Tag Archives: Rohit Shetty

Movie Review: Dilwale (2015)

Dilwale1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Dilwale is a generic Frankenstein cobbled together from elements of countless other Bollywood comedies and romantic dramas, lurching from one predictable plot point to the next. Given the talent and budget at director Rohit Shetty’s disposal, the result is disappointing.

Shahrukh Khan plays Raj, a man absurdly devoted to the happiness of his younger brother, Veer (Varun Dhawan), so much so that he tears up and starts to shake whenever anyone mentions having a younger brother. Raj’s big secret is that he was adopted and is not Veer’s biological brother.

So Shahrukh plays a character with the same name as the one he made famous in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, with the same backstory as the one he played in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. See what I mean about Frankenstein?

When Veer falls in love with a beautiful woman named Ishita (Kriti Sanon) — whom he calls Ishu just so he can repeatedly say, “Ishu, this is a big issue” — it prompts Raj to flashback to his own failed romance.

With no scene transition of which to speak, we are transported fifteen years into the past, when “Raj” went by the name Kaali and worked as a gangster in Bulgaria. There he meets a lovely artist named Meera (Kajol, Shakrukh’s love interest both DDLJ and K3G), and they break each other’s hearts. Surely this can’t be the last we see of Meera, right?

The plot unfolds predictably, as obstacles arise in Veer’s and Raj’s paths to romance. These obstacles would disappear if Raj and Meera would stop withholding information that is unpleasant but not earth-shattering, but writer Yunus Sajawal can’t seem to think of a better way to delay the inevitable happy ending for more than two-and-a-half hours.

Further dragging out the film is a ridiculous anti-drug subplot that could not have been handled with any less subtlety. Boman Irani plays the world’s cuddliest drug kingpin, King. When King’s men try to strongarm a barkeep named Uncle Joe into dealing their goods — by banging a huge bag of weed on the cashier stand, in front of everyone in the bar — Uncle Joe responds with some incredibly direct dialogue (courtesy of writers Sajid-Farhad): “I won’t sell your drugs here. Youngsters come here to have fun.”

The “Drugs are bad, m’kay?” subplot reaches its hypocritical crescendo when Veer, his sidekick Siddhu (Varun Sharma), and well-meaning miscreant Mani (Johnny Lever), get completely drunk on booze and self-righteousness while burning a bag of King’s drugs.

Siddhu is the fourth comic role I’ve seen Sharma play, which I think gives me enough information to definitively say that Varun Sharma is not funny.

But being funny isn’t really the point in Dilwale, where roles are cast not by suitability but by similarity. Need some outrageous older comic bit players? Hire Lever and Sanjay Mishra. Does the bad guy need a bald right-hand man? Hire Pradeep Kabra.

The whole movie is uninspired because the point is not to do anything unique or innovative but to evoke memories of earlier, better films starring the same people. The only way Shetty could have tried any less hard would be not to have made the movie at all.

By only looking to the past for inspiration, Dilwale winds up peppered with sexist insults. Siddhu repeatedly steals from Veer, but he’s forgiven because he says that he only did it so that he could take his girlfriend to the movies and out for coffee. The incident is brushed off by the men onscreen, who agree that women are greedy and high-maintenance.

Jokes are also made about Kajol’s weight, based on the assumption that she — like all women — is perpetually dieting. What is this, a Cathy comic strip from 1982? Beyond being tacky and outdated, the jokes are undermined by the fact that Kajol is stunning. Her gorgeousness is the movie’s lone selling point.

There is a stretch of a few minutes when Kajol saves a scene that should be stupid, and one briefly thinks, “Ooh, this could get interesting.” That hope is short-lived when Meera falls in love with Raj just because he loves her. To quote Cathy, “Ack!”

Kajol is better than this. Shahrukh is usually better than this. Varun is definitely better than this. Kriti’s character is so level-headed that she seems like she wandered onto the wrong set. Dilwale is not the Kajol-Shahrukh romantic reunion we deserve.

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Movie Review: Singham Returns (2014)

Singham_Returns_Poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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The release of Singham Returns on Independence Day in India feels wrong. Rarely does a movie try so hard to be patriotic but feel so cynical and almost anarchistic. When a country’s political, judicial, and religious leadership is depicted as so corrupt that the establishment of a police state seems preferable, the problems are far too big for one man, even if that man is Bajirao Singham.

