Tag Archives: Rajkummar Rao

Opening September 29: Judwaa 2

One new Hindi film releases in the Chicago area on September 29, 2017. Judwaa 2 — starring Varun Dhawan, Taapsee Pannu, and Jacqueline Fernandez — is a reboot of director David Dhawan’s 1997 flick Judwaa.

Judwaa 2 opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Dine-In Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

Bhoomi gets a second weekend at MovieMax and South Barrington 24. Simran carries over at the South Barrington 24 and Cantera 17.

Bollywood fans may want to check out Ali Fazal opposite Judy Dench in the British historical drama Victoria & Abdul, opening Friday at the River East 21, Century Centre Cinema in Chicago, Century 12 Evanston in Evanston, and Regal Lincolnshire Stadium 15 in Lincolnshire. Victoria & Abdul expands into more local theaters next weekend.

The annual Chicago South Asian Film Festival gets started tonight and runs through the weekend. Actor Rajkummar Rao will be in attendance for showings of his films Trapped and Newton (India’s official submission to the 2018 Oscars). Check out the fest’s ticket page for info on passes and other celebrity Q&A’s.

Other Indian and Pakistani movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend:

Advertisements

Movie Review: Trapped (2017)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Trapped infuses social commentary into a gripping survival drama about a man locked inside a high-rise apartment. Actor Rajkummar Rao is an ideal leading man for this film.

Rao plays Shaurya, a shy office worker. The film opens with shots of Shaurya at his desk as audio plays of his initial awkward phone calls to his pretty coworker, Noorie (Geetanjali Thapa). She finally agrees to dinner with Shaurya, only to tell him that she’s getting married in two months. Still, they date and fall in love to the song “Hai Tu” as the opening credits roll, an effective way to quickly encourage our fondness for the couple.

Noorie tries to break up with Shaurya, despite her feelings for him. Even if they eloped, they can’t live in Shaurya’s one-bedroom bachelor pad with his five roommates. Shaurya promises to find them an apartment before she has to leave for her wedding in two days’ time, an outrageous proposition on his limited budget.

Shaurya meets a broker (played by Yogendra Vikram Singh) who makes him an offer that is clearly too good to be true — a spacious apartment in a brand new high-rise for exactly the amount Shaurya says he can afford, and he can move in immediately. In his haste, Shaurya ignores obvious red flags, such as the fact that literally no one else lives in the 35-story building.

After a night in the apartment, Shaurya wakes to find his phone battery drained thanks to the building’s spotty electrical service. He gets just enough of a charge to receive a frantic call from Noorie, about to depart for her wedding. Shaurya leaves, ducks back in the apartment to grab his phone, only to have the wind slam the door shut, his keys dangling from the lock outside and trapping him within.

Thus begins Shaurya’s nightmare, his panic over being unable to reach Noorie giving way to the greater horror that he’s stuck, and no one knows where he is. He left his bachelor pad with the announcement that he was going to his parents’ place, not that his stoned roommates even noticed what with their favorite nature show host Hawk McNab (Patrick Graham) on the tube.

Hawk appears to Shaurya in a hallucination at one point, and the visit by the hyper-competent outdoorsman emphasizes how utterly ordinary Shaurya is in comparison. Unlike other survivor film protagonists, he has no special skills. Mark Watney may be millions of miles away in The Martian, but he’s still an astronaut. Nancy can treat her shark bite in The Shallows because she’s a med student. Shaurya is just a guy with one packet of cookies and an extra pair of underwear.

This allows the audience to more fully step into Shaurya’s shoes. His desperate escape attempts are almost frustrating for their lack of cleverness, but only because we’ve been trained to expect survival movie heroes who are smarter than we are. The fact that Shaurya lasts long enough to provide material for a feature-length film is testimony to will to live, which may be the most important survival skill after all.

Rao is perfect as an everyday man put in an impossible situation. His performance is balanced, with just a few fits of hysteria to punctuate the otherwise numbing boredom of the situation. Rao’s best moments are when yet another of Shaurya’s plans fails, and he simply sits there with tears welling in his eyes but never falling. He’s too defeated to even cry.

Trapped provides a fitting metaphor for a number of modern conditions: capitalism; the imbalance of the renter-landlord relationship; middle class aspirations; arranged marriage. Shaurya winds up stuck in a life-or-death situation, and for what? Eloping with Noorie would raise a whole host of new problems. Their happy-ever-after would still see them stuck in an endless capitalist loop, with Shaurya struggling to provide for Noorie on the insufficient income from his boring office job just so that their kids could grow up to do the same thing. Is that enough? Maybe we’re all trapped.

