Tag Archives: Saurabh Shukla

Movie Review: Jolly LLB 2 (2017)

jollyllb22.5 Stars (out of 4)

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In spite of a compelling performance by Akshay Kumar as Jolly LLB 2‘s flawed hero, narrative inconsistencies keep the well-intentioned black comedy from achieving its full potential.

Kumar plays Jolly Mishra — a different character from Arshad Warsi’s title character in the original Jolly LLB — an ambitious lawyer who yearns to be more than an errand boy for the more established attorney, Rizvi. In order to raise money to establish his own practice, Jolly assures a pregnant young widow, Hina (Sayani Gupta), that Rizvi will take on her case, collecting the fees from her up front and keeping them for himself.

Hina’s case is politically dangerous. She believes that her husband, Iqbal (Manav Kaul), was falsely arrested on terrorism charges and murdered by police, all for the sake of securing a promotion for notorious Officer Suryaveer Singh (Kumud Mishra). With crooked, wealthy Lucknow attorney Sachin Mathur (Annu Kapoor) defending Singh, every other lawyer knows that Hina’s case is a lost cause.

When Hina learns from Rizvi that he never agreed to take her case, she realizes that Jolly duped her, declaring as much in front of Jolly, his wife Pushpa (Huma Qureshi), and his father, who spent decades working as Rizvi’s legal secretary. Devoid of hope, Hina kills herself. Rizvi fires Jolly, and Jolly’s father tells his son he never wants to see him again.

Jolly is a complicated character. He’s a doting husband to drunken Pushpa and a loving father to their son, but he doesn’t work for any ideals higher than his own ambition. It’s impossible to pay penance for driving Hina to suicide, but Jolly takes on her case in the hopes of righting some of the wrongs he did by her and her family. Kumar’s grounded performance makes us believe that Jolly can become a better man by the end of the movie than he is at the beginning.

The case pits Jolly — who has the truth on his side — against the nakedly corrupt Mathur, who is sleazy in typical sleazy movie lawyer fashion. The presiding Judge Tripathy (Saurabh Shukla) isn’t explicitly corrupt, just distracted by his daughter’s upcoming nuptials.

Tripathy is the weak link in Jolly LLB 2. It’s hard to figure out how exactly he fits into the story. He’s not funny enough to provide true comic relief, but he’s clearly too light for a somewhat grim case involving suicide and extrajudicial police killings. He’s prone to drawing out conversations, leading to dull patches. Unlike the other characters, his balance is off.

The judge is also tasked by the script with driving the tension in the courtroom, but he’s not consistent in the way in which he does so. Tripathy believes or discounts witnesses’ testimony depending on the needs of the story at that moment, not because of any internal logic. Some of his other decisions are so blatantly provocative that it dispels the illusion of organic story flow. We can all but see writer-director Subhash Kapoor pulling the strings.

In Jolly LLB 2‘s favor, Kumar and Qureshi look great together and share a comfortable rapport. Rajiv Gupta is the film’s unsung hero as Jolly’s harried assistant, Birbal. Shukla’s dance sequence as Tripathy rehearses for his daughter’s wedding is pretty funny.

Jolly LLB 2‘s sentiment is admirable, especially at a time when citizens in India and around the world are desperate for reassurance that their justice systems aren’t fundamentally irreparable. The story just needed more refining to maintain a consistent tone throughout.

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Movie Review: Main Tera Hero (2014)

MTH_Poster3 Stars (out of 4)

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Ever since the traumatizing experiences of watching Do Knot Disturb and Rascals, director David Dhawan’s name has struck fear in my heart. But after last year’s cute comedy Chashme Baddoor and now Main Tera Hero (“I’m Your Hero“), I have less reason to fear.

Main Tera Hero infuses the romantic comedy genre with action to accompany some impressive dance numbers. The hero at the center is played by Varun Dhawan (David’s son), whose substantial charisma hints at a long career ahead for a young actor in only his second film.

