Tag Archives: Kareena Kapoor Khan

Movie Review: Udta Punjab (2016)

UdtaPunjab4 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon or iTunes

Several years ago, an affluent community near me realized it had a heroin problem. It did so when a pair of high school students — disturbed by the overdose deaths of three classmates within a single school year — filmed fellow students discussing their own drug use.

The students screened their documentary Neuqua on Drugs for a library auditorium full of horrified school administrators, media, and parents. The adults in the room were shocked that such a problem had festered under their overprotective noses. This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen in neighborhoods with million-dollar homes. It wasn’t supposed to happen to “good” kids.

Punjab is in the middle of its own drug crisis, without the resources of a wealthy American suburb to fight it, nor the collective will to protect a generation of potential Ivy Leaguers. Writer-director Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab (“Punjab on a High“) provides context and scope for the state’s drug problems in a film that is as entertaining as it is enlightening.

A quartet of lead characters showcase different aspects of the crisis. Musician Tommy (Shahid Kapoor) made a fortune churning out songs celebrating drug culture. Just as it becomes apparent that Tommy’s own drug abuse is hampering his ability to write new music, he’s arrested, the easy scapegoat in a police attempt to look like they are cracking down on drugs.

That’s impossible to do, however, when the cops themselves are profiting from the drug trade. Officer Sartaj (Diljit Dosanjh) even complains that police deserve bigger bribes to look the other way when truckloads of narcotics cross the border. Only when Sartaj’s younger brother, Balli (Prabhjyot Singh), is hospitalized from an overdose does the young cop realize his part in fomenting the problem.

Dr. Preeti Sahni (Kareena Kapoor Khan) is more than happy to place blame on Sartaj and the police. She operates a rehab clinic, so she’s seen first-hand the devastation drugs wreak on individuals, their families, and the community at large. Eager to thank the doctor for helping to dry out Balli and atone for his own profiteering, Sartaj joins forces with Preeti to trace the drugs to their source.

Sartaj locates the region’s main distribution hub, a compound where a young woman nicknamed Bauria (Alia Bhatt) is imprisoned as a sex slave. When Bauria found a packet of powder — thrown over the Pakistani border discus-style — in the field where she worked, she’d hoped to sell it and get rich. Only the intended recipients of the packet found out, capturing her, hooking her on drugs, and using her to service clients, including the police chief, who happens to be Sartaj’s cousin.

Everything and everyone in Udta Punjab is connected, right down to the poster of Tommy hanging on Balli’s wall. In the same way that the character’s lives entwine, so do the region’s fortunes. It only takes a few corrupt cops and politicians to sustain a catastrophe that keeps the beds at Preeti’s clinic full.

Chaubey’s story — co-written by Sudip Sharma — wisely embeds the drug crisis within the purview of ordinary life. Crops still need to be harvested, and love still blossoms, as it does between Sartaj and Preeti. His crush on the beautiful doctor develops quickly, but he’s too shy to express his feelings, intimidated as he is by her intelligence. He gathers the intel, but she has to explain to him (and thus the audience, thankfully) the intersection between government officials, chemical manufacturers, and the gangsters controlling the drug trade. She grows increasingly charmed by his enthusiasm and dedication.

Rooting the narrative within a real-life framework requires room for humor as well, tinted appropriately dark given the subject matter. Chaubey juxtaposes funny moments with grim ones, occasionally blending the comic with the tragic in the same scene. For example, a singer croons, “Her smile makes the flowers bloom,” over a shot of Bauria vomiting.

The film’s performances are likewise balanced between the straightforward deliveries of Kapoor Khan and Dosanjh, and the wilder turns of Bhatt and Kapoor. The horrors of Bauria’s circumstances are made clear but not dwelt upon, focusing instead on the character’s strength and ingenuity, movingly depicted by Bhatt. Kapoor plays Tommy with a manic energy that doesn’t dissipate even when the singer is sober.

