Tag Archives: Movie Review

Movie Review: Laxmii (2020)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Laxmii on Hotstar

Is it possible for a film to be longer than its actual runtime? Laxmii sure feels like it is. Every time I paused the movie — which released directly on the streaming service Hotstar — I swear, there was always more time remaining than there was before.

Laxmii isn’t just boring, although it is painfully that. The more you watch, the more you realize how vapid it is. Plot elements and characters are plucked from a generic pool of comedy tropes and carelessly thrown together, with no attempt at continuity or resolution. Any social issues raised are examined with so little depth that the film offers no meaningful insight into them. One might forgive these flaws if Laxmii was funny, but it isn’t.

Akshay Kumar plays Asif, a debunker of superstitions. He stops a public demonstration against a suspected witch, exposing the fraudulent holy man conducting it. The woman on trial — who has a swollen lip and visible hand-prints on her face from a beating doled out by her husband — tells Asif, “You saved my marriage.” Ack. Laxmii is way, way too comfortable with violence against women, with this sequence being but one example of many.

Frequent violence against women also makes the film feel dated, as though it’s cobbled together from elements from movies from decades ago. Take Asif’s marriage to Rashmi (Kiara Advani). She’s introduced in one of the most tired ways: fretting that Asif forgot their wedding anniversary. Advani isn’t given much to work with in Laxmii, but her performance is not good. Neither is Kumar’s.

Asif and Rashmi are estranged from her family because her father Sachin (Rajesh Sharma) disapproves of Asif’s Muslim faith. Religious differences are irrelevant to the plot, but rather than write real conflict, writer-director Raghava Lawrence went with the default reason Bollywood movie parents disapprove of their child’s choice of spouse.

Let’s talk about Rashmi’s family. The logic that went into casting the actors makes no sense. The real age of the actor is in parentheses in the list below, followed by each actor’s role in Laxmii:

  • Akshay Kumar (53 years) — Rashmi’s husband, Asif
  • Ashwini Kalsekar (50 years) — Rashmi’s sister-in-law, Ashwini
  • Manu Rishi Chadha (49 years, 10 months) — Rashmi’s brother, Deepak
  • Rajesh Sharma (49 years, 1 month) — Rashmi’s father, Sachin
  • Ayesha Raza Mishra (43 years) — Rashmi’s mother, Ratna
  • Kiara Advani (28 years) — Rashmi

Somehow, Rashmi’s brother is played by an actor older than the actors playing his parents. Rashmi’s mother is younger than everyone except for Rashmi. And here’s the thing: everyone looks pretty much their real age (save for some “old lady” makeup for Rashmi’s mom). Besides the ick factor of Kumar romancing someone 25 years his junior, trying to pass Rishi Chadha off as young enough to be Sharma’s or Raza Mishra’s son is preposterous.

Asif and Rashmi head to her family’s house for her parents 25th wedding anniversary (*record scratch sound effect*) — hold on, Manu Rishi Chadha is supposed to be younger than 24 years old or younger?!? Rarely does a review warrant calling out the casting director, but what the heck is going on here, Parag Mehta?

Strange things start happening when Asif ignores advice and gets some kids to play cricket on a vacant lot that everyone insists is haunted — because it is. [Side note: one of those kids is Asif’s orphaned nephew Shaan, who disappears in the second half of the movie and is never mentioned again.] When Asif brings his cricket stumps into the house covered in blood and human tissue that no one acknowledges as such, he brings the spirit of the dead person with him. The ghost terrorizes Ratna and Ashwini, who do lots and lots and lots of screaming that is supposed to be funny but isn’t. They aren’t able to exorcise the spirit before it takes possession of Asif.

The spirit is that of a transgender woman named Laxmii (Sharad Kelkar), who loves fashion and beauty treatments. Watching Akshay Kumar sashay and wear bangles is not the height of comedy that director Lawrence thinks it is. Nor does the fact that Asif is supposed to be possessed by a woman at the time make the image of Akshay Kumar striking Ashwini Kalsekar any less troubling.

