Tag Archives: Naman Jain

Movie Review: Hawaizaada (2015)

Hawaizaada3 Stars (out of 4)

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Director Vibhu Puri makes a promising debut with Hawaizaada (“Free Flying”, according to the English subtitles), a historical fantasy about an Indian inventor who built an airplane eight years before the Wright brothers.

Legend has it that, in 1895, an unmanned aircraft built by Shivkar Bapuji Talpade flew for several minutes, though scant evidence exists to prove the story. A note at the start of Hawaizaada clarifies that the film is not biographical, but merely inspired by Talpade.

The truth of the legend isn’t as important to Hawaizaada as what it represents: hope. England ruled India during Talpade’s lifetime, a fact that the movie suggests as a possible explanation for why so little information remains regarding his experiments. If the world learned that an Indian independently built a flying machine, the British could have no longer justified their occupation by claiming that Indians were uneducated primitives in need of their civilizing oversight.

Ayushmann Khurrana plays “Shivy” Talpade, the clever but aimless son of a well-to-do Mumbai family. When his father throws him out of the house, Shivy moves in with Shastry (Mithun Chakraborty), an eccentric inventor who looks like a bespectacled Mark Twain. Shastry makes Shivy his apprentice, and they start building an airplane.

Shastry’s home is a wonder. He lives aboard a beached ship, cluttered with Rube Goldberg machines and models of his various inventions. The models — and the plane he and Shivy eventually build — have a cool steampunk aesthetic. There are dozens of birdcages, housing the pigeons whose flight patterns he studies.

The houseboat is but one amazing set in a great-looking film. Every location is full of detail, whether it’s a bedroom full of mirrors or a simple village street. Puri — who served as an assistant director on Saawariya and The Blue Umbrella, two visually sumptuous films — stamps his vision on every scene, right down to the richly colored costumes.

In addition to Shivy’s disapproving father and some suspicious British officers, the other wrinkle in his life is Sitara (Pallavi Sharda), a dancing girl with whom Shivy has fallen in love. She’s realistic about the infeasibility of their relationship, given their difference in social standing. But Shivy is both a romantic and a reformer, ever hopeful that love can conquer all.

Khurrana and Sharda make a likeable pair, with her playing the film’s most grounded character. Some of the acting is occasionally hammy, with Chakraborty the main offender.

A number of helpful characters fill out the story, including Shivy’s nephew/sidekick, Narayan (the adorable Naman Jain), and his old band leader, Khan (Jameel Khan).

Some of Shivy’s most ardent cheerleaders are women. Not only does he have Sitara in his corner, but also his sister-in-law and the wife of a local lord. The women know that Shivy’s success would strike a blow against both the British and the wealthy Indian men aligned with them. A new era of change — heralded by an airplane’s flight — could mean more opportunities for women.

Hawaizaada has a packed soundtrack, with some great songs. “Dil-e-Nadaan,” sung by Khurrana, is a standout. But a few songs feel like filler, stretching out a movie that’s already longer than it needs to be.

International audience members may find one plot thread confusing. Shivy and Shastry take some of their clues on airplane design from the Vedas, and they occasionally quote scripture that isn’t translated in the English subtitles. It’s not vital in order to follow the plot, but one does feel a bit left out.

Go watch Hawaizaada. Not only is it an uplifting story, but it’s a chance to experience the work an emerging director with a distinct aesthetic point of view. I want to see what Vibhu Puri does next.

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Movie Review: Bombay Talkies (2013)

Bombay_Talkies3 Stars (out of 4)

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Bombay Talkies is a collection of short films by four young directors, created to honor one hundred years of cinema in India. The results are mixed, but the two best shorts make the whole film worth watching.

Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh by Karan Johar

Johar’s short — a story of a gay tabloid intern (played by Saqib Saleem) who upends the life of his married boss (Rani Mukerji) — is the least successful of the four films. It doesn’t feel like a complete story, but rather a subplot of a full-length feature. The events depicted in the short would’ve made a nice catalyst for the further development of Mukerji’s character or an interesting interlude in a longer movie about Saleem’s character, struggling to find his way both as a young adult and as a gay man who’s been cast out from his family. The short film as it stands doesn’t work.

Star by Dibakar Banerjee

Banerjee’s effort is much more polished and showcases the incredible talent of Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Siddiqui plays Puradev, a failed actor who hops from job to job while waiting for his big break. Banerjee’s narrative includes some charming whimsical elements, such as Puradev’s pet emu and the disappointed ghost of his acting mentor. Siddiqui shines in a great scene in which Puradev pantomimes the events of his day for his daughter’s amusement.