While Singham is supposed to be a morally perfect dispenser of divine justice, he advocates a system in which he and his fellow police officers are judge, jury, and executioner. His methods are themselves criminal, so Singham relies on sympathetic politicians and reporters to turn a blind eye. It amounts to a conspiracy to protect an unelected individual who has assumed the ability to decide life or death.

Maybe it’s just that the release of Singham Returns comes at the end of a week in which an unarmed teenager in a small town in America was killed by the police in public, and that the protests that followed were greeted by police with tear gas, sniper rifles, and the imprisonment of skeptical politicians and media members. Whatever the reason, the solutions offered by Singham Returns seem terrifying.

Following his successful cleanup of Goa in 2011’s Singham, supercop Bajirao Singham (Ajay Devgn) is promoted to Mumbai. His former teacher, Guruji (Anupam Kher), wants to eradicate political bribery and has a slate of young reform candidates poised to challenge in the upcoming elections.

In order to keep the black money flowing, corrupt politician Prakash Rao (Zakir Hussain) and the crooked evangelist Babaji (Amole Gupta) threaten Guruji and his candidates. But Singham won’t allow such intimidation on his watch.

Like all Bollywood supercop characters, Singham’s only character flaw is that he’s unmarried. Apparently, every character who carried over from the first movie to the second has forgotten about Kavya (Kajal Agarwal), Singham’s fiancée from the first movie, who is never mentioned.

Instead, Singham is fixed up with Avni (Kareena Kapoor Khan), the sister of one of the candidates. The totality of Avni’s character is that she is irrationally jealous and eats a lot. This is an embarrassing role for an actor of Kapoor Khan’s talent.

Kher and Pankaj Tripathi — who plays one of Rao’s goons — give two of the film’s noteworthy supporting performances. Dayanand Shetty is also entertaining as Singham’s big deputy, Daya.

Devgn’s performance is fine, but his character is not. Singham quickly resorts to violence when provoked, and his wrath is indiscriminate: directed at obvious villains, but also at their victims and brainwashed minions. He lashes out, even when it hurts his moral standing in the community. He advocates the murder of those he deems guilty, independent of any judicial system.

Sure, there are plenty of explosions and enough fights to make you wonder if director Rohit Shetty bought his “slap” sound effects in bulk. Singham Returns isn’t boring. It’s just hard to cheer for a superhero who seems so undemocratic.

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Movie Review: Chennai Express (2013)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Circumstances have conspired to keep me from writing a proper review of Chennai Express, so here are some brief thoughts on the movie:

  • The film delivers on the romance, explosions, and lavish dance numbers promised in the trailer, so in that regard, Chennai Express is successful. However, the fact that so much of the film’s comedy relies on fans being well-versed in Shahrukh Khan’s previous movies limits Chennai Express‘s chances for greatness. The movie isn’t truly universal, and I don’t think it will stand the test of time.
  • On the other hand, the in-jokes about SRK’s movies aren’t critical to understanding the plot, so the film on the whole is pretty accessible. The funniest scene in the film is when Rahul (SRK) and Meena (Deepika Padukone) communicate in code in front of her kidnappers by modifying the lyrics to popular film songs. One doesn’t have to know all of the songs to find the scene humorous.
  • Many of the rest of the jokes are about Hindi-speaking Rahul not understanding the Tamil-speaking residents of Meena’s hometown. For the sake of audience members who don’t understand Hindi or Tamil and can’t easily tell them apart when spoken, I wish the English subtitles would’ve been presented in a way to convey which language was being spoken, perhaps by italicizing the Tamil dialogue subtitles or displaying them in a different color from the subtitles for the Hindi dialogue.
  • The story was okay overall, but the plot details left a lot to be desired. Supporting characters are introduced to move the story along, but are never seen again. Rahul is the only character to undergo any kind of character development (Meena falling in love with him is more plot progress than character development).
  • Meena fleeing her forced marriage is the catalyst for the story, but she doesn’t have a single scene alone with her father (played by Sathyaraj) to discuss her desire to choose her own husband. Instead, the climactic fight scene is preceded by Rahul giving her dad a condescending speech about women’s rights. Dad ignores the speech and declares that the winner of the fight gets to marry Meena.
  • The final fight scene takes place in Bollywood’s favorite generic fight setting: a public square full of market stalls just waiting to be destroyed. In addition to the obligatory bangle stand and pile of clay pots, director Rohit Shetty introduces a new kind of product to be decimated: a table full of plastic Tupperware containers!
  • The beautiful scenery in Tamil Nadu is the real star of the film. Check it out:

