Tag Archives: Nassar

Movie Review: Ram Setu (2022)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Ram Setu is interesting because it explains many of the limitations placed on the Hindi film industry by India’s current political environment, then proceeds to exemplify all of the problems it identifies. It’s a thought-provoking movie, albeit for the wrong reasons.

The story is set in 2007, allowing the filmmakers to plausibly deny that the movie is about present day India. Atheist archeologist Aryan (Akshay Kumar) discovers important artifacts in Afghanistan that reinforce the country’s connections to India via the Silk Road. Aryan notes that the whole region shares a cultural history, regardless which religion predominates, past or present.

It’s significant that writer-director Abhishek Sharma has his main character voice the merit of preserving history based on cultural import — which often aligns closely to religious import, to be fair — because Sharma spends the rest of the movie ignoring that nuanced sentiment in favor of pandering to religious zealots.

Aryan is hired by the Indian government to write a paper declaring that Ram Setu — a now-submerged land bridge connecting India to Sri Lanka — is a naturally occurring structure. This crucial step will allow shipping magnate Indrakant (Nassar) to demolish part of the bridge for speedier ocean transit. There are environmental concerns about the project, too, but they are nothing compared to the vociferous opposition by Hindu groups who believe that Rama himself built the bridge.

Aryan’s wife Gayatri (Nushrratt Baruccha) is a believer and warns Aryan against getting involved. He does anyway. Due to the ferocity of the protests, Aryan is scapegoated and suspended, and the couple’s son is bullied at school. Aryan figures that the only way to clear his name is to accept Indrakant’s offer to investigate Ram Setu personally and prove that it is not a man-made structure.

Indrakant and his villainous lackey Bali (Pravesh Rana) are condemned for demanding Aryan and the other researchers — including environmental scientist Dr. Rebello (Jacqueline Fernandez) and geologist Dr. Gabrielle (Jeniffer Piccinato) — cherry-pick their findings to support the bridge’s destruction rather than follow the evidence where it leads. Yet Ram Setu does the exact same thing. It lays out plenty of plausible counter-arguments, but it ends up with Aryan being converted and publicly declaring that God is real.

Sharma writes a couple of courtroom scenes in which the lawyer for the state argues that that even if Ram Setu was man-made, Aryan hasn’t proven that Rama was the one who built it. And further, why is the bridge’s significance to Hindus more important than its significance to Christians and Muslims? All these claims could fall under the cultural value statement that Aryan himself made earlier in the film, especially if they are considered collectively. But Aryan insists that Rama is the architect and that Hinduism’s claims on the bridge are the only ones that matter.

Based on the positions Sharma writes for the opposition, he knows what a movie that trusts in the intelligence of its audience would sound like. Unfortunately, he took to heart one of the lessons Aryan learns: don’t anger the mob. The end result is a movie that feels pandering, and therefore forgettable.

The adventure aspects of the film are not bad in concept, but there wasn’t the budget to execute them properly. There’s lots of obvious green-screen usage, with backgrounds and environments that feel fake. The practical sets that are used are pretty good.

Performances across the board are uneven, with Kumar being needlessly shouty at times. His emoting in the film’s lone dance number is unappetizing. Telugu star Satyadev Kancharana is a welcome addition to the story as helpful Sri Lankan tour guide AP.


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Movie Review: D-Day (2013)

D-DayPoster4 Stars (out of 4)

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At least twice in D-Day, Rishi Kapoor’s character Goldman utters the phrase, “Everyone has a price,” as movie villains are wont to do. He fails to heed another truism that the Indian spies pursuing him know all too well: there’s a limit to every person’s utility. Reach yours, and you become expendable.

D-Day introduces the arms dealer Goldman at the start of his reign of terror in 1993. Twenty years and several hundred dead bodies later, India finally gets its chance to nab Goldman at his son’s wedding in Pakistan. India can’t afford to mount the kind of raid the Americans used to catch Bin Laden without risking all-out war, so Chief of Intelligence Ashwini (Nassar) — who’s days away from retirement, naturally — activates a sleeper agent he placed in Karachi years ago.

The agent, Valli (Irrfan Khan), has spent years establishing a life in Karachi, complete with his own barber shop, a wife, and a son. When called upon to do his duty for his country, he’s assisted by three other agents: explosives expert Zoya (Huma Qureshi), getaway driver Aslam (Aakash Daahiya), and cagey mercenary Rudra (Arjun Rampal).

The film shows the crew’s exciting capture of Goldman early on, before backtracking to their initial meeting. Events catch up to Goldman’s capture at the halfway point in the film and proceed from there. Predictably, things don’t go as smoothly as planned.

Even though D-Day contains certain clichéd spy-movie elements — the raid that doesn’t go as planned, the retiring chief — the movie is so well-constructed that it reminds us why those clichés exist. The chief is under a time limit; he has to see this through before he loses his power. If Goldman is captured without incident, there’s no second half to the movie.

