Tag Archives: Neil Nitin Mukesh

Movie Review: Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015)

PremRatanDhanPayo2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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

Devoted Salman Khan fans have expectations of movies starring their Bhai, and surely Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (“Received a Treasure Called Love“) fulfills their expectations. For moviegoers who aren’t hardcore Salman fans, the film seems too familiar.

Don’t get me wrong, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (PRDP, henceforth) is a fine enough film. It lives up to its billing as a spectacle, with colorful dance numbers and magnificent sets. The story is full of teary-eyed reunions and blossoming romance.

But this all feels like something we’ve seen before, and that’s coming from someone who hasn’t seen any of Salman’s three previous collaborations with writer-director Sooraj Barjatya. Salman plays the same character he always plays these days, no matter if he’s starring in an action flick or a romantic comedy.

Prem (Salman) is a supremely righteous devotee who narrates religious plays. His best friend, Kanhaiya (Deepak Dobriyal), is an actor who dresses in drag to perform the lead female roles in the plays. At Prem’s insistence, they donate all of the money they earn to a charity run by the beautiful Princess Maithili (Sonam Kapoor).

On their way to meet the princess in person for the first time, the guys are intercepted by representatives of the princess’s betrothed, Prince Vijay (also Salman). Prem looks exactly like the prince, who is presently comatose following an attempt on his life by his scheming younger brother, Ajay (Neil Nitin Mukesh). Vijay’s right-hand man, Deewan Saheb (Anupam Kher), convinces Prem to temporarily pose as the prince, giving Prem the perfect opportunity to spend time with the princess.

While posing as the prince, innocent Prem comes to learn that Vijay is kind of a jerk. Complicated family dynamics — Vijay is his father’s firstborn, Ajay was born to their father’s second wife — have strained the relationship between the brothers. Their younger half-sisters — Chandrika (Swara Bhaskar) and Radhika (Aashika Bhatia) — by their father’s mistress have turned their back on the family completely.

Worst of all, from Prem’s perspective, is that Vijay is mean to Maithili. The royal couple argues all the time, and Vijay once tried to get fresh with Maithili (a big no-no to Prem, who doesn’t even approve of kissing before marriage).

Prem takes his opportunity as Vijay to try to heal the relationship between the siblings and to make things right with Maithili. If he can’t have her himself, at least he can lay the foundation for a happy marriage to Vijay. Prem asks her to list all of Vijay’s faults, which she does in song form. Unfortunately for international fans, the song lyrics in PRDP are not subtitled.

As one would expect, Salman is almost always the focus of attention. This myopia means that the villainous machinations against Vijay take place primarily offscreen. The revelation of who was plotting what and why is abrupt and confusing.

If you’re going to cast Neil Nitin Mukesh as the villain, use him. Don’t give him fewer than thirty minutes of total screentime, especially in a movie that’s nearly three hours long.

Same goes for Deepak Dobriyal, whose character is sidelined once they get to Vijay’s palace. Dobriyal is one of those actors who has my attention whether he’s the focus of the scene or not. Again, if you’re going to cast him, use him.

Prem describes his relationship with Kanhaiya thusly: “You’re my compulsory companion.” That’s a good description of any character who plays sidekick to Salman. Salman’s characters are often written as being unconcerned by money, which means that it falls to his “compulsory companions” to pay for everything Salman’s characters buy. Since Salman’s characters are usually supposed to embody moral purity, why are they always mooches?

PRDP delivers a bunch of songs, many of which are lavish spectacles. Sonam is pretty, and Salman is heroic. Things proceed pretty much as expected. A happy ending is all but guaranteed.

I don’t know that that’s enough to make PRDP a must-see movie for its own sake. For a holiday weekend outing with family and friends, it’s reasonably entertaining (although the lengthy runtime is a challenge, especially if your theater doesn’t have an intermission break). But is it unique? Is it memorable? I’m not so sure.

Links

Advertisements

Movie Review: Johnny Gaddaar (2007)

JohnnyGaddaar3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Bollywood loves its own history. Too many Hindi films cater to fans with a depth of Bollywood knowledge at the expense of newcomers to the genre, who feel left out of the inside jokes. The neo-noir thriller Johnny Gaddaar (“Johnny the Traitor“) avoids that trap, enthusiastically paying homage to the past while providing enough context to welcome Bollywood newcomers.

