Tag Archives: Nawazuddin Siddiqui

Movie Review: Mom (2017)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

In a vacuum, Mom is an engaging revenge thriller that fully utilizes its star’s considerable charisma. Yet the film’s very existence raises the question as to whether the genre has exhausted its ability to add to the conversation about rape.

Sridevi plays the titular mother, Devki, a secondary school teacher. She has a young daughter Priya with her husband, Anand (Adnan Siddiqui), who brought another daughter — 18-year-old Arya (Sajal Ali) — with him into the marriage. The strained relationship between stepmother and stepdaughter is exacerbated by the fact that Devki is Arya’s Biology teacher. When a fellow student, Mohit, texts Arya lewd material during class, Devki throws Mohit’s phone out the window.

Arya later rejects Mohit’s advances at a party, so he enlists his sleazy cousin Charles (Vikas Verma), security guard Baburam (Pitobash), and drug dealer Jagan (Abhimanyu Singh) to kidnap her. They gang rape Arya and leave her for dead in a ditch. Upon waking, Arya bitterly tells Devki that the men told her “Call your mom!” during the assault.

When the justice system inevitably fails to convict the men, Devki realizes that her relationship with Arya will be irretrievably broken unless she takes revenge upon them herself. She enlists a private detective named DK (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) to track down the rapists before the lead police officer on Arya’s case, Mathew (Akshaye Khanna), uncovers her scheme.

There’s a lot to like about Mom, chiefly Sridevi, who is most heartbreaking in moments when Devki futilely tries to connect with Arya. Ali, for her part, nails the moody teen role. First-time feature director Ravi Udyawar maximizes Sridevi’s legendary beauty in a number of strikingly composed shots. (Udyawar’s camera direction is less successful in a hard-to-follow chase scene.)

Debutant screenwriter Girish Kohli provides his actors with memorable dialogue, and Khanna and Nawazuddin Siddiqui deliver their lines with style. Adnan Siddiqui gives gravity to a role that requires him to stay in the background in order to keep Sridevi in the spotlight.

Things get tricky when considering whether we need another movie about avenging rape. I’ll concede that living in America my whole life has exposed me to many stories about this topic, both fictional and non-fictional. The Hollywood film The Accused brought the story of justice for a gang rape victim into the mainstream back in 1988. Until recently, many Hindi films treated the rape of a woman as nothing more than a catalyst to provoke a male hero into action. Real-life sexual assaults in India in the last several years have shifted the focus of fictional stories — such as 2016’s Pink — onto the victims themselves.

So while there is still a desire among Indian filmmakers and audiences to confront the horrors of rape, I’m not sure that Mom treads any new ground in doing so. There is a cliched shot of Arya in the shower following the rape, scrubbing her skin so hard that it bleeds. A man is raped in jail and is laughed at for it — as though male rape is less serious than female rape. There’s a belief that the perpetrators deserve punishment that damages their sexual organs, and also a belief that doing so will restore Arya to her former self, at least to some degree.

All of these ideas have been presented so often in movies that we’ve taken them for granted. But are these ideas actually valuable, or do they just feed off the sense of helplessness experienced by bystanders to rape, whether immediate or from afar? Too many films about rape function as a kind of call-to-action fantasy for someone other than the victim — only this fantasy requires someone to suffer in order to bring it to fruition.

Director Udyawar does the right thing by not showing the acts of sexual violence, focusing instead on the aftermath. It removes any chance of such violence being sensationalized or depicted as titillating. He also fairly assumes that the Indian justice system (like the American justice system) is rigged against rape victims. But other than establishing those benchmarks for future filmmakers, Mom covers a lot of familiar territory. It’s a well-made movie, but I’m not sure it’s a story I needed to see again.

Links

Advertisements

Movie Review: Raees (2017)

raees2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the movie at Amazon or iTunes
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon or iTunes

Raees (“Wealthy“) stars one of Bollywood’s most charismatic actors, a fact that the screenplay takes for granted. The story of a gangster’s rise to power lacks emotional depth, relying on the audience’s familiarity with Shah Rukh Khan’s dashing heroes of the past to fill in the blanks.

