Tag Archives: Pankaj Tripathi

Movie Review: Drive (2019)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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If you tried to make an uncool version of The Fast and the Furious, you could not make anything as uncool as Drive. Dharma Productions’ straight-to-Netflix heist film lacks sex appeal, thrills, and all of the other exciting qualities about the series they tried to emulate.

To ensure that everyone knows this is a Fast & Furious knockoff, Drive repeatedly shows different women in short shorts standing between two race cars, their backs to the camera, ready to drop a flag to start the race. There are lots of white women of average attractiveness wearing bikini tops and jean shorts, setting a low bar for what constitutes sexiness in Drive.

Jacqueline Fernandez is gorgeous as ever as notorious thief Tara, her cleavage working overtime to add some spice to this bland dish. Sapna Pabbi looks stunning as well, as Tara’s best bud, Naina. But when the two best looking men in the cast are Boman Irani and Pankaj Tripathi — who really do look quite handsome — you’ve got problems.

Tara, Naina, and her boyfriend Bikki (Vikramjeet Virk) are a trio of thieves who moonlight as underground street racers. They want to rob the Presidential Palace in Delhi, but they need the help of a mysterious fellow crook known as The King to pull off the job. Brash driver Samar (Sushant Singh Rajput) may be able to help them, but the crew is being watched by Irfan (Irani), an agent from the Prime Minister’s office.

Irfan takes command of the government agency that polices black money, run by corrupt bureaucrat Vibha Singh (Vibha Chhibber). Where do Vibha and her goon Hamid (Tripathi) hide the money they extort? In the Presidential Palace, of course!

A hallmark of movies directed by Drive‘s producer, Karan Johar, is characters rich enough to buy whatever their hearts desire. That flippant materialism is taken to an absurd extreme in Drive, where objects seem to manifest out of nothing. Need some mannequins to help explain the heist plan? Poof, they magically appear in the thieves’ lair. Need the world’s supply of gold lamé fabric to outfit hundreds of guests at an impromptu wedding? Done!

The most cynical example of this pointless extravagance is a video montage of a trip the group takes to Tel Aviv. It’s purely an advertisement paid for by Israel’s tourism bureau that has nothing to do with the rest of the plot. It’s just five minutes of them clubbing, swimming, and zip-lining. The montage the film’s only sequence shot with grainy handheld cameras, making it stand out for the blatant cash grab it is.

Drive‘s plot is simplistic but still makes no sense. Writer-director Tarun Mansukhani yada yadas a lot of the operation planning and Irfan’s investigation. Much is made of the core trio’s suspicion of outsiders, but they seem to have any number of random flunkies on call to pose as police officers and shepherd the stolen loot away from their crime scenes. Didn’t they learn anything from Total Dhamaal? Don’t let anyone else handle your loot!

There is exactly zero chemistry between Fernandez and Rajput, who smirks like a dope through much of the film. The characters never seem in any real danger, neither from cues we’ve come to expect from other movies (someone has to die just before or after the wedding, right? No.) nor from explicitly mentioned threats, such as the Presidential Palace guards’ standing “shoot on sight” order. This is a heist film with no stakes.

And my god, the driving! Samar impresses the crew by cruising around is a suped-up Tata Nano — which sorta looks like a Honda Fit — while wearing ugly brown loafers. Fancy cars like Ferraris and Porsches are all CGI. The most time the cast spends in actual cars is during a sequence in which they discuss their plans in a parking garage. Every thirty seconds, the camera cuts to them sitting in a different parked car. Why? The movie’s not called Park! It’s called Drive!

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Movie Review: Arjun Patiala (2019)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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In the course of spoofing Bollywood cop movies, Arjun Patiala takes a grim turn that it doesn’t reckon with, making it no fun to watch.

Arjun Patiala” is the title of a movie being narrated to a producer played by Pankaj Tripathi, whose only requirement is that sexy actress Sunny Leone be cast in the film. The director (Abhishek Banerjee, who was great in Stree) works Leone into his narration of his movie about an upright Punjabi policeman.

The director’s description is visualized onscreen as the movie within the movie begins. Arjun (Diljit Dosanjh) finally achieves his childhood dream of becoming a police chief. On his first day in command of Ferozpur station, he disciplines two young men for sexually harassing a woman and helps lovely beautician Baby (Leone) evict some tenants from her salon.

When he first speaks with Baby — and any other good-looking woman who needs his help — Arjun imagines holding a microphone and serenading her. The other men in the room can see it, but Baby can’t. It’s one of various visual gags that remind the audience that this is just a movie. There’s also on-screen text providing additional information about the characters, but it’s written in Hindi and not translated in the English subtitles.

Such sight gags keep the audience emotionally distant from the story — which is probably good, given what’s to come.

Arjun is tasked by his superior officer (played by Ronit Roy) with eradicating crime in the district. Arjun asks Ritu (Kriti Sanon) — a gorgeous local reporter he wants to marry — to explain to him and his sidekick Onida (Varun Sharma) exactly how the local crime syndicates are organized, since apparently the police don’t know.

