Tag Archives: Omi Vaidya

Movie Review: For Here or to Go? (2015)

3 Stars (out of 4)

For Here or to Go? opens in these theaters Friday, March 31, 2017.

Even though For Here or to Go? made its festival debut in 2015, its 2017 theatrical release could not be more timely. The film examines America’s complicated immigration system not from a policy level, but from a personal one.

Ali Fazal — known to Bollywood fans from movies like Fukrey and Bobby Jasoos and to Hollywood fans from his role in Furious 7 — plays Vivek, a programmer on an H-1B visa working for a big corporation in Silicon Valley. He’d love a job at a startup, where he’d have a better opportunity to put his ideas to work, but his visa status effectively prevents it. Most small startups lack the resources to sponsor visa employees, and he has less than a year left on his visa anyway.

This puts Vivek and countless other foreign employees in a kind of holding pattern, stuck in jobs they don’t want and unable to get new ones. With low odds for getting a green card that would enable him to live and work in the United States permanently — it takes ten months just to get in the line to wait for a green card! — Vivek and his roommates haven’t even bothered to buy furniture. What’s the point, when they’ll have to leave it behind when their visas run out and they’re forced to return to India?

This limbo state is bad for Vivek’s social life as well. It’s impossible to find a lasting relationship when he doesn’t know where he’ll be next year, or even sooner than that if his company should unexpectedly fold, which would give him just days to leave the country.

Vivek’s romantic problems are strictly theoretical until he meets Shveta (Melanie Chandra, nee Kannokada, the pride of Park Ridge, Illinois) at a yoga class. She’s the first American-born Desi woman to give him the time of day. They have fun together, taking center stage during a Bollywood-style flash mob.

While Shveta is an all-American girl, her rich dad, Vishwanath (Rajit Kapur), is trying to convince Desi tech workers to return to India as a sort of penance for his role in the “brain drain” phenomenon, which was the subject of Swades back in 2004. One of the most disheartening aspects of For Here or to Go? is the sense that problems like “brain drain” and the unwelcome feeling experienced by many immigrants have been around for a long time and have only gotten worse since the film was completed, even before the ascent of the Trump administration. Under Vishwanath’s tutelage, Vivek starts to wonder if maybe India is the best place for him after all.

The story is rounded out by Vivek’s roommates, Lakshmi (Omi Vaidya) and Amit (Amitosh Nagpal). Lakshmi is determined to become an American citizen, believing that the US offers him a better chance at happiness as a gay man than India does. Amit has his own visa issues, and his glibness regarding immigration laws worries Vivek.

The pacing of For Here or to Go? — directed by Rucha Humnabadkar and written by Rishi Bhilawadikar — is slow in spots. There are also some logical problems, such as why Vivek never learns that his mentor, Vishwanath, is Shveta’s father.

The film also loses focus as the plot progresses. Instead of sticking with Vivek’s story, For Here or to Go? tries to cover the whole Indian immigrant experience in America. The issue of racist violence against Sikhs and how that impacts their desire to live in the US — a rich enough topic for an entire film of its own — gets wedged into a scene that’s only a few minutes long and has no bearing on the central plot.

Thankfully, some nice performances make up for screenplay scope creep. Fazal is always reliable, whether he’s acting in English or Hindi films, and he’s quite sexy in the movie’s sole romantic scene. Chandra is totally adorable. Vaidya and Nagpal are both charming as well.

For Here or to Go?‘s best selling point is that it’s a really good tutorial on the US immigration system. That’s equal parts praise for a film that makes a dull-seeming topic interesting, and condemnation for a system that’s so complicated it needs a fictional medium to make it comprehensible to the general public.

