Tag Archives: Om Puri

Movie Review: Tubelight (2017)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Much of the critical consensus around Little Boy — the 2015 American movie upon which Tubelight is based — condemns the movie as an offensive form of religious chauvinism. Armed with that foreknowledge, I expected Tubelight to be a disaster. Thankfully, it is not. Though flawed, it’s an enjoyable and touching examination of the lives of loved ones left behind during times of war.

Tubelight resets Little Boy‘s story from World-War-II-era California to the small mountain town of Jagatpur in far northern India during the Sino-Indian War of 1962. Americans can be forgiven for not remembering this conflict, as it happened at the same time as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Tubelight also recasts the titular “little boy” from the original film with 51-year-old Salman Khan. Khan plays Laxman, a mentally handicapped adult whose nickname “Tubelight” refers to the long time it takes for him to catch on to concepts. His younger brother Bharat (Sohail Khan, Salman’s actual younger brother) is his bodyguard and cheerleader, encouraging Laxman to believe in himself, even if no one else does. The pair feature in a song number about brotherly love made awkward by the siblings’ stiff dance moves.

The most uncomfortable aspect of Tubelight is the degree to which the town condones the bullying of Laxman. Young and old alike feel free to laugh at Laxman for even minor gaffes, and everyone seems okay with this. It’s sad.

Besides Bharat, Laxman’s only defenders are kindly Maya (Isha Talwar) and scholarly Banne (Om Puri). It falls on them to look after Laxman when border tensions between India and China inspire Bharat to enlist. As the conflict escalates, Laxman struggles with his loneliness and inability to bring Bharat home.

In order to keep Laxman busy, Banne encourages him to practice living by Gandhi’s principles, such as conquering fear and loving one’s enemies. Laxman thinks doing so will increase the strength of his belief, thereby empowering him to will his brother’s return. He puts Gandhi’s values into action when a widowed mother named Liling (Zhu Zhu) and her young son Guo (Matin Rey Tangu) move into a house on the outskirts of town. Though Indian by birth, their Chinese ethnicity marks them as outcasts. Laxman overcomes his own trepidation to befriend the little boy, earning him the ire of many townsfolk.

The indulgence by Banne and other villagers of Laxman’s fantasy that he can change things if he just believes hard enough feels wrong. Laxman isn’t a child who will one day come to understand that people were humoring him. He simply isn’t capable. Liling is the only person who reasons with Laxman honestly, trying to explain things in terms he can grasp. She stresses that bad things don’t happen because of a lack of faith, and that self-belief is important for its own merits, not because it can work miracles.

Moments like the conversation between Liling and Laxman give Tubelight authenticity. While Laxman may be particularly ill-equipped to handle something as horrible as war, everyone feels helpless when their loved ones are in danger. For all his intellectual shortcomings, Laxman is quicker to appreciate the distinction between individuals and governments than the rest of Jagatpur. He sees Guo and Liling for who they are, not as representatives of some hostile foreign power.

Such surface-level hatred is personified by the town bully, Narayan (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub). He’s an effective villain because his racism and xenophobia are reflexive and just understated enough that people are willing to follow him. He hears that a Chinese family has moved to town, and his instinct is to attack them. The speed with which he reacts makes it seem as though it is the natural way to react. It’s chilling.

Little Matin Rey Tangu is charming as Salman’s sidekick. They share a funny scene in which Laxman confesses his lies, only to run away before he can face the consequences. Zhu Zhu gives a solid performance, and watching her dance is a treat. Om Puri and Sohail Khan are great in a scene in which they discuss how Laxman will cope without Bharat.

Salman is overall pretty good, but he’s at his best during moments of heightened emotions, such as when Laxman is afraid for his brother or when he’s protecting Guo. His earnestness drives home the importance of rejecting racism and xenophobia as a way to free ourselves from fear and spread peace.

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Movie Review: Ghayal Once Again (2016)

GhayalOnceAgain1 Star (out of 4)

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I watched Ghayal Once Again, and I have no idea who anyone was or why anything happened. Though I didn’t watch the original Ghayal when it came out twenty-six years ago, I don’t think that’s the problem. The problem is that director Sunny Deol and his writers focused all their attention on lengthy action sequences and ignored the plot.

Here’s my best guess as to what the hell Ghayal Once Again is about (with spoilers, I guess, though I’m not spoiling anything by helping you avoid this movie):

Ajay (Sunny Deol) runs a high-tech vigilante firm in Mumbai. He kidnaps and tortures people, and is famous for doing so. The police don’t seem to care.

But Ajay harbors demons, presumably from stuff that happened in Ghayal. He has PTSD after being framed for murdering his wife and child. He’s functional, but by no means cured, although his neurologist, Riya (Soha Ali Khan) — who may also be his new wife — thinks he’s fine.

