Tag Archives: Paresh Rawal

Movie Review: Raja Natwarlal (2014)

RajaNatwarlal2 Stars (out of 4)

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One of a movie’s most precious resources is time. Filmmakers have a matter of minutes to establish characters and set up the plot, and then only an hour or two to resolve the story in a satisfying way. Raja Natwarlal allocates far too much time to a romance that needs no explanation and too little time on a complicated heist that does.

Director Kunal Deshmukh and writer Parveez Sheikh rely heavily on genre shorthand. Emraan Hashmi plays Raja, a small-time con artist with a heart of gold. When a heist goes wrong, he turns to a mentor — Yogi (Paresh Rawal) — who gives him two rules: don’t question my orders, and don’t fall in love.

The second rule is a problem because Raja has a girlfriend, an exotic dancer named Ziya (Humaima Malik). We know that Ziya is the most important thing in Raja’s life because the film devotes four song-and-dance numbers to their relationship, plus a fifth during the closing credits.

So much time is wasted on Raja and Ziya dancing in the club, in the rain, and on a tour of Cape Town that the details of the big heist Raja and Yogi are trying to pull off get glossed over.

Raja and Yogi both want revenge against wealthy, corrupt cricket enthusiast Varda Yadav (Kay Kay Menon). They concoct a plan to steal Yadav’s money by tricking him into thinking he’s buying a cricket team.

Yogi gathers a crew of three or four sidekicks who get barely any introduction and virtually no lines of dialogue. This isn’t Ocean’s Eleven or The Italian Job. This is just Raja, Yogi, and some other guys.

By the end of the con, the crew has mysteriously ballooned to more than a dozen guys. There’s no explanation of who they are or how they are recruited, apart from a hitman played by the shamefully underutilized Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub. Predictably, one of the anonymous new guys is a mop-topped teenage computer hacker.

With so many heist film clichés in play and without any sense of how the con is unfolding as it’s happening, it never feels like Raja is any danger. Every event seems like it’s either part of a master plan or confirmation of Yogi’s fear that love really has turned Raja into a mush-brained schmuck.

It doesn’t help that Yadav isn’t a threatening villain. He only gets one scene of violence. A corrupt police officer named Singh is more menacing, but his integration into the plot is weak.

Scenes with Officer Singh highlight another problem: how do all the characters seem to know so much about Raja’s schemes? When Raja and his initial partner, Raghav (Deepak Tijori), mistakenly steal a bunch of cash from Yadav early on, Yadav and the cops find out about it almost immediately. How?

They probably found out while Raja was singing and dancing with Ziya in the strip club for the second time, which is actually the film’s third dance number in the opening twenty minutes (Raja gets a solo number as well). That’s an awful lot of time wasted on dancing that could’ve been spent on plot development.

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Streaming Video News: August 22, 2013

The high-concept comedy OMG Oh My God is now available for streaming on Netflix. This surprisingly funny movie from 2012 stars Paresh Rawal as a man who takes God to court. I recommend it.

On Friday, August 23, Bajatey Raho becomes available for streaming on Eros Now. While I wasn’t crazy about the movie, this is the kind of smaller, less star-driven fare I’d like to see more of on Eros Now. Also, I appreciate the speed with which they made the movie available for streaming. It released in theaters on July 26.

Movie Review: Himmatwala (2013)

Himmatwala0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Can someone check director Sajid Khan to make sure his brain is still functioning? Lack of neural activity is the only way I can explain why someone would be so unaware of current events as to make a film as out of touch as Himmatwala.

Himmatwala is a remake of a hit film from 1983, a period when cultural views of gender equality were less advanced than they are today. Khan sets the events of his remake in 1983, but that doesn’t mean that every detail of the remake must be exactly the same as the original. In fact, characters make numerous references to modern life — things like swine flu and YouTube — that were obviously not part of the original.

(Further evidence that this is not a strict remake is that Khan lifts an iconic scene directly from the 1987 comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I’ve included a video of the original scene at the end of the review.)

