Tag Archives: Kunaal Roy Kapur

Movie Review: Azhar (2016)

Azhar_Hindi_poster1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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A film about the scandal-plagued life of a former Indian cricket captain deserves a grand scale, but Azhar feels like a made-for-TV movie.

I can’t testify to the accuracy of Azhar‘s story, as I know nothing about Mohammad Azharuddin. I never saw him play a minute of cricket, which puts me in the same boat as almost every Indian under the age of twenty.

That said, Azhar requires no foreknowledge, since all the dialogue is on the nose. Here’s how the cricket chairman drops the bombshell on Azhar (Emraan Hashmi) the night before the captain’s hundredth appearance for the national team: “Azhar, I have some bad news for you. You have been accused of match fixing.”

In case the dialogue isn’t direct enough, the actors go out of their way to make things extra clear. When Azhar decides to fight the cricket association’s lifetime ban in court, the prosecutor, Meera (Lara Dutta), tries to question M.K. Sharma (Rajesh Sharma), the bookie accused of bribery. She tells Sharma that she wants dirt on Azhar, causing Sharma to make an exaggerated gulping noise, leap out of his chair, and whip his head over each shoulder to see if anyone is behind him.

During the course of the eight-year-long court case, we get flashbacks to Azhar’s earlier life, including his relationship with his grandfather, his marriage to Naureen (Prachi Desai), and his affair with Sangeeta (Nargis Fakhri). The romantic plotlines make Azhar seem like a jerk, in which case he’d better be a helluva cricket player.

This brings me to the movie’s single biggest failing: it makes cricket look totally boring. According to Azhar, cricket is just a sequence of slow-rolling ground balls, with a few balls occasionally bopped into the stands. There’s no tension or excitement whatsoever.

Director Tony D’Souza uses so many tight shots during the cricket scenes that it’s impossible to tell what a match actually looks like. The entire frame is filled by a ball skittering past an outstretched hand or a ball plucked out of mid-air by another hand. Did the fielder have to run to catch it? How high did he jump? Where were the other fielders in relation to the play? D’Souza’s direction offers no clues.

The director applies this same framing to Azhar, so we never get a sense of how good a player he is. Hashmi spends most of his time on the field standing with his hands on his hips. Never has an actor playing a star athlete seemed so non-athletic.

Another problem with the main character is that he looks exactly the same throughout, whether Azhar is supposed to be twenty or almost fifty. It’s impossible to tell by looking at Hashmi when any given scene is taking place.

This is not one of Hashmi’s best performances, but it seems as though he’s doing what’s asked of him. D’Souza’s style doesn’t allow for subtlety. Periodic reverb on the dialogue recording further distracts from the film’s performances.

Neither Desai nor Fakhri have much to do, though Desai proves herself the better of the two at crying. Kunaal Roy Kapur is proficient in the thankless role of Azhar’s lawyer. Dutta’s no-nonsense performance is the best in the film.

There are a lot of people in the world who never witnessed Mohammad Azharuddin at his peak. We don’t know him. Azhar doesn’t give us a compelling reason to care.

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Movie Review: Loins of Punjab Presents (2007)

LoinsOfPunjabPresents3 Stars (out of 4)

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Through the medium of an absurd local singing competition, Loins of Punjab Presents offers insight into the desi experience in America, as well as plenty of laughs.

This English-language comedy follows the contestants and crew of the first “Desi Idol,” a Bollywood singing contest in New Jersey. The $25,000 cash prize is supplied by Loins of Punjab, the Northeast’s preeminent purveyor of pork loins.

Contestants include a nerdy financial analyst named Vikram (Manish Acharya, who wrote and directed the film); angry rapper Turbanotorious B.D.G (Ajay Naidu); and Sania Rehman (Seema Rahmani), an actress belatedly embracing her Indian roots in the hopes of finding more career opportunities in Mumbai.

There’s also 17-year-old Preeti Patel (Ishita Sharma) and her pushy family. Her parents — dad Sanjeev (Darshan Jariwala) and mom Alpa (Loveleen Mishra) — indulge their daughter’s singing “hobby” and are confused when a high school guidance counselor suggests that Preeti study music in college. The Patel parents generously suggest that if Preeti doesn’t want to be a doctor, she can become an engineer instead.