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Streaming Video News: January 1, 2017

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with some exciting new additions to the catalog. One of my favorite movies of 2016 — Udta Punjab — is now available for streaming. It’s tremendous. Another highly anticipated addition to the catalog is Omi Vaidya‘s documentary Big in Bollywood. Also newly available for streaming are the movies Autohead (Hindi), Radiopetti (Tamil), and Saheb Bibi Golaam (Bengali), and the documentaries An American in Madras and The Rat Race. For everything else new on Netflix, check Instant Watcher.

Have a happy new year!
— Kathy

Streaming Video News: December 5, 2016

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with some excellent new additions to the catalog. The splashiest new addition is the 2016 hit Neerja, which I adored. Another big deal is the Tamil movie Interrogation (“Visaaranai“), India’s submission to the 2017 Oscars. Also new are the highly regarded Marathi film Sairat, 2016 Hindi indie The Violin Player, 2014 Marathi film 1000 Rupee Note, and the behind-the-scenes documentary Beyond Bollywood.

Netflix also announced the streaming debut dates of three intriguing documentaries. December 6 marks the release of One in a Billion, a film about Satnam Singh Bhamara, the NBA’s  first Indian-born draftee. 2013’s When Hari Got Married — a humorous look at an arranged marriage — joins the service on December 25. Then on December 31, I finally get the chance to see Big In Bollywood, the 2011 documentary about Omi Vaidya‘s rapid rise to fame following the release of 3 Idiots.

Interview with “Brown Nation” Star Omi Vaidya

Few Bollywood outsiders skyrocket to fame with their very first Hindi film, but that’s exactly what happened to Omi Vaidya when he played Chatur “Silencer” Ramalingam in the hit movie 3 Idiots. After a few years and several more Bollywood films, the Los Angeles native returned home to raise a family and resume his Hollywood career. His latest project is the Netflix comedy series Brown Nation.

Omi graciously answered some questions via email about Brown Nation and his documentary Big in Bollywood, which makes its Netflix debut in December. He also had lovely things to say about his Jodi Breakers and Players co-star Bipasha Basu, because, well, Omi’s just a doggone nice guy.

Kathy: How did you get involved with Brown Nation? Was it already a Netflix project when you came onboard?
Omi: “I met the director, Abi Varghese, in 2011 when my documentary, Big In Bollywood, won the audience award at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. We hit it off and in mid-2014, he approached me to play the role of Balan in a new sitcom he was creating called Brown Nation. This was an independent TV show with a cast of minority characters speaking in English, Hindi, and Gujarati and financed by private investors–not by a studio or TV company–which meant it may never have been picked up. But it also allowed the show to not be limited by the typical stories and cast of characters you see on American or Indian TV.”

Kathy: What do you like about the cast of the show?
Omi: “When I started shooting, I was astounded by the amount of talent that was on the set. The cast was selected over many months and the actors that were chosen perfectly fit the roles. Many of them also had a wealth of acting experience and some were veterans of comedy and improv. It’s really the level of talent that elevates Brown Nation to a great show you want to binge watch.”

Kathy: Where are you finding the best opportunities right now: India or America? Are you more partial to one storytelling format over another?
Omi: “I am finding great opportunities in both India and America. Both countries are having media revolutions in the kinds of stories they are telling, so it’s exciting to be able to partake in both! I especially like it when the lines blur between the two like they did in Brown Nation. I prefer the efficient storytelling and comedic sensibilities of Western cinema, however there’s an exuberance and excitement to Bollywood that you just can’t get anywhere else. Plus Bollywood stories hit on topics that can be more relatable to South Asians so there’s value in that as well.”

Kathy: After working steadily in India for a few years, what made you decide to come back to America when you did? Was there ever a time when you thought your career might keep you in India permanently?
Omi: “There was definitely a time when I considered living in India permanently. Fame and fortune can be very enticing. But moving to different country solely for career opportunity has its limits. After 3 years of continuous work in India, I had huge professional growth but little personal growth. That’s when I consciously chose to move back to America, because it is the place I was born, grew up, and understood more completely. Although I have a huge fanbase in India, most of my family is in America, and it’s a great place to raise my son who is now 16 months old. My wife, Minal, is also finishing her post-doc at the National Institute of Health. We have a great life, and I still get to do what I love. I strive for a well-rounded life where I am challenged everyday. So in that way, I am blessed.”

