Tag Archives: Milan Luthria

Movie Review: Baadshaho (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

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Baadshaho (“Kings“) — the latest collaboration between director Milan Luthria and writer Rajat Arora — is a disaster. It’s like they forgot what story they were telling as the movie went on.

In Rajasthan in 1975, a slimy politician named Sanjeev (Priyanshu Chatterjee) uses the federally declared “state of emergency” as a pretext to loot the ancestral wealth of Rani Gitanjali (Ileana D’Cruz) in retaliation for her rebuffing his sexual advances years earlier. Sanjeev sends the army — led by an officer played by Denzil Smith — to retrieve a treasure trove of gold from Gitanjali’s estate, arresting her on pretext of hiding it from the government.

It’s worth noting for the sake of international viewers that the role and duties of royal families like Gitanjali’s isn’t explained, nor is the government’s claim over ancestral wealth. The details of the “state of emergency” aren’t explained either, so it’s not totally clear why the story had to be set in the 1970s. Then again, the costumes and sets are so generic that the only clue that the story isn’t set in modern times is that no one has cell phones.

From inside prison, Gitanjali reconnects with her former security guard and lover, Bhawani (Ajay Devgn), who takes seriously his vow to always protect her. She tasks him not with rescuing her from jail but with making sure that her fortune never makes it to Sanjeev in Delhi. Bhawani assembles a team that includes a safecracker named Tikla (Sanjay Mishra), a woman with an unknown debt to Gitanjali, Sanjana (Esha Gupta), and Dalia (Emraan Hashmi), whose contribution to the group is tacky temporary tattoos and repetitive stories. Bhawani and Dalia trade unfunny quips that perhaps didn’t survive the translation from Hindi to English.

The army’s plan is to drive the gold eight hours to Delhi in an armored truck that looks like a bank vault on wheels, with multiple combination locks right on the back door — a design that renders the plan’s covert nature moot. The supposedly high-tech truck — which can be “tracked by radio” — includes a bright red button that can be pushed in the event of an emergency, turning the truck into an impenetrable bunker for the span of six hours. Obviously, this button plays a huge part in the story, right? One of the thieves gets trapped inside and needs to be rescued or something? Nope. No one ever pushes the button.

Driving the truck is Officer Seher, played by buff Vidyut Jammwal. Jammwal’s character in Commando 2 was introduced with a closeup of the actor’s bicep. Upping the ante, Baadshaho introduces Seher in a train cabin wearing nothing but his underwear.

Because the plan is so straightforward — there’s literally one paved road in the region that can handle the weight of such a heavy truck — obstacles and subplots are manufactured in order to make the movie run longer than an hour. Seher waits four days before setting off for Delhi, conveniently giving the thieves time to plan. Sanjana is grossed out by Dalia one scene, only to fall in love with him in the next scene for no reason.

One of the main reasons to cast Jammwal is to take advantage of his athleticism and martial arts skills. All we get in Baadshaho is a chase scene in which Jammwal runs at about sixty-percent speed so as to not immediately overtake Hashmi. Fight scenes are poorly executed, with actors falling from punches thrown nowhere near them. Bad editing obscures the action, which is often just shots of the actors’ bodies blocking views of the fight. Jammwal’s performance is still the best thing about Baadshaho, but we don’t get to see enough of him doing his signature stunts.

Worst of all is the film’s ending. Without spoiling any specifics, the movie’s climactic fight suddenly stops. The survivors — now in an entirely different location — express relief that the fight is over. Credits roll. What happened to everyone else?! Who lives? Who dies? Is justice done, and for whom?

It’s not even just that things end suddenly. Luthria and Arora don’t bother to resolve the film’s inciting incidents. It’s as though they lost track of the plot threads and forgot who the bad guys are. Beyond being unsatisfying, it’s simply bizarre. Without any kind of meaningful conclusion, Baadshaho is a total waste.

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Movie Review: Once Upon Ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara! (2013)

Once_Upon_ay_Time_in_Mumbai_Dobaara!2 Stars (out of 4)

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2010’s Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai raised interesting questions about the necessity of violence in organized crime and the role police have in protecting civilians. Its sequel, Once Upon Ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara!, revisits the same characters and locations, but ignores moral quandaries in favor of glitzy romance. The sequel doesn’t live up to the quality of the original.

Once Upon Ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara! (OUATIMD, henceforth) picks up twelve years into the reign of the sadistic Mumbai don, Shoaib (Akshay Kumar). He falls in love with a naive, aspiring actress named Jasmine (Sonakshi Sinha), whose innocence softens the don’s heart. At the same time, Jasmine strikes up a romance with Shoaib’s loyal underling, Aslam (Imran Khan), who tells her he works as a tailor. Neither man knows that they love the same woman, but when possessive Shoaib discovers the truth, boy, is he angry.

