Tag Archives: Sanjai Mishra

Movie Review: War Chhod Na Yaar (2013)

War_Chhod_Na_Yaar_Theatrical_Poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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War Chhod Na Yaar (“Let’s Forsake War“) is neither as good nor as bad as it could have been. Given that the movie is a comedy about a war between India and Pakistan, the fact that it’s not a disaster is something of a success in its own right.

War Chhod Na Yaar (WCNY, henceforth) avoids many potential pitfalls by laying blame for the ongoing hostilities between India and Pakistan far up the chain, and not at the feet of the soldiers on the front lines. The film blames politicians hungry for votes, foreign powers hungry for money, and news outlets hungry for sensational headlines.

The action takes place primarily at a pair of army outposts along the border. The soldiers on opposite sides of the barbed wire fence exist under an informal truce built on the playfully contentious friendship between Indian Captain Raj (Sharman Joshi) and Pakistani Captain Qureshi (Javed Jaffrey), who secretly meet at night to play cards.

Their peace is threatened when the Indian Defense Minister (Dalip Tahil) reveals to a reporter, Rut (Soha Ali Khan), that war will break out in two days time. They travel to the Indian outpost where the minister enlists Rut’s help in creating a propaganda video to be released after the fighting begins. The minister quickly gets out of Dodge, but Rut stays to find out what life is really like for the soldiers. She and Raj fall in love in the process.

Many of the jokes come at the expense of the Pakistani Army, who are portrayed as bumbling due to chronic malnourishment. The leader of the Pakistani troops, Commander Khan (Sanjai Mishra), is supposed to be played for laughs, but his character isn’t well-defined enough to really be funny. He’s a collection of character flaws rather than a character with flaws.

Another problem is that many of the jokes rely on Hindi wordplay and rhymes, and they don’t survive the translation into English. Likewise, certain jokes rely on regional and cultural knowledge that international audiences lack.

Joshi and Jaffrey are charming as the friendly officers, but Khan doesn’t pull off the reporter role. The soldiers from two hostile countries engage in a singing competition, but Rut doesn’t find it newsworthy enough to record with her video camera.

Tahil plays not only the Indian Defense Minister, but the defense minister from Pakistan, America, and China. The Chinese defense minister would’ve been recognizable in his army uniform and Chairman Mao hairstyle, so I could’ve done without the potentially offensive eye makeup. (And why are the Chinese minister’s two bodyguards African?) But Tahil is pretty funny as the American defense chief, who’s clearly modeled on George W. Bush.

WCNY portrays China and America as pitting India and Pakistan against each other in a proxy war. The U.S. gets off relatively easy under accusations of profiteering. China, on the other hand, is repeatedly criticized for flooding India and Pakistan with cheaply made products. The Pakistani army is so ineffective because all of their Chinese-made weapons are defective.

WCNY falls prey to a common mistake: over-explaining things rather than trusting the audience to interpret events for themselves. When the predetermined nature of the war is revealed on Rut’s cable news network, the film cuts to reaction shots of ordinary citizens as they take to the streets in outrage.

All the movie needs to show is the ruse revealed. The audience can figure out what would come next. The movie doesn’t need to show man-on-the-street interviews of random people saying how bad corruption is. We know it is!

I doubt that WCNY will inspire many other filmmakers to tread the tricky ground of India’s ongoing tension with Pakistan, but it does show that it’s possible to do so without being offensive. Now the trick is to make it funny.

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Movie Review: Phata Poster Nikla Hero (2013)

Phata_Poster_Nikhla_Hero3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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The trailer for Phata Poster Nikla Hero (“Through the Poster Emerges the Hero“) promises an overly wacky, seemingly disjointed screwball comedy. Fortunately, the movie succeeds by subverting the promises of the trailer. Instead, Phata Poster Nikla Hero exploits Bollywood conventions to produce a hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable movie.

As a child, young Vishwas is obsessed with movies, but his mother makes him swear before God that he’ll grow up to be an honest police officer. She further warns him that, should he ever do anything wrong, she and God will know about it. Nevertheless, the boy’s Bollywood dreams persist into adulthood. When his mother (Padmini Kolhapure) arranges an interview with the Mumbai police department, Vishwas (Shahid Kapoor) heads to the city, intent on pursuing his movie career behind his mother’s back.

When Vishwas accidentally thwarts a kidnapping while still wearing the police uniform he had donned for a photo shoot, it brings him fame and the unwanted attention of the local crime bosses. Worse, his mother finds out, and she comes to Mumbai to visit. Things get out of control as Vishwas tries to hide the truth from his mother, avoid the police and gangsters, and still make it big as an actor.

