Tag Archives: Madhuri Dixit

Movie Review: Kalank (2019)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Kalank (“Stigma“) is a middling extravaganza, neither as good nor as bad as it could have been. Lavish sets, impressive dance numbers, and a gorgeous cast make it an enjoyable enough one-time watch, so long as you keep your attention at surface level.

Set just before Partition, the story follows Roop (Alia Bhatt), a young woman forced to integrate into a wealthy Hindu family living near Muslim-majority Lahore under unusual circumstances. Her acquaintance Satya (Sonakshi Sinha) proposes a business arrangement: in exchange for funding dowries for Roop’s younger sisters, Roop will move in to Satya’s home and grow closer to Satya’s husband, Dev (Aditya Roy Kapur). Satya is dying from cancer, and she hopes Dev will marry Roop after Satya’s death. Roop insists that she’ll only enter the home as Dev’s co-wife — a prudent move since Satya otherwise wouldn’t be around to make sure her wishes are carried out after death.

The second marriage proceeds and Roop moves into the Chaudhry family mansion with Satya, Dev, and Dev’s stiff father, Balraj (Sanjay Dutt). It would have been interesting to watch Roop and Satya negotiate their evolving roles in the household (as Bhatt’s character Sehmat did in Raazi) and learn more about nature of their tense preexisting relationship, but filmmaker Abhishek Varman sidelines Satya. Her illness progresses off-screen, and she and Roop have few interactions after their initial one. It’s unfortunate how small Sinha’s role in Kalank is given her prominence in the film’s marketing and the quality of her performance in her few scenes.

Dev tells Roop that he agreed to the marriage to make Satya happy, and that while he will never be mean to Roop, neither he will ever love her. Perhaps it’s because of the limitations of Dev’s nature, but Kapur’s one-note performance in the role is not one of his best.

In order to escape her stifling home life, Roop undertakes vocal music tuition from the famed courtesan Bahaar Begum (Madhuri Dixit) in a working-class Muslim neighborhood. There Roop meets Gendry, er, Zafar (Varun Dhawan): a hunky blacksmith who’s the unacknowledged bastard son of — you guessed it — Roop’s father-in-law, Balraj. Zafar neglects to mention that to Roop so that he can use her to take revenge against the family that abandoned him.

Varman lays the melodrama on thick, with lots of longing looks, near-kisses, and simmering tensions between family members. It’s fun, if that’s the kind of story you’re in the mood for. The melodrama is enhanced by song numbers that are grand in scale and a delight to watch, especially when Madhuri Dixit takes the floor. The sets have a depth of field, and every rooftop and alleyway is populated with extras. Some settings do feel over-the-top for their location. Bahaar Begum’s brothel is apparently so successful that she can afford to stack chandeliers atop one another, and Blacksmith Alley’s festival budget tops the production costs of most Bollywood films.

Then again, I don’t think authenticity was Varman’s goal with Kalank — especially not with Karan Johar financing the film. Everything is big and glamorous, regardless of whether it makes sense. I’m not sure if the costumes are true to the time period, but they look fabulous. The cast members — particularly Dixit, Sinha, and Bhatt — look stunning under Devdas cinematographer Binod Pradhan’s lens.

Kalank gets its worst bang for its buck on an awful CGI bull-riding sequence involving Zafar that includes maybe one shot of an actual bull. I’m not sure why this made the final cut of the film, except that they must have spent a lot of money on it.

Kalank‘s larger-than-life relationship drama is set within a complicated political environment. While Roop is falling in love with Zafar behind her husband’s back, neoliberal Dev uses his newspaper to promote the economic benefits of bringing a steel mill to Lahore — a move that would decimate the local, Muslim-run blacksmith industry. Dev — who is also anti-Partition — thinks he’s just seeing the big picture, envisioning an India made prosperous by innovation. Never mind that only his family’s prosperity is assured by such advances, at the expense of a struggling lower class.

Dev’s main antagonist is Zafar’s friend Abdul Khan (Kunal Khemu, who’s excellent in Kalank), a politician responding to his base’s growing discontent. His own politics become more religiously divisive over time in part because of the mood of the neighborhood but also due to Zafar’s aggrieved goading. There’s an inevitability to the violent climax, and Khan admits he couldn’t stop it if he wanted to (not that he wants to, by that point).

