoo (Sanjay Dutt), swore an oath on the night of his uncle’s murder — Billoo’s own wedding night — not to marry until he murders Jassi. Consequently, Billoo’s bride-to-be, Pammi (Juhi Chawla), has grown impatient after waiting twenty-five years and is eager to marry.

Unfortunately for desperate Pammi, Billoo is a man of strong traditional values and won’t even look at her, let alone kiss her, before they are married. These values also put Jassi’s death sentence on hold after he is unwittingly invited into Billoo’s house. Since guests customarily get special treatment, Jassi is safe as long as he remains in Billoo’s home. It also gives Jassi time to fall for Billoo’s beautiful cousin, Sukh (Sonakshi Sinha), who gets a couple of montages accompanied by odd 80’s hair-metal-inspired musical themes.

The film works because Jassi is a sweet, likeable guy who doesn’t want to make trouble. He endears himself to the women of the Sandhu family — who aren’t aware of his part in the feud — and he’s able to keep finding ways to extend his stay.

Devgn plays Jassi with a wide-eyed fascination and enthusiasm that are endearing. My favorite moment in the film is when Devgn appears to be genuinely startled by a pigeon. This performance is a great counter to the put-upon cynicism that Devgn normally does so well. This might be my favorite performance of his career.

Given Jassi’s Sikh warrior heritage, he’s no pushover. His turban doubles as a weapon and winds itself back into place. It’s a silly effect, but Son of Sardaar swears no allegiance to the properties of physics. Most of the fight scenes rely upon slow-motion effects requiring the actors to don harnesses under their clothing. Trimming thirty minutes or so of rehashed fight and chase scenes would’ve done wonders for the film.

Dutt is solid as Jassi’s adversary, while Sinha is likewise good in the same type of role she’s played several times before. Besides Devgn, the other star of the film is Chawla. Pammi’s attempts to seduce Billoo into giving her a chaste kiss on the cheek are funny, and Chawla brings the same kind of earnest sweetness to her role as Devgn does to his.

Son of Sardaar might not be particularly fresh, but Devgn shows how to properly play the loveable goofball role. A character isn’t loveable just because other characters describe him that way; he has to act loveable. Devgn does just that, making Son of Sardaar an enjoyable film to watch.

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Opening January 30: Luck By Chance

luckbychanceHitting theaters this weekend is Luck By Chance, a movie about the role luck plays in making Bollywood dreams come true. Produced and written by Fahran Akhtar — and co-written and directed by his sister, Zoya — Luck By Chance is a spiritual successor to Akhtar’s compelling 2008 film Rock On!!, which was about the challenges of making it big in the music industry.

Luck By Chance is only opening in two theaters in the Chicago area: the AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and the AMC Cantera 30 in Warrenville. It’s a surprisingly limited release, given that the movie stars high profile actors like Akhtar, Konkona Sen Sharma, Juhi Chawla and Hrithik Roshan.