Tag Archives: Prabhu Deva

Movie Review: Singh Is Bliing (2015)

SinghIsBling2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Singh Is Bliing is an imperfect but entertaining action comedy, and one of Prabhu Deva’s better directorial ventures. The movie offers one of the year’s best comic performances, from an unlikely source.

Akshay Kumar stars as Raftaar Singh, a totally different character from the one he played in 2008’s Singh Is Kinng. The two movies have nothing to do with each other, except that calling Singh Is Bliing a sequel provides a reason for Kumar to play a Punjabi Sikh again, as if one needs a reason.

Raftaar is a typical Bollywood layabout, far too old be mooching off his parents (Kumar is 48). He’s got a pair of lackeys — Pappi (Arfi Lamba) and Pompi (Anil Mange) — who follow him about. Raftaar’s father gives his son an ultimatum: take a job with Dad’s buddy in Goa, or marry an overweight woman, which is apparently a form of punishment.

Dad’s buddy (Pradeep Rawat) assigns Raftaar and his boys the task of guarding Sara (Amy Jackson), daughter of the boss’s friend, who also happens to be an international arms dealer. The problem is that Sara only speaks English, and Raftaar and his friends only speak Hindi.

They hire a translator, Emily (Lara Dutta), who immediately steals the whole film. Dutta is hilarious. Emily gets so into her role that she starts imitating Raftaar’s mannerisms, not just translating his words. She busts out some funky dance moves in a bar after matching Raftaar shot-for-shot.

A particularly clever song sequence sees one of Raftaar’s romantic daydreams about Sara made manifest. Pappi and Pompi notice Raftaar staring into space and decide to join him in his dream, dragging Emily in with them. As the boys provide the background music, Emily serves as Raftaar’s romantic surrogate, herself wooing Sara as she sings in English what Raftaar has just sung in Hindi. It’s very funny and smart.

Unfortunately, the rest of the plot isn’t as intelligent. Multiple story threads fail to come together in a satisfactory way. The big villain of the film — an arms dealer named Mark (Kay Kay Menon) who is a rival of Sara’s father — is a total afterthought, and his few scenes are poorly integrated into the rest of the story. He doesn’t steer the plot until the very end of the film, so Raftaar and Sara are in little serious danger for the bulk of the picture.

This is a shame, because Menon is a skilled scenery chewer. Sporting a ponytail, Menon channels Terry Silver from Karate Kid III, enhancing the similarity by shouting “I like it!”

In a surprising reversal of gender norms, Jackson gets to perform the best fight choreography, while Kumar plays Raftaar as brave but bumbling. Jackson is perfectly suited for action roles, but her acting and dancing could use some work if she wants to branch out. Kumar is likable as ever.

Though Singh Is Bliing isn’t overtly misogynistic like some of Prabhu Deva’s earlier films, there’s a disappointing sequence of victim blaming. Raftaar instructs a pair of women being manhandled by a pair of lecherous men to fight back. He takes the idiotic view that women can prevent sexual assault simply by slapping their attackers.

When the ladies kick their attackers into submission, Raftaar feels vindicated in his opinion (never mind that the two attackers know that Raftaar is waiting to pummel them should they overpower the women).

Later, Sara annihilates a room full of goons, and Pappi and Pompy credit her success to Raftaar’s speech. It’s unclear if this is meant to be a joke, but the statement is followed immediately by a shot of some dancers — one of whom had earlier been punched in the face — hitting the fallen goons, seeming to validate Raftaar as deserving of credit.

Though Singh Is Bliing falls short of its potential, surprisingly fun performances by Dutta, Menon, and butt-kicking Amy Jackson keep the sequel from ever being dull.

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Movie Review: ABCD 2 (2015)

ABCD22.5 Stars (out of 4)

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ABCD 2 tries way too hard. Earnest efforts pay off in the spectacular dance numbers, but the movie’s ham-handed moral and patriotic themes only inspire eye rolls.

ABCD 2 is not a direct followup to 2013’s ABCD: Any Body Can Dance. Many of the actors from the original are in the sequel, but in different roles. Prabhu Deva again plays a choreographer named Vishnu, but he’s not the same guy, which is needlessly confusing.

Vishnu 2.0 is a drunk, washed up Mumbai choreographer. He gets a chance at a fresh start when a disgraced hip-hop crew led by Suru (Varun Dhawan) asks for his help in winning an international competition in Las Vegas.

While the original ABCD was aimed at teenagers, ABCD 2 skews younger, with sophomoric humor and more explicit moral lessons woven into the story. Yet that’s what makes the redemption arc of Suru’s crew so darned awkward.

