Tag Archives: Piyush Mishra

Movie Review: Happy Bhag Jayegi (2016)

HappyBhagJayegi2 Stars (out of 4)

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You might think that the woman named Happy would be the main character in a movie titled Happy Bhag Jayegi (“Happy Will Run Away“). You’d be wrong.

Happy (Diana Penty) is a plot catalyst rather than a real character. She exists to cause problems that other people must fix, ostensibly in the name of getting Happy what she wants, but really in order to advance their own character development.

Of the film’s four major characters, Happy is introduced third, ten minutes into the film. The first character we meet is Bilal Ahmed (Abhay Deol), the film’s true protagonist on whose emotional growth the story depends.

Bilal’s father is a prominent Pakistani politician determined to make his son follow in his footsteps and “change the future of Pakistan.” Bilal meekly walks his predetermined path, too timid to speak up for what he really wants.

The Ahmeds visit Amritsar for an agricultural summit aimed at fostering ties between the neighboring countries. Elsewhere in town, a local goon/politician named Bagga (Jimmy Shergill) takes the stage to perform at a celebration before his upcoming wedding. His bride-to-be — Happy, appearing onscreen for the first time — waits until the show is underway before secretly leaping out of a window into the back of a truck. Only instead of landing in the vehicle owned by a friend of her boyfriend, Guddu (Ali Fazal), she mistakenly jumps into a truck taking goods from the agricultural summit to the Ahmed family home in Lahore.

Bilal scrambles to find a way to get Happy back home without creating an international incident (and without his father finding out), but Happy won’t leave unless her marriage to Guddu is secured. Bilal enlists the help of his fiancée, Zoya (Momal Sheikh), and the police constable, Afridi (Piyush Mishra), to pull off a complicated cross-border scheme.

Happy meets the minimum requirements for a generic Bollywood romantic comedy female lead in that she’s beautiful and feisty, with a penchant for drinking and a domineering attitude that make her irresistible to male Bollywood romantic comedy characters. But that’s all there is to her.

In contrast, Zoya is refreshingly complex. Bilal’s childhood friend and the daughter of a wealthy businessman, Zoya and Bilal have been betrothed since birth. She views Happy as a problem to be solved, but Bilal’s infatuation with the interloper makes Zoya question whether her own romance with him is one-sided. She doesn’t want to be a constant reminder to Bilal of the choices he wasn’t allowed to make for himself. Yet Zoya is a team player, and she doesn’t let her doubts interfere with her duties, nor does she resort to trickery to keep Bilal and Happy apart.

Another unfortunate feature of Happy’s character is her lack of agency. After making her fateful leap into the truck, she spends most of the film in jail, in hiding, or kidnapped. When she receives her father’s blessing at the end, it’s not because of anything she’s done but because of the actions of one of the men.

It’s also worth pointing out that, after Happy runs away, both Guddu and Bagga continue to express their desire to marry her. However, her father grabs a gun and says he’s going to kill her. Even if he doesn’t mean it literally, it’s not the kind of joke you can make when women and men who elope are still murdered by their families with alarming regularity in Pakistan and India.

Unlike the cookie-cutter title character, the men in Happy Bhag Jayegi are thoughtfully written. Bilal has spent his life resisting his future in politics only for Happy’s plight to show him that he’s a good leader. Guddu’s future is as amorphous as Bilal’s is fixed, plaguing the young lover with doubts about his ability to provide for his beloved. Bagga is a goon, but also a decent guy who genuinely cares for Happy.

The performances from the likeable cast are generally quite good. It’s clear that Penty is capable of more than the material she was given. The plot unfolds at a decent clip and heads in some unexpected directions.

One more knock against Happy Bhag Jayegi may only be relevant to international viewers. Many of the jokes are wordplay humor, especially involving the different meanings of words in Urdu versus Punjabi or Hindi. These jokes aren’t translated with context, so it’s impossible tell what’s supposed to be funny.

There are the elements of a good movie present in Happy Bhag Jayegi. If only the title didn’t feel like a bait-and-switch.

