Tag Archives: Kumud Mishra

Movie Review: Jolly LLB 2 (2017)

jollyllb22.5 Stars (out of 4)

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In spite of a compelling performance by Akshay Kumar as Jolly LLB 2‘s flawed hero, narrative inconsistencies keep the well-intentioned black comedy from achieving its full potential.

Kumar plays Jolly Mishra — a different character from Arshad Warsi’s title character in the original Jolly LLB — an ambitious lawyer who yearns to be more than an errand boy for the more established attorney, Rizvi. In order to raise money to establish his own practice, Jolly assures a pregnant young widow, Hina (Sayani Gupta), that Rizvi will take on her case, collecting the fees from her up front and keeping them for himself.

Hina’s case is politically dangerous. She believes that her husband, Iqbal (Manav Kaul), was falsely arrested on terrorism charges and murdered by police, all for the sake of securing a promotion for notorious Officer Suryaveer Singh (Kumud Mishra). With crooked, wealthy Lucknow attorney Sachin Mathur (Annu Kapoor) defending Singh, every other lawyer knows that Hina’s case is a lost cause.

When Hina learns from Rizvi that he never agreed to take her case, she realizes that Jolly duped her, declaring as much in front of Jolly, his wife Pushpa (Huma Qureshi), and his father, who spent decades working as Rizvi’s legal secretary. Devoid of hope, Hina kills herself. Rizvi fires Jolly, and Jolly’s father tells his son he never wants to see him again.

Jolly is a complicated character. He’s a doting husband to drunken Pushpa and a loving father to their son, but he doesn’t work for any ideals higher than his own ambition. It’s impossible to pay penance for driving Hina to suicide, but Jolly takes on her case in the hopes of righting some of the wrongs he did by her and her family. Kumar’s grounded performance makes us believe that Jolly can become a better man by the end of the movie than he is at the beginning.

The case pits Jolly — who has the truth on his side — against the nakedly corrupt Mathur, who is sleazy in typical sleazy movie lawyer fashion. The presiding Judge Tripathy (Saurabh Shukla) isn’t explicitly corrupt, just distracted by his daughter’s upcoming nuptials.

Tripathy is the weak link in Jolly LLB 2. It’s hard to figure out how exactly he fits into the story. He’s not funny enough to provide true comic relief, but he’s clearly too light for a somewhat grim case involving suicide and extrajudicial police killings. He’s prone to drawing out conversations, leading to dull patches. Unlike the other characters, his balance is off.

The judge is also tasked by the script with driving the tension in the courtroom, but he’s not consistent in the way in which he does so. Tripathy believes or discounts witnesses’ testimony depending on the needs of the story at that moment, not because of any internal logic. Some of his other decisions are so blatantly provocative that it dispels the illusion of organic story flow. We can all but see writer-director Subhash Kapoor pulling the strings.

In Jolly LLB 2‘s favor, Kumar and Qureshi look great together and share a comfortable rapport. Rajiv Gupta is the film’s unsung hero as Jolly’s harried assistant, Birbal. Shukla’s dance sequence as Tripathy rehearses for his daughter’s wedding is pretty funny.

Jolly LLB 2‘s sentiment is admirable, especially at a time when citizens in India and around the world are desperate for reassurance that their justice systems aren’t fundamentally irreparable. The story just needed more refining to maintain a consistent tone throughout.

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Movie Review: Rustom (2016)

Rustom3 Stars (out of 4)

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An open-and-shut murder case turns out to be anything but in Rustom, a movie based on a real-life case from 1959. Period costumes and decor give this drama a stylish flair.

The title character Rustom Pavri (Akshay Kumar) is a decorated Navy officer. His ship returns to Mumbai — then Bombay — ahead of schedule, causing him to catch his wife Cynthia (Ileana D’Cruz) in an extramarital affair with their mutual friend, Vikram (Arjan Bajwa).

Rustom returns to his ship to check a gun and ammunition out of the munitions cabinet, logging the withdrawal with the duty officer. He heads to Vikram’s mansion where he shoots the wealthy playboy to death, then turns himself into the police.

