Tag Archives: Nargis Fakhri

Movie Review: Banjo (2016)

banjo1 Star (out of 4)

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One of the reasons I started reviewing Bollywood films was so that I could warn non-Hindi speakers and those without Indian cultural roots about movies that don’t translate well internationally. Banjo is one of those movies. Botched English subtitles and not enough context make Banjo confusing.

There are a number of problems with the subtitles. Dialogue spoken by off-camera characters — including the narrator — is frequently not subtitled at all. When it is, the subtitling is incomplete or improperly synchronized. Even the spoken English dialogue is sometimes written incorrectly in the subtitles, so who knows how well the Hindi dialogue is translated.

The missing subtitles are troublesome because Banjo is already terrible in regard to context. It’s often unclear why things are happening.

Let’s start with the film’s female lead, Chris (Nargis Fakhri). She’s an American musician or DJ — the subtitles and dialogue contradict each other — in need of two songs to submit to a music festival in New York. She gets an audio file from her friend, Mikey (Luke Kenny) — whose name is written as “Mickey” — of a band performing at a Ganesh Chaturthi festival, and she drops everything to fly to Mumbai and find them.

For reasons that aren’t made clear, it is apparently impossible for Mikey and Chris to find the band he recorded at the festival. I guess simply asking people in the neighborhood is not an option, which is unfortunate because literally everyone knows who they are.

The band is fronted by Taraat (Riteish Deshmukh), the group’s vocalist and banjo player. His day job is shaking down people for money at the behest of a local politician, Patil. The other three members of the band are drummers: a mechanic named Grease (Dharmesh Yelande in an embarrassing wig), a paperboy named Paper, and another guy named Vaja.

With zero leads, Chris is forced to turn to the slimy uncle of her New York friend Mira (Shruthi Mathur). The subtitles cut out right as Uncle gives Chris an assignment, but this is what I surmise the assignment to be: go to a particular slum and take unflattering photos of it, and Uncle will use the photos to have the place condemned so that a rich builder can demolish it and build a high-rise. I have no idea how much of that Uncle directly conveys to Chris, but she heads to the slum, camera in hand.

There, she’s introduced to Patil, who may or may not understand why she’s really there to take pictures. I’m not sure. The guide he assigns to show her around is Taraat.

Here’s where the film really falls on its ass. Writer-director Ravi Jadhav doesn’t explain why, but apparently it’s disreputable to be a banjo player (or one of his backup drummers). This is kind of important because Taraat lies to Chris when she asks if he knows any banjo players. All of the conflict in the first half is built around this lie, conveniently maintained by no one slipping up and outing Taraat by accident.

After watching the whole movie, I have no idea why it’s so bad to be a banjo player. Maybe Indian viewers understand, but it isn’t explained in the story. Without context, the central conflict of the first half of the film makes no sense.

Then again, the conflict in the second half of the film doesn’t make any sense either. The truth is revealed, and Chris forms a band with them…wait, what’s her role in the band? She sings a few lines, but she doesn’t seem to write the music, so why is Chris suddenly in charge?

Chris sucks because she can only see her predicament in terms of herself. She NEEDS a song for the festival, and Taraat and co. HAVE to help her! She can’t understand why these guys who live in a slum want to be paid for playing and don’t like working for exposure.

She’s also totally, totally uncool. I’ve seen better dancing at an Iowa wedding reception than Chris’s rigid, off-tempo bobbing. The movie’s single dumbest moment is when another musician filches one of her belongings. “He stole the plectrum,” she yells. You know what a plectrum is? It’s a freaking guitar pick. No one calls it a plectrum!

Nargis Fakhri is miscast as Chris. A better choice for a cool American would be Lisa Haydon. Besides Fakhri’s stiffness, her delivery is all wrong when she speaks in her native English. I can only imagine how bad she sounds in Hindi.

Riteish Deshmukh is much more fun to watch in dramatic roles than in the slapstick sidekick parts that pay his bills, but he deserves a better movie than this. Banjo doesn’t make enough sense to enjoyable, despite a decent soundtrack. Skip it.

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Movie Review: Housefull 3 (2016)

Housefull32 Stars (out of 4)

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Lies. Manipulation. Betrayal. When considered from the perspective of the three female leads, Housefull 3 is a tragedy, not a comedy.