Chaubey’s film is perfectly balanced, in every respect. That makes the Censor Board controversy surrounding Udta Punjab‘s release seem even more ridiculous. There’s nothing in the film that comes close to glorifying drug use, so attempts to stall its release with demands that every reference to Punjab be removed is simply an attempt by vested interests to deny that Punjab has a drug problem. People in my own community and thousands of Punjabi citizens know the truth: while politicians bury their heads in the sand, people are dying.

Links

Advertisements

Mr. Mom versus Ki and Ka

If you read my review, you know I have a lot of problems with Ki and Ka. It wasn’t the humorous exploration of gender roles promised in the trailer, but rather a disorganized reinforcement of Bollywood tropes that favor men at the expense of women.

Given how non-progressive writer-director R. Balki’s movie is, I wanted to know how Ki and Ka compares to an older film about spouses swapping traditional gender roles: 1983’s Mr. Mom, written by John Hughes and directed by Stan Dragoti. Note: spoilers for both movies follow.

Though the two movies differ markedly in their general setups, they do share some very specific details in common — leading one to believe that Balki has at least seen Mr. Mom, even if he didn’t quite get the point of it. Both movies feature wives who work in advertising, both of whom earn promotions when they create campaigns offering discounts on food products traditionally purchased by women. In both movies, the stay-at-home husband plays cards with neighborhood housewives and leads them in an exercise program.

In Mr. Mom, Jack (Michael Keaton) is an automotive engineer who gets laid off from his job. He takes over the care of the house and the family’s three children when his wife Caroline (Teri Garr) finds a marketing job.

Jack assumes that being a homemaker will be easy compared to engineering, only to discover just how much he doesn’t know. He struggles with everyday chores and his own sense of self-worth, now that he’s not the breadwinner. Caroline explains that what carried her through her eight years as a stay-at-home mom was a sense of pride in a job well done, whether it’s a task as simple as cleaning the kitchen or as complex as raising good kids.

Mr. Mom is an out-and-out comedy, and a very funny one at that. Jack’s struggles are played for laughs, especially in the hilarious sequence featuring an overloaded washing machine, three home repair people, and a runaway vacuum nicknamed “Jaws.”

That sequence highlights what is probably the root problem in Ki and Ka. For all of the lip-service Kabir (Arjun Kapoor) pays to the difficulty and nobility of housework, he never struggles with it. It’s not hard for him.

Kabir has no more previous experience taking care of a house than Jack does. Kabir grew up wealthy, presumably with servants in addition to his own mother to run the family mansion. We know that he earned an MBA, but after that, he makes no mention of having done anything like studying cooking or home maintenance. As far as we are shown, Kabir is just a 28-year-old jobless guy living in his childhood bedroom until he marries Kia (Kareena Kapoor Khan).

When he actually becomes Kia’s househusband, he does so with no problems. On their first morning together, he clears the clutter, gets himself ready, and makes breakfast all before Kia and her mom (Swaroop Sampat) wake up. When he botches their morning coffee, the joke is on the women, not him.

Kabir is then free to redecorate the family apartment as the train depot of his childhood dreams (removing all trace of Kia and her mom from the decor in the process, by the way). After folding laundry and cooking, his time is his own, freeing him to shop for clothes with his new lady friends.

Unlike Jack in Mr. Mom, Kabir does little household cleaning. Kia’s longtime maid handles the dirty work. Even during the narrative’s short-lived budget crisis plot point, Kabir deems the maid’s services essential, even though her salary is one of the couple’s biggest monthly expenses. Why is she essential? They only live in a two bedroom apartment, with no kids. How hard is that to keep clean?

It’s harder to tell an insightful story about gender roles when the main characters are upper class. They keep a maid because they can afford to, allowing Kabir the time to become a celebrity icon of social progress while still making it home to cook dinner.

Because Kabir is rich — and always has been — he never pays a price for his unusual lifestyle choice. Wealthy people live by different rules than the rest of us anyway, so how is his experience analogous to anyone who’s not an elite? What social price would Kabir and Kia have to pay if she were the ad firm’s receptionist rather than an executive? Sure, Kabir’s dad doesn’t approve, but Kabir has already disinherited himself and written his dad off as the stick-in-the-mud he is.

