Tag Archives: Kunal Kapoor

Movie Review: Gold (2018)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Director Reema Kagti and screenwriter Rajesh Devraj took some liberties with Gold, their fictionalized account of India’s 1948 Olympic field hockey victory, changing the names of players and minor details while keeping the core of the story intact. Yet the story’s predetermined ending seems to have stumped the filmmakers, as almost every attempt to create tension in Gold feels forced and inorganic.

The events of Gold are told from the perspective of Tapan Das (Akshay Kumar), an assistant manager on the British Indian field hockey team that won gold at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. As the world’s most formidable hockey team for many years running, frustration builds among the team at being forced to share their glory with their British oppressors. But with the independence movement growing in strength, Tapan and the team’s captain, Shankar (Kunal Kapoor), hope to one day win the gold for India alone.

World War II cancels the Olympics in 1940 and again in 1944. This is addressed in a song montage that shows Tapan spiraling into despair and alcoholism, but it warranted further exploration. What was it like for those athletes who spent their prime competitive years on the sidelines, particularly those in countries far removed from the theater of war? We learn from Tapan that Shankar became a coach and that another player, Imtiaz Ali Shah (Vineet Kumar Singh), became a freedom fighter, but not how they felt about being unable to compete.

Gold’s greatest fault is that it is too focused on Akshay Kumar’s character. His emotional journey is the only one shown in any real depth, and events are shown exclusively from his perspective. It’s a stark contrast to 2007’s Chak De! India — another patriotic field hockey movie — which managed to establish about a dozen other memorable characters, in addition to a manager played by a superstar actor (in that case, Shah Rukh Khan).

When the war ends and a new Olympic games is announced for 1948 in England, Tapan rushes to assemble a team. With independence from Britain right around the corner, it’s the perfect opportunity to beat the Brits on their home soil. The sports commissioner Mr. Wadia gives his consent, with the provision that Tapan share managerial duties with Mr. Mehta (Atul Kale).

With the former superstar Shankar comfortably retired, Tapan enlists Imtiaz to serve as captain, bringing veteran leadership to a squad of young players with no international experience. Two hopeful new stars include a Punjabi policeman named Himmat (Sunny Kaushal) and Raghubhir Pratap Singh (Amit Sadh), a prince from a noble family.

Yet the plans Tapan and Imtiaz make in anticipation of independence are destroyed by the surprise implementation of Partition. Violence forces Imtiaz and several other Muslim players to flee with their families to the newly formed Pakistan, and the team’s British-Indian players head to Australia. Gold‘s best sequence is the heart-wrenching moment when Imtiaz decides to leave the nation whose independence he fought for, saying: “My country is different now.” His character’s particular struggles warrant a standalone movie.

Sadly, Gold heads downhill from here. The newly assembled team’s training is plagued by problems that promise to generate dramatic tension. Only that tension never really manifests — since the problems are all solved as quickly as they start. Mehta undermines Tapan, but Wadia immediately endorses Tapan’s approach. The team won’t work together, but then they learn to do so in a matter of minutes.

It’s a shame that Kagti and Devraj abandon politics at this point, since it could have been a good source of intra-team conflict, especially since the characters aren’t strictly based on any of the real-life team members. How do working class team members feel about playing with a prince, who seems unaffected by the fallout from Partition? Is Himmat worried about the violence in Punjab while he’s in training? How do any of the other dozen or so unnamed players feel about… well, anything? Instead, the climactic tension is created by one character needlessly withholding information from others — a silly shortcut, given all the potential sources of conflict available.

The acting is uniformly decent, with Singh giving the film’s standout performance. Shah and Kaushal are good as well. Kumar is fine, but the film’s uneven mix of drama and comedy keeps this from being one of his more memorable roles. Mouni Roy — who plays Tapan’s wife, Monobina — likewise suffers for having to perform comedy scenes that aren’t especially funny. Roy is seventeen years younger than Kumar, which makes one wonder why her young, attractive character would marry a much older, intermittently-employed drunk — a question that could have been avoided by casting an actress closer in age to Kumar.

Many of Gold‘s shortcomings could be forgiven if its hockey scenes were exciting, but they aren’t (the few that exist anyway). The Olympic scenes are also hampered by distracting CGI crowds in the background. Contrast that with the thrilling, beautifully-shot hockey scenes in Chak De! India, and Gold is strictly average.

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Movie Review: Dear Zindagi (2016)

dearzindagi3 Stars (out of 4)

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Dear Zindagi (“Dear Life“) is one of those movies that’s terrific through the climax, only to close with a denouement that undercuts much of the good that came before. Its unfortunate ending contradicts the primary life lessons learned by a young commitment-phobe over the course of the film.

