Tag Archives: Sanjay Mishra

Movie Review: Baadshaho (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

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Baadshaho (“Kings“) — the latest collaboration between director Milan Luthria and writer Rajat Arora — is a disaster. It’s like they forgot what story they were telling as the movie went on.

In Rajasthan in 1975, a slimy politician named Sanjeev (Priyanshu Chatterjee) uses the federally declared “state of emergency” as a pretext to loot the ancestral wealth of Rani Gitanjali (Ileana D’Cruz) in retaliation for her rebuffing his sexual advances years earlier. Sanjeev sends the army — led by an officer played by Denzil Smith — to retrieve a treasure trove of gold from Gitanjali’s estate, arresting her on pretext of hiding it from the government.

It’s worth noting for the sake of international viewers that the role and duties of royal families like Gitanjali’s isn’t explained, nor is the government’s claim over ancestral wealth. The details of the “state of emergency” aren’t explained either, so it’s not totally clear why the story had to be set in the 1970s. Then again, the costumes and sets are so generic that the only clue that the story isn’t set in modern times is that no one has cell phones.

From inside prison, Gitanjali reconnects with her former security guard and lover, Bhawani (Ajay Devgn), who takes seriously his vow to always protect her. She tasks him not with rescuing her from jail but with making sure that her fortune never makes it to Sanjeev in Delhi. Bhawani assembles a team that includes a safecracker named Tikla (Sanjay Mishra), a woman with an unknown debt to Gitanjali, Sanjana (Esha Gupta), and Dalia (Emraan Hashmi), whose contribution to the group is tacky temporary tattoos and repetitive stories. Bhawani and Dalia trade unfunny quips that perhaps didn’t survive the translation from Hindi to English.

The army’s plan is to drive the gold eight hours to Delhi in an armored truck that looks like a bank vault on wheels, with multiple combination locks right on the back door — a design that renders the plan’s covert nature moot. The supposedly high-tech truck — which can be “tracked by radio” — includes a bright red button that can be pushed in the event of an emergency, turning the truck into an impenetrable bunker for the span of six hours. Obviously, this button plays a huge part in the story, right? One of the thieves gets trapped inside and needs to be rescued or something? Nope. No one ever pushes the button.

Driving the truck is Officer Seher, played by buff Vidyut Jammwal. Jammwal’s character in Commando 2 was introduced with a closeup of the actor’s bicep. Upping the ante, Baadshaho introduces Seher in a train cabin wearing nothing but his underwear.

Because the plan is so straightforward — there’s literally one paved road in the region that can handle the weight of such a heavy truck — obstacles and subplots are manufactured in order to make the movie run longer than an hour. Seher waits four days before setting off for Delhi, conveniently giving the thieves time to plan. Sanjana is grossed out by Dalia one scene, only to fall in love with him in the next scene for no reason.

One of the main reasons to cast Jammwal is to take advantage of his athleticism and martial arts skills. All we get in Baadshaho is a chase scene in which Jammwal runs at about sixty-percent speed so as to not immediately overtake Hashmi. Fight scenes are poorly executed, with actors falling from punches thrown nowhere near them. Bad editing obscures the action, which is often just shots of the actors’ bodies blocking views of the fight. Jammwal’s performance is still the best thing about Baadshaho, but we don’t get to see enough of him doing his signature stunts.

Worst of all is the film’s ending. Without spoiling any specifics, the movie’s climactic fight suddenly stops. The survivors — now in an entirely different location — express relief that the fight is over. Credits roll. What happened to everyone else?! Who lives? Who dies? Is justice done, and for whom?

It’s not even just that things end suddenly. Luthria and Arora don’t bother to resolve the film’s inciting incidents. It’s as though they lost track of the plot threads and forgot who the bad guys are. Beyond being unsatisfying, it’s simply bizarre. Without any kind of meaningful conclusion, Baadshaho is a total waste.

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Movie Review: Baaghi (2016)

BaaghiEntertainment Factor: 3.5 Stars (out of 4)
Quality Factor: 1 Star

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Baaghi‘s sheer ineptitude is its greatest asset. It assembles a hodgepodge of movie cliches into something inadvertently hilarious.

Right off the bat, the movie hints at the stupidity to come. A henchman, Biju, enters the lair of the villain, Raghav (Sudheer Babu). “We found her,” Biju declares, handing his boss…a magazine with a woman on the cover?! Either Biju is the world’s worst detective, or this woman is the world’s worst at hiding.

