Tag Archives: Mahesh Bhatt

Movie Review: Mostly Sunny (2016)

mostlysunny2 Stars (out of 4)

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Watching the documentary Most Sunny, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what felt off about the film. Only later did I read that the documentary’s subject, actress Sunny Leone, has all but disowned the movie, refusing to attend its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016. I can’t say I blame her, because the film is a mess.

During her interview segments, Sunny comes across as warm, funny, and smart. She’s candid about not just her history in the adult film industry but about money as well, celebrating the $100,000 signing bonus she demanded to appear on the Indian reality show Bigg Boss in 2008 as a life-changing sum.

Her killer curves and salacious past distract from her most admirable quality: her business acumen. With the help of her husband and business partner, Daniel Weber, she parlayed a lucrative career in porn into a production company and eventually success in mainstream Indian movies. Sunny herself says, “One thing I was good at was turning a quarter into a dollar.”

It’s difficult to tell Sunny’s story chronologically because her extended family cut ties with her when she became Penthouse “Pet of the Year” in 2003. No one from the Sikh community in her hometown of Sarnia, Ontario — where she was raised as Karenjit Kaur Vohra — would agree to talk about her on camera. Her parents died several years ago, so the only relative to speak on her behalf is her younger brother, Sunny (whose name she stole in a panic to invent a stage name). Even though the siblings maintain a close relationship, they never appear together in the documentary.

There are hardly any interviews with people who’ve worked with Sunny in India either. Director Mahesh Bhatt says some kind words about her potential, as does the CEO of the channel that airs Bigg Boss. Sunny’s Ek Paheli Leela costar Rajneesh Duggal mentions that other actors turned down his role before him because they didn’t want to work opposite Sunny, but he doesn’t mention what it’s like to actually work with her. Sunny’s costumer and close confidant Hitesh isn’t comfortable talking on camera.

Sunny Leone’s story is about her fame and acceptance in sexually conservative India following a career in porn, but filmmaker Dilip Mehta is hung up on Sunny’s racy past. Topless shots of the actress scroll across the screen multiple times, a choice that does nothing to inform the audience about the woman herself but to capitalize on a career she acknowledges but has left behind.

Mehta makes a bizarre choice during a segment about Sunny’s adult film production house, SunLust Pictures, where she directs movies but doesn’t appear in the them. There is a shot of a movie in production featuring a full-on sex scene between a man and a woman, their genitals blurred as they engage in intercourse. What is the narrative purpose of this shot? If the point is to titillate, why bother blurring the genitals? It’s not like we can’t tell what’s happening. Mostly Sunny has no MPAA rating, but this scene alone makes otherwise PG-13 content into a hard R.

The topless shots and the sex scene ensure that any people still reluctant to embrace Sunny will never watch the movie. What is the point of Mostly Sunny if not to showcase her as an interesting, normal person? Who does Mehta think his audience is?

It’s hard to decipher Mehta’s objectives for this movie. Scene transitions frequently consist of footage of poor people shot from inside a moving car. Sunny herself isn’t in the car, so this isn’t meant to show what she sees on he way to work at a Mumbai movie studio. It neither reinforces nor juxtaposes with anything else we’re hearing and seeing. It’s just poverty porn.

The footage that runs behind the ending credits is likewise inexplicable. As patrons exit a movie theater following a film showing, they notice Mehta’s camera pointed at them and start dancing or mugging for the camera. What purpose does this serve?

As is often the case in her Bollywood movies, Sunny’s charisma transcends the mediocre quality of this film. That a documentary specifically about her lets her down is disappointing.

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Movie Review: Hamari Adhuri Kahani (2015)

HamariAdhuriKahani1 Star (out of 4)

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“He is so stupid.” In an otherwise quiet theater, one woman spoke for all of us as Emraan Hashmi’s character in Hamari Adhuri Kahani set out to do something moronic. This is not a good movie.

That’s not to say that Hamari Adhuri Kahani (“Our Incomplete Storyin English) isn’t fun, albeit unintentionally. The audience laughed heartily when Hashmi’s character’s mother said, in all seriousness, “Who is this wandering soul who feels like a kindred spirit?” More chuckles when a hotel owner asked, “Is this a business meeting or an insulting session?”

Hamari Adhuri Kahani is among the most earnest, corniest movies ever. It feels like it was written by a clever 15-year-old girl who isn’t as worldly-wise as she thinks she is. That it is actually written by a man in his mid-60s — Mahesh Bhatt — is a problem.

Vidya Balan plays Vasudha, a hotel florist and single mother of a 5-year-old son, Saanj. Her husband, Hari (Rajkummar Rao), ran off just after Saanj was born, yet Vasudha is regularly caught off guard by questions about her husband’s whereabouts. After five years, she doesn’t have a pat answer?

Her world is turned upside down when her exemplary customer service impresses hotelier Aarav (Hashmi). Aarav is a teen-girl-fantasy: a lonely rich guy who wants nothing more than to make all of Vasudha’s dreams come true. That he wants to do so primarily to make up for his own childhood as the impoverished son of a single mother who worked in a hotel just makes things weird.

Vasudha and Aarav are overly melodramatic about everything. He makes an entire plane full of passengers wait so that he can smell some flowers that remind him of her. She’s torn by the fact that she’s married, even though Hari is a cartoonish jerk who may be a terrorist.

As if emotional fireworks aren’t enough, there are actual fireworks. Also a hotel fire, bullets, and landmines. Essentially, Hamari Adhuri Kahani is a series of wordy, teary-eyed scenes with cheesy dialogue followed by explosions.

