Tag Archives: Rajesh Sharma

Movie Review: Irada (2017)

irada3 Stars (out of 4)

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A case of industrial espionage exposes an ecological crisis, awakening a federal investigator’s sense of justice in Irada. Debutant writer-director Aparnaa Singh’s movie survives early missteps to culminate in a satisfying, performance-driven second half.

The investigator, Arjun Mishra (Arshad Warsi), doesn’t appear until the movie is more than thirty minutes old, which is one of the problems with Irada‘s first half. Only after Arjun arrives does the story really take shape, as it is his emotional journey that drives the narrative.

Instead, Irada opens with Parabjeet Walia, a character played by Naseeruddin Shah, the film’s other marquee star. Retiree Parabjeet trains his daughter, Riya (Rumana Molla), for the Air Force entrance exam, coaching her through swimming sprints in the local canal. A medical emergency reveals that Riya has cancer, likely from exposure to toxic canal water polluted by the local chemical factory.

While seeing a father watch his previously healthy child succumb to cancer is obviously affecting, Singh cuts corners with character development. We endure training montages when we should be getting to know more about the father and daughter and their relationship. Only much later do we learn that Parabjeet himself was a career military man, explaining Riya’s distress at her inability to follow in his footsteps. It’s as though Singh is so familiar with her characters’ backstories that she forgot to share them with the audience.

In fact, when we see Parabjeet again a year after Riya’s death, he has become a writer and part-time investigative journalist. He’s published a book, likely of poetry given his fondness for speaking in couplets, though the contents aren’t specified. He’s also become an authority on the shady corporate dealings of Paddy Sharma (Sharad Kelkar), wealthy owner of the chemical factory.

With the blessing of corrupt politician Ramandeep Braitch (Divya Dutta, who crushes every scene she’s in), Paddy is able to conceal his company’s polluting ways. The company disposes of waste through a process known as “reverse boring,” in which pollutants are injected into the ground where they can contaminate the local water supply. I’d never heard of reverse boring before Irada, and it’s not until the very end of the film that someone mentions that the process is illegal, which explains Paddy’s willingness to protect his secrets at any cost.

Paddy’s henchman, Jeetu (Rajesh Sharma), kidnaps an activist named Anirudh (Nikhil Pandey), triggering a series of events that exemplify the director’s tendency to forget that the audience doesn’t know her characters as well as she does. A journalist named Maya (Sagarika Ghatge) throws mud at Paddy during a speech. Someone watching the speech remarks that she and Anirudh are an item. This is followed by Maya wistfully remembering the romance she shared with Anirudh, in song form. We don’t know Maya or Anirudh well enough to care about them after seeing each of them in one brief scene, so a boring love song feels like time-wasting.

Arjun the federal inspector finally joins the story after Paddy’s plant explodes, the result of tampering from within. Ramandeep the politician wants Arjun to resolve the matter quickly, promising him a promotion if he does and reassignment to the dangerous hinterlands if he doesn’t.

Arjun’s character is initially all over the place. He condescendingly dismisses Maya’s offer to help, but he grills Jeetu based on minimal evidence. Arjun’s wall is covered in maps and photos linked together by pieces of string, in front of which he paces while blindfolded. Curse the BBC’s Sherlock for influencing every screenwriter since to make their detectives “quirky.”

In one unintentionally funny scene, Arjun deciphers a coded message about the explosion. He determines that the word “players” in the cryptic couplet refers to the number of competitors per team. He muses (incorrectly): “Volleyball has five players. Basketball has six players.” Cracking the code apparently depended on the solver not knowing the rules for sports, as Arjun arrives at the right answer.

When Arjun finally meets Parabjeet just before the midpoint, the movie gets really good, and it stays that way through the end. Parabjeet’s personal trauma opens Arjun’s eyes to the extent of the environmental tragedy, forcing the ambivalent bureaucrat to decide if it’s time for him to finally take a stand. Warsi and Shah are great in their scenes together, recreating their chemistry from the Ishqiya films.

With the story rolling, Singh gets great performances from the rest of her talented cast, including Sharma as the twitchy henchman and Ghatge, who handles the movie’s most thrilling scenes. It’s worth reiterating just how fun Dutta is as the entitled politician who’s too secure in her own power. Top-notch acting makes Irada worth a watch.

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Movie Review: Azhar (2016)

Azhar_Hindi_poster1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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A film about the scandal-plagued life of a former Indian cricket captain deserves a grand scale, but Azhar feels like a made-for-TV movie.

