Tag Archives: Ronit Roy

Movie Review: Thugs of Hindostan (2018)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Despite its novelty as a rare Bollywood seafaring epic, Thugs of Hindostan is done in by  predictable character development and a familiar plot focused too heavily on its male protagonists.

The film begins promisingly enough, with Ronit Roy playing the leader of the last Indian kingdom to resist takeover by the British East India Company in 1795. After instructing his young daughter Zafira (played by fierce little Deshna Dugad) on the importance of protecting her homeland, King Mirza plans to attack the Brits at dawn, but the Company’s merciless lead officer Clive (Lloyd Owen) attacks first. Only Zafira escapes with the help of the royal family’s devoted bodyguard, Kattappa…er, Khudabaksh (Amitabh Bachchan).

Fast-forwarding eleven years introduces the swaggering trickster Firangi (Aamir Khan). Firangi’s name means “foreigner,” explaining his willingness to pit Indians against Indians and Brits against Indians, all in the name of making a buck. He has no allegiance to the burgeoning resistance movement threatening the Company, making him the perfect spy to gather information on behalf of Clive’s second-in-command, Officer Powell (Gavin Marshall, who coordinated the circus acts for Dhoom 3, which also starred Khan and was directed by Thugs director Vijay Krishna Acharya).

The rebel leader “Azaad” (“Free”) is really Khudabaksh, assisted by grown up Zafira (Fatima Sana Shaikh), who’s become a deadly fighter. The name Azaad is confusing, because it’s hard to tell when the rebel army shouts the word if they’re cheering for the man specifically or the concept of freedom, generally. This is significant because the first character we see in the movie is Zafira as a girl. Thugs should be her revenge saga, but Khudabaksh appears to get all the credit for attacking the Brits — unless the masses really are cheering for freedom and not just for him. Either way, crown princess Zafira winds up playing second fiddle to her bodyguard.

As is the case for many Hindi films, the challenge in Thugs is weighing the needs of the story against the needs of the stars. The stars’ needs clearly trump the narrative in this case. Without Khan or Bachchan — and perhaps with an actress with a longer resume than Shaikh’s — Zafira would be the main character. But one feels a calculus governing the whole plot, and that’s ensuring that the biggest stars get the most screentime. For example, Khan must be onscreen for three-fourths of the movie (I’m estimating), Bachchan for less (but he gets more dramatic entrances), etc. That limits the scope of what other characters are able to do and diminishes their importance.

That calculus is responsible for the absurdly lazy incorporation of Katrina Kaif’s dancer character Suraiyya into the plot. She’s summoned out of the ether as the screenplay demands, with no attempt to make her feel like a person who exists when she’s not onscreen. She’s a character designed for item numbers, nothing more. It’s a shame because Kaif is captivating in her brief dialogue scenes, and there had to have been some way to further utilize the grace and athleticism she displays in the songs “Suraiyya” and “Manzoor-e-Khuda”.

Shaikh is likewise underutilized, despite having the most compelling emotional arc. She and Kaif share a nice moment in which their characters discuss the dangers of revolutionary action (after telling Khan’s chatterbox character to shut up). The film’s high point is a touching scene in which Zafira mourns her family, and Khudabaksh sings her to sleep as he did when she was a girl. The film is lessened for putting Zafira’s thirst for vengeance second to the question of whether Khan’s Captain Jack Sparrow-lite character will finally become a good person (of course he will).

One point in Thugs of Hindostan‘s favor is that they cast British actors who don’t sound ridiculous speaking Hindi, which is not common practice in Bollywood. There are good supporting performances by Roy, Sharat Saxena, and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub as Firangi’s psychic sidekick. Ila Arun has the only other female role of note, giving a funny turn as Jaitumbi, a potion-maker with a crush on the much-younger Firangi.

Thugs of Hindostan has one of the biggest budgets of all time for a Bollywood film, and it gets quite a lot of value for the money. Battle scenes are fun and clever, set against stunning backdrops. The leather armor worn by Zafira and Khudabashk is gorgeous, designed by Manoshi Nath and Rushi Sharma. Dance numbers are grand in scale.

High production values coupled with decent story pacing are enough to maintain interest while watching Thugs of Hindostan, even if its narrative deficiencies make it ultimately forgettable.

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Movie Review: 2 States (2014)

2states3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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As a woman who’s lived her entire life in Illinois, I would never have expected to find a movie about the cultural differences between families from North and South India so personally relevant. But those cultural differences are only the hook in 2 States. The real story is about alcoholism and the effects it can have across multiple generations.

The majority of the problems for the characters in 2 States (based on the novel by Chetan Bhagat) stem from the warped style of communication that Krish Malhotra (Arjun Kapoor) developed in order to deal with his abusive alcoholic father, Vikram (Ronit Roy) and his martyr mother, Kavita (Amrita Singh).

Krish — a Punjabi guy from Delhi — meets and falls in love with Ananya (Alia Bhatt) — a Tamil Brahmin gal from Chennai — in graduate school. They want their parents’ approval before they get married, but an introductory meeting goes terribly wrong. Vikram doesn’t even show up, and Kavita spews slurs against South Indians. Ananya’s mother, Radha (Revathy), calls Kavita classless and drags her husband, Shiv (Shiv Kumar Subramaniam) as far away as she can get.

Krish and Ananya persist in trying to win their parents’ approval, but their efforts are hampered by Krish’s evasiveness and conflict avoidance. Because he knows it will upset his mother, Krish doesn’t tell her in advance that Ananya is coming to visit, making Kavita even angrier. Krish also doesn’t tell Ananya the truth about his troubled relationship with his father until Ananya fruitlessly tries to make small talk with him.