Links

Chicago South Asian Film Festival 2017 Highlights

The 2017 Chicago South Asian Film Festival recently announced its lineup. This year’s event — which runs from September 28 through October 1 — includes a number of intriguing celebrity appearances. Here are some of the notable screenings and question and answer sessions:

  • September 28, 7 p.m.: Signature Move (Q & A with Shabana Azmi)
  • September 29, 8:30 p.m.: Newton (Q & A with Rajkummar Rao)
  • September 30, 2 p.m.: Sonata (Q & A with Shabana Azmi)
  • September 30, 7 p.m.: You Are My Sunday (Q & A with Shahana Goswami)
  • October 1, 5:30 p.m.: Trapped (Q & A with Rajkummar Rao)
  • October 1, 8:15 p.m: Gurgaon (Q & A with Akshay Oberoi)

Festival passes are already on sale. Tickets for individual screenings go on sale September 4.

Movie Review: Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the book by Nicholas Barreau at Amazon

Based on the book The Ingredients of Love by Nicholas Barreau — which itself draws inspiration from Cyrano de BergeracBareilly Ki Barfi (“The Sweet from Bareilly“) feels familiar but fresh. Delightful characters, wonderful performances, and a touching and funny love story make Bareilly Ki Barfi an example of the romantic comedy genre at its best.

Bitti (Kriti Sanon) is the black sheep of Bareilly, a tomboy with a fondness for booze and breakdancing. Her mother Sushila (Seema Bhargava Pahwa) frets that Bitti’s unladylike tendencies are driving away potential suitors. Her supportive father Narottam (Pankaj Tripathy) is happy to have a daughter off whom he can bum smokes.

Father and daughter are aware of the societal norms that Bitti is up against. “Being a girl is a complete disaster,” Bitti says. Narottam doesn’t have any wisdom for her, but he stays by her side as they stand on their balcony looking glum.

Bitti runs away from home, but a book she buys on the train platform entitled “Bareilly Ki Barfi” prompts her to return. The protagonist of the book, Babli, is the spitting image of Bitti. Assuming the book to be the work of a secret admirer, Bitti asks the bookseller, Munna (Rohit Choudhary), for help finding the author, a man named Pritam Vidrohi. Munna instead sends her to his best friend, Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurrana).

Five years earlier, Chirag wrote “Bareilly Ki Barfi” about his ex-girlfriend, Babli. In order to protect his identity, Chirag bullies timid Pritam (Rajkummar Rao) into claiming authorship. Chirag hopes that Bitti can replace Babli, but he doesn’t own up to being the book’s true author, vetting Bitti first. He instead acts as go-between for Bitti and “Pritam,” writing letters on his behalf, spending time with Bitti, and gradually falling in love.

Unable to put off Bitti’s requests to meet Pritam in person, Chirag and Munna track Pritam to Lucknow, where he fled to avoid the mobs of zealous book readers that never materialized (Bitti is the first person to ever buy the book). Pritam is as meek as ever, and it’s easy for Chirag and Munna to pressure him into returning to Bareilly. They force Pritam to adopt a brash, chauvinistic avatar designed to repulse Bitti, thus clearing the way for Chirag. Of course, things don’t work out the way Chirag plans.

One of the themes of Bareilly Ki Barfi is that we are who we are. Bitti won’t change herself to suit the demands of a conservative potential groom. Pritam’s tough-guy act has the unexpected effect of imbuing his natural helpfulness with a cool air, instead of his usual subservient aura. By refusing to acknowledge his true identity, Chirag deprives himself and Bitti of the love they both want.

Munna says something interesting to Chirag as his buddy’s manipulation of Pritam intensifies: “You’re not the villain.” It’s meant to absolve Chirag of wrongdoing, but it highlights the way Chirag’s deceit is changing him for the worse. The longer he continues the charade, the further he strays from the man he and Bitti want him to be.

While the plot of Bareilly Ki Barfi echoes stories that have come before, the setting and characters provide a refreshing update. Bitti and her family are so likeable, and Pritam’s Amitabh Bachchan-inspired boss act is a hoot.

