Tag Archives: Pankaj Tripathi

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: Masaan (2015)

Masaan3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Thanks to Just Me Mike for lending me his DVD copy of Masaan! Check out Mike’s film and TV reviews here.

Two young people struggle to grow within the confining social norms of modern-day Banaras in Masaan (international title: “Fly Away Solo“). The film is thought-provoking and full of moving performances.

Computer coach Devi (Richa Chadda) and her university student boyfriend Piyush check into a motel to finally consummate their relationship. “Curbing curiosities,” as Devi describes it. Their lovemaking is interrupted by the police, who storm into the room hoping to nab a couple engaging in premarital sex.

Police Inspector Mishra (Bhagwan Tiwari) revels in busting these two criminals. He tells Devi, “Your life is now ruined,” as he uses his phone to film her in a state of partial undress. He demands a bribe from Devi’s father, Mr. Pathak (Sanjay Mishra), in order to keep Devi out of jail. Mishra threatens to tarnish Pathak’s honor — not Devi’s, which is apparently already forfeit — by posting the video on YouTube if the impoverished bookseller doesn’t pay.

As Devi’s world falls apart, elsewhere in the city a young man falls in love. Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) is about to graduate from engineering school, the first member of his low-caste family to do so. He meets Shaalu (Shweta Tripathi), an opinionated young woman with a passion for poetry. As their feelings build through phone calls and clandestine meetings, Deepak chooses to ignore the fact that Shaalu’s higher caste status likely rules him out as a potential marriage partner.

Because the film opens with Devi’s tragedy, it’s impossible to enjoy Deepak’s romance with Shaalu. Watching them sneak glances at one another during a carnival feels like watching a horror movie, with the monster lurking around the corner clad in a police uniform.

Despite being a city of over a million people, the “small town” mentality in Banaras limits Devi’s options. As she switches jobs to avoid people familiar with her scandal, the expression in her eyes indicates that she has already checked out. Once she pays the bribe, Devi is moving away. Chadda gives Devi quiet fortitude coupled with an attitude that is beyond annoyed.

One minor subplot feels out-of-place in Masaan. During an argument, Pathak demands to know why Devi wants to punish him (as though her getting busted by the cops was directed at him). Instead of citing grievances such as Pathak’s eagerness to assume she’s at fault and his lack of compassion, Devi accuses him of having killed her mother by waiting to take her to the hospital.

It doesn’t make sense that Devi would have been a dutiful daughter her whole life, waiting until now to unload on him for something that happened when she was six. She has every right to be upset that he didn’t support her as an adult. The dead mother angle doesn’t fit.

Director Neeraj Ghaywan — who co-wrote Masaan with Varun Grover — takes advantage of Banaras’ most famous landmark: the city’s burning ghats where bodies are cremated. Deepak’s family business is burning corpses, and his engineering degree is his only hope of escape.

Americans are generally removed from the specific details of what happens to a body after death, so Ghaywan’s depiction of the pyres is eye-opening. Deepak’s father instructs one worker to tuck a corpse’s leg back under the burning logs. He yells at Deepak to smash open another corpse’s skull to “release the soul” (and help it burn more completely, no doubt).

Kaushal is terrific as Deepak, and Mishra and Tripathi are wonderful as well. Tiwari is callous and opportunistic as the corrupt inspector.

Two other performances stand out. Pankaj Tripathi — who normally plays villains or bumbling sidekicks — is sweet as an awkward ticket vendor with a crush on Devi. Little Nikhil Sahni is feisty and charming as Jhonta, a skinny orphan boy who drums up business for Pathak. Jhonta gradually comes to fill the void Pathak feels as his adult daughter pulls away from him.

Masaan is a really wonderful work from a first-time director with a bright future ahead of him. If it leads to quality, high-profile roles for the talented cast members, even better.

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Movie Review: ABCD: Any Body Can Dance (2013)

Anybody-can-dance3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Indian production houses have recently been fumbling with attempts to make movies targeted at urban teens with disposable income. ABCD: Any Body Can Dance is the first film to really hit its target audience. It’s vibrant and fresh without feeling condescending.

ABCD follows a familiar formula. An adult with something to prove whips a scruffy bunch of kids into shape, helping them grow as individuals and as a group of friends. It’s Chak De India, but with dancing instead of field hockey. This isn’t a knock on ABCD. The formula works, so why not use it? A good formula executed poorly results in a bad movie. Thankfully, ABCD is well-executed.

Prabhu Deva anchors the film as Vishnu. Booted as the lead choreographer at Mumbai’s most popular dance studio to make way for a flashy new choreographer from New York, Vishnu contemplates returning to his native Chennai. His friend and fellow dance teacher, Gopi (Ganesh Acharyaas), talks Vishnu into staying in town for a few more days, during which time Vishnu spots some talented young people dancing at a religious festival.

The dancers are divided into two rival factions headed by Rocky (Salman Yusuff Khan) and D (Dharmesh Yelande). Rocky’s crew immediately accepts Vishnu’s offer to mentor them, but D’s crew needs more convincing. Vishnu must get Rocky and D to set their egos aside for the group to have any chance of beating Vishnu’s former studio, JDC, in the national televised dance competition, “Dance Dil Se” (“Dance From the Heart”).

Vishnu’s new school gets a boost when a former student, Rhea (Lauren Gottlieb), defects from JDC after the head of the school, Jahangir (Kay Kay Menon), makes a pass at her. Menon is great as the slimy director of the studio. Gottlieb, a former competitor on So You Think You Can Dance in the U.S., does a nice job in her debut role in a Hindi film. Obviously, she’s an incredible dancer.

The dancing is ABCD‘s selling point, and it does not disappoint. All of the routines — from flashy stage numbers to solo performances in the rehearsal space — are really entertaining. The 3D effects added to the big routines don’t add much, but they aren’t distracting either.

For the most part, the acting is solid. All of the younger cast members — many of whom made their names on dance competition shows in India — do a great job, as does Prabhu Deva. Ganesh Acharyaas overacts as Gopi, turning what could’ve been a warm character into a source of distraction. Also distracting is Pankaj Tripathi in a minor role as a politician in a neck brace who speaks in an inexplicably bizarre voice.

Another problem in ABCD is the lack of development of all but a few characters. There are about a dozen additional dancers in the Vishnu’s group, and only a few of their names are spoken in the movie. Director Remo D’Souza could’ve dispensed with a needless anti-drug subplot to at least give the supporting characters names.

Something about the ethnic makeup of the dancers at JDC struck me as funny. The Mumbai school, which performs a style that is mostly Western contemporary, is made up of Indian boys and white girls. There isn’t a single Indian girl in the company. There’s no explanation for why this is, nor does it keep JDC from being the most popular dance group in India. It’s weird.

What I especially enjoyed about the dancing in ABCD is the way the numbers refrain from objectifying the women in the cast, treating them as equal members of the company. There are no item girls in ABCD. It’s refreshing.

If anything, the men in the cast are the ones being objectified. The dance crew is mostly made up of young, fit dudes who spend a lot of time with their shirts off. As a woman who sees a lot of Hindi movies, it was nice to be the target audience for a sexy dance number for a change.

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