Tag Archives: Pitobash

Movie Review: Mom (2017)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

In a vacuum, Mom is an engaging revenge thriller that fully utilizes its star’s considerable charisma. Yet the film’s very existence raises the question as to whether the genre has exhausted its ability to add to the conversation about rape.

Sridevi plays the titular mother, Devki, a secondary school teacher. She has a young daughter Priya with her husband, Anand (Adnan Siddiqui), who brought another daughter — 18-year-old Arya (Sajal Ali) — with him into the marriage. The strained relationship between stepmother and stepdaughter is exacerbated by the fact that Devki is Arya’s Biology teacher. When a fellow student, Mohit, texts Arya lewd material during class, Devki throws Mohit’s phone out the window.

Arya later rejects Mohit’s advances at a party, so he enlists his sleazy cousin Charles (Vikas Verma), security guard Baburam (Pitobash), and drug dealer Jagan (Abhimanyu Singh) to kidnap her. They gang rape Arya and leave her for dead in a ditch. Upon waking, Arya bitterly tells Devki that the men told her “Call your mom!” during the assault.

When the justice system inevitably fails to convict the men, Devki realizes that her relationship with Arya will be irretrievably broken unless she takes revenge upon them herself. She enlists a private detective named DK (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) to track down the rapists before the lead police officer on Arya’s case, Mathew (Akshaye Khanna), uncovers her scheme.

There’s a lot to like about Mom, chiefly Sridevi, who is most heartbreaking in moments when Devki futilely tries to connect with Arya. Ali, for her part, nails the moody teen role. First-time feature director Ravi Udyawar maximizes Sridevi’s legendary beauty in a number of strikingly composed shots. (Udyawar’s camera direction is less successful in a hard-to-follow chase scene.)

Debutant screenwriter Girish Kohli provides his actors with memorable dialogue, and Khanna and Nawazuddin Siddiqui deliver their lines with style. Adnan Siddiqui gives gravity to a role that requires him to stay in the background in order to keep Sridevi in the spotlight.

Things get tricky when considering whether we need another movie about avenging rape. I’ll concede that living in America my whole life has exposed me to many stories about this topic, both fictional and non-fictional. The Hollywood film The Accused brought the story of justice for a gang rape victim into the mainstream back in 1988. Until recently, many Hindi films treated the rape of a woman as nothing more than a catalyst to provoke a male hero into action. Real-life sexual assaults in India in the last several years have shifted the focus of fictional stories — such as 2016’s Pink — onto the victims themselves.

So while there is still a desire among Indian filmmakers and audiences to confront the horrors of rape, I’m not sure that Mom treads any new ground in doing so. There is a cliched shot of Arya in the shower following the rape, scrubbing her skin so hard that it bleeds. A man is raped in jail and is laughed at for it — as though male rape is less serious than female rape. There’s a belief that the perpetrators deserve punishment that damages their sexual organs, and also a belief that doing so will restore Arya to her former self, at least to some degree.

All of these ideas have been presented so often in movies that we’ve taken them for granted. But are these ideas actually valuable, or do they just feed off the sense of helplessness experienced by bystanders to rape, whether immediate or from afar? Too many films about rape function as a kind of call-to-action fantasy for someone other than the victim — only this fantasy requires someone to suffer in order to bring it to fruition.

Director Udyawar does the right thing by not showing the acts of sexual violence, focusing instead on the aftermath. It removes any chance of such violence being sensationalized or depicted as titillating. He also fairly assumes that the Indian justice system (like the American justice system) is rigged against rape victims. But other than establishing those benchmarks for future filmmakers, Mom covers a lot of familiar territory. It’s a well-made movie, but I’m not sure it’s a story I needed to see again.

Links

Advertisements

Movie Review: Shanghai (2012)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

In the opening scene of Shanghai, an older man tells his nephew he’s worried that the two of them may be in over their heads: the powers they’re dealing with are just too big. Such is the case for all of the main characters in Shanghai, a jaw-dropping thriller.

In India’s drive to become a world financial power, the low-income neighborhood of Bharat Nagar is designated as the future home of the International Business Park (IBP), a collection of high-rise office buildings. IBP has the blessings of a pair of local politicians. The residents who will be forcibly relocated have little say.

Author and activist Dr. Ahmedhi (Prosenjit Chatterjee) arrives in town with the hope of uniting the residents to oppose IBP. His former student, Shalini (Kalki Koechlin), gets a tip that the doctor’s life is threatened by goons affiliated with the local political party. Ahmedhi goes ahead with his planned rally and is promptly hit by a truck driven by the uncle and nephew — Jaggu (Anant Jog) and Bhaggu (Pitobash), respectively — from the opening scene.

The local government sets up what the audience knows is a sham inquiry into Ahmedhi’s “accident.” But the bureaucrat assigned to run the inquiry, Krishnan (Abhay Deol), takes the job seriously and uncovers discrepancies in the official accounts. Shalini demands the truth and confronts Krishnan with irrefutable evidence from an unsavory source: a slimy pornographer named Jogi (Emraan Hashmi).

Deol performs admirably as Krishnan, but the role is pretty straightforward. Krishnan is careful with his words, knowing that a promotion surely awaits if he does well in his investigation. It’s hard to become emotionally attached to the character.

Because of that, Shanghai belongs to Koechlin and Hashmi. Kalki Koechlin has one of the most expressive faces I’ve ever seen. She elevates staring to an art form. After stellar performances last year in That Girl in Yellow Boots and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, and now this star turn in Shanghai, I’m willing to put Koechlin alongside Vidya Balan as the two most talented actors working in India right now. She’s riveting.

Until now, I haven’t loved any of Emraan Hashmi’s performances. He’s been good, often playing handsome, lusty characters, but he hasn’t blown me away. Hashmi is spectacular in Shanghai. Jogi is gross, with his stained teeth, grimy clothes, and his slight beer belly. He’s still lusty, but by no means handsome. One of the best moments in Shanghai is when Jogi tilts his head back and grins at Krishnan while standing next to him at a urinal. It’s a smile that’s meant to be charming but comes off as repulsive, especially given the setting.

Jogi’s reptilian swagger fades when he realizes how much trouble he’s in. It’s replaced by a barely restrained panic, which Hashmi portrays perfectly. A scene in which Jogi and Shalini navigate Bharat Nagar at night under a police curfew is heart-stopping.

As wonderfully plotted as the film is, there were some moments near the end that didn’t work for me. Krishnan has an important conversation with someone in a position of authority, and I wasn’t sure who that person was. In fact, I wasn’t even clear who Krishnan ultimately worked for (thanks to commenter Dallas Dude for clearing things up). Also, the film ends with unnecessary epilogue notes, though the ending scenes had already done more than enough to wrap up the story.

Shanghai is something special. It’s a great thriller that doesn’t overstay its welcome, clocking in at under two hours long. That runtime includes two songs which fit smoothly into the story. It’s a nice way to keep uniquely Indian elements in a film with unquestionable international appeal.

Links