Kathy: Having worked in comedy in both the US and India, what do you see as the major differences in comedic styles/preferences between the two countries?
Omi: “I am making generalizations here and there are always exceptions. But in general, comedy in America can be more low-key and subtle and ironic,  while in India the jokes can be over the top and less sarcastic. India still has a rich tradition of using puns or wordplay in comedy or jokes being steeped in innuendo or double meanings. In America, pun or wordplay humor is not as common. Neither comedy style is superior to the other and both really reflect the audience tastes.”

Kathy: Apart from the classic 3 Idiots, which Hindi film are you most proud of?
Omi: “I’m somewhat proud of my work in Madhur Bhandarkar’s, Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji. Although it wasn’t a major hit, my story in the film was realistic and relatable and I got to play a Maharastrian–which is what I actually am! Using my own experiences and some of my mother tongue in the film was extremely satisfying and allowed me to cross an item off my bucket list. Actually, it’s made me add another item to that list: Someday act in a Marathi film!”

Kathy: What are the plans for the release of Big in Bollywood?
Omi: “Big in Bollywood, the documentary that shows my rise to fame in India, is releasing on Netflix by the end of the year. It’s the true story roller-coaster of a film that follows a struggling actor who hits it big, and the perils of a meteoric rise to fame. Please follow me on Twitter @omionekenobe to find out more about the film and it’s release date.” (Since our interview, the Netflix release date for Big in Bollywood was announced as December 31.)

Kathy: Bonus fangirl question: I love Bipasha Basu, and you’ve worked with her twice. Do you have any good Bipasha stories?
Omi: “Bipasha Basu is a great woman and person. Many of the actors in India come from film families, and therefore they come to the set with a chip on their shoulders, as if it’s their right to be famous and respected. But actors like Bipasha and Madhavan came from middle-class homes, and they have retained that modesty and down-to-earth nature. Bipasha has presented a strong, smart woman figure to young Indians who may be looking for someone to look up to. And she’s beautiful too! When we shot Players in the northern-most city in Russia, Murmansk, it didn’t matter who was a star or not. None of the cast was recognized by the locals. But it didn’t matter what restaurant we went to; all eyes went to Bipasha. Even if she dressed like a bum, Russian men would still try to make conversation with her. They would say, ‘You work in Bollywood?’ ‘I know Raj Kapoor!’ ‘Awara Hoon!'”

Thanks so much, Omi! Check out Brown Nation on Netflix right now, and watch Big in Bollywood when it debuts on Netflix on December 31, 2016.

Movie Review: Jodi Breakers (2012)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Fine. Nice. Okay. Those are probably the best words to describe Jodi Breakers (“Couple Breakers”), a pleasant but unremarkable romantic comedy about a pair of divorce facilitators.

Fresh off his own financially disastrous divorce, Sid (R. Madhavan) hires himself out to men looking to entrap their cheating wives, thereby avoiding costly alimony payments. Sid hires Sonali (Bipasha Basu) as his partner, which allows them to expand their client base to include women looking to divorce their wayward husbands.

Sid meets privately with the wife of a wealthy businessman with a mistress, who arranges for Sid and Sonali to travel to Greece. There, the duo successfully plants evidence to frame the mistress, Maggie (Dipannita Sharma), who’s tossed out by the businessman, Mark (Milind Soman).

Sonali and Sid get drunk and sleep together while in Greece. Only after they return to India does Sonali discover that Sid lied about the identity of the woman who hired them to break up Mark and Maggie.