Varun plays Seenu, a worthless trickster so loathed in his hometown of Ooty that all the residents wave a gleeful farewell to him when he boards the train to Bangalore. He arrives at university and begs a statue of Krishna — who talks back — to help him focus on his studies. Seenu turns to see beautiful Sunaina (Ileana D’Cruz), hair streaming in the breeze, and he interprets her appearance as a sign from God. Seenu doesn’t linger to hear Krishna bemoan having a devotee dim enough to mistake a gust of wind for divine intervention.

Seenu’s pursuit of Sunaina is complicated by the fact that Angad (Arunoday Singh) — a burly police officer with anger issues — already has his eyes on her. Seenu turns the mischievous nature that made him so loathed in Ooty into an asset, and he tricks Angad into letting him court Sunaina.

D’Cruz rocks some great facial expressions throughout the movie, but she’s at her best during this courtship phase. Seenu tries to win Sunaina with the song “Palat Tera Hero Idhar Hai,” but Sunaina spends most of the song being startled by him. It’s hilarious to watch her jump as a horn plays behind her or Seenu surprises her at a movie theater.

Seenu’s pursuit is derailed at the movie’s halfway point when a secret admirer of his — Ayesha (Nargis Fakhri), a gangster’s daughter — tricks Seenu into coming to Bangkok to rescue Sunaina. This twist isn’t set up well, but it provides an excuse to get Varun, D’Cruz, and Fakhri into swimsuits and chilling poolside at a Bangkok mansion. That’s the whole point of the movie, right?

There’s plenty of skin on display, as well as an overabundance of pelvic thrusts. David Dhawan repeatedly positions the camera on the ground and points it up at Varun’s crotch. Thanks for pointing out exactly where Varun’s penis is, David, since we couldn’t see it through his pants.

More than just a thrusting pelvis, Varun does some good work in Main Tera Hero. He’s always engaged, throwing in subtle gestures and glances that maintain interest while Seenu does utilitarian things like walk from Point A to Point B. He’s also a tremendous dancer, and the movie’s several dance numbers allow him to show off.

Main Tera Hero has a really strong supporting cast, from Rajpal Yadav as Angad’s much abused sidekick, Peter, to Saurab Shukla as Ayesha’s father’s much abused sidekick, Balli. Ayesha’s father (played by Anupam Kher in an awesome wig) speaks with an echo, a tic that resulted from him being born in a valley. The “echo” is just Kher saying the same word three or four times at the end of a sentence, making the joke that much funnier.

The echo bit fits nicely with other surreal elements — like talking statues and balloons that wink — that help make sense of the random sound effects of which director Dhawan is fond.

The weak link in the cast is Fakhri. Though she speaks more Hindi dialogue in Main Tera Hero than she has in her previous films, she still sounds like she’s reading a cue card for the first time when she delivers lines in her native English.

There are also gender-bias flaws inherent in this kind of male-hero-centered film. Seenu falls in love with Sunaina on first sight, and uses his love to justify his pursuit of her despite her repeated objections. Later, Seenu fails to see the hypocrisy in his condescending dismissal of Ayesha’s love-at-first-sight for him. That kind of love, he claims, is mutual, even though it took several days for Sunaina to fall for him.

Accepting those flaws, Main Tera Hero is nevertheless pretty harmless. It has some laughs, energetic dance numbers, and an attractive cast. It’s exactly what it’s supposed to be.

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Movie Review: Gunday (2014)

Gunday2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Editor’s note: So, a lot of people have been coming to this review via IMDb, because Gunday is — after just one week in theaters — already the lowest-rated movie of all time. Lower than The Hottie and the Nottie, Birdemic, and even Manos: The Hands of Fate. As of February 22, it’s at 1.2/10, a full .8 ahead of its nearest competitor.

Is Gunday really that bad? As a movie, no. You can read below how I thought it was problematic, but passable.