Chief Police Inspector Vincent Lobo (Pawan Malhotra) is immediately suspicious of Rustom’s calm demeanor, his refusal to be housed in a Navy jail, and his insistence on representing himself at trial. To Vikram’s bereaved sister, Priti (Esha Gupta), Rustom’s actions feed her hopes of an easy victory in court.

But Rustom has a few things working in his favor. Erach (Kumud Mishra) — a publisher from the same Parsi community as Rustom — uses his newspaper to run stories painting the officer in a favorable light, driving sales and tainting the jury pool at the same time. Erach’s contentious relationship with the trial judge (Anang Desai) provides the film’s comic relief.

Also on Rustom’s side is public sentimentality toward soldiers, a bias that Rustom himself exploits. When representing himself at trial, Rustom casually responds to the prosecutor’s (Sachin Khedekar) complaint about the symbolic impact of the officer’s uniform by saying that wearing his uniform is one of his unchangeable habits, just like breathing or defending his country.

Director Tinu Suresh Desai shows the power of the uniform in an early scene whose significance is easy to miss. Fresh off his ship, Rustom stops to buy some flowers for Cynthia from a street vendor. Just in the background, a pair of young women stare dreamily at Rustom, likely envisioning themselves the lucky recipients of a bouquet from a handsome man in uniform someday.

Writer Vipul K. Rawal draws from the way the jury was influenced in the real case of Officer K. M. Nanavati to make observations about the way blind veneration of the military can lead society to overlook the shortcomings of both individual officers and larger institutions. His story is critical, but not cynical.

Probably the biggest selling point for Rustom is its visual appeal. Costume designer Ameira Punvani showcases a stunning array of attire, adding ostentatious touches to the wardrobes of the wealthy siblings, Vikram and Priti. There are also loads of classic cars and furniture pieces to drool over among the set dressings.

Completing the period aesthetic is the cast, smartly assembled by Shruti Mahajan. Malhotra looks like he was plucked straight from a mid-century detectives catalog. Bajwa was born to play a rich, 1950s Lothario. The way he leers at Cynthia is positively nauseating, and I mean that as a compliment.

Gupta suits the film perfectly as well, poured into her glamorous cocktail attire, haughty expression permanently in place. I wish there were more to her character, but one can’t fault Priti’s single-minded drive to bring her brother’s killer to justice.

By necessity, Rustom has to play his cards close to the vest, so this isn’t one of Kumar’s flashier roles. Still, he fills Rustom with enough charm and intelligence to keep both the audience and the other characters guessing about his endgame.

D’Cruz gets to show the most emotional range as Cynthia, a woman overwhelmed by guilt and loneliness. There’s more to the story than she realizes, leaving her to suffer from a mistake that may or may not be entirely her fault. D’Cruz does a fine job containing Cynthia’s inner torment behind a brave public face.

Rustom is an entertaining movie, its vibrant style counting for a lot, given the relative dearth of period films in Bollywood. It’s also patriotic without being blindly so. Overall, it’s worth a watch.

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Movie Review: Airlift (2016)

Airlift2 Stars (out of 4)

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The evacuation of 170,000 Indian citizens from Kuwait following Iraq’s 1990 invasion is an inspiring tale that deserves a far better movie than Airlift. Writer-director Raja Krishna Menon’s version of events is a snore.

One of the perks of translating a real-life event to the big screen is that one can eliminate all the boring bits and focus on the drama. Instead, Menon forces the audience to endure interminable scenes of characters talking on phones, sitting in meetings, or waiting in hallways for meetings to start. It’s maddening.

Menon uses his creative license to condense the various heroes of the real evacuation into one man (because it’s always one man in Bollywood): Ranjit Katyal (Akshay Kumar). Ranjit’s character setup is pretty good. He’s quickly established as a hard-partying, unscrupulous businessman who encourages his Indian driver to embrace life as a Kuwaiti. Thus, we know that by the end of the film Ranjit will be a conscientious and generous Indian patriot.

