Tag Archives: Ranveer Singh

Movie Review: Padmaavat (2018)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

A note on 3D: My local theater only carried Padmaavat in 3D, but I recommend watching the film in 2D, if possible. The 3D effects don’t enhance the experience, and the glasses dull the colors and details of the costumes and sets. 3D also adds a visual distance between the subtitles and the action, for those reliant upon subtitles.

Spoiler warning: Because Padmaavat is based on a centuries-old poem, I will discuss the end of the movie in this review.

Filmmakers can choose to make whatever movies they want. Why, then, would Sanjay Leela Bhansali choose to make Padmaavat? Why now, and why tell the story in this way? What does he want his audience to take away from this story? Even after watching the movie, I can’t answer those questions.

Bhansali’s story follows the parallel paths of two 13th century Indian rulers until they converge: the ambitious Muslim warrior Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) and the milquetoast Rajput king Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor). While ruthless Alauddin fights the Mongols and steals the sultanate of Delhi from his uncle, Ratan Singh searches for some replacement pearls after he gave away his wife Nagmati’s (Anupriya Goenka) favorite necklace.

Ratan Singh is waylaid in the pearl-producing kingdom of Singala (which resembles the Nopon Braidbridge in Noctilum from Xenoblade Chronicles X, for both of you out there who’ll get that reference), when the princess Padmavati (Deepika Padukone) accidentally shoots him with an arrow while hunting. They fall in love while he convalesces, and she returns with him to his palace in Chittor as his second wife.

Their trouble begins when the palace priest Raghav Chetan gets busted watching Ratan Singh and Padmavati make out. Banished, Chetan vows to destroy Chittor. He meets Alauddin, telling the sultan — who has an infamous Gollum-like obsession with precious things — that not only is Padmavati the most beautiful woman in the world, but Alauddin needs her in order to fulfill a bogus prophecy that sees him conquer the globe. Alauddin and his army head to Chittor to besiege Ratan Singh’s castle.

This is where things really fall apart for Ratan Singh as a character, at least in the way Bhansali depicts him. Whenever Ratan Singh mentions his “honor”, it signals that he’s about to do something incredibly stupid. On multiple occasions, he either underestimates Alauddin’s capacity for deceit or refuses to kill Alauddin and end the war, citing some mitigating rule of decorum that stays his hand. Whenever Padmavati tells him, “You know it’s a trap, right?” Ratan Singh just smiles and walks right into it.

Charlie-BrownAbove: Alauddin swears to Ratan Singh that this time he really will let him kick the football.

There comes a point when rigidly adhering to one’s principles is selfish, especially when it means not just your own death but the deaths of everyone you love, the deaths of all the innocent civilians you’ve vowed to protect, and the loss of your entire kingdom.

Then again, none of the characters in Padmaavat are written like real people, only symbols for concepts like honor (Ratan Singh), lust (Alauddin), beauty (Padmavati), treachery (Chetan), jealousy (Nagmati), and bravery (the Rajput fighters Gora and Badal). All the other soldiers and civilians are just there to take up space. What happens to them doesn’t matter. We know as much because the end notes only mention the place of Padmavati’s sacrifice in Rajput lore, with no mention of the hundreds of other women who killed themselves alongside her.

Ah, yes, the ritual suicide for which Padmavati is famous. The movie opens with a note that the film does not intend to endorse “sati,” the practice of women immolating themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres. That’s a little hard to believe given the glamorized way Bhansali depicts the mass suicide of the women of Chittor following Ratan Singh’s defeat on the battlefield. Rather than be captured by Alauddin’s army, Bhansali shows Padmavati and the palace women (and girls) resolutely marching to their death in an inferno, defiant tears filling their eyes but refusing to drop. The camera cuts away before we see them burn or hear their anguished screams, preserving their memories as paragons of virtue rather than showing the  charred corpses of the terrified victims of male egos run amok.

If Bhansali wanted to dress up Deepika Padukone in elaborate costumes, wasn’t there another ancient Rajput tale he could have picked? One that didn’t make a hero out of a woman for killing herself? Padmavati’s actions — though true to the original poem — don’t even match with her character in the film. As interpreted by Bhansali, Padmavati is a skilled archer and military tactician. Why should we believe that she wouldn’t first try to kill Alauddin herself, rather than follow her husband’s foolish lead and let Alauddin live to besiege another kingdom?

