Tag Archives: Kriti Sanon

Movie Review: Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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Based on the book The Ingredients of Love by Nicholas Barreau — which itself draws inspiration from Cyrano de BergeracBareilly Ki Barfi (“The Sweet from Bareilly“) feels familiar but fresh. Delightful characters, wonderful performances, and a touching and funny love story make Bareilly Ki Barfi an example of the romantic comedy genre at its best.

Bitti (Kriti Sanon) is the black sheep of Bareilly, a tomboy with a fondness for booze and breakdancing. Her mother Sushila (Seema Bhargava Pahwa) frets that Bitti’s unladylike tendencies are driving away potential suitors. Her supportive father Narottam (Pankaj Tripathy) is happy to have a daughter off whom he can bum smokes.

Father and daughter are aware of the societal norms that Bitti is up against. “Being a girl is a complete disaster,” Bitti says. Narottam doesn’t have any wisdom for her, but he stays by her side as they stand on their balcony looking glum.

Bitti runs away from home, but a book she buys on the train platform entitled “Bareilly Ki Barfi” prompts her to return. The protagonist of the book, Babli, is the spitting image of Bitti. Assuming the book to be the work of a secret admirer, Bitti asks the bookseller, Munna (Rohit Choudhary), for help finding the author, a man named Pritam Vidrohi. Munna instead sends her to his best friend, Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurrana).

Five years earlier, Chirag wrote “Bareilly Ki Barfi” about his ex-girlfriend, Babli. In order to protect his identity, Chirag bullies timid Pritam (Rajkummar Rao) into claiming authorship. Chirag hopes that Bitti can replace Babli, but he doesn’t own up to being the book’s true author, vetting Bitti first. He instead acts as go-between for Bitti and “Pritam,” writing letters on his behalf, spending time with Bitti, and gradually falling in love.

Unable to put off Bitti’s requests to meet Pritam in person, Chirag and Munna track Pritam to Lucknow, where he fled to avoid the mobs of zealous book readers that never materialized (Bitti is the first person to ever buy the book). Pritam is as meek as ever, and it’s easy for Chirag and Munna to pressure him into returning to Bareilly. They force Pritam to adopt a brash, chauvinistic avatar designed to repulse Bitti, thus clearing the way for Chirag. Of course, things don’t work out the way Chirag plans.

One of the themes of Bareilly Ki Barfi is that we are who we are. Bitti won’t change herself to suit the demands of a conservative potential groom. Pritam’s tough-guy act has the unexpected effect of imbuing his natural helpfulness with a cool air, instead of his usual subservient aura. By refusing to acknowledge his true identity, Chirag deprives himself and Bitti of the love they both want.

Munna says something interesting to Chirag as his buddy’s manipulation of Pritam intensifies: “You’re not the villain.” It’s meant to absolve Chirag of wrongdoing, but it highlights the way Chirag’s deceit is changing him for the worse. The longer he continues the charade, the further he strays from the man he and Bitti want him to be.

While the plot of Bareilly Ki Barfi echoes stories that have come before, the setting and characters provide a refreshing update. Bitti and her family are so likeable, and Pritam’s Amitabh Bachchan-inspired boss act is a hoot.

There’s also a lot to like about the story’s construction. Barielly Ki Barfi is directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari (who debuted with 2016’s impressive Nil Battey Sannata) and written by her husband, filmmaker Nitesh Tiwari. An economy of characters ensures that everyone matters, even minor players like Pritam’s mom and Bitti’s best friend, Rama (Swati Semwal). A runtime of around two hours keeps the action moving, allowing the Tiwaris to wrap the movie up before it becomes tiresome.

Best of all is the cast. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Khurrana and Rao as Chirag and Pritam. Khurrana is a master of facial expressions, from his brilliant smiles for Bitti to his stony glares for Munna. Rao has the challenging job of essentially playing two parts and switching between them often, and he does so with ease. The whole supporting cast is terrific as well.

