Tag Archives: Richa Chadda

Movie Review: Fukrey Returns (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

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Fukrey Returns is a stale bore, populated by characters the filmmakers seem determined not to give us any reasons to care about.

Familiarity with 2013’s Fukrey is essential. The only plot refresher regarding the original film is a sequence of video-only clips that run behind the opening credits of Fukrey Returns. If you haven’t seen Fukrey recently — or if it didn’t leave much of an impression — you’re going to miss some references (I know I did).

The main characters from the original are back, including: smug ladies man Hunny (Pulkit Samrat); his psychic toady Choocha (Varun Sharma); the guy who’s too smart to be hanging around with these idiots, Zafar (Ali Fazal); and the guy who doesn’t really have anything to do in the story, Lali (Manjot Singh). Also returning are the guys’ shady mentor, Pandit (Pankaj Tripathy), and their gangster nemesis, Bholi (Richa Chadda).

After a year in prison, Bholi is eager to take revenge on the four friends who sent her there. She owes a large sum of money to crooked politician Babulal (Rajiv Gupta) for arranging her release, so she needs to use Choocha’s prophetic dreams in order to raise a lot of money, fast. The plan is for the guys to collect wagers from the public, promising to double investors’ winnings when Choocha dreams of the winning lottery numbers. In fact, the lottery pays out at a rate of ten-to-one, leaving Bholi with eighty percent of the winnings. In return, the guys get to continue living.

When their scheme is thwarted, the guys are pilloried for having defrauded the public and are forced to run for their lives. Fortunately, Choocha manifests a new prophetic power he calls “deja Chu” — premonitions that offer their only hope for clearing their names, freeing Bholi from her debt to Babulal, and getting themselves off of her hit list.

The plot doesn’t unfold as neatly as I’ve described it. Establishing what the guys have been doing since the events of the original film takes up a lot of time, yet reveals surprisingly little about the characters. Subplots are introduced and then forgotten about until the end of the movie. Hunny’s girlfriend Priya (Priya Anand) and Zafar’s fiancée Neetu (Vishakha Singh) stage their own disappearing acts until their presence is required for the climax.

The quality of the cast is uneven. When characters played by Chadda, Fazal, and Tripathy interact with one another, the gulf between actors of their caliber and the rest of the cast feels as wide as the Grand Canyon, especially considering how little the script gives them to work with. It seems like Samrat and Sharma have plateaued as performers.

Of course, the most damning indictment is that Fukrey Returns just isn’t funny. Right away, we get a tired gag about Hunny being bitten in the rear by a venomous snake and Choocha having to suck out the venom, and the same gag repeats later. Director Mrighdeep Singh Lamba also doesn’t know when to end a joke, lingering on reaction shots of other characters well past the point when the audience is ready to move on the next gag. Hopefully Lamba and his co-writer Vipul Vig will accept that Fukrey‘s well has run dry and move on themselves.

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Movie Review: Sarbjit (2016)

Sarbjit2 Stars (out of 4)

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Much of the press before the release of Sarbjit focused on whether superstar Aishwarya Rai Bachchan would overshadow the actor playing the film’s title character, Randeep Hooda. Rai Bachchan is the dominant presence in the movie, not because of her performance but because the story is tilted in her favor, at the expense of Sarbjit and the other important figures in his life.

Hooda’s character is Sarbjit Singh, a Punjabi farmer in a small town on the Indian border with Pakistan. He’s married to the woman of his dreams, Sukh (Richa Chadda), with whom he has two young daughters. He shares the family home with his father and his sister, Dalbir (Rai Bachchan).

Dalbir has survived her share of heartbreak. Her only child was stillborn, and her marriage went south not long after due to her husband’s violent jealousy over her close relationship with her younger brother, whom she essentially raised.

Jovial Sarbjit gets drunk with his friend one night and unwittingly stumbles across the Pakistani border. Soldiers arrest Sarbjit on the suspicion of spying, and they torture him into confessing to be terrorist Ranjit Singh.

It takes eight months for Dalbir and Sukh to find out what has happened to Sarbjit, after a sympathetic jailer mails a letter to them on the farmer’s behalf. By then, Sarbjit has been moved to a Lahore prison and sentenced to death.

A lengthy Pakistani judicial process affords Dalbir decades to find a way to free her brother. When Indian politicians are reluctant to intervene — if not outright dismissive — she rallies public support to pressure them into action. Dalbir’s endeavor begins with Sarbjit’s capture in 1990 and lasts long enough to see the advent of the Internet and cell phone technology to further spread her message.

Dalbir’s quest reveals the ways in which the Indian and Pakistani governments use prisoners as proxies in their ongoing conflict. An execution of a Pakistani prisoner in India can easily spur a retaliatory execution in Pakistan. Political offices change hands numerous times during Sarbjit’s incarceration, and every change delays progress to free him.