There’s so much more that could have been done with this story, especially since Bhansali appears to have taken some liberties with the original poem (based on a cursory Wikipedia search). The theme of jealousy could’ve been brought to the fore, not just in the rivalry for Ratan Singh’s affection between Nagmati and Padmavati but in the jealousy toward Padmavati felt by Alauddin’s slave and consort, Malik Kafur (Jim Sarbh). The fact that Alauddin and Malik are lovers and it’s depicted as no big deal is Padmaavat‘s greatest strength.

However, that relationship also plays into the characterization of Alauddin as a dirty, feral creature, one who snarls while tearing meat off the bone with his teeth and who will have sex with anyone. He is also Muslim, as we are constantly reminded by the green flags bearing a crescent moon that flank him at all times. Bhansali goes to such lengths to conflate Alauddin’s base appetites with his religion that it becomes gross.

Singh, for his part, makes the most of his problematic character, overshadowing Kapoor in all of their scenes together. Sarbh likewise seems to enjoy his free rein. Padukone looks regal — as does Aditi Rao Hydari, who plays Alauddin’s wife — but she has little to do once she leaves her forest kingdom.

Virtually all of the scenes between Padmavati and Ratan Singh are shot in slow-motion, the two of them making moon eyes at one another. This reliance on slow-mo — which extends to battle scenes as well — highlights just how little actually happens in the movie, both in terms of plot and character development. Padmaavat looks gorgeous, as Bhansali’s movies always do, but looks aren’t everything.

Links

Advertisements

How Do New Bollywood Heroes Fare in the US?

The upcoming release of Tiger Shroff’s A Flying Jatt got me thinking about just how hard it is to launch a career as a Bollywood hero abroad. It’s difficult enough to succeed in India, but even more so overseas, where fans aren’t bombarded with the same kind of media saturation. That’s assuming that a distributor is even willing to put your film in theaters. Although Arjun Kapoor is a star now, his first picture — Ishaqzaade — didn’t release in the United States.

A Flying Jatt is Shroff’s third release since his 2014 debut, a promising sign for his Bollywood career prospects (at least for a while). I looked at some of his contemporaries from 2010 on to see how they’ve fared since their debuts. I only considered actors who launched under similar circumstances to Shroff: first-time actors without previously established entertainment careers (regional films, singing, TV, etc.) who were the sole male lead in their film, as opposed to, say, Varun Dhawan and Sidharth Malhotra who launched together in Student of the Year. Also, the hopeful hero’s film needed to be released in the United States (which excludes Kapoor and Saqib Saleem).

That leaves us with six contenders, including Shroff. Here they are, in order of their debuts:

Ranveer SinghBand_Baaja_Baaraat_poster
Debut film: Band Baaja Baaraat
Release date: December 10, 2010
US box office: $71,374
Of the 32 films that released in US theaters in 2010 for which I have data, Band Baaja Baaraat ranked 30th in total gross. That early hiccup didn’t hinder Singh’s rise to stardom. His most recent film — Bajirao Mastani — earned $6,653,317 last year.

Girish KumarRamaiyaVastavaiya
Debut: Ramaiya Vastavaiya
Release date: July 19, 2013
U.S. box office: $52,200
While $52,000 is nothing to crow about, Kumar’s followup film — Loveshhuda — made just $1,787 in the US earlier this year. Might be time to accept that this dog won’t hunt.

Shiv DarshanKarle_Pyaar_Karle_Movie_Poster
Debut: Karle Pyaar Karle
Release date: January 17, 2014
US box office: $3,110
I have an inexplicable fondness for Karle Pyaar Karle because of how hilariously horrible it is, and Shiv Darshan is especially awful in it. The only reason I don’t recommend the movie is because it’s racist near the end (also, I have no idea where to find it). You may not have a future as an actor, Shiv, but I’ll always remember you.

Tiger ShroffHeropanti_Poster
Debut: Heropanti
Release date: May 23, 2014
US box office: $63,172
While Heropanti wasn’t a hit here, Shroff’s followup — Baaghi — made $437,243 earlier this year. If A Flying Jatt can come close to that, it bodes well for Shroff’s longevity.

