Tag Archives: Movie Review

Movie Review: Good Luck Jerry (2022)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Good Luck Jerry on Hulu

The vibe of director Siddharth Sen’s debut feature Good Luck Jerry feels like a toned-down Ludo or Looop Lapeta. But trendy aesthetics can’t compensate for a disorganized screenplay and a lack of character development.

Janhvi Kapoor lends her undeniable charisma to Jerry Kumari, a young woman willing to do whatever it takes to provide for her family after her father’s death. Jerry’s mom Sharbati (Mita Vashisht) isn’t happy about her daughter’s job at a massage parlor, but the family needs the money, especially while Jerry’s younger sister Cherry (Samta Sudiksha) finishes school.

Their financial situation gets worse when Sharbati is diagnosed with lung cancer. Unable to get a loan for Sharbati’s treatment, Jerry uses a serendipitous connection to put a risky scheme into action.

While shopping at a market with Cherry, Jerry is forced by a neck-brace-wearing gangster named Timmy (Jaswant Singh Dalal) to recover a packet of drugs hidden in the men’s restroom. There are police all over the market, but they won’t suspect a young woman of carrying drugs. Jerry succeeds, and Timmy lets the sisters go. The next day, Jerry finds Timmy and convinces him to hire her as a drug runner on a permanent basis.

The new gig earns Jerry more than enough money, but it earns her enemies among the drug dealers as well. Timmy’s boss sets her up to fail with a job that’s too big to pull off — at least not without the help of her family.

In keeping with the colorful dark comedy style of movies like Ludo and Looop Lapeta, Good Luck Jerry‘s world is populated by weirdos. Jerry has to fend off romantic overtures from 40-something wannabe rapper Rinku (Deepak Dobriyal), and Cherry has her own suitor who hounds her while dressed in a groom’s attire. The criminals she meets are quirky, though not as memorable as Pankaj Tripathi’s neck-brace-wearing gangster Sattu from Ludo.

If anything, Good Luck Jerry seems like a watered-down version of other films in the same genre. It’s not as visually interesting, the characters are forgettable, and the comedy isn’t edgy enough. Also, Jerry’s final scheme seems overly complex, and the movie makes no attempt to explain how she, her mom, and her sister were able to pull it off.

Even though it’s based on the Tamil film Kolamaavu Kokila, the screenplay feels like an early draft. Jerry doesn’t grow at all; she begins and ends the movie as a woman who will do anything for her family. Sheer volume of characters — and the inflated runtime that comes with them — is treated as more important than fewer, more impactful ones. Dobriyal’s Rinku suffers particularly from this. He and Jerry don’t have much of a relationship, so including him in a climactic shootout doesn’t actually raise the stakes for Jerry. He just takes up space and screentime.

Kapoor, Sudiksha, and Vashisht share a delightful rapport and make a really cute family. Good Luck Jerry needed more of them and less of everybody else.

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Movie Review: Hurdang (2022)

Zero Stars (out of 4)

The social drama Hurdang fails to build a persuasive case for the odious politics it endorses.

Hurdang is set at a college campus in Allahabad in 1990. Local goon and opportunist Loha Singh (Vijay Varma) wants to increase his political profile. He seizes upon the announced implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations — which would increase the number of university admissions and government jobs reserved for people from Other Backward Classes — as an opportunity to stoke unrest on campus and gain attention.

Loha uses his right-hand man Daddu (Sunny Kaushal) to activate the upper caste students at several area colleges. Daddu is enrolled in university, but you’d hardly know it since he never studies or goes to class. He carries multiple guns with him and is quick to point them at anyone who gives him even a minor hassle.

Daddu’s pitch to get the students to protest against the government is that the predominantly upper caste students currently enrolled in university have made their plans expecting a certain amount of government jobs to be available to them upon graduation, and that changing the rules now unfairly penalizes them. The movie makes only passing mention of the generational damage caused by systemic caste discrimination.

Writer-director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s choice to put Daddu at the center of this story is absurd. Daddu has no chance of graduating as a result of his own (non-existent) efforts, so he plans to get the final exam questions from Loha in advance and cheat. He does not see his own cheating as being at odds with the system of meritocracy he believes exists and that the reservation system supposedly undermines. What matters to the narrative is that Daddu is a victim.