Probably the latter. The woman is Siya (Shraddha Kapoor), who has some sort of disorder the film chalks up to spiritedness. Siya giggles whenever it rains, and she yells at the clouds when it stops. This is her entire character.

Despite being a mental lightweight, Siya’s beauty charms two men for whom nothing must matter but looks: Raghav and Ronny (Tiger Shroff), a standard issue Bollywood man-child brat whose overwhelming character flaws are forgiven because he’s cute.

In a flashback, we see Ronny fall in love with Siya on a train journey south to Kerala. She’s visiting her grandmother, and he’s joining a martial arts academy. He arrives at the academy bearing a note from his dad, who’s basically Chappy from Iron Eagle: “By the time you read this, I’ll be dead.” The head of the school is Chappy’s former comrade, and the note begs the headmaster to turn butthole Ronny into a decent human being.

There is no indication that Ronny knows or cares that his father is dead.

Raghav falls for Siya on the same train trip, despite never actually talking to her (which explains everything). She has no clue who he is. In addition to being the head of an international crime syndicate based in Bangkok, he’s also the headmaster’s best student… and son!

While Ronny romances Siya and gets Miyagi’d into shape by the headmaster, Raghav bribes Siya’s piece of crap dad (Sunil Grover) for her hand in marriage. A bunch of stuff happens that drives all the characters apart and out of Kerala, leading us back to the start of the film, with Raghav “finding” Siya and kidnapping her.

Siya’s piece of crap dad pays Ronny to rescue Siya, a job Ronny only agrees to because he needs the money to — I shit you not — pay for surgery to help a mute little boy speak again. The mute boy can only say, “Ya ya,” which he does all the freaking time. The surgery is only mentioned once, with zero followup.

During a fight scene, the boy gets thrown about in the best cinematic instance of child-tossing since Gunda‘s Shankar tossed his adopted daughter to a monkey. There’s also a shootout at a quarry, again evoking Gunda imagery (as does all of the terrible acting and plot construction).

Speaking of evoking other movies, director Sabbir Khan and writer Sanjeev Datta boiled down the entire plot of The Raid: Redemption into one 14-minute-long action sequence. They did it so ham-handedly that the producers of The Raid took the producers of Baaghi to court. Make no mistake, the sequence is a total ripoff.

But that’s all Baaghi really is: a collection of elements of other movies awkwardly stapled together into an amateurish scrapbook. At times, the formula yields unintentionally hilarious results. Siya and Ronny make it onto a descending elevator seconds before Raghav, so what does Raghav do? He grabs a firehose and John McClanes it out the window to beat them to the ground floor!

There are many other golden moments that need to be seen to be believed, and the climax is a thing of botched beauty. Watching Shroff struggle to emote is likewise entertaining. Kapoor — who has it in her to be better than this — does nothing to help him.

Baaghi‘s worst moment is an alleged comedy sequence in which a blind cabdriver played by Sanjay Mishra molests a woman because she is Thai and wearing a miniskirt. It highlights a nasty strain of ethnocentrism in the film, which repeatedly belittles East Asian cultures. Another example is the atrocious wig the filmmakers force upon Kazu Patrick Tang, Bollywood’s all-purpose “East Asian bad guy.”

Still, it’s hard to take anything too seriously in a movie this dumb. If you’re delighted by misguided failures, Baaghi is for you. If you want to see an actual good movie, watch The Raid: Redemption.

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Movie Review: Masaan (2015)

Masaan3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Thanks to Just Me Mike for lending me his DVD copy of Masaan! Check out Mike’s film and TV reviews here.

Two young people struggle to grow within the confining social norms of modern-day Banaras in Masaan (international title: “Fly Away Solo“). The film is thought-provoking and full of moving performances.

Computer coach Devi (Richa Chadda) and her university student boyfriend Piyush check into a motel to finally consummate their relationship. “Curbing curiosities,” as Devi describes it. Their lovemaking is interrupted by the police, who storm into the room hoping to nab a couple engaging in premarital sex.

Police Inspector Mishra (Bhagwan Tiwari) revels in busting these two criminals. He tells Devi, “Your life is now ruined,” as he uses his phone to film her in a state of partial undress. He demands a bribe from Devi’s father, Mr. Pathak (Sanjay Mishra), in order to keep Devi out of jail. Mishra threatens to tarnish Pathak’s honor — not Devi’s, which is apparently already forfeit — by posting the video on YouTube if the impoverished bookseller doesn’t pay.

