Tag Archives: Prakash Raj

Movie Review: Entertainment (2014)

Its_Entertainment2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

The distributors of Entertainment should require prospective international audience members to take a placement exam before entering the theater. Do you speak Hindi fluently? Have you seen every Bollywood movie of note since 1960? No? Then don’t bother buying a ticket, because you won’t understand most of the jokes.

It’s so frustrating because Entertainment‘s plot is straightforward and high concept. Akhil (Akshay Kumar) discovers that he’s the illegitimate son of a recently deceased millionaire, Pannalal Johri (Dalip Tahil). Thinking he had no heirs, Johri left his estate to his dog, Entertainment (Junior, a cute Golden Retriever). Akhil tries to get rid of the dog and claim the inheritance but learns that he’s not the only one after the money.

With Entertainment, directing duo Sajid-Farhad had the chance to make the kind of accessible, family friendly film that remains rare in Bollywood. Unfortunately, many potential audience members will feel left out while watching the movie.

As with many Bollywood comedies, there are loads of wordplay jokes that by their very nature don’t translate well from Hindi to English. Furthering the problem is that Akhil’s best friend, Jugnu (Krishna Abhishek), speaks exclusively in movie references. Only some of his references to the plots of classic movies are explained.

Worse, he cites dozens of popular actors, using the literal meanings of their names as the punchline. (The English equivalent would be names like Grace, Daisy, or John.) The production team’s stalwart translators display only the literal meanings for the English subtitles on screen. Though one can hear Jugnu say “Sonakshi Sinha” as part of a punchline, her name doesn’t appear on screen, only the direct translation. It botches the joke and clearly delineates non-Hindi speakers as outsiders.

Of course, the bulk of the audience for Entertainment resides in India, watches Bollywood movies, and speaks Hindi, but the easy-to-follow story and English title made this an obvious crossover movie. The final product squanders that opportunity.

Entertainment is much more successful when it demonstrates an understanding of movie conventions and uses them for humor than when it just has characters list the names of films and film stars. Some of Entertainment‘s funniest moments are when the movie breaks the fourth wall, usually at the hands of Akhil’s girlfriend, Saaskshi (Tamannaah Bhatia).

Saakshi is a TV soap opera actress who has trouble leaving her work at the office. She breaks into soliloquies in which she addresses the camera directly, and the results are always funny.

One more great bit of metafiction involves the other claimants to Johri’s fortune, stepbrothers Karan (Prakash Raj) and Arjun (Sonu Sood). Whenever Karan raises his hand to strike Arjun, Arjun cries and invokes their dead mother. This triggers a mournful old movie tune sung by a woman, which causes the brothers to cry and make up. This song isn’t just in their heads. It’s audible to everyone, causing Saakshi and Akhil to look around confusedly for the source of the spectral singing.

Though Kumar’s comic performances are hit-or-miss, he’s pretty good in Entertainment, because the slapstick isn’t overdone. The supporting performances are good, too, especially Bhatia, but also Johnny Lever as Johri’s estate manager, Habibullah. (There are a bunch of jokes involving people messing up Habibullah’s name, and I didn’t understand what was so funny about them, either).

If you speak Hindi and have a depth of knowledge of Bollywood movies, you’ll probably enjoy Entertainment. It has some good gags, there are tons of cute dogs, and the story moves quickly enough. If you don’t understand Hindi or aren’t a Bollywood historian, I’d skip it.

Links

Movie Review: Heropanti (2014)

Heropanti_Poster0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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

Heropanti (“Big Attitude”, according to the subtitles) labors under the misapprehension that it is a progressive film. Despite a couple of statements disapproving of arranged marriage, the movie ultimately ends up reinforcing the patriarchal system it thinks it’s criticizing.

The plot is the same story we’ve seen a hundred times in Hindi cinema. The hero (debutant Tiger Shroff) wants to marry a girl (Kriti Sanon), but her father (Prakash Raj) disapproves. Rather than elope with her, the hero uses his brute strength to convince her father to let the couple marry.

The action takes place in a small town over which Chaudhray (Raj) rules with an iron fist. When his eldest daughter, Renu (Sandeepa Dhar), runs off with a man, Rakesh (Devanshu Sharma), Chaudhray has his goons round up Rakesh’s friends and hold them prisoner until they disclose the couple’s whereabouts.