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Movie Review: The Shaukeens (2014)

The_Shaukeens_23.5 Stars (out of 4)

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The Shaukeens (“The Romantics“) is more than just a cute story about a trio of sexagenarians who refuse to act their age. With its unique story structure and top-notch performances, it’s one of the best Bollywood comedies in recent memory.

Akshay Kumar plays a fictionalized version of himself in the film, which opens with a Kumar dance number. His narration explains that he has an integral part in the story of three lonely Delhi men who get into trouble while looking for love in Mauritius.

The three men are Lali (Anupam Kher), a shoe store owner whose religious wife won’t put out; KD (Annu Kapoor), a lecherous bachelor; and Pinky (Piyush Mishra), a widowed spice merchant too shy to talk to the pretty massage parlor owner across the street.

After being rejected by some local prostitutes for being too old, the guys try their luck while on vacation in Mauritius. They rent a house from a beautiful young woman, Ahana (Lisa Haydon), who returns early from her own trip after she breaks up with her boyfriend.

Ahana is gorgeous, but she’s a kook. She’s an aspiring fashion designer who makes hats from used toothpicks and decorates a pair of sunglasses with painted toenail clippings. Her emotions change minute-to-minute, driven by the numbers of likes she’s getting on Facebook. Haydon is just as funny as Ahana as she was in her foul-mouthed performance in Queen.

When Ahana discovers that Akshay is in town filming a movie, she asks rhetorically, “Who do I have to sleep with to meet Akshay Kumar?” The guys take this offer seriously and start trying to unite Ahana with her celebrity crush in order to cash in on the reward.

The version of Akshay Kumar in the movie is an alcoholic jerk who’s desperate to be taken seriously as an actor. While the guys try to weasel their way into his company for Ahana’s sake, Akshay tries to impress an eccentric, award-winning director (played by Subrat Dutta), who has Akshay practice his lines with a chihuahua. For reference, Akshay has a card with photos of himself displaying different emotions. It’s hilarious, and I want one.

Every few years, Kumar takes a break from wacky slapstick roles and loud action flicks to do a movie that reminds you that he can really act. This is one of those movies. He plays everything totally straight, and he’s so funny as a result.

Kher, Kapoor, and Mishra share a great camaraderie. Their characters are distinct and balance each other out, but they’re all equally over their heads in their romantic pursuit of Ahana. KD is sleazy in an endearing kind of way. As the least educated of the group, Pinky gets the most jokes made at his expense, but he also gets the funniest bits. Who forgets to pack a swimsuit for a beach vacation?!

The story includes some weird breaks in form throughout, including a dream sequence, a hallucinatory dance number, and a single instance of fourth-wall-breaking dialogue delivery. Director Abhishek Sharma and writer Tigmanshu Dhulia go far enough to keep audience members on their toes without pushing them away.

The Shaukeens released with relatively little fanfare, which is a shame. This is a movie sure to amuse anyone who appreciates a well-told story and who is sick of formulaic movies.

[Update: A comment below by Dr. Lunch reminded me of a point I wanted to make. The Shaukeens will feel accessible to international audience members because it’s plotted a lot like a 1980s Hollywood comedy. Also working in its favor is that it’s light on references to other Bollywood movies, a common source of jokes in Hindi films that can create a barrier for those without a depth of Bollywood knowledge.]

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Movie Review: Gangs of Wasseypur — Part 1 and Part 2 (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent Part I and Part II at iTunes
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Gangs of Wasseypur debuted on the festival circuit as a five-hour-plus Indian crime epic. When it finally released into theaters (and on DVD), the film was chopped into two halves, released months apart as Gangs of Wasseypur Part I and Part II. It’s a decision that makes sense from a distribution standpoint, but it does the film a disservice.

Gangs of Wasseypur is truly a single film written with a place for a pause in the middle to grab snacks, not for a break of several weeks. Like those who saw the film in the theater, I watched the DVDs weeks apart, and I think the viewing experience suffered for it. If you have the opportunity to watch both parts of Gangs of Wasseypur back-to-back, do it.