At the start of the film, Suru’s crew, the Mumbai Stunners, is the most popular group on an Indian TV dance competition show. During the show’s finale, the judges — one of whom is ABCD 2 director Remo D’Souza, playing himself — bust Suru and his buddy Vernon (Sushant Pujari) for copying the choreography of a hip-hop group from the Philippines. The Stunners are branded cheaters and thrown off the show.

The consequences haunt Suru, Vernon, and other members of the group like Vinnie (Shraddha Kapoor), even at their day jobs. That prompts Suru to reform the Stunners and beg Vishnu’s help, hoping that victory in Vegas will prove their talent to the Indian audience that shunned them.

The problem is that Suru and Vernon — though mostly Suru — really did cheat, but they never admit it or apologize for it. They are punished by being kicked off the show, but they aren’t sorry. Even as his friends are ridiculed because of his devious actions, Suru doesn’t ask for their forgiveness.

The redemption-without-remorse lesson is a strange moral to preach to children. Worse, they meet the Filipino team they stole from at the Vegas dance competition, and no one mentions the theft. The Stunners act like fanboys, and the Filipino team praises them for their heart.

If someone stole my work and passed it off as his own, then tried to act like he was my biggest fan, I wouldn’t be grateful. I’d be pissed.

Other subplots fail to tug the heartstrings as intended. Suru tries to honor the memory of his dead mother, a famed dancer. Crew-member Vinod (Punit Pathak) is not only deaf and mute, but also routinely coughs up blood. There’s a long-lost son. The crew finds their mojo only when they embrace their Indian roots and dance to absurdly patriotic/religiously tinged songs.

The most successful subplot involves the only two female members of the crew: Vinnie and Olive (Lauren Gottlieb), an Indian-American dancer who joins them in Vegas. When Olive gets too flirty with Suru for Vinnie’s liking, the two talk about it rather than devolving into a catfight. It’s nice to see the two women portrayed so positively.

Plot problems aside, the dancing is the real reason anyone goes to see ABCD 2, and in that regard it does not disappoint. These days, even big budget Bollywood movies only feature one or two large-scale choreographed numbers, but ABCD 2 has a bunch of them. On top of that, spotlight performances showcase just how skilled the cast members are. The talent level of pro dancers like Gottlieb, Pujari, Pathak, and Dharmesh Yelande (who plays Dharmesh) cannot be overstated.

Part of what made ABCD so successful was that the cast consisted of professional dancers who acted. It gave cohesiveness to the production. The integration of Kapoor and Dhawan — professional actors who dance — into the cast of dancers is mostly successful. They aren’t just good dancers as far as actors are concerned; they are very, very good dancers, period.

However, Dhawan occasionally stands out from his crewmates, most noticeably in the song “Happy Hour.” It’s not that he’s performing poorly, just that the thousands of extra hours men like Pujari, Pathak, and Yelande have spent dancing gives their movements a fluidity and crispness that Dhawan can’t precisely replicate.

Sushant Pujari was my standout performer in the original ABCD, and it’s nice to see his role elevated in the sequel. His acting has improved enough that Bollywood casting agents need to give him a lot more attention.

Even though the plot is geared toward a youthful audience, there is a ton of toned flesh on display for older moviegoers. Kapoor and Gottlieb both look amazing, and every guy in the crew is ripped. If you are a fan of hot, shirtless dudes, then the climactic dance number is for you.

ABCD 2 is not as good as ABCD. However, there’s unlikely to be another Bollywood production this year that has the volume and quality of dancing that ABCD 2 has. Go see it if you want to get your groove on (but forgo the 3D upcharge).

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Movie Review: Action Jackson (2014)

Action_Jackson_21.5 Stars (out of 4)

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If you were hoping for something new from director Prabhu Deva, you’ll be disappointed. Action Jackson (which isn’t actually a character’s name in film) is just as disorganized and misogynistic as R… Rajkumar and Rowdy Rathore, despite a solid effort by leading man Ajay Devgn.

I’ll do my best to spoil as little as possible about the plot, but it’s hard to do so given how all-over-the-place the story is.

Devgn plays Vishi, a typical macho Bollywood hero who’s prone to drinking and fighting but has a heart of gold. While visiting his friend Musa (Kunaal Roy Kapoor, butt of the film’s many fat jokes) in Mumbai, Vishi meets pathologically unlucky Khushi (Sonakshi Sinha).

Khushi’s luck changes for the better after she walks in on Vishi in a changing room and then in a bathroom. She starts hanging around him in the hopes of catching Vishi with his pants down again, thereby making her lucky enough to land a rich, American husband.