I can’t testify to the accuracy of Azhar‘s story, as I know nothing about Mohammad Azharuddin. I never saw him play a minute of cricket, which puts me in the same boat as almost every Indian under the age of twenty.

That said, Azhar requires no foreknowledge, since all the dialogue is on the nose. Here’s how the cricket chairman drops the bombshell on Azhar (Emraan Hashmi) the night before the captain’s hundredth appearance for the national team: “Azhar, I have some bad news for you. You have been accused of match fixing.”

In case the dialogue isn’t direct enough, the actors go out of their way to make things extra clear. When Azhar decides to fight the cricket association’s lifetime ban in court, the prosecutor, Meera (Lara Dutta), tries to question M.K. Sharma (Rajesh Sharma), the bookie accused of bribery. She tells Sharma that she wants dirt on Azhar, causing Sharma to make an exaggerated gulping noise, leap out of his chair, and whip his head over each shoulder to see if anyone is behind him.

During the course of the eight-year-long court case, we get flashbacks to Azhar’s earlier life, including his relationship with his grandfather, his marriage to Naureen (Prachi Desai), and his affair with Sangeeta (Nargis Fakhri). The romantic plotlines make Azhar seem like a jerk, in which case he’d better be a helluva cricket player.

This brings me to the movie’s single biggest failing: it makes cricket look totally boring. According to Azhar, cricket is just a sequence of slow-rolling ground balls, with a few balls occasionally bopped into the stands. There’s no tension or excitement whatsoever.

Director Tony D’Souza uses so many tight shots during the cricket scenes that it’s impossible to tell what a match actually looks like. The entire frame is filled by a ball skittering past an outstretched hand or a ball plucked out of mid-air by another hand. Did the fielder have to run to catch it? How high did he jump? Where were the other fielders in relation to the play? D’Souza’s direction offers no clues.

The director applies this same framing to Azhar, so we never get a sense of how good a player he is. Hashmi spends most of his time on the field standing with his hands on his hips. Never has an actor playing a star athlete seemed so non-athletic.

Another problem with the main character is that he looks exactly the same throughout, whether Azhar is supposed to be twenty or almost fifty. It’s impossible to tell by looking at Hashmi when any given scene is taking place.

This is not one of Hashmi’s best performances, but it seems as though he’s doing what’s asked of him. D’Souza’s style doesn’t allow for subtlety. Periodic reverb on the dialogue recording further distracts from the film’s performances.

Neither Desai nor Fakhri have much to do, though Desai proves herself the better of the two at crying. Kunaal Roy Kapur is proficient in the thankless role of Azhar’s lawyer. Dutta’s no-nonsense performance is the best in the film.

There are a lot of people in the world who never witnessed Mohammad Azharuddin at his peak. We don’t know him. Azhar doesn’t give us a compelling reason to care.

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Movie Review: Tevar (2015)

Tevar_Official_Poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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Arjun Kapoor’s lead character seems more like an interruption than a necessary element of Tevar (“Attitude“).

Don’t get me wrong: as the story is constructed, the fate of Sonakshi Sinha’s character, Radhika, depends entirely upon Kapoor’s Pintu. That’s because Radhika is the most embarrassingly helpless character Sinha has played yet, which is saying something. Instead of a hapless plot device, I wish she’d been capable of saving herself — rendering Pintu altogether unnecessary.

Because Tevar is just another formulaic, hero-driven, Bollywood action flick, the movie opens with a lengthy introduction of Pintu. Surprise, surprise: he’s a slacker who just wants to hang out with his buddies, who repeatedly tell him how cool he is. As is typical in such films, his only flaw is a lack of a girlfriend. Not that he couldn’t get one if he wanted one. He just doesn’t want some chick to cut into his bro time.

Once Pintu’s intro is over, we get to the movie that I really wanted to see. Manoj Bajpayee plays Gajendar, a goon who does the dirty work for his older brother, a politician played by Rajesh Sharma. Gajendar falls madly in love with Radhika when he sees her dance in a concert.

On the advice of his sidekick, Kakdi (Subrat Dutta), Gajendar tries to impress the much younger Radhika, doffing his sweater vest in favor of jeans and a motorcycle jacket. The attempt fails. Gajendar is further humiliated by Radhika’s reporter brother, who threatens to take down both Gajendar and his brother if he contacts Radhika again.

Here’s what I wanted from Tevar: Gajendar tries to pretend he’s something he’s not in order to win Radhika. When that doesn’t work, he resorts to his old, violent ways. Radhika has to figure out how to stop Gajendar and save her family. Why shouldn’t the heroine be the one with “attitude” for a change?