Wealthy sisters Gracy (Jacqueline Fernandez), Jenny (Lisa Haydon), and Sarah (Nargis Fakhri) live in London with their doting father, Batuk Patel (Boman Irani, playing a different character from the first two Housefull films, but with the same name). The beautiful, accomplished women — Gracy is a doctor, Jenny an artist, and Sarah a philanthropist — have grown up under the shadow of a curse: catastrophe befalls anyone in their family who marries, thus their father has forbidden them from ever falling in love.

However, Batuk’s family curse is a ruse to hide a more treacherous reason for keeping the women single. The sisters’ entire lives are built upon lies told by their own father.

Despite Batuk’s warnings, the women find romance. Gracy loves Sandy (Akshay Kumar), a wannabe footballer who dreams of owning a soccer club just so he can give himself a place on the roster. Jenny loves Teddy (Riteish Deshmukh), an aspiring race car driver who can’t find a sponsor. Sarah loves Bunty (Abhishek Bachchan), an untalented rapper who wants to start his own record label.

The three men realize that the only way to finance their delusional dreams is by marrying wealthy women. They set their sights on the three sisters, vowing to do whatever it takes to get their hands on a share of the Patel fortune.

Throughout the film, the women have no idea that they are being used by their boyfriends. Their father’s lies eventually put their very lives at risk. In a perfect world, the sisters would take their money and run, ditching all of the men who’ve deceived them.

But this Housefull 3, the third installment of a franchise built on the disposability and interchangeability of it female characters. Gracy, Jenny, and Sarah are hollow shells in sparkly outfits. For them to appreciate the degree to which they’ve been manipulated, they’d have to be fully realized humans, which they are not.

Instead, the story focuses on the three loser boyfriends who feign various disabilities to deceive first Batuk and later Urja Nagre (Jackie Shroff) a recently paroled mafia don. There are mistaken identities, wacky fight scenes, and people running around flailing their hands in the air. It feels so very tired.

Housefull 3 also feels cheap, as if directing duo Sajid-Farhad were instructed to spend as little as possible in order to maximize profits. Teddy’s big car race pits him against just one other driver on a giant track. When Teddy has to fake blindness, he uses a regular walking cane, not the white cane used by blind people. The climactic fight scene takes place in a wax statue factory full of rejects from Madame Tussaud’s, including a statue of The Rock with oversized ears.

The plot is stretched to maximum thinness to lengthen the amount of time between the few important plot revelations that exist, padded out with Bollywood in-jokes and movie references. Chunky Pandey’s character Aakhri Pasta is brought back for a third time because, well, why not?

One point in Housefull 3‘s favor concerns Kumar’s character, who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder. Sandy has an angry alternate personality named Sundi whose sole goal is to cause Sandy suffering, but Sundi does so in ways that are more annoying than harmful. One funny sequence finds Sundi in a bathroom, rubbing liquid hand soap in Sandy/Sundi’s eyes and kicking his shin against a towel rack.

Beyond Sandy’s cartoonish internal nemesis, there isn’t much clever or new in Housefull 3, and it’s hard to see a way to freshen up the formula for a fourth time. Maybe it’s time to close the doors on this franchise for good.

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Movie Review: Azhar (2016)

Azhar_Hindi_poster1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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A film about the scandal-plagued life of a former Indian cricket captain deserves a grand scale, but Azhar feels like a made-for-TV movie.

I can’t testify to the accuracy of Azhar‘s story, as I know nothing about Mohammad Azharuddin. I never saw him play a minute of cricket, which puts me in the same boat as almost every Indian under the age of twenty.

That said, Azhar requires no foreknowledge, since all the dialogue is on the nose. Here’s how the cricket chairman drops the bombshell on Azhar (Emraan Hashmi) the night before the captain’s hundredth appearance for the national team: “Azhar, I have some bad news for you. You have been accused of match fixing.”

In case the dialogue isn’t direct enough, the actors go out of their way to make things extra clear. When Azhar decides to fight the cricket association’s lifetime ban in court, the prosecutor, Meera (Lara Dutta), tries to question M.K. Sharma (Rajesh Sharma), the bookie accused of bribery. She tells Sharma that she wants dirt on Azhar, causing Sharma to make an exaggerated gulping noise, leap out of his chair, and whip his head over each shoulder to see if anyone is behind him.