As Devi’s world falls apart, elsewhere in the city a young man falls in love. Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) is about to graduate from engineering school, the first member of his low-caste family to do so. He meets Shaalu (Shweta Tripathi), an opinionated young woman with a passion for poetry. As their feelings build through phone calls and clandestine meetings, Deepak chooses to ignore the fact that Shaalu’s higher caste status likely rules him out as a potential marriage partner.

Because the film opens with Devi’s tragedy, it’s impossible to enjoy Deepak’s romance with Shaalu. Watching them sneak glances at one another during a carnival feels like watching a horror movie, with the monster lurking around the corner clad in a police uniform.

Despite being a city of over a million people, the “small town” mentality in Banaras limits Devi’s options. As she switches jobs to avoid people familiar with her scandal, the expression in her eyes indicates that she has already checked out. Once she pays the bribe, Devi is moving away. Chadda gives Devi quiet fortitude coupled with an attitude that is beyond annoyed.

One minor subplot feels out-of-place in Masaan. During an argument, Pathak demands to know why Devi wants to punish him (as though her getting busted by the cops was directed at him). Instead of citing grievances such as Pathak’s eagerness to assume she’s at fault and his lack of compassion, Devi accuses him of having killed her mother by waiting to take her to the hospital.

It doesn’t make sense that Devi would have been a dutiful daughter her whole life, waiting until now to unload on him for something that happened when she was six. She has every right to be upset that he didn’t support her as an adult. The dead mother angle doesn’t fit.

Director Neeraj Ghaywan — who co-wrote Masaan with Varun Grover — takes advantage of Banaras’ most famous landmark: the city’s burning ghats where bodies are cremated. Deepak’s family business is burning corpses, and his engineering degree is his only hope of escape.

Americans are generally removed from the specific details of what happens to a body after death, so Ghaywan’s depiction of the pyres is eye-opening. Deepak’s father instructs one worker to tuck a corpse’s leg back under the burning logs. He yells at Deepak to smash open another corpse’s skull to “release the soul” (and help it burn more completely, no doubt).

Kaushal is terrific as Deepak, and Mishra and Tripathi are wonderful as well. Tiwari is callous and opportunistic as the corrupt inspector.

Two other performances stand out. Pankaj Tripathi — who normally plays villains or bumbling sidekicks — is sweet as an awkward ticket vendor with a crush on Devi. Little Nikhil Sahni is feisty and charming as Jhonta, a skinny orphan boy who drums up business for Pathak. Jhonta gradually comes to fill the void Pathak feels as his adult daughter pulls away from him.

Masaan is a really wonderful work from a first-time director with a bright future ahead of him. If it leads to quality, high-profile roles for the talented cast members, even better.

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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: Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015)

DumLagaKeHaisha4 Stars (out of 4)

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Author’s note: Thanks to my friend, Melanie, for loaning me her Blu-ray of Dum Laga Ke Haisha! Check out her Letterboxd page.

Without flashy effects or a lavish budget, Dum Laga Ke Haisha tells an enchanting tale that is as fun and immersive as any film out there.

The title — which is translated in the English subtitles as “Heave Ho, Carry That Load” — has a double meaning. It refers metaphorically to shouldering the burdens of marriage but also to a literal race in which a husband carries his wife, the setting for the film’s climactic scene.

Prem Tiwari (Ayushmann Khurrana) is a 25-year-old high school dropout living in Haridwar in 1995. He’s essentially a professional maker of mixtapes, working in a little shop full of cassettes that best exemplifies the film’s excellent production design. His family hopes to improve their financial situation by finding Prem a wife with a job, so they settle on Sandhya (Bhumi Pednakar), a teacher.

Despite the fact that Prem is a man of limited prospects — Prem’s nemesis, Nirmal (Chandrachoor Rai), buys the town’s first CD player, spelling doom for Prem’s business — he’s insulted that his family wants him to wed a woman who is overweight. He accedes to the marriage, but refuses to consummate it. Well, at least for one night.

The story follows Prem and Sandhya as they struggle to reconcile their previous expectations of married life with their actual experience of it. Their potential for happiness hinges on Prem, who hides his deep self-loathing and feelings of failure behind a shield of pride.

In Dum Laga Ke Haisha (DLKH, henceforth), marriage is depicted as more of a public institution than a private one between two people. When Sandhya moves into her husband’s family’s cramped home, she relinquishes all personal privacy. The one telephone is in the hall near the kitchen, so every conversation is overheard. Her in-laws and her husband’s aunt sleep on cots right outside to the matrimonial bedroom. Everyone in the house knows whether or not Prem and Sandhya are having sex.

