Tag Archives: Mahie Gill

Movie Review: Zanjeer (2013)

Zanjeer_poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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Movies about police officers who take the law into their own hands and beat the bad guys to a pulp are ubiquitous in Bollywood, thanks largely to the 1973 film Zanjeer (“Shackles”). While I haven’t seen the original Amitabh Bachchan film, I’ve seen plenty of variations on the same story in recent years, starring the likes of Salman Khan, Ajay Devgn, and Akshay Kumar. Given the ongoing popularity of the “supercop” sub-genre of action films, why would anyone risk remaking Zanjeer?

Director Apoorva Lakhia’s gamble doesn’t pay off. Perhaps fearing too much deviation from the original material, the remake of Zanjeer feels dated in its execution. The performances are corny, and the story structure doesn’t feel current. Lakhia would’ve been better off creating an entirely new movie, rather than being hamstrung by the old one.

Ram Charan makes his Hindi-film debut reprising Bachchan’s role as Vijay Khanna. Vijay is basically Batman: a boy whose parents are murdered in front of his eyes, who then grows up to be a vigilante. At one point in the film, Vijay’s girlfriend even wears a Batman t-shirt. The only difference is that Vijay is a maverick cop and not a masked superhero.

Vijay has such a reputation as a violent hothead that his interdepartmental transfer from Hyderabad to Mumbai merits cable news coverage (something that would never happen in real life). His first case in Mumbai involves investigating the murder of a man caught video-recording gasoline theft. The only witness is a beautiful Indian-American woman named Mala (Priyanka Chopra), in town for a friend’s wedding.

Mala is unbearably ditzy and annoying. Her role in the film is to be a lighthearted counterpoint to the always-serious Vijay, but she comes off as oblivious in the face of mortal danger from the organized crime unit that wants to kill her before she can testify. Chopra is a much better actress than this — as evidenced by her performances in Barfi! and 7 Khoon Maaf — so the blame rests on Lakhia’s shoulders for demanding such a grating performance from a talented actress.

In the course of his investigation, Vijay enlists the help of Sher Khan (Sanjay Dutt), a car thief whom Vijay pummels into renouncing his criminal ways. Vijay is similarly successful in recruiting the help of a journalist, Jay Dev (Atul Kulkarni), via threats and an absurd amount of swagger. No one writes lead characters this way anymore, so these scenes feel like out-of-touch throwbacks.

Then again, Charan seems unable to tone down his swagger, so maybe the scenes make sense. He doesn’t play a character so much as pose as one, as if no one told him they were telling a story and not just shooting the cover of the DVD. The fact that Vijay’s shirts are always unbuttoned halfway further serve to make him look more like a catalog model than a police officer. When Charan does act, it appears to require a lot of effort.

Dutt’s and Kulkarni’s roles are poorly integrated into the script, which is a shame. Their parts are eclipsed by Prakash Raj as the villain Teja, who chews scenery while dressed as a pimp. Raj is the best part of the movie, though a scene in which he and Mahie Gill spend thirty seconds meowing at one another is hard to take.

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Movie Review: Paan Singh Tomar (2010)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Paan Singh Tomar lived a fascinating life. A gifted athlete betrayed by his government, his story went largely unnoticed until thirty years after his death. But the movie made about him doesn’t quite do him justice.

The film opens in 1980 with a sort of framing device: a reporter seeks an interview with the legendary dacoit (“bandit”) Paan Singh Tomar. I say it’s only sort of a framing device because the action of the last thirty minutes of the film all takes place after the interview.

Paan Singh (as he’s referred to) explains that he’s not a bandit, but a rebel. He narrates his story to the reporter, starting in 1950 as a young army officer. Paan Singh (Irrfan Khan) angles for a spot on the national track and field team — an offshoot of the army — because the athletes get larger portions of food at mealtime than soldiers do.

Since TVs weren’t common household items at the time, Paan Singh’s athletic achievements go largely unnoticed outside the big cities. His wife doesn’t learn that he’s set a new record in the steeplechase until he tells her himself on one of his brief trips home to his small town.

Paan Singh leaves the army when a cousin, Bhanwar Singh (Jahangir Khan), attempts to seize all of the local farmland for himself. Paan Singh is offered the chance to move his family to safety and coach the national track and field team, but he elects to fight for his farm. He asks the local police for help, citing his service to the country in the army and in competitive athletics. The police have never heard of Paan Singh Tomar, but they know Bhanwar well, thanks to the generous bribes he pays them.