Flashbacks show how Laxmii met her untimely fate and explain why her spirit has been unable to move on. We also see her give a touching speech about how transgender people deserve the same love and opportunities as everyone else. That could have made the story feel progressive, had Lawrence not promptly followed it by reinforcing harmful superstitions about the supernatural abilities of transgender people.

Perhaps it’s too much to expect more from a movie that thought these cringeworthy lines from Asif were a fitting way to sum up its moral message: “Frankly there wasn’t much difference between Laxmii and me. I would eradicate the fear of ghosts in people. And Laxmii wanted to eradicate the ghost of inequality from society.” It’s so, so terrible.

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Movie Review: Khuda Haafiz (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Khuda Haafiz (“May God Be Your Protector“) is the next step in action star Vidyut Jammwal’s shift away from characters who are ready-made killing machines and toward roles that require him to give a more complicated emotional performance. Sure, he still breaks arms and lands plenty of punches, but carnage isn’t the main goal.

Instead of playing a commando, a cop, or a villain, this time Jammwal plays Sameer Chaudhary — the world’s buffest software engineer. The film opens in March, 2008, with a battered Sameer begging the Indian ambassador to the fictitious Middle Eastern country of Noman (which I constantly misread as “Boman,” as in “Boman Irani”) for help finding his missing wife. The ambassador says, “I need every detail. Start from the beginning.” Boy, does Sameer comply.

Flashback to the beginnings of Sameer’s romance with his wife Nargis (Shivaleeka Oberoi), which started a year earlier in India. The two were set up by their parents and fell deeply in love. After a few blissful months, the global recession hit, shuttering Sameer’s small business and putting Nargis out of a job at her call center.

With no work on the horizon, the two apply for jobs in Noman through a broker named Nadeem (Vipin Sharma). The film establishes the grim local economic situation and why moving to a foreign country for temporary employment seems worth the risk. Nargis’s work permit and travel documents arrive first. Nadeem assures Sameer that his documents will arrive in a few days and encourages Nargis to fly to Noman with a group of other women.

The following day, Sameer gets a panicked call from Nargis that she’s been kidnapped. The job she’d applied for had been a ruse, with Nadeem serving as the front for an international sex trafficking ring. Armed with only Nadeem’s dubious information, Sameer flies to Noman to rescue his wife.

It’s refreshing to see Jammwal mix things up and play a character who does not have a set of skills suited to this exact situation. His programming background gives him insight into how to get some information from a cell phone carrier, but that’s really the only advantage he has. He doesn’t even speak the local language — which winds up not being an issue because all the important people in Noman conveniently speak Hindi.

Most important of the people Sameer meets is a cab driver named Usman (Annu Kapoor). He sees Sameer’s distress and feels obligated to help as a matter of faith. Usman helps Sameer connect enough of the dots that the two actually find Nargis. A subsequent sequence in which Sameer has to let go of Nargis’ hand in order to save her is beautifully filmed to make it look as though she’s swallowed up by a sea of goons. Kudos to cinematographer Jitan Harmeet Singh for that wonderful shot.

During Sameer’s attempted rescue attempt, Jammwal does an excellent job performing Sameer as a guy who is not a professional stuntman. Sameer hesitates before jumping from dangerous heights, only doing so when he has no choice. He fights like it’s a matter of self-preservation, not like a guy who knows from the start that he’ll win. Nevertheless, the action scenes are entertaining as always.

Jammwal’s acting isn’t exactly subtle. Though, to be fair, Sameer is frequently panicked or angry. And when Khuda Haafiz is sad, it’s really sad. Jammwal’s performance is appropriately restrained in the film’s love song montages. Oberoi is competent in the few scenes she’s in. Kapoor is quite good, as are Shiv Panditt and Aahana Kumra, who play a pair of Nomani security agents who help Sameer find Nargis.

Overall, Khuda Haafiz is well-executed and accessible to a wide audience. It appeals to Jammwal’s core action fanbase while expanding its reach to include viewers who may want more plot than butt-kicking.