Ki and Ka makes it seem as if being a homemaker is so easy anyone can do it, disregarding the social, emotional, and practical challenges of the job. Even though Mr. Mom is more than thirty years old, it’s more insightful as to what being a stay-at-home spouse entails — and it’s a lot more entertaining, too. You can buy or rent Mr. Mom at Amazon or iTunes.

Movie Review: Ki and Ka (2016)

KiAndKa0.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

Don’t be fooled into thinking that Ki and Ka (“His and Hers“) is a progressive examination of gender roles in contemporary India. This is Mansplaining: The Movie.

Kareena Kapoor Khan plays Kia, a marketing executive with a clear career path: get promoted to vice president of her company and eventually become CEO. She knows that marriage and especially kids often hamper women professionally, so she’s not interested in either.

She meets Kabir (Arjun Kapoor), son of a rich construction magnate. Rather than inherit his father’s empire, Kabir wants to follow in his deceased mother’s footsteps and be a homemaker.

However, we don’t see any evidence of Kabir working toward that goal. We don’t see him cooking, cleaning, or organizing — none of the activities that are central to the job of homemaking. All we see during his courtship of Kia is him hanging out in bars or tooling around a playground on his Segway. Apparently, his aspirations are enough for him to get his dream job, despite the fact that he’s both unqualified and unmotivated.

But that’s the point of writer-director R. Balki’s film: Kabir’s desire to defy gender stereotypes makes him a hero. He’s lauded for his choice, going so far as to appear on TV on Woman’s Day to explain to everyone how noble he is for cooking and tidying up. He fails to note that he still employs a maid to do dirty work like dusting.

Kabir’s deification comes at Kia’s expense. She apologizes over and over again: for hurting his feelings, for taking him for granted, for being jealous. Other than saying “sorry” for crying too loudly during their initial meeting, Kabir never apologizes to Kia because the screenplay never puts him in a position to do so. In typical Bollywood hero fashion, Kabir is infallible, incapable of doing wrong because he is a man.

It’s worth noting another sequence which chucks any remaining vestiges of Ki and Ka‘s feminist credibility out the window. Kabir starts an exercise program for the women in his building, premised on the ideas that all women think they are fat and that they secretly want to be ogled by strange men on the street.

If Balki’s dated takes on equality weren’t problem enough, the movie is lifeless. The first fifteen minutes of Kabir & Kia’s courtship is a sequence of barroom conversations, with cinematographer P. C. Sreeram’s camera making constant, incremental zooms to give the illusion of dynamism while the actors just sit there. The most excitement we get is a shot of Kia walking slowly alongside Kabir as he rides his Segway. Even the song numbers are mostly montages.

The screenplay’s structure leaves much to be desired. There are no subplots at all, and only a couple of hollow supporting characters. Neither Kia nor Kabir have any friends until they magically appear for scenes in which everyone talks about how great Kabir is, never to be heard from again.

None of the conflicts between the couple lasts more than a few minutes, and there’s nothing at stake in any larger sense either. Their relationship is never in danger, as emphasized by a climax that is literally impossible to have unfold in the tidy way it does.

Characters repeatedly refer to Kabir as “every woman’s dream husband.” The goal of feminism is not to make men do chores. If Ki and Ka is R. Balki’s idea of social progress, he’s missed the point.

Links

Box Office Star Analysis: Kareena Kapoor Khan

Ahead of the release of Ki and Ka, let’s see how star Kareena Kapoor Khan has fared at the North American box office over the course of her sixteen-year career. I’ve been able to find box office information for 29 of her films, with one notable exception: 2007’s Jab We Met. Though Kapoor Khan is a popular performer in item numbers, I ignored those cameos to focus on films in which her role is substantial.

KareenaKapoorFullChartThe phenomenal success of movies like Bajrangi Bhaijaan and 3 Idiots stretch the chart and make it a little hard to tell, but eleven of Kapoor Khan’s films have earned more than $1 million in the United States and Canada. Since 2009, all but one of her fourteen films — Gori Tere Pyaar Mein — earned at least $500,000.