Kaira (Alia Bhatt) is at that point where the biologically ingrained self-centeredness of the teens and early twenties must, by necessity, make way for a more empathetic means of interacting with the world. In short, she’s stuck.

Already an accomplished cinematographer with dozens of commercials and music videos to her credit, Kaira wants to finally shoot her own feature film. The perfect opportunity comes her way via a handsome producer, Raghu (Kunal Kapoor), with whom she’s been cheating on her handsome restaurateur boyfriend, Sid (Angad Bedi).

Raghu offers Kaira the chance to be the lead cinematographer on a film he’s producing in New York City. To address any awkwardness in advance, he warns Kaira that his ex-girlfriend is also working on the project. Kaira seizes on this minor complication as a reason to blow up her budding romance with Raghu and her chance to make the film.

When a new renting rule gets Kaira booted from her apartment, she has no choice but to embark on a visit to her parents’ house in Goa. Her relationship with her folks is icy at best, though only from her end. Mom offers to make Kaira’s favorite foods, and Dad happily boasts about her professional accomplishments. There has to be a reason for Kaira’s attitude, even if we don’t know what it is.

With time on her hands, Kaira takes the opportunity to explore her failed romantic relationships by meeting with an unconventional therapist, Jehangir “Jug” Khan (Shah Rukh Khan). He pushes her to consider why she’s so concerned about what other people think about her–and what, if anything, it has to do with her parents. To paraphrase Jug, Kaira is letting her past blackmail her present at the expense of her future.

Dear Zindagi deftly destigmatizes mental illness and therapy. Kaira is not conventionally “crazy,” but she repeats patterns of behavior that make her and those around her unhappy. She also lacks the conviction that her life choices are valid, regardless of what others say. Solving those problems is a lot easier with help, and the film depicts a recognizable version of cognitive behavioral therapy, flavored with a liberal dose of Shah Rukh Khan charisma.

Kaira is a refreshing character, the flip side of the more common cinematic man-child forced into adulthood by the love of a good woman. The whole point of Kaira’s journey is that she has to do it for herself, not for anyone else. Bhatt’s appeal makes her a wonderful choice for the role. She shines during a lengthy monologue in which she recounts the source of her enmity with her parents. Director Gauri Shinde wisely keeps Khan offscreen while Bhatt speaks, the camera alternating between Kaira in Jug’s office in the present day and flashbacks to her as a young girl. It’s a credit to the director’s faith in Bhatt as a lead performer that she doesn’t rely on Khan’s presence as a crutch.

Shinde — who also wrote the film — makes a couple of decisions that do a disservice to her complicated, intriguing protagonist. A small complaint is that, in addition to all of Kaira’s more interesting flaws, she is also clumsy. After Twilight, clumsy heroines are a bore. Sure, there are a few lines about Jug’s ability to repair broken things and broken people, but they didn’t need to be visualized so literally.

More problematic is an ending sequence that brings back Kaira’s ex-boyfriends for her moment of triumph. It’s mostly an act of fanservice to give the audience a last glimpse of Kapoor, Bedi, and Ali Zafar, who plays Kaira’s handsome Goa fling. Without getting into specifics, what transpires in this sequence undermines much of Kaira’s self-actualization.

Challenging female characters are a rare breed in film, and Shinde wrote a really good one. That’s why it’s so frustrating to be forced to ultimately view Kaira through a male lens, instead of being able to regard her as she is, unfiltered. Dear Zindagi is a step in the right direction, but it stumbles just before the finish line.

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Movie Review: Rang De Basanti (2006)

RangDeBasanti3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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It’s sort of depressing that the story of Rang De Basanti (“Color It Saffron“) still resonates nine years after its release. The movie’s calls for change remain largely unrealized, a testament to the power of the stagnation it rails against.

Rang De Basanti connects the present to the past through the efforts of a British documentary filmmaker, Sue McKinley (Alice Patten). She arrives in India hoping to film a recreation of the Indian independence movement of the 1920s-30s, inspired by the regret-filled diary entries of her grandfather, a jailer and torturer on behalf of the Empire.

Sue’s local contact, Sonia (Soha Ali Khan), introduces the filmmaker to her university friends, who reluctantly agree to participate in the project. Group leader DJ (Aamir Khan), sullen rich kid Karan (Siddharth), poet Aslam (Kunal Kapoor), and tag-along Sukhi (Sharman Joshi) slowly find themselves maturing as they inhabit the roles of their revolutionary forefathers.