Then why is it ranked as IMDb’s worst movie ever? It looks like the movie’s portrayal of the Bangladesh Liberation War has angered a lot of people, who have coordinated to give it as many 1/10 reviews as possible. Look at the IMDb user reviews, and several of them have the exact same title: “Manipulating Bangladesh’s Liberation War history.”

Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with the true events that Gunday references. So while I still think it’s okay as a film, I certainly wouldn’t vouch for it being historically accurate!

Abrupt changes in tone and an abundance of slow-mo keep Gunday (“The Outlaws“) from establishing its own voice or finding a rhythm.

The story begins in 1971 at the end of the war that established Bangladesh as an independent nation. 14-year-old orphans Bikram (Darshan Gurjar) and Bala (Jayesh V. Kardak) survive the deprivation of a refuge camp by working as gun runners. When Bala shoots an army officer to save Bikram’s life, the boys flee to Calcutta.

Fast-forward ten years, and Bikram (Ranveer Singh) and Bala (Arjun Kapoor) are the unofficial kings of Calcutta, controlling all of the city’s black market commodities. The buddies do everything together, while savvy Bikram keeps Bala’s temper in check.

As soon as the guys’ present-day circumstances are established, an anchor drops onto the plot in the form of a love interest: a cabaret dancer named Nandita (Priyanka Chopra).

The premise that two guys are such good buddies that they decide to share the same girl could be cute in a more lighthearted movie than this one. But Gunday starts out grim, and it returns to being so once Nandita chooses one guy over the other. The thirty-minute wacky romantic-comedy interval doesn’t fit.

That’s not the only aspect of Gunday that doesn’t make sense tonally. Action sequences vary from dramatic and realistic to outright loony. Bala causes an earthquake before shooting up through the ground, as though propelled by a geyser. A fish is wielded as a deadly weapon.

The goofy action sequences are pretty entertaining, but again, they don’t feel right in the context of the movie. Gunday would’ve been better had writer-director Ali Abbas Zafar established surreal action as the dominant tone of the movie.

Such a tone would’ve also explained the volume of slow-motion used in the film. Walking, running, dancing: seemingly every form of motility is presented in slow-motion. The impact of the two scenes in the movie that actually benefit from the treatment is dulled by its application to so many mundane activities.

There is a ridiculous amount of skin on display in Gunday, and not just by Chopra’s cabaret dancer. In the movie’s funniest fight scene, Bikram and Bala exchange blows, ripping off each other’s shirts in the process. The shirts come off in slow-mo (of course), exposing Singh’s and Kapoor’s hairless, tanned, greased-up, muscular torsos. It’s not supposed to be as hilarious as it is.

As much attention as is given to the guys’ muscles — with special attention paid to Singh’s perky buns — Irrfan Khan wins for Best Body, and he gets to keep his clothes on.

Khan’s star power is on full display as the police inspector tasked with bringing down Bikram and Bala and returning order to Calcutta. Saurab Shukla’s understated role as the lawyer who watches over Bikram and Bala is also notable.

Chopra is fine as Nandita, though she’s not given much to do besides look sexy, early on. Her performance improves as Nandita realizes the consequences of having strained the friendship between the two gangsters.

It almost seems as if the role of Bikram was written with Singh in mind, and his charisma is undeniable. Kapoor is very good at playing edgy anti-heroes, and it’s a shame when Bala gets turned into a mindless beefcake goofball during the romance portion of the movie. His hair-trigger is shelved for the sake of song-and-dance numbers and out-of-place comedy bits.

As a surreal dark comedy or action flick, Gunday could’ve been really interesting, but there’s no place for light romantic tomfoolery in such a film. A clear vision rather than a please-all approach would’ve done wonders.

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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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Movie Review: Barfi! (2012)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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Like its namesake confection, Barfi! is certainly sweet. Not a frothy sweetness but a complex one with real depth and substance. Barfi! is not to be missed.