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Movie Review: Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare (2020)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare on Netflix

Anemic character development undercuts Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare‘s (“Dolly, Kitty, and Those Twinkling Stars“) ambitions to be a movie about something important. Many important things, really.

The film opens so abruptly that I thought I’d accidentally fast-forwarded through the film’s real opening scene. Within the first three minutes, Kaajal (Bhumi Pednekar) confesses to her cousin Dolly (Konkona Sen Sharma) that Dolly’s husband Amit (Aamir Bashir) hit on her. Dolly dismisses Kaajal’s claim, saying maybe it’s Kaajal who’s hot for Amit. Roll opening credits.

This major family conflict is set up before we’ve learned anything about the characters involved. We don’t know who they are, what their relationships were like before this, or what this means for them going forward.

Without giving us any reason to care about these characters, the story launches them into an escalating series of circumstances to which they must react. Kaajal moves out, but she can only find a bed in a charity boarding house for unwed mothers. There she befriends a Muslim party girl named Shazia (Kubbra Sait from Sacred Games) whose boyfriend’s brother leads a far right Hindu-nationalist gang. Kaajal gets a job as a phone sex operator for an online app — a job that grosses her out since she has zero romantic experience — where she’s given the nickname “Kitty.”

Meanwhile, Dolly is enduring workplace gender bias in order to earn a down payment for a newly built luxury apartment (even though it should be obvious to her that the builders are running some kind of racket). Her marriage with Amit is sexually unfulfilling, and she develops a crush on a cute delivery driver names Osman (Amol Parashar). Also, Dolly’s youngest son Pappu (Kalp Shah) is starting to assert a gender identity that is more feminine than masculine.

The movie presents Dolly and Kaajal with plenty of challenges, but it doesn’t establish a real narrative or explain how the characters need to grow before the story ends. Including as many social justice issues as possible — Kaajal is also threatened with sexual assault by strangers and acquaintances multiple times — takes precedence over plot and character development.

Kaajal is written as so naive and devoid of personality that she seems like she sprung into being just before the movie begins. We can see how Dolly has been shaped by her circumstances, but they seem to have mostly made her mean. She hits Kaajal more than once, and she beats Pappu so seriously after he tries to use the girls’ bathroom at school that it’s difficult to watch.

Sen Sharma and Pednekar give intriguing performances as always, as does Vikrant Massey as a client who uses Kitty’s app. The subplot between Dolly and Osman is compelling and enjoyable. There just wasn’t enough to the characters in Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare to truly connect with them

Links

  • Dolly Kity Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare at Wikipedia
  • Dolly Kity Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare at IMDb

Movie Review: Cargo (2019)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Cargo on Netflix

Some movies win you over on charm alone. That’s not the only thing that Cargo has going for it, but it’s more than enough to make this an endearing film.

Cargo is set in the year 2027, in an alternate timeline where a truce between demons and humans governs the world. As part of the truce, for the last seventy-five years, demons have handled humans’ transitions after death from a number of large spaceships orbiting Earth.

One of those ships is Pushpak 634-A, piloted by the demon Prahastha (Vikrant Massey). As one of the six original astronauts sent to space to handle Post Death Transition Services, Prahastha has been happily alone for seventy-five years. (Although they look like humans, demons age more slowly, apparently.) He’s not pleased when Ground Control sends him an assistant: an eager young astronaut named Yuvishka (Shweta Tripathi).

All demons have a magical ability, and Yuvishka’s is the ability to heal injuries. This is a particularly useful skill, since one of the steps in prepping dead humans for reincarnation is repairing injuries and ailments, and all of the equipment Prahastha has on-hand is outdated and falling apart. His main control center is a desk with a bunch of knobs, a printing calculator, and a CRT TV monitor.

The low-tech equipment that went into its design makes sense within the context of the story — the ship is almost eight decades old, after all — but it’s also a reminder that Cargo was made on a minimal budget. Props are used so thoughtfully that the film has a distinct, pleasing visual style. One may notice the absence of high-tech effects and CGI, but Cargo is so well designed that it never feels like it’s missing anything.