This is the Kriti Sanon performance I’ve been waiting for. She’s been little more than a helpless damsel in distress in her first two Hindi films, and it’s gratifying to see that she’s capable of so much more. Hopefully filmmakers follow Tiwari’s lead and look beyond Sanon’s beauty,  capitalizing on her humor and ease in front of the camera.

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Movie Review: Raabta (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

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Even in movies about reincarnation, where the audience knows that the lead couple is fated to be together, we still have to want them to be together in the first place. Raabta (“Connection“) gets that part of the formula wrong, pairing a likable woman with an immature moron.

It’s hard to overstate just how awful Shiv (Sushant Singh Rajput) is as a main character. He’s an entitled boor who hits on every white woman he sees, assuming them to be easy and stupid. A new job in Budapest gives him plenty of opportunities to be an abominable lech.

Of course, when he meets a lovely Indian expat named Saira (Kriti Sanon), Shiv is immediately ready to settle down with her. The presumed inherent moral superiority of Saira’s race and national heritage make it okay for her to jump straight into bed with Shiv, while the flirtatious white women Shiv dates are depicted as disposable tramps.

Saira can’t explain the depth of her attraction to Shiv (and neither can the audience). She senses it has something to do with her vivid nightmares of drowning, and his sudden appearance in them. Shiv dismisses her suspicions, always eager to downplay her concerns and dictate the terms of their conversations.

But Saira’s not alone in suspecting a connection to the past. Debonair rich guy Zak (Neerja‘s Jim Sarbh) has seen visions of Saira as well, from an ancient time when they were once in love. They meet when Saira and Shiv agree to the dumbest possible test of their fidelity: hitting on other people at a party to see if they are as attracted to anyone else as they are to each other. Shiv promptly rips off his shirt and jumps in a pool with some blondes, and Saira flirts with Zak, who is as classy and mysterious as Shiv is tacky and vapid.

Genre convention holds that Zak will turn out to have sinister intentions that endanger Shiv’s and Saira’s preordained romance. The problem is that Zak is objectively better in every regard than Shiv. Yes, even after Zak kidnaps Saira. That’s how deplorable Shiv is.

Rajput does his character no favors, turning in the worst performance of his career. Besides being annoying in the present, Shiv’s past self — Jillan — talks in a Christian-Bale-as-Batman growl, augmented by bug-eyed twitching. The only redeeming quality either version has is a set of six-pack abs (which Zak also may have; we just don’t get to see).

Sanon’s brief career has been distinguished by capable performances in roles with zero agency. Much like Sanon’s character in her debut film, Heropanti, Saira has no control over her own body. Shiv and Zak push, pull, and grab her at will, arguing over which of them she “belongs” to.

Further reducing Saira to object status is that she’s socially isolated in a way the two men aren’t. Shiv has parents in India, and his best friend Radha (Varun Sharma) accompanies him to Budapest. Zak has dozens of paid servants and bodyguards and can turn out hundreds of guests to a party on short notice. Saira, on the other hand, works alone, was orphaned at age two, and sees her boyfriend driven off by Shiv in the span of ten minutes. She has no connections to anyone, making it easier for the two men to do with her as they please.

If there is any bright spot in Raabta, it is Jim Sarbh. He takes a role that could have easily become cartoonish and makes Zak unhinged but understandable. Zak wants Saira as fulfillment of an ancient promise but also because she’s the only other person who shares his belief that the past is repeating itself. Shiv refuses to entertain Saira’s reincarnation story, belittling her as crazy despite the fact that she’s correct — yet another knock against these star-crossed lovers.

Sarbh’s cool charisma starkly contrasts Rajput’s over-the-top antics. It’s time for filmmakers to shift Sarbh from the compelling villain slot into leading man roles (and maybe consider demoting Rajput).

