Tag Archives: Seema Biswas

Movie Review: Half Girlfriend (2017)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Half Girlfriend is a tiresome retread of a familiar Bollywood setup. The world within the film exists for the manipulation and satisfaction of the male lead character, regardless of the toll it takes on the woman he pursues.

Just as in another problematic movie from earlier in 2017 — Badrinath Ki DulhaniaHalf Girlfriend tries to justify its outdated formula by having its main character hail from a state with a bad reputation regarding gender equality. Half Girlfriend‘s Madhav (Arjun Kapoor) is from Bihar, a state that borders Badrinath’s Uttar Pradesh. Neither movie is interested in actually addressing the causes or consequences of inequality in either state, just in appropriating a regressive mindset so that the female lead can be treated as a prop rather than a real person.

Lest we dismiss Madhav as some uneducated hick, the story — based on a book by Chetan Bhagat and adapted for the screen by Tushar Hiranandani and Ishita Moitra — emphasizes that he’s the son of a royal family. He lives in a mansion with his mother (played by Seema Biswas), who runs a school in their small town.

Yet, Madhav is so privileged and insulated that only after he graduates with a degree in sociology from St. Stephens College in Delhi does he ask his mother, “Why don’t any girls attend our school?” How did he not notice that earlier?!

As with so many Bollywood heroes before him, it’s Madhav’s job to bend the universe to his will. That primarily takes the form of him forcing everyone to engage with him in Hindi, even though instruction at St. Stephens is conducted exclusively in English. No matter how high the stakes, Madhav steadfastly refuses to apply himself enough to become proficient in English. The movie rewards him at every turn by having English speakers claim to have understood Madhav’s “heart,” if not his words.

Then there’s Riya (Shraddha Kapoor), with whom Madhav is smitten on first sight. “Such a beautiful girl plays basketball?” he wonders, insultingly. He’s apparently never heard of hoops legend/fashion model Lisa Leslie, which is surprising since Madhav’s a b-ball nut and a big fan of “Steven Curry.”

The basketball in Half Girlfriend is absolutely terrible, by the way. The camera only shoots the actors from the shoulders up since apparently neither of them learned how to dribble for their roles as college athletes. (Frankly, their entire performances in Half Girlfriend lack commitment.) Also, a scene in which Madhav wildly airballs dozens of attempted half-court shots is unbelievable. That’s a shot serious basketball players practice for fun from an early age.

Once Madhav decides that he wants beautiful, popular Riya for his own, he follows her everywhere, memorizing every detail she posts on Facebook. They strike up a friendship on the court, but she’s clearly not interested in him romantically. She pulls her hand away whenever he tries to touch it. Well, she tries to, but Madhav literally won’t let her go.

Madhav’s roommate Shailesh (Vikrant Massey) — who is otherwise the voice of reason in the film — says that the only way to know Riya’s feelings for sure is to “get her in the room.” In case that didn’t sound rapey enough, Madhav locks the door once Riya is inside. When Riya resists Madhav’s attempted seduction (the author writes euphemistically), he gets violent with her. Riya refuses to talk to him after that, triggering a sad musical montage of Madhav screwing up in a basketball game because he’s too upset to concentrate. Boo hoo.

Madhav’s violence toward Riya renders a romance between them unsatisfactory. However, because we know the beats of the male-entitlement Bollywood romance storyline, we know that Riya won’t be able to rid herself of Madhav that easily.

Half Girlfriend is monstrously unfair to Riya. Every man in her life is abusive to her in some way.  While Madhav claims to love Riya, he refuses to accept a relationship with her on her terms; he wants to possess her. Rather than protecting Riya, the older women in her life insist that she tolerate the intolerable and put a man’s needs before her own. Riya is utterly alone. If told from her perspective, Half Girlfriend would be a horror movie.

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Movie Review: Boom (2003)

Boom_movie_poster1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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2003’s Boom was brought to my attention by Shah Shahid of Blank Page Beatdown as an example of a movie that is so bad that it is actually good. Shah Shahid is absolutely correct. This is a terrible movie that is a lot of fun to watch.