The notion of Daddu as a victim is even more ridiculous considering the privileges Daddu enjoys thanks to his relationship with Loha — and by extension the politicians Loha works for. Twice, Daddu steals a baton from a police officer and beats the officer with it, and he never faces any consequences for it. Daddu is above the law in almost every respect, but the film really wants viewers to feel sorry for him.

Bhat’s story is so lopsided that it barely acknowledges that people from lower castes exist, let alone suffer under a system rigged against them. Daddu’s much more academically talented girlfriend Jhulan (Nushrratt Bharuccha) is herself from a lower caste — a fact that’s only relevant for a scene in which her father tells her to wait until the reservation quota has been updated to take her finals so that she’ll have an easier time getting a government job. Jhulan is portrayed as virtuous for wanting to test right away and pass on her own merits. From the movie’s perspective, benefiting from a rule change is more egregious than stealing an exam and cheating.

The political position Bhat takes with his story is gross, but he doesn’t even do a good job of defending it. Hurdang is awful.

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Movie Review: RRR (2022)

4 Stars (out of 4)

*This review is of the Telugu version of RRR on Zee5. A Hindi-dubbed version of RRR is streaming on Netflix.

Filmmaker S. S. Rajamouli is the master of the “what if…” scenario. The plot of his latest epic RRR ponders what might have happened had two real-life Indian revolutionaries from the early 20th century met and become friends. Rajamouli’s style pushes the boundaries of “what if…,” showing us the delightful possibilities that can only happen thanks to movie magic.

N. T. Rama Rao Jr. plays Komaram Bheem, a leader of the Gond tribe. He makes it his mission to rescue a girl named Malli (Twinkle Sharma) who’s been kidnapped by the British regional governor Scott Buxton (Ray Stevenson). The sequence in which Scott’s wife Catherine (Alison Doody) coolly asks to bring the girl home for her entertainment is infuriating.

Bheem’s rescue plan is audacious and relies upon his affinity with the natural world. An early scene in which he tries to trap a tiger in a net gives a preview to the wild action RRR has in store.

The British know that Bheem is in Delhi looking for Malli, but they don’t know where he is. They’re also scared of what might happen when they find him, given his fearsome reputation. Only one man is brave enough to track Bheem down — Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan), an Indian Imperial Police officer known for his tenacity and an unwavering dedication to his job.

It so happens that Bheem (in disguise as a Muslim mechanic named Akhtar) and Raju meet while saving a boy from a fiery train wreck. They find in one another a kindred spirit: someone brave and strong enough to risk his life for the sake of others. They become friends, with Raju going so far as to help shy Bheem meet Governor Scott’s beautiful niece Jenny (Olivia Morris), who is as sympathetic as her aunt and uncle are cruel.

Given that Bheem and Raju are secretly working in opposition to each other, it’s inevitable that they’ll wind up in conflict. When they finally do during a party for the Governor, it comes in one of the most fantastical action sequences ever brought to the big screen, including the reappearance of the tiger Bheem faced off with earlier.

RRR is larger than life, and Rama Rao Jr. and Charan take full advantage of the scope they are given (especially since the film is by no means biographical). Their characters can jump higher and run faster than normal men. Their muscles are bigger and stronger. Their gifts aren’t superpowers but a kind of idealized masculinity with heavy emphasis on physical strength.

Rajamouli uses the considerable resources at his disposal to make bombastic action sequences that are a joy to watch. Realism is not the point, and why should it be? RRR is a great reminder that a cinematic world need only be consistent with itself to be believable, not that it need conform to the rules of our world.

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Movie Review: Mr. Malcolm’s List (2022)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the novel Mr. Malcolm’s List at Amazon

Mr. Malcolm’s List releases in US theaters July 1, 2022

Freida Pinto executive produces and stars in the Georgian era romance Mr. Malcolm’s List, based on the novel by Suzanne Allain (who also wrote the screenplay). The film has all the trappings of a mannered period drama, but it’s not as witty as it could be.

London, 1820s. Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) is aging out of her desirability as a marriage partner. She gets her hopes up when London’s most eligible bachelor Mr. Jeremy Malcolm (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù) escorts her to the opera but is humiliated when he declines to ask her out again. She’s further incensed when her cousin Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) discovers that Mr. Malcolm has a list of requirements for a prospective bride, and that Julia was eliminated for being unable to hold an intelligent conversation.