The staging and props evoke nostalgia for science fiction films and shows of the 20th century, which is appropriate since Cargo hews more closely to the tone of the original Star Trek series than to contemporary sci-fi. There’s nothing grim or dark about Cargo. It’s about the exploration of the human condition, not a battle against an existential threat. The focused story muses on life, death, and what comes after through the experiences of its two leads. Prahastha writes letters to a woman he used to love, but he never sends them. Yuvishka thought that becoming an astronaut would finally make her feel like she mattered.

Greeting and processing dead people as they arrive on the ship just reminds Prahastha and Yuvishka of what’s at stake, both for mortals with short lifespans but for themselves as well. Many of the dead ask if they can speak with a loved one for a final time. Others wonder what the point of their life really was. Prahstha and Yuvishka collect the belongings from each person, waiting until after they’ve moved on to launch those belongings into space. As the saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.”

Cargo‘s plot is tertiary to its atmosphere and characters, moving at an unhurried pace that allows the audience to get to know the crew of Pushpak 634-A and enjoy spending time with them. Massey and Tripathi work beautifully together and are so comfortable to be around. Writer-director Arati Kadav achieved something really special with her debut feature. Cargo didn’t overstay its welcome, but it also left me wanting more.

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Movie Review: Shakuntala Devi (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Shakuntala Devi on Amazon Prime

Director Anu Menon’s Shakuntala Devi — based on the life of the woman nicknamed “The Human Computer” — opens with a note: “Based on a true story as seen through the eyes of a daughter, Anupama Banerji.” Rather than organizing the narrative as a sequential depiction of the highlights of Shakuntala’s career, the most pertinent episodes of her life are woven into a story about the challenging relationships between mothers and daughters. Events in Shakuntala Devi jump between time periods and settings, the earliest being Shakuntala’s childhood in Bangalore in 1934 and the latest being London in 2001, when her daughter Anu threatened to file criminal charges against her over unfair business practices.

When Shakuntala was around five years old (played by Araina Nand), her family realized that she had a unique affinity for numbers, solving complicated equations entirely in her head despite having no education of any kind. (Scientists and Shakuntala herself were never able to fully explain how her arithmetic abilities worked.) Her father Bishaw (Prakash Belawadi) made little Shakuntala the poor family’s breadwinner, putting his pig-tailed daughter onstage to solve math problems submitted by audience members. Local shows around Bangalore turned into performances elsewhere in India, before Shakuntala finally moved to London on her own.

Though her anger at her father for depriving her of a normal childhood and education was always apparent, Shakuntala — played as an adult by Vidya Balan — harbored a simmering contempt for her mother (played by Ipshita Chakraborty Singh) for not standing up to Bishaw on her daughter’s behalf. That resentment drove Shakuntala to become rich and famous and informed her own style of parenting — and not necessarily for the better.

Anu was born from the marriage of Shakuntala and Paritosh Banerji (Jisshu Sengupta), a government employee in Calcutta. Their relationship developed after Shakuntala was already internationally acclaimed, having added a magician’s showmanship to her performances. She tried being a stay-at-home mom for a while, but soon the road beckoned. She took young Anu with her, assuming that a life of travel would make the girl into an independent explorer like her mother. That’s not how it worked out.

Being disappointed by men is a recurring theme in Shakuntala’s life. Whether it’s their frustration at not being “needed” by her or, as in the case of Paritosh, a refusal to give up his job and follow her on the road, her paramours’ commitment to traditional gender roles only hardened her resolve to break them. Yet the film is clear that Shakuntala shared equally in the blame for her failed romantic relationships. She never found a way to integrate her career and home life. She also hated to lose, which led to young Anu being used as a pawn in the war between her parents.

As Anu grows up, we see how Shakuntala’s stubbornness and inability to compromise impacted their relationship. Anu (Sanya Malhotra) turns out to be just as stubborn as her mother and is determined to be nothing like her, just as Shakuntala was determined not to be like her own mother. Through conflict — including the above mentioned criminal charges — Shakuntala and Anu come to some important realizations about accepting our loved ones for who they are and learning to see our parents as more than just our parents.