It’s fascinating to see sex dealt with so frankly in a Hindi movie. The act is a matter of public importance in the sense that, once the marriage is consummated, it’s more difficult to back out. Prem’s mother hears the bed creaking in the other room, and her first instinct is to call her daughters and tell them about it.

The Tiwari family home is a frequent setting in DLKH, and shots featuring too many people crowded into too small a space are reminiscent of Ankhon Dekhi, a terrific movie in which Sanjay Mishra also plays the patriarch.

Director Sharat Katariya and cinematographer Manu Anand also evoke memories of Wes Anderson films in their use of camera pans and in absurdly humorous scenes, including one in which the leader of the local men’s club hoists one of its members onto his back in order to demonstrate proper wife-carrying technique.

Everything in DLKH depends on Prem deciding to take responsibility for his own future, rather than blaming everyone else for his failings. He comes just close enough to causing the audience to lose faith in him, but he doesn’t thanks to Khurrana, who plays the put-upon everyman as well as anybody.

More importantly, we never give up on Prem because of Sandhya. She’s such a complete character — snarky but sensitive and with a sense of justice — that we trust her judgment. If she sees potential in Prem, it must be there. Padnekar is so endearing and funny, she makes Sandhya impossible not to love.

The supporting roles in DLKH are rich and well-defined. As frustrating as Prem’s catty aunt is, we understand why she is the way she is. Same with all of the parents in the film, who react to the possible breakup of Prem and Sandhya’s marriage as though they are the aggrieved parties.

Katariya’s take on marriage is fresh, insightful, heartwarming, and hilarious. DLKH is an absolute must-see.

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Movie Review: Ankhon Dekhi (2014)

AnkhonDekhi4 Stars (out of 4)

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“I don’t think we should look for messages in films,” said filmmaker Rajat Kapoor at the Chicago South Asian Film Festival press conference this past weekend. “It’s reductionist.” Such a sentiment suits Kapoor’s movie Ankhon Dekhi (“Through My Own Eyes“), which closed the 2014 festival. It’s a film that is at its most moving when it is simply experienced.

Veteran character actor Sanjay Mishra plays Raje, a middle-aged man with a comfortable life and a family he loves. He lives in a small flat in Delhi with his own wife and kids, plus his younger brother, Rishi (Kapoor), Rishi’s wife, and their son.

When the gossipy priest’s son exposes Raje’s daughter Rita’s (Maya Sarao) romantic relationship with Ajju (Namit Das), Raje meets the boyfriend to see if he’s as much of a lout as everyone says he is. Raje discovers that Ajju is a harmless puppy dog of a man. This causes Raje to commit himself to only trusting that which he sees for himself.

This new governing principle makes it hard for Raje to continue working as a travel agent. How can he tell a customer how long a flight to a foreign country will take when he’s never made the trip himself? Worse, Raje’s new way of operating creates a rift between him and Rishi.

Ankhon Dekhi doesn’t attempt to make sweeping philosophical statements through Raje’s choices. The characters discuss broad issues, such as the aspects of language that are more convenient than they are accurate, but Kapoor avoids tying up the narrative with a tidy moral lesson.

Instead, the movie feels like a window into Raje’s life for a short period of time. We see how his values affect his family and how they influence his neighbors. He gains a loyal following at the barbershop, and his acolytes sometimes take his ideas to ridiculous extremes.

There are breathtaking moments in Ankhon Dekhi, when the cast and crew function in complete harmony. Look around in busy scenes such as when Raje holds court in his living room and notice how perfectly every supporting actor is executing his or her role. The acolytes listen to Raje attentively; Rita listens disinterestedly; Raje’s wife (Seema Pahwa) frustratedly tries to do her chores with a house full of people.

Such scenes highlight just how hard it is to make a really good movie. The right actors need to be cast. They need to have clear motivation in every scene, no matter how small their roles are. The director has to get the technical aspects of the shot just right.

There are many such perfect scenes in Ankhon Dekhi. It’s a remarkable achievement for Kapoor, who wrote the film, in addition to directing and acting in it. It’s impossible to imagine anyone executing the role of Raje better than Mishra. Ankhon Dekhi is a delight to watch.

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Streaming Video News: June 18, 2014

Netflix just added its first 2014 release to its Hindi film catalog. Sanjay Mishra’s Ankhon Dekhi didn’t open in U.S. theaters, but it’s now available for streaming.

Also new to the Netflix streaming catalog is the entertaining 2013 spy thriller Madras Cafe. Fair warning: lots of gore and a grim subject make it kid-unfriendly.