Let me clarify what, in my opinion, makes a movie “so bad, it’s good.” The movie must be entertaining or funny in an unintentional way. “So bad, it’s good” movies can never be made ironically or with any kind of self-awareness. They result from the earnest efforts of a filmmaker that fall woefully short of competence and quality.

There also has to be a sort of inevitability to the failure, as though anyone reading the script would think, “This will never work.” And yet the filmmaker manages to secure the money to make it and convinces people to participate in the filming, in spite of what should be glaring flaws. My best Bollywood example — before having seen Boom — is Jism 2. Birdemic and The Room are my favorite American examples.

Boom meets all the criteria. Writer-director Kaizad Gustad clearly envisioned making a sexy, edgy crime flick to push the boundary of what passes for good taste in India. It fails miserably.

Setting the action within the fashion industry allows Gustad to cast his three main actresses for their willingness to don revealing outfits, and not for their acting ability. In the film’s opening scene, a bra-less Padma Lakshmi struts the catwalk in a see-through shirt, the opening salvo in a barrage of breasts that continues throughout the film.

Lakshmi plays Sheila, one of a trio of model friends that includes Katrina Kaif (in her film debut) as Rina. The group is led by Anu (Madhu Sapre), who’s presumably in charge because she’s the only native-born Indian. The foreign-born status of Sheila and Rina — who speak primarily in English in the film — is mentioned often, seemingly to justify their wearing skimpier outfits than Anu.

The friends find themselves in trouble when Anu fights with another model in the middle of a fashion show, and dozens of stolen diamonds spill onto the runway from their hiding place in the model’s hairdo. The other model flees, leaving the three ladies to account for the missing diamonds.

The diamonds were supposed to make their way to Dubai, home of crime boss Bade Mia (Amitabh Bachchan) and his brother, Medium (Gulshan Grover). Bade’s co-conspirator in Mumbai, Chhote Mia (Jackie Shroff), sends his muscle, Boom (Javed Jaffrey), to force the trio of models to cooperate. Things get complicated when Boom starts making his own plans, with the help of the models’ maid, Bharti (Seema Biswas).

The plot doesn’t make a lick of sense. Boom’s scheme to get out of debt to Bade involves stealing Bade’s own diamonds from him, then selling them back to Bade. This is the same Bade who snaps one of his employees necks because the toilet paper in his hotel was folded incorrectly. Sending a bunch of inexperienced models in to negotiate with Bade and Medium seems phenomenally stupid.

Also stupid: getting the models high before forcing them to rob a bank, although the mass-hallucination dance party that they experience mid-robbery is spectacular.

Predictably, the film’s ending makes no sense. Turns out Bharti and Bade’s oft-humiliated secretary, Alice (Zeenat Aman), are criminal masterminds in their own right. Apparently, they schemed for years in the hope that, one day, Anu would accidentally pick a fight with the one model who happened to be smuggling diamonds, thereby providing them with a means to ascend to the top of the underworld.

But plot irregularities are the least of Boom‘s problems. The performances are crazy, across the board. Kaif and Sapre are almost unbearable in their big screen debuts, making Lakshmi look like Meryl Streep by comparison. Aman and Biswas are fine, given the odd tasks that are required of them, including Aman doing a table dance in a conference room.

All of the male characters — apart from Medium — are completely wacky, and bless the actors for playing them as such. Bachchan sports a white wig and drives around a Toys R’ Us in a child-sized motorized car. Shroff growls through his dialog while sitting behind a desk that his female assistant lives under. He also licks a newspaper photo of Bo Derek.

Did I forget to mention that Boom features Bo Derek in the world’s most under-utilized cameo? Besides having her photo licked and having Bade bark to Alice, “Get me Bo!”, Bo — who’s in either Mumbai or Dubai (or both?) for a book signing — is only seen in Bade’s dream sequence, emerging from the ocean in a gold saree. She has no dialog and doesn’t interact with anyone else in the cast.

While the model characters dress rather butch when they’re not sporting bikini tops, Bade and Chhote wear outfits that even Liberace would consider garish. Bade dresses in all white (to match his wig), favoring lacy shirts with flouncy sleeves. Chhote wears black hot pants with a shirt that appears to actually be a lady’s sheer, fur-trimmed robe.