Malhotra has the challenge of playing Anu when she is a married woman, but also when she’s a young teenager living in London. As a teen, Malhotra’s performance risks being overshadowed by her unflattering (but authentic) early 1990s attire. She’s more effective as Anu grows up and is forced to truly reckon with her mother as an adult.

If the goal was to portray Shakuntala Devi’s best and worst qualities, they couldn’t have found a better performer than Balan to do so. Balan makes Shakuntala feel like someone you’d love to know but hate to live with. She’s also effectively portrays Shakuntala across multiple decades.

From the vantage point of 2020, the idea of going to watch someone solve equations on stage sounds quaint, but Balan imbues with her character with such charisma and flair that she successfully translates Shakuntala’s appeal for a contemporary audience.

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Movie Review: The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

The Personal History of David Copperfield is tiring to watch. It’s mentally draining to spend two hours trying to determine what emotional reaction the filmmaker intends to inspire in the audience. It’s physically exhausting as well, following the frantic movements of handheld cameras while other shots tilt up at such a sharp angle it’s as though you feel your own neck straining. One needs to be well-rested before attempting to watch this film.

Writer-director Armando Iannucci and co-writer Simon Blackwell update the Charles Dickens novel with Dev Patel in the title role, narrating David’s life story to an audience in a theater. His tale follows the ups and downs of his life, starting with his happy childhood (young David is played by Jairaj Varsani), his fall into poverty, rise back to prosperity, and so on.

Much attention is paid to the colorful characters in David’s life, but with so much emphasis on their eccentricities that they never quite manage to feel like real people. David’s aunt, Betsey Trotwood, is played by Tilda Swinton. She’s introduced in one of the film’s earliest scenes smashing her nose up against a pane of glass. The message to the audience is: “You love when Tilda Swinton plays wacky characters, so here she is again!” Same for Peter Capaldi as chronically indebted Mr. Micawber and Hugh Laurie as befuddled Mr. Dick, who is obsessed with Charles I.

Besides Patel, Iannucci deliberately included other non-white actors in key roles, differentiating his film from the multitude of movies about Victorian England with all-white casts. But Inannucci doesn’t take this step toward inclusivity far enough to make his cinematic world feel truly multicultural. Of the twenty or so characters besides David with a significant number of speaking lines, only five are played by people of color. Except for David’s friend Agnes Whitfield (Rosalind Eleazar), the characters with the closest personal connections to David are all white.

The pace of the narrative forces David to speed through many of the significant events of his life before they’re able to make much emotional impact. Highs give way to lows and back to highs, all covered in a layer of wackiness that keeps the audience at an emotional distance.

Such briskness keeps David from evolving as a character as well. Things happen to him, he reacts, and then the story moves on to something else. Patel is fine in the role as it’s written, but David’s quirks — he frequently mimics the speech of the people around him — seem to substitute for character growth.

Working in the film’s favor are some nice performances, including a small but impactful appearance by Gwendoline Christie as David’s stepfather’s stern sister. Laurie as Mr. Dick and Eleazar as Agnes are charming. A delightful scene in which both of them have a picnic with David and Aunt Betsey provides a welcome respite in an otherwise exhausting film.

Links

  • The Personal History of David Copperfield at Wikipedia
  • The Personal History of David Copperfield at IMDb

Movie Review: Gunjan Saxena — The Kargil Girl (2020)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Gunjan Saxena on Netflix

Gunjan Saxena didn’t set out to be the Indian Air Force’s first woman combat pilot. She just wanted to fly. While the movie based on her life — Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl — shows some of the key events in her pathbreaking career, it focuses more on how her extraordinary willpower and the support of her devoted father helped her make history.

Gunjan grew up in the 1980s wanting to be a pilot. A clever song sequence shows young Gunjan (played by cute Riva Arora) wearing aviator sunglasses and playing with toy planes to the tune of “Mann Ki Dori.” Lyrics like, “From the moment I saw you, I just can’t get you out of my head,” describe first love, but it’s love between a girl and an airplane.

