Tag Archives: Reema Kagti

Movie Review: Gold (2018)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Director Reema Kagti and screenwriter Rajesh Devraj took some liberties with Gold, their fictionalized account of India’s 1948 Olympic field hockey victory, changing the names of players and minor details while keeping the core of the story intact. Yet the story’s predetermined ending seems to have stumped the filmmakers, as almost every attempt to create tension in Gold feels forced and inorganic.

The events of Gold are told from the perspective of Tapan Das (Akshay Kumar), an assistant manager on the British Indian field hockey team that won gold at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. As the world’s most formidable hockey team for many years running, frustration builds among the team at being forced to share their glory with their British oppressors. But with the independence movement growing in strength, Tapan and the team’s captain, Shankar (Kunal Kapoor), hope to one day win the gold for India alone.

World War II cancels the Olympics in 1940 and again in 1944. This is addressed in a song montage that shows Tapan spiraling into despair and alcoholism, but it warranted further exploration. What was it like for those athletes who spent their prime competitive years on the sidelines, particularly those in countries far removed from the theater of war? We learn from Tapan that Shankar became a coach and that another player, Imtiaz Ali Shah (Vineet Kumar Singh), became a freedom fighter, but not how they felt about being unable to compete.

Gold’s greatest fault is that it is too focused on Akshay Kumar’s character. His emotional journey is the only one shown in any real depth, and events are shown exclusively from his perspective. It’s a stark contrast to 2007’s Chak De! India — another patriotic field hockey movie — which managed to establish about a dozen other memorable characters, in addition to a manager played by a superstar actor (in that case, Shah Rukh Khan).

When the war ends and a new Olympic games is announced for 1948 in England, Tapan rushes to assemble a team. With independence from Britain right around the corner, it’s the perfect opportunity to beat the Brits on their home soil. The sports commissioner Mr. Wadia gives his consent, with the provision that Tapan share managerial duties with Mr. Mehta (Atul Kale).

With the former superstar Shankar comfortably retired, Tapan enlists Imtiaz to serve as captain, bringing veteran leadership to a squad of young players with no international experience. Two hopeful new stars include a Punjabi policeman named Himmat (Sunny Kaushal) and Raghubhir Pratap Singh (Amit Sadh), a prince from a noble family.

Yet the plans Tapan and Imtiaz make in anticipation of independence are destroyed by the surprise implementation of Partition. Violence forces Imtiaz and several other Muslim players to flee with their families to the newly formed Pakistan, and the team’s British-Indian players head to Australia. Gold‘s best sequence is the heart-wrenching moment when Imtiaz decides to leave the nation whose independence he fought for, saying: “My country is different now.” His character’s particular struggles warrant a standalone movie.

Sadly, Gold heads downhill from here. The newly assembled team’s training is plagued by problems that promise to generate dramatic tension. Only that tension never really manifests — since the problems are all solved as quickly as they start. Mehta undermines Tapan, but Wadia immediately endorses Tapan’s approach. The team won’t work together, but then they learn to do so in a matter of minutes.

It’s a shame that Kagti and Devraj abandon politics at this point, since it could have been a good source of intra-team conflict, especially since the characters aren’t strictly based on any of the real-life team members. How do working class team members feel about playing with a prince, who seems unaffected by the fallout from Partition? Is Himmat worried about the violence in Punjab while he’s in training? How do any of the other dozen or so unnamed players feel about… well, anything? Instead, the climactic tension is created by one character needlessly withholding information from others — a silly shortcut, given all the potential sources of conflict available.

The acting is uniformly decent, with Singh giving the film’s standout performance. Shah and Kaushal are good as well. Kumar is fine, but the film’s uneven mix of drama and comedy keeps this from being one of his more memorable roles. Mouni Roy — who plays Tapan’s wife, Monobina — likewise suffers for having to perform comedy scenes that aren’t especially funny. Roy is seventeen years younger than Kumar, which makes one wonder why her young, attractive character would marry a much older, intermittently-employed drunk — a question that could have been avoided by casting an actress closer in age to Kumar.

Many of Gold‘s shortcomings could be forgiven if its hockey scenes were exciting, but they aren’t (the few that exist anyway). The Olympic scenes are also hampered by distracting CGI crowds in the background. Contrast that with the thrilling, beautifully-shot hockey scenes in Chak De! India, and Gold is strictly average.

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Movie Review: Dil Dhadakne Do (2015)

DilDhadakneDo4 Stars (out of 4)

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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.

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Movie Review: Talaash (2012)

Talaash_poster3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Talaash: The Answer Lies Within is exactly I wanted it to be: an engaging thriller with great performances.

Talaash opens with footage of Mumbai’s red light districts set to a jazzy theme: an intro to the excellent soundtrack by Ram Sampath that permeates the film. The action begins as a car veers suddenly from a seaside road near the red light district, soaring over a wall and crashing into the ocean.

The car’s driver is Armaan Kapoor (Vivan Bhatena), a famous actor. The circumstances of Armaan’s death — Why was he in such a seedy part of town? Why was he driving instead of his chauffeur? — are suspicious enough to lead Inspector Surjan Shekhawat (Aamir Khan) to treat the case as more than a simple accident.

The case also provides Surjan with a convenient escape from the tension at home. He and his wife, Roshni (Rani Mukerji), are struggling with the recent accidental death of their young son. Both blame themselves, but Surjan refuses to discuss his feelings with Roshni, choosing to throw himself into his work.