The problematic sequences have to do with the film’s depiction of women. The film shifts from a light-hearted, Looney Tunes-inspired comedy in the first half, to a more serious story in the second, though refusing to abandon its comedic elements entirely. As a result, women’s suffering is made light of, existing only as a prompt for jokes.

The story centers on Ravi’s (Ajay Devgn) return to his hometown, which he left as a boy. His father, a respected priest, had been framed by the evil town overlord, Sher Singh (Mahesh Manjrekar), and driven to suicide. When young Ravi attacks Sher Singh, Singh’s goons burn Ravi’s house, presumably with his mother, Savitri (Zarina Wahab), and his younger sister, Padma, still inside. Upon learning that his mother and now-adult sister (played by Leena Jumani) survived, forced to live in squalor on the outskirts of town, Ravi returns.

In the process of restoring the family home, Ravi inspires the impoverished villagers to hope for a life out from under the thumb of Sher Singh. Ravi’s divinely endowed heroism wins the love of Singh’s bratty daughter, Rekha (Tamannaah), and gets her to stop being mean to the poor townsfolk.

Up to this point, the tone is relatively light. There are a few impressive dance numbers, lots of cartoonish sound effects, and direct-to camera asides from Narayan Das (played by an incredibly annoying Paresh Rawal), Singh’s brother-in-law.

The tone changes when Padma reveals that she and Narayan’s son, Shakti (Adhyayan Suman), are in love. Ravi objects to his sister’s relationship with the nephew of his arch-rival, but relents and apologizes to Shakti when he sees how unhappy Padma is. This apology is an insufficient balm for Shakti’s wounded pride, and he conspires with his father and uncle to ruin Ravi by physically and emotionally torturing Shakti after going through with a sham marriage to her.

But first, Padma is almost raped by a gang of Singh’s goons. After trapping her in an abandoned train car, the lead goon declares, “I will molest you, and then your brother will kill himself.”

Of course, Ravi shows up in time to save Padma, but his pre-fight announcement is less than reassuring. He says, “If you lose your dignity and your life, you can never get them back. I will definitely protect my sister’s dignity, but who will protect you from me?” Then he announces that women need not fear when there’s a himmatwala (“brave heart”) around to protect them.

I feel comfortable speaking for all women when I say, I don’t want a man to protect me; I don’t want to be threatened in the first place! And why, as a woman, is my virtue at stake if I get molested against my will? I didn’t do anything wrong, the man who molested me did.

After escaping the rapists, Padma marries Shakti, who whips her when she complains about being psychologically tortured by him and Narayan. She reports her miserable living conditions to Ravi. Their mother restrains her son’s justifiable urge to beat up Shakti, saying, “When a girl moves to her husband’s house, she leaves only after she dies.”

Ravi and Rekha concoct a scheme to extort Singh the same way he’s extorting Ravi. They pretend that the worst possible thing has happened to Rekha: that Ravi has gotten her pregnant out of wedlock!

While Singh begs Ravi to marry Rekha and spare him public humiliation, Ravi sets about trying to right the wrongs committed against Padma. He does so by forcing Narayan and Shakti to sweep and wash dishes (how womanly!), and then he puts a crab in Singh’s pants, causing the overlord to dance around. Hilarious, right?

So, according to Himmatwala, equivalent punishment for physically abusing a woman (not to mention the near gang rape, ostensibly sanctioned by Singh) is light housework and mild embarrassment.

With new stories of some horrific gang rape emerging from all over India seemingly every month, it’s time for moviemakers to stop treating the abuse of women as a joke. Remakes are fine, but they need to be updated to fit the times. Sajid Khan is should be ashamed of himself.

*Here’s the scene Khan stole from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, recast with Singh and Narayan. The English subtitles in Himmatwala are exactly the same as the spoken dialog in the original:

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Movie Review: Zila Ghaziabad (2013)

Zilla_Ghaziabad1 Star (out of 4)

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When a movie is as crude and inept as Zila Ghaziabad, it’s hard to know what to prioritize when describing why it’s so horrible. The bad acting or the nonexistent story structure are both good places to start, but they miss what the film is really about: cigarettes.