This box office success reflects not just Kapoor Khan’s own popularity but her knack for choosing bankable co-stars. She’s had particular success working with the big three Khans: Aamir, Salman, and Shahrukh. The seven films she’s done with them have combined total earnings of $24,965,775 in North America, compared to a total of $13,378,527 from the twenty-two films she’s made without them. In addition to her success with the Khans, three of the six movies she’s starred in with Ajay Devgn have made over $1 million: Omkara, Golmaal 3, and Singham Returns.

The median Kareena Kapoor Khan movie earns a total of $638,144, with $389,901 coming in the first weekend. Let’s see if Ki and Ka keeps her hot-streak alive.

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (2001)

KabhiKhushiKabhiGham3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (“Sometimes Happiness, Sometimes Sadness“) may not be the best movie ever, but it certainly is the most movie ever. Those able to embrace the film’s excesses are rewarded with non-stop entertainment.

From the outset, K3G (the film’s popular nickname) establishes familial love as its theme. The movie opens with a wealthy man, Yash Raichand (Amitabh Bachchan), talking about the particular affection a father feels for his child. Yash’s wife, Nandini (Jaya Bachchan), stresses the unconditional nature of motherly love. They smile as they talk about their pride and joy: their son, Rahul (Shahrukh Khan). Cut to a portrait of the happy family.

Wait, who’s that other kid in the picture? The one they didn’t bother to mention? It’s their younger son, Rohan, who is a complete afterthought in his parents’ eyes.

Yash and Nandini adopted Rahul as a baby, after having trouble conceiving. When Nandini unexpectedly became pregnant with Rohan nine years later, they continued to focus all of their parental affection on Rahul, leaving young Rohan to make due with hugs from the Raichand family maid, Daijan (Farida Jalal).

Yet when Rahul is disowned for falling for a working-class gal named Anjali (Kajol), it falls on poor Rohan to try to reunite his family. He does so willingly, despite being the acknowledged second-favorite of his parents’ two kids.

Fortunately, the years spent carrying that chip on his shoulder have molded adult Rohan into an Adonis, played by Hrithik Roshan. He takes his prep school education and sleeveless shirts and heads to England to find his estranged brother.

Rohan’s quest is aided by his former childhood nemesis: Anjali’s younger sister, Pooja (Kareena Kapoor). The minute grown up Pooja is introduced, everyone else in K3G ceases to matter, because Kapoor’s fabulousness outshines them all.

Adult Pooja is the queen bee of her college, sneering at the girls and smugly brushing off the boys she deems too lowly for her to date. She’s so damned popular that she can go by the nickname “Poo” without people laughing in her face. Her wardrobe is made up exclusively of hotpants, fur shrugs, and tops that are basically a cocktail napkin held in place by a shoelace.

It cannot be overstated how amazing Poo is. Everything she does is over the top. No character has every been as bratty yet lovable. Kapoor commits to Poo’s outrageousness, and the results are hilarious.

London is where the character relationships in K3G are at their best. Shahrukh and Kajol are even more charming as a married couple then they are in the early stages of Rahul and Anjali’s relationship. Rahul and Poo banter sweetly as he acts as her protective older brother. Poo’s romantic advances toward Rohan are as funny as his rebuffs.

There are a couple of negative aspects to K3G. First is the incessant fat-shaming of young Rohan (Kavish Majmudar). Young Rahul (played by Shahrukh Khan’s son, Aryan) calls his little brother “fat” in every conversation he has with Rohan as a boy. Other members of the household join in, too, as do young Pooja and her pint-sized cronies. When adult Rahul realizes that the hunky guy who’s been living with him under false pretenses is his long-lost brother, the first thing he asks Rohan is how he lost so much weight.

Then there’s the creepy relationship between patriarch Yash and Naina (Rani Mukerji), the woman he’s chosen for Rahul to marry. Naina is all kinds of fabulous, in her sparkly backless dresses and midriff-baring tops. Yash is way too touchy-feely with Naina, and she only makes it worse by singing a sultry, Marilyn Monroe-style rendition of “Happy Birthday” to her would-be father-in-law.