With that caveat, how does the film stand up as a cohesive work? Director Anurag Kashyap is something of an outlier in Indian cinema due to his willingness to let scenes breathe and unfold at their own pace. It’s wonderful to watch, but not indefinitely. There’s so much material in Gangs of Wasseypur that I would have enjoyed it more as two distinct films with two sets of midpoints, climaxes, and denouements. As it exists, Gangs of Wasseypur is a bit too much.

The plot chronicles a story of revenge that spans multiple generations of two families in the town of Wasseypur. After the British depart India in 1947, a young industrialist named Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia) assumes control of the local mine. He hires a goon named Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) to force the local laborers to work in deplorable conditions.

One night, Ramadhir overhears Shahid talking to his son, Sardar Khan, and his cousin, Nasir (Piyush Mishra, the film’s narrator) about his plans to kill Ramadhir and take over the mine himself. Ramadhir acts first, luring Shahid to his death, though his plot to murder Sardar and Nasir fails. Young Sardar vows to one day murder Ramadhir in retaliation, eventually passing on his hatred of the industrialist to his own sons.

That setup encompasses about the first hour of the film. The remaining four hours deal with the ongoing power struggle between the Singhs and the Khans and the resulting bloodshed. This is a gory film by any standard, but especially so compared to other Hindi films.

The bulk of the story centers on the two most charismatic members of the Khan family: Sardar (Manoj Bajpai) and his second oldest son, Faizal (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Rather than murdering Ramadhir outright, Sardar plots to become his equal and destroy everything Ramadhir has built. Sardar makes a fortune stealing iron ore and intimidating the populace. This long game gives Sardar time to raise a family (or two) while plotting his revenge.

Sardar is an interesting choice for a lead character because he’s an awful person, regardless of his tragic beginnings. In addition to being a violent crook, he’s a terrible husband to his first wife, Nagma (Richa Chadda), whom he abandons to marry a second woman, Durga (Reema Sen), whom he eventually leaves to return to Nagma. At various times, Sardar neglects his four sons with Nagma and his one son with Durga. To varying degrees, all of his children hate him as much as they fear and respect him.

Such a negative character only works as a lead because Manoj Bajpai is so talented. Sardar shares moments of genuine affection with both of his wives when he’s not being a total narcissist. Bajpai plays Sardar with such swagger and menace that it’s easy to understand how he achieves the success he does.

Faizal is not much like his father. With an older brother, Danish (Vineet Singh), as Sardar’s natural heir, Faizal can waste his time getting stoned. Circumstances eventually force him to take a more active role in the family business, and Faizal proves to be unexpectedly ruthless.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui owns every scene he’s in. He’s talented enough to make scenes in which Faizal sits starring some of the most riveting scenes in the movie. Faizal’s conflicted feelings about his violent lifestyle make him more relatable than his father, and he’s downright charming as he woos the lovely Mohsina (Huma Qureshi).

The problem inherent in revenge films is that the characters often have little room for growth. Either they get their revenge, or they don’t, whether by choice or failure. Revenge is an okay motive for a shorter movie, but my interest waned after the third hour or so.

Also at around the three-hour mark, the story pushes two new characters to the forefront: Sardar’s two youngest sons, Definite (Zaishan Quadri) and Babua (Aditya Kumar). At that point — about 60% of the way through the film — I didn’t have the energy to get invested in two essentially brand new characters. Had Gangs of Wasseypur Part II been a proper sequel, the introduction of the new characters wouldn’t have seemed so late.

What ultimately makes the film worth seeing is Kashyap’s directing style. In addition to letting the scenes breathe, he uses music to incredible effect. He has mastered the montage. In addition to star turns by Bajpai and Siddiqui, Kashyap gets great performances out of the rest of the cast as well.

Gangs of Wasseypur would’ve been better as two distinct films, but I applaud Kashyap’s effort in trying to push the boundaries of Indian cinema.

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