Julia concocts a plan to trick Mr. Malcolm into falling in love with a seemingly ideal woman, only for the woman to produce a list of her own and dump him, paying back Julia’s humiliation in kind. Her childhood friend Selina Dalton (Pinto) — a pretty pastor’s daughter from the country, and an unknown in London society — is the perfect candidate for Julia’s scheme. Selina reluctantly agrees to help.

Upon her arrival in London, Selina is immediately beset by suitors. Besides Mr. Malcolm — whom Selina suspects is not the villain Julia believes him to be — handsome Captain Ossory (Theo James) also approaches her, fulfilling his late aunt’s wish for the two of them to meet. The attention paid to Selina doesn’t escape Julia’s notice, and she realizes her plan may not have been so brilliant after all.

Mr. Malcolm’s List meets most of the requirements for this kind of period romantic comedy drama. The costumes and sets are fancy. The actors are all good-looking. The dance at the masquerade ball is steamy, despite the fact that the participants’ physical contact is limited to holding hands. The plot unfolds at a good clip.

Yet the interactions between the characters leave a lot to be desired. Conversations lack a crisp back-and-forth exchange (2016’s Love & Friendship offers a good example of how it should be done). First-time director Emma Holly Jones and editor Kate Hickey leave too much dead air within conversations. Allain’s dialogue also needs punching up. Characters say obvious or straightforward things but react as though they’ve uttered something much more clever (Julia is especially guilty of this).

There’s also a character who exists as comic relief — Julia’s servant John (Divian Ladwa) — who never says or does anything funny enough to deserve the screentime he gets.

Mr. Malcolm’s List is not a stand-out in its genre, but it is a passably good example of it. The film’s shortcomings are less obvious once the plot really gets rolling.

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Movie Review: Heropanti 2 (2022)

Entertainment Factor: 3.5 Stars (out of 4)
Quality Factor: 1 Star

Watch Heropanti 2 on Amazon Prime

This review is a tribute to Dr. Julia Bulgaria, the star of Heropanti 2. She’s a veterinarian who wears a sash that reads “Prom Queen” over her cleavage-baring lab coat. She utters the line, “There’s a zombie party down the road,” with a straight face. Her name is DR. JULIA BULGARIA!

Heropanti 2 — which has nothing to do with the original Heropanti from 2014 — is an objectively bad movie. But Dr. Julia Bulgaria (Amber Doig-Thorne), flamboyant feather jackets, and Tara Sutaria’s casual champagne-tossing all play their part in making Heropanti 2 so bad it’s good.

Even before my new hero Dr. Bulgaria appears, the movie gives plenty of warning that it exists in a parallel universe where normal rules do not apply. The story opens with the villain Laila (Nawazuddin Siddiqui, whose commitment to his bonkers performance is unimpeachable) interrupting a magic show that he is performing in order to meet with his crew of henchmen. Laila’s plan is to steal all the money from every bank account in India on Tax Day. Laila stabs a guy to death while wearing a suit jacket with feathers on the shoulders and a bedazzled eagle on the back. Lesson? Don’t mess with a guy with such outrageous fashion sense.

Cut to Tiger Shroff, who plays a nerd named RJ. He wears glasses and suspenders and rides a bicycle throughout the Yorkshire town where he lives.

By this point, if you think this movie is not for you, cut your losses and move on. It’s doesn’t get any better.

RJ runs into Inaaya (Tara Sutaria) — England’s youngest self-made billionaire. How’d she get rich? “By making a game.” Inaaya thinks RJ is her ex-boyfriend Babloo, who ran off more than a year ago. And wouldn’t you know it, she’s right! “RJ” is really Babloo: a genius hacker who’s been in hiding after double-crossing Laila — who is Inaaya’s brother!!

With Babloo’s cover blown, Laila’s men track him down. Cue the acrobatic fight sequences — the whole reason anyone watches a Tiger Shroff movie. Babloo flips over cars and swings around poles, with the occasional assist from Inaaya.

During a pause in the fighting, Inaaya does something inexplicable and hilarious. She seductively offers Babloo a glass of champagne, pours a glass for herself, then — instead of setting the bottle down on the table behind her — casually tosses the bottle to the side as if she was tossing her jacket onto a chair. Off camera, we hear the sound of glass breaking. Now there is broken glass and champagne all over the floor! Why did she think that was a good idea? Such reckless insanity makes me love Inaaya — though not as much as I love Dr. Julia Bulgaria.