During the course of the eight-year-long court case, we get flashbacks to Azhar’s earlier life, including his relationship with his grandfather, his marriage to Naureen (Prachi Desai), and his affair with Sangeeta (Nargis Fakhri). The romantic plotlines make Azhar seem like a jerk, in which case he’d better be a helluva cricket player.

This brings me to the movie’s single biggest failing: it makes cricket look totally boring. According to Azhar, cricket is just a sequence of slow-rolling ground balls, with a few balls occasionally bopped into the stands. There’s no tension or excitement whatsoever.

Director Tony D’Souza uses so many tight shots during the cricket scenes that it’s impossible to tell what a match actually looks like. The entire frame is filled by a ball skittering past an outstretched hand or a ball plucked out of mid-air by another hand. Did the fielder have to run to catch it? How high did he jump? Where were the other fielders in relation to the play? D’Souza’s direction offers no clues.

The director applies this same framing to Azhar, so we never get a sense of how good a player he is. Hashmi spends most of his time on the field standing with his hands on his hips. Never has an actor playing a star athlete seemed so non-athletic.

Another problem with the main character is that he looks exactly the same throughout, whether Azhar is supposed to be twenty or almost fifty. It’s impossible to tell by looking at Hashmi when any given scene is taking place.

This is not one of Hashmi’s best performances, but it seems as though he’s doing what’s asked of him. D’Souza’s style doesn’t allow for subtlety. Periodic reverb on the dialogue recording further distracts from the film’s performances.

Neither Desai nor Fakhri have much to do, though Desai proves herself the better of the two at crying. Kunaal Roy Kapur is proficient in the thankless role of Azhar’s lawyer. Dutta’s no-nonsense performance is the best in the film.

There are a lot of people in the world who never witnessed Mohammad Azharuddin at his peak. We don’t know him. Azhar doesn’t give us a compelling reason to care.

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Movie Review: Main Tera Hero (2014)

MTH_Poster3 Stars (out of 4)

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Ever since the traumatizing experiences of watching Do Knot Disturb and Rascals, director David Dhawan’s name has struck fear in my heart. But after last year’s cute comedy Chashme Baddoor and now Main Tera Hero (“I’m Your Hero“), I have less reason to fear.

Main Tera Hero infuses the romantic comedy genre with action to accompany some impressive dance numbers. The hero at the center is played by Varun Dhawan (David’s son), whose substantial charisma hints at a long career ahead for a young actor in only his second film.

Varun plays Seenu, a worthless trickster so loathed in his hometown of Ooty that all the residents wave a gleeful farewell to him when he boards the train to Bangalore. He arrives at university and begs a statue of Krishna — who talks back — to help him focus on his studies. Seenu turns to see beautiful Sunaina (Ileana D’Cruz), hair streaming in the breeze, and he interprets her appearance as a sign from God. Seenu doesn’t linger to hear Krishna bemoan having a devotee dim enough to mistake a gust of wind for divine intervention.

Seenu’s pursuit of Sunaina is complicated by the fact that Angad (Arunoday Singh) — a burly police officer with anger issues — already has his eyes on her. Seenu turns the mischievous nature that made him so loathed in Ooty into an asset, and he tricks Angad into letting him court Sunaina.

D’Cruz rocks some great facial expressions throughout the movie, but she’s at her best during this courtship phase. Seenu tries to win Sunaina with the song “Palat Tera Hero Idhar Hai,” but Sunaina spends most of the song being startled by him. It’s hilarious to watch her jump as a horn plays behind her or Seenu surprises her at a movie theater.

Seenu’s pursuit is derailed at the movie’s halfway point when a secret admirer of his — Ayesha (Nargis Fakhri), a gangster’s daughter — tricks Seenu into coming to Bangkok to rescue Sunaina. This twist isn’t set up well, but it provides an excuse to get Varun, D’Cruz, and Fakhri into swimsuits and chilling poolside at a Bangkok mansion. That’s the whole point of the movie, right?

There’s plenty of skin on display, as well as an overabundance of pelvic thrusts. David Dhawan repeatedly positions the camera on the ground and points it up at Varun’s crotch. Thanks for pointing out exactly where Varun’s penis is, David, since we couldn’t see it through his pants.