There are dozens of moving parts in Phata Poster Nikla Hero, but writer-director Rajkumar Santoshi keeps everything under control. As opposed to another recent comedy of errors, Chennai Express, Santoshi pays careful attention to continuity. He doesn’t introduce side characters for temporary plot convenience; all of the friends and enemies Vishwas makes along the way are with him ’til the end.

This is great, because there are some very funny supporting characters in Phata Poster Nikla Hero. Upon arriving in Mumbai, Vishwas rents a room in a guest house run by Yogi (Sanjay Mishra), a screenplay guru who “almost” wrote a number of hit films. Yogi and the other aspiring actors who rent rooms from him help Vishwas keep the truth from his mom. The only downside is that all of the other renters are terrible actors.

Kajal (Ileana D’Cruz) is another character who creates headaches for Vishwas in her attempts to help him. She mistakes Vishwas for a real police officer, setting up the accidental heroics that bring him unwanted notoriety. D’Cruz’s plucky earnestness makes dynamic Kajal a perfect foil and love interest for poor Vishwas, who’s just trying to keep his ruse from falling apart.

The cops and robbers generate some good laughs, too: Saurabh Shukla as a local don enamored of Vishwas’s fighting skills; Darshan Jariwala as flustered Police Commissioner Khare; and Zakir Hussain as Officer Ghorpade, a man whose loyalty is divided because he’s getting paid by both the police and the gangsters.

Of course none of this works if Vishwas is a dud, but Shahid Kapoor gives a funny and charming performance. All of his hammy bits in the trailer make sense in context, and Kapoor fashions Vishwas as a good guy torn between doing the right thing and following his heart. This is easily my favorite performance by Kapoor.

In addition to busting out some of the exciting dance moves for which Kapoor is renowned, he gets to show off his physicality in several funny fight scenes. Given that Vishwas is a boy raised on movies, all of the fights have a deliberately over-the-top, cinematic style. It’s so obvious when Kapoor is wearing a harness, it’s as though Santoshi is winking at the audience. The film’s title comes from an early scene in which Vishwas leaps through a movie poster to rescue a woman, as though he’s a celluloid hero made flesh.

Santoshi deserves the most credit for the success of Phata Poster Nikla Hero. He gives the audience exactly what they’ve come to expect over the years — Parental conflict! Gangsters! An abrupt tone change in the second half! A dance number featuring a woman in a ball gown on a beach! — but he does it on his own terms. There’s a great moment at the end where Vishwas lists all of the filmy plot points he’s hit during his journey. Such self-awareness is refreshing.

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Opening September 20: Phata Poster Nikla Hero

The action-comedy Phata Poster Nikla Hero opens in Chicago area theaters on September 20, 2013. I’m not impressed with Shahid Kapoor’s acting in the trailer, but the bit with Sanjai Mishra as a fraudulent screenwriter is hilarious. Check it out:

Phata Poster Nikla Hero opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 30 min.

Last weekend’s despicable new release, Grand Masti — which earned $223,222 in its first weekend in the U.S. — carries over at all four of the above theaters.

The terrific romcom Shuddh Desi Romance gets a third week at the Golf Glen 5, Cantera 17, and South Barrington 30, which is also holding over Satyagraha ($724,088 in the U.S.) and Chennai Express ($5,266,322 in the U.S.).

The Golf Glen 5 is carrying over the Tamil film Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam.

Friday also marks the opening day of the Chicago South Asian Film Festival, which I wrote about on Wednesday. This year’s lineup includes great movies like Oass and The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Movie Review: Khiladi 786 (2012)

Khiladi_786_poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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There’s a lot to like in Khiladi 786. The well-organized plot allows for plenty of humorous turns, and Akshay Kumar gives a charming performance. Yet needless racism keeps me from recommending Khiladi 786.

During a throwaway number about forty minutes into the film, Kumar’s character dances, surrounded by a troupe of male Indian dancers wearing blackface makeup and Afro wigs, while female Anglo dancers writhe around wearing bikinis.

Kumar apparently doesn’t find blackface offensive, since he donned it himself in Kambakkht Ishq. If he did, he surely could’ve had the number changed since his wife, Twinkle Khanna, is one of the film’s producers. Since Kumar and Khanna already consider blackface acceptable, arguing with them over the obvious sexual objectification of Anglo women seems pointless.

The offensive dance number negatively affected my perception of an otherwise enjoyable movie. Kumar plays Bahattar Singh, a crook with superhuman speed and strength. Bahattar, his father, and his uncle work with the local police to stop smugglers on Punjabi highways. The work is dangerous and illegal, and the family splits the proceeds from their warrantless searches with the police.

Because seemingly everyone in the state of Punjab knows that Bahattar is thief, he can’t find a single local woman willing to marry him. This follows the family tradition of marrying foreigners. Bahattar’s mother is Canadian, his grandmother is African, and his aunt is Chinese.

