Ajay Devgn’s Singham Returns opens in the Chicago area on August 15, 2014. The followup to 2011’s Singham features Kareena Kapoor Khan as the female lead, replacing the original film’s heroine, Kajal Agarwal.
Gori Tere Pyaar Mein (“My Fair Lady, In Your Love”) should be a lighthearted rom-com, but it winds up being a depressing slog, thanks to a loathsome lead character.
Imran Khan plays Sriram, the pampered son of a real estate developer. Sriram’s lazy, selfish ways once cost him the love of his life, and now he’s prepared to marry another woman just to stop his family’s nagging. He ignores the new woman’s pleas to call off the wedding so that she can marry the man she really loves. Sriram figures that’s her problem to solve, not his.
The first half of the movie is essentially Sriram recounting his failed romance to his wife-to-be, Vasudha (Shraddha Kapoor), via flashbacks. This gimmick is unnecessary, and it actually serves to make Sriram look like an even bigger jerk than he already is. It demonstrates that he learned nothing from his earlier relationship with compulsive do-gooder Dia (Kareena Kapoor).
Dia and Sriram initially fall in love because he’s impressed with her moxie. She’s willing to challenge power, an intriguing quality to someone like Sriram, whose only life goal is to convince his father to buy him an expensive car. Sriram — who has nothing better to do — follows Dia around on her charitable jaunts. Dia mistakenly assumes that this is evidence of either Sriram’s interest in her or her causes.
The relationship ends when Sriram sabotages one of Dia’s pet causes for his own gain. He then unloads upon Dia one of the meanest speeches I’ve ever heard in a movie, elaborating the many ways in which he finds her to be a hypocrite. It’s hard to watch, and even harder to imagine that she would take him back after such a berating. But this is a movie, so we know that she will.
As much as I like Imran Khan, it’s impossible to make a character like Sriram likable. There aren’t enough dance numbers in the world to achieve this feat, though goodness knows writer-director Punit Malhotra tries. Gori Tere Pyaar Mein is at least thirty minutes too long, due in equal parts to the pointless marriage subplot and too many dance numbers.
Sriram is unapologetically selfish for over two hours of the movie’s 150-minute runtime, so his obligatory moral growth comes too late to be truly redemptive.
Further undermining the effort to make Sriram seem like a good guy is how he goes about proving that he finally cares about someone other than himself. He does so by holding a knife to the throat of his adversary’s 18-year-old son, forcing the adversary to concede defeat. Yep, Sriram gets his redemption via extortion and the attempted murder of an innocent kid. What a guy.
Dia’s only flaw is that she has anything to do with Sriram in the first place. Kapoor does a nice job portraying a confident, compassionate heroine we can root for. I wish this movie had been about her triumph, and that none of it depended on Sriram.
What a busy time of year for Bollywood movies! Two new Hindi films open in Chicago area theaters on November 22, 2013, fresh on the heels of two blockbuster releases. Gori Tere Pyaar Mein — a romantic comedy starring Kareena Kapoor Khan and Imran Khan — gets the wider release of the two new flicks.
All this Bollywood competition — plus competition from Hollywood fare like the sequel to The Hunger Games releasing this Friday — has dramatically shortened Krrish 3‘s lifespan in U.S. theaters. The only local theater giving it a fourth week is the South Barrington 30. The movie’s three-week U.S. box office total is $2,123,333.
Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Irandam Ulagam (Tamil) and Thira (Malayalam) at the Golf Glen 5.
Indian politics is tricky business. Not only is it plagued by the usual greed and corruption that seems to affect governments everywhere, but there’s also bribery at every level of bureaucracy, from the lowliest clerk to the highest minister.
Still, it’s not so complicated that it’s beyond comprehension, even to one who lives outside the system as I do. In Satyagraha, writer-producer-director Prakash Jha offers such obvious, detailed explanations for everything that it borders on condescending.
Among the larger themes critical of a government so bloated it can no longer serve the common man is the story of the moral improvement of an aspiring telecom magnate: Manav (Ajay Devgn). He’s introduced on the occasion of his best friend’s wedding. Akhilesh (Indraneil Sengupta) dreams of improving Indian infrastructure before one day following in the footsteps of his father, Dwarka (Amitabh Bachchan), and becoming a teacher. Dwarka criticizes Manav for choosing big business over a life of social service, and Manav leaves before he can see Akhilesh wed to Sumitra (Amrita Rao).
Three years later, Manav returns to the town of Ambikapur for Akhilesh’s funeral, which follows what appears to be a random road accident. (Be warned that his death scene is gruesome.) Investigative journalist Yasmin (Kareena Kapoor) discovers that Akhilesh’s death may have been connected to the collapse of a bridge he was working on. Also during Manav’s return, Dwarka becomes the face of a revolution, after he’s jailed for slapping a corrupt bureaucrat (who totally deserved it).