Armaan JainLekar_Hum_Deewana_Dil_poster
Debut: Lekar Hum Deewana Dil
Release date: July 4, 2014
US box office: $10,529
Even after rereading my review of Lekar Hum Deewana Dil, I still have no recollection of having seen it. That’s the kind of impression Armaan Jain made on me: none at all.

Sooraj PancholiHero
Debut: Hero
Release date: September 11, 2015
US box office: $83,973
Hero did comparatively well for a debut film, but Pancholi’s personal/legal problems could make studios consider him a liability, especially if he’s ever convicted of a crime related to Jiah Khan’s suicide. The jury’s still out on Pancholi, in more ways than one.

Box Office Sources: Box Office Mojo and Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Bajirao Mastani (2015)

BajiraoMastani3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

The historical epic Bajirao Mastani scores high marks for scale and style, but its message of religious tolerance is perhaps its real selling point.

The movie’s title bears the names of the renowned battle commander Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) and his second wife, Mastani (Deepika Padukone). Bajirao served as prime minister of the Maratha Empire in the early 1700s.

Though already married to Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra), Bajirao falls in love with Mastani while helping her to free her father’s besieged castle. Mastani herself is an accomplished warrior, a fact that impresses Bajirao as much as her beautiful looks and graceful dancing.

Before returning home, Bajirao gifts Mastani his dagger, unaware that this constitutes a marriage pact among her people. This presents a huge problem not just because Bajirao already has a wife, but because Mastani was raised in her mother’s Muslim faith, not in the Hindu faith of Mastani’s father and Bajirao himself.

When Mastani follows Bajirao to his home in Pune, she is shunned by Bajirao’s mother, Radhabai (Tanvi Azmi), who lodges Mastani in a whorehouse and appoints her the humiliating position of court dancer. Undeterred, Mastani publicly professes her love to Bajirao, who builds her a palace of her own. This does not go over well.

(Before continuing, I want to point out that, when Bajirao returns home with Mastani, he and Kashibai already have a preteen son, Nana. Given the lack of familial affection between Bajirao and Nana, I wasn’t sure if he was actually their biological son, or just some kid from the household that Kashibai calls “son.” Nana is, in fact, their child.)

The anger directed at Mastani and Bajirao by Bajirao’s mother, brother, and son is primarily based on her religion and its perceived pollution of the family line. Bajirao’s tragic flaw is his underestimation of the depth of his family’s hatred.

Kashibai has the biggest grievance against Bajirao for breaking their matrimonial vows, but she’s a pragmatist. She has a house to run while Bajirao is off sacking cities, so she is less outwardly hostile toward Mastani than her in-laws. Yet there is fury in Chopra’s eyes while Kashibai goes through the motions of keeping the peace. By virtue of her position — and Chopra’s performance — Kashibai is the film’s most interesting character.

Bajirao himself is devoted but oblivious. He’s supposedly as skilled a diplomat as he is a fighter, but he reads the vibe in his household all wrong. He acts as though he’s entitled to do what he likes without realizing that his threats are no match to his family’s hatred of Muslims. The limitations of the character don’t leave much room for Singh to shine, although his buff physique certainly fits the part.

Mastani’s character also feels underwritten. After her introduction as a fierce warrior, that aspect of her persona is diminished, replaced by an emphasis on a more passive kind of femininity. According to Wikipedia (for whatever it’s worth), the real Mastani accompanied Bajirao on his battles. It would have been fun to see more of that, although Padukone’s dancing is quite a treat.

The film’s early battle sequence is impressive, emphasizing the key players while still feeling expansive. Dim pre-dawn lighting gives a sinister tone to the fight. There’s also an effective scene later in the film as Bajirao imagines his destiny manifesting as a shadow army on black horses.

Designer Anju Modi’s costumes and jewelry pieces are so stunning as to merit a museum exhibit. The film’s sets are lavish, the dance numbers beautifully choreographed.

Tales of star-crossed lovers are always popular, but writer-director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s choice of this particular pair is timely. Bajirao and Mastani love beyond the borders of religion, condemned by a society with hearts too small to tolerate such a union.