(I also had a problem with the musical cues that accompany the introduction of each of the foreign women. The Chinese aunt appears to an East-Asian string-instrument theme, the African grandmother gets drums and chanting, and the white Canadian mother gets jazz saxophone. We get it. They aren’t ethnic Indians. That’s obvious from looking at them, though I’m not quite sure how jazz represents Canada. I would’ve gone with prog rock.)

Bahattar’s nuptial troubles present the perfect opportunity for marriage arranger Mansukh (Himesh Reshammiya), who’s recently been fired from the family wedding firm. He tries to fix up Bahattar with Indu (Asin Thottumkal), the reckless younger sister of a famous Mumbai don, TT (Mithun Chakraborty).

Indu knows that a woman from a family of criminals will only be accepted as a bride by another criminal, like her boyfriend, Azad (Rahul Singh). TT insists on marrying his sister into a good family, and the Singhs want the same for Bahattar, so Mansukh convinces the men of both families to masquerade as police officers.

Despite the fact that Khiladi 786 is an Akshay Kumar vehicle, the most important character is Mansukh. He’s desperate for Bahattar and Indu to get married in order to prove to his own father that he’s not a screw-up. To make that happen, he has to juggle the lies he’s told and encouraged others to tell. Mansukh’s uncle, Jeevan (Sanjai Mishra), hinders the process as much as he helps and provides comic relief.

Reshammiya plays Mansukh as animated, but not over the top. He needs to be the regular guy among a crowd of nutty criminals. Also, Reshammiya knows who the real star of the movie is.

Kumar plays much the same character as he always does: a sweet guy who’s tough when he needs to be. Bahattar notes: “Punjabis don’t come or go quietly,” which gives Kumar the freedom to act with extra exuberance. Bahattar’s superhuman speed is played to good comic effect, as he flattens bad guys in the blink of an eye.

The rest of the supporting cast is generally fine. Asin doesn’t have much to do, but Mithun Chakraborty gets to bash some heads in the final fight scene. There are a couple of side plots that come to nothing, involving characters like TT’s maid and an inspector played by Johnny Lever.

Of all the supporting characters, Azad is the funniest. Even though his name means “freedom,” he spends most of the film on the brink of being released from jail, only to screw it up and get himself thrown back into the pokey.

If it weren’t for one dumb dance number, Khiladi 786 would be a fun, harmless movie. There are just certain offenses that can’t be overlooked.

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Movie Review: Bumboo (2012)

1 Star (out of 4)

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The English translation of the Hindi slang word “bumboo” is “a mess.” Bumboo is an apt title for this movie, but not in the way the filmmakers intended it.

Bumboo is based on L’emmerdeur, a French comedy from 1973 that spawned a French remake in 2008. The premise is intriguing: an assassin’s stakeout is interrupted by the heartbroken, suicidal man staying in the hotel room next door.

While the premise is good, the film itself is not. Bumboo relies on my least favorite comedy gimmicks to try to generate laughs. Characters run around frantically, tripping over each other in order to get close enough to slap each other. Fart jokes abound. None of it is funny.

Sharat Saxena plays an assassin named Mangal Singh. The sharpshooter positions himself in a hotel room hours before a notorious embezzler is due arrive at court, where he plans to name his accomplices. Mangal’s room offers him a clear shot at the courthouse steps.

The hotel room adjoining Mangal’s has a good, but slightly less clear shot of the steps, and it’s occupied by a newspaper photographer, Suresh Sudhakar (Kavin Dave). However, Suresh is too distracted by despair over his failed marriage to care about his job.

Suresh tries to kill himself in his room, but nosy bellhop Vincent Gomes (Sanjai Mishra) saves him. By virtue of residing in the adjoining room, Mangal is deputized by the bellhop to be Suresh’s caretaker. The assassin’s mission is further compromised when Suresh’s ex, her new boyfriend, and the crooks who hired Mangal show up at the hotel.

Characters scream most of their dialog, even though the bulk of the scenes take place in two small hotel rooms connected by an interior door. Writer-director Jagdish Rajpurohit seems to equate volume with humor.

As a result of the all-screaming-all-the-time system of dialog delivery, the acting is overdone. Sharat Saxena has a bit of charisma as the stymied assassin, but not enough to make up for his constant bellowing. Kavin Dave as the heartbroken photographer is almost as annoying as Mandy Takhar, who plays Suresh’s ex-wife, Pinky.

The irritating side characters who exist solely to complicate Mangal’s assassination attempt — such as the bellhop and Pinky’s idiotic new flame, Dr. Souza (Sumit Kaul) — add nothing to the film. But the worst side character of all is the flatulent crook Manu Gupta (Sudhr Pande). Scenes of his transport to the courthouse incorporate all manner of bodily functions and disgust more than they amuse. Why?

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