Tag Archives: Priya Anand

Movie Review: Fukrey Returns (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

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Fukrey Returns is a stale bore, populated by characters the filmmakers seem determined not to give us any reasons to care about.

Familiarity with 2013’s Fukrey is essential. The only plot refresher regarding the original film is a sequence of video-only clips that run behind the opening credits of Fukrey Returns. If you haven’t seen Fukrey recently — or if it didn’t leave much of an impression — you’re going to miss some references (I know I did).

The main characters from the original are back, including: smug ladies man Hunny (Pulkit Samrat); his psychic toady Choocha (Varun Sharma); the guy who’s too smart to be hanging around with these idiots, Zafar (Ali Fazal); and the guy who doesn’t really have anything to do in the story, Lali (Manjot Singh). Also returning are the guys’ shady mentor, Pandit (Pankaj Tripathy), and their gangster nemesis, Bholi (Richa Chadda).

After a year in prison, Bholi is eager to take revenge on the four friends who sent her there. She owes a large sum of money to crooked politician Babulal (Rajiv Gupta) for arranging her release, so she needs to use Choocha’s prophetic dreams in order to raise a lot of money, fast. The plan is for the guys to collect wagers from the public, promising to double investors’ winnings when Choocha dreams of the winning lottery numbers. In fact, the lottery pays out at a rate of ten-to-one, leaving Bholi with eighty percent of the winnings. In return, the guys get to continue living.

When their scheme is thwarted, the guys are pilloried for having defrauded the public and are forced to run for their lives. Fortunately, Choocha manifests a new prophetic power he calls “deja Chu” — premonitions that offer their only hope for clearing their names, freeing Bholi from her debt to Babulal, and getting themselves off of her hit list.

The plot doesn’t unfold as neatly as I’ve described it. Establishing what the guys have been doing since the events of the original film takes up a lot of time, yet reveals surprisingly little about the characters. Subplots are introduced and then forgotten about until the end of the movie. Hunny’s girlfriend Priya (Priya Anand) and Zafar’s fiancée Neetu (Vishakha Singh) stage their own disappearing acts until their presence is required for the climax.

The quality of the cast is uneven. When characters played by Chadda, Fazal, and Tripathy interact with one another, the gulf between actors of their caliber and the rest of the cast feels as wide as the Grand Canyon, especially considering how little the script gives them to work with. It seems like Samrat and Sharma have plateaued as performers.

Of course, the most damning indictment is that Fukrey Returns just isn’t funny. Right away, we get a tired gag about Hunny being bitten in the rear by a venomous snake and Choocha having to suck out the venom, and the same gag repeats later. Director Mrighdeep Singh Lamba also doesn’t know when to end a joke, lingering on reaction shots of other characters well past the point when the audience is ready to move on the next gag. Hopefully Lamba and his co-writer Vipul Vig will accept that Fukrey‘s well has run dry and move on themselves.

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Movie Review: Fukrey (2013)

fukrey0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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There’s a fundamental problem at the root of Fukrey. The story is about a couple of guys: one who has prophetic dreams, and another who interprets those dreams to pick the day’s winning lottery numbers. The guys run into trouble when they borrow money from a mobster and can’t pay it back.

Here’s the problem: with this infallible gambling system, why do they need to borrow money? Why aren’t they already rich?!

That the writers missed such an obvious problem is indicative of just how shoddily organized Fukrey is. As a result, the movie is a boring waste of 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Nothing occurs in a succinct or timely fashion in Fukrey. The prophetic dreams aren’t even mentioned until thirty minutes into the movie, and they don’t become relevant to the plot until the fifty-minute mark. The guys don’t get into trouble with the gangster until 75 minutes have passed, so nothing of consequence happens until the movie is half over.

All the time up to that point is spent establishing the characters as total morons. The dreamer, Choocha (Varun Sharma), and the interpreter, Hunny (Pulkit Samrat), are horny high schoolers eager to get into college so that they can score with chicks, or so they say. They grab each other and make kissy faces while they talk of future romantic conquests. They ogle every woman they see, so much so that it seems like overcompensation, especially in Choocha’s case. He seems to be quite in love with Hunny.

Meanwhile, Hunny is completely obnoxious in his pursuit of Priya (Priya Anand). He pops his collar and lies about his experience with French kissing (unless he’s been practicing on Choocha). Hunny lingers outside Priya’s house, posing with his best Derek Zoolander “Blue Steel” expression. He does everything that would turn a real-life woman off, but Priya falls for him because Hunny is the hero, and movie heroes always get the girl.

For some reason, writer Vipul Vig and director Mrigdeep Singh Lamba decided to make this about a quartet of guys, rather than keeping the story focused on Choocha and Hunny, the only two characters germane to the plot. Lali (Manjot Singh) would like to get into college to spy on his cheating girlfriend, and Zafar (Ali Fazal) hangs around campus playing guitar. Lali’s only contribution to the plot is that he puts his family’s restaurant up as collateral in the gambling scheme. Zafar is a superfluous mope.

Richa Chadda plays the mobster, Bholi. Her gang consists of a bunch of musclebound black men who operate a diversified crime  portfolio of drug peddling, extortion, prostitution, and even a telemarketing scam. The race of Bholi’s bodyguards is only significant because, at one point, Choocha refers to her gang as “the Chicago Bulls.” Shortly thereafter, Hunny wears a polo shirt sporting a Confederate flag patch. Not content to just be boring, Fukrey has to be racist, too.

