Tag Archives: Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey

Movie Review: Mohenjo Daro (2016)

MohenjoDaro1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Even without context, Mohenjo Daro isn’t a very good movie, but it’s especially disappointing when considered within the landscape of recent Indian films and with regard to director Ashutosh Gowariker’s past achievements.

Gowariker’s story takes place in the ancient Indus Valley city of Mohenjo Daro, around 2,000 years B.C. Hrithik Roshan plays Sarman, a nearby farmer with a mysterious connection to the city that he doesn’t understand.

Sarman’s uncle Durjan (Nitish Bharadwaj) caves to Sarman’s relentless begging and allows his nephew to go to the Mohenjo Daro, albeit with warnings about the city’s many dangers. At forty-two, Roshan is too old play a character so immature that he opens the “only in case of life or death” package that his uncle gives him as soon as Durjan is out of sight.

When Sarman arrives at the metropolis he finds a place governed by greedy politicians fearful of the merciless senate leader Maham (Kabir Bedi) and his bully of a son, Moonja (Arunoday Singh). Maham orders a tax increase, even as farmers struggle with diminishing yields due to Mahan’s damming of the river.

Sarman is fed up and ready to head home when, wouldn’t you know it, he spots a beautiful woman who makes him change his mind. (Conveniently, everything of import in Mohenjo Daro happens at exactly the right moment.) The woman is Chaani (Pooja Hegde), daughter of the head priest (Manish Chaudhary) and The Chosen One of Mohenjo Daro.

Chaani presents all kinds of problems in the story (none of which are Hegde’s fault). Right after Sarman admonishes his buddy and traveling companion Hojo to stop ogling women, Chaani shows up in an outfit that demands ogling. Her backless, floor-length dress has slits all the way up both thighs, a cutout to expose her navel, and a pushup bra. So, it’s bad when other men leer at women, but not when Sarman does it?

Then there’s the part about Chaani being The Chosen One. A prophesy at the time of her birth decreed that she would make a decision that would usher in a new era for Mohenjo Daro, but she never makes such a decision. She’s just a bystander as the people forget about her divine destiny and declare Sarman the savior of Mohejno Daro.

With very little written or archeological evidence to go by, Gowariker was free to style his version of Mohenjo Daro as he wished. The results are bizarre, not in a fanciful way but in an impractical one. In addition to feathers and several kilos of metal beads, Chaani’s elaborate headdress has slices of geodes that hang next to her face. One can only imagine how annoying it must have been for Hegde to have slabs of rock clanking against her cheek in nearly every scene. And don’t get me started on helpful city guard Lothar’s (Diganta Hizarika) 1980s side-ponytail.

There are weird visual nods to classic Christian stories from Hollywood, too. In flashbacks, Maham is styled like an evil Jesus. Narendra Jha as the crazy prophet Jakhiro looks like Charlton Heston’s Moses from The Ten Commandments.

The lack of historical data was an opportunity to create something visually stunning, but Mohenjo Daro just isn’t. Worse, it looks really bad when compared to last year’s historical epic, Baahubali: The Beginning. In every respect — costuming, CGI, fight scenes, musical numbers — Mohenjo Daro looks like a lackluster version of Baahubali, with a less compelling story.

The bland, obvious plot is perhaps the most shocking element of Mohenjo Daro. Gowariker has a great track record for writing and directing engrossing stories that subtly convey his political ideals. Lagaan had poor, rural Indians literally beating the British at their own game. Swades showed how innovation and dedication to community can circumvent the slow movement of government. Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey saw young Indians pushed to violence by oppressive British rule. In Jodhaa Akbar, Roshan played a progressive emperor who embraced multiculturalism.

Gowariker ditches the nuance and character motivations of his previous films for cliched populism. Sarman declares that The People are fed up paying the senate’s taxes, and The People cheer in unison, somehow instinctively knowing that this outsider is the savior who can lead them out of poverty, and causing them to forget about the crew of murderous hill goons Maham employs as bodyguards, a la Tyrion Lannister.