Ajay gives an award to four college kids for something, and then the kids sing and go on a camping trip. When they get home, they realize that they accidentally captured video footage of rich brat Kabir Bhansal (Abhilash Kumar) murdering Ajay’s friend Joe (Om Puri). Except, at that exact moment, the news reports that Joe died when he crashed into an oil tanker while driving his van with its distinctive “I Heart Butter Chicken” (or something) bumper sticker.

See, Joe met with Kabir, Mr. Bhansal (Narendra Jha), and some cringing government guy (Manoj Joshi) to complain to one of them about the other one. Mr. Bhansal is super rich, though no one knows why. Kabir calls Joe a slave, Joe gets mad, and Kabir shoots him. Then Bhansal has Troy — head of his security force of “highly trained foreigners” — put Joe in the Butter Chicken Mobile and drive it into the tanker.

The kids’ first instinct is to call Ajay, but they call one of their dads instead. Dad does the dumbest thing possible and goes to Bhansal with the evidence, rather than just destroying it. Dad is surprised when Bhansal threatens the kids and insists on bugging their phones.

It’s worth noting that Bhansal has access to such advanced surveillance equipment that it makes Mission: Impossible look like they’re using Apple ][s. He also lives in a twenty story house with a practice tee on the roof, and he regularly golfs balls onto the street below AND NO ONE GIVES A SHIT.

One of the kids was smart enough to make a copy of the video, so Troy and his goons chase the kids in a cool sequence most notable for Sunny Deol’s absence from it. Bhansal watches the action from afar, yelling at his army of code monkeys, “Why is it taking you so long to hack into his server? It’s been more than half an hour!”

When Ajay finally joins the chase, it goes on for-freaking-ever because he refuses to put the hard drive with the duplicate video in his pocket and keeps dropping it. Then he steals a helicopter and flies it into Bhansal’s house. Justice is served, though we don’t know how, why, or on whose behalf.

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Movie Review: Dirty Politics (2015)

DirtyPoliticsZero Stars (out of 4)

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About three-quarters of the way through the movie, my hands grip my head as if trying to contain an imminent explosion. I scream, “What is happening?!” and tear at my hair. That sums up the entire experience of watching Dirty Politics.

The movie’s problems are immediately apparent, most obviously so in the way the film looks. The camera never stops moving. It doesn’t matter if the movement obscures the faces of the characters who are speaking: camera movement is paramount! The action can be dramatic, such as a crane shot from directly overhead that swoops down to ground level then back up again. It can be more subtle, such as persistent zoom-ins on actors’ faces.

In one shot, the camera rapidly zooms in to closeup and pulls back twice in the span of about three seconds. A judge says, “Court is adjourned,” and the camera pans from the judge up to a clock above his chair, even though there’s no significance to the clock or the time of day. Then the same shot is repeated a few minutes later, again for no reason.

I don’t blame cinematographer Panveer Selvam for this travesty of technique as much as I do director K.C. Bokadia, who also wrote this farce. Bokadia’s vision for Dirty Politics is obviously shaped by a fundamental misunderstanding of how to make movies.

The story opens in the middle of a search for missing dancer-turned-politician Anokhi Devi (Mallika Sherawat). We know this because the characters say the name “Anokhi Devi” about a hundred times in the first ten minutes. Characters are introduced in quick succession without a sense of where they fit into the larger story, and an absence of backstory is keenly felt.

Anokhi Devi’s appearance via flashback more than twenty minutes into the runtime doesn’t really clear things up. Her dancing grabs the attention of political party leader Dinanath (Om Puri). In exchange for sex, Dinanath promises to make her the party’s candidate in the next election. Naturally.

There’s a hullabaloo because a gangster named Mukhtiar (Jackie Shroff) wants the same candidacy. He gets a great introduction from Anokhi Devi’s secretary, Banaram (Rajpal Yadav), who announces his arrival at her house: “He’s Mukhtiar. A well-known goon of our area.”

Dirty Politics is full of hilariously ponderous lines. When Anupam Kher’s character Mishra — who is a CBI officer and a lawyer who’s sixty days away from retirement(!) — presents his case in court, the defense attorney responds: “He is very cleverly trying to make his points strong.” Eloquently said, man who doesn’t realize that he’s describing the very nature of his own job.

One can only imagine how Bokadia managed to rope so many talented actors into this doomed project. In addition to vets like Kher, Shroff, and Puri, Naseeruddin Shah his a role as an activist who steals the movie’s absurd closing scene. Govind Namdeo’s overacting is the height of comedy. Atul Kulkarni and Sushant Singh remind us why they are rarely called upon to play action heroes.

