Tag Archives: Madhur Bhandarkar

Movie Review: Heroine (2012)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Let me illustrate the failure of director Madhur Bhandarkar’s Heroine with an anecdote from the showing I attended. During a completely serious moment late in the film, Arjun Rampal’s character, Aryan, tells Kareena Kapoor’s Mahi tenderly, “You look beautiful.” The audience laughed.

Heroine is so overwrought and lacking in subtlety that it’s impossible to take seriously. Emotional switches are flipped on a dime, accompanied by dramatic musical cues that are unnecessary because Kapoor’s instantaneous turns from happy to sobbing, shaking fury make it impossible to misinterpret Bhandarkar’s intent.

Kapoor plays Mahi, a superstar actress whose position at the top of the Bollywood hierarchy is threatened by newcomers willing to bribe entertainment journalists with shopping vacations. Mahi’s personal life is on the fritz, too, as her married actor boyfriend, Aryan, dawdles on his way to divorce court.

The couple breaks up, Mahi abuses pills, goes through a PR makeover, dates an athlete (played by Randeep Hooda), and does an indie film to gain some acting chops. The indie film debacle results in a night of drunken lesbianism with a co-star (played by Shahana Goswami). Mahi cries a lot through the melodramatic course of her career, angrily smoking cigarette after cigarette, as if they are responsible for her personal and professional troubles.

Kapoor’s performance is all over the place. I don’t fault her, because I think it’s what Bhandarkar wanted. The problem is that, no matter what she does, Mahi is always wrong. Things always end badly for her. She’s a character with no control over her destiny. It’s hard to connect with a character in such a helpless position. The moral of the story seems to be, “Don’t become an actor.”

When not in emotional roller coaster mode, the film is too “inside baseball.” I’m interested in the film industry, and even I couldn’t care less about scenes in which Mahi discusses changes to the marketing budget with her production team.

The good elements of Heroine are limited to Goswami’s awesome cleavage and multiple shirtless shots of Hooda and Rampal. The dance number “Halkat Jawani” is entertaining, too.

There are two scenes from Heroine that will stick with me because I’m not sure how to explain them, both involving reading material. In one scene, a slimy co-star invites Mahi back to his hotel room, hoping to seduce her. Before she arrives, he places a James Patterson novel on a bedside table. What is this supposed to signify about him? “Hey, Mahi, I know nothing turns chicks on more than popular genre fiction.”

In another scene, an argument between Mahi and Aryan is observed with fiendish glee by up-and-coming actress pretending to be engrossed in an Archie comic. Why Archie? What’s the symbolism? What does it mean?!?!

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Movie Review: Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji (2011)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Watching Ajay Devgn’s terrific performance in Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji (“The Heart Is But a Child”) gave me insight into why I hated Rascals so much. Devgn is a great comic actor, and to see his talents squandered in something loud and stupid like Rascals is infuriating.

Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji (DTBHJ, henceforth) follows the exploits of three single guys. Neran (Devgn), in the midst of a divorce, moves into his parents’ old house. To help with the rent and to stave off loneliness, Neran places an ad for a couple of roommates. He gets a nerdy poet named Milind (Omi Vaidya) and a gigolo named Abhay (Emraan Hashmi).

Unlike other Bollywood movies featuring a trio of guys learning about love — such as Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Dil Chahta Hai — the relationships between the male characters are secondary. They get along fine, but they don’t know each other well enough for their friendship to ever be at stake.

What the guys do offer one another is differing views on love. Milind is so hopelessly optimistic that he falls for Gungun (Shraddha Das), a radio DJ who’s way out of league. He refuses to believe that she’s stringing him along for his money.

Cynical Abhay sets his sights on Anushka (Tisca Chopra), an older ex-model in need of a boy toy. He lets her shower him with gifts until a beautiful, young philanthropist named Nikki (Shruti Haasan) makes him consider settling down.