Jaffrey’s Boom is equally over-the-top. His giant handgun is an obvious metaphor for his penis, made that much more obvious when he lays it on his lap, barrel pointed toward his face, and strokes it for a good two minutes. When he’s not stroking his gun, he pokes the models in the breasts with it as a way of emphasizing his conversational points.

As is always the case with “so bad, it’s good” movies, a written account of Boom‘s oddities does not do it justice. It must be seen to be believed. It’s awful, but it’s always entertaining.

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Movie Review: Midnight’s Children (2013)

MidnightsKids2 Stars (out of 4)

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Midnight’s Children takes the fascinating history of India since Partition and muddles it up with a bizarre personal story that’s impossible to connect with.

The events of the film — which are narrated by Salman Rushdie, who wrote the novel on which the film is based — begin well before Partition, starting with the meeting of the main character’s grandparents in Kashmir, 1917. They raise their children, including Mumtaz (Shahana Goswami), the main character’s mother. She has a brief, fruitless marriage to a man named Nadir before she marries the main character’s father, Ahmed Sinai (Ronit Roy) and changes her name to Amina. The first marriage becomes relevant later when the parentage of the main character, Salim, is called into question.

There’s good reason for this, since Salim is not the Sinais’ biological son. At the very moment the British left India and divided it into India and Pakistan — midnight, August 14, 1947 — two boys were born in the same hospital: the Sinais’ biological son, Shiva, and Salim, the son of a busker whose wife dies in childbirth. Inspired by her revolutionary boyfriend, a nurse named Mary (Seema Biswas) switches the boys, forcing the rich boy to grow up poor and making the poor boy rich.

After the boys go to their respective, incorrect homes, Mary feels guilty. Not guilty enough to confess, mind you, but Mary becomes Salim’s nanny so that she may watch over the boy. She also watches Shiva beg outside the Sinais’ mansion every day.

There are practical reasons for her to choose the path she does, but Mary’s act of penance seems cruelly inadequate. Rather than helping the boy she doomed to a life of poverty, she makes things even easier on the boy whose life was likely going to be a comparative piece of cake.

As the boys grow up, they discover that the hour of their birth gave them (and thousands of other kids born on the same night) magical powers. It’s unclear what Shiva’s powers are, but Salim can summon visions of the other “midnight’s children” by sniffing. It’s not as cool as the superpower of a girl named Parvati, who can make things disappear.

The superpowers aren’t really important to the story, until they are used as an excuse to round-up the now-adult “children” during Indira Gandhi’s rule-by-decree in the mid-1970s. Salim admits in his narration late in the film that things didn’t work out as well for “midnight’s children” as they had hoped. So, a thousand kids with freaking superpowers are no match for India’s internal conflicts and perpetual problems with Pakistan. What a depressing sentiment.

While the idea of paralleling India’s troubled progress with the lives of two of its citizens is compelling, the magical realism isn’t well-integrated into the story, and it keeps the audience at arm’s length. Also, Salim’s constant runny nose is gross. The story would’ve been more interesting without the magic.

The film boasts an impressive lineup of actors who typically perform in Indian films, but fans of traditional Bollywood fare should watch the film with caution. There’s a fair bit of sex and some nudity, plus coarse language. This is not a film for the whole family (not to mention that kids would be bored out of their mind by the movie’s plodding pace).

Another note of caution is that the performances are uneven. Seema Biswas and Shahana Goswami at terrific as always, as are Ronit Roy and Soha Ali Khan, who plays Salim’s little sister, Jamila, as an adult. But Anupam Kher and Rahul Bose are over-the-top as Salim’s great-grandfather and uncle, respectively. They’re the most obvious examples of a distracting strain of quirkiness that pervades the film.

Worst of all is British actor Satya Bhabha as adult Salim. His intense performance seems more suited to the stage than to film. With so much weirdness inherent in the story, a strong main character is needed to anchor the movie. I’m not sure if the fault lies more in Bhabha’s performance or the way Salim is written, but, either way, Salim isn’t a strong enough anchor.