Dalbir’s story has interesting parallel’s with Sarbjit’s. He’s driven somewhat insane through years of torture and solitary confinement, and she also loses herself as his imprisonment drags on.

Yet, it’s weird the way the story — written by Utkarshini Vashishtha and Rajesh Beri, and directed by Omung Kumar — prioritizes Dalbir’s relationship with Sarbjit over all others. If my brother is ever wrongly imprisoned by a hostile foreign government and we finally get the chance to see him after eighteen years, I’m letting his wife walk through the door first.

So much emphasis is placed on Dalbir that other subplots aren’t fully explored. When they are addressed, it comes too late. About five minutes after I wrote a note wondering how Sarbjit’s younger daughter Poonam (Ankita Shrivastav) feels about spending her whole life protesting on behalf of a father she doesn’t know, Poonam has her one and only meltdown. It would’ve been nice for the sisters to have at least one conversation about how their father’s imprisonment has affected them.

The story focus is further problematic because Rai Bachchan isn’t the best actor in the cast. She conveys Dalbir’s pain, but too often she resorts to shouting to make her point, even when in front of a microphone. Piercing screams aren’t the only way to show anger.

Chadda’s restrained performance is more compelling. Her stoicism begs for more screen time, a window into how this woman perseveres with her beloved husband unjustly imprisoned, leaving her forced to raise two children on her own.

Hooda is terrific as Sarbjit. He loses a troubling amount of weight as the story progresses, but his most interesting trait is the way his speech changes. Dental hygiene isn’t high on his captor’s priority list, and you can almost judge the level of tooth decay by the way Sarbjit sounds.

The movie’s torture scenes are horrific, the conditions of Sarbjit’s imprisonment barbaric. Apart from the kindly jailer and a human rights lawyer (Darshan Kumar), most Pakistani characters are convinced of Sarbjit’s guilt and happy to see him suffer.

Some scenes need more explanation in order to help the narrative flow. Given the way Sarbjit’s fate is tied to world events, it would have been smoother to show the family learning about things like nuclear tests and terrorist attacks directly, rather than inserting stock news footage as Kumar does.

Though an imperfect movie, Sarbjit is an interesting cautionary tale about the hidden casualties of ongoing tension between India and Pakistan. The song “Meherbaan” is excellent. And Hooda and Chadda are so talented that they are impossible to overshadow completely.

[Update: In a recent interview, Richa Chadda revealed her disappointment that many of the scenes she filmed for Sarbjit were cut from the final version. That goes a long way to explaining why I found the story so unbalanced.]

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Movie Review: Masaan (2015)

Masaan3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Thanks to Just Me Mike for lending me his DVD copy of Masaan! Check out Mike’s film and TV reviews here.

Two young people struggle to grow within the confining social norms of modern-day Banaras in Masaan (international title: “Fly Away Solo“). The film is thought-provoking and full of moving performances.

Computer coach Devi (Richa Chadda) and her university student boyfriend Piyush check into a motel to finally consummate their relationship. “Curbing curiosities,” as Devi describes it. Their lovemaking is interrupted by the police, who storm into the room hoping to nab a couple engaging in premarital sex.

Police Inspector Mishra (Bhagwan Tiwari) revels in busting these two criminals. He tells Devi, “Your life is now ruined,” as he uses his phone to film her in a state of partial undress. He demands a bribe from Devi’s father, Mr. Pathak (Sanjay Mishra), in order to keep Devi out of jail. Mishra threatens to tarnish Pathak’s honor — not Devi’s, which is apparently already forfeit — by posting the video on YouTube if the impoverished bookseller doesn’t pay.

As Devi’s world falls apart, elsewhere in the city a young man falls in love. Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) is about to graduate from engineering school, the first member of his low-caste family to do so. He meets Shaalu (Shweta Tripathi), an opinionated young woman with a passion for poetry. As their feelings build through phone calls and clandestine meetings, Deepak chooses to ignore the fact that Shaalu’s higher caste status likely rules him out as a potential marriage partner.

Because the film opens with Devi’s tragedy, it’s impossible to enjoy Deepak’s romance with Shaalu. Watching them sneak glances at one another during a carnival feels like watching a horror movie, with the monster lurking around the corner clad in a police uniform.

Despite being a city of over a million people, the “small town” mentality in Banaras limits Devi’s options. As she switches jobs to avoid people familiar with her scandal, the expression in her eyes indicates that she has already checked out. Once she pays the bribe, Devi is moving away. Chadda gives Devi quiet fortitude coupled with an attitude that is beyond annoyed.