Links

Movie Review: Dil Dhadakne Do (2015)

DilDhadakneDo4 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

One can never completely know what to expect when one walks into a theater, but when you get what you subconsciously wanted, you know the feeling. Dil Dhadakne Do (“Let the Heart Beat“) inspired that feeling for me. Writer-director Zoya Akhtar deftly wrangles a mammoth cast and innumerable subplots into a thoroughly enjoyable comedy about a dysfunctional family.

Many things are going wrong for the wealthy Mehra family. Neelam (Shefali Shah) endures her husband Kamal’s (Anil Kapoor) serial cheating. Their son, Kabir (Ranveer Singh), doesn’t want to inherit the family business, which is going bankrupt. Their daughter, Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra), is being pressured to give up her own successful company to have a child with Manav (Rahul Bose), the husband she doesn’t love.

With all of their close friends and business associates accompanying them on a ten-day Mediterranean cruise in honor of Neelam & Kamal’s 30th wedding anniversary, the Mehras try to pretend that everything is okay. Confined on a ship with dozens of associates with their own grudges and motivations, it’s impossible to keep up the front for long.

Part of the Mehra’s pretending requires them to not talk about uncomfortable things, even with one another. That becomes untenable when Kabir falls in love with Farah (Anushka Sharma), a dancer who works on the ship. She doesn’t fit with his role as the dutiful heir apparent — a role that he doesn’t even want — but he doesn’t know how to live any other way. In just a few days, he can’t envision a future without her.

As serious as the consequences of their relationship are, Kabir’s romance with Farah builds in a sweet, flirtatious way. Kabir’s seduction of Farah in the song “Pehli Baar” is equal parts playful and sexy. It’s an incredibly effective use of a choreographed number to advance the narrative (so much more so than the typical Bollywood romantic fantasy number involving a woman in a ball gown atop a windy sand dune).

Singh is something to behold in Dil Dhadakne Do. He contains his normally boundless energy, unleashing it in the dance numbers but otherwise playing it cool. His chemistry with Sharma is super. Her character is smitten but wary, given her far-less-stable financial footing.

Even better is the relationship between Singh and Chopra, playing adult children who still make faces behind their parents’ backs. So many of their scenes feel authentic: like the way Kabir calls his sister “Dude,” and his claim that the ice cream he steals from her bowl tastes better because it’s flavored with her annoyance. Their immaturity together belies an unbreakable allegiance.

It surely helps that Akhtar’s own brother, Farhan — who has a great supporting role as Ayesha’s former flame — wrote the film’s dialogue. Credit also to Akhtar’s co-writer, Reema Kagti, for a script with so many moving parts but no loose ends. It’s always clear which of the dozen or so aunties are aligned with whom, and which fellow businessmen are looking to gain an advantage.

Akhtar let scenes breathe, taking advantage of the sprawling cruise ship to allow characters to cover lots of physical ground while lost in thought. She has a top-notch cast at her disposal, and she gets the best out of her performers. Some of the best moments consist of knowing glances and wordless exchanges. She even gives the film’s villain, Manav, some funny reaction shots as he fends off his wife’s high-speed, anger-fueled tennis volleys.

The theme of women’s equality (or the lack thereof) runs throughout the film, through Manav’s possessive attitude toward Ayesha to Neelam’s willingness to tolerate Kamal’s infidelity because of her financial dependence on him. The subject is explored in a thoughtful way without seeming preachy, often presented as the younger generation trying to explain their beliefs to an older generation more comfortable with traditional gender roles.

Akhtar sets the right tones throughout Dil Dhadakne Do, interspersing serious ideas and insightful commentary without ever veering too far from the film’s comedic core. It’s funny, thought-provoking, and tear-jerking in all the right places. There’s so much to like in Dil Dhadakne Do.

Links

Movie Review: Kill Dil (2014)

Kill_Dil3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

With a vibe that combines the wild west with rock ‘n’ roll and Indian gangsters, Kill Dil (“Kill Heart“) has a unique, appealing aesthetic style. That style — plus a briskly paced story and a hypnotic performance by Ranveer Singh — make Kill Dil worth watching.

Singh plays Dev, one of two orphans raised by Bhaiyaji (Govinda), a gangster. The other orphan, Tutu (Ali Zafar), is Dev’s best friend and partner in crime. Together, they serve as Bhaiyaji’s chief assassins.