The sexy veterinarian enters the picture when Babloo and Inaaya flee to the countryside in search of a doctor to remove a bullet from Babloo’s behind. Babloo’s butt is so muscular that bullets cause only minor damage to it, allowing him to dance at the aforementioned “zombie party down the road” immediately after surgery. Dr. Bulgaria’s high level of skill also plays a part, no doubt.

For all its faults, Heropanti 2 pulls out all — well, most — of the stops to make its action sequences and dance numbers visually interesting. Not that they’re all good, but they are made with good-faith attempts at grandness. Tiger Shroff is a very good dancer, and Tara Sutaria is even better, so their performances hit the mark. A. R. Rahman’s soundtrack is inconsistent, with catchy tunes like “Miss Hairan” and boring slogs like “Dafa Kar” (the zombie party song).

Nothing about the story makes a lick of sense, and a plot structure that bounces around in time doesn’t help. Yet everything is so over-the-top silly that inconsistency doesn’t really matter. If whatever the hell it is that Heropanti 2 is doing works for you, you’ll have a great time. I did.

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Movie Review: Toolsidas Junior (2022)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Toolsidas Junior on Netflix

An overly-long first half keeps Toolsidas Junior from reaching its full potential, but a strong second half rewards those willing to stick with this underdog story.

Writer-director Mridul Mahendra (listed in the credits as Mridul Toolsidass) based his film on a true story: his own. Perhaps that’s why it feels like there’s a lot of extraneous material in Toolsidas Junior — stuff personally important to the filmmaker that he wanted to include, even though it slows the pace of the film.

The movie opens with a snooker tournament at the Calcutta Sports Club in 1994. Toolsidas (Rajiv Kapoor, in his final film) is a bit of a showboat, doing tricks to impress his adoring 13-year-old son Midi (Varun Buddhadev). Toolsidas earns his spot in the next day’s finals, set to face the reigning champ: the villainous Jimmy Tandon (Dalip Tahil).

Toolsidas celebrates at the club bar with what he promises is just one drink. Hours later, Midi’s furious mom (Tasveer Kamil) sends him to collect his drunken dad. This is something Midi has clearly done numerous times. At the tournament finals, Jimmy uses a break in the action to trick Toolsidas into getting drunk, allowing the villain to come from behind and win for a sixth consecutive time.

Sensing turmoil in the family, Midi’s older brother Goti (Chinmai Chandranshuh) becomes convinced that the boys have to start earning money. A fan of get-rich-quick schemes, Goti wants to use Midi’s diligence and athletic aptitude to make a ton of money. Goti’s assumption that Midi will be naturally gifted at whatever sport he tries is ridiculous, but the film treats it seriously, devoting way too much time to Midi failing repeatedly and Goti getting mad at him. What should have been a brief montage drags on interminably.

The pace plods along even after Midi convinces Goti that there’s money to be made gambling on snooker. Plus, learning to play will give Midi the chance to avenge his dad’s loss and defeat Jimmy. Midi’s too young to play at the Sports Club, so he finds a pool hall in a seedy part of town where he meets his mentor: crusty, enigmatic former national champion Salaam Bhai (Sanjay Dutt). The process is so protracted that Midi’s training doesn’t begin until an hour into the film.

One can’t blame viewers for bailing out before this point, but this is when Toolsidas Junior gets good. Salaam Bhai has clever ways of explaining techniques to Midi, like equating various methods for striking the ball to the punching styles of Amitabh Bachchan, Rajinikanth, and Mithun Chakraborthy.

Salaam Bhai also uses the opportunity to teach Midi a lesson about economic class. Midi’s family has membership at an exclusive country club. Salaam Bhai is poor and always has been. When Midi takes a win on a technicality and passes up a chance to play, Salaam Bhai lights into Midi. A privileged kid like him can’t understand what it’s like to skip eating just to save enough money to play. Midi leaves food on his plate because he’s never has to worry where his next meal will come from. Ever the good student, Midi takes Salaam Bhai’s lesson to heart. There’s plenty of cruft in Toolsidas Junior, but Mridul Mahendra deserves credit for including this subplot in his story.