Shah’s character has a daughter whose sole narrative purpose is to be raped in order to blackmail him. There are only three women in the whole movie, and all of them are brutalized: two in order to intimidate their relatives, and Anokhi Devi for aspiring to a more meaningful purpose than that of Dinanath’s mistress.

Puri and Sherawat deserve some modest praise for fumbling through the most awkward sex scenes in cinema history. If Bokadia was counting on sex to sell Dirty Politics, he obviously didn’t watch any footage of his movie as it was being shot.

One can only fathom the sheer terror racing through the mind of editor Prakash Jha as he received each batch of footage. “How am I supposed to make a movie from this?” he asks himself. “There’s nothing to work with!” Hence how we end up with the exact same reaction shot of Jackie Shroff staring at a desk — his jaw muscles twitching — four times in succession.

Bonus: Everything you need to know about the lack of craft that went into making Dirty Politics, in just twelve seconds!

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Opening May 3: Shootout at Wadala

One new Hindi movie opens in the Chicago area on May 3, 2013. Sadly, it’s not Bombay Talkies*, but Shootout at Wadala looks like it could be a cool action flick. The trailer features Anil Kapoor using wet laundry to beat up a guy, for Pete’s sake!

Shootout at Wadala opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 25 min.

Fans of Hindi films may want to check out Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which features Bollywood vets Om Puri and Shabana Azmi in supporting roles. It opens locally on Friday at Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema in Chicago.

Other Indian movies playing locally this weekend include Greeku Veerudu (Telugu) at both the Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge and the Golf Glen 5, which also carries Ethir Neechal (Tamil), Gunde Jaari Gallanthayyinde (Telugu), and Immanuel (Malayalam).

*Director Karan Johar tweeted that Bombay Talkies will release internationally after it premieres at the Cannes Film Festival on May 19.

Movie Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2013)

TheReluctantFundamentalist3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist reminds us that the traumas of our personal lives don’t stop for global catastrophes. The movie’s title alone doesn’t tell the whole story. Radical Islam is just one facet of a compelling narrative about some of the major issues of the last twelve years.

The tale of modern times is told through the experiences of Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed). Now a professor in his native Pakistan, Changez is questioned by a journalist — Bobby (Liev Schreiber) — about the kidnapping of an American professor at the same university. Changez stalls in revealing details of the kidnapping to Bobby by explaining how his experiences shaped his conflicted view of America.

Eager to improve the declining fortunes of his artist parents — played by Om Puri and Shabana Azmi — Changez moves to America in the late 1990s to study business. He gets a job at a Bain Capital-type firm that specializes in making companies more profitable, usually by laying off employees. He falls in love with Erica (Kate Hudson), the artsy niece of the head of his firm.

The attacks of 9/11 happen while Changez is on assignment in the Philippines, and he returns to the U.S to find that the rules of society have changed for him. In the film’s most disturbing scene, the rest of his team members waltz through airport security while Changez is subjected to an invasive strip search solely because of his ethnicity. His relationship with Erica deteriorates, and Changez wonders if America is really where he belongs.

After playing a villain in Trishna, Ahmed shows his versatility in The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Ahmed makes Changez sympathetic and relatable as he navigates a society that isn’t the pure meritocracy he expected it to be. His best friend, Wainwright (Nelsen Ellis), is the only other member of a racial minority employed at their firm. Among whites — including his boss, played by Kiefer Sutherland, and even his girlfriend — Changez feels treated like a token and not a real person.

In addition to the presence of Bollywood veterans Puri and Azmi, fans of Hindi films will find a lot of thematically familiar material in The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Changez’s troubled romantic relationship with Erica suffers as much from an undercurrent of prejudice as it does from problems in Erica’s past. He likewise struggles with disappointing his parents, who aren’t impressed by his material ambitions, even when they benefit from them. With a runtime of 130 minutes and a leisurely approach to storytelling, the pace of the film will feel familiar to Bollywood fans as well.

Early in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Changez tells Bobby that understanding only comes with patience. It’s a criticism of American mistakes in the country’s rush to deal with Islamic terrorism, but it is also good advice for how to watch the movie. Those willing to embrace the personal drama within the movie’s larger story about American interference in Pakistan will be rewarded.

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Movie Review: Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal (2012)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Even after watching Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal, I’m not sure what it’s about. Sure, I can tell you who the characters are and what happens to them, but what is the movie about? Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal lacks a coherent narrative and, as such, is a boring, pointless waste of time.

Without a compelling story to drive the plot along, the burden of carrying the film falls on the shoulders of its lead character, Johnny (Shreyas Talpade). Few lead characters are so woefully unsuited for the task of carrying a film as Johnny is.