One contestant is willing to use nefarious means to achieve victory. Socialite Rrita Kapoor (Shabana Azmi) needs the prize money so that she can donate it to charity and win her ongoing PR war with her nemesis: Bubbles Sabharwal.

Though some characters and subplots are more successful that others, there are a lot of gems in Loins of Punjab Presents. Azmi is delightfully villainous. Jariwala plays up his accent, scolding the hotel concierge — played by go-to Bollywood white guy Alexx O’Nell — to find the right reservation by checking the “asses,” when he means “s’s.”

Other performances of note include Jameel Khan as Mr. Bokade, the event’s sleazy promoter; Bokade’s straight man, Mr. White (Kunaal Roy Kapur in one of his first roles); and Rani Bansal, who’s sneakily good in a small role as the contest’s female MC.

Beyond the humor, there are some meaningful subplots, such as the relationship between a Jewish Indophile named Josh Cohen (Michael Raimondi) and his desi girlfriend, Opama (Ayesha Dharkar). She encourages him to participate, only to be confronted by hostility at the presence of a white man in an Indian singing competition.

Josh & Opama’s subplot dovetails with Sania’s to raise questions about national, ethnic, and cultural identity. How obligated are we to embrace our family’s cultural heritage when we have the option to adopt another? What does culture even mean in a country that prides itself on multiculturalism?

Acharya’s film nicely balances serious ideas with humor. It’s also amusing to watch seasoned performers like Azmi, Khan, and Jariwala act in something outside of Bollywood. Loins of Punjab Presents is a lot of fun.

Links

  • Loins of Punjab Presents at Wikipedia
  • Loins of Punjab Presents at IMDb

Movie Review: Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013)

YJHD2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Writer-director Ayan Mukerji’s debut movie, Wake Up Sid, was a nuanced coming-of-age film grounded in realism. While Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (“This Youth is Crazy”) is also a coming-of-age film, it plays out as a male fantasy in which selfishness is rewarded, and there are no consequences for bad behavior.

The regressive storyline that dominates the second half of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (YJHD, henceforth) is a disappointment, given how much the film has going for it. It’s packed with blockbuster-caliber dance numbers, gorgeous scenery, and a strong first half, anchored by Deepika Padukone. But all that can’t make up for the inattention paid to the film’s core relationships and the lack of development of the ostensible lead character, played by Ranbir Kapoor.

YJHD‘s story structure is confusing because, until the mid-point of the movie, Padukone’s character, Naina, is the lead character. She narrates an extended flashback of a mountain trek vacation eight years earlier, when she was eager to ditch her nerdy image and have an adventure before starting medical school. On the trip, she reunites with some high school classmates — Aditi (Kalki Koechlin), Avi (Aditya Roy Kapoor), and Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor) — and falls in love with Bunny. The trip ends, and the friends go their separate ways.

When the action returns to the present day, Naina’s lead status ends with her mailing invitations to Aditi’s wedding. Bunny takes center stage when he accepts the invitation and returns to India after eight years abroad, having had minimal contact with his friends in the meantime (and apparently no contact with Naina whatsoever). The rest of the story is about Bunny finally realizing — at age 30 — that other people have feelings, too, and that perhaps he shouldn’t be so selfish.

There’s a great scene in Wake Up Sid in which slacker Sid (also played by Ranbir Kapoor) finally cleans the apartment he shares with Aisha (Konkona Sen Sharma), hoping to impress her. Instead, she chides him for expecting praise for something he should’ve been doing all along.

In YJHD, however, when Bunny admits that perhaps he should’ve called home more often — instead of ignoring his family and friends while enjoying his globetrotting lifestyle — Aditi, Avi, and Naina all but throw him a parade. Bunny’s stepmother assures him that it’s okay that he missed his father’s funeral, since all his father ever wanted was for Bunny to follow his dreams. As charming as Bunny is supposed to be, it’s hard to accept that there are no consequences for him spending thirty years as a self-interested jerk.

In contrast to Bunny’s virtual lack of moral development, Naina undertakes some serious soul-searching. On the trek, Naina forces herself to take risks, if only to confirm that she really is a homebody at heart, and that that’s okay. When she confesses to Bunny that socializing is more difficult for a nerd like her than it is for a popular guy like him, he responds, in essence, “Why? You’re fine the way you are.” It’s meant to be reassuring, but it speaks to the fact that Bunny can’t empathize with her feelings of social isolation.