The biggest star in Raabta is Deepika Padukone, who performs an unenthusiastic item number for the title track. She sways and walks the runway, and that’s about it. I hope she got a ton of money for doing next to nothing, if only to serve as a cautionary tale for filmmakers considering such transparent casting stunts.

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Movie Review: Dilwale (2015)

Dilwale1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Dilwale is a generic Frankenstein cobbled together from elements of countless other Bollywood comedies and romantic dramas, lurching from one predictable plot point to the next. Given the talent and budget at director Rohit Shetty’s disposal, the result is disappointing.

Shahrukh Khan plays Raj, a man absurdly devoted to the happiness of his younger brother, Veer (Varun Dhawan), so much so that he tears up and starts to shake whenever anyone mentions having a younger brother. Raj’s big secret is that he was adopted and is not Veer’s biological brother.

So Shahrukh plays a character with the same name as the one he made famous in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, with the same backstory as the one he played in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. See what I mean about Frankenstein?

When Veer falls in love with a beautiful woman named Ishita (Kriti Sanon) — whom he calls Ishu just so he can repeatedly say, “Ishu, this is a big issue” — it prompts Raj to flashback to his own failed romance.

With no scene transition of which to speak, we are transported fifteen years into the past, when “Raj” went by the name Kaali and worked as a gangster in Bulgaria. There he meets a lovely artist named Meera (Kajol, Shakrukh’s love interest both DDLJ and K3G), and they break each other’s hearts. Surely this can’t be the last we see of Meera, right?

The plot unfolds predictably, as obstacles arise in Veer’s and Raj’s paths to romance. These obstacles would disappear if Raj and Meera would stop withholding information that is unpleasant but not earth-shattering, but writer Yunus Sajawal can’t seem to think of a better way to delay the inevitable happy ending for more than two-and-a-half hours.

Further dragging out the film is a ridiculous anti-drug subplot that could not have been handled with any less subtlety. Boman Irani plays the world’s cuddliest drug kingpin, King. When King’s men try to strongarm a barkeep named Uncle Joe into dealing their goods — by banging a huge bag of weed on the cashier stand, in front of everyone in the bar — Uncle Joe responds with some incredibly direct dialogue (courtesy of writers Sajid-Farhad): “I won’t sell your drugs here. Youngsters come here to have fun.”

The “Drugs are bad, m’kay?” subplot reaches its hypocritical crescendo when Veer, his sidekick Siddhu (Varun Sharma), and well-meaning miscreant Mani (Johnny Lever), get completely drunk on booze and self-righteousness while burning a bag of King’s drugs.

Siddhu is the fourth comic role I’ve seen Sharma play, which I think gives me enough information to definitively say that Varun Sharma is not funny.

But being funny isn’t really the point in Dilwale, where roles are cast not by suitability but by similarity. Need some outrageous older comic bit players? Hire Lever and Sanjay Mishra. Does the bad guy need a bald right-hand man? Hire Pradeep Kabra.

The whole movie is uninspired because the point is not to do anything unique or innovative but to evoke memories of earlier, better films starring the same people. The only way Shetty could have tried any less hard would be not to have made the movie at all.

By only looking to the past for inspiration, Dilwale winds up peppered with sexist insults. Siddhu repeatedly steals from Veer, but he’s forgiven because he says that he only did it so that he could take his girlfriend to the movies and out for coffee. The incident is brushed off by the men onscreen, who agree that women are greedy and high-maintenance.

Jokes are also made about Kajol’s weight, based on the assumption that she — like all women — is perpetually dieting. What is this, a Cathy comic strip from 1982? Beyond being tacky and outdated, the jokes are undermined by the fact that Kajol is stunning. Her gorgeousness is the movie’s lone selling point.

There is a stretch of a few minutes when Kajol saves a scene that should be stupid, and one briefly thinks, “Ooh, this could get interesting.” That hope is short-lived when Meera falls in love with Raj just because he loves her. To quote Cathy, “Ack!”