Unable to stop his cousin peacefully, Paan Singh and the other displaced farmers wage a guerrilla war against Bhanwar.

The events of Paan Singh Tomar’s life are certainly exciting enough to inspire a feature film. The problem is in the way the plot unfolds. It’s as though writer-director Tigmanshu Dhulia is ticking off boxes on a biographical checklist, rather than telling a story. Scenes are too brief, ending abruptly before moving on to the next too-brief scene.

In an effort to hit all of the biographical highlights, character development is minimized. Paan Singh’s wife, Indra (Mahie Gill), has little to do apart from submit to her husband’s groping on his brief visits home. I’d have thought she’d have a lot to say about his choice to spend his military career away from her and their children, only to spend the rest of his life running from the law. We never hear her side of the story.

There’s little time allowed to explore the motivations of the characters, and that includes those of Paan Singh himself. The nobility of his choice to fight for his family farm is tempered somewhat by the means by which he finances his guerrilla war. He and his gang kidnap people and use the ransom to buy weapons. But, even after the situation with Bhanwar is resolved, the kidnappings continue. Why?

Was retaking his farmland for his family Paan Singh’s real goal? Was it simply revenge? Is he really a rebel or just a vigilante?

Even with his lack of character development, Khan gives a gripping performance as Paan Singh. As the movie progresses, it’s easy to get caught up in Khan’s charisma. It’s only after the movie ends that the questions of “Why?” come to the forefront. Paan Singh Tomar doesn’t offer enough answers.

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Movie Review: Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (2011)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (“Sir, Wife, and Gangster” literally, “The King, His Wife, and the Gangster” colloquially) is a romantic thriller full of passion and intrigue that entertains while falling just short of its potential.

Aditya (Jimmy Shergill) is the descendent of a noble family in northern India. As a sign of respect, everyone — including his wife — calls him Saheb (“sir”). But Saheb has a secret: he’s broke. He relies on handouts from his wealthy stepmother to pay for his army of thugs and his mistress, Mahua (Shreya Narayan).

A mafia don named Gainda Singh aims to usurp Saheb by murdering the nobleman’s thugs and undercutting Saheb on lucrative construction contracts. Gainda even arranges for a desperate young man named Babloo (Randeep Hooda) to spy on Saheb while serving as a fill-in chauffeur.

At Saheb’s compound, Babloo is warned about the dangers of the place by spunky Suman (Deepal Shaw), the daughter of Kanhaiya (Deepraj Rana), Saheb’s right-hand-man and head assassin. Saheb’s wife, Madhavi (Mahie Gill), is mentally ill and prone to fits. She’s also lonely and seduces Babloo, placing him in peril.

Madhavi identifies Babloo as an opportunist, though he bristles at the label. His actions drive the plot forward, as his allegiance switches between Gainda, Saheb, and Madhavi. All this happens under the noses of Saheb and Gainda, who are absorbed in their own power struggle. Screenwriters Sanjay Chauhan and Tigmanshu Dhulia (also the movie’s producer and director) do an impressive job keeping many different balls in the air.

While the machinations of the characters are varied and entertaining enough to sustain interest, the characters themselves aren’t as fully developed as they could have been. Madhavi is particularly problematic. She’s introduced in a kind of manic state, prone to wild outbursts. Those outbursts disappear almost entirely once she begins her affair with Babloo. Whether he has some kind of calming influence on her or they disappear as part of some sort of manic-depressive cycle is unclear.

Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster eventually hints that perhaps Madhavi’s erratic persona is an act, but nothing that comes before supports such an abrupt change. If she is genuinely as disturbed as she appears to be, she would not be able to turn it off when a better opportunity presents itself.

Suman is underused in what could have been a pivotal role. Apart from her initial warnings to Babloo, she has little to do until Saheb suggests that she and Babloo get married. Even then, the idea is scuttled by Babloo’s reaction, which essentially amounts to, “Eww. Gross.”

The film could’ve amped up the tension had there been real romantic chemistry between Babloo and Suman. How would she have reacted if he pushed her aside to pursue an affair with Madhavi? Would she have protected him from her father’s suspicion? Ratted on him to Saheb? Sought revenge in other ways?

On the whole, the film has an entertaining amount of intrigue but doesn’t go far enough to be a great thriller. Perhaps Dhulia will push the envelope in his upcoming sequel to Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster.

Links

  • Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster at Wikipedia
  • Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster at IMDb