Tag Archives: Pradhuman Singh

Movie Review: The Zoya Factor (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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A young woman’s good fortune causes headaches for both her and the captain of India’s cricket team as they try to win the World Cup in The Zoya Factor, based on Anuja Chauhan’s 2008 novel of the same name.

The novel and movie are both set in a timeline based on the 2011 Cricket World Cup tournament played in India, but the members of the Indian cricket team are all fictional.

Sonam Kapoor Ahuja plays Zoya, a copywriter struggling to fit in at her snooty advertising firm who’s rejected by potential romantic suitors because of her middle-class background. At least her dad Vijayendra (Sanjay Kapoor, Kapoor Ahuja’s real-life uncle) and older brother Zoravar (Sikander Kher) love her. They believe she brings them luck in their local cricket pickup games because she was born the day India won its last World Cup in 1983.

Zoya is sent on a make-or-break work assignment to photograph members of the Indian Cricket Team. She gets off to a mixed start with the team’s handsome captain, Nikhil (Dulquer Salmaan), who is charmed by her exuberance and frustrated by her determination. But when he sees Zoya’s co-workers ignore her at breakfast the next morning, he invites her to eat with the team, where she tells them that she’s her family’s lucky charm on the cricket pitch. The team wins their match that afternoon, and Zoya becomes their lucky charm, too.

Screenwriters Pradhuman Singh and Neha Rakesh Sharma skillfully adapt Chauhan’s novel, so that all of drama in the film arises from the characters’ conflicting motivations. Zoya is of course delighted when handsome, rich Nikhil takes a romantic interest in her, but she’s just as thrilled to finally fit in with a group. The team’s most superstitious players — Shivy (Abhilash Chaudhary) and Harry (Gandharv Dewan) — value Zoya for her good luck, but they also genuinely like her because she takes an interest in them. She approaches them differently than Nikhil, who believes that hard work is the only factor in team’s success. When he insists that Zoya stay away from the team, lest they put too much faith in her, he doesn’t realize that her presence has a reassuring affect on jittery players like Shivy and Harry, making them more relaxed on the pitch and helping them perform better.

Even the story’s villain, Robin (Angad Bedi), has understandable motives. It would be a lot easier for Robin to reclaim the captaincy he lost to Nikhil if the public and the Indian Cricket Board give Zoya the credit for the team’s victories — especially when Nikhil is trying to keep her away. It just so happens that Robin’s uncle is the head of the Cricket Board, which makes Zoya an offer that forces her to choose what’s really important to her.

Sikander Kher is stealthily terrific in the movie, and his character plays an important part in steering Zoya’s choices. As her big brother, he’s sincerely concerned for her well-being, but he also reinforces all of Zoya’s insecurities by asking her why someone as popular as Nikhil would be with a nobody like her. Adding insult to injury is that she hates his nickname for her, delightfully translated in the English subtitles as “Spongebob.”

The whole cast is likeable, and Salmaan and Kapoor Ahuja are quite cute together. There’s a distracting amount of product placement in The Zoya Factor, but it’s otherwise a sweet, fun romantic comedy.

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Movie Review: Tere Bin Laden – Dead or Alive (2016)

TereBinLadenDeadOrAlive2.5 Stars (out of 4)

The comedy sequel Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive starts out strong, but the story doesn’t have enough momentum to sustain laughs. Two films in this franchise are enough.

Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive (TBL 2, henceforth) begins in 2009. Manish Paul plays Abhishek Sharma, the real-life writer and director of both movies. Abhishek (the character) gets the greenlight to make his first film — Tere Bin Laden — after he spots Paddi Singh (Pradhuman Singh), a dead ringer for Osama Bin Laden. There’s a helpful refresher on the first film, which proved to be enough of a hit to merit a followup.

Shortly after production on the sequel begins, the real Bin Laden is assassinated by the United States. This puts the kibosh on Abhishek’s movie but not Paddi’s career as a lookalike. With no body or video proof of Bin Laden’s death, an inept terrorist organization in Pakistan wants Paddi so they can claim that Bin Laden is with them, alive and well. Meanwhile, the US wants to recreate the assassination, substituting video of Paddi’s murder as footage of Bin Laden’s death.

The early stages of TBL 2 are full of great bits. Ali Zafar — the star of Tere Bin Laden — appears in a funny cameo, playing an egomaniacal, womanizing version of himself. The Pakistani terror organization stages its own version of the Olympics, with games like the Bomb Relay and Landmine Jump. If you blow yourself up, you win!