Further change is thrust upon them when another pivotal role in the reenactment is filled by Laxman (Atul Kulkarni), a Hindu nationalist who has a particular problem with Muslims. His integration is uneasy, especially since his role requires him to work closely with Aslam, a Muslim.

When a tragedy hits close to home, the guys realize that the work of the independence movement won’t be complete until Indian democracy is transparent and devoid of corruption. They take matters into their own hands, adopting the violent methods of their forefathers.

Although Khan is the highest profile star in the cast, his role isn’t necessarily the most important. This is truly an ensemble picture, with every role fleshed out. Every member of the group — including Sonia — has a reason to participate in Sue’s project. They each require a kind of character growth best developed by delving into history.

Sepia-toned scenes from Sue’s documentary are woven into scenes from the present, showing the way that the lives of these contemporary young people parallel the lives of young people of the past. It’s a theme that resonates beyond the borders of India. Every democracy is founded on a struggle that modern citizens too often ignore, resulting in a failure to meet founding ideals. We can all do better.

It’s unfortunate that the poster for Rang De Basanti features only Khan, Siddharth, Kapoor, and Joshi, because every performance in the film is superb. Kulkarni portrays a difficult character with great empathy. Patten and Soha Ali Khan are resolute, their characters developing along with the young men. R. Madhavan is great in a supporting role as Sonia’s boyfriend.

Siddharth’s role is the meatiest, with Karan dropping his jaded act as the truth starts to torment him. Kapoor imbues Aslam with stoicism, and Joshi plays a great toady.

Even though it’s not a solo starring role, this is among Khan’s best performances. A highlight is a scene in which DJ confesses to Sue that he actually graduated from college five years ago, but fear of the future keeps him hanging around campus with his buddies. The scene serves the dual purpose of explaining why DJ looks so much older than the others. (Khan was already 41 when the film released, not that this would be his last time playing a college student).

Where Rang De Basanti falters is in its overuse of news footage in the final thirty minutes. It’s tricky, because the guys take drastic measures in order to inspire fellow citizens to action. But frequent shots of news broadcasts and opinion pieces slow down the narrative. Every random college student who vows to reform Indian democracy in a man-on-the-street interview distances the audience from the main characters. It interrupts the flow of emotions just when they should reach their peak.

That said, Rang De Basanti is a surefire tearjerker. It’s a sad reminder that no nation is as free or equal as it could be, but it’s an important message. The work may be hard, and it may be ongoing, but it is work worth doing, just as it was so long ago.

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Streaming Video News: May 31, 2013

The 2012 comedy Luv Shuv Teh Chicken Khurana is now available for streaming on Netflix. I wasn’t a fan of the movie’s disorganized story structure, but Kunal Kapoor and Huma Qureshi do a nice job as the romantic leads.

Movie Review: Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana (2012)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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A recipe is more than just a set of suggestions on how to cook a dish. It’s a series of rules that establish the very nature of the dish itself. Put your eggs on the griddle before you stir in the milk and flour, and you wind up with scrambled eggs, not pancakes.

Like a recipe, a movie has certain rules that need to be followed in a specific order. Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana (LSTCK, henceforth) doesn’t follow the rules, and, as a consequence, fails to create a satisfying end product.

Kunal Kapoor stars as Omi Khurana, a young man who fled his hometown in Punjab to make it big in London. After ten fruitless years, Omi owes a lot of money to a loan shark. Omi promises to get the loan shark’s money from his grandfather, the owner a popular restaurant in his hometown. Omi vows to return to London with the money and fulfill his dream, though the film doesn’t specify what that dream is.

Omi returns to find that much has changed in the decade since he left. His grandfather — creator of the restaurant’s namesake dish, Chicken Khurana, and the only one who knows the dish’s secret ingredient — has dementia. Without Grandpa in the kitchen, the restaurant failed. Omi’s only hope of getting the money to pay his debt is if he can recreate his grandfather’s famous dish and sell the recipe to the owner of a rival restaurant.

Further complicating Omi’s life is that the childhood sweetheart he left behind, Harman (Huma Qureshi), is now engaged to Omi’s cousin, Jeet (Rahul Bagga), though neither seems happy about it.

The performances in LSTCK are strong overall. The characters are portrayed realistically and not as outrageous caricatures, even when they are supposed to be sort of goofy, like Omi’s crazy Uncle Titu (Rajesh Sharma). The Khurana family is a sympathetic bunch, particularly Jeet, who’s clearly troubled by something.