Her father, Anup (Pankaj Tripathi), believes his daughter can accomplish anything she puts her mind to. He’s determined to help her, even over the objections of Gunjan’s mother Kirti (Ayesha Raza Mishra) and Gunjan’s older brother Anshuman (played by Aaryan Arora as a kid and Angad Bedi as an adult.) Mom and brother claim to want to save Gunjan from heartbreak in a world that limits the options for girls and women, but their attitudes just reinforce those limitations.

As she grows up, Gunjan (played as an adult by Janhvi Kapoor) proves herself an overachiever, topping her classes and doing whatever is required to reach her goal. Joining the Air Force’s first class of women pilots turns out to be the quickest way for her to get in the air. When Gunjan fails the Air Force fitness exam by being seven kilograms overweight, she and Anup train using a diet and exercise routine movie superstar Rekha mentioned in a magazine.

The relationship between father and daughter is the heart of Gunjan Saxena. First-time writer-director Sharan Sharma took the advice of his co-writer Nikhil Mehrotra, who previously wrote great family-oriented films like Dangal, Panga, and Chhichhore. Sharma told First Post that, given the volume of excellent source material, “the biggest difficulty in a film of this nature is deciding what should not go into it.” Given how delightful Tripathi and Kapoor are together, focusing the story on their bond was clearly the right move.

Gunjan Saxena is only Kapoor’s third lead role, and she proves herself completely capable of carrying a feature film. She makes it looks easy, whether the challenges facing Gunjan are physical or emotional.

Whatever Anshuman’s motivations were for warning Gunjan against being a pilot, he was right that not everyone would be pleased about her choice. She realizes that after she becomes the first woman at her assigned Air Force base. From petty annoyances like not having a dedicated restroom to outright hostility from some of her fellow soldiers, she faces the extent to which some men will go to exclude women from certain spaces. A scene in which Gunjan’s commanding officer Dileep Singh (Viineet Kumar) finally tells her why he doesn’t think she belongs is heartbreaking. Kapoor handles the scene with grace and finesse.

The film’s action sequences when Gunjan is called into service during the Kargil War are well-executed and thrilling. The cinematic license Sharma takes with events ramps up the excitement and emotional resonance.

There’s a lovely scene in which Gunjan discusses the meaning of patriotism with her father, asking whether the desire to fly is sufficient reason to join the Air Force. Anup — a career military man himself — replies that patriotism isn’t measured by who shouts slogans the loudest, but by whether one does their duty to the best of their ability. It’s a fitting way to distill the real Gunjan Saxena’s approach to her life and a fine way to describe Janhvi Kapoor’s portrayal of her.

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Movie Review: Virus (2019)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Virus on Amazon Prime
Buy the DVD at Amazon

Watching the 2019 Malayalam movie Virus a year after its release and several months into a new, unrelated global pandemic, the film seems like an unheeded warning. Had I watched when it released last summer, I’d have known what the initials PPE stood for, well before the first American reports of shortages of Personal Protective Equipment for healthcare providers.

Virus is a fictionalized account of a 2018 outbreak of Nipah virus in Kerala. The film was conceived and completed quickly, releasing almost exactly one year after the month-long outbreak was formally declared over. Though names and circumstances have been changed for the film, details of how the virus was transmitted and how many people became infected track closely to the facts of the actual outbreak.

The movie opens with a doctor receiving a now chillingly familiar call that the hospital has run out of ventilators. The action then rewinds a mere three days, when medical professionals encounter the first patients exhibiting alarming symptoms: vomiting, delirium, fever, headache, seizures, trouble breathing, and sky-high blood pressure readings.

Doctors at the hospitals in Kerala’s Kozhikode district are stumped. None of the standard treatments help, and cases quickly turn fatal. Finally, a neurologist hits upon the rare Nipah virus as a possible cause, and tests prove him right. This starts a massive operation to discover where the virus came from and who came in contact with the first known patient, all in the hopes of stopping the spread before it gets out of control.