Varun Buddhadev is Bollywood’s go-to child actor of the moment for good reason. His performance in Toolsidas Junior is really solid, and it’s obvious how much effort he put into learning snooker for the film. The movie is at its best when Buddhadev and Sanjay Dutt interact with one another. They make a winning team.

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Movie Review: Jungle Cry (2022)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Jungle Cry — based on the true story of India’s surprise performance at the 2007 Under-14 Rugby World Cup — struggles to find its style, blunting the emotional impact of this underdog story. But if you’ve ever wanted to learn the rules of rugby, Jungle Cry is a great tutorial.

After an unnecessary voice-over giving background on the true story, the movie opens with a well-shot chase sequence. Four schoolboys run from some older men with a jar of stolen marbles, displaying incredible athleticism in their flight. A white man named Paul (Stewart Wright) witnesses their skills, convincing him he’s in the right place to find untapped rugby talent.

Any long-time watcher of Hindi-language films reflexively cringes as soon as a white person appears onscreen, knowing that these movies sometime are forced to hire non-actors (or at least actors who sound uncomfortable speaking native-level English) for these roles. But fear not. Jungle Cry is a British-Indian co-production, so all of the white actors are actually good. The film even employed Diane Charles as dialogue writer for the United Kingdom portions of the movie.

Paul’s mission is to train a team of Indian boys to play rugby for a tournament in the UK in just four month’s time. The head of the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences in Odisha, Dr. Samanta (Atul Kumar), relishes the opportunity to give a dozen of his students — all kids from impoverished villages — a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the world.

The Institute’s athletic director Rudra (Abhay Deol) disagrees. He recruited most of the boys to play soccer and thinks they won’t be able to learn a new sport. Rudra decides he’d rather quit than partake in this ultimately harmless experiment, even if it means leaving the students who’ve come to rely on him.

Even if this objection is grounded in reality, it’s a strange hill for Rudra to die on in a movie. It’s also weird that Dr. Samanta doesn’t immediately assign Rudra to be Paul’s much-needed translator, giving Rudra the chance to see the boys’ progress firsthand. The subplot feels like an attempt to force tension into the story, but it doesn’t achieve its goal.

This sequence relies a lot on awkward, documentary-style interviews with the adult characters. These interviews are interspersed throughout the plot, subdividing narrative sections and keeping the story from flowing naturally. This continues as the boys succeed in qualifying for the tournament and fly to England (with Rudra after Paul gets dengue), where they meet their team physical therapist, Roshni (Emily Shah). Shah struggles the most in the interview format, though she’s more comfortable in her scenes with Deol (who gives a solid performance).

Jungle Cry doesn’t differentiate the boys or give their characters distinct personalities (unlike another underdog Hindi sports film, Chak De India, where the members of the hockey team are just as important as their coach). It’s also unclear how old the boys are supposed to be. In reality, the team was made up of kids under the age of 14, and the tournament in the film is repeatedly referred to as a “junior tournament.” Yet the athletes from all the teams–Indian and otherwise–look a lot older than middle schoolers.

Where Jungle Cry excels is in explaining the rules of rugby and showing how the game is played. The explanation part is handled as Paul introduces the game to the boys. During the tournament, the camera is always positioned to show what is important about the action taking place. That could mean positioning the camera at field-level to see what happens to the ball during a scrum or pulling back just far enough to watch the logical sequence of passes as the ball progresses downfield. It’s instructive but also exciting as it shows the narrative of what’s happening on the field. Again, if you’ve ever wanted to learn about rugby, watch Jungle Cry.

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Movie Review: Thar (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Thar on Netflix

A veteran cop’s boring beat is upended by three murders and the arrival of a stranger in the Western noir Thar. Rajasthan is the ideal setting for a Western, and the stunning scenery is highlighted beautifully.

Inspector Surekha Singh’s (Anil Kapoor) decades-long career has been uneventful. Stationed in the Rajasthani town of Munabao in 1985, there’s little in the way of crime, except for the occasional drug bust of smugglers bringing heroin across the border from Pakistan.

All that changes in a single day. A married couple is found shot dead in their home, their daughter’s dowry stolen. Another dead man is found hanging from a tree, an axe embedded in his chest. For the first time in their careers, Singh and his partner Bhure (Satish Kaushik) feel like real police. They figure drug runners are responsible for the deaths, as they set about investigating the connection between the victims.