Zila Ghaziabad is preceded by a two-minute video that graphically showcases the ways cigarette smoke ravages the human body. A voice-over implores the audience not to smoke. Then, throughout the entire film, every single time a character is shown smoking a cigarette or puffing on a hookah, a subtitle appears in the bottom right corner of the screen that reads: “Cigarette smoking is injurious to health.”

Because the vast majority of the characters in the film smoke, the warning appears on screen through almost half the movie, becoming the dominant image of the entire film. With just a hint of foresight into the likely dictates of the Censor Board, director Anand Kumar could’ve trimmed out a few shots of his characters lighting up and kept the audience focused on the story.

However, perhaps the focus is exactly where Kumar wants it to be. I posit that Zila Ghaziabad is really an anti-smoking parable and not a gangster movie. Vivek Oberoi plays the presumptive hero, a teacher named Satbeer. He’s admonished for smoking early in the film by his elder brother, and he abstains ever after. By the end of the movie, Sanjay Dutt’s maverick cop character, Pritam Singh, takes pity on the teacher because, “There was something about Satbeer that touched my heart.” Avoiding tobacco equals moral righteousness.

The short version of Zila Ghaziabad‘s story is that a guy named Fakira (Sunil Grover) gets jealous of his boss’s increasing reliance on Satbeer and causes a whole bunch of problems because of it. Lots of people get killed and nothing is solved by the end.

Arshad Warsi’s character — a hoodlum named Fauji — reunites with his gang in Ghaziabad and is welcomed home in spectacularly homoerotic fashion. Dozens of dudes break into a song about what a bad-ass Fauji is while firing long-barreled shotguns into the air and thrusting their pelvises with abandon.

The air-humping doesn’t stop there. Two item numbers feature a lone female gyrating while surrounded by dozens of horny guys. Since the lovely lady is obviously heading home with whatever rich guy hired her to dance in the first place, and there aren’t any other women in sight, one can only guess as to how the lathered-up lackeys will expend their sexual energy.

Fakira tricks Fauji into fighting with Satbeer in order to get back into the good graces of his uncle/boss, The Chairman (Paresh Rawal). This sets off a string of retaliatory attacks that draw national media attention to Ghaziabad. The overwhelmed police force turns to the only man who can fix this mess: Pritam Singh.

To say that Singh is a maverick is putting things mildly. While Singh has the requisite super-human strength of other movie supercops (e.g., those played by the likes of Salman Khan and Ajay Devgn), Singh lacks the moral righteousness supercops always have. Singh is at best a trickster, and at worst amoral.

A flashback shows how Singh resolves a dispute between a trio of lawyers who beat a food vendor demanding that the lawyers pay their bill. Singh slaps the lawyers around before handing his gun to the vendor and forcing the man to shoot one of the lawyers in the face.

That’s just par for the course in Zila Ghaziabad, a movie that has no moral center whatsoever. If anything, it appears to advocate violence over non-violence. When Satbeer decides to stop being Mr. Nice Guy, a song proclaims, “Forsaking his studies, he’s out to wage war.” Satbeer, with tears in his eyes, roars and shoves one of Fauji’s guys onto a pile of spikes. He then uses the dead guy’s own cell phone to break the news to Fauji. Satbeer tosses the phone over his shoulder, and I was disappointed when it didn’t explode on impact.

The point is that it doesn’t matter how many people Satbeer kills. He’s the hero because he doesn’t smoke.

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Movie Review: Table No. 21 (2013)

Table_No_21_poster2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Table No. 21 attempts to be a high-concept thriller about a cute married couple who participate in a game that grows increasingly twisted the longer they play. There are two problems in the film’s execution: the game isn’t that twisted, and the couple is by no means cute.

The couple — Vivaan (Rajeev Khandelwal) and his wife, Siya (Tena Desae) — are introduced as they indulge in a resort vacation in Fiji, a free prize that they won in a contest. Even while on a luxury holiday that includes shopping, swimming, and an inordinate amount of time spent showering fully clothed, Vivaan manages to be a jerk. He makes fun of Siya for being excited to fly business class instead of coach for a change, and most of his responses to her are sarcastic. Siya’s no peach either, snapping at the air hostess for bringing her the wrong meal, but she’s nicer than Vivaan.