The first half of Virus is almost overwhelming with the number of characters it introduces across multiple locations. One must surrender to the flood of doctors, hospital staff, their families, patients, relatives, experts, politicians, and bureaucrats introduced as the outbreak takes hold. Director Aashiq Abu never allows the audience to get totally lost, but rather gives us a sense of what the characters feel like, being bombarded with patient after patient before they have even figured out what’s going on.

All the information from the first half is organized into a clear picture in the second half of the film via the character Dr. Annu (Parvathy Thiruvothu), the junior member of the government’s team of contact tracers. She uses some lateral thinking and ace detective work to connect all of the cases back to one index patient. As she and the other contact tracers piece together the puzzle, everything that seemed overwhelming in the first half becomes easy to understand. It’s terrific storytelling by director Abu and writers Muhsin Parari, Sharfu, and Suhas.

They also add in enough personal information about key characters to put the outbreak in context of everyday life, supported by uniformly strong performances by the cast. Dr. Abid (Sreenath Bhasi) is distracted while working in the emergency room that first morning because his girlfriend (Madonna Sebastian) is going to marry someone else. The hospital’s hourly workers — led by Babu (Joju George) — threaten to strike over unpaid wages. Patient’s families worry about being stigmatized because of the virus. The story highlights that we don’t get to choose the timing of such natural disasters.

Yet the film does give hope that such disasters can be contained. Granted, such containment depends on functioning government entities like those shown in the movie, but which are in short supply in the United States at the moment. Watching the officials of various departments work together to solve problems in Virus has almost a fantastical quality to it for someone watching in the US right now. But, just like the actual Nipah outbreak, Virus shows us that victory is possible.

Note: The English subtitles on both the DVD and the Amazon Prime version feature some closed captioning, including notes on ambient noises, the emotional quality of the musical score, and even an indication when a character says something “mockingly.” I quite liked it.

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Movie Review: Bhangra Paa Le (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Bhangra Paa Le on Netflix

Though bhangra features in plenty of Hindi movies, it’s rarely the only dance style performed. Not so in Bhangra Paa Le (“Let’s Do the Bhangra“), director Sneha Taurani’s debut film, which is all bhangra, all the time.

This is established early on. As college stud Jaggi (Sunny Kaushal) fills out his university’s dance team, he rejects any dancer whose performance is too influenced by hip-hop or other Western dance styles. If you’re going to win a bhangra competition where top prize is a trip to compete in London, you need bhangra specialists.

While at a wedding, Jaggi spots an ideal candidate to fill the female-lead role on his team. He and Simi (Rukshar Dhillon) hit it off, but before he can ask her to join his squad, she asks him to join her university team. Realizing that they are rivals, they part ways — not on bad terms, but each determined to take the top prize.

Each has their own reason for wanting to win. By performing in London, Simi hopes to prove to her father (who abandoned her for a new life in the UK) that she’s doing just fine without him. Jaggi wants to honor his grandfather, Kaptaan, a bhangra legend in his hometown. Kaushal plays Kaptaan in flashbacks to grandpa’s days romancing a beauty named Nimmo (Shriya Pilgaonkar) before leaving to fight in World War II.

It’s a stretch to equate the struggles of a combat veteran with those of a college dancer, the way that Jaggi does. Yet, given Jaggi’s young age and comparatively limited life experience, it makes sense that he might make that connection. The characters in Bhangra Paa Le behave in authentic, age-appropriate ways. It’s one of the strongest aspects of the film.

It’s also a treat to watch both of the main characters evolve, even if Jaggi gets more of the narrative focus. While they have their ups and downs, there’s nothing mean-spirited about either Jaggi or Simi, so the drama never feels overblown. They’re two nice young people who deserve to succeed, even if they can’t both be victorious.

The film’s supporting characters don’t get the same kind of development as the leads, appearing and disappearing as the story requires. The story itself feels a bit disjointed, not because of the World War II flashbacks, but because Jaggi returns home in the second half–abruptly shifting the tone of the film from a modern youth picture to a rural family drama.