It’s too easy. The idea that all of India’s (or anywhere’s) problems could be solved if the masses would rise up as one behind a charismatic leader is lazy and unsatisfying, whether the action takes place in the modern day or thousands of years ago. It absolves the masses of having to do the hard work that was such an important part of Lagaan, Swades, and Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey. Just wait around for a messiah — but not the woman we thought was The Chosen One. This other guy instead.

Even the manner in which the story is presented is ham-handed. A. R. Rahman provides a score full of uncharacteristically garish musical cues. The single corniest moment sees one character tell another, “something something something YOUR FATHER,” followed by a noisy instrumental blast and a zoom to closeup on the listener’s face.

There are also none of the culture-clash elements from Gowariker’s previous films present in Mohenjo Daro. Sarman is an outsider, but it’s not really a problem. He adapts to life in the city almost immediately, making friends and falling in love without a hitch. Then again, there’s not enough to Chaani’s character to make her a complicating factor. She’s there to look pretty, which Hegde does exceedingly well.

The actors aren’t to blame for Mohenjo Daro‘s shortcomings. No one is particularly good or bad, although I did enjoy Singh’s performance as the thwarted heir apparent more than I have some of his past work. This will be one of Roshan’s most forgettable roles.

There’s not enough substance here to tell if Mohenjo Daro could have been more than it is. It’s just the unfortunate product of a talented filmmaker who appears to have lost his way, sublimating his ideals for pandering that pleases no one.

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Best Bollywood Movies of 2010

After reviewing my lists of the best Hindi movies for 2008 and 2009, I’m convinced that 2010 was Bollywood’s best year among the three. Of the approximately fifty Hindi movies I reviewed this year, here are my picks for the top films of the year. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)

Some movies are worth seeing just for the stunning visuals, like the updated epic Raavan — which takes place primarily outdoors amid stunning natural beauty — and Guzaarish, which paints a personal struggle in super-saturated blues.

Politics set the stage for many of the strongest dramas, including the action-packed Aakrosh, the historical epic Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey and dynastic thriller Raajneeti.

Other, grittier dramas like Udaan and Striker featured smaller stories personal growth under the direst of circumstances.

2010’s best romantic comedies also had an earnest tone, featuring complex, realistic female leads in Anjaana Anjaani and Break Ke Baad.

Another romance, The Japanese Wife, deserves an honorable mention. It tells the story of two pen pals — one a Japanese woman and the other a man from Bengal — who fall in love through letters written in beginner’s English. Because it’s not in Hindi, it’s not in the running for best Bollywood movie, but I heartily recommend it.

The two best Hindi movies of 2010 defy easy classification. Part drama, part comedy, part romance and part adventure, they represent cinematic storytelling at its most complete. Both movies are less than two-hours long, emphasizing that it’s the quality of the story, not the length of its runtime, that makes a fulfilling cinematic experience.

Ishqiya features memorable performances by Vidya Balan, Arshad Warsi and Naseeruddin Shah as a widow and a pair of petty thieves trying to pull off a heist. The story is simple but compelling, and the performances make it shine. It’s a remarkable effort from debutant director Abhishek Chaubey.

The movie that has stuck with me more than any other is Road, Movie. After playing at international festivals in 2009, it opened in limited release in the U.S. in May of 2010. I caught it during its short run on On Demand. It tells the story of a city guy who drives a dilapidated truck across the desert, meeting strange companions along the way and learning the secret history of the truck: it was once a mobile movie theater.

Road, Movie is so charming and engaging that it briefly made me believe that I could make a career of driving a truck though rural India, projecting old movies onto the sides of buildings for grateful villagers (never mind that there are few things in the world I’m less qualified to do, and the need for the service is shrinking). The film embodies the escapism that cinema provides and inspires us to dream improbable dreams.

Road, Movie isn’t the easiest film to find in the U.S. — it’s not yet available on Netflix or Amazon (though my local public library has three copies) — so seize the chance to watch it when you can. It’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.

Previous Best Movies Lists

Opening December 10: No Problem and Band Baaja Baaraat

There’s no let up in new Hindi releases in the Chicago area. Two new comedies open on Friday, December 10, 2010: Band Baaja Baaraat and No Problem, which gets the wider release of the two. No Problem stars Anil Kapoor as a bumbling cop trying to solve a bank robbery. Pop star Shakira makes a special appearance in the movie.