There’s also a lot to like about the story’s construction. Barielly Ki Barfi is directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari (who debuted with 2016’s impressive Nil Battey Sannata) and written by her husband, filmmaker Nitesh Tiwari. An economy of characters ensures that everyone matters, even minor players like Pritam’s mom and Bitti’s best friend, Rama (Swati Semwal). A runtime of around two hours keeps the action moving, allowing the Tiwaris to wrap the movie up before it becomes tiresome.

Best of all is the cast. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Khurrana and Rao as Chirag and Pritam. Khurrana is a master of facial expressions, from his brilliant smiles for Bitti to his stony glares for Munna. Rao has the challenging job of essentially playing two parts and switching between them often, and he does so with ease. The whole supporting cast is terrific as well.

This is the Kriti Sanon performance I’ve been waiting for. She’s been little more than a helpless damsel in distress in her first two Hindi films, and it’s gratifying to see that she’s capable of so much more. Hopefully filmmakers follow Tiwari’s lead and look beyond Sanon’s beauty,  capitalizing on her humor and ease in front of the camera.

Links

Movie Review: Aligarh (2016)

Aligarh4 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

Aligarh was featured at the 2016 Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.

Director Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh can be summarized as a film about a professor who loses his job for being gay, but the story is less about the issue and more about the man who reluctantly becomes the face of a civil rights movement.

64-year-old Professor Siras (Manoj Bajpayee) arrives at his apartment on the campus of Aligarh University on a foggy night in 2010. The young man driving the rickshaw brings the professor’s bags upstairs for him but doesn’t come down. The camera lingers voyeuristically outside the building. Moments later, two men — one holding a video camera and one holding a billy club — sneak into the apartment. We hear shouts from within.

The next day, a Delhi journalist named Deepu (Rajkummar Rao) spots a local news item about an Aligarh professor suspended for his involvement in a gay sex scandal. With the recent overturn of India’s Section 377 law that criminalized homosexuality, this seems like a clear violation of Professor Siras’ civil rights.

In Aligarh, Deepu discovers that neither the professor nor his friends share the reporter’s zeal for justice, hoping instead that the matter will go away on its own. The element of the case that piques Deepu’s interest — the videotaped violation of the professor’s right to privacy — is the same one that makes the professor hesitate. He’s an intensely private person, and speaking about the violation publicly will only invite more attention.

When waiting for the issue to blow over ceases to be an option, Siras opens up to Deepu. Siras resists referring to himself as gay, wondering how a person’s being can be encompassed by a three-letter word. He explains that he was attacked not for his sexuality but because of internal university politics. Outing him as gay was just the most expedient method to get him expelled from a conservative, predominantly Muslim school.

The interactions between Deepu and Siras are a delight to watch for how different the two men are. Deepu talks loudly and fidgets in his seat. He even listens aggressively, hunched forward, recorder in hand. By contrast, Siras sits still as a stone. He drinks slowly. He speaks slowly. He is not in a rush.

Out of respect to its protagonist, Aligarh‘s story unfolds at an unhurried pace. There’s an economy of camera movement, with Mehta and cinematographer Satya Nagpaul favoring still shots. Minutes are spent in closeup on Siras’ face as he cries while singing along to an old movie song.

Bajpayee is impossible to ignore in any scene, and Mehta puts the actor’s particular gift to good use. A court hearing regarding Siras’ reinstatement features the two opposing lawyers in the foreground arguing precedent, but one’s attention is drawn to the professor sitting in the corner behind his lawyer, dozing off from boredom.

Rao is one of Mehta’s favorite actors, and with reason. He’s terrific yet again as a young man with a great deal of empathy, but lacking a bit in wisdom. Pairing him opposite an actor as gifted as Bajpayee is magic.

Just as Siras opens Deepu’s eyes to a broader view of humanity, Aligarh provides an important lesson in understanding why a person may choose not to fight. Siras’ sexual orientation is only one part of him, and in the decades that he’s been forced to keep it hidden, he’s cultivated other aspects of his life that give him joy, such as poetry, music, and teaching. He fears that defending the attack on one aspect of his personality could put the other parts at risk. Deepu and the activists who rally to the cause are slow to realize that what’s best for Siras the gay man may be different than what’s best for Siras the professor.

Links

Movie Review: Hamari Adhuri Kahani (2015)

HamariAdhuriKahani1 Star (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

“He is so stupid.” In an otherwise quiet theater, one woman spoke for all of us as Emraan Hashmi’s character in Hamari Adhuri Kahani set out to do something moronic. This is not a good movie.