It helps that writer-director Sriram Raghavan really understands how and why stories work onscreen. That understanding manifests subtly in the two films he made after Johnny Gaddaar: Agent Vinod and Badlapur. In Johnny Gaddaar, his references are explicit, using clips from other movies to advance his own heist story.

“Johnny” is an alias used by Vikram (Neil Nitin Mukesh), junior member of a quintet that runs a gambling ring. Veteran crook Seshadri (Dharmendra) holds together the uneasy group, which consists of Vikram, casino owner Prakash (Vinay Pathak), financier Shardul (Zakir Hussain), and the crew’s muscle, Shivay (Dayanand Shetty).

Vikram breaks a cardinal rule by falling in love with Shardul’s wife, Mini (Rimi Sen). In order to get enough cash for the two of them to flee to Canada, Vikram decides to steal the money the group pooled for a deal with the corrupt policeman, Kalyan (Govind Namdeo).

Even though he’s the most educated member of the crew, Vikram is also the newest to a life of crime. He concocts a solid plan to steal the cash, going so far as to chloroform himself in order to time how long his victim will remain unconscious. Yet he lacks the wiliness of an experienced crook, and his plan goes wrong in ways he never anticipated.

The primary theme of the film is the danger of unintended consequences, not just the direct effects on one’s own life but the psychological damage incurred when one inflicts pain on others, intentionally or not.

Vikram and his gang aren’t violent. He doesn’t own a gun, and the others aren’t in the habit of carrying theirs with them. Shiva is a gentle giant. When Vikram experiences his first taste of violence, it disturbs him. Sadly, that first experience makes violence a possible response to future conflicts, in a way it never was before.

It helps that Mukesh — in his first film role — looks as young and slight as he does. He doesn’t appear the least bit tough. It’s easy to accept him as the naive character he plays.

There’s another theme in the film about the nature of love, namely that Vikram doesn’t know what real love is. How can he be sure of his feelings for Mini or her feelings for him when they developed under duress? Vikram protests to Seshadri that their love is real, and Seshadri just shrugs.

Seshadri is one of multiple examples of what true love is that Vikram ignores in pursuit of his affair. Widowed Seshadri reminisces while listening to a recording of his wife singing. Prakash dotes on his wife, Varsha (Ashwini Kalsekar), a proud working mom. Shiva has a sweet, budding romance with the nurse who cares for his ailing mother.

Shardul doesn’t seem like such a bad husband to Mini, at least by mafia-film standards. He comes home and wants to catch up on the day with his wife, but she can’t get away from him fast enough. Her disgust for him is so obvious that you almost feel bad for the guy.

Even Kalyan — who is the scariest character in the film — tries to warn Vikram about the danger he’s in. When Vikram confesses that his favorite actor is Amitabh Bachchan, Kalyan asks if Vikram has seen Parwana, a movie in which Bachchan plays an obsessed lover who resorts to murder when his beloved falls for another man. Of course, Vikram hasn’t seen the movie.

Clips from Parwana are interspersed throughout Johnny Gaddaar, along with snippets of other Bollywood and Hollywood films. For movie buffs, it’s fun to try to spot all of the references Raghavan includes in his movie. The references never derail the story, and Raghavan makes some explicit enough that even non-movie buffs can feel included (as when Seshadri says he feels like he’s in a scene from Scarface as the gang counts their loot).

Johnny Gaddaar is a balanced, solid thriller that feels like a love letter to films of the past. It’s worth watching just to see an early piece of work by a promising director.

Links

Movie Review: 3G (2013)

3G0 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

There’s been much discussion recently about the role the Hindi film industry plays in perpetuating negative stereotypes of women and encouraging male violence against women. Those who hold Bollywood responsible need look no further than 3G for supporting evidence. The movie is a masterpiece of misogyny and an inept horror movie to boot.

The film starts with a laughable premise. Onscreen text informs us: “4.3 billion mobile users in the world. Every minute 60 thousand calls of unknown sources of origin received worldwide… People believe these calls are spirits trying to connect to our world.” No one believes that! Those calls from “Unknown Number” aren’t from ghosts. They’re from telemarketers.

