Tag Archives: Rajeev Khandelwal

Movie Review: Samrat & Co. (2014)

Samrat_&_Co_—_poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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As a fan of the hit British TV series Sherlock, a Bollywood version of the same sounded like a disaster. Thankfully, Samrat & Co. is watchable, but just barely.

Bollywood’s Sherlock is Samrat (Rajeev Khandelwal), a detective who relieves stress by partaking in underground boxing matches. Lest the audience get a bad first impression, Samrat explains that his illicit prize money goes to charity. Never mind that boxing seems like a ridiculously dangerous pastime for a man who relies on his intellect to solve crimes.

The “Co.” of Samrat & Co. is just one guy, tabloid TV host Chakrandhar (Gopal Dutt). Just to make absolutely clear that the filmmakers know that they are making a Sherlock knockoff/tribute, Chakrandhar says, “I’m Watson, and he’s Sherlock.”

Apart from a story focused on a brilliant detective and his sidekick, Samrat & Co. has little in common with Sherlock. There are none of the visual effects that define the British series, except for one instance in which the solution to a word puzzle briefly floats on screen. (The film’s few puzzles are simple, and watching a character as supposedly brilliant as Samrat struggle with them is frustrating.)

Khandelwal’s Samrat is a normal guy, as socially at ease as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is awkward. It’s the supporting cast — like dim-witted Chakrandhar and chatterbox maid Shanti (Puja Gupta) — whose attempts to add quirkiness to the movie prove more irritating than endearing.

The central mystery involves a rich man in Shimla — Mahendra Pratap Singh (Girish Karnad) — whose garden appears to be cursed. After Singh is murdered at his own birthday party, Samrat sorts through numerous suspects to find the killer.

The movie’s cast is huge, and there are way too many potential suspects to keep track of. When Samrat zeroes in on Deepak (Rajneesh Duggal) as a potential culprit, I was hardly sure who Deepak was. His character is introduced while Samrat scans some CCTV footage, and they have one brief conversation before their showdown. The showdown itself includes a bout in the world’s least safe fighting arena, perched on a cliff’s edge and ringed by a wooden picket fence. The insurance premiums must be outrageous.

Kandelwal’s performance is fine, but it’s not especially compelling. Madalsa Sharma is tolerable as Dimpy, Singh’s daughter and Samrat’s sort-of love interest. There’s not much to commend any of the supporting actors besides Shreya Narayan, whose character, Divya (Singh’s other daughter), is refreshingly mute.

As flawed as Samrat & Co. is, it deserves credit for trying something a little different. Mystery isn’t a common Bollywood genre, so the movie at least offers a change of pace. Samrat & Co. is neither great nor terrible.


New Trailers: March 20, 2014

Just released today is the trailer for the coming-of-age film Purani Jeans, arriving in theaters on May 1.

Also new today is the trailer for the Hindi version of Rio 2, featuring the voices of Imran Khan and Sonakshi Sinha. Rio 2 opens in India on April 11, the same day the English version — featuring the voices of Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway — opens in the U.S.

Rio 2 faces stiff competition on April 11, the day that also sees the release of Kochadaiiyaan, an animated adventure featuring the voices and likenesses of Superstar Rajinikanth and Deepika Padukone. Originally recorded in Tamil, dubbed versions in Telugu and Hindi will also be released (though who knows which version we’ll get here in the States).

There are a number of films set to release on April 25. The most likely candidate to show up in American theaters is Revolver Rani, starring Kangana Ranaut, whose stock has risen considerably since Queen became a sleeper hit.

April 25 also sees the release of Samrat & Co, a mystery based on the British TV series Sherlock. The nods the TV series are obvious in the trailer, though the “Watson” to Erik Estrada look-alike Rajeev Khandelwal’s “Sherlock” character, Samrat, is noticeably absent.

Last among the April 25 releases is Kaanchi: The Unbreakable, directed by Subhash Ghai

Movie Review: Table No. 21 (2013)

Table_No_21_poster2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Table No. 21 attempts to be a high-concept thriller about a cute married couple who participate in a game that grows increasingly twisted the longer they play. There are two problems in the film’s execution: the game isn’t that twisted, and the couple is by no means cute.

The couple — Vivaan (Rajeev Khandelwal) and his wife, Siya (Tena Desae) — are introduced as they indulge in a resort vacation in Fiji, a free prize that they won in a contest. Even while on a luxury holiday that includes shopping, swimming, and an inordinate amount of time spent showering fully clothed, Vivaan manages to be a jerk. He makes fun of Siya for being excited to fly business class instead of coach for a change, and most of his responses to her are sarcastic. Siya’s no peach either, snapping at the air hostess for bringing her the wrong meal, but she’s nicer than Vivaan.

