Tag Archives: Rajneesh Duggal

Movie Review: Mostly Sunny (2016)

mostlysunny2 Stars (out of 4)

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Watching the documentary Most Sunny, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what felt off about the film. Only later did I read that the documentary’s subject, actress Sunny Leone, has all but disowned the movie, refusing to attend its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016. I can’t say I blame her, because the film is a mess.

During her interview segments, Sunny comes across as warm, funny, and smart. She’s candid about not just her history in the adult film industry but about money as well, celebrating the $100,000 signing bonus she demanded to appear on the Indian reality show Bigg Boss in 2008 as a life-changing sum.

Her killer curves and salacious past distract from her most admirable quality: her business acumen. With the help of her husband and business partner, Daniel Weber, she parlayed a lucrative career in porn into a production company and eventually success in mainstream Indian movies. Sunny herself says, “One thing I was good at was turning a quarter into a dollar.”

It’s difficult to tell Sunny’s story chronologically because her extended family cut ties with her when she became Penthouse “Pet of the Year” in 2003. No one from the Sikh community in her hometown of Sarnia, Ontario — where she was raised as Karenjit Kaur Vohra — would agree to talk about her on camera. Her parents died several years ago, so the only relative to speak on her behalf is her younger brother, Sunny (whose name she stole in a panic to invent a stage name). Even though the siblings maintain a close relationship, they never appear together in the documentary.

There are hardly any interviews with people who’ve worked with Sunny in India either. Director Mahesh Bhatt says some kind words about her potential, as does the CEO of the channel that airs Bigg Boss. Sunny’s Ek Paheli Leela costar Rajneesh Duggal mentions that other actors turned down his role before him because they didn’t want to work opposite Sunny, but he doesn’t mention what it’s like to actually work with her. Sunny’s costumer and close confidant Hitesh isn’t comfortable talking on camera.

Sunny Leone’s story is about her fame and acceptance in sexually conservative India following a career in porn, but filmmaker Dilip Mehta is hung up on Sunny’s racy past. Topless shots of the actress scroll across the screen multiple times, a choice that does nothing to inform the audience about the woman herself but to capitalize on a career she acknowledges but has left behind.

Mehta makes a bizarre choice during a segment about Sunny’s adult film production house, SunLust Pictures, where she directs movies but doesn’t appear in the them. There is a shot of a movie in production featuring a full-on sex scene between a man and a woman, their genitals blurred as they engage in intercourse. What is the narrative purpose of this shot? If the point is to titillate, why bother blurring the genitals? It’s not like we can’t tell what’s happening. Mostly Sunny has no MPAA rating, but this scene alone makes otherwise PG-13 content into a hard R.

The topless shots and the sex scene ensure that any people still reluctant to embrace Sunny will never watch the movie. What is the point of Mostly Sunny if not to showcase her as an interesting, normal person? Who does Mehta think his audience is?

It’s hard to decipher Mehta’s objectives for this movie. Scene transitions frequently consist of footage of poor people shot from inside a moving car. Sunny herself isn’t in the car, so this isn’t meant to show what she sees on he way to work at a Mumbai movie studio. It neither reinforces nor juxtaposes with anything else we’re hearing and seeing. It’s just poverty porn.

The footage that runs behind the ending credits is likewise inexplicable. As patrons exit a movie theater following a film showing, they notice Mehta’s camera pointed at them and start dancing or mugging for the camera. What purpose does this serve?

As is often the case in her Bollywood movies, Sunny’s charisma transcends the mediocre quality of this film. That a documentary specifically about her lets her down is disappointing.


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.


Movie Review: Dangerous Ishhq (2012)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Dangerous Ishhq (“Dangerous Love”) looks like a good movie, but visually pleasing sets and costumes can’t make up for poor performances.

Karisma Kapoor returns from a nine-year acting hiatus to play Sanjana, a supermodel preparing to move to Paris. She cancels her trip when she senses that something bad is going to befall her boyfriend, Rohan (Rajneesh Duggal). Her premonition proves correct when Rohan is kidnapped the next day.

Sanjana, who suffers a concussion during the kidnapping, wakes up in the hospital. She sees Rohan laying on the floor in the hallway suffering from a stab wound to the abdomen, only Rohan appears to be wearing a wig and insists on calling her “Gita.” When a horde of torch-wielding villagers storm the hospital — then promptly disappear — Sanjana knows something strange is going on.

Neetu (Divya Dutta), a mutual friend of the couple and a doctor at the hospital, doesn’t attribute Sanjana’s hallucination to her serious head injury or the shock of the kidnapping. Dr. Neetu suggests that Sanjana is probably seeing visions from her past lives. A hypnotist who specializes in past-life regression assures Sanjana, “Modern psychiatrists have accepted reincarnation.” (No, they haven’t.)

A hypnotized Sanjana sees a vision of the Rohan she saw in the hospital. His name is Iqbal, and Sanjana’s is, of course, Gita. Neetu’s even there, as Gita’s sister, Chanda. Sanjana uses the information from her past-life regression to inform/muck up the investigation into Rohan’s kidnapping, lead by Detective Singh (Jimmy Shergill).

As she regresses further back through two other previous lives, Sanjana realizes how events from the past have shaped the present, fueled by a grudge hundreds of years old.

While I don’t believe in reincarnation and past-life regression, I don’t mind it as a storytelling device. However, the rules of reincarnation need to be applied consistently. Divya Dutta is present in three of the past lives, but not the fourth, when her role is usurped by actress Gracy Singh. Rohan’s brother plays an important part in one past life, but not the others. The rules change depending on the needs of the plot.

The past life gimmick allows the movie to utilize some cool sets and gorgeous costumes. Kapoor is decked out in everything from modern platform heels, to the garb of a village girl in 1947, to courtly attire from the 16th century. The temple and palace settings are beautiful, showcased by top-notch cinematography.

Still, great visuals and an intriguing storytelling device are overshadowed by lousy acting. Jimmy Shergill seems disinterested. Divya Dutta is good, but she isn’t given enough to do.

Rajneesh Duggal is in a tough position, because Rohan spends so much time kidnapped and off-screen. It’s hard to be concerned about him when we don’t know anything about him. The movie doesn’t bother to explain the motive for Rohan’s kidnapping in the modern day, or even what his job is. When we do see Rohan or his other incarnations, he bears a kindly but bland expression on his face.

Ultimately, the burden of carrying Dangerous Ishhq falls on Karisma Kapoor, who is clearly rusty after her hiatus. She gets better as the film goes on, but the early image of her emotionless good-bye scene with Rohan as Sanjana prepares to leave for Paris lingers. Even in  the film’s final scene, the tears roll down Kapoor’s cheeks, but there’s no emotion in her eyes.