One minor subplot feels out-of-place in Masaan. During an argument, Pathak demands to know why Devi wants to punish him (as though her getting busted by the cops was directed at him). Instead of citing grievances such as Pathak’s eagerness to assume she’s at fault and his lack of compassion, Devi accuses him of having killed her mother by waiting to take her to the hospital.

It doesn’t make sense that Devi would have been a dutiful daughter her whole life, waiting until now to unload on him for something that happened when she was six. She has every right to be upset that he didn’t support her as an adult. The dead mother angle doesn’t fit.

Director Neeraj Ghaywan — who co-wrote Masaan with Varun Grover — takes advantage of Banaras’ most famous landmark: the city’s burning ghats where bodies are cremated. Deepak’s family business is burning corpses, and his engineering degree is his only hope of escape.

Americans are generally removed from the specific details of what happens to a body after death, so Ghaywan’s depiction of the pyres is eye-opening. Deepak’s father instructs one worker to tuck a corpse’s leg back under the burning logs. He yells at Deepak to smash open another corpse’s skull to “release the soul” (and help it burn more completely, no doubt).

Kaushal is terrific as Deepak, and Mishra and Tripathi are wonderful as well. Tiwari is callous and opportunistic as the corrupt inspector.

Two other performances stand out. Pankaj Tripathi — who normally plays villains or bumbling sidekicks — is sweet as an awkward ticket vendor with a crush on Devi. Little Nikhil Sahni is feisty and charming as Jhonta, a skinny orphan boy who drums up business for Pathak. Jhonta gradually comes to fill the void Pathak feels as his adult daughter pulls away from him.

Masaan is a really wonderful work from a first-time director with a bright future ahead of him. If it leads to quality, high-profile roles for the talented cast members, even better.

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

Goliyon_Ki_Rasleela_Ram-Leela_poster3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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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

Movie Review: Fukrey (2013)

fukrey0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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There’s a fundamental problem at the root of Fukrey. The story is about a couple of guys: one who has prophetic dreams, and another who interprets those dreams to pick the day’s winning lottery numbers. The guys run into trouble when they borrow money from a mobster and can’t pay it back.

Here’s the problem: with this infallible gambling system, why do they need to borrow money? Why aren’t they already rich?!

That the writers missed such an obvious problem is indicative of just how shoddily organized Fukrey is. As a result, the movie is a boring waste of 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Nothing occurs in a succinct or timely fashion in Fukrey. The prophetic dreams aren’t even mentioned until thirty minutes into the movie, and they don’t become relevant to the plot until the fifty-minute mark. The guys don’t get into trouble with the gangster until 75 minutes have passed, so nothing of consequence happens until the movie is half over.

All the time up to that point is spent establishing the characters as total morons. The dreamer, Choocha (Varun Sharma), and the interpreter, Hunny (Pulkit Samrat), are horny high schoolers eager to get into college so that they can score with chicks, or so they say. They grab each other and make kissy faces while they talk of future romantic conquests. They ogle every woman they see, so much so that it seems like overcompensation, especially in Choocha’s case. He seems to be quite in love with Hunny.

Meanwhile, Hunny is completely obnoxious in his pursuit of Priya (Priya Anand). He pops his collar and lies about his experience with French kissing (unless he’s been practicing on Choocha). Hunny lingers outside Priya’s house, posing with his best Derek Zoolander “Blue Steel” expression. He does everything that would turn a real-life woman off, but Priya falls for him because Hunny is the hero, and movie heroes always get the girl.

For some reason, writer Vipul Vig and director Mrigdeep Singh Lamba decided to make this about a quartet of guys, rather than keeping the story focused on Choocha and Hunny, the only two characters germane to the plot. Lali (Manjot Singh) would like to get into college to spy on his cheating girlfriend, and Zafar (Ali Fazal) hangs around campus playing guitar. Lali’s only contribution to the plot is that he puts his family’s restaurant up as collateral in the gambling scheme. Zafar is a superfluous mope.

Richa Chadda plays the mobster, Bholi. Her gang consists of a bunch of musclebound black men who operate a diversified crime  portfolio of drug peddling, extortion, prostitution, and even a telemarketing scam. The race of Bholi’s bodyguards is only significant because, at one point, Choocha refers to her gang as “the Chicago Bulls.” Shortly thereafter, Hunny wears a polo shirt sporting a Confederate flag patch. Not content to just be boring, Fukrey has to be racist, too.

The movie might make a little sense if Bholi had heard about Choocha’s prophetic dreams and decided to exploit his abilities for her own gain. But why do Choocha and Hunny need to go to her at all? The first time they won the lottery, why didn’t they save a little of their winnings and do the same thing the next day? That’s how gambling works: you win a little bit, and you keep playing hoping to win even more.

Since Hunny and Choocha know their system works, why haven’t they been exploiting this system for years, amassing a huge fortune? Just how dumb do you have to be to screw this up?