I’m a couple of generations removed from the alcohol abuse on both sides of my family, but its effects still linger in the way we all communicate. Listening to Krish’s family evade, pacify, generalize, and blow up over little things felt familiar.

The characters feel so authentic because they are portrayed as damaged human beings, not monsters. Even in Vikram’s worst moments, Roy gives him an air of fragility. Singh plays Kavita as a woman whose hurtful words come from a place of fear.

Kapoor infuses Krish with an air of desperation. He’s as desperate not to lose Ananya as he is not to upset his mother. Part of his character development is choosing which he fears most. Krish is a relatable alternative to the typical cocksure, big-man-on-campus type of Bollywood hero.

Bhatt is terrific as Ananya: a woman with much more confidence than Krish, despite having challenging parents of her own. Revathy and Subramaniam find the right balance, making their characters chilly but not stony. At least with them, Krish knows he stands a chance.

Certain aspects make 2 States a good starter Bollywood film, not least of which are the well-written, well-acted characters. There aren’t an overwhelming number of songs, but those that exist are placed appropriately. The biggest song-and-dance number — “Locha-E-Ulfat” — is a kind of dream sequence when Krish is in the first throes of love. It features a cool single-take shot in which the camera weaves around, following Krish as he dances through the library stacks. (Watch the video of “Locha-E-Ulfat” here.)

Where the movie loses a lot of non-Indian viewers — especially those new to Bollywood — is in its jokes and stereotypes about North and South India. Some jabs are explained, but jokes about regional food and drink preferences are glossed over. I had to turn to Wikipedia to learn that “Madrasi” — the term Kavita uses to describe Ananya and her family — is an ethnic slur. Kavita also makes many, many cringe-worthy comments about the differences in skin tone between North and South Indians.

Nevertheless, the point is sufficiently made: the two families hate each other. It’s up to Krish to overcome his fear of conflict to win the woman he loves.

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Movie Review: Midnight’s Children (2013)

MidnightsKids2 Stars (out of 4)

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Midnight’s Children takes the fascinating history of India since Partition and muddles it up with a bizarre personal story that’s impossible to connect with.

The events of the film — which are narrated by Salman Rushdie, who wrote the novel on which the film is based — begin well before Partition, starting with the meeting of the main character’s grandparents in Kashmir, 1917. They raise their children, including Mumtaz (Shahana Goswami), the main character’s mother. She has a brief, fruitless marriage to a man named Nadir before she marries the main character’s father, Ahmed Sinai (Ronit Roy) and changes her name to Amina. The first marriage becomes relevant later when the parentage of the main character, Salim, is called into question.

There’s good reason for this, since Salim is not the Sinais’ biological son. At the very moment the British left India and divided it into India and Pakistan — midnight, August 14, 1947 — two boys were born in the same hospital: the Sinais’ biological son, Shiva, and Salim, the son of a busker whose wife dies in childbirth. Inspired by her revolutionary boyfriend, a nurse named Mary (Seema Biswas) switches the boys, forcing the rich boy to grow up poor and making the poor boy rich.

After the boys go to their respective, incorrect homes, Mary feels guilty. Not guilty enough to confess, mind you, but Mary becomes Salim’s nanny so that she may watch over the boy. She also watches Shiva beg outside the Sinais’ mansion every day.

There are practical reasons for her to choose the path she does, but Mary’s act of penance seems cruelly inadequate. Rather than helping the boy she doomed to a life of poverty, she makes things even easier on the boy whose life was likely going to be a comparative piece of cake.

As the boys grow up, they discover that the hour of their birth gave them (and thousands of other kids born on the same night) magical powers. It’s unclear what Shiva’s powers are, but Salim can summon visions of the other “midnight’s children” by sniffing. It’s not as cool as the superpower of a girl named Parvati, who can make things disappear.

The superpowers aren’t really important to the story, until they are used as an excuse to round-up the now-adult “children” during Indira Gandhi’s rule-by-decree in the mid-1970s. Salim admits in his narration late in the film that things didn’t work out as well for “midnight’s children” as they had hoped. So, a thousand kids with freaking superpowers are no match for India’s internal conflicts and perpetual problems with Pakistan. What a depressing sentiment.

While the idea of paralleling India’s troubled progress with the lives of two of its citizens is compelling, the magical realism isn’t well-integrated into the story, and it keeps the audience at arm’s length. Also, Salim’s constant runny nose is gross. The story would’ve been more interesting without the magic.

The film boasts an impressive lineup of actors who typically perform in Indian films, but fans of traditional Bollywood fare should watch the film with caution. There’s a fair bit of sex and some nudity, plus coarse language. This is not a film for the whole family (not to mention that kids would be bored out of their mind by the movie’s plodding pace).

Another note of caution is that the performances are uneven. Seema Biswas and Shahana Goswami at terrific as always, as are Ronit Roy and Soha Ali Khan, who plays Salim’s little sister, Jamila, as an adult. But Anupam Kher and Rahul Bose are over-the-top as Salim’s great-grandfather and uncle, respectively. They’re the most obvious examples of a distracting strain of quirkiness that pervades the film.

Worst of all is British actor Satya Bhabha as adult Salim. His intense performance seems more suited to the stage than to film. With so much weirdness inherent in the story, a strong main character is needed to anchor the movie. I’m not sure if the fault lies more in Bhabha’s performance or the way Salim is written, but, either way, Salim isn’t a strong enough anchor.

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