Of course, the main reason for anyone to watch Bhangra Paa Le is the dancing, which is overall really good. The movie does a nice job showcasing the dance form’s ability to express a range of emotions, using songs with different tempos and sentiments as a base for a varied choreography palette. Viewers who are only interested in the dancing will not be disappointed.

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Movie Review: Baaghi 3 (2020)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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The trailer of Baaghi 3 promises “One Man Against the Whole Country.” Could we be in for a biting commentary on the Assad regime in Syria? Of course not. Baaghi 3 is a brainless film with no intention of challenging its audience — except in its willingness to stay until the end of the movie. At showing I attended, I was the only one who did.

Baaghi 3 is the latest in the Baaghi series of films, which have no connection to each other except that they star Tiger Shroff playing a character named Ronny (or in the case of this latest movie: “Ronnie”). The characters aren’t even the same guy, as Ronny/Ronnie’s backstory reboots with each new movie. Shraddha Kapoor played a character named Sia in the original Baaghi, and she returns to play a different character this time, now named “Siya.”

Ronnie 3.0 is the thuggish son of a cop (played by Tiger’s real-life dad, Jackie) who was fatally injured in the line of duty when Ronnie was young. On his deathbed, Dad tasked Ronnie with the care of his older brother Vikram, who is as close to an ambulatory potato as a person can be. Even as adults, whenever Vikram (Riteish Deshmukh) is in trouble, he yells “Ronnie!”, summoning his brother with a gale of wind to beat up the bad guys.

Jobless, ability-less Vikram is made a police officer because of nepotism, despite him being afraid of everything. Ronnie acts as his henchman, breaking up an international human trafficking ring while Vikram gets the credit publicly. The federal government notices and sends Vikram alone to Syria to facilitate the extradition of a terrorist — the most absurd thing to happen in a movie full of absurd stuff. Vikram is immediately kidnapped, forcing Ronnie to head to Syria to rescue him with the help of his girlfriend/sister-in-law Siya.

Siya fits into the story as part of a subplot to get Vikram married, off-loading his daily management from Ronnie onto an unsuspecting woman — in this case, Siya’s sister, Ruchi (Ankita Lokhande). Ruchi’s other purpose is to get pregnant in order to give more weight to Vikram’s predictably doomed trip to Syria. It’s a transparent emotional ploy that doesn’t work.

The “country” Ronnie takes on is actually a large terrorist outfit run by Abu Jalal Gaza (Jameel Khoury) that operates within Syria’s borders. Gaza’s agents in India and Pakistan kidnap families, forcing men to become suicide bombers by threatening their wives and children (yet another transparent emotional ploy). This seems like a risky and convoluted business model considering that Gaza only seems interested in blowing up targets within Syria. It’s painfully obvious that no one who worked on the story gave much thought to the whys or hows of the movie’s bad guys.

There’s nothing fun about Baaghi 3. It feels out-of-date, with goofball sound effects for the film’s dorky jokes. Poorly executed action choreography means Ronnie’s punches repeatedly fall short of his intended targets. Potentially novel battles in which Ronnie faces down helicopters and tanks are underwhelming. A ropes sequence set in a scrapyard feels like a macho knock-off of the song “Rewrite the Stars” from The Greatest Showman.

Shroff and Deshmukh have zero chemistry as siblings, although they both show themselves to be proficient at yelling. Vikram’s entry into the police force ushers in a subplot promoting extrajudicial police murder, which is not surprising given Baaghi 3‘s support of violence as character development. It’s not fatherhood that makes Vikram into a “real” man but rather when he finally kills people himself, instead of letting his little brother do it for him.

If there are any minor bright spots in Baaghi 3, it’s the true professionalism displayed by Jaideep Ahlawat as the kidnapper IPL and Vijay Varma as a helpful Pakistani expat in Syria in the face of utter absurdity. Shraddha Kapoor’s role is underdeveloped and superfluous, but she brings to it a weird charisma that I appreciated. Other than that, Baaghi 3 is a waste of time.

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