Tag Archives: Ranvir Shorey

Movie Review: Titli (2015)

Titli3 Stars (out of 4)

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Titli (“Butterfly“) is a film that is much easier to appreciate than it is to enjoy. Though well-made, the story’s grim tone and visceral elements make it hard to watch.

The title character, Titli (Shashank Arora), is the youngest son in a family of thieves. He provides distractions so that his older brothers — Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) and Baawla (Amit Sial) — can beat up drivers and steal their cars. Their TV-obsessed father (Lalit Behl) is disreputable, too.

Vikram is the most dangerous of the lot. Those used to watching Shorey play comic roles will find his sinister turn in Titli shocking. Vikram’s own father and brothers are too scared to stand up to him. The only reason his ex-wife was able to escape is that she has enough evidence of Vikram’s spousal abuse to send him to jail for a long time.

With the family in dire financial straits — thanks to Titli losing all their money in a poorly planned escape attempt — they decide to add a woman to their bandit gang in order to make heists easier. They do so by marrying Titli to a young woman named Neelu (Shivani Raghuvanshi).

As scared as Neelu looks when her parents arrange the match with Titli, she has no idea what horrors await. The film’s most violent scene involves the brothers staging a carjacking while Neelu and Titli are on a test drive. She sees her new in-laws as the monsters they are when Vikram and Bawla beat the car salesman with a hammer and leave him for dead.

Not only is Titli at times graphically violent, but director Kanu Behl seems to revel in personal hygiene and bodily functions. Someone in Titli’s family is always brushing his teeth, face covered in foam, drool spilling from his mouth. The noises Vikram makes when clearing his throat are revolting. Titli vomits for what feels like forever.

The whole atmosphere of the family’s small corner of India seems grimy, with a translucent, yellow layer of smog permanently obscuring the view. Their apartment is crowded and tiny. One can’t even go outside to escape, because people are always around, selling something or playing a game in the street. There’s so little privacy, it feels like a prison.

That lack of privacy leaves Titli nowhere to plan his escape. Then again, Titli is as ordinary a guy as they come, so how good of a plan could he concoct even under the best of circumstances?

Shashank Arora is a miracle of casting. As Titli, his default expression is that of someone smelling something foul. There’s a blankness in his eyes. While Titli’s desire to escape his life of crime indicates a moral superiority over his brothers, he’s not a good guy. He was raised in the same environment, so he’s just as capable of violence and deceit as Vikram and Baawla.

As Neelu, Raghuvanshi acts as the outsider, as horrified by the conduct of Titli’s family as the audience is. Still, she gives Neelu strength to endure an unbearable situation. A scene in which Neelu and Titli negotiate the terms of their future is the film’s highlight.

Behl is a talented director and storyteller. Titli is engrossing, but in a “can’t look away” sense rather than one of hopeful anticipation. I admire the craft that went into making Titli. I just hope I never have to watch it again.

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Movie Review: Bombay Talkies (2013)

Bombay_Talkies3 Stars (out of 4)

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Bombay Talkies is a collection of short films by four young directors, created to honor one hundred years of cinema in India. The results are mixed, but the two best shorts make the whole film worth watching.

Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh by Karan Johar

Johar’s short — a story of a gay tabloid intern (played by Saqib Saleem) who upends the life of his married boss (Rani Mukerji) — is the least successful of the four films. It doesn’t feel like a complete story, but rather a subplot of a full-length feature. The events depicted in the short would’ve made a nice catalyst for the further development of Mukerji’s character or an interesting interlude in a longer movie about Saleem’s character, struggling to find his way both as a young adult and as a gay man who’s been cast out from his family. The short film as it stands doesn’t work.

Star by Dibakar Banerjee

Banerjee’s effort is much more polished and showcases the incredible talent of Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Siddiqui plays Puradev, a failed actor who hops from job to job while waiting for his big break. Banerjee’s narrative includes some charming whimsical elements, such as Puradev’s pet emu and the disappointed ghost of his acting mentor. Siddiqui shines in a great scene in which Puradev pantomimes the events of his day for his daughter’s amusement.