No Problem opens on December 10 at the AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 30 in Warrenville. Click here for a national list of theaters carrying No Problem, which has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 23 min.

The romantic comedy Band Baaja Baaraat (“Wedding Music Band”) follows the exploits of two friends trying to run a wedding planning business.

Band Baaja Baaraat opens on Friday at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30 and Cantera 30. Check this incomplete list for nationwide theaters carrying Band Baaja Baaraat, which has a runtime of 2 hrs. 35 min.

Last weekend’s new release, Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey, gets a second week at the Golf Glen 5 and South Barrington 30. The South Barrington 30 is also carrying over Break Ke Baad and Guzaarish, which has earned $989,527 in the three weeks it’s been in U.S. theaters.

Starting Friday, the Golf Glen 5 is carrying one other Hindi movie I haven’t found much information on: Family Pack.

Other Indian movies playing in the area this weekend include Rakht Charitra 2 (Tamil and Telugu) and Cocktail (Malayalam) at the Golf Glen 5. Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove also has both versions of Rakht Charitra 2, as well as the Telugu movies Manasara and Orange.

Movie Review: Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey (2010)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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

Sixty-three years after the end of the British Raj, it’s clear that the Brits were in the wrong in their oppression and exploitation of South Asians. At the time, however, both sides — the oppressors and the oppressed — felt victimized when they were on the receiving end of a violent attack. One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.

Oscar-nominated director Ashutosh Gowariker’s latest, Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey, tells the story of one act of rebellion during the Raj: the Chittagong Uprising of 1930.

At the time the movie takes place, groups of freedom fighters, impatient with the slow progress of Ghandhi’s passive resistance, opt for violence as a means of ousting the British from India. In Chittagong, the local resistance group is led by Surjya Sen (Abhishek Bachchan), a schoolteacher who uses his meager salary to organize a small group of fighters.

Surjya is able to expand his plans to drive the Brits from Chittagong when a simple act brings a large group of new recruits his way: the army takes over the local soccer field to use as a camp. The town’s teenagers, outraged at being evicted from their pitch, ask for Surjya’s help in reclaiming it.

Surjya hatches a plan to simultaneously take over strategic points in town, including the telegraph office, the armory and army barracks. He’s aided by two female recruits, Kalpana (Deepika Padukone) and Pritilata (Vishakha Singh), who engage in reconnaissance by posing as maids.

Before the plan can be executed, Surjya must train his army of gangly teens. Though the boys are committed to the cause, they’re still kids and not eager to martyr themselves. As one boy observes, what good is freedom if you’re not alive to enjoy it? The first half of the movie covers the group’s preparations, and the second deals with the raid and its aftermath. (Given that the British didn’t leave India until seventeen years later, I suspected the raid wouldn’t be a complete success.)

Stills at the beginning of the movie state that the plot is taken directly from written accounts of people involved in the Chittagong Uprising. Gowariker chooses realism over big-screen clichés in his portrayal of the moving story. Characters act like real young people faced with mortal danger for the first times in their lives would: scared and confused instead of fearlessly self-assured. The absence of timely motivational speeches is refreshing.

That realism makes the movie engaging and the story of their rebellion that much more inspiring. A lifetime spent watching movies with happy endings makes you believe that maybe these plucky kids really can drive out their oppressors and go back to playing soccer. But, from our experience with the characters, we know that isn’t possible, even if the teens think it is.

The performances are solid throughout. Bachchan, Padukone and the other adult characters are riveting, as they begin to realize how they’ve endangered the teens in their care. The teens are endearing, both awkward and noble as they muster up all the courage they’ve amassed in their limited amount of life experience. The soundtrack is catchy, yet appropriate for the somber story.

I just finished reading the book Three Cups of Tea, about one American’s attempts to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In it, he recounts a story of American military helicopters flying low over an open air girls’ school, the resulting wake knocking over and breaking the school’s only blackboard.

Civilian casualties and night raids on houses get all of the publicity, but we can never know what small act — like taking over a soccer field or, perhaps, destroying a blackboard — might be the final straw that pushes a young person to violence. I wonder how our own treatment of the civilians under our care will be viewed 63 years after we leave Afghanistan.

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