The casting in OUATIMD presents a problem from the outset. In the original film, Shoaib is played by Emraan Hashmi, an expert at depicting volatile, unsavory characters. Kumar makes his money these days playing comic goofballs and fails to make Shoaib as menacing as he needs to be. I agree with critic Mihir Fadnavis, who states in his review of OUATIMD that Kumar “sounds like a drunk Yogi Bear.”

Kumar’s not solely at fault for failing to make Shoaib appropriately villainous. Director Milan Luthria and writer Rajat Arora assume that audience members vividly recall the first movie and will apply that foreknowledge to Shoaib 2.0. But the character presented in OUATIMD is a smug, lovesick dope for the majority of the movie. His table-flipping freak-out when Jasmine informs him that she finds him strictly Friend Zone material seems out of character, unless one recalls the ruthless Shoaib from the first movie.

Requisite familiarity with the first film comes up in another odd way in OUATIMD. Shoaib’s girlfriend in the first movie is a woman named Mumtaz. Her character returns in the second as Shoaib’s kept woman, living in a luxurious apartment, but never allowed outside by the jealous don. Her presence is awkward and unnecessary, although she does give a touching speech near the end of the film about personal freedom and the fact that true love can’t be bought.

Jasmine echoes the same sentiments as Mumtaz, and Sinha does a nice job portraying a woman’s fear in the face of a man’s relentless romantic pursuit. In fact, the final half-hour of the film is really entertaining. Unfortunately, it comes about an hour later than it should have, given the amount of romantic fluff that could’ve been excised without damaging the story.

Imran Khan’s performance grew on me through the course of the film, but I’m still not sure that he was the right actor to play Aslam. He just seems too nice to play a street-hardened thief. Khan may have seemed more natural in the role had the makeup and wardrobe departments not turned him into a cartoon character. It’s hard to look beyond Aslam’s mesh tank tops, fake sideburns, feathered hair, and guyliner to appreciate the character beneath.

With a little editing and more appropriate casting, OUATIMD could’ve been pretty good. As it stands, the sequel’s shortcomings serve to reinforce what a superior movie Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai is.

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Movie Review: Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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If organized crime is inevitable in a big city, which kind of crime syndicate is preferable: one large, powerful entity that operates without violence or several smaller gangs engaged in perpetual turf wars? Such is the question one police officer ponders in Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai.

Said police officer is Agnel Wilson (Randeep Hooda), the man responsible for investigating organized crime in Mumbai. When Wilson assumes his post in the mid-’70s, the criminal underworld is run by one man: Sultan Mirza (Ajay Devgan).

Sultan, who only needs one name, grew up an orphan on the streets of Mumbai. As his love for the city grew, he realized that Mumbai was being destroyed by gangs fighting over small portions of the smuggling business. As he rose to power, Sultan successfully divided the city among the biggest crime bosses, enabling them to conduct their illegal operations without harming innocent people. The gangsters — Sultan especially — quickly gain a more exulted reputation than either the government or the police.

Sultan’s Robin Hood-like reputation and his movie star girlfriend make him an appealing target for Officer Wilson. Little does Wilson know just how easy he had it with Sultan in charge. The climate begins to change with the rise of aspiring crime boss Shoaib Khan (Emraan Hashmi).

Shoaib’s background couldn’t be more different from Sultan’s. As a child, Shoaib turned to petty crime as a way to get a rise out of his police officer father. His father would discipline Shoaib by slapping him, further encouraging Shoaib to act out. He failed to develop a sense of empathy and embraced violence, adding a sinister edge to his dreams of surpassing Sultan.

Admiring Shoaib’s sense of courage, Sultan brings Shoaib into his inner circle. It’s a mistake that costs him and all of Mumbai dearly.

Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, despite its flashy ’70s gangster backdrop, is a character study. Director Milan Luthria takes the time to show how Sultan became so beloved and why he’s so different from Shoaib. When Sultan slaps Shoaib, the significance is clear.

Devgan is in his element. He radiates an aura of controlled power, imbuing Sultan with benevolence and the authority over life and death simultaneously. In a white suit and sporting a mustache, Devgan already looks like a time traveller from the seventies.

The film could be shorter, but quality performances drive the story along. The easiest scenes to remove would be the song-and-dance numbers. It seems as if every movie about gangsters has to have a scene at a club after the main character makes his first big score. Shoaib’s dance club debauchery montage is unnecessary.

The movie’s subtitles are its biggest problem. At some moments, they are so poorly translated as to be confusing (and they disappear in a key scene at the movie’s end). I’m still trying to make sense of: “Till a horse is not beautified, it looks like a donkey.”

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