Tag Archives: Rajit Kapur

Movie Review: Raazi (2018)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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A young Indian spy marries into a Pakistani military family in the gripping period thriller Raazi, the latest in a string of hit performances by leading lady Alia Bhatt.

Bhatt plays Sehmat, a Delhi college student in 1971 summoned home at the behest of her father, Hidayat (Rajit Kapur), to receive two shocking pieces of news. First, Hidayat reveals that he has just months to live. Second, as a spy himself, Hidayat has spent years cultivating a friendship with Pakistani Brigadier Syed (Shishir Sharma), who hinted that the military is planning an attack against India. In order to uncover the plot, Hidayat fixed Sehmat’s marriage to Syed’s son, Iqbal (Vicky Kaushal), so that she may act as a spy in her father’s stead.

The movie’s very title (“Raazi” translates to “Agree”) informs us that this isn’t an order but a plan that requires Sehmat’s consent. Hidayat’s fatherly instincts kick in, and he encourages her to go back to college just hours after his revelation. There’s also a sense from Hidayat and other characters of his generation that young people deserve to make their own choices — in contrast to their own youth when the buildup and aftermath of Partition forced them to act out of necessity.

Sehmat agrees to the marriage plan, assuring her father that she’s acting out of an inherited sense of patriotism, not obedience. She undertakes a month of training under Khalid Mir (Jaideep Ahlawat), who also wants to be sure that she’s doing this of her own volition. He’s hard on Sehmat because — even though there’s a plan in place to rescue her in case of trouble — she’ll be largely on her own, responsible for finding intel and relaying it to Mir in secret via a convoluted spy network.

It’s worth noting in relation to Mir that the film’s story — at least initially — is kind of confusing, at least for those whose history education focused on countries other than India or Pakistan. A lot of characters with secret allegiances are introduced right away, and there are mentions of separatist groups — which Mir may have been a part of, I’m not sure — that most of the audience will get, but that flew past white, American me.

After the initial information overload, the story itself and the relationships between characters simplify. Most of the action takes place at the spy training ground or in and around Sehmat’s in-laws’ house, and details of the brewing military conflict are less important than what’s happening to Sehmat. The 2017 multilingual film The Ghazi Attack deals with events in the same time period, and watching it beforehand gave me enough background information for me to walk out of Raazi feeling like I understood what happened.

Raazi is ultimately about its characters more than the military conflict. Sehmat not only faces challenges as a rookie spy but as a new bride as well, forced to integrate into a new family. Pure luck finds her married to a good man who is as surprised by their abrupt betrothal as she is. Iqbal’s compassion allows their relationship to develop naturally, and their romance adds a layer of complexity that Sehmat did not anticipate.

Every actor in this movie is terrific — from key players like Sharma as Sehmat’s kind father-in-law to the guy working at the flower stall and the sympathetic military wives — enabling Raazi to cast a spell that never breaks. Kapur and Kaushal are stellar, whether they are in the background of a scene or if they’re sobbing with the young woman they both love.

Alia Bhatt’s star power is beyond question. She effortlessly portrays Sehmat’s youthful inexperience and her fierce determination, provoking the same protective instincts from the audience that Sehmat inspires in her mentors in espionage. This is a wonderful performance by Bhatt in a thoroughly engrossing film.

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Movie Review: For Here or to Go? (2015)

3 Stars (out of 4)

For Here or to Go? opens in these theaters Friday, March 31, 2017.

Even though For Here or to Go? made its festival debut in 2015, its 2017 theatrical release could not be more timely. The film examines America’s complicated immigration system not from a policy level, but from a personal one.

Ali Fazal — known to Bollywood fans from movies like Fukrey and Bobby Jasoos and to Hollywood fans from his role in Furious 7 — plays Vivek, a programmer on an H-1B visa working for a big corporation in Silicon Valley. He’d love a job at a startup, where he’d have a better opportunity to put his ideas to work, but his visa status effectively prevents it. Most small startups lack the resources to sponsor visa employees, and he has less than a year left on his visa anyway.

This puts Vivek and countless other foreign employees in a kind of holding pattern, stuck in jobs they don’t want and unable to get new ones. With low odds for getting a green card that would enable him to live and work in the United States permanently — it takes ten months just to get in the line to wait for a green card! — Vivek and his roommates haven’t even bothered to buy furniture. What’s the point, when they’ll have to leave it behind when their visas run out and they’re forced to return to India?

This limbo state is bad for Vivek’s social life as well. It’s impossible to find a lasting relationship when he doesn’t know where he’ll be next year, or even sooner than that if his company should unexpectedly fold, which would give him just days to leave the country.

Vivek’s romantic problems are strictly theoretical until he meets Shveta (Melanie Chandra, nee Kannokada, the pride of Park Ridge, Illinois) at a yoga class. She’s the first American-born Desi woman to give him the time of day. They have fun together, taking center stage during a Bollywood-style flash mob.

While Shveta is an all-American girl, her rich dad, Vishwanath (Rajit Kapur), is trying to convince Desi tech workers to return to India as a sort of penance for his role in the “brain drain” phenomenon, which was the subject of Swades back in 2004. One of the most disheartening aspects of For Here or to Go? is the sense that problems like “brain drain” and the unwelcome feeling experienced by many immigrants have been around for a long time and have only gotten worse since the film was completed, even before the ascent of the Trump administration. Under Vishwanath’s tutelage, Vivek starts to wonder if maybe India is the best place for him after all.