It’s not possible to care about characters this stupid. I hoped that Bholi would get sick of these morons and kill them for kicks. She doesn’t, so there’s really no good reason to see Fukrey.

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Movie Review: Gangs of Wasseypur — Part 1 and Part 2 (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Gangs of Wasseypur debuted on the festival circuit as a five-hour-plus Indian crime epic. When it finally released into theaters (and on DVD), the film was chopped into two halves, released months apart as Gangs of Wasseypur Part I and Part II. It’s a decision that makes sense from a distribution standpoint, but it does the film a disservice.

Gangs of Wasseypur is truly a single film written with a place for a pause in the middle to grab snacks, not for a break of several weeks. Like those who saw the film in the theater, I watched the DVDs weeks apart, and I think the viewing experience suffered for it. If you have the opportunity to watch both parts of Gangs of Wasseypur back-to-back, do it.

With that caveat, how does the film stand up as a cohesive work? Director Anurag Kashyap is something of an outlier in Indian cinema due to his willingness to let scenes breathe and unfold at their own pace. It’s wonderful to watch, but not indefinitely. There’s so much material in Gangs of Wasseypur that I would have enjoyed it more as two distinct films with two sets of midpoints, climaxes, and denouements. As it exists, Gangs of Wasseypur is a bit too much.

The plot chronicles a story of revenge that spans multiple generations of two families in the town of Wasseypur. After the British depart India in 1947, a young industrialist named Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia) assumes control of the local mine. He hires a goon named Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) to force the local laborers to work in deplorable conditions.

One night, Ramadhir overhears Shahid talking to his son, Sardar Khan, and his cousin, Nasir (Piyush Mishra, the film’s narrator) about his plans to kill Ramadhir and take over the mine himself. Ramadhir acts first, luring Shahid to his death, though his plot to murder Sardar and Nasir fails. Young Sardar vows to one day murder Ramadhir in retaliation, eventually passing on his hatred of the industrialist to his own sons.

That setup encompasses about the first hour of the film. The remaining four hours deal with the ongoing power struggle between the Singhs and the Khans and the resulting bloodshed. This is a gory film by any standard, but especially so compared to other Hindi films.

The bulk of the story centers on the two most charismatic members of the Khan family: Sardar (Manoj Bajpai) and his second oldest son, Faizal (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Rather than murdering Ramadhir outright, Sardar plots to become his equal and destroy everything Ramadhir has built. Sardar makes a fortune stealing iron ore and intimidating the populace. This long game gives Sardar time to raise a family (or two) while plotting his revenge.

Sardar is an interesting choice for a lead character because he’s an awful person, regardless of his tragic beginnings. In addition to being a violent crook, he’s a terrible husband to his first wife, Nagma (Richa Chadda), whom he abandons to marry a second woman, Durga (Reema Sen), whom he eventually leaves to return to Nagma. At various times, Sardar neglects his four sons with Nagma and his one son with Durga. To varying degrees, all of his children hate him as much as they fear and respect him.

Such a negative character only works as a lead because Manoj Bajpai is so talented. Sardar shares moments of genuine affection with both of his wives when he’s not being a total narcissist. Bajpai plays Sardar with such swagger and menace that it’s easy to understand how he achieves the success he does.

Faizal is not much like his father. With an older brother, Danish (Vineet Singh), as Sardar’s natural heir, Faizal can waste his time getting stoned. Circumstances eventually force him to take a more active role in the family business, and Faizal proves to be unexpectedly ruthless.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui owns every scene he’s in. He’s talented enough to make scenes in which Faizal sits starring some of the most riveting scenes in the movie. Faizal’s conflicted feelings about his violent lifestyle make him more relatable than his father, and he’s downright charming as he woos the lovely Mohsina (Huma Qureshi).

The problem inherent in revenge films is that the characters often have little room for growth. Either they get their revenge, or they don’t, whether by choice or failure. Revenge is an okay motive for a shorter movie, but my interest waned after the third hour or so.

Also at around the three-hour mark, the story pushes two new characters to the forefront: Sardar’s two youngest sons, Definite (Zaishan Quadri) and Babua (Aditya Kumar). At that point — about 60% of the way through the film — I didn’t have the energy to get invested in two essentially brand new characters. Had Gangs of Wasseypur Part II been a proper sequel, the introduction of the new characters wouldn’t have seemed so late.

What ultimately makes the film worth seeing is Kashyap’s directing style. In addition to letting the scenes breathe, he uses music to incredible effect. He has mastered the montage. In addition to star turns by Bajpai and Siddiqui, Kashyap gets great performances out of the rest of the cast as well.

Gangs of Wasseypur would’ve been better as two distinct films, but I applaud Kashyap’s effort in trying to push the boundaries of Indian cinema.

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