Tag Archives: Mohit Suri

Movie Review: Ek Villain Returns (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Eight years after its release, Ek Villain finally got a sequel. Ek Villain Returns is a marked improvement over the original.

The sequel begins with a shocking attack at a party. A man disguised with a smiley-face mask tosses revelers about the apartment in search of his target: an up-and-coming singer named Aarvi (Tara Sutaria). She records the moment he finally finds her on her phone, pleading with him by name: “Gautam.” But is that really who’s behind the mask?

Flashing back six months, we learn that Gautam (Arjun Kapoor) is the spoiled son of a wealthy man. Gautam wants to win at all costs, and he sees boosting Aarvi’s career as a way to do so. Their unscrupulous partnership leads to a romance that fractures when Gautam betrays Aarvi.

The last person to speak with Aarvi before the party attack is a driver for a ride share service named Bhairav (John Abraham). Bhairav — who is also a part-time zookeeper at a zoo that clearly lacks professional accreditation — is questioned by the police and released, but of course there’s more to his story.

Bhairav gets his own six-month flashback to him stalking a woman named Rasika (Disha Patani) who works in clothing store. She works on commission, so she’s happy enough to have a reliable customer, and they do form something of a friendship. Because he has no romantic or sexual experience, he thinks they’re in love.

Like its predecessor, Ek Villain Returns is about toxic masculinity. Whereas Ek Villain faltered by implying that there were things that women could have done to prevent being murdered by a misogynistic killer, Ek Villain Returns is clearer in affirming that women are autonomous beings who can make their own choices and need not be perfect. They also need not return the affection of any man who gives it to them, and that prioritizing men’s feelings over women’s is unfair and dangerous.

By establishing all of the characters as flawed, those who are capable of growing are given space to do so. Gautam and Aarvi are arrogant and unethical, but not beyond redemption. Rasika is a bit flippant, but she’s seen mostly through the lens of Bhairav’s perception of her — and it’s hard to trust that his perception of her is accurate, since he wants something from her. One of Bhairav’s problems is that he’s only interested in one side of a given story, and he assumes the worst of every woman he encounters.

Here’s the thing about Bhairav: if you’re going to have a character who can’t get a date despite having the face and body of John Abraham, he’s got to be much more socially awkward or creepy than the movie makes him out to be. (Also, there’s a nineteen-year age difference between Abraham and Patani. Ew.)

The issues with Bhairav are mostly a case of filmmaker Mohit Suri wanting to have his cake and eat it, too. He needs Bhairav to be a dangerous incel, but he wants steamy scenes between Abraham and Patani as well. We get the steamy scenes at the expense of Bhairav being as weird as he should’ve been.

That said, all of the actors understand what’s being asked of them and get the job done. Patani and Abraham are sexy. Kapoor and Sutaria have a more playful romance and share a great rapport. This is a couple I’d like to see paired up again in the future.

Overall, Ek Villain Returns knows what kind of movie it wants to be and gets things mostly right. And it represents a big step up from the film that spawned it.

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Movie Review: Half Girlfriend (2017)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Half Girlfriend is a tiresome retread of a familiar Bollywood setup. The world within the film exists for the manipulation and satisfaction of the male lead character, regardless of the toll it takes on the woman he pursues.

Just as in another problematic movie from earlier in 2017 — Badrinath Ki DulhaniaHalf Girlfriend tries to justify its outdated formula by having its main character hail from a state with a bad reputation regarding gender equality. Half Girlfriend‘s Madhav (Arjun Kapoor) is from Bihar, a state that borders Badrinath’s Uttar Pradesh. Neither movie is interested in actually addressing the causes or consequences of inequality in either state, just in appropriating a regressive mindset so that the female lead can be treated as a prop rather than a real person.

Lest we dismiss Madhav as some uneducated hick, the story — based on a book by Chetan Bhagat and adapted for the screen by Tushar Hiranandani and Ishita Moitra — emphasizes that he’s the son of a royal family. He lives in a mansion with his mother (played by Seema Biswas), who runs a school in their small town.

Yet, Madhav is so privileged and insulated that only after he graduates with a degree in sociology from St. Stephens College in Delhi does he ask his mother, “Why don’t any girls attend our school?” How did he not notice that earlier?!

As with so many Bollywood heroes before him, it’s Madhav’s job to bend the universe to his will. That primarily takes the form of him forcing everyone to engage with him in Hindi, even though instruction at St. Stephens is conducted exclusively in English. No matter how high the stakes, Madhav steadfastly refuses to apply himself enough to become proficient in English. The movie rewards him at every turn by having English speakers claim to have understood Madhav’s “heart,” if not his words.

Then there’s Riya (Shraddha Kapoor), with whom Madhav is smitten on first sight. “Such a beautiful girl plays basketball?” he wonders, insultingly. He’s apparently never heard of hoops legend/fashion model Lisa Leslie, which is surprising since Madhav’s a b-ball nut and a big fan of “Steven Curry.”

The basketball in Half Girlfriend is absolutely terrible, by the way. The camera only shoots the actors from the shoulders up since apparently neither of them learned how to dribble for their roles as college athletes. (Frankly, their entire performances in Half Girlfriend lack commitment.) Also, a scene in which Madhav wildly airballs dozens of attempted half-court shots is unbelievable. That’s a shot serious basketball players practice for fun from an early age.

Once Madhav decides that he wants beautiful, popular Riya for his own, he follows her everywhere, memorizing every detail she posts on Facebook. They strike up a friendship on the court, but she’s clearly not interested in him romantically. She pulls her hand away whenever he tries to touch it. Well, she tries to, but Madhav literally won’t let her go.

Madhav’s roommate Shailesh (Vikrant Massey) — who is otherwise the voice of reason in the film — says that the only way to know Riya’s feelings for sure is to “get her in the room.” In case that didn’t sound rapey enough, Madhav locks the door once Riya is inside. When Riya resists Madhav’s attempted seduction (the author writes euphemistically), he gets violent with her. Riya refuses to talk to him after that, triggering a sad musical montage of Madhav screwing up in a basketball game because he’s too upset to concentrate. Boo hoo.

Madhav’s violence toward Riya renders a romance between them unsatisfactory. However, because we know the beats of the male-entitlement Bollywood romance storyline, we know that Riya won’t be able to rid herself of Madhav that easily.

Half Girlfriend is monstrously unfair to Riya. Every man in her life is abusive to her in some way.¬† While Madhav claims to love Riya, he refuses to accept a relationship with her on her terms; he wants to possess her. Rather than protecting Riya, the older women in her life insist that she tolerate the intolerable and put a man’s needs before her own. Riya is utterly alone. If told from her perspective, Half Girlfriend would be a horror movie.

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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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