What I got was Radhika waiting helplessly for someone to rescue her. Pintu just happens to get there first. Whenever Radhika takes control of her own destiny, she does something idiotic like leave her hiding place to check on the well-being of Pintu, who is essentially invincible.

That invincibility neuters all the fight sequences. Stuff breaks and people go flying, but the scenes lack gravity and danger. The epic eye roll Gajendar gives when Pintu rises from what should’ve been a mortal blow is spot on.

Pintu’s invincibility is such a powerful aphrodisiac for Radhika that’s she’s willing to abandon the complicated plan to get her to safety just to hear Pintu say, “I love you.” It’s stupid and insulting.

Sinha’s cringe-inducing performance aside, the acting in Tevar is pretty good. Kapoor is charming when the script permits him to be. Bajpayee is one of Bollywood’s go-to villains for a reason. It’s hard to take your eyes off of him.

Yet Dutta managed to steal my attention from Bajpayee on a number of occasions, not with anything flashy, but by doing little things to make Kakdi seem like a real person, not just an automaton who performs only when he’s the focus of a scene. While Gajendar is in the foreground, staring transfixed by Radhika’s dancing, Kakdi is in the background ushering people to their seats and clapping along with the music.

Dutta shows some real menace in spots, too, as when Kakdi strolls in slow motion toward Pintu, flanked by armed guards. Maybe there’s room for another go-to villain in town.

Ultimately, Tevar sublimates its unique elements in order to give us more of the same. Putting a different actor in the role of morally righteous superman doesn’t change anything.

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Movie Review: Shuddh Desi Romance (2013)

ShuddhDesiRomance3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Whether we want to admit it or not, romantic relationships are both public and private. Society demands to know how its members fit together. Shuddh Desi Romance (released internationally as “Random Desi Romance“) explores how the social nature of romantic partnerships is changing in India, as arranged marriages fall out of fashion.

This exploration takes place via a love triangle involving Raghu (Sushant Singh Rajput), Gayatri (Parineeti Chopra), and Tara (Vaani Kapoor). The story begins on the way to Raghu’s arranged marriage to Tara, an arrangement he agrees to because he figures he’ll never meet anyone else as pretty. On the overnight bus ride to the wedding, Raghu does meet another pretty woman: Gayatri, who, like Raghu, makes a living as a paid guest hired to fill out anemic wedding parties.

On the bus, Raghu realizes that he’s made a mistake in agreeing to marry the first pretty woman he meets. Failing to learn his lesson, he immediately falls in love with Gayatri. Raghu flees in the middle of the wedding ceremony under the pretext of going to the bathroom (setting up a running gag throughout the rest of the film).

Poor Raghu is semi-permanently flummoxed. He follows his heart blindly, only to emerge from his romantic haze to find that something has gone wrong, and he has no idea why. During his more lucid moments, Raghu is earnest and charming, which is the only reason self-assured women like Gayatri and Tara have anything to do with him.

What Gayatri and Tara understand is that one’s actions in romance have both private and public meaning. The consequences of running out on your own wedding are obvious to everyone, but even sharing dinner in a restaurant is a public display of togetherness, even if only for the duration of the meal. Nosy parents, friends, neighbors, and relatives all over the world ask the same questions of every young couple: “Is this relationship serious? When are you getting married? When are you having kids?”

Writer Jaideep Sahni uses a clever trick to allow his young adult characters to explore the meaning of love for themselves: he writes their parents out of the narrative. The only interfering elders are Tara’s overprotective uncle (played by Rajesh Sharma) and the caterer who employs Gayatri and Raghu as wedding extras (played by Rishi Kapoor in a very funny supporting role).

The lead actors are outstanding, particularly Rajput, who anchors the story. He manages to make Raghu confused, but not a total dimwit. He’s just way out of his depth with the two women in his life.

Parineeti Chopra is something special. Like her character in Ishaqzaade, she again plays an independent woman who falls for a man against her better judgement. As cautious as Gayatri is, she’s just as susceptible to getting lost in the moment as Raghu.

Vaani Kapoor is terrific in her film debut. Her finest moment is during her jilting at the altar. When it becomes apparent that Raghu has fled, Tara — clad in her wedding finery — calmly sits in the chair and asks someone to bring her a Coke. It’s such a boss move.

In trying to depict a realistic modern romance, director Maneesh Sharma eschews the use of a lot of background music, favoring street noise instead. He also allows conversations and scenes to play out at a slow pace. At times, it feels the audience is given too much time to think about what’s happening, an irony given Raghu’s penchant for acting without thinking. Fortunately, a moderately short runtime keeps the film from feeling too bogged down in exposition.