Raees (Khan) spent his childhood running liquor for Jairaj (Atul Kulkarni), a dangerous job given that Gujarat is officially an alcohol-free state. As a young man, Raees wants to branch out into his own boozy enterprise with his best friend, Sadiq (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), much to Jairaj’s resentment. A Mumbai don named Musa (Narendra Jha) helps Raees start his business after witnessing the Gujarati beat up a warehouse full of men while using a severed goat’s head as a weapon, all because someone dared to call the bespectacled Raees “four-eyes.”

As Raees’s illegal empire expands, he draws the attention of a straitlaced cop, Inspector Majmudar (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who makes it his mission to put Raees out of business. This sets up a cat-and-mouse game that is never quite as clever as one hopes.

The nature of the criminal operations in Gujarat and Mumbai makes it difficult for Raees to keep his promise to his mother that no one should ever be harmed for the sake of business. Granted, most of the people Raees kills tried to kill him first, but he willingly puts his employees in danger during one fiery political protest. There’s some retroactive rephrasing to imply that what Mom really meant was that no innocents should be harmed, but that’s not what she said (at least according to the English subtitles).

This distinction is important, because Raees goes from emphatically rejecting violence to shooting up a room full of crooks without batting an eye. Raees himself doesn’t seem bothered by the morality of his actions, and no one holds him to task. It’s as though writer-director Rahul Dholakia expects Khan’s ardent fans to see him in the role of Raees and thus assume that his character’s actions are justified, no matter what they are.

In many gangster dramas, the role of the protagonist’s conscience often goes to his love interest, but Raees’s wife Aasiya (Mahira Khan) is a willing bootlegger. Mahira Khan is something special, teasing Raees with an irresistible smirk. She’s one of the film’s highlights, and she does a fine job in her musical numbers.

The movie’s showpiece song sequence to the tune of “Laila Main Laila” is eye-catching, juxtaposing Raees’s brutality against Sunny Leone’s shimmying. The best dancing in Raees, however, is Siddiqui’s Michael Jackson impersonation, a scene that is far, far too brief.

Khan, Siddiqui, and Ayyub are all good in Raees, but they could have been even better with a script that did more to develop their characters.

Links

Movie Review: Lion (2016)

lion3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the book at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon or iTunes

Lion releases in theaters across North America on Christmas Day.

Lion‘s heart-wrenching international odyssey is carried on the tiny shoulders Sunny Pawar, the adorable star of this true story of a lost Indian boy’s attempt to find home.

5-year-old Saroo (Pawar) lives in a village in Madhya Pradesh with his preteen brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), baby sister Shekila (Khushi Solanki), and their mother (played by Priyanka Bose). Guddu and tiny Saroo do a variety of odd jobs — legal and otherwise — to supplement their mom’s wages as a laborer.

One night, Guddu takes Saroo with him on the train to look for work in a neighboring town, leaving Saroo asleep on a bench on the train platform. After Saroo wakes up alone, he searches for Guddu on an empty passenger train before dozing off in one of the seats. When Saroo wakes again, the train is moving, and it doesn’t stop for two days.

Saroo ultimately winds up in Calcutta, more than 1,000 kilometers from home. He doesn’t speak the local language, and he couldn’t explain where he was from even if he did because he’s just a little kid. As far as he knows, his mother’s full name is “Mom.”

His cleverness and adaptability help him survive on the street for months, staying fed and avoiding child traffickers. He’s so competent that it’s easy to forget that homelessness is just as new to him as the city and the language.

What makes this sequence so effective is that little Sunny Pawar is the picture of childhood vulnerability, with skinny limbs, chubby cheeks, and giant, brown eyes. His very being calls out to evolutionary parental instincts: “Protect me!” Yet, as Saroo, he’s overlooked by most adults as just another street kid. (A note at the film’s end states that 80,000 children go missing in India every year.)

