Tag Archives: Mugdha Godse

Retro Review: Jail (2009)

1 Star (out of 4)

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It’s natural to have sympathy for a person unjustly accused of a crime. Jail assumes that sympathy is all an audience requires in order to identify with the movie’s hero. That’s not the case.

Jail‘s protagonist is Parag (Neil Nitin Mukesh). Soon after celebrating a promotion with his flight attendant girlfriend, Mansi (Mugdha Godse), Parag is pulled over by the cops while driving with his roommate. The roommate pulls a gun on the cops and is shot while fleeing the scene. His backpack contains two kilos of cocaine.

The police assume that Parag is a part of the drug dealing operation and throw him in jail. A judge convicts Parag based on circumstantial evidence. When the comatose roommate dies, so do Parag’s hopes of having his name cleared.

Most people, if falsely accused of a serious crime, would protest their innocence vigorously. Not Parag. He sits at the police station stunned, occasionally stuttering about his confusion. He remains similarly silent throughout his imprisonment. Fellow inmates have one-sided conversations with him. Even a visit from his mother elicits only a mumbled, “Ma.”

Despite his silence, Parag’s fellow inmates sense that he’s a good guy who doesn’t belong in prison. How they can tell from his mute indifference, I’m not sure. Someone must have told them that they were in a movie and that he was the protagonist. Parag himself doesn’t do anything to encourage their friendship or respect.

On one of the rare occasions when Parag actually does something, there’s nothing heroic about his actions. A jerk named Joe buys his early release and brags about it on his way out of prison. Parag attacks him, not because Joe’s being cruel to the other inmates, but because Parag thinks he should be the one getting out instead of Joe.

At the end of the movie, the producers include a note about the thousands of people imprisoned without charges in Indian jails. Reflective of that stance, the prisoners in the movie are nicer than the guards, who are themselves admit to being hampered by bureaucracy. The blame for the system’s injustice is laid on zealous police investigators, lazy judges and greedy defense attorneys.

The conditions of the jail, if realistic, are disturbingly primitive. Dozens of prisoners share one large cell, sleeping on blankets on a dirt floor. There are semi-private toilets and a water trough for bathing and washing clothes. Critics who find American prisons too luxurious would be impressed. The stark setting illustrates how easily it would be to lose a share of one’s humanity in such a place.

But the movie’s success rests ultimately on Mukesh’s performance as Parag, who doesn’t grow throughout the film. It’s hard to get to know a character who’s so unresponsive. Apart from a few breakdowns, he never seems in danger of losing his humanity, in part because his fellow inmates won’t let him. Why they are so concerned with saving him, I’m not sure.

Movie Review: All The Best (2009)

allthebest1 Star (out of 4)

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For the first two hours, All The Best is a tolerable if uninspired slapstick comedy. But, due to the movie’s racist final scene, it’s not worth watching.

The movie focuses on aspiring rock star Vir (Fardeen Khan), who lives off of the largess of his globe-trotting step-brother, Dharam (Sanjay Dutt). In order to get a larger monthly allowance from Dharam, Vir tells his brother that his girlfriend, Vidya (Mugdha Godse), is actually his wife.

Since the two brothers rarely see each other, the lie goes unchallenged until Dharam lands in town for a layover on his way to the small African country of Lesotho. The layover turns into an extended stay when the country experiences a military coup.

Vir turns to his best friend, Prem (Ajay Devgan), for help. Since this is a comedy, all of Prem’s ideas to deceive Dharam make things worse, especially when Dharam mistakes Prem’s wife, Jhanvi (Bipasha Basu), for Vir’s pretend wife, Vidya.

The bulk of the humor centers on mistaken identities and the friends’ attempts to keep the truth from hot-tempered Dharam. Basu and Ashwini Kalsekar, who plays Vir’s maid, Mary, are the most successful at generating laughs.

But All The Best falls back on the same cliche seen in many recent Bollywood comedies: gangsters. If one were to form an impression of modern India based solely on Hindi cinema, India would seem as overrun with gangsters as Chicago was in the 1920s, only with the gangsters more inept and less threatening than their American predecessors.

The most pathetically unfunny of the bunch is Topu (Johny Lever), the mute gang leader. He communicates with his lackeys by banging a spoon against a glass, as though he were trying to get a newly-married couple to kiss at their wedding reception. It’s the stupidest gimmick since the mute villain in Karzzzz, who communicated via a musical keypad on his wrist.

Such lame gimmicks might be forgivable, if not for the movie’s final scene, involving several characters from Lesotho. They speak in something that’s supposed to sound like Swahili, even though Swahili isn’t an official language of Lesotho. I can’t prove it, but I’m guessing the filmmakers didn’t spring to hire an actual Swahili translator, and that the words are just gibberish that’s supposed to sound “African.” [Update: A kind Access Bollywood reader, Samuel, let me know that the language is in fact Swahili.]

If that weren’t insulting enough, three of the characters are Indian actors — including Bipasha Basu — in blackface make up. Coming just a few weeks after American musician Harry Connick Jr. took an Australian comedy troupe to task for the same offense, All The Best‘s racist attempt at humor comes off as particularly crude.

For Indian cinema to be taken seriously in the rest of the world, it needs to drop these outdated, racist jokes. Bollywood’s top stars need to lead the way. Bipasha Basu should have refused to perform the scene in blackface, just as Akshay Kumar should’ve said no to his blackface scene in Kambakkht Ishq.