D-Day so carefully executes the formula that the audience has come to expect that it’s able to turn some of those expectations on their heads. For example, the movie subverts the kind of romantic song-break familiar to Bollywood fans. Lovers stare longingly into each others eyes while romantic music plays, only one of the lovers is in the process of being brutally victimized by a third party. It’s so damned clever yet completely moving at the same time, that I found myself crying even while my jaw gaped in astonishment.

There’s not a bad performance in the bunch, but Irrfan and Rampal deserve special plaudits for their tense rivalry. Valli’s struggles with the fact that his loyalty to India could cost him his wife and son provoke the ire of misanthropic Rudra, who only begrudgingly accepts that he needs Valli’s knowledge of the local terrain.

D-Day also has a couple of strong female characters, and not in the current Hollywood sense of “strong” meaning a woman who is able to physically overpower men. Qureshi gets to do a bit of fighting, but her strength lies in keeping the crew on task while coping with fears that she’ll never see her husband again. Shruti Haasan has an important role as Pooja, a prostitute whom Rudra shacks up with to save money (rooms in Karachi brothels are apparently more affordable than hotels). Pooja knows Rudra will leave her like every other man she services does, but her eyes give away the faintest hint of hope.

While D-Day is an all-out entertaining spy thriller, it’s aware of the nuances of Pakistani-Indian relations. It makes it clear that victim-aggressor status is fluid and subjective, and it gives credit to the intelligence agencies of both countries for knowing that as well. When war is always a possibility, sometimes allowing your opponent to save face is the most prudent course of action.


Movie Review: Rowdy Rathore (2012)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure that pouring water on your head won’t prevent a brain hemorrhage. This suspect piece of medical advice is one of the sillier aspects of the very silly movie Rowdy Rathore.

Billed as Akshay Kumar’s return to the action genre, Rowdy Rathore is more of a “masala” movie that blends together various genres. The first hour is a goofy comedy that primarily follows Kumar’s antics as Shiva, a petty thief in Mumbai. Shiva’s wooing of beautiful country gal Paro (Sonakshi Sinha) is interrupted when he unwittingly kidnaps a little girl who believes that Shiva is her father.

The girl, Chinki, is the daughter of super-cop Vikram Rathore (also Kumar), who looks exactly like Shiva, only with curls at the end of his mustache. Rathore is presumed dead after a failed attempt to free the small town of Devgarh from the grip of a crime lord named Baapji (Nassar). Chinki takes one look at Shiva and assumes he’s Rathore. Baapji’s goons do the same.

Here’s the twist: Rathore’s not actually dead. Rathore survived being shot in the head, but Rathore’s fellow police officers and a few dozen villagers allowed Baapji to believe Rathore deceased, giving the super-cop time to recuperate and finish the job he set out to do. After all, Rathore’s catchphrase is, “I always do what I say.”

The dubious medical advice I mentioned in the opening paragraph comes in to play when Rathore experiences double vision while chasing some of Baapji’s henchmen. The symptoms go away after he dowses his head with cool water, an act that his doctor says saved his life. Had he not, the doctor explains, Rathore’s brain would’ve overheated and hemorrhaged.

Uh, Doc? I don’t think that’s how the brain works.

The symptoms return during a massive fight scene in which Shiva sees his doppelgänger for the first time. Rathore is stabbed in the abdomen and collapses. Just as he’s about to finished off, it begins to rain. The cooling raindrops rejuvenate Rathore — and heal his stab wound, apparently! — and he’s able to kill all of the bad guys.

All of this absurdity would be fine were it not immediately followed by a flashback to Rathore’s first attempt to clean up Devgarh. Baapji and his men are revealed as rapists, kidnappers, murderers, and extortionists. It’s grim stuff that’s followed by an attempt to conjure tears from the plight of poor Chinki, whose mother is dead and who believes the wrong man is her father.

Things lighten up again when Shiva pretends to be Rathore, adding a swagger to the hard-nosed cop’s bravura. He even adds a delightfully absurd line to Rathore’s catchphrase: “And I definitely do what I don’t say.”

This is the strongest and funniest part of the story, and I would’ve liked to have seen more of Shiva impersonating Rathore. Perhaps the story would’ve felt more balanced had the villagers also believed Rathore to be dead, only to have him return to them wackier than before. It could’ve been more along the lines of a Bollywood version of Zorro, The Gay Blade.

Beyond the manipulative plucking of heartstrings at Chinki’s expense, Rowdy Rathore ignores the serious questions the story raises. How does a stickler for law and order like Rathore feel about placing his daughter and his reputation in the hands of a thief? And does anyone plan to tell Chinki the truth?

But Rowdy Rathore is not a serious movie, which is okay. The martial-arts-heavy action scenes are entertaining, even if the stuntmen flop about as though they’re auditioning to be pro wrestlers. Paresh Ganatra is funny as Shiva’s much-abused sidekick, 2G.

The film’s strong point is its collection of musical numbers. Set to very catchy songs, the four dance numbers are the type of large-scale productions which seem increasingly rare on the big screen. They alone are almost worth the price of admission. Just be sure to take Rowdy Rathore‘s medical advice with a grain of salt.