The bad attitude of the main couple is a problem because it prevents the viewer from feeling the necessary sympathy for them as the plot unfolds. It’s especially hard to care when bad things happen to Vivaan because he seems like he deserves them.

On the last day of their vacation, the couple meets Mr. Khan (Paresh Rawal), the owner of the resort. He invites them to play a game that will be broadcast to eight million online viewers, for a prize of 21 crore rupees (about $4 million). They agree, failing to appreciate the two rules of the game: no quitting, and “if you lie, you die.”

The game, which consists of eight questions and eight accompanying tasks, starts out easy enough. Almost laughably so. Mr. Khan asks Vivaan if he’s ever embarrassed to be affectionate with his wife in public, and Vivaan admits that he is. Vivaan’s task, then, is to passionately kiss Siya in a public place. Even with $4 million on the line, Siya still has to talk Vivaan into kissing her!

While Table No. 21 is geared toward an Indian audience, this task and some of the others that follow are comically prudish. Most are designed to test the fragility of Vivaan’s male ego, which is especially touchy since he is currently jobless. Yet when the couple makes mistakes, it’s invariably Siya who pays the price.

As one would suspect, Vivaan and Siya were not selected at random to play Mr. Khan’s game. Without spoiling anything, their selection is based on an event from their past, but they react to the revelation of why they were chosen as though they are learning about it at the same time as the audience. Given the nature of what is revealed, no one with a functioning conscience could forget what Vivaan and Siya appear to have forgotten about, further proof that they are not shining examples of humanity.

I’m not sure who’s most to blame for the main couple’s rottenness, the actors or director Aditya Datt. Regardless, the characters fail to engender sympathy. Rawal has a few good scenes but doesn’t make Mr. Khan as menacing as he should be.

Director Datt wisely keeps the film’s runtime under two hours, but there’s a lot of filler material that could’ve been cut. Flashbacks are employed during the game, a la Slumdog Millionaire, but only some have bearing on the plot. Datt falls prey to the common Hindi-film trope of insisting on showing how the lead couple first met and fell in love. Most people’s love stories are pretty similar, so unless it specifically relates to the story, it doesn’t matter.

Table No. 21 stands out from the crowd thanks to its good pacing, interesting plot device, and short runtime, but it could have been better.


Movie Review: Soundtrack (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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During the closing credits for Soundtrack, a note onscreen reads: “Inspired by the movie It’s All Gone Pete Tong.” Reading the plot summary for It’s All Gone Pete Tong at Wikipedia reveals that Soundtrack is more of a beat-for-beat imitation.

When a book is turned into a film, the credits typically read “Based on a novel by…”, thereby acknowledging that someone else deserves credit for writing the original story.  I’m not suggesting that there’s anything nefarious in Soundtrack‘s appropriation of another movie’s plot, but there’s something unsavory about acknowledging it in such an offhand way.

The good thing about writer-director Neerav Ghosh basing Soundtrack on a previously successful movie is that he has a solid structure to work with. As a result, Soundtrack is watchable. It’s reasonably well-paced, and plot points occur when we instinctively want them to occur.

Where Soundtrack falls short is in the construction of the main character, Raunak Kaul (Rajeev Khandelwal). Raunak is a DJ who moves to Mumbai hoping to strike it rich. He quickly does, thanks to his uncle’s contacts at a popular nightclub. Soon, Raunak is up to his eyeballs in booze, drugs and women eager to sleep with him.

After a period of debauchery, a combination of lifestyle factors and genetics causes Raunak to go completely deaf. He breaks down, only to gain a new purpose in life, with the help of his lip-reading instructor, Gauri (Soha Ali Khan).

Soundtrack‘s effectiveness depends entirely upon the degree to which the audience sympathizes with Raunak, and there’s little reason to care about him. He’s an angry ingrate who’s already an alcoholic before he gets to Mumbai. He gets the life of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll that he wants and enjoys it while he’s able, even though his addictions make him unreliable.

It’s hard to feel bad for a character who is both unlikable and the cause of his own problems. Ghosh never gives Raunak his “save the cat” moment: an action that lets the audience know that the character is really a good guy, in spite of appearances.

Gauri’s character is also underdeveloped. She serves as a plot device to get Raunak back on the right moral track. Her character is supposed to have been born deaf, but she merely speaks with a lisp, not the way those born deaf actually talk. It’s a missed opportunity to add realism to her character.