Shroff’s Bablu is captured along with two of his friends/lackeys and Kiki, an annoying guy who’s kidnapped by mistake. The comic relief Kiki is supposed to supply consists of him endlessly repeating the phrase, “What is the position?”

While in captivity, Bablu discloses that he’s fallen in love at first sight. This triggers a flashback to Bablu ogling a woman — Sanon’s Dimpy — on the street. He sees the same mystery woman again at a temple as he and the lackeys try to escape, and his moon-eyed staring results in their recapture. Only later does Bablu find out Dimpy’s (hilarious) name and learn that she’s Chaudhray’s youngest daughter.

Why do we need the flashback to Bablu scoping Dimpy on the street? It ruins the pacing of the story and wastes time in a movie that’s already plenty boring. Had Bablu seen Dimpy for the first time at the temple, it would’ve made their botched escape more exciting and made him a more interesting character.

As it is, Shroff’s Bablu seems like a younger knock-off of a typical Salman Khan character  — smug, invincible, and perfect except for the fact that he’s single — only with Hrithik Roshan’s physique and dance moves. With young actors like Sushant Singh Rajput, Sidharth Malhotra, and Varun Dhawan making big impressions early in their careers, Shroff seems like a throwback to a type of hero that’s on the way out. This is a perplexing film to choose for one’s debut.

Sanon shows real promise. She gives Dimpy a spark that livens up a character possessed of very little agency. It will be interesting to see what Sanon can do with a character who’s more than just a damsel in distress.

Dimpy’s in a hopeless position that gets at the crux of Heropanti‘s problems. She falls for Bablu in return but can’t act on it because Chaudhray has promised to marry her to one of his underlings. Also, Chaudhray repeatedly states that when he finds Renu, he’s going to “burn her alive.” He does find her, though director Sabbir Khan doesn’t show us what actually becomes of Renu.

Despite knowing of Chaudhray’s willingness to murder his own child to save face, Bablu tells Dimpy, “You have to fight. That’s how you get equality.” But when push comes to shove, Bablu abandons the notion of a woman’s right to choose her own marriage partner. He tells Chaudray, “I don’t want to take away your right to decide who she marries.”

Dimpy has no control over what the men around her do with her body. Before knowing her identity, Bablu gets drunk and puts his hands all over her in a darkened room. She’s left alone for all of twenty minutes in Delhi, and a gang of men try to rape her. Her father ultimately “gives” her to her groom, as though she were an object. The camera routinely zooms in on her bare torso, further objectifying her.

Heropanti is so out of touch that it’s mystifying that it was even made, let alone used as the vehicle to launch Shroff’s movie career. It’s hard to imagine the teenage girls who are Shroff’s most obvious potential fanbase being impressed by a movie that thinks they shouldn’t have control over their own lives or bodies.

Links

Movie Review: Singh Saab the Great (2013)

Singh_Sahab_the_Great_Theatrical_poster1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Singh Saab the Great is boring and predictable. Yet I find myself unable to hate it, because it has so much in common with one of my favorite movie experiences of all time: Gunda. Granted, Gunda is a favorite because its sheer ineptitude transforms an earnest-but-terrible movie into a sublime comedy. So the comparison isn’t exactly a compliment for Singh Saab the Great (SSTG, henceforth).

Gunda and SSTG are both revenge movies. SSTG tries to twist the genre in the second half of the film by having the hero sublimate his desire for personal revenge in order to enact structural reform of a corrupt government. But the movie is unable to deny its true nature, and the climax is a fistfight between the hero and the bad guy.

SSTG‘s hero is Sunny (Sunny Deol), a by-the-books government tax collector. He gets into trouble when he shutters the factories of a local don, Bhoodev (Prakash Raj). In retaliation, the don threatens Sunny’s family, including his sister, Guddi, and his much-younger wife, Minnie (Urvashi Rautela).

The age difference between the lead couple — Deol is 57, Rautela is 19 — is so vast that writer Shaktimaan Talwar is forced to address it in the dialog. Sunny bemoans having failed to heed his uncle’s warning against marrying such a young bride. This only serves to draw more attention to the creepy age difference.

As in Gunda, the women in the movie function as sex objects, vulnerable points at which to attack Sunny, or both. Like Ganga — the love interest in Gunda — Minnie’s only duties are to berate Sunny and heave her gigantic bosom during clunky dance numbers in which Deol stomps around like a stiff.

