Tag Archives: Sanjay Dutt

Movie Review: PK (2014)

PK3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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PK — filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani’s exploration of religion — is a laugh riot. Hirani points out the absurdities of religious customs without causing offense by filtering his observations through an innocent protagonist: an alien called PK (“Tipsy”).

A spaceship drops the alien (played by Aamir Khan) in the middle of a desert in Rajasthan, with no clothes and no ability to communicate. The first human PK comes into contact with steals the glowing pendant that allows PK to contact his ship and request a lift home.

PK’s best chance to recover his pendant comes when he meets a rookie TV journalist named Jaggu (Anushka Sharma) in Delhi. Six months removed from a heartbreaking end to a whirlwind romance in Belgium with a grad student named Sarfraz (Sushant Singh Rajput), Jaggu is stuck reporting dull human interest stories about depressed dogs.

Hesitant as Jaggu is to believe PK’s alleged otherworldly origins, she’s intrigued by his take on human religion. Everyone he asks for help finding his pendant tells him, “Ask God.” But which god? How is he supposed to pray in order to get an answer?

PK’s bumbling attempts to navigate varying faiths are hilarious. He gets the nickname “Tipsy” because everyone assumes he must be drunk in order to be so clueless. Seeing wine served in a Christian church, he brings two bottles to a mosque. Whenever someone pulls back a hand to slap him, PK puts stickers depicting Hindu deities on his cheeks, since no one would dare slap Ganesha or Shiva. PK calls the stickers “self-defense.”

Even though the jokes relate to religions more common in India than in the West, the movie supplies enough information for international audiences to get the jokes without needing to know anything about Jainism or Hinduism. Besides, the point of the jokes is that they could be made about any religion anywhere in the world.

From the perspective of international accessibility, PK is as good as it gets. The English subtitles are phenomenal, incorporating slang like “chillax” and “kaput.”

A terrific cast helps, too. Sharma and Rajput are completely adorable together. She strikes the perfect balance as an ambitious career woman principled enough not to exploit her vulnerable new friend. Boman Irani is great in a small role as Jaggu’s boss.

Another great supporting performance comes from Sanjay Dutt, playing a band leader who befriends PK shortly after his arrival on Earth. Like Jaggu, he’s canny but honestly fond of the befuddled extraterrestrial.

Khan is tremendous as PK. He’s earnest and not at all goofy, making the ridiculous situations PK finds himself in that much funnier. It’s especially fun to watch PK adapt to his environment. He learns which mistakes will provoke a slap, and he’s always a step ahead of the angry mob chasing him. A scene in which PK figures out how money works is side-splitting.

The story slows down in the second half as laughs give way to serious questions of exactly what the faithful get for their devotion. However, the ultimate payoff to PK’s and Jaggu’s story is beautifully done.

The universality of PK‘s subject mater, the accessible way it’s presented, the nicely incorporated song-and-dance numbers, and the fact that this is just a damned funny movie make PK a great starter Bollywood film.

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Movie Review: Ungli (2014)

Ungli1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Ungli feels like a movie where the creators decided to base a movie on a particular topic, but forgot they needed to actually tell a story in the process. There’s no flow to the plot, and it’s unclear who the main character is. Note to filmmakers: the audience won’t hear your message if they are asleep.

The Ungli Gang — with “ungli” translating as “the middle finger,” as far as I could tell — are an odd assortment of people dedicated to exposing corruption in Mumbai. The gang members are journalist Abhay (Randeep Hooda), doctor Maya (Kangana Ranaut), mechanic Kaleem (Angad Bedi), and computer engineer Goti (Neil Bhoopalam).

Their first caper is to kidnap a trio of crooked pension officers. They convince the men that the phony bombs strapped to their chests will explode unless they keep running around a track, like a boring version of the movie Speed. Police and media are called to the track, where the officer’s corruption is exposed.