The sharpest barbs are reserved for the Americans. Their drone control room is set up like an arcade, complete with coin-operated remote weapons. The “Chief of Invasions” is a man named David DoSomething, played by Sikander Kher in white-face makeup and a blond comb-over wig. Kher’s southern accent is deliberately hilarious.

In order to dupe Paddi and Abhishek, David dons brown-face makeup to pose as David Chadha, an NRI Hollywood producer. He quickly masters Hindi, though he mispronounces his last name as “cheddar.”

The movie acknowledges just how racist this is gambit is, with David consulting a makeup chart featuring a range of ethnically appropriate skin tones. When President Obama (Iman Crosson) sees David in his desi avatar, he quips, “I see you painted your white-ass face brown.” Considering that TBL 2 released on the same day as Gods of Egypt — a Hollywood film featuring no Egyptian actors — the digs seem deserved.

Though supporting characters like David, his female assistant Junior (Mya Uyeda), and President Obama are funny, they often feel better suited for a sketch comedy show rather than a feature film. There’s something missing from TBL 2 that causes it to slow down as soon as all of the characters are introduced.

One potential explanation that there’s no B-story in the plot. Elements such as Abhishek’s abandoned career as a confectioner and his fraught friendship with Paddi are introduced but don’t go anywhere. The story needs an anchor or emotional hook of some sort. Jokes aren’t enough.

TBL 2‘s strongest attribute is its subtitling and localization. It’s among the best I’ve ever seen in a Hindi film. For example, the Hindi word “jalebi” is translated as “churro,” substituting a piped, fried sweet popular in India for one popular in the U.S. Kudos to the TBL 2 translation team, the real stars of the film!

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Movie Review: Tere Bin Laden (2010)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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In the United States, it’s not especially fashionable to criticize the government’s (and military’s) response to terrorism, let alone to do so in an irreverent way. Tere Bin Laden (“Your Bin Laden”) fills that void, satirizing America’s penchant for preemptive military action.

Pakistani reporter Ali Hassan (Ali Zafar) wants to make it big in America. But, just days after 9/11, he’s mistaken for a terrorist and permanently banned from entering the U.S. He could sneak into the States under a false identity, but he can’t afford the fees a real terrorist outfit — “Lashkar-E-Amreeka,” whose headquarters have the slogan “Invading USA Since 2002” painted next to the front door — charge for the forged documents.

Seven years later, Ali’s stuck working at a low-budget TV station when he stumbles upon a chicken farmer who’s a dead ringer for Osama Bin Laden. With the help of two coworkers from the station, a militant radio host and an aspiring beautician, Ali tricks the chicken farmer into recording a fake Bin Laden terror video. Ali sells it for enough money to finally afford the forged documents.

Unfortunately, the video prompts the U.S. to close its borders and engage in new military operations in Afghanistan. It’s bad enough that Ali is stuck in Pakistan for good, but the U.S. intelligence service expands its hunt for Bin Laden to Pakistan, and soon enough, Ali is in their sights.

For the most part, the movie is a typical comedy about mistaken identities. But some of the jokes made at the expense of the U.S. are insightful and very funny. When a U.S. military commander presents the plans for a renewed offensive in Afghanistan, the plans are rendered as comic book panels, with American soldiers depicted as caped superheroes. Troops brag about capturing “Osama’s personal donkey.”

If you’re in the mood for juvenile humor, Tere Bin Laden certainly satisfies. Noora (Pradhuman Singh), the Osama lookalike, is a goldmine for comedy, given his profession as a raiser of roosters. There are more jokes about the male anatomy in Tere Bin Laden than in all of the 100+ Hindi movies I’ve seen combined.

The immature jokes hit a low point when Ali dons blackface makeup. And the goofy sound effects that permeate the movie are annoying, rather than funny. (The DVD menu features an irritating loop of a rooster crowing. Hit “play” as quickly as possible.)

This is Pakistani pop singer Ali Zafar’s first starring role, and he does an admirable job as Ali. He’s charming, effortless and completely adorable. The rest of the supporting cast is good as well, with a few notable exceptions.

The exceptions are the “American” characters. I use quotes because, almost across the board, the characters are played by Australians who can’t disguise their accents. Singh supposedly spent eight months training for Noora’s few lines of Arabic dialog, but there were no American actors available to play American parts?

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