Shuddh Desi Romance is smart, funny, and full of great performances. It’s worth seeing ASAP.

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Movie Review: Ghanchakkar (2013)

Ghanchakkar-poster3 Stars (out of 4)

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Would the presence of gun-toting goons really make it easier to remember a critical piece of information? Probably not, yet that’s the situation in which Emraan Hashmi’s character finds himself in Ghanchakkar.

Hashmi plays Sanju, a safe-cracker happily retired from his life of crime. An associate passes his name along to a pair of crooks — Pandit (Rajesh Sharma) and Idris (Namit Das) — who offer to make Sanju rich with “one last job.” Sanju’s tacky, fashion-victim wife, Neetu (Vidya Balan), encourages him to take the job so that they can buy a nice apartment and a big-screen TV. The TV sells Sanju on the idea.

The bank robbery scene is hilarious thanks to some masterful camerawork that makes the most of the celebrity masks the crooks are wearing. Following the heist, the Pandit tells Sanju to stash the money until the police give up on their investigation.

When Pandit and Idris come to collect their share of the loot three months later, Sanju claims that he doesn’t recognize them and that he doesn’t remember hiding any money. Both Neetu and Sanju’s doctor confirm that he had an accident that caused “anteretrograde amnesia.” Sanju can remember things from before the heist, but he has trouble recalling anything since then.

Since Sanju’s accident isn’t shown on screen, the audience is put in the same position as Pandit and Idris: we have to take Sanju’s word that it actually happened. Hot-tempered Idris would just as soon kill Sanju, but Pandit has the two of them move in with the couple so that they can keep and eye on Sanju and help him remember where he hid their money.

The performances by the main cast members are terrific. Even though there’s a chance that Sanju could be faking his amnesia — duping the audience as well as Pandit and Idris — Hashmi makes Sanju so sympathetic that we want to believe him. As the pressure mounts and the film’s tone changes from comical to serious, Sanju’s manners and appearance grow wilder. His grim, wordless performance during a song montage just before the climax is captivating.

Balan gets to have fun as Neetu. The character’s gaudy, trendy outfits are hysterical, as are her mood swings. She’s so self-interested that it’s distinctly possible she’s taking advantage of Sanju’s memory loss. And the movie’s best fight scene is when Neetu attacks her unwanted houseguests with a broom.

Sharma and Das are great as Pandit and Idris, respectively. They’re not menacing enough to seem like real threats to the married couple, though there’s always the chance Idris could act impulsively without Pandit’s calming influence.

What keeps Ghanchakkar from achieving greatness is an ending that feels too convenient. There’s no sense of inevitability, a feeling of the pieces falling into place. The movie highlights many circumstances that could be either coincidences or evidence of a conspiracy, but it never really resolves which is which.

Further, the movie plays loose with Sanju’s amnesia. While it’s clear that he remembers who he is (unlike with retrograde amnesia), the doctor says that Sanju’s memory could disappear completely at any time, without provocation. Since he’s been fine in the three months since his accident, that seems unrealistic.

There are also a number of scenes in which Sanju takes pills for his memory loss. What are they supposed to do? Cure it? Stabilize the memories he has? If his entire memory could fail him at any time, why bother with the pills? By giving Sanju’s memory loss such wide parameters, it seems less like a legitimate problem and more like a convenient plot device.

Quibbles aside, Ghanchakkar is funny and smart and features some top-notch acting. It’s worth checking out if you’re in the mood for something a little quirky.

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Movie Review: Special 26 (2013)

Special_Chabbis_movie_poster3 Stars (out of 4)

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If the movies have taught us anything about being a professional thief, it’s to never openly declare that you’re going to retire after “one last job.” This final job is always more risky and complicated than any previous job, and your odds of getting caught are much higher than normal. Better to take your present pilfered earnings, move to Aruba, and spend the rest of your life on the beach.

Of course, the main characters of Special 26 (also written as Special Chabbis) fail to heed the lesson of countless movie thieves before them and find themselves on the verge of retirement with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) breathing down their necks. They may be foolish, but their exploits make for an entertaining film.

Ajay (Akshay Kumar) leads a group of three other robbers — Sharma (Anupam Kher), Joginder (Rajesh Sharma), and Iqbal (Kishor Kadam) — who pose as government officials to raid the homes of corrupt politicians and businessmen. Their victims are more worried about bad publicity should news of their corruption be made public, so they never report the theft of their ill-gotten gains to the police.