Eventually, Saroo winds up in an orphanage that looks more like a prison. The staff do what they can to find the boy’s mom under the limitations of Saroo’s knowledge and communication technology circa 1986 (i.e. an ad in the local newspaper). When their efforts fail, kindly Mrs. Sood (Deepti Naval) shows Saroo a photo of John (David Wenham) and Sue (Nicole Kidman) Brierley: his new adoptive parents from Australia.

After a typical Tasmanian childhood, Saroo (played as adult by Dev Patel) moves to Melbourne for a course in hotel management, falling in with a group of international students that includes some Indians. Meeting them awakens buried memories of his birth family, inspiring a years-long quest to determine exactly where he’s from.

When Saroo starts his search in 2008, he has at his disposal the satellite images of Google Earth and tables of historic data on train speeds. Even if he’d wanted to look for his birth family at a younger age, the technology to do so wasn’t widely accessible.

Despite the cast’s star-power, most of the supporting roles feel peripheral to the story. That applies especially to Rooney Mara as Saroo’s American girlfriend, Lucy, who exists just to be pushed away by Saroo as he becomes obsessed with his research. Wenham is solid in his few scenes, and Kidman shines in a monologue about why she adopted Saroo.

An important character who could have used more screentime is Mantosh (Divian Ladwa), another orphan from India the Brierley’s adopted after Saroo. Young Mantosh (played by Keshav Jadhav) arrives in Australia with a load of emotional and behavioral problems, probably as a result of whatever accident left all the scars on his head. The boys share a fraught relationship that boils over when Saroo’s search reminds him of the kind older brother he had before Mantosh.

Bollywood fans will recognize a number of actors like Bose, Naval, and Pallavi Sharda. Stars Tannishtha Chatterjee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui have small but memorable parts as well.

Patel’s performance is compelling, as Saroo’s life crumbles under the weight of trying to appease two mothers: one who’s still searching for him and another who’s afraid of losing him herself. The cocky young man who starts the program in Melbourne is gradually replaced by a shaggy haired, wild-eyed loner who hallucinates his long-lost family.

But Lion ultimately belongs to Sunny Pawar, who is quite skilled for such a young actor. It’s impossible not to fall in love with him.

Links

Movie Review: Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016)

RamanRaghav23.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

A man tells a woman hiding in a locked bedroom: “I can do anything to you and get away with it,.” That line is spoken not by the serial killer in Raman Raghav 2.0, but by the police officer hunting him. Being one of the “good guys” doesn’t make you a good guy.

The cop who utters the threat — Raghavan (Vicky Kaushal) — is introduced not in uniform, but at a dance club, high as a kite. His sexy intensity attracts a call girl named Simmy (Sobhita Dhulipala). She waits in her car while Raghavan pays a visit to his “uncle,” a drug dealer.

Raghavan finds the man murdered, unaware that the killer — Ramanna (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) — is still in the house. When a neighbor checks on the commotion, Raghavan’s un-cop-like reaction reveals that he’s not the hero type.

Each section of the film has its own chapter title, complete with dates. Following the events of the prologue (described above) and a trippy opening credits sequence, Chapter One jumps the story ahead two years. Ramanna turns himself into the police, claiming credit for multiple murders. Raghavan and his fellow officers assume the skinny, homeless fellow is lying, and they beat him and lock him in an abandoned building from which he escapes.

Raghavan is still with Simmy, though he treats her like garbage and won’t publicly acknowledge their relationship. The context that writer-director Anurag Kashyap and his co-writer, Vasan Bala, provide for Raghavan’s appalling behavior highlight the cop’s sense of entitlement. Raghavan is a violent drug addict because his powerful father is disappointed in him. Boo hoo.

On the other hand, Ramanna’s background makes his sadism seem almost inevitable. He’s a sexual abuse survivor who believes that he can communicate with the God of Death. At a young age, he turned his perverted rage outward, venting it on animals and his sister, Lakshmi (Amruta Subhash).