Sheila Ki Jawaani by Zoya Akhtar

Akhtar’s short is the best of the bunch. Her story concerns a little boy named Vicky (Naman Jain) who wants to be a dancer, much to the chagrin of his macho father (played by Ranvir Shorey). Vicky’s idol, actress Katrina Kaif, appears to him in a vision, encouraging him to follow his dreams covertly. He gets further support from his understanding older sister, Kavya (Khushi Dubey).

Like Banerjee’s short, Akhtar’s movie includes some fantastical elements, celebrating the way in which movies allow us to envision a more magical version of reality. Hindi movies rarely feature child protagonists, so it’s refreshing to see a story that focuses on the concerns of children. Jain and Dubey are terrific.

Kaif’s advice to Vicky — be true to your dreams, but don’t broadcast them — seems like a bit of a bummer until her audience is taken into consideration. Vicky — like all children — has so little control over his present circumstances that there’s wisdom in trying to make his day-to-day life easier until he’s an adult and can do what he wants. It’s also a warning to parents to remember that children need respect as individuals as much as they need guidance and protection.

Murabba by Anurag Kashyap

After Akhtar’s delightful short, Kashyap’s film is a downer. His story follows a rural guy named Vijay (Vineet Kumar Singh) on his quest to meet Amitabh Bachchan and get him to take a bite of a piece of preserved fruit. Vijay’s father believes he’ll be cured of his ailments if he eats the rest of the fruit blessed by Bachchan’s bite, and he sends his son on a fool’s errand. Given the security retinues of modern stars, Vijay’s task is practically impossible to complete, and much suffering is inflicted upon the dutiful son in the process. It’s not fun to watch, and the payoff isn’t worth it.

“Apna Bombay Talkies”

The quartet of films is followed by a cheesy song-and-dance number featuring clips of old films and lip-syncing by current Bollywood stars. It’s almost as painfully self-congratulatory as the celebrity role-call song “Deewangi Deewangi” from Om Shanti Om, but it’s not as well choreographed. Check it out:

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Movie Review: Bajatey Raho (2013)

Bajatey_Raho1 Star (out of 4)

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Dramatic tension is a necessary element of any film, even comedies. A hero has a goal, he must overcome obstacles to achieve it, and the consequences of failure must be dire. In Bajatey Raho (“Play On”, according to the subtitles of the title track), the heroes achieve their goal with minimal effort and little at stake. Why bother watching?

The story concerns the members of a family on the verge of losing their home. Flashbacks show the recently deceased patriarch, Mr. Baweja — a bank manager — unknowingly caught up in a scheme devised by the villainous Mr. Sabbarwahl (Ravi Kishan). Sabbarwahl stole the money from the neighborhood bank run by Mr. Baweja and pinned the crime on the manager, causing him to die from shame on his way to jail.

Faced with the prospect of having their house seized to cover the debts owed to their defrauded neighbors, the remaining members of the Baweja family set out to steal the money back from Sabbarwahl.

The composition of the Baweja family is confusing. Besides Mr. Baweja’s widow, Mummyji (Dolly Ahluwalia), and their son, Sukhi (Tusshar Kapoor), there’s an orphaned kid named Kabootar (Hussan Saad); Mintoo (Vinay Pathak), who’s either a nephew or a son-in-law; and Ballu (Ranvir Shorey), whom Mummyji refers to as Sukhi’s “brother,” but who probably isn’t, biologically speaking.

The large Baweja clan is an example of the film’s tendency toward character sprawl. There are so many people affiliated with Sabbarwahl — servants, gurus, underlings, future in-laws, sexy Russian yoga instructors — that it’s impossible to keep track of them or give them meaningful roles in the story.

The police give the Bawejas a couple of weeks to return their neighbors’ money or face eviction. This perfectly coincides with the timing of the wedding of Sabbarwahl’s daughter to a soap actor. The family devises a plan to steal the money during the wedding.

“Devises a plan” isn’t exactly accurate. Stuff happens, then after the fact, the audience is told it was part of a plan we never see discussed. In fact, the circumstances by which Sukhi’s new girlfriend, Manpreet (Vishakha Singh, whose performance is the only good thing about Bajatey Raho), agrees to participate in the theft are never disclosed. One minute she’s eating ice cream and dancing with Sukhi outside of a movie theater, the next she’s acting as a mole inside Sabbarwahl’s house while posing as a dance instructor.

Why would she agree to get involved in this criminal activity so soon after meeting him? Isn’t she afraid of jail? How does she know that Sukhi’s telling the truth?