At the same time, a taciturn stranger arrives in town. He reluctantly gives his name: Siddharth (Harshvarrdhan Kapoor). He’s looking for a few men to help him move some antiques back to Delhi. Men in Munabao routinely work jobs in the city for months at a time, so his request isn’t unusual. A woman named Chetna (Fatima Sana Shaikh) assures him that her husband Panna (Jitendra Joshi) and his friends will be back in a matter of days, and Siddharth agrees to wait.

After Panna — an arrogant misogynist — and his compatriots return, it becomes clear that Siddharth’s intentions are not good. His polite interactions with Cheta are at odds with his actions when he’s going about his business. The mystery at the heart of Thar is: why is Siddharth doing what he’s doing?

Keeping Siddharth’s agenda a secret for as long as the movie does de-prioritizes his character development, blunting the emotional impact when his motivations are finally revealed. That said, Harshvarrdhan Kapoor is great at being mysterious. Nonverbal communication plays a big part in Siddharth’s interactions with Chetna, and Shaikh and Kapoor play off one another exceedingly well.

Relationships play a huge part in Inspector Surekha’s life. He’s got a supportive wife, and Bhure is his best friend, not just his coworker. Writer-director Raj Singh Chaudhary and editor Aarti Bajaj make a point to emphasize how much Bhure means to Surekha. Anil Kapoor and Satish Kaushik are a delightful duo. And Jitendra Joshi is really, really good at playing the loathsome Panna.

The desert location in Thar is not only crucial for making the way the story plays out possible. It’s also absolutely stunning. Though geographically and botanically distinct from the American Southwest, the area in Rajasthan where Thar was filmed feels like the perfect place to shoot a Western. The rocky hills spotted with scrubby brush make an ideal setting for a shootout.

One cautionary note for squeamish viewers is that Thar is very gory — more so than it needs to be to make its point about the nature of the violence being committed. But no one can say the makeup department didn’t do their job, that’s for sure.

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Movie Review: Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Gangubai Kathiawadi on Netflix

Alia Bhatt sparkles in filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi. Bhansali’s visuals are mesmerizing as ever, but the characters are the real stars.

Gangubai (Bhatt) was born Ganga, the educated daughter of a barrister. At 16, a man she loved tricked her into running away to Mumbai to pursue a movie career. There, he sold her to Sheela Mausi (Seema Pahwa), the owner of a brothel.

With her only choices being life as a sex worker or death, Ganga chose to live. Her first client nicknamed her Gangu, a moniker she adopted to mark this new phase of her life. When she became the madam of the brothel following Sheela Mausi’s death, the other women christened her Gangubai as a sign of respect.

Gangubai’s great strength is her empathy for the women around her. Her first act of defiance under Sheela Mausi is to take a handful of other women out to see a movie — hardly a radical act, but one that affirms their humanity. Gangubai knows that the only way to achieve her goals of securing safety and dignity for her fellow sex workers and education for their children is to put herself in a position of power, even if it means sacrificing her own personal happiness.

Gangubai succeeds because she’s great at understanding what motivates people. Bhansali drives that home by making sure that, in every scene, it is perfectly clear what every character wants. That goes for main characters and those in supporting roles. It’s so consistent throughout the film that it’s clearly something that Bhansali and co-writer Utkarshini Vashishtha put a lot of thought into.

Bhansali also pays a ton of attention to the way characters move. Choreography is obvious in the film’s two large-scale dance numbers, but it’s present in simpler gestures, too: the way someone tilts their head dismissively or the way Gangubai’s rival Raziabai (Vijay Raaz) sidles up behind her in an attempt to intimidate.

The focus on movement is most thrilling in the two love songs between Gangubai and Afshan (Shantanu Maheshwari), an apprentice tailor. Afshan leans back timidly as Gangubai leans in, tricking him into thinking she’s going to kiss him as she reaches for a bottle. Both songs “Jab Saiyaan” and “Meri Jaan” are super sexy, as Gangubai and Afshan move teasingly around each other. Maheshwari got his start in entertainment as a member of the Desi Hoppers dance crew, and his expert body control infuses every part of his performance. Casting him was an inspired choice.