The first hour of the film is spent on Vishi’s and Khushi’s budding romance, and it’s pretty funny. Prabhu Deva pokes fun at Devgn’s limited dance abilities by making Vishi bust moves whenever he hears music. Devgn’s “robot” is among the worst I’ve ever seen, and it’s all the more charming because of it.

As competent as he is at action, Devgn’s best genre is comedy. He’s quite funny in his storyline with Sinha, who pairs with him nicely.

Interspersed through the romantic storyline are scenes of goons and cops hunting for Vishi at the behest of a Bangkok-based don named Xavier. This story arc takes over after about an hour, and Sinha only shows up a few more times in the film.

The next portion of the film is a flashback about the Xavier’s former right-hand man, AJ (also Devgn, though I won’t specify how Vishi and AJ are connected). After establishing a light, cute tone at the start, the flashback is stunningly brutal.

When Prabhu Deva tries to reestablish a comedic tone later in Action Jackson, it doesn’t work. It took time to cast that comic spell, and it can’t be brought back instantaneously. Plus, after watching a AJ’s wife (Yami Gautam) get punched in the face repeatedly, I just wasn’t in the mood to laugh.

The flashback is also when Prabhu Deva’s troubling view of women — and specifically their sexuality — rears its ugly head again. Like Sinha, Gautam also plays a virtuous character (whose name I’m not sure of). We know this because they both wear floral prints, and usually long pants and long-sleeved tops. Their only desire is to get their men to give up drinking and fighting.

In contrast is Marina (Manasvi Mamgai), the don’s sister. She’s introduced after she’s been kidnapped, and AJ is sent to rescue her. Her kidnappers threaten to rape her, throwing water on her white blouse before unbuttoning it to reveal her bedazzled bra.

Hypothetical question: if Xavier had a brother instead of a sister, would the kidnappers have threatened to rape him?

Prabhu Deva makes an unsettling choice during the scene of AJ’s rescue attempt. Marina gets turned on while AJ chops down her would-be attackers. The song playing in the background — a blatant rip-off of Michael Bublé’s “Feeling Good” — sings about her beauty as she sits aroused in a forced state of semi-undress.

After her rescue, bikini-clad Marina sexually propositions AJ. He turns her down, prompting Marina to send Xavier’s goons to attack the character played by Gautam. They hit her, but they don’t threaten her with sexual violence.

So the chaste, modestly dressed woman isn’t threatened with rape, but the sexually aggressive, scantily clad woman is. The implication is that, for a woman who enjoys consensual sex, rape probably isn’t a big deal. Hell, she might even like it.

Will producers please stop giving Prabhu Deva money to direct films? He can’t do it responsibly. Given that I was the only one in my showing of Action Jackson, maybe other people are as sick of his movies as I am.

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New Trailer: October 22, 2014

The trailer for the December 5 release Action Jackson is out. It doesn’t do much to alleviate my concerns about the film’s potential for casual misogyny, a Prabhu Deva hallmark. However, it does feature Ajay Devgn chopping people with swords, which makes Action Jackson an automatic “must see.” Check it out:

 

Movie Review: R… Rajkumar (2013)

R..._Rajkumar_Theatrical_poster_(2013)1 Star (out of 4)

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Director Prabhu Deva’s schizophrenic style strikes again. In R… Rajkumar, he derails an enjoyable action rom-com with a casual treatment of violence against women.

The double shame is that the character who suffers most from this misogyny, Chanda (Sonakshi Sinha), is a strong female character. Yet the script reduces her to a plot device, beaten and threatened with rape just to inspire the heroic deeds of the title character, Romeo Rajkumar (Shahid Kapoor).

Romeo, a hired thug, comes to town to join a gang headed by Shivraj (Sonu Sood), a drug lord at war with a rival opium dealer, Parmar (Ashish Vidyarthi). He falls in love with Chanda at first sight, becoming so lovestruck that it hampers his ability to carry out his duties on behalf of Shivraj.

Romeo’s love-induced impairment repeatedly endangers the life of his fellow henchmen and best friend, an apparently unnamed goon played by Mukul Dev. Their playfully antagonistic friendship is the highlight of the movie, even though it mostly disappears in the second half of the film.

The humor in Romeo’s friendship and in his pursuit of Chanda are hard to reconcile in the context of a movie that treats violence against women as a given. Chanda is brutally lashed with a belt a dozen times by her uncle, who objects to her romance with Romeo. In the very next scene, the same uncle is seen clowning around with his underlings, accompanied by a flatulence sound effect.

Is the audience supposed to ignore the beating the uncle administered to his niece just seconds earlier? Is he supposed to be a source of comic relief or a monster? It’s one thing for the uncle to abuse his underlings; they signed up for the job. Chanda is beaten because she is a woman.