Just like Gunda‘s vastly more entertaining villain, Bulla (“Bulla!”), Bhoodev spends most of his time in his mansion talking about things he’s going to do rather than just doing them. The movie’s single best moment is a pointless, abrupt cut to an underwater shot of Bhoodev floating in his pool, staring directly into the camera. Bhoodev then emerges from the pool in just his swim trunks, for anyone longing for a topless shot of Prakash Raj.

About half of SSTG‘s 150-minute runtime is footage presented in slow-motion: everything from Sunny and Bhoodev striding determinedly, to Guddi and her son falling from a scaffolding, to Minnie tossing her hair over her shoulder a million times. On the flip side, every shot of a vehicle in motion is sped up. Cars driving = boring. Hair tossing = something to be savored.

All of the action sequences are ridiculous and inadvertently funny. Like many so-bad-they’re-good movies, SSTG is made to be shared. Watching this with my brother, Dan, certainly ramped up the hilarity. But even solo, I would’ve laughed out loud at shots of Sunny Deol screaming while leaping ten feet straight up out of a canal.

Watching SSTG with my brother also taught me a little something about sibling relationships. I realize now that, when I got married, I was supposed to have wailed over being parted from my beloved brother. (This parting merits a whole song in Gunda. In SSTG, Guddi just cries).

I also learned that I can’t trust that my brother really cares about me until he’s impaled a couple of guys with bamboo poles and punched a guy into the grill of a truck on my behalf. Get on that, Dan.

Links

Movie Review: Zanjeer (2013)

Zanjeer_poster2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Movies about police officers who take the law into their own hands and beat the bad guys to a pulp are ubiquitous in Bollywood, thanks largely to the 1973 film Zanjeer (“Shackles”). While I haven’t seen the original Amitabh Bachchan film, I’ve seen plenty of variations on the same story in recent years, starring the likes of Salman Khan, Ajay Devgn, and Akshay Kumar. Given the ongoing popularity of the “supercop” sub-genre of action films, why would anyone risk remaking Zanjeer?

Director Apoorva Lakhia’s gamble doesn’t pay off. Perhaps fearing too much deviation from the original material, the remake of Zanjeer feels dated in its execution. The performances are corny, and the story structure doesn’t feel current. Lakhia would’ve been better off creating an entirely new movie, rather than being hamstrung by the old one.

Ram Charan makes his Hindi-film debut reprising Bachchan’s role as Vijay Khanna. Vijay is basically Batman: a boy whose parents are murdered in front of his eyes, who then grows up to be a vigilante. At one point in the film, Vijay’s girlfriend even wears a Batman t-shirt. The only difference is that Vijay is a maverick cop and not a masked superhero.

Vijay has such a reputation as a violent hothead that his interdepartmental transfer from Hyderabad to Mumbai merits cable news coverage (something that would never happen in real life). His first case in Mumbai involves investigating the murder of a man caught video-recording gasoline theft. The only witness is a beautiful Indian-American woman named Mala (Priyanka Chopra), in town for a friend’s wedding.

Mala is unbearably ditzy and annoying. Her role in the film is to be a lighthearted counterpoint to the always-serious Vijay, but she comes off as oblivious in the face of mortal danger from the organized crime unit that wants to kill her before she can testify. Chopra is a much better actress than this — as evidenced by her performances in Barfi! and 7 Khoon Maaf — so the blame rests on Lakhia’s shoulders for demanding such a grating performance from a talented actress.

In the course of his investigation, Vijay enlists the help of Sher Khan (Sanjay Dutt), a car thief whom Vijay pummels into renouncing his criminal ways. Vijay is similarly successful in recruiting the help of a journalist, Jay Dev (Atul Kulkarni), via threats and an absurd amount of swagger. No one writes lead characters this way anymore, so these scenes feel like out-of-touch throwbacks.

Then again, Charan seems unable to tone down his swagger, so maybe the scenes make sense. He doesn’t play a character so much as pose as one, as if no one told him they were telling a story and not just shooting the cover of the DVD. The fact that Vijay’s shirts are always unbuttoned halfway further serve to make him look more like a catalog model than a police officer. When Charan does act, it appears to require a lot of effort.

Dutt’s and Kulkarni’s roles are poorly integrated into the script, which is a shame. Their parts are eclipsed by Prakash Raj as the villain Teja, who chews scenery while dressed as a pimp. Raj is the best part of the movie, though a scene in which he and Mahie Gill spend thirty seconds meowing at one another is hard to take.