Songs integrate into the story seamlessly — so much so that Gangubai Kathiawadi could make for a good starter “Bollywood-style” movie for someone who thinks they don’t like musicals. The song numbers fit perfectly within the flow of the story.

The only weak point in the film comes from another typical Bollywood element: a character giving a climactic speech in front of a crowd. The scene doesn’t have the same impact as it would have in real life, and it slows down the momentum. The movie also ends with a narrated outro that sounds like the closing paragraph from an elementary school social studies report.

Alia Bhatt’s charismatic performance can’t be praised enough. It’s a swaggering role, but it’s always clear why Gangubai is the way she is. Her brash persona is a necessary part of her plan to improve the lives of the women around her.

She’s surrounded by some colorful characters brought to life by even more great performances. Pahwa is appropriately loathsome as Sheela Mausi, and Raaz’s Raziabai is chilling. Ajay Devgn is terrific in his extended cameo as the helpful gangster Rahim Lala.

Best of all are those closest to Gangubai. Maheshwari’s Afshan is adorable, and Indra Tiwari is sensational as Gangubai’s best friend and sidekick Kamli. Bhatt’s lead performance deservedly gets most of the attention, but the ensemble around her is terrific as well.

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Movie Review: Dasvi (2022)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Dasvi on Netflix

Comedies made for an audience of all ages aren’t often considered prestige viewing, but they’re no less difficult to get right. Dasvi does just that, telling a story with broad appeal that never feels dumbed-down, thanks to solid performances and terrific story structure.

Abhishek Bachchan stars as Ganga Ram Chaudhary, Chief Minister (CM) of the state of Harit Pradesh. He’s used to getting his way, flaunting his power by transferring a local police officer he deems too strict and shutting down a proposal to build a school in favor of building a mall.

When he’s thrown into jail pending a bribery investigation, his life doesn’t change that much. Suck-up prison guard Satpal (Manu Rishi Chadha) gives Chaudhary special accommodations, and Chaudhary’s timid wife Bimla Devi (Nimrat Kaur) fills in as CM, taking direction from her husband over the phone.

All that changes when the prison gets a tough new warden, Jyoti Deshwal (Yami Gautam Dhar). Wouldn’t you know, she’s the same strict cop Chaudhary had transferred before he went to jail. She axes Chaudhary’s special privileges, including his daily calls to Bimla Devi, who’s left to govern on her own. Jyoti mocks Chaudhary’s eighth-grade education, calling him an “uncouth bumpkin.”

This hit to his pride — and his desire to avoid manual labor — inspires Chaudhary to take on the challenge of earning his high school diploma while behind bars. If he fails, he promises to drop out of politics.

Chaudhary is a fun comic hero because his flaws are obvious to the audience, but not to him. We know his dismissive attitude toward education needs to change, but why should it while he’s living the life he wants? When he finally gets on the right path, it’s a fun twist that his biggest obstacle is not the warden but his own wife, who’s come to enjoy the power that comes with being the CM.

A lot of the jokes in Dasvi stem from verbal faux pas committed by Chaudhary and Bimla Devi. Not all of the wordplay humor translates, but Laxminarayan Singh does a good job of nailing most of the jokes via the English subtitles (as when Bimla Devi insists that they build an “effigy” of her, when she means “statue”).

But Dasvi isn’t so much a laugh-out-loud comedy as it is one that lets the powerful make fools of themselves. The film doesn’t rely on tacky jokes or goofy sound effects, instead letting well-drawn characters highlight what’s funny about a perverse situation. This is all possible thanks to a carefully constructed screenplay by Suresh Nair and Ritesh Shah and some ace direction by Tushar Jalota, who helms his first feature film.

The cast does exactly what it needs to do to set the right tone, giving characters the right mix of silliness and sentiment. Abhishek Bachchan, Yami Gautam Dhar, and Nimrat Kaur carry most of the load, but supporting actors like Manu Rishi Chadha and Arun Kushwaha — who plays the math wiz bicycle thief Ghanti — complete the world-building.

Dasvi feels a lot like a Hollywood comedy in its structure, but it still makes room for a Bollywood-style dance number and a closing speech about the importance of education (for better or worse). It fits that such a widely accessible film would debut on Netflix, a platform always looking to reach a global audience. Making an all-ages film that families around the world can enjoy watching together is a worthy goal and no mean feat.

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