The caper earns the gang the kind of widespread public acclaim that never happens in real life, with news reports showing people cheering, “We love Ungli Gang!” Writer-director Rensil D’Silva relies heavily on man-on-the-street news footage — one of my biggest movie pet peeves — to bulk up a thin story.

After a single successful prank, the Mumbai police commissioner freaks out and assigns an officer to hunt down The Ungli Gang. That officer is ACP Kale (Sanjay Dutt), a man with a reputation for… something or other. It’s never explained what.

Kale recruits his informally adopted son, Nikhil (Emraan Hashmi) — the classic Bollywood loafer with a heart of gold — to infiltrate the gang. This doesn’t happen until forty-five minutes or so into the film, at which point Hooda’s character loses his position as the ostensible main character to Nikhil.

In the span of twenty minutes, Nikhil joins the gang, learns their backstory — they want vengeance for their injured CrossFit instructor (seriously) — frolics in a montage about friendship, and betrays them to Kale. I’m not a criminal mastermind, but if someone begged to join my gang, then injured himself just minutes before participating in his first job, I’d be suspicious.

If Nikhil is the character who needs to evolve during the course of the film, why doesn’t he become a major player until the movie’s halfway over? How did this disparate group of vigilantes become experts in espionage? Why is their motivation for vigilantism kept a secret until the second half of the movie? Why isn’t their quest for justice the main goal of the story rather than Nikhil’s slow journey to discover that — shocker! — police officers are fallible?

Shoehorned into the disorganized story are two useless romantic subplots. Bumbling Abhay can’t get the attention of his pretty coworker, Teesta (Neha Dhupia), which makes sense only if she has never actually looked at him. Nikhil woos Maya simply because she’s the only woman in the gang.

Before that, Nikhil smooches another female character who’s never seen again. He tells her that he has a reputation for kissing, a preposterously direct reference to Hashmi’s willingness to lock lips onscreen. Just because Hashmi is willing to do it doesn’t mean that it makes sense in the context of the story. It’s the single laziest element in a film replete with shortcuts and ticked boxes on a checklist.

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Streaming Video News: September 19, 2013

The 2008 thriller Kidnap is now available for streaming on Netflix. While by no means a great movie, Kidnap stars Sanjay Dutt in perhaps my favorite role I’ve ever seen him play. Dutt plays the father of a kidnapped young woman — a la Liam Neeson in Taken — a role befitting a man of his age (Dutt was 49 when the film released). He still gets to kick plenty of butts but without having to simultaneously romance a woman in her early twenties. I wish there were more cool dad roles for Bollywood actors. One can’t play a college student forever (right?).

Mark your calendars for Friday, October 4, when Lootera makes its streaming debut on Eros Now. Lootera is currently my favorite movie of 2013, so I’d say it’s worth the $1.99 rental.

Movie Review: Zanjeer (2013)

Zanjeer_poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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Movies about police officers who take the law into their own hands and beat the bad guys to a pulp are ubiquitous in Bollywood, thanks largely to the 1973 film Zanjeer (“Shackles”). While I haven’t seen the original Amitabh Bachchan film, I’ve seen plenty of variations on the same story in recent years, starring the likes of Salman Khan, Ajay Devgn, and Akshay Kumar. Given the ongoing popularity of the “supercop” sub-genre of action films, why would anyone risk remaking Zanjeer?

Director Apoorva Lakhia’s gamble doesn’t pay off. Perhaps fearing too much deviation from the original material, the remake of Zanjeer feels dated in its execution. The performances are corny, and the story structure doesn’t feel current. Lakhia would’ve been better off creating an entirely new movie, rather than being hamstrung by the old one.

Ram Charan makes his Hindi-film debut reprising Bachchan’s role as Vijay Khanna. Vijay is basically Batman: a boy whose parents are murdered in front of his eyes, who then grows up to be a vigilante. At one point in the film, Vijay’s girlfriend even wears a Batman t-shirt. The only difference is that Vijay is a maverick cop and not a masked superhero.

