Tag Archives: Pallavi Sharda

Movie Review: Lion (2016)

lion3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Lion releases in theaters across North America on Christmas Day.

Lion‘s heart-wrenching international odyssey is carried on the tiny shoulders Sunny Pawar, the adorable star of this true story of a lost Indian boy’s attempt to find home.

5-year-old Saroo (Pawar) lives in a village in Madhya Pradesh with his preteen brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), baby sister Shekila (Khushi Solanki), and their mother (played by Priyanka Bose). Guddu and tiny Saroo do a variety of odd jobs — legal and otherwise — to supplement their mom’s wages as a laborer.

One night, Guddu takes Saroo with him on the train to look for work in a neighboring town, leaving Saroo asleep on a bench on the train platform. After Saroo wakes up alone, he searches for Guddu on an empty passenger train before dozing off in one of the seats. When Saroo wakes again, the train is moving, and it doesn’t stop for two days.

Saroo ultimately winds up in Calcutta, more than 1,000 kilometers from home. He doesn’t speak the local language, and he couldn’t explain where he was from even if he did because he’s just a little kid. As far as he knows, his mother’s full name is “Mom.”

His cleverness and adaptability help him survive on the street for months, staying fed and avoiding child traffickers. He’s so competent that it’s easy to forget that homelessness is just as new to him as the city and the language.

What makes this sequence so effective is that little Sunny Pawar is the picture of childhood vulnerability, with skinny limbs, chubby cheeks, and giant, brown eyes. His very being calls out to evolutionary parental instincts: “Protect me!” Yet, as Saroo, he’s overlooked by most adults as just another street kid. (A note at the film’s end states that 80,000 children go missing in India every year.)

Eventually, Saroo winds up in an orphanage that looks more like a prison. The staff do what they can to find the boy’s mom under the limitations of Saroo’s knowledge and communication technology circa 1986 (i.e. an ad in the local newspaper). When their efforts fail, kindly Mrs. Sood (Deepti Naval) shows Saroo a photo of John (David Wenham) and Sue (Nicole Kidman) Brierley: his new adoptive parents from Australia.

After a typical Tasmanian childhood, Saroo (played as adult by Dev Patel) moves to Melbourne for a course in hotel management, falling in with a group of international students that includes some Indians. Meeting them awakens buried memories of his birth family, inspiring a years-long quest to determine exactly where he’s from.

When Saroo starts his search in 2008, he has at his disposal the satellite images of Google Earth and tables of historic data on train speeds. Even if he’d wanted to look for his birth family at a younger age, the technology to do so wasn’t widely accessible.

Despite the cast’s star-power, most of the supporting roles feel peripheral to the story. That applies especially to Rooney Mara as Saroo’s American girlfriend, Lucy, who exists just to be pushed away by Saroo as he becomes obsessed with his research. Wenham is solid in his few scenes, and Kidman shines in a monologue about why she adopted Saroo.

An important character who could have used more screentime is Mantosh (Divian Ladwa), another orphan from India the Brierley’s adopted after Saroo. Young Mantosh (played by Keshav Jadhav) arrives in Australia with a load of emotional and behavioral problems, probably as a result of whatever accident left all the scars on his head. The boys share a fraught relationship that boils over when Saroo’s search reminds him of the kind older brother he had before Mantosh.

Bollywood fans will recognize a number of actors like Bose, Naval, and Pallavi Sharda. Stars Tannishtha Chatterjee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui have small but memorable parts as well.

Patel’s performance is compelling, as Saroo’s life crumbles under the weight of trying to appease two mothers: one who’s still searching for him and another who’s afraid of losing him herself. The cocky young man who starts the program in Melbourne is gradually replaced by a shaggy haired, wild-eyed loner who hallucinates his long-lost family.

But Lion ultimately belongs to Sunny Pawar, who is quite skilled for such a young actor. It’s impossible not to fall in love with him.

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Movie Review: Hawaizaada (2015)

Hawaizaada3 Stars (out of 4)

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Director Vibhu Puri makes a promising debut with Hawaizaada (“Free Flying”, according to the English subtitles), a historical fantasy about an Indian inventor who built an airplane eight years before the Wright brothers.

Legend has it that, in 1895, an unmanned aircraft built by Shivkar Bapuji Talpade flew for several minutes, though scant evidence exists to prove the story. A note at the start of Hawaizaada clarifies that the film is not biographical, but merely inspired by Talpade.

The truth of the legend isn’t as important to Hawaizaada as what it represents: hope. England ruled India during Talpade’s lifetime, a fact that the movie suggests as a possible explanation for why so little information remains regarding his experiments. If the world learned that an Indian independently built a flying machine, the British could have no longer justified their occupation by claiming that Indians were uneducated primitives in need of their civilizing oversight.

Ayushmann Khurrana plays “Shivy” Talpade, the clever but aimless son of a well-to-do Mumbai family. When his father throws him out of the house, Shivy moves in with Shastry (Mithun Chakraborty), an eccentric inventor who looks like a bespectacled Mark Twain. Shastry makes Shivy his apprentice, and they start building an airplane.

Shastry’s home is a wonder. He lives aboard a beached ship, cluttered with Rube Goldberg machines and models of his various inventions. The models — and the plane he and Shivy eventually build — have a cool steampunk aesthetic. There are dozens of birdcages, housing the pigeons whose flight patterns he studies.

