Tag Archives: Saqib Saleem

Movie Review: Race 3 (2018)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

Director Remo D’Souza knows how to stage a big-screen spectacle, yet he seems overwhelmed by the baggage that comes with Race 3.

Most of that weight comes in the form of Salman Khan, whose stardom requires an outsized chunk of narrative space and screentime. Trying to give sufficient due to all of the other well-known cast members in the film — an admirable goal, for sure — expands the runtime beyond what the story can comfortably accommodate. Add to that the pressure of being bigger and bolder than the two previous movies in a series known for its outlandishness, and it’s simply too much.

Race 3 is a sequel in name only. Returning cast members Anil Kapoor and Jacqueline Fernandez play different characters than they did in Race 2, and the story takes place in a different narrative universe.

This time, Kapoor plays Shamsher Singh, an arms dealer living in exile in the Middle East after being falsely accused of illegal dealings back in India. He hopes to return home with the help of his stepson Sikander (Khan) and his twin children, Sanjana (Daisy Shah) and Suraj (Saqib Saleem). The family is assisted by Shamsher’s right-hand-man, Raghu (Sharat Saxena), and Sikander’s bodyguard and best friend, Yash (Bobby Deol).

Shamsher’s favoritism for Sikander has driven a wedge between the half-siblings over the course of decades, further inflamed when their mother’s will gives half of the family fortune to Sikander, forcing the twins to share the remaining half. When Yash’s new girlfriend Jessica (Jacqueline Fernandez) is revealed to have once romanced Sikander, the crew combusts.

The characters and their relationships are established via long scenes of dialogue that fall flat. Then, the Race story formula — with characters tricking one another, but planning ahead because they know their targets know they’re being tricked, etc. — kicks into full effect, necessitating even more boring dialogue. No individual character is particularly interesting, though the scheming twins had potential had D’Souza and franchise screenwriter Shiraz Ahmed pushed things in an edgier direction.

So much downtime allows one to imagine the Race 3 characters in other, potentially better movies. Shah and Saleem as creepy twins in a horror flick or sinister thriller. An action comedy starring Kapoor and Saxena, with Rajesh Sharma — who appears in Race 3 as Shamsher’s hometown friend — as their beleaguered younger sidekick. Fernandez starring in, well, anything else that utilizes her bubbly personality.

Fernandez and Shah feature in Race 3‘s most entertaining fight scene, flying through the air in a nightclub tussle. Shah has another fun bit when her long designer gown hampers her ability to kick her opponents — until she cuts a slit down the side with a dramatic flourish.

With an ace choreographer like D’Souza behind the camera, one expects mind-blowing dance numbers, yet Race 3‘s numbers are mostly forgettable (in part because of the need to accommodate Khan’s limited range of motion). The exception is “Selfish”, which stands out for the wrong reasons. Shah trained in aerial dance just for the number, yet the camera hardly captures her face, giving the impression that she used a body double, when I don’t think she did. There is also a group of backup dancers positioned so far behind the lead couple that they are often out of focus, which all but encourages the audience to ignore the lead couple in the foreground and instead strain to make out what’s happening behind them.

Action scenes throughout the film overuse slow-motion and are treated with a distracting effect that desaturates the image for a few seconds at a time. If randomly changing the image from color to black & white and back is the only way to hold an audience’s attention during a car chase, you’ve got big problems.

Links

Advertisements

Movie Review: Dishoom (2016)

Dishoom2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

As I walked out of the theater following Dishoom, I tried to downplay my concerns about the way the film handles its female characters. Then something in the lobby reminded me that one’s social conscience doesn’t turn off when viewing media billed as light entertainment.

Dishoom‘s main hero is Kabir (John Abraham), a tough cop who doesn’t play by the rules. He’s introduced tossing a man out of an elevator for daring to ask him not to smoke indoors. We’re supposed to laugh when Kabir tells the man that he offered to let him take the stairs instead.