Surjan finds an investigative ally in Rosie (Kareena Kapoor), a coy prostitute who knows which of Mumbai’s least savory residents has clues to Armaan’s death. Two persons of interest in the case include a pimp named Shashi and his much abused errand-boy, Tehmur (Nawazuddin Siddiqui).

Rosie does more for Surjan than just help his case. She provides him with a place free from memories of his son. At home, Roshni stares at Surjan with expectation, waiting for the chance to really talk with her husband, whereas Rosie’s eyes hold an invitation.

Khan is powerful as the tortured Surjan. Whether it’s investigating Armaan’s death or following beguiling Rosie, Surjan is desperate for a problem to solve. All that comes from thinking about his son’s death are the questions of what he could’ve done to prevent it.

Mukerji is likewise terrific as Roshni, who is just as saddened by her son’s death, but even more troubled that Surjan won’t work with her to heal their wounds. She stares at her husband with such longing before finally resolving to find peace on her own.

Kapoor’s Rosie is too coy at the start, and it takes a while before she seems like a real person and not a caricature of a prostitute. When she finally starts to discuss serious topics with Surjan, she does so with an evasive glibness.

As is the case with seemingly every movie he’s been in recently, Nawazuddin Siddiqui again steals the show. Pitiable Tehmur is the perfect target for abuse: his mother was a prostitute and he has one misshapen foot, so he has no other option but to do what Shashi says. Siddiqui plays Tehmur as resourceful and scrappy, and he seizes an opportunity to get rich quick, even if it gets him in way over his head.

The sweetest relationship in the film is between Tehmur and Nirmala, a prostitute who’s been told she’s too old to be of any value. World-weary Nirmala is not overly affectionate with Tehmur, but because she’s the only person who treats him with any kindness at all, he acts as though she’s promised him eternal love. The relationship wouldn’t be so affecting without someone as skilled as Siddiqui playing Tehmur.

In Talaash, director Reema Kagti and her co-writer Zoya Akhtar have created an entertaining thriller that uses every one of its 139 minutes wisely. It’s easily accessible for anyone who’s a fan of thrillers, as the English subtitles are well-translated from Hindi.

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Movie Review: Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Writer-director Zoya Akhtar’s sophomore effort, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, is good enough to push her into the top tier of filmmakers working in India at the moment. Her ability to create realistic characters keeps the old Bollywood recipe fresh, updating it for a young, global audience.

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (ZNMD, henceforth) follows three lifelong friends from India as they roadtrip through Spain. The trip is a sort of bachelor party for Kabir (Abhay Deol), in which the groom-to-be and his two pals, immature Imraan (Farhan Akhtar) and serious Arjun (Hrithik Roshan), each get to choose a different adventure on which the others must go along, no matter what.

The trip gets off to a rocky start. There’s a lingering animosity between Imraan and Arjun, who keeps getting work-related phone calls. Kabir selects scuba diving for his adventure, even though Arjun can’t swim and is terrified of water.

The trip is saved by their beautiful, free-spirited diving instructor, Laila (Katrina Kaif). She helps Arjun overcome his fears and shows the boys around Spain. The trip proceeds so that the friends can find what they are really looking for: not just a little fun in the sun, but the means by which to fill the voids in their lives.

What I loved about Zoya Akhtar’s first movie, Luck By Chance, was her devotion to believable, nuanced characters. She exercises the same care in ZNMD. Imraan’s attention-getting jokes mask his insecurity; Arjun struggles with the greedy workaholic he’s become; Kabir is so busy trying to keep everyone else happy that he doesn’t know what he really wants.

Kabir’s jealous fiancée, Natasha (Kalki Koechlin), is so well written, it’s eerie. I recognized Natasha’s cold reaction when Kabir introduces her to Laila over Skype as the way I might’ve reacted as a young adult. Kudos to Zoya and her co-writer, Reema Kagti, for creating such a realistic character, and to Koechlin for bringing her life.

The acting in ZNMD is brilliant, across the board. As suspicious as Koechlin plays Natasha, Kaif keeps Laila breezy and winsome. Roshan, normally a charming leading man, seizes the rare opportunity to play an unlikeable character and makes Arjun a real jerk early in the film.

But Deol and Akhtar take the cake with their easy, natural rapport. Their expressions as Imraan and Kabir joke behind Arjun’s back make some scenes feel like candid outtake shots rather than directed scenes. Deol, Akhtar and Roshan deserve extra credit for singing their own parts in the catchy song “Señorita.” (I’ve included a teaser video of the song below.)

My only complaint about the movie is that it’s longer than it needs to be. While the scenery is beautiful, and footage of the boys scuba diving and skydiving is exciting, there are lengthy periods that feel like a promotional video for the Spanish tourism board or for an adventure tour company.

That said, I understand why those scenes are in the movie. Akhtar opted to tell her story using the traditional Indian runtime of about two-and-a-half hours, and she filled the time to maximize the amount of escapism. It’s as easy to get lost in the story as it is in the footage of the Spanish countryside.

Since my only quibble with Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is a matter of personal preference, and not a problem of execution, I don’t hesitate to recommend it. Zoya Akhtar is setting new storytelling standards that other Hindi directors must try to keep up with.

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