Both Abhay and Milind give their questionable advice to Neran, who’s nervous about reentering the dating scene. Neran finds himself drawn to June (Shazahn Padamsee), a 21-year-old intern at his office (he’s 38, which is middle-aged in Bollywood). He pursues her, failing to notice that she only calls him “Sir.”

DTBHJ, in an attempt to portray relationships realistically, avoids many of the shortcuts in logic other romantic comedies take. The women don’t fall for the men simply because the guys love them. Likewise, they don’t undergo radical personality changes to fit the needs of the plot. Part of the point is that Neran, Milind and Abhay aren’t seeing the women for who they are, but for who they’d like them to be.

Accordingly, it’s up to the men to change. Abhay is set up for the most dramatic transformation, but Neran’s is the most satisfying (though a little more backstory on why his marriage failed would’ve been nice). He has to come to terms with being a single dad on the verge of turning forty, before he can think about being someone’s husband again. Devgn’s deadpan facial expressions are the high points of the film.

The biggest disappointment is that Milind remains essentially unchanged throughout the movie. He’s also irritating, as is Gungun, who’s much nastier than she needs to be to drive home the point that she’s not interested in Milind.

DTBHJ falters in a few other areas as well. Jokes early on are punctuated with annoying “wacky” sound effects that mercifully diminish as the story progresses. Director Madhur Bhandarkar, as he did in Fashion, includes a gay character who is nothing more than a flamboyant, horny stereotype. It’s an unfortunate misstep in an otherwise enjoyable film.

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Retro Review: Jail (2009)

1 Star (out of 4)

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It’s natural to have sympathy for a person unjustly accused of a crime. Jail assumes that sympathy is all an audience requires in order to identify with the movie’s hero. That’s not the case.

Jail‘s protagonist is Parag (Neil Nitin Mukesh). Soon after celebrating a promotion with his flight attendant girlfriend, Mansi (Mugdha Godse), Parag is pulled over by the cops while driving with his roommate. The roommate pulls a gun on the cops and is shot while fleeing the scene. His backpack contains two kilos of cocaine.

The police assume that Parag is a part of the drug dealing operation and throw him in jail. A judge convicts Parag based on circumstantial evidence. When the comatose roommate dies, so do Parag’s hopes of having his name cleared.

Most people, if falsely accused of a serious crime, would protest their innocence vigorously. Not Parag. He sits at the police station stunned, occasionally stuttering about his confusion. He remains similarly silent throughout his imprisonment. Fellow inmates have one-sided conversations with him. Even a visit from his mother elicits only a mumbled, “Ma.”

Despite his silence, Parag’s fellow inmates sense that he’s a good guy who doesn’t belong in prison. How they can tell from his mute indifference, I’m not sure. Someone must have told them that they were in a movie and that he was the protagonist. Parag himself doesn’t do anything to encourage their friendship or respect.

On one of the rare occasions when Parag actually does something, there’s nothing heroic about his actions. A jerk named Joe buys his early release and brags about it on his way out of prison. Parag attacks him, not because Joe’s being cruel to the other inmates, but because Parag thinks he should be the one getting out instead of Joe.

At the end of the movie, the producers include a note about the thousands of people imprisoned without charges in Indian jails. Reflective of that stance, the prisoners in the movie are nicer than the guards, who are themselves admit to being hampered by bureaucracy. The blame for the system’s injustice is laid on zealous police investigators, lazy judges and greedy defense attorneys.

The conditions of the jail, if realistic, are disturbingly primitive. Dozens of prisoners share one large cell, sleeping on blankets on a dirt floor. There are semi-private toilets and a water trough for bathing and washing clothes. Critics who find American prisons too luxurious would be impressed. The stark setting illustrates how easily it would be to lose a share of one’s humanity in such a place.

But the movie’s success rests ultimately on Mukesh’s performance as Parag, who doesn’t grow throughout the film. It’s hard to get to know a character who’s so unresponsive. Apart from a few breakdowns, he never seems in danger of losing his humanity, in part because his fellow inmates won’t let him. Why they are so concerned with saving him, I’m not sure.