While Tutu looks every bit the part — black leather jacket, sunglasses, mustache — Dev’s goofy energy and bowl haircut seem at odds with his profession. Yet Dev’s spirited demeanor is what makes him Bhaiyaji’s favorite.

Predictably, everything falls apart when Dev falls in love with Disha (Parineeti Chopra). She works finding jobs for reformed criminals, but Tutu points out that she probably doesn’t want to date one. Dev has to decide whether a normal life with Disha is worth leaving Bhaiyaji and incurring his wrath.

Though the plot is a bit familiar, the presentation is not. The vibrant colors — especially during Bhaiyaji’s Diwali party — and framing make every shot captivating. The terrific rock soundtrack makes every song feel necessary in an otherwise very fast movie. Before you know it, an hour has passed and the word “Intermission” appears on screen.

Zafar, who normally plays nice guys, is very cool as an assassin, taking his cues from the Marlboro Man on the billboard above the apartment Tutu and Dev share. Govinda likewise sheds his usual comic image and makes an imposing tough guy.

Singh is a boundless source of energy, practically vibrating in every scene, even when his character isn’t the focus. He’s at his most “on” during dance numbers. It’s impossible not to watch him. He’s charisma personified.

Yet Singh’s best moment comes during a tearful discussion with Tutu, the moment when Dev must commit to his future. Singh’s earnestness is moving as he channels all that energy into a plea for understanding.

Chopra plays her character well, but she and Singh are somewhat lacking in chemistry (despite Chopra playing her most overtly sexy character to date). Disha seems a mismatch for Dev. It’s not just that he flunked out of fifth grade, it’s that their cultural tastes don’t seem to match. It’s not enough that Dev’s a nice guy.

There’s a moment that hints at a subplot about Dev finding in Disha’s family the parents he never had, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Plus, it’s a little hard to believe that neither Disha nor her family wouldn’t be suspicious of Dev’s evasiveness about his past.

What flaws Kill Dil has are masked by an undeniable cool factor. This is a doggone stylish movie that combines a bunch of elements to make something unique and interesting. In an industry awash in gangster movies, Kill Dil really stands out.

Links

Movie Review: Finding Fanny (2014)

Finding_Fanny_Theatrical_release_poster3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

“No one deserves an incomplete love story.” Finding Fanny humorously and thoughtfully explores the ways that waiting for an answer suspends us in time.

The above quote is spoken by the film’s narrator, Angie (Deepika Padukone), a 26-year-old widow living in Pocolim, a tiny town in Goa. Life’s forward progress stopped for Angie when her husband (Ranveer Singh) choked to death on their wedding cake, though she’s serene about her situation. She lives with her mother-in-law, Rosie (Dimple Kapadia), the queen bee of Pocolim.

Angie’s best friend is Ferdie (Naseeruddin Shah), the town’s mailman. His forward progress stopped forty-six years ago when he wrote a letter proposing marriage to a girl named Fanny Fernandez, but never received a response. He’s the only boy in the church choir with white hair.

One night, the letter Ferdie mailed to Fanny is slipped under his door, unopened and undelivered. Angie organizes a trip to help Ferdie find Fanny and discover what her answer would have been. She enlists the help of her mother-in-law, her recently returned childhood sweetheart, Savio (Arjun Kapoor), and Don Pedro, (Pankaj Kapur), a visiting artist obsessed with voluptuous Rosie and owner of the town’s only car.

Of course the brief road trip winds up far more complicated than expected, and tensions flare within the group. Ferdie reveals to Savio the reason why his formerly close friendship with Rosie ended, and Savio fights with Angie about what would’ve happened had he married her instead. Don Pedro’s lecherous ogling of Rosie doesn’t help matters.

Finding Fanny is a beautiful looking film, thanks to cinematographer Anil Mehta. There are lots of wonderful individual shots — Angie’s face as she stares pensively out the open car window, for example — as well as wide shots showing the vastness of the world outside of Pocolim that never before interested Rosie, Ferdie, or Angie. The visual beauty is enhanced by Mathias Duplessy’s vibrant score.

