Tag Archives: R. Balki

Mr. Mom versus Ki and Ka

If you read my review, you know I have a lot of problems with Ki and Ka. It wasn’t the humorous exploration of gender roles promised in the trailer, but rather a disorganized reinforcement of Bollywood tropes that favor men at the expense of women.

Given how non-progressive writer-director R. Balki’s movie is, I wanted to know how Ki and Ka compares to an older film about spouses swapping traditional gender roles: 1983’s Mr. Mom, written by John Hughes and directed by Stan Dragoti. Note: spoilers for both movies follow.

Though the two movies differ markedly in their general setups, they do share some very specific details in common — leading one to believe that Balki has at least seen Mr. Mom, even if he didn’t quite get the point of it. Both movies feature wives who work in advertising, both of whom earn promotions when they create campaigns offering discounts on food products traditionally purchased by women. In both movies, the stay-at-home husband plays cards with neighborhood housewives and leads them in an exercise program.

In Mr. Mom, Jack (Michael Keaton) is an automotive engineer who gets laid off from his job. He takes over the care of the house and the family’s three children when his wife Caroline (Teri Garr) finds a marketing job.

Jack assumes that being a homemaker will be easy compared to engineering, only to discover just how much he doesn’t know. He struggles with everyday chores and his own sense of self-worth, now that he’s not the breadwinner. Caroline explains that what carried her through her eight years as a stay-at-home mom was a sense of pride in a job well done, whether it’s a task as simple as cleaning the kitchen or as complex as raising good kids.

Mr. Mom is an out-and-out comedy, and a very funny one at that. Jack’s struggles are played for laughs, especially in the hilarious sequence featuring an overloaded washing machine, three home repair people, and a runaway vacuum nicknamed “Jaws.”

That sequence highlights what is probably the root problem in Ki and Ka. For all of the lip-service Kabir (Arjun Kapoor) pays to the difficulty and nobility of housework, he never struggles with it. It’s not hard for him.

Kabir has no more previous experience taking care of a house than Jack does. Kabir grew up wealthy, presumably with servants in addition to his own mother to run the family mansion. We know that he earned an MBA, but after that, he makes no mention of having done anything like studying cooking or home maintenance. As far as we are shown, Kabir is just a 28-year-old jobless guy living in his childhood bedroom until he marries Kia (Kareena Kapoor Khan).

When he actually becomes Kia’s househusband, he does so with no problems. On their first morning together, he clears the clutter, gets himself ready, and makes breakfast all before Kia and her mom (Swaroop Sampat) wake up. When he botches their morning coffee, the joke is on the women, not him.

Kabir is then free to redecorate the family apartment as the train depot of his childhood dreams (removing all trace of Kia and her mom from the decor in the process, by the way). After folding laundry and cooking, his time is his own, freeing him to shop for clothes with his new lady friends.

Unlike Jack in Mr. Mom, Kabir does little household cleaning. Kia’s longtime maid handles the dirty work. Even during the narrative’s short-lived budget crisis plot point, Kabir deems the maid’s services essential, even though her salary is one of the couple’s biggest monthly expenses. Why is she essential? They only live in a two bedroom apartment, with no kids. How hard is that to keep clean?

It’s harder to tell an insightful story about gender roles when the main characters are upper class. They keep a maid because they can afford to, allowing Kabir the time to become a celebrity icon of social progress while still making it home to cook dinner.

Because Kabir is rich — and always has been — he never pays a price for his unusual lifestyle choice. Wealthy people live by different rules than the rest of us anyway, so how is his experience analogous to anyone who’s not an elite? What social price would Kabir and Kia have to pay if she were the ad firm’s receptionist rather than an executive? Sure, Kabir’s dad doesn’t approve, but Kabir has already disinherited himself and written his dad off as the stick-in-the-mud he is.

Ki and Ka makes it seem as if being a homemaker is so easy anyone can do it, disregarding the social, emotional, and practical challenges of the job. Even though Mr. Mom is more than thirty years old, it’s more insightful as to what being a stay-at-home spouse entails — and it’s a lot more entertaining, too. You can buy or rent Mr. Mom at Amazon or iTunes.

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Movie Review: Ki and Ka (2016)

KiAndKa0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Don’t be fooled into thinking that Ki and Ka (“His and Hers“) is a progressive examination of gender roles in contemporary India. This is Mansplaining: The Movie.

Kareena Kapoor Khan plays Kia, a marketing executive with a clear career path: get promoted to vice president of her company and eventually become CEO. She knows that marriage and especially kids often hamper women professionally, so she’s not interested in either.

She meets Kabir (Arjun Kapoor), son of a rich construction magnate. Rather than inherit his father’s empire, Kabir wants to follow in his deceased mother’s footsteps and be a homemaker.

However, we don’t see any evidence of Kabir working toward that goal. We don’t see him cooking, cleaning, or organizing — none of the activities that are central to the job of homemaking. All we see during his courtship of Kia is him hanging out in bars or tooling around a playground on his Segway. Apparently, his aspirations are enough for him to get his dream job, despite the fact that he’s both unqualified and unmotivated.