The bad attitude of the main couple is a problem because it prevents the viewer from feeling the necessary sympathy for them as the plot unfolds. It’s especially hard to care when bad things happen to Vivaan because he seems like he deserves them.

On the last day of their vacation, the couple meets Mr. Khan (Paresh Rawal), the owner of the resort. He invites them to play a game that will be broadcast to eight million online viewers, for a prize of 21 crore rupees (about $4 million). They agree, failing to appreciate the two rules of the game: no quitting, and “if you lie, you die.”

The game, which consists of eight questions and eight accompanying tasks, starts out easy enough. Almost laughably so. Mr. Khan asks Vivaan if he’s ever embarrassed to be affectionate with his wife in public, and Vivaan admits that he is. Vivaan’s task, then, is to passionately kiss Siya in a public place. Even with $4 million on the line, Siya still has to talk Vivaan into kissing her!

While Table No. 21 is geared toward an Indian audience, this task and some of the others that follow are comically prudish. Most are designed to test the fragility of Vivaan’s male ego, which is especially touchy since he is currently jobless. Yet when the couple makes mistakes, it’s invariably Siya who pays the price.

As one would suspect, Vivaan and Siya were not selected at random to play Mr. Khan’s game. Without spoiling anything, their selection is based on an event from their past, but they react to the revelation of why they were chosen as though they are learning about it at the same time as the audience. Given the nature of what is revealed, no one with a functioning conscience could forget what Vivaan and Siya appear to have forgotten about, further proof that they are not shining examples of humanity.

I’m not sure who’s most to blame for the main couple’s rottenness, the actors or director Aditya Datt. Regardless, the characters fail to engender sympathy. Rawal has a few good scenes but doesn’t make Mr. Khan as menacing as he should be.

Director Datt wisely keeps the film’s runtime under two hours, but there’s a lot of filler material that could’ve been cut. Flashbacks are employed during the game, a la Slumdog Millionaire, but only some have bearing on the plot. Datt falls prey to the common Hindi-film trope of insisting on showing how the lead couple first met and fell in love. Most people’s love stories are pretty similar, so unless it specifically relates to the story, it doesn’t matter.

Table No. 21 stands out from the crowd thanks to its good pacing, interesting plot device, and short runtime, but it could have been better.

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Opening January 4: Table No. 21

The first Bollywood film to open in the Chicago area in 2013 is Table No. 21, a thriller starring Paresh Rawal and Tena Desae from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Because of its relative lack of star power, Table No. 21 is only opening on Friday, January 4, 2013, at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles and AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington. The film has a mercifully short runtime of 1 hr. 48 min.

The only other big-screen Bollywood option playing locally is Dabangg 2, which carries over at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include My Boss (Malayalam) and the Telugu movies Ko Antey Koti and Midhunam.

Movie Review: OMG Oh My God (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Bollywood isn’t generally known for producing “high-concept” movies: films whose plots can be boiled down to a single, easy-to-understand sentence. The fertility comedy Vicky Donor comes close, as do horror films like Raaz 3, but the standard Bollywood tale-of-two-halves formula doesn’t usually lend itself to such simplicity.

OMG Oh My God is different. Here’s the plot: a disgruntled merchant sues God for damaging his shop. Simple, catchy, and easy to understand. That narrowness of focus allows OMG to tell an amusing story that’s accessible to everyone.

Kanji (Paresh Rawal) is a cynical shopkeeper who overcharges gullible devotees for the chintzy religious statues he sells in his shop. Kanji interrupts a religious festival, angering Siddeshwar Maharaj (Govind Namdeo), a short-tempered holy man who calls upon God to punish Kanji. An earthquake strikes, leaving everything in town untouched except for Kanji’s shop.

When the insurance company won’t pay for the damages to Kanji’s decimated shop under the “Acts of God” clause in his contract, Kanji sues God for compensation. If the divine being won’t show up in court himself, Kanji is happy to recoup his money from the temples his wife has donated to over the years. The religious establishment fights back, and Kanji gets help from an unlikely source: God himself, in the form of a handsome guy named Krishna (Akshay Kumar).