Early in the film, a raid on a minister’s house is inadvertently aided by the local police, fooled into thinking that Ajay and his crew are CBI investigators. Two of the police officers — Ranveer (Jimmy Shergill) and Shanti (Divya Dutta) — are fired for their part in the debacle. In order to clear his name, Ranveer gathers evidence on Ajay’s crew and turns it into the real CBI, where he works with CBI officer Waseem (Manoj Bajpai) to foil Ajay’s “one last job.”

The story, set in 1987, is based on a real-life heist. The film has cool period flavor in everything from the costumes to the musical score. Even the movie’s lone chase scene eschews modern CGI in favor of a low-tech footrace, which is plenty exciting without special effects. The film’s runtime could’ve been shortened a bit, but it’s never boring.

What really makes the movie is uniformly great acting by the whole cast. It’s nice to see Kumar drop the wacky comedy-action routine in favor of a more muted performance. Ajay doesn’t have the depth of some of the other characters, but Kumar plays him as a confident leader.

While one just expects greatness from Anupam Kher, it is still fun to watch him work. He’s terrific as Sharma, the nervous Nellie of the bunch. He projects confidence while posing as an investigator, but shrinks with worry when he’s alone with Ajay. Even the hair at his temples gets in on the act: slick and orderly while on the job, messy and pointing in all directions when he’s at home.

Rajesh Sharma and Kishor Kadam are solid as the other members of the crew, but I wish their characters would’ve been fleshed out. Same for the two female characters in the film, Shanti, and Ajay’s love interest, Priya (Kajal Agarwal). Jimmy Shergill has the most substantial supporting role as Ranveer, and he’s tremendous.

The best performance of the lot is by Manoj Bajpai. As with Kher, this isn’t a surprise, but Bajpai is more interesting to watch than just about any other actor. I would happily watch a film that was nothing but three hours of Manoj Bajpai walking toward the camera with an intense look on his face. There’s a lot of that in Special 26, so I was in heaven.

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Movie Review: Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana (2012)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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A recipe is more than just a set of suggestions on how to cook a dish. It’s a series of rules that establish the very nature of the dish itself. Put your eggs on the griddle before you stir in the milk and flour, and you wind up with scrambled eggs, not pancakes.

Like a recipe, a movie has certain rules that need to be followed in a specific order. Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana (LSTCK, henceforth) doesn’t follow the rules, and, as a consequence, fails to create a satisfying end product.

Kunal Kapoor stars as Omi Khurana, a young man who fled his hometown in Punjab to make it big in London. After ten fruitless years, Omi owes a lot of money to a loan shark. Omi promises to get the loan shark’s money from his grandfather, the owner a popular restaurant in his hometown. Omi vows to return to London with the money and fulfill his dream, though the film doesn’t specify what that dream is.

Omi returns to find that much has changed in the decade since he left. His grandfather — creator of the restaurant’s namesake dish, Chicken Khurana, and the only one who knows the dish’s secret ingredient — has dementia. Without Grandpa in the kitchen, the restaurant failed. Omi’s only hope of getting the money to pay his debt is if he can recreate his grandfather’s famous dish and sell the recipe to the owner of a rival restaurant.

Further complicating Omi’s life is that the childhood sweetheart he left behind, Harman (Huma Qureshi), is now engaged to Omi’s cousin, Jeet (Rahul Bagga), though neither seems happy about it.

The performances in LSTCK are strong overall. The characters are portrayed realistically and not as outrageous caricatures, even when they are supposed to be sort of goofy, like Omi’s crazy Uncle Titu (Rajesh Sharma). The Khurana family is a sympathetic bunch, particularly Jeet, who’s clearly troubled by something.

LSTCK also has great music that’s used expertly. It enhances the experience, augmenting the emotions on display. I wish the lyrics were subtitled, but I understood the songs’ messages even without knowing the words.

A failure to place plot points in proper narrative order undercuts the good aspects of LSTCK. For example, before the halfway point in the movie, the secret ingredient to Chicken Khurana is revealed to the audience in flashback. Omi, who isn’t privy to the information, spends most of the second half of the film failing in his attempts to recreate the dish. It’s frustrating and tedious to watch, since it’s no longer a mystery to the audience.

The other big narrative problem is that the inevitable happy ending actually precedes the climactic showdown with the villain. And when the loan shark finally does show up, Omi doesn’t even resolve the problem himself. It’s not enough that Omi gets his happy ending. He should have to earn it.

Links

  • Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana at Wikipedia
  • Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana at IMDb