Tag Archives: Rajiv Gupta

Movie Review: Khandaani Shafakhana (2019)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Khandaani Shafakhana is like a half-finished topiary. The general shape is there, but it needs a lot more trimming.

Sonakshi Sinha stars as pharmaceutical sales representative Baby Bedi. Her job supports her mother (Nadira Babbar) and her loafer younger brother — the unfortunately named Bhooshit (Varun Sharma) — following her father’s death. Dad took out a loan from his greedy brother (Rajiv Gupta), and now Uncle wants to take possession of the family’s home and kick them out.

An opportunity arises in the wake of another death, that of Baby’s estranged maternal uncle Mamaji (Kulbushan Kharbanda). Mamaji was notorious for running a fertility clinic in a town where just saying the word “sex” is considered obscene. He bequeathed his clinic to Baby, on the condition that she hire a doctor and operate the clinic for six months in order to conclude his patients’ treatments. After that, she’s free sell the property, paying off her father’s debt and leaving her with enough money to start her own herbal medicine franchise. If she fails, the clinic goes to the medical school that kicked out her uncle decades earlier.

Returning to Mamaji’s clinic — inexplicably covered in cobwebs even though he’s only been dead a few days — brings back childhood memories of learning about traditional Unani medicine at her uncle’s knee. Her first meetings with patients to talk about their erectile dysfunction issues are profoundly awkward, but Baby realizes the positive impact of her uncle’s treatment on their lives. This reawakens her own dormant dreams of becoming a doctor and inspires her to destigmatize the topic of sexual health in her prudish Punjabi town.

Sinha’s warmth in the film’s thoughtful moments feels so natural, and her character builds endearing relationships. Sinha deftly guides Baby through a complicated journey as she considers what she really wants from life. Comedy might not be Sinha’s strongest suit, but the jokes in Khandaani Shafakhana are pretty subdued anyway. Nor are they especially bawdy.

The moderate tone does a world of good for Sharma, whose comic performances tend to be over-the-top. Annu Kapoor is funny as Mamaji’s lawyer, and Priyanshu Jora is adorable as a lemonade vendor hired by the lawyer to spy on Baby to ensure she fulfills her part of the deal.

Khandaani Shafakhana looks fantastic. Director Shilpi Dasgupta and cinematographer Rishi Punjabi tell their story through carefully framed shots, the best of which make a pensive Sinha look positively ethereal.

But Khandaani Shafakhana falls short of success for a few reasons. It’s overly long, first of all. By the time Baby hits her lowest point, I was ready for the whole thing to be done. The resolution to Baby’s crisis feels convenient and unrealistic.

Some aspects of the movie felt like they didn’t quite translate, not so much as a matter of language but culture. (The English subtitles are actually quite good, including a funny joke about one of Baby’s suitors being handsome “like Al Pacino.”) The film’s primary audience in India will likely be more familiar with the particulars of Mamaji’s Unani medicine than a Western audience, so much about it is left unexplained. But the characters periodically give each other meaningful looks, and I wasn’t sure what the meaning was supposed to be. This is not a good starter film for Bollywood newcomers.

Then there’s Khandaani Shafakhana‘s biggest problem — one that can hopefully be edited out of the version that makes it to Amazon Prime. Bhooshit is discussing one of Baby’s patients with her: a famous rapper named Gabru Ghataak (Badshah). Bhooshit speculates that, because Gabru is always surrounded by beautiful women, the reason for the rapper’s erectile dysfunction must be that he’s a “homo.” Bhooshit says the slur in English, so it’s not a translation error. He also repeats it several times, indicating that director Dasgupta and writer Gautam Mehra intended the scene to be humorous. It’s an unfortunate scene that can easily be excised from the movie without ruining the story flow. In fact, in a movie that’s already too long, axing it could help in more ways than one.

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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: Jolly LLB 2 (2017)

jollyllb22.5 Stars (out of 4)

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In spite of a compelling performance by Akshay Kumar as Jolly LLB 2‘s flawed hero, narrative inconsistencies keep the well-intentioned black comedy from achieving its full potential.

Kumar plays Jolly Mishra — a different character from Arshad Warsi’s title character in the original Jolly LLB — an ambitious lawyer who yearns to be more than an errand boy for the more established attorney, Rizvi. In order to raise money to establish his own practice, Jolly assures a pregnant young widow, Hina (Sayani Gupta), that Rizvi will take on her case, collecting the fees from her up front and keeping them for himself.

Hina’s case is politically dangerous. She believes that her husband, Iqbal (Manav Kaul), was falsely arrested on terrorism charges and murdered by police, all for the sake of securing a promotion for notorious Officer Suryaveer Singh (Kumud Mishra). With crooked, wealthy Lucknow attorney Sachin Mathur (Annu Kapoor) defending Singh, every other lawyer knows that Hina’s case is a lost cause.

When Hina learns from Rizvi that he never agreed to take her case, she realizes that Jolly duped her, declaring as much in front of Jolly, his wife Pushpa (Huma Qureshi), and his father, who spent decades working as Rizvi’s legal secretary. Devoid of hope, Hina kills herself. Rizvi fires Jolly, and Jolly’s father tells his son he never wants to see him again.

Jolly is a complicated character. He’s a doting husband to drunken Pushpa and a loving father to their son, but he doesn’t work for any ideals higher than his own ambition. It’s impossible to pay penance for driving Hina to suicide, but Jolly takes on her case in the hopes of righting some of the wrongs he did by her and her family. Kumar’s grounded performance makes us believe that Jolly can become a better man by the end of the movie than he is at the beginning.

The case pits Jolly — who has the truth on his side — against the nakedly corrupt Mathur, who is sleazy in typical sleazy movie lawyer fashion. The presiding Judge Tripathy (Saurabh Shukla) isn’t explicitly corrupt, just distracted by his daughter’s upcoming nuptials.

Tripathy is the weak link in Jolly LLB 2. It’s hard to figure out how exactly he fits into the story. He’s not funny enough to provide true comic relief, but he’s clearly too light for a somewhat grim case involving suicide and extrajudicial police killings. He’s prone to drawing out conversations, leading to dull patches. Unlike the other characters, his balance is off.

The judge is also tasked by the script with driving the tension in the courtroom, but he’s not consistent in the way in which he does so. Tripathy believes or discounts witnesses’ testimony depending on the needs of the story at that moment, not because of any internal logic. Some of his other decisions are so blatantly provocative that it dispels the illusion of organic story flow. We can all but see writer-director Subhash Kapoor pulling the strings.

In Jolly LLB 2‘s favor, Kumar and Qureshi look great together and share a comfortable rapport. Rajiv Gupta is the film’s unsung hero as Jolly’s harried assistant, Birbal. Shukla’s dance sequence as Tripathy rehearses for his daughter’s wedding is pretty funny.

Jolly LLB 2‘s sentiment is admirable, especially at a time when citizens in India and around the world are desperate for reassurance that their justice systems aren’t fundamentally irreparable. The story just needed more refining to maintain a consistent tone throughout.

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