The entire sequence involving Ramanna and his sister is riveting in a gut-churning way. He turns up outside of her apartment, wondering why her six-year-old son doesn’t recognize his uncle. Lakshmi asks how Ramanna found her address. The retrained terror in Lakshmi’s eyes as she tries desperately not to do anything to provoke her brother is chilling. Subhash handles the role perfectly.

Fans who complained that Siddiqui was too understated in Te3n will not be disappointed by his crazy turn in Raman Raghav 2.0. Nevertheless, his character is at his most intimidating when he’s calm, the sinister content of his words at odds with the relaxed manner in which he delivers them.

Kaushal’s performance is likewise compelling. Whether it’s because of Raghavan’s job or the fact that Kaushal looks like a movie hero, we keep waiting for Raghavan to be a better man than he is. Dhulipala is a fitting match as world-weary Simmy, who diffuses Raghavan’s temper with glibness.

Raman Raghav 2.0 isn’t as soul-crushing as some of the South Korean thrillers of the last decade that have dealt with similar themes. Kashyap uses music to provide emotional distance during the most disturbing sequences. Ramanna’s most heinous crime is accompanied by a somewhat jazzy tune featuring a woman singing about what a bad guy he is.

Kashyap’s film is also less gory than other recent thrillers from elsewhere in Asia. Most of the violence in Raman Raghav 2.0 takes place out of frame. That, along with the prominent music and evocative city scenery give Kashyap’s film a real Indian identity, in contrast to recent Hindi remakes of South Korean movies that barely deviate from the original (such as Rocky Handsome).

There is one element to the Raman Raghav 2.0 that confused me. The movie opens with a note that Raman Raghav was an infamous serial killer in Mumbai in the 1960s. As the story progresses, Ramanna repeatedly states that he is Raman, and “Raman needs Raghav.” Wouldn’t that be like someone saying, “Charles needs Manson”?

That confusion aside, Raman Raghav 2.0 sews up every loose thread, answers every question. It’s not a movie for the squeamish, but it is a gripping character study about the darkness lurking in the human heart.

Links

Movie Review: Te3n (2016)

Te3n3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

When eight-year-old Angela (Aarnaa Sharma) was kidnapped and killed eight years ago, time stopped for her grandfather, John Biswas (Amitabh Bachchan). Not in a literal sense, of course, as evidenced by his increasingly stooped posture and shuffling gait. John’s wife, Nancy (Padmavathi Rao), uses a wheelchair that she didn’t need back when little Angela lived with them.

Figuratively, though, nothing has changed for John. Every day, he stops by the police station to ask if they have new leads in the case. Every day, the new police chief Sarita (Vidya Balan) tells him, “No,” with a mixture of patience and pity.

The kidnapping that turns John’s life into a daily nightmare pushes another life in a totally different direction. Martin (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) was the police officer in charge when Angela’s case went haywire. Unable to cope with his failure, Martin became a priest. But John won’t let Martin run from the past.

By happenstance, John finds a clue about Angela’s kidnapping. Shortly thereafter, a little boy goes missing under the same circumstances as Angela. Against Martin’s will, he’s forced to act as an investigator again — examining both John’s clues from the past and Sarita’s clues from the present — to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.

Te3n is tense and chilling without being gory. The atmosphere is enhanced by a tremendous score by composer Clinton Cerejo. Bachchan himself sings one version of the sad song “Kyun Re,” making his character’s pain feel all the more heartbreaking.

The movie belongs to Bachchan, but his fellow actors are just as strong. Sarita is the story’s straight woman, and Balan plays her matter-of-factly. It’s not a flashy performance, nor should it be.

Same for Siddiqui’s low-key turn as the priest. Martin’s past arrogance led to catastrophic mistakes that he’s obviously learned from. In his new role, he observes more than he speaks. Yet, as Sarita correctly points out, Martin’s plan to leave things “to God” conveniently excuses the former cop’s inaction.

Bachchan’s performance is tragic and moving. Never has the superstar seemed so old, which is crucial, since that’s what Te3n is about even more than the crime — it’s about the horrors that time and age inflict upon us. It’s about getting old.