The film defies convention yet feels familiar. Flashbacks within flashbacks within flashforwards play with typical narrative format in a way that works better than it should.

The bulk of the action alternates between two times and places — 1972 and 1978, Darjeeling and Kolkata — framed by scenes set in the present day. The film’s narrator, Shruti (Ileana D’Cruz), recalls how her life changed in 1972 when her family moved from Kolkata to Darjeeling and she met Barfi (Ranbir Kapoor).

“Barfi” is how the deaf young man pronounces his given name, Murphy, so everyone calls him by his nickname. Unemployed Barfi spends his days making mischief around town, to the consternation of police inspector Dutta (Saurabh Shukla). Though he has a crush on Shruti, Barfi settles for friendship with her, because she is engaged. The two spend their days racing bicycles and bumming rides on train cars, falling in love in the process.

In the hands of a writer-director less skilled than Anurag Basu, Barfi’s penchant for mischief could be a cheap way to substitute quirkiness for character development. That’s not the case here. Barfi acts like an overgrown child because no one expects anything from him. He’s the town’s beloved mascot, cared for by his doting father, but that’s it.

Barfi’s outsider status makes a romantic match with Shruti impossible, even if she didn’t have a perfect-on-paper fiance waiting for her back in Kolkata. There’s no way her parents would accept a deaf son-in-law, even if the reason they give is their desire to spare her from the harsh judgements of society.

Shruti herself fails Barfi’s loyalty test. She lets go of his hand and leaps from his side as a light pole falls toward them. Having doctored the light pole himself, Barfi knows they were never in any danger. Like others before her, Shruti abandoned Barfi at the first sign of danger.

The one person to pass the loyalty test is Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra), the autistic granddaughter of a wealthy local man. Having spent most of her childhood at a sanitarium — so as not to embarrass her snooty parents — she’s summoned to the side of her ailing grandfather. Barfi’s father is the grandfather’s driver, and Barfi and Jhilmil were childhood friends.

Jhilmil’s parents are no less embarrassed by their now-adult daughter when she returns. Jhilmil shuns almost all physical contact, screams and panics when she gets mud on her shoes, and loudly sings along with the band at a society party. The only person in Darjeeling who warms to Jhilmil is Barfi. Caring for her gives him purpose, and he provides her with a sense of security.

These themes — security and purpose — are universal, and those are the main challenges for Barfi and Jhilmil, not their special needs. Basu writes the characters as real people, not as a collection of physical and mental issues to be triumphed over. Shruti — the “normal” character among the three — is actually the most flawed, in that she lacks courage.

D’Cruz, an actress who has predominantly worked in Telugu films thus far, is a fine avatar for the audience. She nicely portrays the conflict inside Shruti, who would like to follow her heart but lacks the will to do it.

Ranbir Kapoor is the only actor who could have played Barfi. He has great physicality, both in scenes where he runs from Inspector Dutta (Saurabh Shukla is also great in the film) and where he bares his soul to Shruti using only gestures, no words. Kapoor makes Barfi more than just a lovable rascal.

But the standout performance in the film is by Priyanka Chopra. I’ve long appreciated the risks she takes in the roles she chooses, even if they don’t always work out. Playing an autistic woman could have gone poorly, but Chopra is perfect.

Like Kapoor, Chopra has very little dialog in the film. Jhilmil spends most of the time staring at the ground or observing the action around her, yet Chopra makes it easy to read Jhilmil’s emotions. Chopra’s depiction of autistic characteristics is accurate and respectful. Despite having a condition that makes forming emotional connections with other people difficult, there’s a lot to love about Jhilmil.

Other things to love about Barfi! include the beautiful scenery and music. Transitions between scenes are frequently accomplished by a pan over the silhouettes of three musicians — a guitarist, a violinist, and an accordion player — who seem to follow the characters everywhere.

Barfi! is a really special film. I laughed out loud, I cried, and I would happily watch it again tomorrow.

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