During their eight years apart, Naina finishes med school and apparently has no other romantic relationships. It’s as if she put her life on hold until Bunny decides that he wants to grow up. When he does, she accepts him without reservations. Naina must work to become a better person, but Bunny is written as though his value is inherent and obvious. He just has to say the magic word, and he becomes a prize worth having. It’s lazy writing, and it’s a bit sexist.

YJHD also has trouble defining the friendships between the characters. The first half of the film is about Naina earning her spot as the fourth member of the group of pals, but she never interacts with all four of them together in the second half. When Aditi suggests to Avi and Bunny that they celebrate on the eve of her wedding, no one mentions including Naina. Naina gives a toast to her “best friend,” Aditi, but they have few scenes together where it’s just the two of them. Naina loses her status as a friend in the second half, reduced to the role of Bunny’s love interest.

The final shot of the film confirms Naina’s demotion from lead character in the first half to isolated love interest in the second. Naina and Bunny embrace, and the camera moves in to a closeup of Bunny’s beatific face, cropping Naina out of the frame entirely.

There are some really terrific dance numbers in YJHD — all in the first half of the film — including a show-stopping number featuring Madhuri Dixit. As talented an actor as Kapoor is, his performances in the dance numbers are where his star qualities really shine through. All of the four main actors do a nice job, and Kunaal Roy Kapur is funny as Aditi’s dorky fiance, Taran. The trekking scenes in Manali are lovely.

As one might ignore a lousy story for the sake of seeing the exciting stunts of a blockbuster action flick, it’s perfectly acceptable to see Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani for the entertaining dance numbers and beautiful scenery alone. The film’s story is definitely not its selling point.

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Movie Review: Delhi Belly (2011)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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It seems as though the hallmark of American comedies for adults in recent years has been to include as many graphic bodily function gags as possible. It’s why I don’t generally see comedies in the theater: I’m likely to walk out when things get too disgusting.

Delhi Belly, India’s first mainstream foray into Western-style gross-out comedy, comes as a relief because the filmmakers realize that a little goes a long way. By emphasizing quality over volume when it comes to scatological humor, Delhi Belly showcases the genre at its best.

Freelance reporter Tashi (Imran Khan) lives in a filthy apartment with his two pals, photographer Nitin (Kunaal Roy Kapur) and cartoonist Arup (Vir Das). Tashi’s gorgeous but ditzy girlfriend, Sonia (Shenaz Treasurywala), takes a package from a suspicious Russian man in the airport where she works as a flight attendant. Without realizing that the package is full of contraband, Sonia asks Tashi to deliver the package for her so that she can run errands.

Tashi hands the package off to Nitin, who promptly contracts a case of “Delhi belly” (diarrhea) from some unsanitary street food. Nitin asks Arup to deliver the package on his way to the doctor, who’s requested a stool sample from the ailing Nitin. You can guess what happens when Arup makes his deliveries.

Delhi Belly is not a typical Indian film, and not just because of its genre. The dialog is primarily in English, and the plot structure is also more like a Hollywood film. Bucking the standard formula for a two-hour-plus masala picture — split the story into two halves, separated by an intermission — Delhi Belly‘s plot has three acts that run continuously for 100 minutes, sans intermission.

What results from these breaks with Indian cinematic tradition? A damned funny movie. The writing is hilarious, and the dialog generates as many laughs as the physical gags and fart jokes do. Fair warning: even by much looser American ratings standards, this would be an R-rated film. Copious use of the f-word, violence, reference to sex acts and scatological humor make this adults-only fare.

Director Abhinay Deo — who failed to impress with his debut earlier this year, Game — shows a real flair for comedy. The story is well-paced, and Deo uses the camera deftly to exaggerate the ridiculous situations Tashi and his pals find themselves in. The movie’s two musical numbers are hysterical and fit seamlessly into the production.

There’s also an emphasis placed on the relationships between the main characters. The friendship between Tashi, Nitin and Arup never wavers. When Tashi and Nitin meet a hip, cynical fellow journalist named Menaka (Poorna Jagannathan), it’s clear that she fits in with the goofy trio much better than Sonia does. This is a group of misfits we want to see succeed, and great performances by the cast only enhance that desire.

If I had to sum Delhi Belly up in one word, it would be “satisfying.” It has everything I want in a comedy. As long as you can stomach the cuss-words and gross-out gags, this is about as good as it gets.

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