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the story, it’s just the way it’s told. Thematically, Satyagraha is like an imitation of Swades — a very heavy-handed imitation. Instead of allowing Manav’s inevitable change to social activist to occur in the course of the story, we’re told at every step of the way why things are happening. Dwarka’s preaching on the evils of capitalism are emblematic of the film’s tendency to tell more than it shows.
Even the music goes over the top to provoke emotions: A crowd gathers to protest Dwarka’s imprisonment; patriotic music swells; the crowd begins to sing: “The public rocks!” It’s corny.
Considering that Satyagraha is all about corruption, an instance of product placement — in which Sumitra instructs her maid to open up a box of name-brand rice: “because we have to cook the rice right” — feels particularly icky.
The A-list cast generally delivers performances befitting the actors’ stardom. Manoj Bajpayee is at his reptilian best as the most corrupt of the corrupt politicians. Arjun Rampal’s hair is as luxurious as ever in his role as a student leader.
Again, there’s nothing really wrong with Satyagraha. There are just more inspiring political films out there.
Talaash: The Answer Lies Within is exactly I wanted it to be: an engaging thriller with great performances.
Talaash opens with footage of Mumbai’s red light districts set to a jazzy theme: an intro to the excellent soundtrack by Ram Sampath that permeates the film. The action begins as a car veers suddenly from a seaside road near the red light district, soaring over a wall and crashing into the ocean.
The car’s driver is Armaan Kapoor (Vivan Bhatena), a famous actor. The circumstances of Armaan’s death — Why was he in such a seedy part of town? Why was he driving instead of his chauffeur? — are suspicious enough to lead Inspector Surjan Shekhawat (Aamir Khan) to treat the case as more than a simple accident.
The case also provides Surjan with a convenient escape from the tension at home. He and his wife, Roshni (Rani Mukerji), are struggling with the recent accidental death of their young son. Both blame themselves, but Surjan refuses to discuss his feelings with Roshni, choosing to throw himself into his work.
Surjan finds an investigative ally in Rosie (Kareena Kapoor), a coy prostitute who knows which of Mumbai’s least savory residents has clues to Armaan’s death. Two persons of interest in the case include a pimp named Shashi and his much abused errand-boy, Tehmur (Nawazuddin Siddiqui).
Rosie does more for Surjan than just help his case. She provides him with a place free from memories of his son. At home, Roshni stares at Surjan with expectation, waiting for the chance to really talk with her husband, whereas Rosie’s eyes hold an invitation.
Khan is powerful as the tortured Surjan. Whether it’s investigating Armaan’s death or following beguiling Rosie, Surjan is desperate for a problem to solve. All that comes from thinking about his son’s death are the questions of what he could’ve done to prevent it.
Mukerji is likewise terrific as Roshni, who is just as saddened by her son’s death, but even more troubled that Surjan won’t work with her to heal their wounds. She stares at her husband with such longing before finally resolving to find peace on her own.
Kapoor’s Rosie is too coy at the start, and it takes a while before she seems like a real person and not a caricature of a prostitute. When she finally starts to discuss serious topics with Surjan, she does so with an evasive glibness.
As is the case with seemingly every movie he’s been in recently, Nawazuddin Siddiqui again steals the show. Pitiable Tehmur is the perfect target for abuse: his mother was a prostitute and he has one misshapen foot, so he has no other option but to do what Shashi says. Siddiqui plays Tehmur as resourceful and scrappy, and he seizes an opportunity to get rich quick, even if it gets him in way over his head.
The sweetest relationship in the film is between Tehmur and Nirmala, a prostitute who’s been told she’s too old to be of any value. World-weary Nirmala is not overly affectionate with Tehmur, but because she’s the only person who treats him with any kindness at all, he acts as though she’s promised him eternal love. The relationship wouldn’t be so affecting without someone as skilled as Siddiqui playing Tehmur.
In Talaash, director Reema Kagti and her co-writer Zoya Akhtar have created an entertaining thriller that uses every one of its 139 minutes wisely. It’s easily accessible for anyone who’s a fan of thrillers, as the English subtitles are well-translated from Hindi.
Let me illustrate the failure of director Madhur Bhandarkar’s Heroine with an anecdote from the showing I attended. During a completely serious moment late in the film, Arjun Rampal’s character, Aryan, tells Kareena Kapoor’s Mahi tenderly, “You look beautiful.” The audience laughed.
Heroine is so overwrought and lacking in subtlety that it’s impossible to take seriously. Emotional switches are flipped on a dime, accompanied by dramatic musical cues that are unnecessary because Kapoor’s instantaneous turns from happy to sobbing, shaking fury make it impossible to misinterpret Bhandarkar’s intent.