Ranjit’s wife, Amrita (Nimrat Kaur), is almost always unhappy with her husband. When she’s not upset with his drinking, she’s mad that he’s putting the well-being of others ahead of her and their daughter. The role itself is not great, but Kaur is great in it. She’s head-and-shoulders above the rest of the cast, with an authoritative voice that commands respect.

The invasion of Kuwait opens with a startling blast and a few grim executions, but the tension subsides almost immediately. Iraqi troops lackadaisically trash stores and homes, and one makes a vaguely rapey gesture at a woman. The general in charge threatens Ranjit so nonchalantly that Ranjit’s not entirely sure that he’s being threatened.

For the most part, the Indians’ nationality protects them, since the Iraqi troops are only interested in harming Kuwaitis. With no end to the hostility in sight, the real problem is how to get about 170,000 Indian citizens — many poor laborers without passports — to safety.

As in many other Hindi movies, the enemy of progress is Indian bureaucracy. With the embassy staff having fled, Ranjit is stuck in Kuwait without knowing who to call. Sanjiv Kohli (Kumud Mishra) — the Foreign Office staff member who happens to take Ranjit’s phone call — is reluctant to help because the Gulf States aren’t his department.

Kohli’s character is a huge missed opportunity to inject energy into the film. He never so much as raises his voice at the succession of ministers who ignore him, content instead to wait quietly outside their offices. Mishra delivers his lines at a snail’s pace, as though trying to lengthen his time on-screen.

Whereas Kohli represents a missed opportunity, another supporting character exists only to annoy. Mr. George (Prakash Belawadi) is an unrepentant curmudgeon who complains through the whole film. His only contribution to the plot is that he finally pisses off Amrita so bad that she yells at him on Ranjit’s behalf. He’s far too irritating for that one scene to justify his presence.

The only supporting character worth a darn is Ibrahim (Purab Kohli), a helpful guy whose subplot gets a touching payoff at film’s end.

Part of Menon’s problem in adapting the story for Airlift is one of scale. He condenses the heroes of the story into one character, but still makes that character responsible for all 170,000 Indians in Kuwait. How is it possible for all of them to be living on the grounds of a single school simultaneously? How many cars would be needed to drive all of them across the border in one night?

It would have made more sense for Ranjit to be in charge of a few thousand evacuees, with his efforts setting the template for the rescue of the rest of the Indians in Kuwait. Making him responsible for all 170,000 people highlights logical impossibilities that can’t be ignored.

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Movie Review: Filmistaan (2012)

Filmistaan3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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There’s a great line in Filmistaan that sums up the frustrating nature of the tension that has persisted between India and Pakistan since Partition in 1947. The film’s kidnapped Indian protagonist, Sunny (Sharib Hashmi), is surprised at being told he’s been secretly brought to Pakistan: “The food, the people all look the same. How would I know?”

That theme of commonality runs throughout Filmistaan. The movie beautifully makes its point that manufactured borders can’t erase the cultural similarities that unite the people of India and Pakistan, and that it’s the average citizens of both countries who pay the price for ongoing hostility.

Sunny is the consummate regular guy. He’s an out-of-shape, out-of-work wannabe actor who admits he doesn’t have the chops to make it in Bollywood. But he persists, taking the job of Assistant Director as a way into the industry.

On assignment with an American film crew, Sunny is kidnapped near the Pakistan border in Rajasthan. The militants leave him with a pair of guards in a small village across the border, hoping to nab the more valuable Americans on a second try.

Sunny endears himself to the village children with his impressions of Bollywood stars. His love for film sparks a friendship with Aftaab (Inaamulhaq), a movie buff and DVD pirate. And Sunny’s sheer ordinariness leads the younger of his two captors, Jawaad (Gopal Dutt), to question why they’re holding him in the first place.