Links

Movie Review: Singham (2011)

Singham3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

In recent years, movies like Ra.One and Drona tried — and failed — to create lasting Indian celluloid superheroes. This seems an unnecessary endeavor since India already has a cinema superhero: The Supercop.

The Supercop is more of an archetype than he is a costumed hero, a la Spiderman or Batman, but he fits right in with all of the other comic book crusaders. The Supercop is morally righteous, virtually indestructible, and possesses superhuman strength. That he wears a police uniform and a mustache instead of tights and a cape makes no difference.

The Supercop has recently been depicted onscreen by Akshay Kumar in Khiladi 786 and Rowdy Rathore, and Salman Khan’s been playing essentially the same character for the last three years. Add in all of the South Indian actors who’ve played a version of The Supercop, and it’s clear India already has a national superhero.

Ajay Devgn takes his turn as The Supercop in Singham (“Lion”), a remake of a Tamil film. Devgn’s character, Bajirao Singham, has much in common with all the other Supercops. He’s a simple man with strong values who abhors violence, even though he’s required on numerous occasions to beat the tar out of people. He’s a 40-something bachelor because his moral purity has made him basically oblivious to women, until his One True Love comes to town and sweeps him off his feet.

Bajirao has a nice life as the sheriff of his hometown. His neighbors love him for his skill in resolving disputes before they turn violent. He’s so virtuous that an apology to Kavya (Kajal Agarwal) — a young woman originally from the village who now resides in Goa — makes her fall instantly in love with him.

Bajirao makes the mistake of embarrassing a gangster from Goa named Jaykant Shikre (Prakash Raj, who is superb in the film) by treating him just as he would any other criminal. A transfer to the Goa police force seems like a well-deserved promotion — and a chance to be near Kavya — until Shikre reveals that he used his influence to have Bajirao transferred for the express purpose of making the cop’s life a living hell.

Shikre is a bad, bad dude. His rap sheet includes choking a kidnapped grade-schooler to death with his bare hands when the boy’s father couldn’t afford to pay the ransom. He also successfully terrorized another upright police officer, Inspector Kadam (Sudhanshu Pandey), into committing suicide when the cop refused to take a bribe. Shikre’s tactics — which include harassment at all hours, cutting off Bajirao’s electricity, and false crime reports — force Bajirao to weigh whether returning to a simple life in his hometown is worth letting a monster like Shikre run unchecked.

In general, Singham is much like any other Supercop movie. Bajirao flips guys in the air with one hand and can run as fast as a speeding Jeep. His signature attack involves leaping in the air and swatting bad guys with an open paw, accompanied by the sound of a lion roaring.

Also as in other Supercop movies, the hero’s moral superiority goes unquestioned, even though it shouldn’t. Bajirao himself is introduced when Inspector Kadam’s widow begs god to make Shikre pay. This divine instrument of justice beats a group of men with his fists until they are reduced to heaps on the ground, then flogs them publicly with his belt, all for the crime of stealing Kavya’s shawl. Once the men were down on the ground, a public apology and the return of Kavya’s shawl should’ve been sufficient. But Bajirao insists on humiliating the men, just as he does to Shikre and just as Shikre eventually does to him.

Bajirao walks further down the slippery slope when he convinces the other officers in his squad to lie about what they’ve seen. Yes, the end result is that Shikre and his goons are unable to commit crimes without impunity for a change, but at what cost? Shikre and Bajirao both wind up perverting the system to achieve their own ends, so are they really that different? Shikre has the higher body count, but he’s not the one sworn to uphold the law. Bajirao is.

Beyond the ethical questions — which pop up often in Supercop movies and aren’t limited to Singham alone — Singham is entertaining enough. Kavya is more active than many of The Supercop’s heroines, which is a nice change. Kavya charmingly contrives ways to meet Bajirao through a series of fake thefts, and she gets everyone in town to lobby Bajirao to marry her.

Director Rohit Shetty misses a big opportunity to add tension to the movie. Shikre knows that Bajirao and Kavya are an item, but he never threatens Kavya. In another instance of (perhaps deliberate) misdirection, Shetty positions the camera above a spinning ceiling fan to look down upon Inspector Kadam as he contemplates suicide. The obvious implication is that Kadam will hang himself from the fan, but he ends up shooting himself.