In the next scene, Kabir meets his girlfriend, Alishka, in her apartment. He deduces that she’s been having an affair and that the man is hiding in the apartment. Kabir draws his gun, points it at Alishka’s head, and tells the hiding man that he has three seconds to reveal himself or Kabir will kill Alishka. (The man reveals himself, sparing Alishka’s life.)

Writer-director Rohit Dhawan underestimates how disturbing this scene is, lumping it in with the elevator scene as a means to establish Kabir as a rule breaker. I was almost lulled into acceptance myself until I saw something most ironic playing on a monitor in the theater lobby. There was Jacqueline Fernandez — Dishoom‘s leading lady and Kabir’s eventual love interest — dancing to the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” in front of a banner that read “End Violence Against Girls.” (The video is embedded below.)

Violence against women is enough of a problem in India (and around the world) that Fernandez was moved to star in a public service announcement decrying it, yet her character in Dishoom falls for a man who was ready to murder his girlfriend. One step toward ending violence against women in the real world is to stop normalizing it onscreen.

The scene with Kabir’s girlfriend is such a shame, because Dishoom is otherwise a pretty fun movie. Kabir travels to the Middle East to find a kidnapped Indian cricketer (played by Saqib Saleem) before a high-stakes match with Pakistan. Kabir is aided by a rookie cop named Junaid (Varun Dhawan) and a wise-cracking thief (Fernandez).

The performances are uniformly solid. Varun (director Dhawan’s brother) supplies the laughs while Abraham serves as straight man. Fernandez gets to be funny, too — and she steals the show in the killer dance number, “Sau Tarah Ke.” Saleem does fine work, as does Akshaye Khanna in a villainous role.

Dhawan knows how to make a great-looking movie, full of bright colors and pleasing shots. The cricket scenes in particular stand out. Here’s hoping that Dhawan chooses a sports film as his next project.

Yet, for all the things that I enjoyed about Dishoom, it’s hard to fully recommend it given its troublesome lead character. It would be easy to write Dishoom off as a mindless action entertainer, but maybe that’s exactly why we should be even more critical of the message it sends about violence against women.

Here’s Jacqueline Fernandez’s PSA for The Global Goals:

Links

New Trailers: April 9, 2014

Time to catch up on recently released trailers for films coming out in the next couple of months. None of these look like sure bets to open in the United States, but it never hurts to be prepared.

Saqib Saleem stars as an inline skating coach in the sports flick Hawaa Hawaai, releasing in theaters on May 9, 2014. Following a turn as a young gay man in Bombay Talkies, this is another interesting career choice by Saleem. His recent role selections seem made deliberately to keep from getting pigeonholed in romantic comedies. I hope the choice pays off for him.

The political drama Manjunath also hits theaters on May 9.

Tiger Shroff — son of Jackie Shroff — makes his big-screen debut in Heropanti, releasing on May 23. Despite Tiger’s good looks, I have some concerns about this one. First, action flicks featuring new heroes are hard sells at the U.S. box office. Second, if a film’s trailer uses the word “bratty” to describe a character, it had better be to describe a pre-teen girl and not an adult man. Finally, when I hear the title Heropanti, it makes me think of this.

The Xposé — also releasing on May 23 — looks cheesy, but a Bollywood retro murder mystery could be fun.

Without English subtitles in the trailer, I’m not entirely sure what Kuku Mathur Ki Jhand Ho Gayi is about. It releases on May 30.

Same goes for the stupidly named Fugly, opening June 13.

There’s no release date yet for the Hindi remake of the horror movie Pizza, but it’s a horror movie called Pizza! I’m in!

Movie Review: Bombay Talkies (2013)

Bombay_Talkies3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Bombay Talkies is a collection of short films by four young directors, created to honor one hundred years of cinema in India. The results are mixed, but the two best shorts make the whole film worth watching.

Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh by Karan Johar

Johar’s short — a story of a gay tabloid intern (played by Saqib Saleem) who upends the life of his married boss (Rani Mukerji) — is the least successful of the four films. It doesn’t feel like a complete story, but rather a subplot of a full-length feature. The events depicted in the short would’ve made a nice catalyst for the further development of Mukerji’s character or an interesting interlude in a longer movie about Saleem’s character, struggling to find his way both as a young adult and as a gay man who’s been cast out from his family. The short film as it stands doesn’t work.

Star by Dibakar Banerjee

Banerjee’s effort is much more polished and showcases the incredible talent of Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Siddiqui plays Puradev, a failed actor who hops from job to job while waiting for his big break. Banerjee’s narrative includes some charming whimsical elements, such as Puradev’s pet emu and the disappointed ghost of his acting mentor. Siddiqui shines in a great scene in which Puradev pantomimes the events of his day for his daughter’s amusement.

Sheila Ki Jawaani by Zoya Akhtar

Akhtar’s short is the best of the bunch. Her story concerns a little boy named Vicky (Naman Jain) who wants to be a dancer, much to the chagrin of his macho father (played by Ranvir Shorey). Vicky’s idol, actress Katrina Kaif, appears to him in a vision, encouraging him to follow his dreams covertly. He gets further support from his understanding older sister, Kavya (Khushi Dubey).

Like Banerjee’s short, Akhtar’s movie includes some fantastical elements, celebrating the way in which movies allow us to envision a more magical version of reality. Hindi movies rarely feature child protagonists, so it’s refreshing to see a story that focuses on the concerns of children. Jain and Dubey are terrific.

Kaif’s advice to Vicky — be true to your dreams, but don’t broadcast them — seems like a bit of a bummer until her audience is taken into consideration. Vicky — like all children — has so little control over his present circumstances that there’s wisdom in trying to make his day-to-day life easier until he’s an adult and can do what he wants. It’s also a warning to parents to remember that children need respect as individuals as much as they need guidance and protection.

Murabba by Anurag Kashyap

After Akhtar’s delightful short, Kashyap’s film is a downer. His story follows a rural guy named Vijay (Vineet Kumar Singh) on his quest to meet Amitabh Bachchan and get him to take a bite of a piece of preserved fruit. Vijay’s father believes he’ll be cured of his ailments if he eats the rest of the fruit blessed by Bachchan’s bite, and he sends his son on a fool’s errand. Given the security retinues of modern stars, Vijay’s task is practically impossible to complete, and much suffering is inflicted upon the dutiful son in the process. It’s not fun to watch, and the payoff isn’t worth it.

“Apna Bombay Talkies”

The quartet of films is followed by a cheesy song-and-dance number featuring clips of old films and lip-syncing by current Bollywood stars. It’s almost as painfully self-congratulatory as the celebrity role-call song “Deewangi Deewangi” from Om Shanti Om, but it’s not as well choreographed. Check it out:

Links

Movie Review: Mere Dad Ki Maruti (2013)

mere-dad-ki-maruti2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Product placement plays an integral part in how movies are financed these days. Artful product placement in a film showcases the sponsored wares in a way that is obvious but unobtrusive. The product placement in Mere Dad Ki Maruti (“My Dad’s Maruti“) is gratuitous, as though the movie is really one long commercial for an automobile.

The overt commercialism is a shame, because Mere Dad Ki Maruti (MDKM, henceforth) is a pretty good movie. Created by Y-Films to appeal to a young adult audience, writer-director Ashima Chibber’s plot draws inspiration from a number of ’80s comedies, particularly Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The story is familiar but fresh, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

The story centers on Sameer (Saqib Saleem), an immature college student caught up in preparations for his older sister’s wedding. As the movie begins, a brand new Maruti — an Indian subsidiary of Suzuki — has arrived in the family’s driveway. Sameer assumes the car is meant for him, until his short-tempered father, Tej (Ram Kapoor), explains that it is a gift for Sameer’s soon-to-be brother-in-law, Raj (Karan Mehra). Tej says that if Sameer wants a car, he needs to earn it by being responsible, like Raj.