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Movie Review: Singham (2011)

Singham3 Stars (out of 4)

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In recent years, movies like Ra.One and Drona tried — and failed — to create lasting Indian celluloid superheroes. This seems an unnecessary endeavor since India already has a cinema superhero: The Supercop.

The Supercop is more of an archetype than he is a costumed hero, a la Spiderman or Batman, but he fits right in with all of the other comic book crusaders. The Supercop is morally righteous, virtually indestructible, and possesses superhuman strength. That he wears a police uniform and a mustache instead of tights and a cape makes no difference.

The Supercop has recently been depicted onscreen by Akshay Kumar in Khiladi 786 and Rowdy Rathore, and Salman Khan’s been playing essentially the same character for the last three years. Add in all of the South Indian actors who’ve played a version of The Supercop, and it’s clear India already has a national superhero.

Ajay Devgn takes his turn as The Supercop in Singham (“Lion”), a remake of a Tamil film. Devgn’s character, Bajirao Singham, has much in common with all the other Supercops. He’s a simple man with strong values who abhors violence, even though he’s required on numerous occasions to beat the tar out of people. He’s a 40-something bachelor because his moral purity has made him basically oblivious to women, until his One True Love comes to town and sweeps him off his feet.

Bajirao has a nice life as the sheriff of his hometown. His neighbors love him for his skill in resolving disputes before they turn violent. He’s so virtuous that an apology to Kavya (Kajal Agarwal) — a young woman originally from the village who now resides in Goa — makes her fall instantly in love with him.

Bajirao makes the mistake of embarrassing a gangster from Goa named Jaykant Shikre (Prakash Raj, who is superb in the film) by treating him just as he would any other criminal. A transfer to the Goa police force seems like a well-deserved promotion — and a chance to be near Kavya — until Shikre reveals that he used his influence to have Bajirao transferred for the express purpose of making the cop’s life a living hell.

Shikre is a bad, bad dude. His rap sheet includes choking a kidnapped grade-schooler to death with his bare hands when the boy’s father couldn’t afford to pay the ransom. He also successfully terrorized another upright police officer, Inspector Kadam (Sudhanshu Pandey), into committing suicide when the cop refused to take a bribe. Shikre’s tactics — which include harassment at all hours, cutting off Bajirao’s electricity, and false crime reports — force Bajirao to weigh whether returning to a simple life in his hometown is worth letting a monster like Shikre run unchecked.

In general, Singham is much like any other Supercop movie. Bajirao flips guys in the air with one hand and can run as fast as a speeding Jeep. His signature attack involves leaping in the air and swatting bad guys with an open paw, accompanied by the sound of a lion roaring.

Also as in other Supercop movies, the hero’s moral superiority goes unquestioned, even though it shouldn’t. Bajirao himself is introduced when Inspector Kadam’s widow begs god to make Shikre pay. This divine instrument of justice beats a group of men with his fists until they are reduced to heaps on the ground, then flogs them publicly with his belt, all for the crime of stealing Kavya’s shawl. Once the men were down on the ground, a public apology and the return of Kavya’s shawl should’ve been sufficient. But Bajirao insists on humiliating the men, just as he does to Shikre and just as Shikre eventually does to him.

Bajirao walks further down the slippery slope when he convinces the other officers in his squad to lie about what they’ve seen. Yes, the end result is that Shikre and his goons are unable to commit crimes without impunity for a change, but at what cost? Shikre and Bajirao both wind up perverting the system to achieve their own ends, so are they really that different? Shikre has the higher body count, but he’s not the one sworn to uphold the law. Bajirao is.

Beyond the ethical questions — which pop up often in Supercop movies and aren’t limited to Singham alone — Singham is entertaining enough. Kavya is more active than many of The Supercop’s heroines, which is a nice change. Kavya charmingly contrives ways to meet Bajirao through a series of fake thefts, and she gets everyone in town to lobby Bajirao to marry her.