The story is rounded out by Vivek’s roommates, Lakshmi (Omi Vaidya) and Amit (Amitosh Nagpal). Lakshmi is determined to become an American citizen, believing that the US offers him a better chance at happiness as a gay man than India does. Amit has his own visa issues, and his glibness regarding immigration laws worries Vivek.

The pacing of For Here or to Go? — directed by Rucha Humnabadkar and written by Rishi Bhilawadikar — is slow in spots. There are also some logical problems, such as why Vivek never learns that his mentor, Vishwanath, is Shveta’s father.

The film also loses focus as the plot progresses. Instead of sticking with Vivek’s story, For Here or to Go? tries to cover the whole Indian immigrant experience in America. The issue of racist violence against Sikhs and how that impacts their desire to live in the US — a rich enough topic for an entire film of its own — gets wedged into a scene that’s only a few minutes long and has no bearing on the central plot.

Thankfully, some nice performances make up for screenplay scope creep. Fazal is always reliable, whether he’s acting in English or Hindi films, and he’s quite sexy in the movie’s sole romantic scene. Chandra is totally adorable. Vaidya and Nagpal are both charming as well.

For Here or to Go?‘s best selling point is that it’s a really good tutorial on the US immigration system. That’s equal parts praise for a film that makes a dull-seeming topic interesting, and condemnation for a system that’s so complicated it needs a fictional medium to make it comprehensible to the general public.

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Movie Review: Baar Baar Dekho (2016)

baarbaardekho2 Stars (out of 4)

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Baar Baar Dekho (“Look Again and Again“) is a romance that feels more like a horror movie.

It’s impossible to write about Baar Baar Dekho without talking about the plot device that moves the story from its first act into its second. Describing that plot device kinda, sorta constitutes a spoiler, so read on with caution.

Diya Kapoor (Katrina Kaif) and Jai Verma (Sidharth Malhotra) have been inseparable since childhood and dating since they were old enough to do so. As young adults, they are ready to take the next step and get married. At least Diya is. Jai agrees to her marriage proposal out of inevitability.

For some reason, Jai is surprised by the lavishness of the festivities thrown by Diya’s dad (Ram Kapoor), as if he hasn’t known the Kapoors his whole life. In the middle of the hoopla, Jai is offered a professorship in Mathematics at a university in England. This is a big deal because Jai freaking loves math.

Jai does the stupid thing only a movie character would do and doesn’t tell Diya about the job offer. He waits to do so until they are in the middle of a fight. Kaif’s delivery is terrific as Diya tearfully says, “Jai, if I leave now, I’m not coming back.”

Earlier in the day, Jai argued with the priest (Rajit Kapur) during wedding preparations. When Jai downs a whole bottle of Champagne and passes out, it triggers the priest’s Ghost of Christmas Future-like curse. Jai wakes up in Thailand on his honeymoon, with no memory of the previous ten days.

This is terrifying. Jai runs about the hotel, frantic to find anyone who can explain how he got there. It’s a stomach-churning sequence amplified by the fact that there are tons of people around, yet no one speaks Hindi.

When he eventually finds Diya, she dismisses his panic because, dang it, they’ve got a tour scheduled. Spineless Jai gives in and goes on the tour.

This happens over and over again in the same manner: Jai wakes up in a different time period; he freaks out; Diya dismisses his concerns and calls him an idiot; Jai just goes along with whatever until he falls asleep and shifts through time again.

It’s frustrating enough that Jai won’t just sit Diya down and say, “Damnit, I’m caught in a temporal anomaly. Help me!” It’s worse that — in every time period — she belittles him. The story is about why they are supposed to be together, but why should they be? Who’d want to be with a partner who responds to your fear with insults?

Also, one of the recurring problems in their relationship is that Jai often prioritizes math over Diya. Isn’t it her fault for not anticipating this? Everyone knows Jai freaking loves math.

Of course, Jai’s not great, either. Whenever Jai tells Diya that he loves her, she asks him why. He never mentions anything about her personality or characteristics, responding instead with job descriptions: “Because you’re my wife.” Even when he finally figures out the “right” answer to the question, it still amounts to, “Because I always have.” So, momentum.

The film’s problems lie in the weak relationship between the main characters, but credit to writer-director Nitya Mehra for cleverly introducing a very science-fiction premise into a mainstream Hindi film. The technological advancements of the future depicted are low-key enough not to scare off sci-fi-haters (though I have my doubts that Twitter will still be around in 2034).

Mehra uses some neat framing tricks to emphasize Jai’s emotions. As the gravity of his impending marriage sinks in during the wedding prep with the priest, the camera cuts between Jai, the priest, Diya, and other people at the gathering. Every time the camera cuts back to the priest — who is explaining the symbolism of the ceremony — the priest’s face appears larger within the frame until he’s nothing but a talking mouth, overwhelming everything else in Jai’s world.

Mehra’s almost too good at this, in fact. The moments after Jai wakes up in each time period are scary. Things are noisy and hectic and full of people he doesn’t know. It’s hard for the audience to shut off the anxiety generated by such scenes as quickly as the story demands. Everything is chaos and fear one second, then we’re suddenly supposed to laugh as Jai ruins breakfast and Diya calls him “useless” for the umpteenth time.

On the upside, Malhotra and Kaif are exceptionally good-looking, and there are worse ways to spend two hours than by starring at them. Kaif’s a wonderful dancer, and her outfit in “Nachde Ne Saare” is stunning.

Still, I’m not sure that’s enough to recommend Baar Baar Dekho. This feels like another case where the audience is supposed to root for the main characters to wind up together just because they’re the main characters, and not because they’re a good match.

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