The text disappears to make way for scenes of a happy couple at a secluded lake. Then the guy stabs the woman in the eye with a lit road flare. Roll opening credits!

We don’t see the guy again until later, as the story shifts to a couple vacationing in Fiji. Sam (Neil Nitin Mukesh) makes an absurd entrance via speedboat, only to have his girlfriend, Sheena (Sonal Chauhan), accidentally knock his cell phone into the ocean. The used 3G phone he buys as a replacement is haunted.

Sheena is apparently terrible at reading people, and she laughs at the increasingly haggard-looking Sam when he confesses that he gets calls in the middle of the night from a strange woman. At first, the woman confesses her love. Then a video shows her being murdered. Then Sam starts seeing her in person, culminating in Sheena turning into the dead lady while Sam makes out with her.

This would seem to be the classic horror plot device of a ghost contacting the living to obtain posthumous justice. Typically, Sam could rid himself of the specter by finding the woman’s body and the identity of her killer. Instead, Sam becomes periodically possessed by the spirit of the man who killed the woman, during which times he tries to kill Sheena. Or himself.

Just who exactly is haunting this phone?

The identity of the woman, Chaima (Mrinalini Sharma), and her killer, Mong (Asheesh Kapoor), are revealed late in the film. I’m not spoiling anything as there are no clues to their identities earlier in the story. They are brand new characters introduced at the last minute with no connection to other side characters, despite some nonsensical retroactive continuity.

There’s no way to explain the nature of the haunting, because the filmmakers threw a bunch of horror clichés at the wall to see what would stick. The phone is haunted because of an ancient Greek cult! Fijian witchcraft! Science!

The scientific explanations are hilarious. Apparently, Mong was a programmer trying to find a way to contact the dead by getting cell phone signals to interact with the “God particle,” or Higgs boson. Here’s the thing: THE GOD PARTICLE IS NOT GOD! It is not supernatural!

Catholic symbolism is tossed about as well, though the rosary Sam wears has no effect on him when he’s possessed, nor does the priest they consult offer any useful information.

3G could be forgiven were it just an inexpertly made horror movie, but the way it depicts women is reprehensible. According to 3G, women are objects of male lust who deserve punishment (by men) for having been objectified (by men).

Take the way that directors Sheershak Anand and Shantanu Ray Chhibber portray their lead actors. There’s one shot of Mukesh emerging from the pool shirtless, but dozens of voyeuristic shots of Chauhan. Her character is introduced emerging from the ocean in slow motion wearing a bikini. She writhes around in the sand, on a bed, and on a kitchen island, arching her back and contorting her face in simulated orgasm. The camera pans across her legs, lingering on her breasts and her buttocks.

The saddest part of the film comes when, via flashback, Chaima admits to being a porn star, the “crime” for which Mong ultimately kills her. She pleads with him for mercy, saying, “You have no idea what I escaped from.” So, Chaima left a situation so bad that working in porn is a step up, yet Mong has no sympathy for her.

The film ends with another bit of text almost as dumb as that which started the film: “13000 adult clips are downloaded every minute on mobile networks worldwide… Resulting in 27% of personal relationships breaking up.”

I’m skeptical of the stats supplied by Shantanu & Sheershak, let alone the conclusions drawn from them. Their solution to the scourge of porn is typical victim-blaming. According to them, the problem isn’t due to the millions of men who download the clips, it’s caused by the women who make the movies. Kill all the porn stars, and there will be no porn!

This is exactly the kind of sexist bullshit that Bollywood is rightly criticized for. Crimes against women aren’t committed because of movies (just like video games don’t cause mass shootings), but there are thousands of men who will watch 3G and take it as confirmation of their twisted opinions: “Women are greedy, lying sluts who will do anything for money.” This kind of misogyny is toxic and needs to stop.

Links

In Theaters March 15, 2013

Update: The new release 3G is currently available on Eros Now not only to subscribers but on a 48-hour rental basis for $1.99. However, due to rights restrictions, the film isn’t available online in India, Pakistan, Burma, Fiji, UAE, Mauritius, Kenya, or South Africa.

Uh-oh. This is the second weekend in a row with no new Hindi movies opening in Chicago area theaters. The absence of Jolly LLB isn’t a surprise, but I expected Y-Films’ Mere Dad Ki Maruti to release here. I’m still hopeful that we’ll get the Bipasha Basu horror flick Aatma next week, but there’s a chance Chicago area Bollywood fans will have to go without until Himmatwala debuts on March 29.