Director Rohit Shetty misses a big opportunity to add tension to the movie. Shikre knows that Bajirao and Kavya are an item, but he never threatens Kavya. In another instance of (perhaps deliberate) misdirection, Shetty positions the camera above a spinning ceiling fan to look down upon Inspector Kadam as he contemplates suicide. The obvious implication is that Kadam will hang himself from the fan, but he ends up shooting himself.

Because of similarities throughout films in the genre, preference really comes down to which actor plays The Supercop. I like Ajay Devgn as an actor more than Salman Khan or Akshay Kumar, so I enjoyed Singham more than their iterations of the same story. Still, just as I’m not interested in any more Spiderman or Superman origin stories, I think I’ve seen enough of The Supercop.

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Movie Review: Bol Bachchan (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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I try not to prejudge a movie before I see it, but I was sure I wasn’t going to like Bol Bachchan. Based on the trailer and promotional poster, I expected nothing but tacky gay jokes and dumb, goofball comedy. I was pleased to discover that my fears were unfounded. Bol Bachchan is genuinely funny.

Mistaken identity comedies seem to be a dime a dozen in Bollywood, but few are executed as well as Bol Bachchan (which translates to “A Bundle of Lies,” according to the title track’s lyrics). It helps that the film has a good template to work from. It’s a remake of 1979’s Gol Maal, which is unrelated to the three Golmaal movies from the last decade, all directed by Bol Bachchan‘s director, Rohit Shetty.

Bol Bachchan‘s story concerns the unlucky fate of Abbas Ali (Abhishek Bachchan). When Abbas and his sister, Sania (Asin), lose their house in Delhi, a family friend named Shastri (Asrani) offers to get Abbas a job with his employer. The employer is Prithviraj (Ajay Devgn), the richest guy in a small town.

While on a sightseeing tour of town with Shastri’s actor son, Ravi (Krushna Abhishek), Abbas sees a boy fall into a walled-in reservoir. To save the boy, Abbas — a Muslim — breaks open the locked gate to a Hindu temple.

When Prithviraj arrives and demands details of the boy’s rescue, Ravi panics and introduces Abbas with a made-up Hindu name: Abhishek Bachchan. Since there’s nothing tough-guy Prithviraj hates more than a liar, the lies about Abbas’ identity snowball until he winds up with multiple fake mothers and a pretend identical twin named Abbas Ali.

Some background knowledge of Hindi cinema is helpful for understanding some of the jokes — such as the fact that the Abhishek Bachchan is the name of both Abbas’ fake identity and the real actor playing him — but it’s not essential. References to the original Gol Maal are woven in nicely to the new film as a way to move the action forward, not just for nostalgia’s sake. For example, Prithviraj’s sidekick, Maakhan (Neeraj Vora), becomes suspicious of Abhishek after he sees a pertinent scene from Gol Maal on television.

The film’s PG rating is well-deserved. The kids in the audience at my showing laughed in all the right places, particularly at Prithviraj’s repeated mangling of English sayings, such as: “A brother in need is a sister indeed.”

I read an interview with director Shetty in which he said that he includes car-stunts in his films because he knows kids like them. The reactions of the kids at my showing prove that quality writing is just as important. There are plenty of movies with better stunts than the ones in Bol Bachchan — a van full of people is suddenly (and obviously) empty when it launches over a ramp — so they only serve to pad the film’s runtime unnecessarily.

The song-and-dance numbers are similarly forgettable filler material. The songs themselves lack pep, and the choreography suffers as a result.

Only one dance number stands out: Bachchan’s performance as Abhishek’s pretend gay identical twin, “Abbas.” In his audition to be the classical dance instructor for Prithviraj’s sister, Radhika (Prachi Desai), Abbas writhes mock-seductively, repulsing — and in one case, enticing — Prithviraj’s henchmen. It’s really funny, and not as tacky or offensive as I feared it could be.

Bachchan’s performance on the whole is very strong, as is Devgn’s. I think both actors are at their best in comic roles, and their performances in Bol Bachchan confirm my feelings. Neeraj Vora and Krushna Abhishek are also entertaining in their supporting roles. Sadly, there’s little for either of the female leads to do apart from act virtuous and mildly annoyed at Abbas’/Abhishek’s antics.

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