Because of similarities throughout films in the genre, preference really comes down to which actor plays The Supercop. I like Ajay Devgn as an actor more than Salman Khan or Akshay Kumar, so I enjoyed Singham more than their iterations of the same story. Still, just as I’m not interested in any more Spiderman or Superman origin stories, I think I’ve seen enough of The Supercop.

Links

Opening January 18: Mumbai Mirror

One new Hindi movie opens in the Chicago area on January 18, 2013, and it’s about as low-profile as you get. Mumbai Mirror stars nobody I’ve heard of besides Prakash Raj, who plays the film’s villain.

Mumbai Mirror opens on Friday at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles and AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 16 min.

While  I don’t have the U.S opening weekend earnings figures for Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, they presumably weren’t good. The film drops from the schedules at three local theaters, only carrying over at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and AMC River East 21 in Chicago.

Other Indian films showing in the area this weekend include Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu (aka SVSC, Telugu) at the Golf Glen 5, River East 21, and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge; Naayak (Telugu) at the Golf Glen 5 and Seven Bridges; and Bavuttiyude Namathil (Malayalam) at the Golf Glen 5. Thanks to the Cinemark at Seven Bridges for noting at their website that both of the Telugu movies are being shown without English subtitles.

Movie Review: Dabangg 2 (2012)

DABANGG_2_Poster2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

2010’s Dabangg was such a good time that it set a high bar for its sequel. Dabangg 2 is almost as much fun, but it inadvertently raises some ethical questions about heroism and modern systems of justice.

Salman Khan returns as Chulbul Pandey, a charming, unstoppable supercop. Having cleared his small hometown of criminals in the first movie, Pandey requests a transfer to the larger city of Kanpur. Almost immediately, he becomes a hero to the citizens of Kanpur and the nemesis of a local gangster and aspiring politician named Baccha (Prakash Raj).

The opening twenty minutes of the movie are amazing. Scenes from the original Dabangg play during the opening credits to bring the audience up to speed. Then Pandey beats up a warehouse full of goons before abruptly breaking into song. It’s an obvious rehash of the best sequence from the original film, but it’s just as enjoyable the second time.

Chulbul Pandey is far an away Salman Khan’s best character of recent years. Unlike many of his other action roles that take themselves deathly seriously, Khan gets to have fun with Pandey. He plays pranks on his father (played by Vinod Khanna), flirts with his wife, Rajjo (Sonakshi Sinha), and is adored by his fellow police officers, with whom he’s willing to share credit for his good deeds. In this role, Khan is — dare I say — kind of cute.

Sinha, reprising her role from the first film, is a drag. Though Pandey dotes on Rajjo like the newlywed he is, she spends the whole film either annoyed or depressed. She perks up for a few dance numbers, but that’s it.

Similarly useless is Pandey’s younger brother, Makhi, played by Khan’s younger brother (and the film’s director), Arbaaz. The younger Khan delivers his lines flatly, and a long-running gag about Makhi trying to solve a riddle doesn’t survive the translation from Hindi to English. I appreciate Arbaaz Khan’s contributions behind the camera more than his contributions in front of it.

The story is slow to get going. It’s obvious that there will eventually be a showdown between Pandey and Baccha, but Baccha doesn’t make any real threats against Pandey or his family until the mid-point of the movie. The climactic showdown is worth the wait.

The impetus for Baccha to act comes when Pandey brutally murders one of the bad guys in front of a crowd of people that includes his fellow police officers, rather than take the bad guy into custody. The story proceeds as though this is acceptable, and the morality of Pandey’s act is never discussed.

This is a problem because, until this point, Pandey is unquestionably virtuous. (I’m choosing to ignore his habitual thievery since he rarely steals from working-class people.) One of the gun-toting bad guys declares himself judge, jury, and executioner right before Pandey kills him, even though Pandey’s life isn’t in immediate danger. By ignoring the rules of democracy and bypassing the judicial system, how is Pandey any different from the man he kills?

Perhaps these are deeper questions than are supposed to be posed to a film about a guy who makes his entrance by driving a Jeep through a brick wall. Though the film is light on gore and skin, it’s not completely family friendly. In addition to Pandey’s morally troubling act, some of the brutality inflicted on his family is especially grim. After watching Dabangg 2, kids may have more questions for their parents than, “Did you see Salman hit that guy in the nuts with a pole?”

Links