The good news is that Eros Now subscribers can watch 3G on the streaming service starting this Friday, March 15, the same day that it opens in India. That bad news for Neil Nitin Mukesh fans is that the failure of 3G to get a large roll out on the heels of a very small U.S. release of David last month seems to definitively rule him out as a bankable international leading man. I expect we won’t see much of him in The States in the future outside of roles in ensemble pictures like 7 Khoon Maaf.

In the meantime, Kai Po Che! — which has earned $1,013,738 from three weeks in U.S. theaters — carries over for a fourth week at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville.

The Golf Glen 5 is also holding over The Attacks of 26/11 for a third week, as well as Back Bench Student (Telugu), Paradesi (Tamil), and Romans (Malayalam).

Movie Review: Players (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

With source material as rich as not one, but two, versions of The Italian Job to draw from, Players should be a slam dunk. Wisely, filmmaking duo Abbas-Mustan take the best aspects from their inspiration and add enough new touches to make it an enjoyable Indian action flick.

My biggest fear before seeing Players was that it wouldn’t be able to hold interest for 2 hours and 47 minutes. But Players is about as well-paced as a nearly three-hour-long movie can be, hitting plot points at the right times so as not to let the action drag.

Abhishek Bachchan anchors the film as Charlie Masceranas, a career thief. He learns from a dying friend about the Russian government’s plans to transfer a large amount of gold bars to Romania. With the help of his imprisoned mentor, Victor (Vinod Khanna), Charlie assembles a team of experts to execute a daring heist.

The team includes Charlie’s sometimes girlfriend, Riya (Bipasha Basu), master of disguise Sunny (Omi Vaidya), explosives expert Bilal (Sikander Kher), illusionist Ronnie (Bobby Deol) and a hacker named Spider (Neil Nitin Mukesh).

So as not to appear to condone thievery, the filmmakers give the crew corny motivations for stealing the gold. Charlie wants to fulfill Victor’s dream of opening India’s largest orphanage. Ronnie, a former magician, wants to build a fully automated house for his daughter, who was accidentally paralyzed during one of his tricks.

Ronnie gets some unintentionally hilarious lines when he explains the end of his stage career: “Magic doesn’t do anything. It only ruins lives.”

Thankfully, Sunny, Bilal, Spider and Riya are just in it for the money. When the plan goes awry, Victor’s daughter, Naina (Sonam Kapoor), comes to Charlie’s aid.

There are some nice interactions between the team members. Sunny and Bilal are funny sparring partners, and Naina’s crush on Charlie creates tension between her and Riya. Charlie is the anchor, but this really is an ensemble film.

Besides the star cast, the movie’s main attractions are its action sequences. The gold-theft scene is tense, and the car chases are pretty good. Strange editing and artificially sped-up shots keep the fight scenes from looking their best, but interesting locales like Russia and New Zealand elevate the whole experience.

A tendency toward corniness pervades Players, to its detriment. It keeps the film from achieving the snappy sophistication of the films that inspired it. In addition to Charlie’s and Ronnie’s Robin Hood motivations, the score heavy-handedly tries to provoke emotions.

The most pandering element in Players is the needless inclusion of comic actor Johnny Lever, a regular feature in Abbas-Mustan films. I don’t find Lever funny, or more accurately, I don’t find the outrageous characters he always plays funny. That directors feel the need to pair his appearances with wacky sound effects just makes things worse. Any spell the movie could hope to cast is broken when Lever appears onscreen.

Another element that can’t be overlooked is how pointedly the movie targets a male audience. Basu and Kapoor both have a couple of forgettable dance numbers requiring to them to gyrate in skimpy dresses. Another female character is viewed through frosted glass as she showers. Almost every Anglo woman in the movie is kitted out in hot pants.

Yet the male stars aren’t required to doff their clothes, apart from a brief scene featuring Mukesh in a bubble bath. Bachchan and Deol are regular romantic leads, and Kher is clearly fit. Why not work in a shirtless shot of one of them, in the name of gender equality?