Kajol is better than this. Shahrukh is usually better than this. Varun is definitely better than this. Kriti’s character is so level-headed that she seems like she wandered onto the wrong set. Dilwale is not the Kajol-Shahrukh romantic reunion we deserve.

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Movie Review: Heropanti (2014)

Heropanti_Poster0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Heropanti (“Big Attitude”, according to the subtitles) labors under the misapprehension that it is a progressive film. Despite a couple of statements disapproving of arranged marriage, the movie ultimately ends up reinforcing the patriarchal system it thinks it’s criticizing.

The plot is the same story we’ve seen a hundred times in Hindi cinema. The hero (debutant Tiger Shroff) wants to marry a girl (Kriti Sanon), but her father (Prakash Raj) disapproves. Rather than elope with her, the hero uses his brute strength to convince her father to let the couple marry.

The action takes place in a small town over which Chaudhray (Raj) rules with an iron fist. When his eldest daughter, Renu (Sandeepa Dhar), runs off with a man, Rakesh (Devanshu Sharma), Chaudhray has his goons round up Rakesh’s friends and hold them prisoner until they disclose the couple’s whereabouts.

Shroff’s Bablu is captured along with two of his friends/lackeys and Kiki, an annoying guy who’s kidnapped by mistake. The comic relief Kiki is supposed to supply consists of him endlessly repeating the phrase, “What is the position?”

While in captivity, Bablu discloses that he’s fallen in love at first sight. This triggers a flashback to Bablu ogling a woman — Sanon’s Dimpy — on the street. He sees the same mystery woman again at a temple as he and the lackeys try to escape, and his moon-eyed staring results in their recapture. Only later does Bablu find out Dimpy’s (hilarious) name and learn that she’s Chaudhray’s youngest daughter.

Why do we need the flashback to Bablu scoping Dimpy on the street? It ruins the pacing of the story and wastes time in a movie that’s already plenty boring. Had Bablu seen Dimpy for the first time at the temple, it would’ve made their botched escape more exciting and made him a more interesting character.

As it is, Shroff’s Bablu seems like a younger knock-off of a typical Salman Khan character  — smug, invincible, and perfect except for the fact that he’s single — only with Hrithik Roshan’s physique and dance moves. With young actors like Sushant Singh Rajput, Sidharth Malhotra, and Varun Dhawan making big impressions early in their careers, Shroff seems like a throwback to a type of hero that’s on the way out. This is a perplexing film to choose for one’s debut.

Sanon shows real promise. She gives Dimpy a spark that livens up a character possessed of very little agency. It will be interesting to see what Sanon can do with a character who’s more than just a damsel in distress.

Dimpy’s in a hopeless position that gets at the crux of Heropanti‘s problems. She falls for Bablu in return but can’t act on it because Chaudhray has promised to marry her to one of his underlings. Also, Chaudhray repeatedly states that when he finds Renu, he’s going to “burn her alive.” He does find her, though director Sabbir Khan doesn’t show us what actually becomes of Renu.

Despite knowing of Chaudhray’s willingness to murder his own child to save face, Bablu tells Dimpy, “You have to fight. That’s how you get equality.” But when push comes to shove, Bablu abandons the notion of a woman’s right to choose her own marriage partner. He tells Chaudray, “I don’t want to take away your right to decide who she marries.”

Dimpy has no control over what the men around her do with her body. Before knowing her identity, Bablu gets drunk and puts his hands all over her in a darkened room. She’s left alone for all of twenty minutes in Delhi, and a gang of men try to rape her. Her father ultimately “gives” her to her groom, as though she were an object. The camera routinely zooms in on her bare torso, further objectifying her.

Heropanti is so out of touch that it’s mystifying that it was even made, let alone used as the vehicle to launch Shroff’s movie career. It’s hard to imagine the teenage girls who are Shroff’s most obvious potential fanbase being impressed by a movie that thinks they shouldn’t have control over their own lives or bodies.

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