The actors keep their performances subdued. Much is communicated non-verbally, especially by the expressive faces of Padukone and Shah. At the same time, the characters are all funny, none more so than Kapadia’s Rosie. The members of the traveling party are eccentrics, not outrageous goofballs or weirdos.

The glaring exception to the subtly rule is a Russian man who now owns Fanny’s childhood home. His delivery is so loud and exaggerated in comparison to the other performances that it feels out-of-place.

Perhaps the film’s biggest fault lies in the development of Angie’s character (though that’s not a slight on Padukone’s terrific portrayal). It’s obvious what every other character wants: Savio wants Angie; Don Pedro wants Rosie; Ferdie wants the Fanny of his memories; and Rosie wants to live a dignified life that she controls.

It’s never clear what Angie wants, other than to reunite Ferdie with Fanny. She speaks in important-sounding vagaries that don’t really mean anything. Is the point that she’s still too young to know what she wants? That we should be at peace with what we have? I was never sure. That’s a letdown for a character who’s not only the film’s narrator, but also the most important person in the lives of Ferdie, Rosie, and Savio.

Still, Finding Fanny is one of the more intriguing movies to come out of Bollywood this year. The fact that the dialogue is in English just adds to the intrigue. It’s unique, enjoyable, and worth a watch.

Links

Box Office: February 14-16

Gunday turned in a fine performance in North America in its first weekend of release. The Yash Raj Films production got a relatively wide roll-out in 150 theaters in the U.S. and Canada, and it earned $548,350 (according to Bollywood Hungama) for a per screen average of $3656.

Though stars like Priyanka Chopra and Irrfan Khan feature in supporting roles, Gunday‘s success rests on the shoulders of the two lead actors: Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh. Kapoor’s two previous films — Ishaqzaade and Aurangzeb — didn’t make a splash in U.S. theaters, so it’s best to compare Gunday‘s opening week in the U.S. and Canada to the opening weekends of Singh’s earlier films.

Like Gunday, Singh’s first two movies were released by Yash Raj Films (as were Kapoor’s). 2010’s Band Baaja Baaraat earned $43,820 from 32 theaters ($1369 average), while 2011′s Ladies vs Ricky Bahl, collected $222,019 from 80 theaters ($2775 average) in its opening weekend .

2013 was a better year for Singh, when he ventured out from under the Yash Raj banner. Lootera took in $314,958 from 100 theaters ($3150 average) its opening weekend, going on to earn a total of $581,813.

Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela was an even bigger hit, earning $1,449,174 from 204 theaters ($7,104 average), with a total haul of $2,738,863.

Ignoring the incredible U.S. performance of Ram-Leela, Gunday‘s opening week returns look right in line with the upward trajectory of Singh’s career.

The other Hindi movie still in theaters is Hasee Toh Phasee. In its second week, the romantic comedy took in $152,284 from 76 theaters ($2003 average) for a total of $554,534 so far. That average is still more than 50% of its opening weekend average of $3,829, which is good for a Bollywood film in the U.S.

Movie Review: Gunday (2014)

Gunday2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Editor’s note: So, a lot of people have been coming to this review via IMDb, because Gunday is — after just one week in theaters — already the lowest-rated movie of all time. Lower than The Hottie and the Nottie, Birdemic, and even Manos: The Hands of Fate. As of February 22, it’s at 1.2/10, a full .8 ahead of its nearest competitor.

Is Gunday really that bad? As a movie, no. You can read below how I thought it was problematic, but passable.

Then why is it ranked as IMDb’s worst movie ever? It looks like the movie’s portrayal of the Bangladesh Liberation War has angered a lot of people, who have coordinated to give it as many 1/10 reviews as possible. Look at the IMDb user reviews, and several of them have the exact same title: “Manipulating Bangladesh’s Liberation War history.”

Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with the true events that Gunday references. So while I still think it’s okay as a film, I certainly wouldn’t vouch for it being historically accurate!

Abrupt changes in tone and an abundance of slow-mo keep Gunday (“The Outlaws“) from establishing its own voice or finding a rhythm.

The story begins in 1971 at the end of the war that established Bangladesh as an independent nation. 14-year-old orphans Bikram (Darshan Gurjar) and Bala (Jayesh V. Kardak) survive the deprivation of a refuge camp by working as gun runners. When Bala shoots an army officer to save Bikram’s life, the boys flee to Calcutta.

