A week of new releases to celebrate Diwali kicked off with today’s premiere of the Akshay Kumar horror comedy Laxmii on Hotstar. Thursday, November 12 sees the debut of the ensemble dark comedy Ludo on Netflix and the Tamil film Soorari Pottru on Amazon Prime. Finally, the social comedy Chhalaang premieres on Amazon Prime on Friday, November 13.
I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with the new release Gatham, which is available in Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu. There’s been a ton of upheaval on Prime in the last week, with hundreds of titles disappearing — some for several days — only for most of them to reappear on the service. The listings at my page are now up-to-date, but it did mean hours of ultimately pointless work for me. 🙁 I wish Amazon handled its contract renewals and expirations as seamlessly as Netflix does.
Speaking of which, 21 Indian shows and movies are set to expire from Netflix on November 15. The full list is available on my Netflix page under the “Expiring Soon” section near the top of the page. Of the expiring films, these are the ones that I’ve reviewed:
2010’s Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai raised interesting questions about the necessity of violence in organized crime and the role police have in protecting civilians. Its sequel, Once Upon Ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara!, revisits the same characters and locations, but ignores moral quandaries in favor of glitzy romance. The sequel doesn’t live up to the quality of the original.
Once Upon Ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara! (OUATIMD, henceforth) picks up twelve years into the reign of the sadistic Mumbai don, Shoaib (Akshay Kumar). He falls in love with a naive, aspiring actress named Jasmine (Sonakshi Sinha), whose innocence softens the don’s heart. At the same time, Jasmine strikes up a romance with Shoaib’s loyal underling, Aslam (Imran Khan), who tells her he works as a tailor. Neither man knows that they love the same woman, but when possessive Shoaib discovers the truth, boy, is he angry.
The casting in OUATIMD presents a problem from the outset. In the original film, Shoaib is played by Emraan Hashmi, an expert at depicting volatile, unsavory characters. Kumar makes his money these days playing comic goofballs and fails to make Shoaib as menacing as he needs to be. I agree with critic Mihir Fadnavis, who states in his review of OUATIMD that Kumar “sounds like a drunk Yogi Bear.”
Kumar’s not solely at fault for failing to make Shoaib appropriately villainous. Director Milan Luthria and writer Rajat Arora assume that audience members vividly recall the first movie and will apply that foreknowledge to Shoaib 2.0. But the character presented in OUATIMD is a smug, lovesick dope for the majority of the movie. His table-flipping freak-out when Jasmine informs him that she finds him strictly Friend Zone material seems out of character, unless one recalls the ruthless Shoaib from the first movie.
Requisite familiarity with the first film comes up in another odd way in OUATIMD. Shoaib’s girlfriend in the first movie is a woman named Mumtaz. Her character returns in the second as Shoaib’s kept woman, living in a luxurious apartment, but never allowed outside by the jealous don. Her presence is awkward and unnecessary, although she does give a touching speech near the end of the film about personal freedom and the fact that true love can’t be bought.
Jasmine echoes the same sentiments as Mumtaz, and Sinha does a nice job portraying a woman’s fear in the face of a man’s relentless romantic pursuit. In fact, the final half-hour of the film is really entertaining. Unfortunately, it comes about an hour later than it should have, given the amount of romantic fluff that could’ve been excised without damaging the story.
Imran Khan’s performance grew on me through the course of the film, but I’m still not sure that he was the right actor to play Aslam. He just seems too nice to play a street-hardened thief. Khan may have seemed more natural in the role had the makeup and wardrobe departments not turned him into a cartoon character. It’s hard to look beyond Aslam’s mesh tank tops, fake sideburns, feathered hair, and guyliner to appreciate the character beneath.
With a little editing and more appropriate casting, OUATIMD could’ve been pretty good. As it stands, the sequel’s shortcomings serve to reinforce what a superior movie Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai is.
This weekend’s new Hindi release is the black comedy, Peepli Live. Produced by Aamir Khan, Peepli Live satirizes the media’s response to the plight of poor farmers, some of whom resort to suicide to escape debt. The movie got a good response at a number of film festivals, including Sundance.
Peepli Live, which has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 46 min., opens in the Chicago area on Friday, August 13, 2010 in four theaters:
Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include the Tamil movie Thillalangadi at Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove and Telugu flick Don Seenu at the Golf Glen 5, which features a special showing of the 1996 Tamil film Indian on Wednesday night.
The only new Hindi film releasing in theaters this weekend is Aisha, starring Sonam Kapoor and Abhay Deol. Aisha is a contemporary version of Jane Austen’s Emma — similar to the 1995 Hollywood film Clueless — set in high society Delhi.
If organized crime is inevitable in a big city, which kind of crime syndicate is preferable: one large, powerful entity that operates without violence or several smaller gangs engaged in perpetual turf wars? Such is the question one police officer ponders in Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai.
Said police officer is Agnel Wilson (Randeep Hooda), the man responsible for investigating organized crime in Mumbai. When Wilson assumes his post in the mid-’70s, the criminal underworld is run by one man: Sultan Mirza (Ajay Devgan).
Sultan, who only needs one name, grew up an orphan on the streets of Mumbai. As his love for the city grew, he realized that Mumbai was being destroyed by gangs fighting over small portions of the smuggling business. As he rose to power, Sultan successfully divided the city among the biggest crime bosses, enabling them to conduct their illegal operations without harming innocent people. The gangsters — Sultan especially — quickly gain a more exulted reputation than either the government or the police.
Sultan’s Robin Hood-like reputation and his movie star girlfriend make him an appealing target for Officer Wilson. Little does Wilson know just how easy he had it with Sultan in charge. The climate begins to change with the rise of aspiring crime boss Shoaib Khan (Emraan Hashmi).
Shoaib’s background couldn’t be more different from Sultan’s. As a child, Shoaib turned to petty crime as a way to get a rise out of his police officer father. His father would discipline Shoaib by slapping him, further encouraging Shoaib to act out. He failed to develop a sense of empathy and embraced violence, adding a sinister edge to his dreams of surpassing Sultan.
Admiring Shoaib’s sense of courage, Sultan brings Shoaib into his inner circle. It’s a mistake that costs him and all of Mumbai dearly.
Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, despite its flashy ’70s gangster backdrop, is a character study. Director Milan Luthria takes the time to show how Sultan became so beloved and why he’s so different from Shoaib. When Sultan slaps Shoaib, the significance is clear.
Devgan is in his element. He radiates an aura of controlled power, imbuing Sultan with benevolence and the authority over life and death simultaneously. In a white suit and sporting a mustache, Devgan already looks like a time traveller from the seventies.
The film could be shorter, but quality performances drive the story along. The easiest scenes to remove would be the song-and-dance numbers. It seems as if every movie about gangsters has to have a scene at a club after the main character makes his first big score. Shoaib’s dance club debauchery montage is unnecessary.
The movie’s subtitles are its biggest problem. At some moments, they are so poorly translated as to be confusing (and they disappear in a key scene at the movie’s end). I’m still trying to make sense of: “Till a horse is not beautified, it looks like a donkey.”