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Movie Review: Patang (2011)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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A kite festival sounds like a serene setting for a film, but kite flying is a kind of contact sport in India. That knowledge adds depth to the festive backdrop of Patang (“The Kite”), a lovely film by debutant director Prashant Bhargava.

The action in Patang takes place over three days around Uttarayan, the annual kite festival in Ahmedabad. Jayesh (Mukkund Shukla) returns to his hometown after five years away to show the festival to his adult daughter, Priya (Sugandha Garg). Priya uses her video camera to record festival preparations, which include merchants strengthening kite string with a paste made from boiled rice before coating the string in ground glass. The glass-coated string allows competitors to slice the strings of opposing kites

Jayesh is financially well-off, so a lack of funds can’t explain the infrequency of his visits from his home in Delhi. The hostile reception he gets from his nephew, Chakku (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), offers a clue. Jayesh is received more warmly by his mother and his sister-in-law, Sudha (Seema Biswas), wife of his deceased older brother.

As Jayesh tries to recreate the kite-flying triumphs of his youth at a party for friends and family, it becomes apparent that he is a know-it-all. He scolds Priya for wearing a tank top and dancing in public, fearful that she’ll ruin his reputation. This drives her straight into the arms of a cute electronics store clerk, Bobby (Aakash Maheriya).

Jayesh has other plans aimed at improving the lives of his relatives, but he sets them in motion without asking for their consent. Sudha picks up on something about Jayesh: for a guy who seems to have all the answers, he doesn’t seem happy.

The story in Patang unfolds slowly and without a typical narrative structure. The film is presented in an almost documentary-style format, as though a camera crew dropped in for the three days of the festival and left immediately after. It’s enjoyably languid, but not slow.

The downside of shooting documentary-style is that it’s often impossible not to be aware of the camera. Shots are interrupted by passersby. The camera is sometimes set at an awkward distance from the actors. And the editing occasionally consists of rapid-fire cuts between closeups of the actors’ faces.

There were moments when I wanted to be able to ignore the technique and just watch what was happening. The best shots in the whole movie come from a stationary camera pointed at the sky, watching the kites as they soar.

The performances are universally sound, anchored by Seema Biswas as Sudha. After the death of her husband, Sudha becomes the head of the household, though she defers to her mother-in-law. Biswas portrays Sudha as a woman whose good-nature isn’t overwhelmed by her tremendous responsibilities or Jayesh’s attempts to control things from afar. She treats Priya with a warmth the girl doesn’t get from her father.

The most intriguing relationship is between Chakku and a street kid named Hamid (Hamid Shaikh). Chakku spends his days hanging with Hamid and several other boys of around ten, stealing from street vendors and shooting off fireworks. Perhaps Jayesh is right to suggest that it’s time for Chakku to grow up and get a real job.

Bhargava has a real knack for storytelling and atmosphere and gets great performances from his cast. I’m looking forward to his future films.

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Opening June 15: Ferrari Ki Sawaari and Patang

Two Hindi films are set to open in the Chicago area on June 15, 2012. The Bollywood comedy Ferrari Ki Sawaari — starring Sharman Joshi and Boman Irani — gets the wider release of the two movies.

Ferrari Ki Sawaari opens on Friday at the Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a runtime of 2 hrs. 20 min. You can read my review here.

The other movie making its theatrical debut this weekend is Patang (“The Kite”), a terrific independent film that started making the festival rounds last year. It stars Seema Biswas and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

Patang opens in Chicago on June 15 at the AMC River East 21 and June 22 at the Golf Glen 5. The film’s website has a complete list of opening dates and locations, which includes theaters in New York, New Jersey, California, and a number of Canadian cities. Given the film’s indie status, it’s only guaranteed one week at each theater (though that may increase if ticket sales are good). Catch it while you can. Patang has a runtime of 92 minutes.

Last weekend’s new release, Shanghai, gets a well-deserved second week at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17. Rowdy Rathore carries over for a third week at the Golf Glen 5 and South Barrington 30, having earned $654,352 in the U.S. so far.

Other Indian films playing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Endhukante Premanta (Telugu) and The King and The Commissioner (Malayalam).