The movie might make a little sense if Bholi had heard about Choocha’s prophetic dreams and decided to exploit his abilities for her own gain. But why do Choocha and Hunny need to go to her at all? The first time they won the lottery, why didn’t they save a little of their winnings and do the same thing the next day? That’s how gambling works: you win a little bit, and you keep playing hoping to win even more.

Since Hunny and Choocha know their system works, why haven’t they been exploiting this system for years, amassing a huge fortune? Just how dumb do you have to be to screw this up?

It’s not possible to care about characters this stupid. I hoped that Bholi would get sick of these morons and kill them for kicks. She doesn’t, so there’s really no good reason to see Fukrey.

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Movie Review: English Vinglish (2012)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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One of my favorite feelings is when I watch a new film that makes me think, “Now this is a movie. I wish more movies were like this.” Films that provoke that sensation for me aren’t necessarily perfect, but they are always well executed examples of the form that feel both familiar and fresh. Watching English Vinglish gave me that feeling.

This is writer-director Gauri Shinde’s first film, but you’d never know it. She gets how movies are supposed to be made. The pacing is excellent, and the characters are complex and grow throughout the story. English Vinglish is an impressive debut.

Shashi (Sridevi) is an Indian housewife unappreciated by her husband, Satish (Adil Hussain), and preteen daughter, Sapna. Her young son, Sagar (Shivansh Kotia), is still in the cuddly phase of childhood, and her live-in mother-in-law is sympathetic, but both require Shashi’s frequent attention, reducing her existence to that of a short-order cook. Satish even resents Shashi’s modest catering business selling her homemade sweets, insisting that cooking for her own family should give her satisfaction enough.

The real point of contention in the family is that Shashi doesn’t speak English. Her husband speaks it at his office and her children study it at school, so Satish and Sapna are able to make jokes at Shashi’s expense without her understanding. When Shashi’s sister asks her to fly to New York for a few weeks to help with preparations for her daughter’s wedding, Shashi is forced to confront her feelings of inadequacy regarding English. She enrolls in a language course that changes her perspective on everything.

Of course, Shashi’s linguistic problems are just part of a larger identity crisis. Is she more than just a cooking- and cleaning-machine? Should she even aspire to be more than that? Why does she need to know English if she never leaves the house without her husband or kids to act as translators?

Shashi’s search for self-worth is universal, but there are distinct feminine aspects to her problem. It’s expected that men define themselves by their jobs, but what metric should a homemaker and mother use to define herself? As Shashi tells one of her classmates, “When a man cooks, it’s art. When a woman cooks, it’s duty.” Defining a life by the execution of rote tasks seems insufficient.

The classmate Shashi discusses cooking with is a handsome French chef named Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou). They form a friendship based on their love of food as well as their sense of isolation as foreigners who don’t speak the dominant language. The relationship is also fueled by Laurent’s obvious crush on Shashi.

Laurent’s affection puts Shashi in a precarious situation. She doesn’t lead him on, but she’s pleased to finally have someone — let alone a good-looking younger man — make her feel like she’s beautiful, funny, clever, and talented. Laurent’s compliments are hard to resist when the alternative is being treated like a glorified servant by her husband.

The French chef’s crush is understandable because, at age 49, Sridevi still looks perfect. Her performance as Shashi is likewise flawless. She channels every mother throughout history when Shashi puts on a brave face in response to her daughter’s insults, determined to hide her emotions until she’s alone.

Sridevi’s subtlety gives Shashi an air of realism: her quick, birdlike movements as she tries to comprehend the ticket machine in the subway; her slight smile as she silently mouths one of her newly acquired English words; even her dance moves are small and slightly embarrassed, rather than the broad gestures of a seasoned performer.

Nebbou’s performance as Laurent is also perfectly restrained. Since he can’t say the words, Laurent shows his fondness for Shashi through glances that linger longer than is considered socially appropriate. He’s not pushy, but he is persistent. He’s charming, but not in a cartoonish way.

The members of Shashi’s family are well-drawn. Her niece, Radha (Priya Anand), is an enthusiastic co-conspirator who encourages Shashi’s personal growth. Satish and Sapna aren’t villains, but they seem to enjoy sharing knowledge that Shashi lacks. Little Sagar is adorable, and never annoying or distracting.

Shashi’s English class is populated with characters who all have their own motivations, though not all are successfully portrayed. Jennifer (Maria Pendolino), the language school receptionist, is so believable that, for all I know, they cast an actual language school receptionist to play the part. However, the class’s lone East Asian of unspecified national origin, Yu Son (Maria Romano), distracts with her indeterminate accent.

Also suffering from accent-related problems is David (Cory Hibbs), the teacher of the class who initially speaks with a quasi-British accent that fades as the movie progresses. What does not fade is David’s flamboyant gayness. His over-the-top affectations make him into a caricature who can’t even be humanized by Shashi’s “gays are people, too” speech late in the film.

If the only real problems in a movie relate to a couple of minor characters, it’s safe to declare the film a success. English Vinglish is a refined, adult coming-of-age story with a fantastic heroine at its heart. This is definitely a must-see.

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