Sheila Ki Jawaani by Zoya Akhtar

Akhtar’s short is the best of the bunch. Her story concerns a little boy named Vicky (Naman Jain) who wants to be a dancer, much to the chagrin of his macho father (played by Ranvir Shorey). Vicky’s idol, actress Katrina Kaif, appears to him in a vision, encouraging him to follow his dreams covertly. He gets further support from his understanding older sister, Kavya (Khushi Dubey).

Like Banerjee’s short, Akhtar’s movie includes some fantastical elements, celebrating the way in which movies allow us to envision a more magical version of reality. Hindi movies rarely feature child protagonists, so it’s refreshing to see a story that focuses on the concerns of children. Jain and Dubey are terrific.

Kaif’s advice to Vicky — be true to your dreams, but don’t broadcast them — seems like a bit of a bummer until her audience is taken into consideration. Vicky — like all children — has so little control over his present circumstances that there’s wisdom in trying to make his day-to-day life easier until he’s an adult and can do what he wants. It’s also a warning to parents to remember that children need respect as individuals as much as they need guidance and protection.

Murabba by Anurag Kashyap

After Akhtar’s delightful short, Kashyap’s film is a downer. His story follows a rural guy named Vijay (Vineet Kumar Singh) on his quest to meet Amitabh Bachchan and get him to take a bite of a piece of preserved fruit. Vijay’s father believes he’ll be cured of his ailments if he eats the rest of the fruit blessed by Bachchan’s bite, and he sends his son on a fool’s errand. Given the security retinues of modern stars, Vijay’s task is practically impossible to complete, and much suffering is inflicted upon the dutiful son in the process. It’s not fun to watch, and the payoff isn’t worth it.

“Apna Bombay Talkies”

The quartet of films is followed by a cheesy song-and-dance number featuring clips of old films and lip-syncing by current Bollywood stars. It’s almost as painfully self-congratulatory as the celebrity role-call song “Deewangi Deewangi” from Om Shanti Om, but it’s not as well choreographed. Check it out:

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Movie Review: Jai Ho (2014)

JaiHo0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Jai Ho is as lazy and lacking in self-awareness as a movie can be. It ignores its own shallow grasp of morality to promote the message of every recent Salman Khan movie: the answer to government corruption is a single, violent man.

Just how shallow is the take on morality in Jai Ho, a remake of a Telugu movie (Stalin) based on a Hollywood movie (Pay It Forward)? The notion of “paying it forward” — you help three people, then they each help three more people, and so on — is developed by a middle schooler in the Hollywood version, and by a man in his late forties in Jai Ho.

Of course it’s good to do nice things for other people. But the characters in Jai Ho talk about it so damned much, it’s as though the filmmakers think they invented the idea. “Generosity and helpfulness can benefit individuals and society? Who knew? Write forty minutes of dialogue to belabor the point!”

The title character, Jai (Salman Khan), who’s apparently a professional doer-of-favors, following his expulsion from the army, tries to popularize the notion of “paying it forward.” Everything is fine until his mom tells him that some people may not wish to participate, and that he shouldn’t be disappointed by that.

Jai’s realization that his idea may not be universally embraced causes him to lose his mind. In a blind rage, he attacks a guy harassing a street urchin. The guy just happens to be connected to a corrupt politician who winds up trying to murder Jai’s family. The situation is resolved by Jai fighting dozens of guys single-handedly and Suniel Shetty plowing through traffic in a tank.

Let’s get this straight: Jai’s responds to learning that there are mean people in the world by going on a violent rampage, endangering his family and friends and any unfortunate motorists who get in the way of Suniel Shetty’s tank. Way to make the world a better place, Jai!

What’s even more depressing is that violence really is Jai’s only recourse to stop the corrupt bureaucrat, played by Danny Denzongpa. The only evidence of systemic political change as a result of Jai’s gory heroics is that another politician — played by Mohnish Bahl — decides to look the other way.

The movie relies on emotional pandering in place of solid storytelling. Producer-director Sohail Khan trots out handicapped kids anytime he wants to bring the audience to tears and soldiers when he wants to stoke the fires of patriotism. Lest the audience fail to grasp the cinematic shorthand, there are musical cues and sound effects to let them know what emotions they are supposed to feel.

As with most of Salman Khan’s recent roles, his character’s only flaw at the beginning of the movie is that he doesn’t yet have a girlfriend. Daisy Shah is shoehorned into the story to fill the love interest role, even though she has nothing to do with the main plot. She’s never imperiled because of her relationship with Jai, she doesn’t partake in Jai’s do-gooder scheme, and she disappears during the climax.

There is exactly one good thing about Jai Ho, and that is Naman Jain as Jai’s young nephew, Kabir. He’s legitimately funny, and he’s by far the best actor in the bunch. Jai Ho should’ve made Kabir the main character, borrowing more from Pay It Forward and less from Stalin. That might’ve been a good movie.

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