In another scene, Shivraj threatens Chanda in order to provoke Romeo: “I’ll tie her up and rape her in front of you.” However, in the English subtitles, the word “rape” is censored, written as “r**e.” So rape is too vile a word to read, but not too vile an act to depict onscreen or use as a threat?

It’s so frustrating because R… Rajkumar is otherwise pretty good. Romeo and Chanda develop a sweet relationship over the course of the film. Kapoor shows a wide range in his performance, and his dancing is top-notch, as always. Sinha is brave and resolute while enduring all the abuse the script throws at her.

I wish I could recommend R… Rajkumar, but I just can’t. It portrays violence against women as a social norm, something a woman can only escape if she has a boyfriend with superhuman strength to defend her. Why couldn’t this just be a fun movie and not a regressive piece of social commentary?

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Opening December 6: R… Rajkumar

The action flick R… Rajkumar hits Chicago area theaters on December 6, 2013. Given that it’s directed by Prabhu Deva, if it has even a hint of plot continuity, I’m going to be impressed.

R… Rajkumar opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 26 min.

Bullett Raja carries over for a second weekend at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17, despite a weak opening weekend at the U.S. box office. Its $175,727 only beat Ram-Leela by $5,000, and Ram-Leela‘s been out for three weeks.

Since Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela is still performing well — with total U.S. earnings standing at $2,633,885 — it gets a fourth week at the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 17.

With total U.S. earnings of $325,885 so far, Gori Tere Pyaar Mein gets a third week at the South Barrington 30.

Other Indian films showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Kalyana Samayal Saadham (Tamil), Prema Ishq Kaadhal (Telugu), Thagaraaru (Tamil), and Venkatadri Express (Telugu).

Movie Review: Ramaiya Vastavaiya (2013)

R_Vastavaiya1 Star (out of 4)

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“Weird Al” Yankovic has a song called “One More Minute” in which he lists the things he’d rather do than spend time with the woman who broke his heart. Examples include ripping out his own intestines and jumping onto a pile of thumbtacks. While watching Ramaiya Vastavaiya, I gained a new appreciation for the song. Ramaiya Vastavaiya is a stupid movie that I wish I’d never seen.

The film has an incredibly dorky opening. Raghu (Sonu Sood) sits in his cell on the eve of his release from jail, a beatific glow on his face as he stares at photo of himself and his little sister as children. The friendly jailer asks glowing Raghu how a nice guy like him ended up in the clink — it’s been seven years, and you’re just wondering this now, Mr. Jailer? — prompting Raghu to recount a tale of romance between two young people of different economic classes.

Mind you, Raghu isn’t one of the young lovers. The couple comprises his sister, Sona (Shruti Haasan) and her rich boyfriend, Ram (debutant Girish Kumar Taurani, whose father produced the film), whom she meets at a friend’s wedding at which Raghu is not present. Raghu would seem to be an odd choice to narrate a love story he wasn’t around to witness, but Sona’s romance with Ram is just a perfunctory plot contrivance. The story isn’t about how Ram woos the girl but about how he woos Raghu.

Ram is a textbook example of the male-fantasy hero of so many Hindi films (to be fair, many Hollywood films, too). He’s immature, annoying, and spoiled, yet he gets his salt-of-the-earth dream-girl anyway, no effort required. As poorly as the character is written, Taurani does his best to make Ram as irritating as possible.

Ram’s obligatory character growth in which he learns the value of hard work happens not to impress Sona, but to win over Raghu. This is made doubly hard since Raghu arrived at the friend’s wedding in time to witness Ram’s snobby mother accuse Sona of being a gold-digger and have her thrown out of the wedding.

Prabhu Deva’s schizophrenic directing style compounds the film’s many problems. Uncomfortable scenes such as the one involving Ram’s mother follow on the heels of pratfalls and slide-whistle sound effects. The second half of the movie is replete with bodily function gags and lots and lots of cow dung.

Action scenes are edited so jarringly that the action is hard to follow. The climactic fight scene — which ends in unexpected brutality — is so fast and erratic that I started to experience motion sickness.

While Prabhu Deva is renowned as a choreographer, the movie’s dance numbers are nothing special. There’s no context for the film’s big item number, which inexplicably finds Jacqueline Fernandez dolled up and dancing in a field.

Ramaiya Vastavaiya has two things going for it: 1) Shruti Haasan is really, really pretty, and 2) Paresh Ganatra is funny as the manservant Bijli. Is that enough to make me prefer watching Ramaiya Vastavaiya to having my blood sucked out by leeches? No.

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