Jawaad’s willingness to question orders — in stark contrast to his devout compatriot, Mehmood (Kumud Mishra) — gets at one of the movie’s other themes: the crippling effect of a lack of opportunities in Pakistan. The only reason Jawaad joined the militants and the only reason Aftaab is a film pirate and not a filmmaker is because of a lack of opportunity, caused primarily by the closed border with India and the zealots like Mehmood who want to keep it closed.

Filmistaan is hopeful about the prospects that young people from both countries will someday cast aside national hostilities in exchange for a future built on shared goals and cultural history. The subtlety with which it conveys this message through its story and characters heightens its impact.

Since Filmistaan is also a celebration of the movies, it excels in all the necessary ways. The acting is top-notch. Sets are stark and evocative, thanks to writer-director Nitin Kakkar and cinematographer Subhransu. The soundtrack is terrific.

The story builds to a cinematic climax that sadly doesn’t allow for the emotional payoff one would hope for. Given the effort that went into making the audience care deeply about the characters, the ending needed to be more cathartic.

Still, that doesn’t negate the great journey that Filmistaan takes the audience on. This is a unique and enjoyable film worth seeing.

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Movie Review: Rockstar (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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The trailer for Rockstar presented the movie as a typical rom-com in which a dork melts an ice queen’s heart before the interval, only to have obstacles to their love thrown in their path for the second half of the movie. Rockstar is less conventional than that. At times, it’s an extended music video, at others a hypnotic tale of passion. It’s not always successful, but director Imtiaz Ali deserves credit for trying something different.

As in Ali’s two previous hits — Jab We Met and Love Aaj KalRockstar features a hero unable to articulate his feelings for his beloved, even if it means losing her to another man. This time the tongue-tied protagonist is Janardhan (Ranbir Kapoor), a dorky college kid with superstar ambitions.

Cafeteria-owner Khatana (Kumud Mishra) tells Janardhan that his life has been too easy, and that all musicians must suffer for their art. Janardhan’s real problem is a lack of charisma and a fondness for unflattering sweater vests, but that’s not much of a movie set-up.

Janardhan humiliates himself in a clumsy effort to woo the most popular girl in school, Heer (Nargis Fakhri), who’s already engaged to a rich guy from Prague. The two become pals, and she gives him the stage name “Jordan.” She also gives him an opportunity to express his feelings for her and perhaps forestall her marriage. He doesn’t take it, and Heer heads to Prague.

To this point — about the first hour of a 2-hour 40-minute movie — the story is laid out rather predictably: the kids have fun in seedy back alleys and amidst beautiful scenery in Kashmir, the setting for Heer’s wedding. The snowy mountain passes and gorgeous costumes are a real highlight.

Things veer from the expected during the film’s second hour. It begins not chronologically, but rather with a reporter investigating Jordan’s early career. It’s two years after Heer’s wedding, and Khatana recounts the emotion collapse that preceded Jordan’s rise to Indian rock stardom. An international music competition brings Jordan to Prague where he and Heer rekindle their interrupted romance, despite her now-married status.

Much of this storyline unfolds through A.R. Rahman’s incredible soundtrack. The second hour of Rockstar is primarily a string of music videos, the lyrics of Jordan’s music (voiced by Mohit Chauhan) providing insight into his emotional growth in way he can’t express in conversation. Thankfully, the lyrics are translated really well, allowing the story to unfold in an intriguing way.

Kapoor and Fakhri are terrific together. Their love scenes are sexy and passionate. Fakhri’s big screen debut is a promising one, as she plays Heer with the right mix of vulnerability and strength.

It’s unfortunate, then, that the movie ends the way that it does. While the movie’s main character is clearly Jordan, the second hour of the film gives equal weight to the choices both he and Heer must make. As the movie shifts into its third and final timeframe, Heer’s choices are taken from her, reducing her from a lead character to a mere catalyst for Jordan’s emotional growth.

That disservice to Heer’s character — along with an awkward bridge between the final shot of the movie and the closing credits, made up of scenes of Jordan and Heer in happier times — left me with mixed feelings about the movie. It’s uneven (and too long, of course), but the solid performances, beautiful scenery and intriguing story-telling mechanism make it worth a trip to the theater.

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