Kalank‘s epilogue — featuring Bhatt in a weird direct-to-camera speech — suggests that all this trouble could’ve been avoided if we just set aside our differences and chose to get along. But could it? The plot makes a compelling case for the Muslims in the film to favor Partition by whatever means necessary. Things were already tough — huge festival budgets and extravagant brothel chandeliers notwithstanding — and likely to get worse, all so that the (Hindu) rich can get richer and the (Muslim) poor poorer. I’m not saying this applies to actual history, but in the terms the movie sets for itself, the angry mob’s response makes sense.

That said, it stinks to see another mainstream film depict Muslims as violent, except for those noble enough to sacrifice themselves to save innocent Hindus. And it stinks that this is another movie that wants us to sympathize most with characters who are wealthy enough to escape difficult situations without regard for the mess they leave behind.

In order to enjoy Kalank, one must ignore the politics undergirding it and allow oneself to revel in the superficial beauty of it all. I was able to do that while I was in the theater. Only afterward did the film’s unfortunate aspects start to weigh on me.

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Opening April 17: Kalank

The Karan Johar-produced period drama Kalank hits Chicago area theaters on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. The stellar cast — which includes Madhuri Dixit, Sonakshi Sinha, Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Aditya Roy Kapur, and Sanjay Dutt — is directed by 2 States helmer Abhishek Varman.

Kalank opens Wednesday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, Century 12 Evanston in Evanston, Regal Round Lake Beach 18 in Round Lake Beach, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, AMC Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera 17 in Warrenville, AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville, Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 46 min.

MovieMax carries over Kesari and The Tashkent Files.

Other Indian and Pakistani movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend (all films have English subtitles):

Streaming Video News: October 16, 2015

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with one new addition to the catalog. 2014’s Gulaab Gang is now available for streaming. The movie is flawed, but Madhuri Dixit’s fight scenes are pretty darn cool.

For everything else new on Netflix, check out Instant Watcher.

Movie Review: Gulaab Gang (2014)

Gulaab_Gang2 Stars (out of 4)

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When international media outlets report of new horrors inflicted upon Indian women on a seemingly daily basis, there’s a need for inspiring films to provide relief. Gulaab Gang‘s tale of female empowerment has its heart in the right place but isn’t introspective enough to leave a lasting mark.

Inspired by the real-life Gulaabi Gang of activists in Uttar Pradesh, Gulaab Gang follows the exploits of a fictional gang of female vigilantes, lead by Rajjo (Madhuri Dixit). A sequence at the start of the film — inexplicably voiced-over by a man instead of a woman — explains that Rajjo turned to activism when she was denied an education as a girl. This is as much insight into any of the characters as the movie provides.

In addition to admonishing abusive husbands, the dozens of members of the Gulaab Gang fix problems in the village when corrupt bureaucrats or out-numbered policemen won’t. Landlord cut off your electricity? Boss won’t pay your wages? The Gulaab Gang will fix it!

The gang is also responsible for educating the youth of the village. Rajjo repeatedly states that she wants to build a school for the village, but doesn’t her compound already serve that purpose? It’s never made clear why a new school building is important enough that it can be used to blackmail Rajjo.

The movie fails to identify some of the key characters. Rajjo has two young lieutenants, and one of them — a woman with a nose ring played by Priyanka Bose — is never named, as far as I could tell. The other, Mahi (Divya Jagdale), is only named in the last thirty minutes of the film.

The last thirty minutes are relentlessly depressing for Rajjo and her crew. Rajjo’s arch-nemesis — a politician named Sumitra Devi (Juhi Chawla, whose smugness evokes Manoj Bajpayee in similar roles) — goes beyond trying to discredit Rajjo to advocating for the murder of the whole gang.

Gulaab Gang builds such an air of hopelessness in its final act that the resolution feels abrupt and inadequate. A dance number before the climactic battle doesn’t help.

Where the movie excels is in building a case that women can carry action movies. The fight sequences are more realistic than most Bollywood rural action flicks — no one flies twenty feet into the air after taking a punch — but are just as satisfying.

The best moment in the Soumik Sen-directed film involves a chilling act of violence committed by the gang against a rapist who’s gone for a swim. As they carry the man into his father’s house and deposit him on a couch, Mahi says with an exhausted air, “We had a hard time getting him out of the water.” The camera cuts to a floor-level shot of empty pant-legs dangling as a gang member sets a pair of sandals beneath them, where feet should be.

The problem with the violence in Gulaab Gang is that its implications are never fully explored. A reporter asks Rajjo why her gang often resorts to violence — admittedly as a second option after peaceful means fail — and Rajjo responds in essence, “Because it works.” There’s no reason why women can’t be as violent as men, but an examination of how the gang sees their actions as different would have been interesting.