The thread of sexism isn’t limited to who’s asked to expose the most skin. Naina and Riya are both asked to play the role of seductress to aid the team, which features five men (six, including Victor) and only two women. Language denigrating women goes largely unchallenged by the male heroes.

That said, Players works as an action film. It hits the right notes often enough to sustain excitement for almost three hours, which is the primary objective of any action movie.

Links

Opening January 6: Players

2012 kicks off in star-studded style when the Bollywood action film Players hits theaters on January 6. The remake of The Italian Job (complete with Mini Coopers) stars Abhishek Bachchan, Bipasha Basu, Sonam Kapoor, Bobby Deol and Neil Nitin Mukesh.

Players opens in the Chicago area on Friday at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. The movie has a lengthy runtime of 2 hrs. 47 min.

Given how well Don 2 has performed during its first two weeks in theaters, it’s no surprise that the 3D heist film carries over for a third week at all of the above theaters. Its total U.S. haul stands at $3,288,692.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Beautiful (Malayalam), Rajanna (Telugu) and Rajapattai (Tamil).

Movie Review: 7 Khoon Maaf (2011)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the Soundtrack at Amazon

Director Vishal Bhardwaj’s movies have always suffered a bit in translation. Whether due to a lack of nuance in the English subtitles or particular regional references that require context, I felt like I didn’t fully experience films like The Blue Umbrella, Omkara or Kaminey.

Not so with 7 Khoon Maaf (“Seven Murders Forgiven”). It’s Bhardwaj’s most universally accessible work yet. It’s perfect in the way of all cult films: not flawless, but giddy, emotionally effective and memorable.

7 Khoon Maaf chronicles the love life of a black widow named Susanna (Priyanka Chopra). The film is based on “Susanna’s Seven Husbands,” a short story by Ruskin Bond. The title itself is a clue that things don’t turn out so well for the men in Susanna’s life.

The story is narrated by Arun (Vivaan Shah), a forensics expert tasked with confirming the death of the serial spouse murderer. Arun explains to his wife (Konkona Sen Sharma) the nature of his relationship with Susanna when she was alive: he was Susanna’s ward, and she funded his education. But the more Arun explains, the more bizarre the story becomes.

Shortly after the death of her father, the wealthy, orphaned twenty-year-old Susanna marries Major Edwin Rodriques (Neil Nitin Mukesh). Edwin has a temper, and he terrorizes his wife and her loyal servants: a butler named Ghalib (Harish Khanna), a maid named Maggie (Usha Uthup) and a stablehand named Goonga (Shashi Malviya).

As Edwin becomes more dangerous, Susanna and her servants decide to get rid of him in a way that looks accidental. Thus begins the deadly cycle of Susanna’s romantic life.

The film is darkly humorous, and a bit perverse at times. Some of the more visceral visuals reminded me of Guillermo del Toro’s films like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, though there are few special effects in 7 Khoon Maaf.

Also reminiscent of del Toro is the pervasive religious symbolism throughout the film. Susanna is a Christian, so hymns pervade the soundtrack, which was also composed by Bhardwaj. Given the number of weddings and funerals Susanna must attend, church is a frequent setting.

Much attention in the promotions for the film has been given to Susanna’s husbands: the rock star (John Abraham), the poet (Irrfan Khan), the healer (Naseeruddin Shah). But all of them, by design, have limited roles in the film.

Much more central to the plot are Susanna’s accomplices, Ghalib, Maggie and Goonga. They evolve from pragmatic problem solvers into a trio of gleeful assassins. The three actors deserve much credit for enriching the film.

Arun likewise plays a central role, aging from a child to a man throughout the film. Vivaan Shah is competent in his first film role, playing a man who watches his patron’s life unravel from a distance — sometimes a physical one but also an emotional distance, due to being much younger than Susanna.

But the success of the movie depends entirely on Chopra, Bollywood’s most ambitious actress, and she does not disappoint. Susanna ages approximately 35 years through the course of the film, and Chopra adapts accordingly. She walks a fine line, making Susanna charming and innocent, and then merciless and deadly.

7 Khoon Maaf is an all-or-nothing film. It either works for you or it doesn’t. Its strangeness will be a turn-off for some viewers, while others will lament a lack of explosive action scenes. But, if you’re in the mood for something a little different, beware: Susanna might just steal your heart.

Links