Tag Archives: Ritesh Shah

Movie Review: Pink (2016)

pink3 Stars (out of 4)

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Pink is a clear, convincing skewering of the double standards women are held to regarding their sexuality, and an indictment of the way those standards enable violence against women.

Two vehicles speed toward Delhi late one night. One car carries three male friends, one of whom bleeds profusely from a head wound. A cab ferries three somber women, the only indicator that something is wrong being Minal’s (Taapsee Pannu) smudged lipstick.

We can guess what happened. The bleeding man, Rajveer (Angad Bedi), forced himself on Minal, who defended herself with a glass bottle. She and her roommates Andrea (Andrea Tariang) and Falak (Kirti Kulhari) hope that the guys — Rajveer, Dumpy (Raashul Tandon), and Minal’s schoolmate Vishwa (Tushar Pandey) — will leave things be.

The men seem willing to until another friend, Ankit (Vijay Verma), whips them into a frenzy of wounded male pride. They harass and torment the women, hoping to drive them out of town. When the women file a police report, the men use the political clout of Rajveer’s family to file a counter charge of attempted murder against Minal.

All of this occurs under the watchful eye of the women’s odd neighbor, Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachchan). He walks the neighborhood wearing a black mask and stares intimidatingly at the women’s apartment. Yet the former attorney reveals himself to be an ally, emerging from retirement to defend Minal in court.

One important note for international viewers is that the English subtitles leave much to be desired, and not just because of spoken English dialogue that doesn’t match the captioning. I understand enough Hindi to tell when translated subtitles don’t quite capture what is being said, sacrificing content for brevity, and that happens a lot in Pink.

Poor subtitling may explain why I found some parts of the story confusing. It’s unclear precisely what mental illness forced Sehgal to retire, or why he comes across as sinister early in the film. Bad translating may also be to blame for a perplexing scene late in the film featuring Falak on the witness stand.

Where director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury and writer Ritesh Shah excel is in the film’s structure. They start with the aftermath of the instigating event and proceed from there, without flashbacks or man-on-the-street reactions (thank heavens). Cases of rape are almost always “he said, she said,” so the audience is limited to the same kind of evidence that a jury might have. Only during the closing credits do we actually see the events that led up to Minal braining Rajveer with the bottle.

Pannu, Kulhari, and Tariang give nuanced performances that portray the range of emotions the women experience in a realistic way. Minal is the “strong” one, but there are limits to what even she can endure. Falak’s instinct to agree to whatever terms will make their problems disappear most quickly is understandable.

Likewise, the actors playing the perpetrators portray their characters as generally normal guys who bring out the worst in each other. Vishwa is reasonable and even a little sympathetic when he’s not with his friends, though he’s clearly not strong enough to stand up to them. Rajveer isn’t a cartoon villain, but rather an entitled bully. He’s gets what he wants because no one stops him.

The morality tale exacted by the younger characters is distilled into tidy lessons by Bachchan’s character during the courtroom scenes. I’m not sure if lawyers in real Indian courtrooms are allowed to monologue as long as Sehgal does, but his words are impactful.

The movie proceeds at a cautious pace to make sure that the audience has time to absorb the moral message being doled out. For those already versed in feminism and issues of violence against women, the pacing feels slow. But Pink is a movie made to change minds, and hiring a legend like Amitabh Bachchan to deliver the message is a smart way to ensure that people listen.

[Update: Thanks to @karansingh9008 and @Djimitunchained for letting me know via Twitter that Sehgal’s illness wasn’t explained in the Hindi dialogue either.]

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Movie Review: Madaari (2016)

Madaari1 Star (out of 4)

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Madaari (“The Puppetmaster“) is phony populism at its worst. The entire story hinges on unrealistic assumptions presented in an annoying manner.

Man-on-the-street footage is among the laziest of filmmaking cliches because it serves as a form of storytelling peer pressure. The audience is shown that they must feel a certain way because that’s how these hundreds of random, nameless characters feel. It removes the burden from the filmmaker to craft a convincing narrative while simultaneously assuming that the audience wouldn’t be able to understand a convincing narrative even if they saw one.

Without man-on-the-street footage, Madaari wouldn’t exist. Time and again, we are presented with montages of nobodies telling the audience how to feel, gathered around screens and nodding in unison. It’s irritating.

Take the opening of the film. News channels report that the son of Home Minister Prashant Goswami (Tushar Dalvi) has been kidnapped. An anonymous citizen is so shocked that he nearly drives into oncoming traffic. Cut to a shot of a teenage daughter telling her father that he must have misheard the news, since it would be simply too shocking if the home minister’s son was really kidnapped.

WE GET IT! The kidnapping of a politician’s child is a big deal. We’d understand that just as clearly if the information was presented to us with a shot the minister himself receiving the news that his son was kidnapped. Also, this news has no direct impact on the lives of ordinary citizens, so why do they react so dramatically? It’s not like the news was: “Zombies have taken over India! Run for your lives!”

The kidnapper in Madaari is Nirmal (Irrfan Khan), who doesn’t demand ransom but rather information about the fate of his own 7-year-old son, Apu. It’s clear from Nirmal’s choice of target that he suspects government corruption is at play.