Johnny is a good-for-nothing 25-year-old. He has no job, hoping instead to get rich from playing the lottery (his girlfriend buys him his tickets). He refuses to help his ailing father with chores, instead berating his sisters into doing the work for him.

The girlfriend, Maria (Madhurima), must have incredibly low self-esteem to have settled for an irredeemable loser like Johnny. Maria’s father, Peter (Paresh Rawal), hates Johnny’s dad, David (Om Puri), for stealing his girlfriend when they were young and won’t allow Johnny to marry Maria. Her three beefy brothers regularly beat up Johnny to keep him away from Maria.

One day, a buff stranger (Nana Patekar) with a big appetite arrives in town. Johnny convinces his family that the stranger is his long-lost brother Sam. They feed the stranger, who acts as Johnny’s bodyguard, when he’s in the mood. Eventually, Johnny hears a rumor that “Sam” is a murderer and a rapist, and sets about trying to make Sam leave town.

That’s the story. As I said before, I know what happened in the movie, but I don’t know why. Why am I supposed to care about a doofus like Johnny? Where’s the conflict? Sam’s presence doesn’t help Johnny get any closer to marrying Maria, nor does Johnny learn any lessons about the value of hard work from his fake brother.

There’s really nothing to recommend this movie. It’s little more than long passages of overly explanatory dialog punctuated by fistfights. All of the characters are dullards, with actor-writer Neeraj Vora reserving the only mildly amusing character — an opportunistic coffin maker — for himself.

Leave it to Priyadarshan — the director responsible for the worst film I’ve ever seen, Khatta Meetha — not to let the opportunity for some casual sexual violence against women pass him by. Why does Sam have to be an alleged murderer and a rapist? Isn’t being a murderer bad enough?

The only worthwhile element of Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal is the song “Dariya Ho” (which itself is derivative of “Chaiyya Chaiyya” from Dil Se). I’ve embedded the video of the song below to save you from wasting your money on an otherwise worthless film.

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Movie Review: Agneepath (2012)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Revenge thrillers seem easy to make because of the assumption that everyone can relate to the desire to avenge a loved one’s wrongful death. But being able to relate is not the same as caring, and writer-director Karan Malhotra doesn’t give the audience a reason to care whether the protagonist gets his revenge.

The story in Agneepath (“Path of Fire,” a remake of a 1990 film by the same name) centers on Vijay (Hrithik Roshan), who, as a 12-year-old boy, witnessed the murder of his pacifist father at the hands of Kancha (Sanjay Dutt), a drug lord intent on turning their quiet island of Mandwa into a hub of cocaine production.

Fifteen years later, Vijay is the right-hand man of Mumbai drug lord Rauf Lala (Rishi Kapoor). The unusual career move is part of Vijay’s convoluted long-term plan to acquire enough power to challenge Kancha and kill him, though it estranges him from his mother and young sister.

Agneepath is wonderfully atmospheric and beautiful to look at. Kancha lives in a dilapidated, evil-looking mansion decorated in deep blues and greys. Vijay’s sweetheart, Kaali (Priyanka Chopra), is depicted surrounded by vivid reds and cheerful colors. But the stunning visuals can’t distract from a story and characters that feel underdeveloped.

I’m willing to accept that Vijay chooses a method of revenge more complicated than 1) return to Mandwa, 2) shoot Kancha, in order to relay a parable about not abandoning one’s principles. But, for the parable to be effective, Vijay has to be a good guy at his core. I’m not convinced that he is.

Sure, he donates money to the impoverished residents of his neighborhood, but so does Rauf Lala. It’s an easy way for mafia dons to ensure that folks ignore their nefarious activities, and Lala is worse than most.

In addition to peddling drugs, Lala runs a sex-trafficking operation, selling young girls to the highest bidder. Not until Lala is hospitalized — and after Vijay has made himself Lala’s heir-apparent — does Vijay set the captive girls free. So, for fifteen years, Vijay turned a blind eye, as girls younger than his own sister were sold into prostitution. Not exactly the actions of a hero.

A bigger problem than whether Vijay really is Robin Hood at heart is that there’s not much character development to speak of. We just don’t know much about him. What does a sweet girl like Kaali see in Vijay? Why does righteous police inspector Gaitonde (Om Puri) have a soft spot for him?

Despite the movie being nearly three hours long, it feels as though the characters — especially Kaali and Kancha — have little to do. It’s an unfortunate waste of a talented cast. All of the emotional scenes are reserved for the final hour of the movie, well after the window for character development has closed.

The movie on the whole is terribly violent, particularly a machete killing spree performed by transvestite prostitutes. There are a couple of vibrant and entertaining dance numbers, including a cameo by Katrina Kaif, but they aren’t worth enduring the rest of Agneepath‘s overly-long story.

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