More than just a thrusting pelvis, Varun does some good work in Main Tera Hero. He’s always engaged, throwing in subtle gestures and glances that maintain interest while Seenu does utilitarian things like walk from Point A to Point B. He’s also a tremendous dancer, and the movie’s several dance numbers allow him to show off.

Main Tera Hero has a really strong supporting cast, from Rajpal Yadav as Angad’s much abused sidekick, Peter, to Saurab Shukla as Ayesha’s father’s much abused sidekick, Balli. Ayesha’s father (played by Anupam Kher in an awesome wig) speaks with an echo, a tic that resulted from him being born in a valley. The “echo” is just Kher saying the same word three or four times at the end of a sentence, making the joke that much funnier.

The echo bit fits nicely with other surreal elements — like talking statues and balloons that wink — that help make sense of the random sound effects of which director Dhawan is fond.

The weak link in the cast is Fakhri. Though she speaks more Hindi dialogue in Main Tera Hero than she has in her previous films, she still sounds like she’s reading a cue card for the first time when she delivers lines in her native English.

There are also gender-bias flaws inherent in this kind of male-hero-centered film. Seenu falls in love with Sunaina on first sight, and uses his love to justify his pursuit of her despite her repeated objections. Later, Seenu fails to see the hypocrisy in his condescending dismissal of Ayesha’s love-at-first-sight for him. That kind of love, he claims, is mutual, even though it took several days for Sunaina to fall for him.

Accepting those flaws, Main Tera Hero is nevertheless pretty harmless. It has some laughs, energetic dance numbers, and an attractive cast. It’s exactly what it’s supposed to be.

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Opening April 4: Main Tera Hero

The action-comedy Main Tera Hero opens in Chicago area theaters on April 4, 2014. David Dhawan directs his son, Varun, and co-stars Nargis Fakhri and Ileana D’Cruz.

Main Tera Hero opens on Friday at the AMC 600 North Michigan 9 in Chicago, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 8 min.

The South Barrington 30 is also carrying over Queen, which continues to post big returns at the North American box office.

The Lunchbox carries over at the Century 12 Evanston in Evanston and Renaissance Place Cinema in Highland Park.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Legend (Telugu, with English subtitles) at the Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge; Rowdy (Telugu) at the Rosemont 18 and South Barrington 30; and Balyakalasakhi (Malayalam), Cuckoo (Tamil), and Oru Kanniyum Moonu Kalavaanikalum (Tamil) at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles.

Movie Review: Madras Cafe (2013)

Madras_Cafe_Poster3 Stars (out of 4)

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Madras Cafe vividly depicts the horrors of the Sri Lankan civil war, while providing a glimpse into the complexities of efforts to bring the conflict to an end. The spy story at the core of the film isn’t watertight, but Madras Cafe is stirring nonetheless.

The narrative is bookended by the narration of a former Indian Army officer, Vikram Singh (John Abraham). Struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism, Vikram recounts his role in the Sri Lankan civil war to a priest, hoping to ease the guilt from multiple deaths he was unable to prevent.

Flashing back to several years earlier, Vikram is sent to Jaffna, a city in northern Sri Lanka, to work with Indian intelligence agents to influence local elections in the hopes of ending the civil war through political reconciliation. This proves difficult not only because Anna (Ajay Rathnam), the leader of a militant separatist  group, doesn’t trust the Indian government’s promises to protect the rights of ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka, but also because there is a mole working within the intelligence service.

Because of the complex nature of the conflict and the different factions operating with opposing goals, there are a lot of people and places to keep track of. This doesn’t pose a huge problem in following the story, but rather it highlights the impossibility of Vikram’s task. With none of the parties willing to compromise or trust one another, Vikram seems to be risking his life even though he has no hope of success.

The second half of Madras Cafe focuses on an assassination plot targeting a former Indian prime minister running for reelection on the promise to end the war in Sri Lanka. It’s revealed early on that the plot is successful, so the events show Vikram and other government agents as they try (and fail) to stop the assassination.