Remove the dead granddaughter from the equation, and John’s life is a pretty accurate depiction of the lives of many people in their later years. He’s not as nimble of body or mind as he once was. His world has shrunk so much that he fixates. His days are a routine of mundane chores, and he’s starting to forget to do some of them. He’s depressed.

It’s no wonder that no one takes John seriously when he keeps pressing forward with his own investigation. Even Nancy thinks that he’s lost perspective, and his refusal to cope with reality makes him a worse husband.

Director Ribhu Dasgupta uses “Stranger Danger” imagery to emphasize another age-related theme in the film: namely young parents’ concerns about their own parents’ fitness to care for their grandchildren. Both children are abducted by a hooded stranger in a black van while under the care of their grandfathers. Te3n‘s scenario is the extreme version of fears many parents have when, say, Grandpa wants to drive the kids to get ice cream or Grandma insists on babysitting even though she just had back surgery.

Te3n fails to wrap up the central mystery in a believable way, yet the volume of good elements early in the film offset its subpar ending. The movie is at its most thought-provoking when Bachchan is on screen, his posture and mannerisms emphasizing the extent to which his character has been broken by time and sadness. Enjoy Te3n for the thrills, but don’t overlook what the story is really about.

Links

Movie Review: Haraamkhor (2015)

Haraamkhor3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Haraamkhor (international title: The Wretched) is a captivating examination of adolescents and their understanding of sexuality and romantic relationships. The stakes are high for the kids in the film as they takes their uneasy steps toward adulthood.

The action in Haraamkhor centers around Sandhya (Shweta Tripathi), a 15-year-old schoolgirl. Her mother abandoned her years ago, and her police constable father is a secretive drunk. She’s new to the small town in Gujarat where she lives, and she has no friends.

She does have an admirer, however. Kamal (Irfan Khan of Chillar Party) is a skinny boy a few years Sandhya’s junior, and he is determined to marry her. Unfortunately, Kamal breaks both of his arms at the start of the film, forcing him to rely heavily on his best friend, Mintu (Modh Samad), for assistance in his romantic pursuits.

Mintu is the main source of dubious information about sex for all of the prepubescent boys in town. According to Mintu, a boy and a girl have to get married if they see each other naked. He helps Kamal spy on Sandhya in the shower before developing several botched plans to trick Sandhya into seeing Kamal naked. The best of his ridiculous plans involves Mintu acting as a miniature Hugh Hefner, photographing underwear-clad Kamal in what passes for a seductive pose to a pre-teen boy.

Sandhya’s other admirer isn’t so innocent. She’s smitten with her teacher, Shyam (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), and the older man is happy to draw her into a sexual relationship. This isn’t his first time. His wife, Sunita (Trimala Adhikari), is herself a former student.

Kamal and Mintu are convinced that Sandhya and Shyam are having an affair, but the boys don’t completely understand what that means or consequences it could have. Shyam certainly does, but he’s brazen enough to ride around the small town with Sandhya. She wraps her head in a scarf as a disguise, as if people won’t recognize her bright red backpack and school uniform.

Writer-director Shlok Sharma is forgiving of Kamal’s and Sandhya’s naiveté. Kamal is very much still a kid, and Sandhya lacks good adult role models to guide her through puberty. She’s been disappointed by adults before — but not outright deceived, as she is by Shyam.

Sandhya eventually finds that role model in Neelu (Shreya Shah), the girlfriend her father has kept secret for years. Neelu knows exactly what Sandhya is going through and guides the girl without pushing her. The tender development of their relationship is one of the highlights of the film.

Every performance in the film is excellent. Shah is patient, Adhikari annoyed. Khan and Samad are boyhood at its most endearing. Tripathi is superb, playing a character half her age with great sympathy.

Siddiqui makes a villainous character seem downright ordinary, as though Shyam could be any guy in any town. He’s a violent predator, but thanks to Siddiqui, we see how Shyam is able to maintain his good standing in town for as long as he does.