To this point, Arjun Patiala is a good-natured spoof of cop flicks. It maintains a lighthearted tone throughout, but the plan Arjun concocts to clean up his district is disturbing and at odds with the tone. Arjun starts by having a low-ranking criminal named Sakool (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) shoot and kill one of the underworld bigwigs. This sparks a string of retaliatory murders until there are no criminals left to commit any crimes.

There’s nothing comical about the way the murders are carried out. One guy is stabbed with a fork, and another is poisoned. There are montages of mass killings by machine gun. Arjun and Onida sit next to one of Sakool’s victims as he breathes his last, waiting until the crook is dead to call the station — giving Sakool time to get away and making it seem as though the cops arrived too late to stop the murder.

This wanton slaughter is only acceptable if one believes the criminals are not really people, as Arjun and Onida clearly do. It’s a grotesque endorsement of unchecked police power, especially since the goal is not mass incarceration but extermination.

Ritu suspects that Arjun is behind the bloodshed and is bothered by it, but she’s conflicted by her love for him and doesn’t seriously pursue it. One would hope that she’d be more dogged–not just as a journalist, but also because she was orphaned as a result of gun violence. The movie doesn’t pause to consider that the dead criminals might have children, too. When the story tries to make the case that the politicians are the real villains, it just makes the extrajudicial killings feel all the more cruel.

The dark turn doesn’t work because the characters don’t seem to realize it’s happened. Arjun, Ritu, and Onida are all generally cheerful from start to finish, which feels weird as the body count rises. Dosanjh, Sanon, and Sharma all give likeable performances, so the tonal shift does a disservice to them, too.

With a smaller death toll or more appropriate tone changes, Arjun Patiala could’ve been a perfectly enjoyable comedy. As it is, there’s not enough quality to make up for its disagreeable aspects.

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Movie Review: Luka Chuppi (2019)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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“I go to the gym. I am lean.
You speak to me like a machine.
You say that you watch Scooby-Dooby Doo.
Let it be, Don’t have to say I love you.”
— “Coca Cola Tu”, lyrics by Tony Kakkar and Mellow D or a random word generator

The romantic comedy Luka Chuppi (“Hide and Seek“) tries to appeal to a youthful demographic, but its story is stale.

Small town reporter Guddu (Kartik Aaryan) falls in love at first sight with Rashmi (Kriti Sanon), a new intern at Guddu’s cable station. Rashmi wants to wait on marriage until she’s established her own journalism career in Delhi, but she’s willing to try out a live-in relationship with Guddu first. Traditional Guddu balks at the idea, not least of all because a local conservative Hindu political party — led by Rashmi’s father, Vishnu (Vinay Pathak) — is waging a crusade against couples dating or living together before marriage.

A reporting assignment in another town gives Rashmi and Guddu the chance to cohabitate in secret, at the encouragement of the station’s cameraman, Abbas (Aparshakti Khurana, who was great in Stree). When their new neighbors get suspicious, the couple pretends that they are already married — a lie that spirals out of control once their families get wind of it.

Luka Chuppi is written in the chauvinistic tradition that insists on having a male “main” character, rather than true co-leads (hence why Aaryan gets first billing in the credits even though Sanon is a bigger star). The story is set in Guddu’s world, populated by his friends, enemies, and extended family. Though Rashmi is from the same town, she’s treated as an outsider, returned from Delhi to a hometown in which she mysteriously knows no one except her father, his toady, and her mother, whose face is covered in every shot save one.

Even on his home turf, Guddu is the least-active participant in the story. Abbas offers almost all the answers to every ridiculous new problem the couple faces while Guddu stares silently. Guddu undergoes very little character growth, written as he is in the mold of Bollywood male protagonists who are inherently flawless to begin. As such, the obstacles on the couple’s path don’t force them to evolve, making the march to their inevitable happy ending feel increasingly ponderous.

Guddu’s position as the story’s fulcrum would be hard to embrace even with a more talented actor in the role, but Aaryan isn’t up to the challenge. He seems unsure what to do with his face, maintaining the same bland expression no matter what reaction is required, and his voice has a strange, hollow affect as well. Aaryan’s whole performance seems like a lackadaisical Akshay Kumar impression.

Aaryan and Sanon have zero chemistry, although she has a delightful rapport with Khurana. When the three are in scenes together, Aaryan is an obvious weak link. It’s a shame that a romance between Rashmi and Abbas is precluded outright by his being Muslim, but Luka Chuppi is clearly a one-issue movie, and interfaith romance isn’t it.

As is his wont, Pankaj Tripathi steals every scene he’s in as Guddu’s tacky, lascivious brother-in-law, Babulal, who wants to mess up Guddu’s relationship with Rashmi. If the movie were nothing but shots of Babulal snooping about in his absurd attire, it would be an improvement.

That still wouldn’t solve the film’s biggest problem, which is that there is zero chance that Guddu and Rashmi will break up once they decide to get together (which Rashmi does out of the blue after a song montage). Luka Chuppi‘s message is that young people would like their parents to stop freaking out about live-in relationships, but the film’s presentation of the live-in relationship as a trial run for marriage is moot if the subsequent marriage is mandatory — which is why the movie has no narrative tension. Luka Chuppi is a polite request for open-mindedness, not a demand.

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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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