Since every scene is overwrought, it’s impossible to misunderstand what’s happening in the movie. Still, international audience members will miss out on the significance of many cultural and religious references. Vasudha’s marriage fulfills some sort of religious obligation, and though the particular religion isn’t named, it’s clear that she’s basically property transferred from her father to her husband. (I can’t verify if this is orthodox to the religion depicted, but director Mohit Suri’s point is explicit.)

Vasudha’s future plans are also questioned in cultural context: is she going to be like Sita in her marriage to Ram or like Radha in her relationship with Krishna? Again, I’m not overly familiar with either parable, but the meaning is apparent: does Vasudha want to be a devoted wife even at the expense of her own life (Sita-Ram), or does she want a more egalitarian kind of love (Radha-Krishna)?

The cultural and religious references are used to criticize the historically unequal treatment of women in India. One older woman says ruefully, “Even after they are dead, men still control a woman’s body.” The movie’s feminist sentiment feels hollow for a couple of reasons.

First, Vasudha is a dud. It’s hard to care about such a passive heroine. When she finally decides to take action, the action is to beg Hari to stop being such a jerk.

Second, Vasudha’s romance with Aarav is a relic of Bollywood stalker love stories. In a dramatic conversation in the middle of desert in front of an approaching sandstorm, Aarav uses as proof of Vasudha’s love for him…a piece of paper upon which he has written her name multiple times. Wait, what? How exactly do his schoolboy doodles prove that she loves him?

It doesn’t ultimately matter, since Vasudha eventually begs Aarav to teach her how to love again (more begging!). There’s not much Balan and Hashmi can do with such one-dimensional characters. Same for Rao, who just shows up periodically to be mean in different wigs.

The resolution to Aarav’s arc is telegraphed, yet it’s so cornball that it’s hard to believe that Suri will go through with it until it actually happens. When it does, it is sublimely ridiculous. Hamari Adhuri Kahani is stupid, yet I left the theater with a smile on my face.

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Movie Review: Aashiqui 2 (2013)

Aashiqui_23 Stars (out of 4)

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Sibling producers Mukesh and Mahesh Bhaat are the main perpetrators of Bollywood’s tendency to call any new film a sequel in order to trade on the reputation of a previously successful film. I’m almost willing to forgive them in the case of Aashiqui 2: a focused, well-told story that deserves to be seen, even if it has nothing to do with the 1990 hit Aashiqui.

Aashiqui 2 jumps right into the downward spiral of rockstar Rahul (Aditya Roy Kapoor). Having squandered most of his fame by being an unreliable, quarrelsome drunk, Rahul is ready to quit the music biz. Unfortunately for stars like Rahul, they are industries themselves as much as they are artists. Rahul’s best friend and manager, Vivek (Shaad Randhawa), isn’t about to let Rahul walk out on the gigs he’s secured for his temperamental diva buddy, no matter how lowbrow they are compared to the stadiums Rahul once played.

After bailing on a gig after a fight with an audience member, drunk Rahul winds up in a hotel bar. He’s blown away when he hears one of his songs being sung by the young woman who fronts the hotel’s resident cover band. Convinced that he can turn the singer, Aarohi (Shraddha Kapoor), into a star, he gets her to return to Mumbai with him.

Rahul’s focus on Aarohi’s career at the expense of his own drives a wedge between him and Vivek, but Rahul’s hunch about Aarohi is right. She makes it big, and the couple falls in love. However, Rahul’s alcoholism prevents them from enjoying her success.

The straightforward plot allows a lot of time for character growth. A character as complicated and potentially loathsome as Rahul — a rich guy willing to throw away a life others would kill for — needs time to grow on the audience. He gets that time, and the audience is able to appreciate the overpowering hold that alcohol has on him.

After his grating performances in Action Replayy and Guzaarish, I was ready to write off Aditya Roy Kapoor as hopeless. I’m glad I didn’t, because he has turned into a fine actor. He humanizes Rahul, giving insight into the troubled artist’s ever-changing moods. Even as Aarohi’s success validates his instincts and pleases him emotionally, it reminds him that he used to be the one in the spotlight.

Shraddha Kapoor is at her best during the film’s many dramatic scenes, but she struggles during scenes of Aarohi’s success. Whenever she’s in front of an audience, Aarohi looks like she’d rather be anywhere else. Her reaction to autograph and interview requests is, “I’ll do it later.” I doubt that a performer as standoffish as Aarohi could achieve the kind of popularity she supposedly does.

The supporting cast is solid, especially Mahesh Thakur as the fatherly record producer Sehgal. As Aarohi contemplates abandoning her career to help Rahul dry out, Sehgal asks her, “If your love was his cure, then why hasn’t it worked yet?”

Since the movie is about a pair of singers, the soundtrack plays a prominent role in Aashiqui 2. While the songs are good, the soundtrack lacks variety. Virtually every song is a power ballad, including the one Rahul opens his concert with at the start of the film. (Who opens a show with a power ballad?)

During that same scene, it’s not clear why the guy in the audience who starts the fight has such a problem with Rahul, whom he claims ruined his life. The same guy shows up again later as a now-successful singer, still holding a grudge against Rahul. This subplot requires more explanation.

The few hiccups in Aashiqui 2 don’t derail the plot, and the focus stays on the characters, where it belongs. This is a smart film that knows just what it wants to be and delivers. I’m just sorry it didn’t get the wide U.S. theatrical opening it deserved.

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