Apparently, much of the public also considers the government corrupt since Nirmal immediately becomes a folk hero. But let’s be clear about this: Nirmal becomes a folk hero for kidnapping a little boy!

It’s not enough for the movie to imply that the home minister had it coming (twisted as that would be). The story blames 8-year-old Rohan (Vishesh Bansal) for his own kidnapping because he’s insufficiently Indian. He eschews traditional street food in favor of french fries and drinks bottled water because local tap water makes him sick. As if kidnapping a “foreign” kid is somehow morally justifiable.

Let’s reiterate: Rohan is eight. He’s eight! He’s entirely a product of his upbringing and his environment, neither of which he has any control over because he’s a little kid.

This is important because, even though Rohan is not in mortal danger early on, Nirmal eventually threatens the boy’s life. Yet that doesn’t change Nirmal’s folk hero status. How is it heroic to threaten to kill a kid?

And why should it matter what the public thinks of this guy anyway? Director Nishikant Kamat and writers Ritesh Shah and Shailja Kejriwal overestimate the public’s ability to influence operational decisions in a case like this, pushing the story in a direction that is absurd and stupid.

Lead investigator Nachiket (Jimmy Shergill) adopts a wait-and-see strategy as his rescue plan, since the members of Prashant’s party are most concerned about the optics of the situation. “If he can’t protect his own son, how can he protect the nation?” This doesn’t leave much for Shergill to do, an unfortunate victim of the film’s pathologically boring tendencies.

When given the opportunity, Khan shows all the skills in his acting arsenal. He’s grounded in his depiction of Nirmal, portraying him as a man shattered but functional. Nirmal’s post-traumatic flashback scenes are more informative and emotionally effective than the news footage Kamat uses as filler.

The climax of Madaari is not only unrealistic, it doesn’t satisfy the hunger for social justice the story so desperately tries to stoke. Madaari isn’t even substantial enough to qualify as populist junk food.

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Movie Review: Rocky Handsome (2016)

RockyHandsome2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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When reviewing a remake, comparison to the original can be unavoidable. One can’t very well unsee a movie just to be able to evaluate its remake without preconceptions. The question then becomes: had I not seen the original, how do I think I would feel about the remake?

Had I seen Rocky Handsome first, I presume that I would have found it convoluted but interesting, especially in regard to its brutal violence and dark thematic elements. However, having already seen The Man From Nowhere — the South Korean film on which Rocky Handsome is based — the Hindi remake doesn’t hold a candle to the original.

Rocky Handsome‘s story is virtually identical to The Man From Nowhere, though the action shifts from Seoul to Goa. A solitary pawn shop owner (John Abraham) nicknamed “Handsome” by his neighbors goes on a killing spree when gangsters kidnap Naomi (Diya Chalwad), a neglected little girl who lives in his building. As Handsome tracks down Naomi, the cops and gangsters pursuing him learn the truth about this mysterious assassin.

Structural changes by director Nishikant Kamat and writer Ritesh Shah make the early parts of Rocky Handsome confusing. Apart from an opening credits musical flashback to Handsome’s romance with Rukshida (Shruti Haasan), the first twenty minutes focus on his tenuous friendship with Naomi, with only a glimpse of the girl’s drug-addicted mother, Anna (Nathalia Kaur). There’s no setup for an intense scene when Naomi discovers her mother being tortured by gangsters in their apartment.

A flashback explains that, one month earlier, Anna stole some heroin without realizing it belonged to notorious mafia brothers Kevin (director Nishikant Kamat) and Luke (Teddy Maurya) Fereira. In The Man From Nowhere, the theft is the opening scene. The audience knows that there will be hell to pay, but not how or when, thus building tension, if not dread.

Also during the flashback, the local police present a rapid-fire montage of the main players in the Goa drug trade, as if it’s possible for the audience to remember so many characters and relationships introduced in such a short span of time.

The selling point in the trailer for Rocky Handsome is the movie’s violence, which is handled well. It’s bloody and cruel, and John Abraham successfully pulls off everything from shootouts to knife fights. A dilapidated church is an eerie staging ground for a climactic battle.

Abraham is less successful in his characterization. As a man grieving his dead wife, he seems more emo than haunted. He first appears on screen slouching under a hoodie like a sullen teen.

Characterization is the biggest problem in Rocky Handsome. Naomi is too chipper, especially compared to her world-weary prototype from The Man from Nowhere, So-Mi. The brothers’ Thai assassin Attila (Kazu Patrick Tang) is flat and has no impact on the narrative, unlike the vitally important Rowan from the original.

Worst of all is Maurya, who turns eccentric Luke into an impotent joke. There’s nothing frightening to Luke’s antics, and he becomes increasingly annoying the longer he’s on screen.

Truth be told, there are few tense moments in Rocky Handsome. Bollywood doesn’t do menace particularly well, though Kamat and Shah had a perfect template to work from. Though there’s plenty of gore, they shy away from the best opportunities to scare the audience.

As I wrote at the outset, if I hadn’t seen The Man From Nowhere, I’d probably have been more entertained by Rocky Handsome. If entertaining is good enough, then by all means, buy a ticket for Rocky Handsome. But if you want greatness, skip it and watch The Man From Nowhere on Netflix instead.

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