Kapoor plays Mahi, a superstar actress whose position at the top of the Bollywood hierarchy is threatened by newcomers willing to bribe entertainment journalists with shopping vacations. Mahi’s personal life is on the fritz, too, as her married actor boyfriend, Aryan, dawdles on his way to divorce court.
The couple breaks up, Mahi abuses pills, goes through a PR makeover, dates an athlete (played by Randeep Hooda), and does an indie film to gain some acting chops. The indie film debacle results in a night of drunken lesbianism with a co-star (played by Shahana Goswami). Mahi cries a lot through the melodramatic course of her career, angrily smoking cigarette after cigarette, as if they are responsible for her personal and professional troubles.
Kapoor’s performance is all over the place. I don’t fault her, because I think it’s what Bhandarkar wanted. The problem is that, no matter what she does, Mahi is always wrong. Things always end badly for her. She’s a character with no control over her destiny. It’s hard to connect with a character in such a helpless position. The moral of the story seems to be, “Don’t become an actor.”
When not in emotional roller coaster mode, the film is too “inside baseball.” I’m interested in the film industry, and even I couldn’t care less about scenes in which Mahi discusses changes to the marketing budget with her production team.
The good elements of Heroine are limited to Goswami’s awesome cleavage and multiple shirtless shots of Hooda and Rampal. The dance number “Halkat Jawani” is entertaining, too.
There are two scenes from Heroine that will stick with me because I’m not sure how to explain them, both involving reading material. In one scene, a slimy co-star invites Mahi back to his hotel room, hoping to seduce her. Before she arrives, he places a James Patterson novel on a bedside table. What is this supposed to signify about him? “Hey, Mahi, I know nothing turns chicks on more than popular genre fiction.”
In another scene, an argument between Mahi and Aryan is observed with fiendish glee by up-and-coming actress pretending to be engrossed in an Archie comic. Why Archie? What’s the symbolism? What does it mean?!?!
September 21, 2012, marks the opening of Heroine in four Chicago area theaters. Kareena Kapoor plays a superstar actress whose career is in decline. (Hopefully, she won’t resort to black magic, as Bipasha Basu did recently in Raaz 3.)
All four of the above theaters are carrying over last weekend’s new release, Barfi!, as is the AMC River East 21 in Chicago. The film earned a very impressive $1,061,713 in its first weekend in U.S. theaters.
The South Barrington 30 also carries over Ek Tha Tiger for a sixth week.
Plenty of other Indian and South Asian films can be found at the Chicago South Asian Film Festival, which runs now through Sunday, September 23. The event closes with the world premiere of Shobhna’s Seven Nights. The film’s star, Raveena Tandon, will be on hand for a Q & A session following the film’s premiere.
Nothing in Agent Vinod makes any logical sense. It’s all crazy action that couldn’t possibly happen the way it does. Yet Agent Vinod is so fun and so totally committed to its insanity that I don’t care. I really, really liked this movie.
In simplest terms, Agent Vinod is a spy movie. A suitcase-sized nuclear device is stolen from Russia, and Indian spy Agent Vinod (Saif Ali Khan) follows the clues to Morocco. There, he poses as a courier to gain access to David Kazan (Prem Chopra), an international arms dealer with a suspicious personal physician named Ruby (Kareena Kapoor).
Vinod’s search for the nuclear device takes him all over the world: India, Pakistan, Russia, Latvia, England, even South Africa, just for kicks. Why the nuke was stolen is unimportant. What is important is that Vinod gets to fight a lot of people.
There are some spectacular set pieces and moments that are truly startling. For example, a car brakes to a stop, only to be immediately smashed into by another vehicle from out of frame. The effect is akin to a “gotcha” moment in a horror movie, and it’s delightfully effective.
Without a doubt, the film’s best scene is a shootout in the lobby of a fleabag motel in Latvia that is shot in a single take. The technical impressiveness of the scene is topped when an unlikely participant joins the shootout at the end of the scene. It was so unexpected, I laughed out loud.
In fact, I laughed out loud from sheer joy a number of times during Agent Vinod. It’s a great throwback to ’70s-era spy movies, right down to the garish interiors and the catchy “wakka chikka” guitar score that punctuates crucial events.
The special effects are also decidedly low-tech, but very well-executed. Most of the action is hand-to-hand combat or shootouts from close range. The only noticeable computer-generated effect involves a helicopter flying low over Delhi, and it stands out for looking fake.
Khan and Kapoor do an admirable job playing their roles completely straight. The costumer designer and tailors deserve an appreciative nod for making Khan look dashing in his perfectly fitted Oxford shirts.
Khan produced Agent Vinod, in addition to starring in it, which convinces me of one thing: I think this is exactly the film he set out to make. Yes, Agent Vinod is campy and preposterous, and it’s surely not for everyone. But I respect the fact that Khan and director Sriram Raghavan had a vision and executed it. If that relegates it to cult-film status, so be it. If it works for you (as it did for me), it really works.