Tag Archives: Nora Fatehi

Movie Review: Street Dancer 3D (2020)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

While trying to piece together my thoughts for this review of Street Dancer 3D, I looked back at my reviews of the two films that precede it in director Remo D’Souza’s dance battle series: ABCD and ABCD 2. (Disney produced the first two films in the series and held onto the rights to the title ABCD 3 even after they stopped making movies in India.) Most of the things I want to write about Street Dancer 3D I’ve already said about the previous two movies. Great dancing? Check. Sexy performers? Check. Only Street Dancer 3D is more of a mess than either of the films preceding it.

D’Souza’s series features many of the same actors in all three films, and some in just two. None of them play the same characters, even if the actors play characters with the same name. The cast stays intact while D’Souza hits the reset button on the story.

This time around, two rival dance crews face off on the streets of London. The Indian-British crew “Street Dancer” is led by Sahej (Varun Dhawan), and the Pakistani-British crew “Rule Breakers” is led by Inayat (Shraddha Kapoor).

The endless bickering between the crews culminates in a food fight between the groups while they watch an India vs. Pakistan cricket match in a sports bar run by Ram Prasad (Prabhu Deva). The single stupidest thing in this whole movie may be that the main food used in the fight is that famous staple served as a main entrée at all sports bars… The one dish no Buffalo Wild Wings or Irish football pub should be without… Doughnuts? I’m talking regular yeast-raised, frosted, mass-produced, buy-’em-at-Dunkin’-by-the-dozen doughnuts like the one pictured to the right. I’m guessing the only reason the characters throw doughnuts is because they are cheap to buy, simple to procure in large quantities, and easier to clean up than burgers, pasta, or biryani — all of which Ram Prasad’s sports bar also serves.

Both crews want to compete in an underground dance competition with a £100,000 cash prize, but their odds aren’t good against the formidable, mostly-white London dance crew The Royals. Ram Prasad thinks the Desi crews would stand a chance if they worked together, but there are complicating factors beyond the groups’ nationalistic antipathy. Inayat wants to use the prize money to help homeless illegal immigrants from the Subcontinent living in London — which is a problem because Sahej is a human trafficker.

The film doesn’t fully acknowledge how awful Varun Dhawan’s character is. This was a problem with his character in ABCD 2 as well. Sahej is entitled and compassionless. He brings a quartet of Indian drummers to England, but refuses to help them in even a small way when he learns that they are now destitute. It takes him forever to admit that he played a part in their current condition, let alone that he is obligated to set things right.

This is but one example of Sahej’s disloyalty. As soon as he gets the chance to join The Royals, he jumps at it — abandoning Street Dancer and the members that aren’t invited into the colonizers’ crew. The whole reason Sahej participated in human trafficking was to earn the money to buy a studio for Street Dancer, the crew founded by his older brother Inder (Punit Pathak, who gives the film’s best dramatic performance) who is injured and can no longer dance. The film doesn’t acknowledge what a betrayal this is because Sahej’s vindication and victory are predetermined.

Films are often sold based on the popularity of their star cast, but I wish we could go back to the days of the original ABCD, which starred professional dancers who can act, not professional actors who can dance. To be fair, Kapoor holds her own on the dance floor and makes Inayat as sympathetic as the script allows. But casting Dhawan required compromises that hurt the movie. Because of Dhawan’s likeable persona, his character pays a very small price for causing a lot of harm.

Worse still is that Dhawan is the weakest dancer in the film. He’s one of the better dancers among Bollywood’s current leading men, but he’s a step slower and less crisp in his movements than the professionals around him. I found myself ignoring him and focusing instead on series veterans like Dharmesh Yelande, Sushant Pujari, Raghav Juyal, and Salman Yusuff Khan. Nora Fatehi — who plays The Royals’ ace, Mia — is riveting when she dances.

As expected, the dance numbers are the stars of the show. All of the performances during the underground competition are technically impressive and large in scale. I don’t blame anyone watching the film for tuning out during the plot bits and just watching the choreography. Yet it’s kind of a shame, since Street Dancer 3D really wants to be about something meaningful. It’s just not willing to put in the work to do so.

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Movie Review: Stree (2018)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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A female ghost teaches the men of a small town to respect women in the hilarious horror comedy Stree, from the filmmaking duo Raj & DK.

Legend has it that, every night during a four-day holy festival, a ghost known only as “stree” — which translates as “woman” — steals any man wandering the town of Chanderi alone at night, leaving only his clothes behind. Residents write “Oh stree, come back tomorrow” on the walls of their homes, hoping to deter the ghost until the festival ends and she disappears until the next year.

Some of Chanderi’s young men doubt the story’s truth, none more so than Vicky (Rajkummar Rao), a gifted tailor of ladies’ clothing. He and his cronies Bittu (Aparshakti Khurana) and Janna (Abhishek Banerjee) attend a raucous guys-only house party where one of guests is snatched — right after Vicky pees on the outside wall, washing away the protective writing.

Earlier that day, Vicky met a beautiful woman (Shraddha Kapoor) in need of a new dress, falling in love “at first eyesight,” he brags in English. The woman — who never gives her name — says she’s only in town for the festival, so she needs the dress completed quickly. After the disappearance at the party, Bittu and Janna assume that this mystery woman is “stree”, driving a wedge between the friends right when their survival depends on them sticking together.

My chief complaint about one of Raj & DK’s earlier horror comedies — the 2013 zombie flick Go Goa Gone — is that the jokes dragged on too long, but Stree‘s jokes are crisp and well-timed (as was the humor in the duo’s 2017 action comedy A Gentleman). Perhaps it helped that the duo ceded directorial duties to Amar Kaushik, who does a wonderful job interpreting their screenplay in his feature debut.