Vijay has such a reputation as a violent hothead that his interdepartmental transfer from Hyderabad to Mumbai merits cable news coverage (something that would never happen in real life). His first case in Mumbai involves investigating the murder of a man caught video-recording gasoline theft. The only witness is a beautiful Indian-American woman named Mala (Priyanka Chopra), in town for a friend’s wedding.

Mala is unbearably ditzy and annoying. Her role in the film is to be a lighthearted counterpoint to the always-serious Vijay, but she comes off as oblivious in the face of mortal danger from the organized crime unit that wants to kill her before she can testify. Chopra is a much better actress than this — as evidenced by her performances in Barfi! and 7 Khoon Maaf — so the blame rests on Lakhia’s shoulders for demanding such a grating performance from a talented actress.

In the course of his investigation, Vijay enlists the help of Sher Khan (Sanjay Dutt), a car thief whom Vijay pummels into renouncing his criminal ways. Vijay is similarly successful in recruiting the help of a journalist, Jay Dev (Atul Kulkarni), via threats and an absurd amount of swagger. No one writes lead characters this way anymore, so these scenes feel like out-of-touch throwbacks.

Then again, Charan seems unable to tone down his swagger, so maybe the scenes make sense. He doesn’t play a character so much as pose as one, as if no one told him they were telling a story and not just shooting the cover of the DVD. The fact that Vijay’s shirts are always unbuttoned halfway further serve to make him look more like a catalog model than a police officer. When Charan does act, it appears to require a lot of effort.

Dutt’s and Kulkarni’s roles are poorly integrated into the script, which is a shame. Their parts are eclipsed by Prakash Raj as the villain Teja, who chews scenery while dressed as a pimp. Raj is the best part of the movie, though a scene in which he and Mahie Gill spend thirty seconds meowing at one another is hard to take.

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Opening September 6: Shuddh Desi Romance and Zanjeer

Two new Hindi flicks hit Chicago area screens on September 6, 2013. Shuddh Desi Romance (listed at some theaters as “Random Desi Romance“) features rising stars Parineeti Chopra and Sushant Singh Rajput alongside newcomer Vaani Kapoor in a romcom love triangle.

Shuddh Desi Romance opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 5 min.

Also new in theaters this weekend is Zanjeer, a remake of the 1973 film of the same name starring Amitabh Bachchan. The remake stars Ram Charan, Priyanka Chopra, and Sanjay Dutt.

Zanjeer opens on Friday at the River East 21, Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17. Its runtime is listed at IMDb as 2 hrs. 17 min. The Golf Glen 5 is also carrying the Telugu version of Zanjeer, Thoofan.

After posting solid earnings of $500,402 over the extended holiday weekend in the U.S., Satyagraha gets a second week at the River East 21, Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17.

Madras Cafe gets a third weekend at the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 17.

Chennai Express is still going strong with earnings of $5,122,240 in the U.S. so far. It gets a fifth weekend at the South Barrington 30, Woodridge 18, and Cantera 17.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include the Tamil movies Madha Gaja Raja and Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam.

The teaser trailer from Dhoom 3 just released today, and it features some great footage shot in downtown Chicago. The movie releases on December 20, 2013.

Opening July 5: Policegiri

Sanjay Dutt’s Policegiri opens on Friday, July 5, 2013, at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles.

Policegiri is the second new Hindi movie to open in Chicago area theaters this week, following Lootera‘s Wednesday opening at the AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. Lootera expands to the Golf Glen 5 on Friday.

After earning $143,616 in its opening week in U.S. theaters, Ghanchakkar carries over for a second week in limited showings at the South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie. With total earnings of $756,233 so far, Raanjhanaa gets a third week at the Golf Glen 5, Cantera 17, and South Barrington 30, which also gives a sixth week to Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani ($3,745,243 total in the U.S.).