This sounds like the kind of film Jim Carrey might have starred in fifteen years ago (the courtroom setting brings Liar Liar to mind). That’s not a knock on OMG, but a compliment. The film has a concept that would be easy to make in any country, featuring representatives from any religions.

OMG moves along at a good clip and features a lot of strong performances. There are a couple of dance numbers, but they don’t slow down proceedings. Paresh Rawal is the perfect choice for Kanji. In Rawal’s hands, Kanji comes across as cynical and practical, but not mean. Kumar adds lightness and optimism to compliment Kanji’s realism.

If there’s any flaw to OMG, it’s that it gives away the conclusion in a director’s note that precedes the film. In an effort to thwart complaints from religious groups, the note states that the film is about a “non-believer who becomes a believer.” It’s the predictable conclusion to the film, but I didn’t appreciate the spoiler.

The circumstances of Kanji’s conversion are unsatisfying. If everyone experienced the kind of miracle Kanji does — with God on hand to claim responsibility — there would be no atheists. In fact, prior to his conversion, Kanji lays out a pretty good case for a world with no God.

The note at the beginning is ultimately unnecessary, as there seems to be little in the film that could be construed as disrespectful toward any religion. OMG takes shots at the idea of religion-for-profit and the lavish lifestyles of some church leaders. It’s akin to criticizing the wealthy televangelists of the 1980s. Corrupt religious hierarchy is the target, not those practicing the religion.

Kanji uses his public forum to suggest a more virtuous path for worship. Money spent on tithing would be better given as charity. The greatest expression of faith, he believes, is in the way we care for our fellow humans, seeing the essence of the divine in all people. There’s nothing offensive about a plea for a more compassionate world.

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Movie Review: Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal (2012)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Even after watching Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal, I’m not sure what it’s about. Sure, I can tell you who the characters are and what happens to them, but what is the movie about? Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal lacks a coherent narrative and, as such, is a boring, pointless waste of time.

Without a compelling story to drive the plot along, the burden of carrying the film falls on the shoulders of its lead character, Johnny (Shreyas Talpade). Few lead characters are so woefully unsuited for the task of carrying a film as Johnny is.

Johnny is a good-for-nothing 25-year-old. He has no job, hoping instead to get rich from playing the lottery (his girlfriend buys him his tickets). He refuses to help his ailing father with chores, instead berating his sisters into doing the work for him.

The girlfriend, Maria (Madhurima), must have incredibly low self-esteem to have settled for an irredeemable loser like Johnny. Maria’s father, Peter (Paresh Rawal), hates Johnny’s dad, David (Om Puri), for stealing his girlfriend when they were young and won’t allow Johnny to marry Maria. Her three beefy brothers regularly beat up Johnny to keep him away from Maria.

One day, a buff stranger (Nana Patekar) with a big appetite arrives in town. Johnny convinces his family that the stranger is his long-lost brother Sam. They feed the stranger, who acts as Johnny’s bodyguard, when he’s in the mood. Eventually, Johnny hears a rumor that “Sam” is a murderer and a rapist, and sets about trying to make Sam leave town.

That’s the story. As I said before, I know what happened in the movie, but I don’t know why. Why am I supposed to care about a doofus like Johnny? Where’s the conflict? Sam’s presence doesn’t help Johnny get any closer to marrying Maria, nor does Johnny learn any lessons about the value of hard work from his fake brother.

There’s really nothing to recommend this movie. It’s little more than long passages of overly explanatory dialog punctuated by fistfights. All of the characters are dullards, with actor-writer Neeraj Vora reserving the only mildly amusing character — an opportunistic coffin maker — for himself.

Leave it to Priyadarshan — the director responsible for the worst film I’ve ever seen, Khatta Meetha — not to let the opportunity for some casual sexual violence against women pass him by. Why does Sam have to be an alleged murderer and a rapist? Isn’t being a murderer bad enough?

The only worthwhile element of Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal is the song “Dariya Ho” (which itself is derivative of “Chaiyya Chaiyya” from Dil Se). I’ve embedded the video of the song below to save you from wasting your money on an otherwise worthless film.