Fast-forward ten years, and Bikram (Ranveer Singh) and Bala (Arjun Kapoor) are the unofficial kings of Calcutta, controlling all of the city’s black market commodities. The buddies do everything together, while savvy Bikram keeps Bala’s temper in check.

As soon as the guys’ present-day circumstances are established, an anchor drops onto the plot in the form of a love interest: a cabaret dancer named Nandita (Priyanka Chopra).

The premise that two guys are such good buddies that they decide to share the same girl could be cute in a more lighthearted movie than this one. But Gunday starts out grim, and it returns to being so once Nandita chooses one guy over the other. The thirty-minute wacky romantic-comedy interval doesn’t fit.

That’s not the only aspect of Gunday that doesn’t make sense tonally. Action sequences vary from dramatic and realistic to outright loony. Bala causes an earthquake before shooting up through the ground, as though propelled by a geyser. A fish is wielded as a deadly weapon.

The goofy action sequences are pretty entertaining, but again, they don’t feel right in the context of the movie. Gunday would’ve been better had writer-director Ali Abbas Zafar established surreal action as the dominant tone of the movie.

Such a tone would’ve also explained the volume of slow-motion used in the film. Walking, running, dancing: seemingly every form of motility is presented in slow-motion. The impact of the two scenes in the movie that actually benefit from the treatment is dulled by its application to so many mundane activities.

There is a ridiculous amount of skin on display in Gunday, and not just by Chopra’s cabaret dancer. In the movie’s funniest fight scene, Bikram and Bala exchange blows, ripping off each other’s shirts in the process. The shirts come off in slow-mo (of course), exposing Singh’s and Kapoor’s hairless, tanned, greased-up, muscular torsos. It’s not supposed to be as hilarious as it is.

As much attention as is given to the guys’ muscles — with special attention paid to Singh’s perky buns — Irrfan Khan wins for Best Body, and he gets to keep his clothes on.

Khan’s star power is on full display as the police inspector tasked with bringing down Bikram and Bala and returning order to Calcutta. Saurab Shukla’s understated role as the lawyer who watches over Bikram and Bala is also notable.

Chopra is fine as Nandita, though she’s not given much to do besides look sexy, early on. Her performance improves as Nandita realizes the consequences of having strained the friendship between the two gangsters.

It almost seems as if the role of Bikram was written with Singh in mind, and his charisma is undeniable. Kapoor is very good at playing edgy anti-heroes, and it’s a shame when Bala gets turned into a mindless beefcake goofball during the romance portion of the movie. His hair-trigger is shelved for the sake of song-and-dance numbers and out-of-place comedy bits.

As a surreal dark comedy or action flick, Gunday could’ve been really interesting, but there’s no place for light romantic tomfoolery in such a film. A clear vision rather than a please-all approach would’ve done wonders.

Links

Best Bollywood Movies of 2013

What stands out most on my Top Ten list for 2013 is the diversity of genres represented. No matter what you’re in the mood for, there’s a really good movie on this list. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)

Want a fun teen dance flick? Check out ABCD: Any Body Can Dance.
Looking for a good sports movie or biopic? Try Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.
In the mood for a family drama set in the underworld? You’ve gotta see Aurangzeb.

In addition to the great variety on the list, all the movies mentioned are accessible to an international audience. Familiarity with Hindi movies and their structure may enhance one’s appreciation of Phata Poster Nikla Hero or Commando: A One Man Army, but a lack of prior experience shouldn’t keep Bollywood newcomers from enjoying them. In fact, Commando‘s best selling point is that it’s a martial arts action flick with a romantic dance number in the middle.

2013 was a great year for films featuring ensemble casts. Movies like Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola and D-Day showcase the work of veteran stars, while Shuddh Desi Romance and Kai Po Che! — both of which star Sushant Singh Rajput — feature up-and-comers with bright futures ahead of them.

D-Day also features my single favorite scene in any movie from 2013: a heartbreaking song montage about the doomed relationship between an assassin (Arjun Rampal) and a prostitute (Shruti Haasan).