But that’s the point of writer-director R. Balki’s film: Kabir’s desire to defy gender stereotypes makes him a hero. He’s lauded for his choice, going so far as to appear on TV on Woman’s Day to explain to everyone how noble he is for cooking and tidying up. He fails to note that he still employs a maid to do dirty work like dusting.

Kabir’s deification comes at Kia’s expense. She apologizes over and over again: for hurting his feelings, for taking him for granted, for being jealous. Other than saying “sorry” for crying too loudly during their initial meeting, Kabir never apologizes to Kia because the screenplay never puts him in a position to do so. In typical Bollywood hero fashion, Kabir is infallible, incapable of doing wrong because he is a man.

It’s worth noting another sequence which chucks any remaining vestiges of Ki and Ka‘s feminist credibility out the window. Kabir starts an exercise program for the women in his building, premised on the ideas that all women think they are fat and that they secretly want to be ogled by strange men on the street.

If Balki’s dated takes on equality weren’t problem enough, the movie is lifeless. The first fifteen minutes of Kabir & Kia’s courtship is a sequence of barroom conversations, with cinematographer P. C. Sreeram’s camera making constant, incremental zooms to give the illusion of dynamism while the actors just sit there. The most excitement we get is a shot of Kia walking slowly alongside Kabir as he rides his Segway. Even the song numbers are mostly montages.

The screenplay’s structure leaves much to be desired. There are no subplots at all, and only a couple of hollow supporting characters. Neither Kia nor Kabir have any friends until they magically appear for scenes in which everyone talks about how great Kabir is, never to be heard from again.

None of the conflicts between the couple lasts more than a few minutes, and there’s nothing at stake in any larger sense either. Their relationship is never in danger, as emphasized by a climax that is literally impossible to have unfold in the tidy way it does.

Characters repeatedly refer to Kabir as “every woman’s dream husband.” The goal of feminism is not to make men do chores. If Ki and Ka is R. Balki’s idea of social progress, he’s missed the point.

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Movie Review: Shamitabh (2015)

ShamithahfilmZero Stars (out of 4)

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For all but a few of Shamitabh‘s two hours and thirty minutes, I wished I was anyplace other than the theater. I would spare you that same pain.

The element of Shamitabh that should’ve precluded it from ever being made is its asinine premise. Dhanush plays Danish — all three leads play characters with variations of their own names — a mute, small-town guy who wants to be an actor. He fails to break into the Mumbai film industry until a sympathetic assistant director, Akshara (Akshara Haasan), takes him under her wing. Akshara’s father is a doctor whose colleagues in Finland have created a revolutionary technology to aid mute people.

The technology involves implanting a chip in the patient’s throat that acts as a receiver. When words are spoken aloud by someone wearing a connected earpiece/microphone, the sound comes out of the mouth of mute patient when he moves his lips. In essence, the technology turns a mute person into a living ventriloquist’s dummy.

This invention is idiotic. Why would a mute person want to speak if he always had to do so in someone else’s voice, never able to speak his own thoughts? Who would want to be the person permanently tethered to mute person, effectively rendered mute themselves for the sake of someone else?

Somehow, Danish becomes a superstar actor after he hires Amitabh (Amitabh Bachchan) — a drunk with a great baritone — to supply his voice while making movies. No one on the movie set wonders why a 30-year-old guy sounds like a man in his 70s.

The sheer stupidity of the premise is reason enough to avoid Shamitabh, but there are many other reasons to dislike it as well. Writer-director R. Balki clearly intends for Shamitabh to be an exploration of the actor’s craft and filmmaking in general. The stupid premise might have worked as a satire, but Balki’s Shamitabh is a straightforward wannabe tear-jerker that provides no insight on its subject matter.

For a movie about filmmaking, there’s a distinct absence of craft in Shamitabh. Shots are framed awkwardly. Transitions are jerky. The editing is poor. Scenes are too long. A romance scene between Danish and an actress is totally out-of-place. The dialogue is too on the nose.

More distracting than any of these flaws is the movie’s music. The songs are horrible, but the incidental music is downright clownish. Any emotional moment is punctuated with garish musical cues so amateurish that it’s hard to believe that this is Balki’s third film.

Perhaps the greatest indictment of a film that’s supposed to be about actors is that the acting is terrible. Dhanush’s movements are exaggerated to a ridiculous degree, as though his body is rebelling against the fact that he can’t talk. Akshara’s facial expressions are bizarre, and she delivers her dialogue in either a monotone or hysterical screaming. She needed better direction in her debut film.

There are moments when the legendary Bachchan shows his skill, in subtle reactions to some ridiculous request by Danish. But Bachchan gives a number of excessive monologues that would be tiresome no matter who delivered them, and they destroy the flow of the film.

Watching Shamitabh is a uniquely painful movie-going experience that should be avoided at all costs.

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