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include ABCD: American-Born Confused Desi (Malayalam), Balupu (Telugu), Mallela Theeram Lo Sirimalle Puvvu (Telugu), Saptapadii (Gujarati), and Singam 2 (Tamil), which is also showing at the Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge.

Movie Review: Zila Ghaziabad (2013)

Zilla_Ghaziabad1 Star (out of 4)

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When a movie is as crude and inept as Zila Ghaziabad, it’s hard to know what to prioritize when describing why it’s so horrible. The bad acting or the nonexistent story structure are both good places to start, but they miss what the film is really about: cigarettes.

Zila Ghaziabad is preceded by a two-minute video that graphically showcases the ways cigarette smoke ravages the human body. A voice-over implores the audience not to smoke. Then, throughout the entire film, every single time a character is shown smoking a cigarette or puffing on a hookah, a subtitle appears in the bottom right corner of the screen that reads: “Cigarette smoking is injurious to health.”

Because the vast majority of the characters in the film smoke, the warning appears on screen through almost half the movie, becoming the dominant image of the entire film. With just a hint of foresight into the likely dictates of the Censor Board, director Anand Kumar could’ve trimmed out a few shots of his characters lighting up and kept the audience focused on the story.

However, perhaps the focus is exactly where Kumar wants it to be. I posit that Zila Ghaziabad is really an anti-smoking parable and not a gangster movie. Vivek Oberoi plays the presumptive hero, a teacher named Satbeer. He’s admonished for smoking early in the film by his elder brother, and he abstains ever after. By the end of the movie, Sanjay Dutt’s maverick cop character, Pritam Singh, takes pity on the teacher because, “There was something about Satbeer that touched my heart.” Avoiding tobacco equals moral righteousness.

The short version of Zila Ghaziabad‘s story is that a guy named Fakira (Sunil Grover) gets jealous of his boss’s increasing reliance on Satbeer and causes a whole bunch of problems because of it. Lots of people get killed and nothing is solved by the end.

Arshad Warsi’s character — a hoodlum named Fauji — reunites with his gang in Ghaziabad and is welcomed home in spectacularly homoerotic fashion. Dozens of dudes break into a song about what a bad-ass Fauji is while firing long-barreled shotguns into the air and thrusting their pelvises with abandon.

The air-humping doesn’t stop there. Two item numbers feature a lone female gyrating while surrounded by dozens of horny guys. Since the lovely lady is obviously heading home with whatever rich guy hired her to dance in the first place, and there aren’t any other women in sight, one can only guess as to how the lathered-up lackeys will expend their sexual energy.

Fakira tricks Fauji into fighting with Satbeer in order to get back into the good graces of his uncle/boss, The Chairman (Paresh Rawal). This sets off a string of retaliatory attacks that draw national media attention to Ghaziabad. The overwhelmed police force turns to the only man who can fix this mess: Pritam Singh.

To say that Singh is a maverick is putting things mildly. While Singh has the requisite super-human strength of other movie supercops (e.g., those played by the likes of Salman Khan and Ajay Devgn), Singh lacks the moral righteousness supercops always have. Singh is at best a trickster, and at worst amoral.

A flashback shows how Singh resolves a dispute between a trio of lawyers who beat a food vendor demanding that the lawyers pay their bill. Singh slaps the lawyers around before handing his gun to the vendor and forcing the man to shoot one of the lawyers in the face.

That’s just par for the course in Zila Ghaziabad, a movie that has no moral center whatsoever. If anything, it appears to advocate violence over non-violence. When Satbeer decides to stop being Mr. Nice Guy, a song proclaims, “Forsaking his studies, he’s out to wage war.” Satbeer, with tears in his eyes, roars and shoves one of Fauji’s guys onto a pile of spikes. He then uses the dead guy’s own cell phone to break the news to Fauji. Satbeer tosses the phone over his shoulder, and I was disappointed when it didn’t explode on impact.

The point is that it doesn’t matter how many people Satbeer kills. He’s the hero because he doesn’t smoke.

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