Yet all can be forgiven thanks to the movie’s endearing absurdity, including a song that features Shahrukh dancing in front of the pyramids while sporting see-though shirts, and then pawing at Kajol while wearing various all-leather outfits. When characters aren’t celebrating, they are crying. There is so much celebrating, so much crying, and you just have to roll with the whole experience. Keep that mindset throughout Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… and you are guaranteed a great time.

Links

  • Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… at Wikipedia
  • Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… at IMDb

Movie Review: Brothers (2015)

Brothers1 Star (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Among screenwriting jobs, Brothers: Blood Against Blood should be as easy as it gets. The movie is an official remake of Warrior, a great Hollywood film by Gavin O’Connor. Translate the dialogue, relocate the action, cast some Bollywood stars, and boom, you’re done. So why is Brothers so bad?

Warrior is superbly written. Every character has clear motivation and a goal in every scene. Background information is doled out efficiently. The plot is brisk.

For some reason, director Karan Malhotra and his screenplay adapter/wife, Ekta Pathak Malhotra, abandoned the original film’s efficiency in favor of overly long melodrama. The characters in Brothers are left adrift. We know too much about their history, but nothing about what they want right now.

Former alcoholic Gary Fernandez (Jackie Shroff) emerges from prison sober but unhinged. His son, Monty (Sidharth Malhotra, no relation to the director), brings his father home, watching as the broken old man sees the ghost of his dead wife Maria (Shefali Shah) in every corner. Gary wants to know why his other son, David (Akshay Kumar), hasn’t come to meet him.

David is a high school physics teacher, burdened by the cost of his daughter’s dialysis. He earns some cash in an illegal street fight, but his bruises cost him his job. David’s wife, Jenny (Jacqueline Fernandez), worries about the danger of his return to the ring, but he can’t resist the allure of fighting in India’s first televised mixed martial arts tournament, Right 2 Fight (R2F). Neither can Monty.

Most of the copious flashbacks in Brothers are time-wasters (really, we need to see David and Jenny falling in love?). The only useful one explains why the brothers are estranged. Monty is Gary’s son from an affair, and David blames his younger half-brother for destroying his family. Maria makes is clear that she loves Monty as much as her biological son, but David doesn’t care.

The single biggest problem in Brothers is that the Malhotras think that David is a hero. Having a sick kid may make him sympathetic, but it doesn’t automatically mean he’s a good person. During a match at R2F, David is so enraged that he continues to pummel an unconscious opponent, even as his physics students watch on television. (Gary is proud of him for this. What a guy.) David is the one who turned his back on his little brother, and he apparently never tried to reach out to Monty in the years since.

It’s not clear how Monty spent the decades that his father was incarcerated. When he starts his fighting career, he’s terrible, and he doesn’t decide to pursue it seriously until halfway through the movie. There’s a hint that, because Gary is a former fighter, Monty fights to gain his father’s approval, but that storyline goes nowhere.

Sidharth provides no help in elucidating his character’s motivation because he has only two emotions: sad and bewildered. When Monty isn’t moping, he’s flinching from the bright lights of the arena, as though he’s a defrosted caveman fearfully trying to comprehend the modern world.

spideyPictured Above: Sidharth’s acting coach for Brothers?

Akshay is a trained martial artist, but his salt-and-pepper beard makes him look too old to play a competitive fighter. It looks like Sidharth is fighting his dad while his grandpa, Jackie Shroff, watches. David’s a bad enough guy as is, and Akshay doesn’t do anything to make him more likable.

The two women in the cast — Jacqueline and Shefali — give the strongest performances, but they cry in every one of their scenes. The excess of melodrama peaks when David looks at his battered brother in the ring and hallucinates Monty as a smiling little boy. It’s laugh-out-loud funny.

Another bit of unintentional — but totally predictable — comedy in Brothers: David’s daughter is called “Poopoo.” The ladies in the theater with me hooted every time someone said her name.