All of the moral conundrums are glossed over. No one questions whether it’s right to steal from a thief, or whether Mr. Baweja’s name can truly be cleared if done through devious methods . The characters are divided into childishly simple categories. Sabbarwahl is the bad guy and the Bawejas are the good guys, so whatever they do is okay.

As far as bad guys go, Sabbarwahl is a wimp. He only once brandishes a gun, and he doesn’t have any menacing bodyguards. He’s rich enough to buy people off, obviously, but the Bawejas don’t ever seem to be in any mortal danger from him.

Absent threat to life or limb, surely there are lots of obstacles to the plan succeeding, right? Wrong. Everything works out exactly as expected. There’s never any threat that the family will have their covers blown (Sukhi and Ballu pretend to be caterers, Mummyji and Mintoo a rich lady and her bodyguard, respectively), nor does Sabbarwahl suspect that anyone is conning him.

So the Bawejas steal the stolen money back, and then lecture Sabbarwahl on the evils of mistreating the less fortunate. No chase scene, no shootout, no case of mistaken identities. The heroes get what they want without any trouble. The end. What a waste of time.

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Movie Review: Ek Tha Tiger (2012)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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If you’ve seen one Salman Khan film, you’ve seen them all. Ek Tha Tiger (“There Once Was a Tiger”) is more polished than most of Khan’s films, but it still feels like something I’ve seen a dozen times before.

To put Khan in context for American moviegoers, he’s something like an Indian Steven Seagal. Whether Seagal stars in Hard to Kill, Under Siege, or Above the Law, it’s impossible to think of the characters as having their own individual identities: they are always, unmistakably Steven Seagal. Khan is the same way, playing the same macho action hero in all of his films from at least the last five years.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Khan was hilarious in Dabangg, a film that embraced his typical character and took it to the extreme for great comic effect. But the limitations of the “Khan” character make it hard to be surprised by any of his movies. Ek Tha Tiger is no different, despite having the expertise and lavish budget of a powerful production house like Yash Raj Films.

Khan plays Tiger, a spy employed by RAW, India’s version of the CIA. Using his superhuman wits and strength, Tiger outsmarts the agents of Pakistan’s equivalent spy agency, ISI. Tiger’s devotion to duty means that he has never had time for love, even though all of the women in his neighborhood swoon at the sight of him. He dresses like a dork and has trouble talking to women, in particular a lovely young woman named Zoya (Katrina Kaif).

Zoya is a student at Dublin’s Trinity College and a part-time assistant to an eccentric professor. RAW suspects the professor of unwittingly giving information about India’s missile defense systems to an ISI agent, and Tiger is sent to Dublin to investigate the professor’s contacts. Tiger woos Zoya as part of his mission and accidentally falls in love with her in the process.

The first half of the film feels a lot like last year’s Bodyguard, although Ek Tha Tiger isn’t as cheesy. The second half of the film raises some interesting themes, as Tiger questions whether his duty is worth sacrificing his personal happiness, especially when he suspects that the enmity between RAW and ISI may actually be keeping India and Pakistan from resolving their differences peacefully.

If you’ve never seen a Salman Khan film before, Ek Tha Tiger is a decent introduction. The production values are high, despite some shoddy CGI and an obvious instance of Khan’s face being Photoshopped on to his stunt double’s body during the opening action scene. The locations — Dublin, Istanbul, and Havana — are interesting and beautifully shot. Given American embargoes against travel to Cuba, I found the Havana scenes particularly novel.

While the incidental music in Ek Tha Tiger is sometimes corny, most of the songs in the film are pretty good. The best number, “Mashallah,” plays during the closing credits, so don’t leave the theater early.

The supporting cast is also decent. Kaif’s performance is solid, although her character is responsible for staging the worst play ever, which features a ridiculous bastardization of Pinocchio‘s “I’ve Got No Strings.” Ranvir Shorey is very good as Tiger’s best friend and fellow agent, Gopi.

As always, Salman Khan is Salman Khan. Fans of his films will find Ek Tha Tiger right in their wheelhouse. If, like me, you aren’t completely charmed by his superhuman heroics and occasional topless shots, Ek Tha Tiger is probably best reserved for DVD. It’s not a bad movie. It’s just nothing new.

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