The integration of Haraamkhor‘s two main storylines isn’t always successful. A scene of Shyam trying to molest Sandhya is immediately followed by Kamal and Neelu sneaking around Sandhya’s house, accompanied by dodo music. It’s hard to flip the emotional switch as quickly as Sharma demands.

But that’s the point of Haraamkhor, I guess. Kids don’t always get to grow up at the pace they are ready for.

Links

Movie Review: Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015)

BajrangiBhaijaan3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Salman Khan tones down his tough guy persona to play a naive but principled man in Bajrangi Bhaijaan. His performance is a much appreciated reminder that Salman is capable of delivering more than just punches and kicks.

The opening credits roll over gorgeous footage of the snowy mountains of Kashmir, establishing that this is more than the story of one man, and that it takes place in a world grand enough to make any individual seem small. Throughout the film, director Kabir Khan shoots characters from high vantage points in order to emphasize how small they look in the greater scheme of things.

The mountainous terrain in the opening credits is home to Shahida (Harshaali Malhotra), a six-year-old Pakistani girl who can’t — or won’t — speak. Her mother takes Shahida to pray at an Indian shrine renowned for curing muteness. On the ride home, precocious Shahida gets off the temporarily stopped train to help a lost lamb. The train restarts suddenly, leaving Shahida on the Indian side of the border with no identification or ability to communicate.

Shahida’s curiosity draws her to a festival where she watches Pawan (Salman Khan) lead the dancing. Although he doesn’t know how to help her, Pawan can’t bring himself to abandon the little girl. Since she can’t tell him her name, he calls her Munni and brings her to the family home of the woman he loves, Rasika (Kareena Kapoor Khan).

Pawan isn’t perfect. He’s neither book smart nor street smart, and he’s trusting to a fault. He’s also unsure if aiding Munni is his responsibility. Yet his honesty and sense of duty inspire others to help him, despite their own cynicism.

Pawan’s trusting nature becomes a source of jokes after he meets a freelance reporter named Chand Nawab (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). With Pawan’s plan to return Munni to her family stalled, Chand enlists Munni to pull off some tricks that will help them progress. Even at 6, Munni is more savvy and morally flexible than Pawan.

Director Khan trusts the audience to get why the jokes at Pawan’s expense are funny. He allows his moral of empathy across national and religious boundaries to develop without wacky sound effects or overly emotional musical cues.

Yet Khan abandons that approach in favor of a corny, populist climax. Various individuals assist Pawan and Munni in order to make the point that there are generous people of every creed, caste, and nationality. Instead of trusting the audience to understand that the helpful individuals are representative of a larger body of good people, the outcome of Pawan’s mission hinges on thousands of people gathering en masse. It’s cheesy and unnecessary.

Leading up to the climax, Khan also employs a variation of the overused “man on the street” Bollywood trope: the viral video. People all over India and Pakistan gather around mobile phones and laptop screens to watch a video Chand Nawab posts to his blog.

There are two problems with this trope (besides the fact that we have no reason to care what any of these random people think). First, this is not how videos become viral. Links are disseminated electronically, and individuals watch them alone, not gathered together as if listening to a World War II radio report in the 1940s.

Second, a human interest news piece about a good Samaritan helping a lost child is not the kind of video that goes viral. “Gangnam Style” goes viral. “What Does the Fox Say?” goes viral. Most people don’t fervently refresh awaiting a call to civic action.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan features one of the most nuanced characters Salman Khan has played in years. Pawan undergoes a compelling transformation when he realizes he can’t trust anyone else to care about Munni’s safety as much as he does. Salman and Nawazuddin make a much better pair of on-screen buddies than one would expect. Kareena’s Rasika is wise, but not so cynical that she can’t appreciate Pawan’s innocent worldview.

Little Harshaali does an admirable job, especially given the physical limitations of her character. Munni seems like a very real kid: too curious for her own good, but also smarter than adults might give her credit for. That Harshaali is cute as a button certainly helps, too.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan is among the best kind of Salman Khan films. He gets to beat up some bad guys, as we’ve come to expect, but his character grows and changes. One need not be a hardcore Salman fan to enjoy this movie.

Links