Nothing happens quickly in Brothers. Something as simple as a character walking into the arena takes several minutes. An inordinate amount of time is devoted to the R2F promoter, who has nothing to do with the main story. There’s a lengthy item number featuring Kareena Kapoor Khan dancing in a Benihana, intercut with scenes of David training, for who knows what reason.

Brothers isn’t bad in comparison to Warrior, it’s just bad. Why would anyone watch this when they could just rent Warrior?

Links

Movie Review: Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015)

BajrangiBhaijaan3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Salman Khan tones down his tough guy persona to play a naive but principled man in Bajrangi Bhaijaan. His performance is a much appreciated reminder that Salman is capable of delivering more than just punches and kicks.

The opening credits roll over gorgeous footage of the snowy mountains of Kashmir, establishing that this is more than the story of one man, and that it takes place in a world grand enough to make any individual seem small. Throughout the film, director Kabir Khan shoots characters from high vantage points in order to emphasize how small they look in the greater scheme of things.

The mountainous terrain in the opening credits is home to Shahida (Harshaali Malhotra), a six-year-old Pakistani girl who can’t — or won’t — speak. Her mother takes Shahida to pray at an Indian shrine renowned for curing muteness. On the ride home, precocious Shahida gets off the temporarily stopped train to help a lost lamb. The train restarts suddenly, leaving Shahida on the Indian side of the border with no identification or ability to communicate.

Shahida’s curiosity draws her to a festival where she watches Pawan (Salman Khan) lead the dancing. Although he doesn’t know how to help her, Pawan can’t bring himself to abandon the little girl. Since she can’t tell him her name, he calls her Munni and brings her to the family home of the woman he loves, Rasika (Kareena Kapoor Khan).

Pawan isn’t perfect. He’s neither book smart nor street smart, and he’s trusting to a fault. He’s also unsure if aiding Munni is his responsibility. Yet his honesty and sense of duty inspire others to help him, despite their own cynicism.

Pawan’s trusting nature becomes a source of jokes after he meets a freelance reporter named Chand Nawab (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). With Pawan’s plan to return Munni to her family stalled, Chand enlists Munni to pull off some tricks that will help them progress. Even at 6, Munni is more savvy and morally flexible than Pawan.

Director Khan trusts the audience to get why the jokes at Pawan’s expense are funny. He allows his moral of empathy across national and religious boundaries to develop without wacky sound effects or overly emotional musical cues.

Yet Khan abandons that approach in favor of a corny, populist climax. Various individuals assist Pawan and Munni in order to make the point that there are generous people of every creed, caste, and nationality. Instead of trusting the audience to understand that the helpful individuals are representative of a larger body of good people, the outcome of Pawan’s mission hinges on thousands of people gathering en masse. It’s cheesy and unnecessary.

Leading up to the climax, Khan also employs a variation of the overused “man on the street” Bollywood trope: the viral video. People all over India and Pakistan gather around mobile phones and laptop screens to watch a video Chand Nawab posts to his blog.

There are two problems with this trope (besides the fact that we have no reason to care what any of these random people think). First, this is not how videos become viral. Links are disseminated electronically, and individuals watch them alone, not gathered together as if listening to a World War II radio report in the 1940s.

Second, a human interest news piece about a good Samaritan helping a lost child is not the kind of video that goes viral. “Gangnam Style” goes viral. “What Does the Fox Say?” goes viral. Most people don’t fervently refresh awaiting a call to civic action.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan features one of the most nuanced characters Salman Khan has played in years. Pawan undergoes a compelling transformation when he realizes he can’t trust anyone else to care about Munni’s safety as much as he does. Salman and Nawazuddin make a much better pair of on-screen buddies than one would expect. Kareena’s Rasika is wise, but not so cynical that she can’t appreciate Pawan’s innocent worldview.

Little Harshaali does an admirable job, especially given the physical limitations of her character. Munni seems like a very real kid: too curious for her own good, but also smarter than adults might give her credit for. That Harshaali is cute as a button certainly helps, too.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan is among the best kind of Salman Khan films. He gets to beat up some bad guys, as we’ve come to expect, but his character grows and changes. One need not be a hardcore Salman fan to enjoy this movie.

Links