Another tendency that deserves more attention is the gang’s habit — Sumitra Devi is even worse about this — of humiliating men, even when they can meet their goals without doing so. When in a position of power, the women are just as apt to target their opponent’s gender-specific weaknesses as the men are in the same position.

Gulaab Gang‘s story needed more nuance to be truly considered a game changer. Still, it’s nice to see a Bollywood action film that doesn’t center around the heroics of a one-man army for a change.

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Movie Review: Dedh Ishqiya (2014)

DedhIshqiya4 Stars (out of 4)

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There are times when the most appropriate review of a really good movie boils down to: “GO WATCH THIS MOVIE RIGHT NOW!” Dedh Ishqiya merits such praise.

Dedh Ishqiya combines many genres by being equal parts comedy, thriller, mystery, and romance, with a bit of action thrown in as well. The particular combination gives the movie its own unique flavor that builds on the tone of its predecessor, Ishqiya. Writer-director Abhishek Chaubey and his co-writer/producer, Vishal Bhardwaj, create a wonderful, distinct world for their two thieving protagonists: Khalu (Naseeruddin Shah) and his nephew, Babban (Arshad Warsi).

The events of the sequel pick up with the two crooks still in debt to Khalu’s brother-in-law, Mushtaq (Salman Shahid). The pair get separated during a jewel heist, until Babban discovers Khalu posing as a poet hoping to woo an aristocrat’s widow.

The lovely widow, Para (Madhuri Dixit-Nene), and her protective assistant, Muniya (Huma Qureshi), aim to find the widow a new husband via a poetry contest. Khalu’s main competitor is Jaan Mohammad (Vijay Raaz), a gangster desirous of a more respectable social position.

Khalu and Babban are great, dynamic characters. Babban’s lack of impulse control drives most of the laughs, while Khalu’s romantic nature causes problems in his professional life. Aspiring Romeos should study Shah’s performance for how to properly look like you’re in love with a woman. Stare at a woman the way Khalu stares at Para, and she’s yours.

Dixit-Nene and Qureshi get the meatier roles, both because their characters are new and because Khalu and Babban wear their hearts on their sleeves. The women are complex and intriguing, but not cagey. We want to know more, and they draw the audience in as easily as they do the thieves.

As mentioned above, Khalu and Para have wonderful chemistry. They both find themselves in a position to finally live for themselves, rather than on behalf of other people in their lives. At 46, Dixit-Nene would in reality be a very young widow, but she brings such grace and wisdom to the role that she gives the impression of being older than she looks.

The relationship between Babban and Muniya is more tumultuous and results in some entertaining gender-role reversals. Babban’s role as pursuer is short-lived, and Muniya quickly steers them into a physical relationship. Fearing that Muniya doesn’t share his romantic feelings, he worries that she thinks he’s nothing but a whore: an ironic twist, given his own fondness for prostitutes.

Raaz is perfectly sleazy as the wannabe aristocrat, though not so sinister as to detract from the movie’s humorous tone. Manoj Pahwa, who frequently plays broad comic characters, gets a more subdued role as a poet forced to aid the gangster. The payoff for Pahwa’s character is simply amazing.

Vishal Bhardwaj’s music is terrific, as always. The dilapidated mansion in which most of the story takes place is gorgeous. And we get to see Madhuri Dixit-Nene dance! There’s nothing not to love about Dedh Ishqiya.

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New Trailer: November 10, 2013

The first trailer for Dedh Ishqiya is out. The dialogue-heavy trailer doesn’t have subtitles, so non-Hindi speakers will miss out on much of the fun, but the film retains the look of its predecessor, Ishqiya. Given how much I liked the original and how much I like this cast, I’m really looking forward to Dedh Ishqiya‘s release on January 10, 2014.

(Proposal for a trilogy: Dead Ishqiya. Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi as zombie grifters.)

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: Aaja Nachle (2007)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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New York choreographer Dia (Madhuri Dixit) returns to India to rescue her hometown’s cultural heritage by staging a musical. The story is predictably heartwarming, as Dia’s determination gradually wins over the town that once shunned her, but the plot is just a pretext for Dixit’s superb dancing. Fans of dance-centric films like Strictly Ballroom or Footloose will be spellbound, especially by the epic musical performance the characters stage at the end of Aaja Nachle.

No Rating (violence); 145 minutes

This review originally appeared in The Naperville Sun on December 7, 2007