This portion of the story isn’t nearly as detailed as the events of the first half, to its detriment. It’s not entirely clear who is driving the assassination plot or why, apart from scenes of secret meetings in London’s Madras Cafe between Anna’s representatives and agents from “the West.” The movie doesn’t attempt to explain why Western governments would support the militants in opposition to an Indian government trying to stop a war in a neighboring country. This may be common knowledge to those familiar with the details of the real-life conflict, but a few lines of explanation wouldn’t have slowed the story.

The other disappointing aspects of the plots involving Westerners is that the characters who speak strictly in English sound as though they are reading their lines from cue cards. That goes for American actress Nargis Fakhri, as well. Fakhri plays Jaya, a British journalist who is nothing more than a plot device.

Abraham is good as Vikram, but his performance is too subdued. Abraham’s strongest role in the film is as its producer, where he again shows a knack for choosing interesting stories.

The depictions of the brutality of war are Madras Cafe‘s strongest suit. There’s a lot of blood and a high body count in the film, which is important for impressing upon the audience the horror of a civil war that lasted nearly thirty years and cost tens of thousands of lives. This is definitely not a film for the whole family.

The film’s score is understated and appropriate for the grim imagery. There are no song-and-dance numbers, which would’ve felt out-of-place. Though not flawless, Madras Cafe respects its audience and provides plenty of material for further reflection. It’s a film worth seeing.

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Movie Review: Rockstar (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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The trailer for Rockstar presented the movie as a typical rom-com in which a dork melts an ice queen’s heart before the interval, only to have obstacles to their love thrown in their path for the second half of the movie. Rockstar is less conventional than that. At times, it’s an extended music video, at others a hypnotic tale of passion. It’s not always successful, but director Imtiaz Ali deserves credit for trying something different.

As in Ali’s two previous hits — Jab We Met and Love Aaj KalRockstar features a hero unable to articulate his feelings for his beloved, even if it means losing her to another man. This time the tongue-tied protagonist is Janardhan (Ranbir Kapoor), a dorky college kid with superstar ambitions.

Cafeteria-owner Khatana (Kumud Mishra) tells Janardhan that his life has been too easy, and that all musicians must suffer for their art. Janardhan’s real problem is a lack of charisma and a fondness for unflattering sweater vests, but that’s not much of a movie set-up.

Janardhan humiliates himself in a clumsy effort to woo the most popular girl in school, Heer (Nargis Fakhri), who’s already engaged to a rich guy from Prague. The two become pals, and she gives him the stage name “Jordan.” She also gives him an opportunity to express his feelings for her and perhaps forestall her marriage. He doesn’t take it, and Heer heads to Prague.

To this point — about the first hour of a 2-hour 40-minute movie — the story is laid out rather predictably: the kids have fun in seedy back alleys and amidst beautiful scenery in Kashmir, the setting for Heer’s wedding. The snowy mountain passes and gorgeous costumes are a real highlight.

Things veer from the expected during the film’s second hour. It begins not chronologically, but rather with a reporter investigating Jordan’s early career. It’s two years after Heer’s wedding, and Khatana recounts the emotion collapse that preceded Jordan’s rise to Indian rock stardom. An international music competition brings Jordan to Prague where he and Heer rekindle their interrupted romance, despite her now-married status.

Much of this storyline unfolds through A.R. Rahman’s incredible soundtrack. The second hour of Rockstar is primarily a string of music videos, the lyrics of Jordan’s music (voiced by Mohit Chauhan) providing insight into his emotional growth in way he can’t express in conversation. Thankfully, the lyrics are translated really well, allowing the story to unfold in an intriguing way.

Kapoor and Fakhri are terrific together. Their love scenes are sexy and passionate. Fakhri’s big screen debut is a promising one, as she plays Heer with the right mix of vulnerability and strength.

It’s unfortunate, then, that the movie ends the way that it does. While the movie’s main character is clearly Jordan, the second hour of the film gives equal weight to the choices both he and Heer must make. As the movie shifts into its third and final timeframe, Heer’s choices are taken from her, reducing her from a lead character to a mere catalyst for Jordan’s emotional growth.

That disservice to Heer’s character — along with an awkward bridge between the final shot of the movie and the closing credits, made up of scenes of Jordan and Heer in happier times — left me with mixed feelings about the movie. It’s uneven (and too long, of course), but the solid performances, beautiful scenery and intriguing story-telling mechanism make it worth a trip to the theater.

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