LSTCK also has great music that’s used expertly. It enhances the experience, augmenting the emotions on display. I wish the lyrics were subtitled, but I understood the songs’ messages even without knowing the words.

A failure to place plot points in proper narrative order undercuts the good aspects of LSTCK. For example, before the halfway point in the movie, the secret ingredient to Chicken Khurana is revealed to the audience in flashback. Omi, who isn’t privy to the information, spends most of the second half of the film failing in his attempts to recreate the dish. It’s frustrating and tedious to watch, since it’s no longer a mystery to the audience.

The other big narrative problem is that the inevitable happy ending actually precedes the climactic showdown with the villain. And when the loan shark finally does show up, Omi doesn’t even resolve the problem himself. It’s not enough that Omi gets his happy ending. He should have to earn it.

Links

  • Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana at Wikipedia
  • Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana at IMDb

Movie Review: Lamhaa (2010)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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I should start by noting that, in the case of this review, the star rating above is likely instructive only to my fellow Americans and other Westerners who have an average or below-average understanding of the ongoing dispute over Kashmir. To fully appreciate Lamhaa (“Moment”), one needs a familiarity with the history, geography and politics of Kashmir that I (and I suspect most Americans) don’t have.

While I got the gist of the movie and enjoyed many of the performances, I came away uncertain of the motivations of various factions and what their relationships to one another are. Since I can’t be sure how much of the fault for the misunderstanding lies with the filmmaker and how much lies with me, I can only half-heartedly recommend Lamhaa to American filmgoers.

The plot concerns the return of an Indian Army officer, Vikram (Sanjay Dutt), to Kashmir, where he served during deadly riots that engulfed the region in 1989. Various separatist groups are working with politicians and industrialists to inflame public passion for autonomous self-rule and spur another round of riots twenty years later. To what end, I’m not sure, though it’s clear that money and power are at stake.

When Vikram arrives on the scene, he’s shown in slow-motion tossing his backpack over his shoulder and striding purposefully toward the camera. It’s the tough-guy-fantasy version of a beautiful blonde swinging her long hair over her shoulder in slow-mo. Besides the silly slow-mo, the cinematography is quite good, with quick zooms and a hand-held feel akin to the Syfy series Battlestar Galactica.

In trying to uncover plans for the renewed uprising, Vikram assumes the identity “Gul.” He meets Aziza (Bipasha Basu), the hot-tempered daughter of a local politician, Haji (Anupam Kher). Haji adopted Aziza after her own politician father was assassinated, raising her to lead a female gang of thugs known as the Fatima Squad.

Vikram saves Aziza’s life, and she gradually begins to trust him. When her childhood sweetheart, Aatif (Kunal Kapoor), pledges to run for office without using Haji’s violent tactics, Aziza begins to realize just how dangerous Haji is. She and Vikram work to uncover exactly what Haji has secretly been planning.

The actual unfolding of events is much more muddled than my recap. There are insurgent groups training child soldiers; industrialists doing business with the governments of India and Pakistan as well as the insurgents; “half-widows” trying to learn the fates of husbands arrested years ago by the Indian army.

Elements like the half-widows seem inserted into the movie just for the sake of providing a complete picture of the problems in Kashmir. They do little to advance the plot. The song montages are similarly needless time-fillers. A montage of Dutt’s character playing with little kids is particularly awkward.

What makes Lamhaa truly confusing are the frequent changes in location throughout Kashmir, India and Pakistan. Each new location is labeled at the bottom of the screen, but the labels are covered up by English dialog subtitles. There are scenes of border crossings, but thanks to the subtitles covering the location names, I have no idea which borders were being crossed.

The final impression given by Lamhaa — and the one that I believe the director wanted to convey — is that Kashmir is a complex place controlled by people whose desire for power and wealth overrides the needs of citizens with serious problems. I only wish a true understanding of the movie didn’t require the use of a map and some Venn diagrams.

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Opening July 16: Lamhaa

One new Hindi movie opens in the Chicago area the weekend beginning July 16, 2010. Lamhaa stars Sanjay Dutt as a soldier in Kashmir and costars Bipasha Basu, Kunal Kapoor and Anupam Kher. Lamhaa opens on Friday at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles.

Two Bollywood romantic comedies are also carrying over in area theaters. Milenge Milenge continues its run at the Golf Glen 5 and AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, while I Hate Luv Storys gets a third week at the South Barrington 30 and AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago.

Other Indian movies showing around Chicago include the Telugu films Em Pillo Em Pillado, Sneha Geetham and Subhupradam, all at the Golf Glen 5.