The superb cast deserves a ton of credit as well. Rao is charming as a lovestruck dope, and Kapoor gets her character’s befuddlement at Vicky’s naiveté just right. Banerjee primarily works in films as a casting director, but he’s hysterical as Janna. Khurana is great as well, as is the always reliable Pankaj Tripathy as the town’s ghost expert, Rudra. Atul Srivastava — who plays Vicky’s father —  gets a stand-out scene opposite Rao. Dad tries to talk to his son about sexual responsibility, but Dad is so uncomfortable he resorts to euphemisms for everything. Sensing the discomfort, Vicky plays dumb, goading his father to explain exactly what he means by the advice: “Be self-reliant.”

The real surprise of Stree is how deftly it conveys its message of respect for women within such a funny movie. The men of Chanderi — young and old — are all losers in love, too immature to be able to form the kinds of romantic relationships with women that might actually lead to sex (without having to pay for it). It’s a legacy that’s haunted the town for centuries, when “stree” was murdered before her wedding night. Though Stree doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, there’s a narrative justification for it, since this is a story of men learning from one another how to stop objectifying women.

Two of the film’s song numbers help illustrate the men’s progress. “Kamariya” features Nora Fatehi in a more traditional item number, dancing at the house party just before the first man is snatched. The camera focuses on specific features and body parts as she performs in the living room among all the rowdy men. This kind of item number in which a woman dances at the center of a group of male audience members — as opposed to out of reach on a stage — is intimidating, yet the number ends with Fatehi escorted from the party by two bodyguards, letting the movie’s audience know that she was never in any danger. It’s an important cue that most other filmmakers neglect to include in similar numbers.

Contrast “Kamariya” with the closing credits song “Milegi Milegi”. The men in the audience are along the sides of the room while Kapoor dances in the middle of a group of female backup dancers. There are no closeups of specific parts of Kapoor’s body. When Rao joins in, Kapoor first manipulates his body to dance the moves she wants him to before he starts dancing alongside her. It’s a clever way to show the characters’ moral development while also making sure there are enough catchy tunes to fill out the soundtrack.

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Movie Review: Roar — Tigers of the Sundarbans (2014)

roar2 Stars (out of 4)

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“I am unnecessarily putting all of you in danger,” says Pandit (Abhinav Shukla) to his soon-to-be-dead commandos. Yes, you are, Pandit. But if you didn’t, we wouldn’t have Roar: Tigers of the Sundarbans — an inept killer animal flick that is nevertheless tons of fun.

Pandit imperils his army buddies to settle a personal vendetta against a tiger. His photographer brother, Uday (Pulkit), rescued a white tiger cub from a poacher’s trap in the Sundarbans. Instead of just leaving the tiger alone, Uday brought the cub to his house, where it was collected by the rightfully pissed forest warden (Achint Kaur). The mother tiger followed her child’s scent to the house and killed Uday.

Neither Uday or Pandit ever comprehend why what Uday did was wrong. When a human steals a tiger cub from the forest, how exactly is a tiger supposed to differentiate between a poacher and a well-meaning photographer?

Armed with an unwavering sense of his own righteousness and a helluva lot of guns, Pandit heads into the forest to kill the tiger that killed his brother. (Never mind that killing tigers is illegal.) Pandit recruits a gaggle of fellow commandos, none of whom is given any meaningful character traits.

The exception is the lone female commando, CJ (Nora Fatehi), whose distinguishing character traits are her breasts. Her battle gear consists of a fishnet glove, skimpy shorts, and a camouflage bustier.

Lest the crew run short on cleavage, Pandit hires a sexy tracker, Jhumpa (Himarsha). She echoes the female warden’s warnings to Pandit that Uday’s death was merely the act of a mother protecting her child. Pandit brushes off their suggestion as womanly sentimentality. However, when a male poacher named Bheera (Subrat Dutta) says that Uday was killed because of the tiger’s protective maternal instincts, Pandit believes him immediately.

This unwillingness to believe the women is a good example of Pandit’s dominant trait: he’s an asshole. He shouts a lot and is mean to the people who try to help him on his pointless, fatal quest. He doesn’t do a single heroic thing in the movie.

After the tiger escapes Pandit’s first ridiculous trap — which involves suspending some of the gang up in the trees by jock straps — his team follows the tiger’s trail downriver, into some misty, mystical tiger homeworld. Legend has it that no one who has ever ventured past the mist has been heard from again. Yet the second CJ is separated from the group, some dudes try to rape her.

The acting in Roar is abysmal. The camerawork is terrible. The story is beyond stupid.

But that’s not why people like me pony up for absurd killer animal movies. It’s all about the bad CGI action, and boy, is there a lot of it in Roar. Though the movements of the white tigress were motion-captured from actual tigers (orange-colored ones), her coloring is painted on, making the whole creature look synthetic. The tigress swims through deep water, yet manages to find purchase and leap onto the team’s boat.

Most of the action consists of the crew posing while holding guns, but not moving much. That’s because the trees of the Sundarbans have to send their roots up through the ground in order to get oxygen during high tides. The ground looks as though there are 6-inch-long sticks poking out of it every few inches. As a result, chase scenes are laughably slow as the actors tip-toe through the woods trying not to impale their feet.

Roar‘s funniest quality is the morality governing Pandit’s quest. The theme of almost every recent killer animal and disaster movie that’s aired in the United States in recent years — primarily on the Syfy channel — is that humans have tampered with nature, and now nature is fighting back.

Pandit’s view is that nature is freaking dangerous, and we’d better nuke the Sundarbans to save us from the man-eating tigers, flying snakes, and bloodthirsty flamingos. The movie’s theme is so hilariously stupid that it can’t even be called irresponsible. The key to enjoying Roar — which I certainly did — is not to take it remotely seriously.

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