My favorite Hindi movie of 2013 offers the perfect mix of passion and drama in a beautiful setting. If I could dream up an ideal romantic movie, it would be Lootera. [Buy it on DVD here.]

Writers Vikramaditya Motwane and Bhavani Iyer took a short story by O. Henry and adapted it to depict a tumultuous time period in India, as family fortunes were dismantled in the years following partition. Imagine trying to cope with the heightened emotions of first love while your way of life is turned on its head. Such are the circumstances for Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha) and her beau, Varun (Ranveer Singh).

Fans of Victorian literature or contemporary period dramas like Downton Abbey: Lootera is made for you.

Best Bollywood Movies of 2013

  1. Lootera — Buy at Amazon
  2. D-Day — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  3. Kai Po Che! — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  4. Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola — Buy/rent at Amazon
  5. Shuddh Desi Romance — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  6. Commando: A One Man Army — Buy at Amazon
  7. ABCD: Any Body Can Dance — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  8. Aurangzeb — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  9. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  10. Phata Poster Nikla Hero — Buy at Amazon

Previous Best Movies Lists

Movie Review: Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013)

Goliyon_Ki_Rasleela_Ram-Leela_poster3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Writer-director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (henceforth referred to by the shorter, original title used by most American theaters: Ram-Leela) is a fresh update on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The story may be familiar, but Bhansali’s film offers plenty of surprises.

In this rendition, Romeo and Juliet are rechristened Ram Rajadi (Ranveer Singh) and Leela Sanera (Deepika Padukone). The youngest children in their respective warring clans, they want nothing to do with the centuries-long family feud. Ram serves as village peacemaker, defusing situations by distributing pornographic DVDs.

It’s love at first sight when Ram and Leela meet at a party. They are reckless in their courtship, until deaths in both families force them to realize that they will find no peace in town. Even their elopement is foiled by friends intent on perpetuating the feud.

In Bhansali’s version of Romeo and Juliet, the two leads are much older than the original characters, meaning they have more prominent positions in their family. Both Ram and Leela eventually assume leadership roles in their clans, proving the naiveté of their assumption that they could run off and leave their families behind. It makes for an interesting examination of the public aspect of romantic relationships.

Singh and Padukone are an extremely sexy pair. Had Ram-Leela been rated by the MPAA, it would’ve been rated PG-13 or R. Keep that in mind if you’re considering bringing your kids to the theater. Adults in the audience will appreciate the chemistry between the lead couple.

Singh’s Ram is initially more fun than a traditional Romeo, but he loses his spirit as the obstacles to his romance with Leela mount. By the end of the film, he’s mostly glum and passive.

Padukone is sensational as Leela, and the character is especially well-written. Leela evolves from a bratty princess into a force within her family. She’s sexually aggressive, initiating the couple’s first kiss and telling Ram, “I want you.”

In another refreshing update, the female characters are the power players in Ram-Leela. Both Leela’s and Ram’s sisters-in-law (played by Richa Chadda and Barkha Bisht, respectively) influence the destiny of the central romance and the town as a whole. The Sanera clan is led by Leela’s mother, Dhankor (Supriya Patak Kapur), who is ruthless and terrifying.

Like all of Bhansali’s films, Ram-Leela is great looking. Major plot points occur against the backdrops of colorful festivals. The garden at the Sanera palace — the setting for the famous balcony scene — is stunning.

Bhansali also composed the music for the film, and as a result, Ram-Leela features a lot of well-integrated dance numbers. The music and dancing (especially Padukone’s) is very good, and only the movie’s lone item number — starring Priyanka Chopra — feels out-of-place.

I appreciate Bhansali’s decision to re-imagine Romeo and Juliet as an all-out Bollywood spectacle, with sequences ranging from frequent dance breaks to a slow-mo fight scene in which body-slammed victims send up volcanic plumes of dust.

Ram-Leela is great for newcomers to Hindi films. It offers the full Bollywood experience, while presenting a familiar story. The crew responsible for the English subtitles made a smart decision to subtitle the first verse and chorus of each song, but not subsequent verses. It allows those who don’t understand Hindi to get the gist of the song’s subject matter, but then be able to focus on the dancing. This should become an industry standard.

Links

  • Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela at Wikipedia
  • Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela at IMDb