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Opening September 28: Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal and OMG

Perhaps this speaks to the relative weakness of Hollywood fare currently on offer, but two new Hindi comedies open in Chicago area theaters on September 28, 2012. Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal, directed by Priyadarshan, gets the wider release of the two new films.

Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal opens on Friday at the Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a runtime of 2 hrs. 20 min. Read my review here.

This weekend’s other new release, OMG: Oh My God, stars Paresh Rawal as a shopkeeper who takes god to court.

OMG opens on Friday at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17. It also has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 30 min.

After opening to an anemic $389,901 in U.S. theaters last weekend, Heroine carries over for a second week at all of the above theaters. By comparison, Barfi! netted $643,260 in the U.S. last weekend during its second week in theaters. Having just been named India’s official submission to the Oscars, I expect to see its earnings hold up well again this weekend. Barfi! carries over at all of the above theaters, plus the AMC River East 21 in Chicago.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Rebel (Telugu), Thaandavam (Tamil), and Thappana (Malayalam).

Movie Review: Ready (2011)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Ready has so much working against it — chiefly, that it’s directed by Anees Bazmee — that I was surprised to enjoy it as much as I did. Its success is due entirely to its stars: Salman Khan and Asin.

Khan plays Prem, a slacker who lives in a giant house with his parents, two of his uncles, and their wives. His family wants him to marry Pooja, an American girl he’s never met or even seen before. At the airport, Prem discusses with one of his uncles his plan to flee before Pooja arrives.

The conversation is overheard by a young woman dressed in full bridal regalia named Sanjana (Asin), who’s just fled her own wedding. She pretends to be Pooja, ready to start married life and turn Prem into a responsible adult. His family is instantly smitten with the fake Pooja, and Prem begins plotting ways to get rid of her.

It’s not long before Prem discovers Sanjana’s true identity. She explains that she’s running from her two feuding gangster uncles, both of whom want to marry her off strategically so as to gain power. Prem takes pity on pretty Sanjana and falls for her. It’s not long before she’s kidnapped by one of her uncles.

Khan’s character, as always for him, is the toughest and smartest guy in the movie. However, instead of relying on his usual bullying bravado,Khan imbues Prem with wit and charm to get what he wants: for Sanjana’s uncles to end their feud and agree to let him marry her. Khan is terrific when he does more than fight his way through a movie, though he gets to do plenty of that in Ready, too.

As good as Khan is, he’s outshone by cute and feisty Asin. Thanks to her, Sanjana is always likeable, even when she’s lying. Her character gets to show the most emotional range, and Asin is more than up to the task.

Prem and Sanjana can’t trick the mafia dons on their own, and they call on Prem’s family for help. Everyone in the family gets a few good lines, spreading the jokes around to make this something of an ensemble film. Paresh Rawal gets a few good lines of his own in the second half of the movie, playing the gangsters’ accountant. Convinced that he has godlike powers, his attempt to animate a statue of a beautiful woman is the best moment in the movie.

The aspects of Ready that don’t work are the same ones that never work in Bazmee’s movies. The movie is too long and with too large a cast, spawning boring sideplots featuring extraneous characters. Bazmee uses scatological humor to get cheap laughs. How cheap? A character stops in the middle of a footchase in order to break wind. No set up or context, just a fart for its own sake. 7-year-old boys will find it hilarious.

In Ready, Bazmee’s bad habits are made manifest in a side story involving one of Sanjana’s cousins, a rude schoolboy named Amar. Prem scares the boy’s rudeness out of him so effectively that the kid pees his pants, as shown in a closeup of the boy’s crotch. Gross.

There’s no need for the side story except to reinforce the moral of the movie: respect your elders. The moral message would make sense if Prem and Sanjana hadn’t spent the entirety of the film tricking and lying to the older members of their families.

The way language is used in the movie could present a problem for audience members who don’t understand Hindi. The English subtitles seem to translate dialog verbatim and don’t capture the flavor of jokes that rely on wordplay. Since that’s the case with so many of the jokes, English-only audience members miss out on much of the fun.

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