That’s not to say that Hamari Adhuri Kahani (“Our Incomplete Storyin English) isn’t fun, albeit unintentionally. The audience laughed heartily when Hashmi’s character’s mother said, in all seriousness, “Who is this wandering soul who feels like a kindred spirit?” More chuckles when a hotel owner asked, “Is this a business meeting or an insulting session?”

Hamari Adhuri Kahani is among the most earnest, corniest movies ever. It feels like it was written by a clever 15-year-old girl who isn’t as worldly-wise as she thinks she is. That it is actually written by a man in his mid-60s — Mahesh Bhatt — is a problem.

Vidya Balan plays Vasudha, a hotel florist and single mother of a 5-year-old son, Saanj. Her husband, Hari (Rajkummar Rao), ran off just after Saanj was born, yet Vasudha is regularly caught off guard by questions about her husband’s whereabouts. After five years, she doesn’t have a pat answer?

Her world is turned upside down when her exemplary customer service impresses hotelier Aarav (Hashmi). Aarav is a teen-girl-fantasy: a lonely rich guy who wants nothing more than to make all of Vasudha’s dreams come true. That he wants to do so primarily to make up for his own childhood as the impoverished son of a single mother who worked in a hotel just makes things weird.

Vasudha and Aarav are overly melodramatic about everything. He makes an entire plane full of passengers wait so that he can smell some flowers that remind him of her. She’s torn by the fact that she’s married, even though Hari is a cartoonish jerk who may be a terrorist.

As if emotional fireworks aren’t enough, there are actual fireworks. Also a hotel fire, bullets, and landmines. Essentially, Hamari Adhuri Kahani is a series of wordy, teary-eyed scenes with cheesy dialogue followed by explosions.

Since every scene is overwrought, it’s impossible to misunderstand what’s happening in the movie. Still, international audience members will miss out on the significance of many cultural and religious references. Vasudha’s marriage fulfills some sort of religious obligation, and though the particular religion isn’t named, it’s clear that she’s basically property transferred from her father to her husband. (I can’t verify if this is orthodox to the religion depicted, but director Mohit Suri’s point is explicit.)

Vasudha’s future plans are also questioned in cultural context: is she going to be like Sita in her marriage to Ram or like Radha in her relationship with Krishna? Again, I’m not overly familiar with either parable, but the meaning is apparent: does Vasudha want to be a devoted wife even at the expense of her own life (Sita-Ram), or does she want a more egalitarian kind of love (Radha-Krishna)?

The cultural and religious references are used to criticize the historically unequal treatment of women in India. One older woman says ruefully, “Even after they are dead, men still control a woman’s body.” The movie’s feminist sentiment feels hollow for a couple of reasons.

First, Vasudha is a dud. It’s hard to care about such a passive heroine. When she finally decides to take action, the action is to beg Hari to stop being such a jerk.

Second, Vasudha’s romance with Aarav is a relic of Bollywood stalker love stories. In a dramatic conversation in the middle of desert in front of an approaching sandstorm, Aarav uses as proof of Vasudha’s love for him…a piece of paper upon which he has written her name multiple times. Wait, what? How exactly do his schoolboy doodles prove that she loves him?

It doesn’t ultimately matter, since Vasudha eventually begs Aarav to teach her how to love again (more begging!). There’s not much Balan and Hashmi can do with such one-dimensional characters. Same for Rao, who just shows up periodically to be mean in different wigs.

The resolution to Aarav’s arc is telegraphed, yet it’s so cornball that it’s hard to believe that Suri will go through with it until it actually happens. When it does, it is sublimely ridiculous. Hamari Adhuri Kahani is stupid, yet I left the theater with a smile on my face.

Links

Opening June 12: Hamari Adhuri Kahani

The romantic drama Hamari Adhuri Kahani — starring Vidya Balan, Emraan Hashmi, and Rajkummar Rao — opens in Chicago area theaters on June 12, 2015.

Hamari Adhuri Kahani opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 9 min.

Dil Dhadakne Do carries over at all of the above theaters, plus Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

Tanu Weds Manu Returns gets a fourth week at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and Woodridge 18.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Premam (Malayalam) at the Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont and MovieMax, which also carries Ranna (Kannada), Kerintha (Telugu), Inimey Ippadithan (Tamil), Romeo Juliet (Tamil), Jyothi Lakshmi (Telugu), and Ivide (Malayalam).