As a romantic comedy, Jodi Breakers isn’t particularly romantic or comical. Director Ashwini Chaudhary strikes an uneasy balance between wackiness and more straightforward comedy. Direct-to-camera speeches by Sid’s best friend, Nano (Omi Vaidya), periodically ruin the flow of the film. The leads are instructed to overact in scenes that don’t require it.

Madhavan and Basu have a friendly rapport with each other, but their chemistry doesn’t go further than that. Even though their love scenes are racy by Bollywood standards, they lack sizzle. Mark and Maggie convey more passion and longing in their glances, upstaging the lead couple.

The screenplay hits the necessary plot points and generally makes sense, but scenes drag on too long at the expense of character development elsewhere. Chaudhary, who also wrote the screenplay, spends too much time showing Sid and Sonali getting drunk, without showing why they fell for each other in the first place.

Also missing from the script are scenes of Sid and Sonali executing the jobs they are hired to do. Sid’s first solo job and the duo’s takedown of Mark and Maggie in Greece are the only time we see them at work, other than some brief, humorous client interviews. Scenes of Sid and Sonali successfully entrapping cheaters could’ve set up their inevitable romance while providing laughs.

Other elements of the film are similarly okay, but uninspiring. The music is catchy and the dance numbers are fine, apart from one that’s memorable for the wrong reasons. Someone needs to have a word about appropriate fringe placement with whomever designed the costumes for the female backup dancers in “Bipasha” (below).

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Movie Review: Players (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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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.

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Movie Review: Desi Boyz (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Desi Boyz borrows liberally from the plots of movies like The Full Monty and Loverboy while failing to really understand either. Both of the Hollywood comedies are about ordinary men pressured into selling their bodies (in one way or another). In the process, they learn that romance is about more than looks, and that men and women both have insecurities about sex.

Debutant writer-director Rohit Dhawan misses the point of the movies he’s aping, and instead casts two of the hunkiest actors in India — John Abraham and Akshay Kumar — to play a pair of down-on-their-luck Londoners forced to dance at bachelorette parties for dozens of sexy, scantily clad women.

Abraham plays Nick, a financier, and Kumar plays Jerry, a mall security guard and (gasp!) college dropout. Jerry is  responsible for his young nephew, Veer, following the deaths of the boy’s parents. Nick is planning a dream wedding for his girlfriend, Radhika (Deepika Padukone).

Their plans fall apart when they are both laid off. In order to keep child services at bay, Jerry signs on with an escort service called Desi Boyz. Nick reluctantly agrees to help Jerry for Veer’s sake. While their new careers forestall financial ruin, child services take Veer when they learn the source of Jerry’s income. Radhika spots the guys performing at a bachelorette party and dumps Nick.

While film’s promos focus on Abraham and Kumar as strippers, that plotline is dropped after the first half of the movie, never to be resurrected. The second half falls into the doldrums as Jerry goes back to college and Nick tries to win Radhika back by living in a trailer on her front lawn and smoking pot with her dad, played by the always delightful Anupam Kher.

All of this is supposed to enforce the tidy moral messages that dignity shouldn’t be sacrificed for short-term gains and that one can only succeed with a college degree. So why does Jerry, immediately upon getting his degree, blackmail someone into giving him a job with false accusations of sexual assault? What kind of moral message does that send?

There’s similarly inconsistent character growth in the Nick and Radhika storyline. Nick, the supposed champion of hard work, ultimately wins Radhika back by being a slacker. Radhika is no peach herself, leading on a nerdy suitor played by Omi Vaidya solely to make Nick jealous.

Desi Boyz would’ve been more interesting had Vaidya and Kher played the guys forced to become strippers. Or Nick’s character could’ve been marginalized, shifting the focus onto Jerry as he supports Veer and pays his way through college working as a male escort. (How did broke, jobless Jerry find the money for college anyway? The movie doesn’t explain).

Rohit Dhawan has some potential as a filmmaker if he can keep his stories focused and his characters consistent. I like his debut better than most of the movies I’ve seen by his father, filmmaker David Dhawan.

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