Tag Archives: Nikita Dutta

Movie Review: Dybbuk (2021)

1 Star (out of 4)

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There’s a temptation to look for symbolism or thematic parallels in Dybbuk. Don’t bother.

Writer-director Jay K — who also wrote and directed Ezra, the Malayalam film on which Dybbuk is based — introduces potential themes and subplots that should be relevant but ultimately are not. As I describe the plot, I’ll put an asterisk (*) next to each theme that goes nowhere.

Married couple Sam (Emraan Hashmi) and Mahi (Nikita Dutta) are moving from Mumbai to Mauritius for Sam’s new job. Mahi worries about leaving her support system*, but Sam assures her she’ll be fine. Besides, her parents have never accepted their marriage since she’s Hindu and he’s Christian*.

They arrive at their colonial-era mansion in Mauritius, which comes complete with a suspicious maid* and an attic full of creepy junk*. Sam gets busy at his new job trying to turn Mauritius into a dumping ground for European nuclear waste*. His uncle, Father Gabriel (Denzil Smith), calls to ask how Mahi is coping with the move, especially after her recent miscarriage*.

Mahi shops at an antique store, which looks surprisingly tidy for a place that was the scene of a violent murder of possibly supernatural origins days earlier. She buys an obviously cursed box — part of a collection belonging to a deceased Jewish scholar — takes it home and opens it. Trouble ensues.

The symbolism of opening the box could have paralleled any of the dead-end plot points highlighted above in order to explore a particular theme: commonalities across faiths in times of spiritual crisis; the danger of putting work before personal relationships; how partners respond differently to a miscarriage; the threat of environmental catastrophe; continuing efforts by wealthy countries to exploit their former colonies (perhaps with the mansion being itself a cursed symbol of colonial oppression); etc.

Dybbuk isn’t about any of that. It’s just about a mean ghost. The rules governing how the ghost operates are flexible and dependent upon bits of information dropped into the story without setup. When asked why Sam and Mahi are so unfortunate as to be the ghost’s victims, Father Gabriel says, “There’s no logical explanations for these things.”

If Sam and Mahi were a happy couple, Father Gabriel’s explanation might be fine. But Jay K introduces these points of potential conflict to give the impression that there’s more to the story than just supernatural hijinks, when there isn’t.

For Dybbuk to have any depth or subtext, characters would have to have meaningful conversations with one another about more than just the mechanics of exorcising a ghost. After Mahi becomes pregnant again, she and Sam don’t talk about her feelings or fears given her past miscarriage. If they aren’t going to discuss the specific emotional trauma that comes from miscarriage, why make it a plot point?

Emotional depth isn’t possible in a story where Mahi is hardly a character in her own right. She exists to trigger the supernatural crisis and to give Sam someone to worry about. With a better script (and better direction of the mostly expressionless actors), Dybbuk could have been about something. Shame that it isn’t.

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Movie Review: Kabir Singh (2019)

0 Stars (out of 4)

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It may not be possible to create a more loathsome protagonist than the title character in Kabir Singh.

Within the first ten minutes of the film, Kabir (Shahid Kapoor) pulls a knife on a woman who refuses to have sex with him and threatens to hit his maid. In fact, he threatens almost every major female character in the film with violence and actually slaps and shoves the woman he professes to love. He beats up several men as well. He’s never sorry, and he never faces any consequences for his violence.

Instead, violence and intimidation are the means by which Kabir exerts his will over the people around him. Why friends, family members, and romantic interests stay in Kabir’s orbit is not explained. They just need to be there because, without them, Kabir would have no one to abuse.

The film’s clunky narrative jumps between the two key periods in Kabir’s life: the “Preeti Era” and the “Post-Preeti Era.” In the former, Preeti (Kiara Advani) is a new student at the medical college where Kabir is training to become a surgeon. She has no personality and rarely speaks, but Kabir decides he must possess her because he would like to have sex with her. They bone, and thus is born an epic love story for all time.

Not really. The relationship is abusive and predicated on Kabir exploiting his seniority at the school. After all, Kabir never met a power dynamic he couldn’t manipulate to his own ends.

Kabir and Preeti have more sex, he’s mean to a bunch of people, and blah blah blah, Preeti’s dad won’t let them marry. Kabir can’t handle the thought that he might not get his way and overdoses on morphine and booze. Ah, if only he’d died and the movie ended there.

When Kabir wakes up a few days later, Preeti is married to someone else. Thus begins the “Post-Preeti era,” characterized by Kabir’s drug, alcohol, and sex addictions, and a surgical career that flourishes despite them.

Writer-director Sandeep Vanga — who also wrote and directed Arjun Reddy, the Telugu film of which Kabir Singh is a direct remake — treats Kabir’s post-Preeti drug addiction and alcoholism as the tipping point when Kabir becomes a lost soul in need of saving. But Kabir was an awful, entitled bully before that. Losing Preeti just made him perpetually drunk and high, it didn’t give him any more dimensions.

That gets to another of Kabir Singh‘s many flaws: it’s mind-numbingly boring. Because the characters are so thinly drawn, they repeat the same conflicts and conversations. Minor characters like Kabir’s grandmother (Kamini Kaushal) and a college dean played by Adil Hussain (who I hope got paid a lot to appear in this mess) seem like they must exist to play a critical role in Kabir’s character growth, until you realize that Kabir not growing is the point of the film.

Kabir is a manifestation of the desires of frustrated young men who believe that the problems in their lives would be solved if they had Shahid Kapoor’s good looks and a high-status job. Yet, despite having those qualities, Kabir behaves as though he doesn’t. He’s petty and thin-skinned, and he feels compelled to lord his elevated status over those beneath him. He’s the antithesis of the Vince Lombardi quote that ends: “act like you’ve been there before.” Kabir seems like a loser who had a wish granted and woke up the next morning as a handsome surgeon, yet with the same personality as before.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Kabir’s dealings with women. Instead of letting his looks and future earnings potential (his only charms) draw women toward him, he relies on coercion to prey on the vulnerable. He threatens the male students at his school to stay away from Preeti and singles her out publicly in front of her female peers. Even when he dates a famous actress (played by Nikita Dutta), she’s lonely and socially isolated — and his patient. Thanks to the protections afforded by his status, he’s comfortable propositioning her for sex in their first meeting outside of his medical office. He has no interesting in women who are of equal social standing as him, perhaps because none exist in the world of Kabir Singh.

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