The houseboat is but one amazing set in a great-looking film. Every location is full of detail, whether it’s a bedroom full of mirrors or a simple village street. Puri — who served as an assistant director on Saawariya and The Blue Umbrella, two visually sumptuous films — stamps his vision on every scene, right down to the richly colored costumes.

In addition to Shivy’s disapproving father and some suspicious British officers, the other wrinkle in his life is Sitara (Pallavi Sharda), a dancing girl with whom Shivy has fallen in love. She’s realistic about the infeasibility of their relationship, given their difference in social standing. But Shivy is both a romantic and a reformer, ever hopeful that love can conquer all.

Khurrana and Sharda make a likeable pair, with her playing the film’s most grounded character. Some of the acting is occasionally hammy, with Chakraborty the main offender.

A number of helpful characters fill out the story, including Shivy’s nephew/sidekick, Narayan (the adorable Naman Jain), and his old band leader, Khan (Jameel Khan).

Some of Shivy’s most ardent cheerleaders are women. Not only does he have Sitara in his corner, but also his sister-in-law and the wife of a local lord. The women know that Shivy’s success would strike a blow against both the British and the wealthy Indian men aligned with them. A new era of change — heralded by an airplane’s flight — could mean more opportunities for women.

Hawaizaada has a packed soundtrack, with some great songs. “Dil-e-Nadaan,” sung by Khurrana, is a standout. But a few songs feel like filler, stretching out a movie that’s already longer than it needs to be.

International audience members may find one plot thread confusing. Shivy and Shastry take some of their clues on airplane design from the Vedas, and they occasionally quote scripture that isn’t translated in the English subtitles. It’s not vital in order to follow the plot, but one does feel a bit left out.

Go watch Hawaizaada. Not only is it an uplifting story, but it’s a chance to experience the work an emerging director with a distinct aesthetic point of view. I want to see what Vibhu Puri does next.

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Movie Review: Besharam (2013)

Besharam2 Stars (out of 4)

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Besharam (“Shameless”) was likely sold to investors using the following equation: Ranbir Kapoor + antics = super hit. The equation will probably prove correct, but that doesn’t mean that Besharam is a great movie.

Writer-director Abhinav Kashyap is so confident in Ranbir’s ability to charm audiences that he offers only the barest hint of a plot. The movie starts with a brutal scene of a gang led by Bheem Singh Chandel (Javed Jaffrey) blowing up a police van with a rocket launcher and siccing an attack dog on an officer. The gangsters disappear for forty-five minutes, until they hire Babli (Ranbir) to steal a car for them.

In the interim, we get to know Babli, a mechanic who supplements his income by fencing stolen automobiles with the help of his best friend, T2 (Amitosh Nagpal). Their profits fund the orphanage where they grew up and still reside as adults. The head of the orphanage, Masterji, knows that Babli and T2 are crooks, but he takes the money anyway, while expressing hopes that the younger boys will grow up to find legitimate jobs.

Babli meets a beautiful woman, Tara (Pallavi Sharda), who’s unimpressed with his sleazy come-ons. Spurred by the challenge, Babli pursues Tara, only to inadvertently steal her new Mercedes on Chandel’s behalf. Having hurt Tara, Babli finally discovers that other people are affected negatively by his actions.

From this point in the story, most movies would focus on Babli’s character development as he reforms his ways to impress the girl and right the wrongs he’s committed. Kashyap takes the opposite tactic. Babli is made into a hero, with everyone — including Tara — apologizing to him for having judged him too harshly and vowing to emulate his shameless ways.

This story turn just doesn’t work. Babli, through his self-centered carelessness, not only steals from Tara, he endangers the lives of everyone he cares about, including all the kids at the orphanage. Masterji, T2, and their friend, Bhura, are beaten and kidnapped because of Babli, yet no one is upset with him.

Kashyap tries to blame Babli’s flaws on classism. Tara is set up as an elitist who’s only interested in money and status and who looks down on a mechanic like Babli. First of all, why shouldn’t she be allowed to marry a peer who (like her) has a high-status job? Second, and more importantly: BABLI STOLE HER FRIGGING CAR!

Babli also claims that, because he’s an orphan, he had no one to teach him right from wrong. So, didn’t he pick up any sense of morality in school? And what the hell does Masterji teach the kids at the orphanage? “Here’s a roof over your heads and some food. Figure the rest out yourselves.”

Babli’s orphan status is used to shoehorn Ranbir’s real-life parents, Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, into the movie as a pair of married police officers. As soon as they mention that they never had children, it’s obvious that Babli won’t be an orphan by movie’s end.

For what it’s worth, Ranbir is really darned charming. His charisma is the only thing that makes the movie watchable. Ranbir is at his best in scenes with Nagpal, as the friendship between Babli and T2 is the movie’s strongest relationship.

What I’ve always enjoyed about Ranbir is his ability to shine in a variety of roles, but Besharam may mark the start of Ranbir Kapoor: The Franchise. I fear that Ranbir has earned so much industry clout that he’ll be pigeonholed into “charming” roles, playing the role of Ranbir much in the way superstars like Salman Khan, Shahrukh Khan, and Akshay Kumar seem to play the same type of character in every movie. It’s a trap that can be avoided, but only if he’s careful.

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