Quickly forgetting his father’s rebuke, Sameer “borrows” the car to impress a girl, Jazzleen (Rhea Chakraborty). Their first date is a success, until Sameer hands the car keys to a man he mistakes for a valet. The car goes missing, and Sameer resorts to increasingly ridiculous means to replace it, aided by his level-headed best friend, Gattu (Prabal Panjabi).

Both the structure and themes of MDKM are familiar. There’s an emphasis on personal responsibility, familial love, and the bonds of friendship. Sameer and Gattu make a great comic team, and Jazzleen is a welcome addition when she’s finally let in on the secret.

In fact, the movie has a lot of really funny moments. The highlight is a dance performance Sameer’s sister, Tanvi (Benazir Shaikh), dedicates to Raj, in order to convey her unspoken feelings for him. However, her feelings border on X-rated, making for an awkward performance in front of the whole family.

For all that MDKM has going for it, it’s impossible to overlook the its crass commercialism. I’m not sure how much Maruti paid Y-Films for titular product placement rights, but it had to be a lot. There are songs and speeches dedicated to Maruti, even a musical montage in which Sameer and his family fold down the sedan’s back seats to make room for all the luggage they need for an overnight trip.

The most reprehensible scene takes place in a Maruti showroom, where Sameer and Gattu inquire about buying a replacement for the car they lost. The model they want is over their meager student budgets, but the salesman explains what great value you get for the money: comfortable seating for seven, plenty of trunk space, and two engine options. If you come in for a test drive, you might even win a car. Wow!

This sales pitch would be tacky in any movie, but the fact that this film is aimed at young people makes it reprehensible. Y-Films should be embarrassed to stoop this low. What’s next, an animated movie for preschoolers, starring Kool-Aid Man?

Links

Movie Review: Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge (MFK, henceforth) is the sophomore effort from Y-Films, the youth-oriented production arm of Yash Raj Films. The Facebook-themed update of Cyrano de Bergerac is more polished than Y-Films’ first effort, the clunky and insensitive Luv Ka The End. But there’s nothing in MFK to inspire enthusiasm for the production house’s future efforts.

MFK starts off on the wrong foot in the way it introduces its lead character, Vishal (Saqib Saleem), the beloved class clown at his college. Vishal and his obnoxious best friend, Hacky (Prabal Panjabi), trick an obese fellow student nicknamed Machoman (Chitrak Bandyopadhyay) into performing a striptease in front of his webcam, and they post the video online.

Shortly thereafter, Vishal publicly ridicules the grumpy leader of the photography club — tomboy Preity (Saba Azaad) — at a planning meeting for the school’s 25th anniversary festivities. Vishal targets Preity for being a “man hater” and possible lesbian, though it’s really because she’s the only student who doesn’t find his cruel jokes hilarious.

After establishing Vishal as a bully, the film sets up its premise. Vishal is too shy to speak to lovely fashion student Malvika (Tara D’Souza), so he sends her a Facebook friend request via the account of his other BFF, campus rock star Rahul (Nishant Dahiya). Malvika’s cousin happens to be Preity, who happens to have a crush on Rahul. Preity accepts the friend request via Malvika’s account.

Preity and Vishal form a friendship chatting online while pretending to be Malvika and Rahul, respectively. In the real world, Vishal repeatedly undermines Preity while they collaborate on an anniversary celebration project about love on campus. Things get complicated when pretend “Rahul” suggests a face-to-face meeting, and “Malvika” accepts.

The plot unfolds predictably but pleasantly enough, especially as Vishal stops being a jerk. Friendship blooms between the classmates, and it becomes apparent that they are better suited for one another than they are for their dream dates.

My favorite relationship in the movie is between Preity and Malvika. The characters are roommates as well as cousins, and Azaad and D’Souza have a delightful rapport. Their playful banter lightens the mood more than any of Vishal’s jokes.

There are several scenes that take place at parties or dance clubs that feel overly-long, since it’s way more entertaining to actually be at a party than it is to watch one from a distance. But the movie as a whole is a harmless way to pass the time.

Links