Tag Archives: Shahana Goshwami

Movie Review: Mirch (2010)

2.5 Stars (4 Stars)

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Mirch (“Chili Pepper”) stands out from other Bollywood fare because of its subject matter: women’s sexuality. It’s a topic that makes some people skittish, yet Mirch addresses it with a sense of humor. However, the otherwise amusing movie fails to reach its full potential.

The movie is actually a series of four short stories — two set in the ancient past, two set in modern times — held together by a framing device. A rookie screenwriter, Maanav (Arunoday Singh), can’t find anyone willing to buy his original screenplay because the subject matter is deemed too dark and not “sexy” enough. So Maanav comes up with another plan: turn four stories from the ancient Panchatantra into a film.

The four stories all feature sexually liberated women who use their wits to get the better of their jealous, promiscuous spouses. Maanav’s girlfriend, a movie editor named Ruchi (Shahana Goswami), convinces her producer boss Nitin (Sushant Singh) to listen to Maanav’s pitch, even though it appears Nitin has his own designs on Ruchi.

The four stories unfold as Maanav’s narration gives way to cinematic depiction, starting with the two historical vignettes. First is the story of a frisky wife (Raima Sen) whose manual laborer husband becomes suspicious of her eagerness to hop in the sack with him.

Second is a story of a young bride (Konkona Sen Sharma) married to an impotent old king. The bride is desperate to lose her virginity, and she chooses a young courtier (also played by Arunoday Singh, who appears in two other stories as well) to do the deed. However, the courtier will only consent if the bride agrees to do it in front of her husband.

The characters in the “real life” storyline acknowledge a need for stories set in modern times, shifting the time period forward for the final two stories. Sen returns in the third story as another devoted wife whose husband (Shreyas Talpade) tests her fidelity. Sharma likewise returns for the fourth vignette, as a wife who catches her husband (Boman Irani) trying to cheat on her.

All of the stories start with straightforward premises but end with a twist: either the wife turns the tables on her husband, or she was hiding a secret all along. In every case, the stories acknowledge the fact that women have their own desires apart from fulfilling their husbands needs. Sen and Sharma carry the movie, playing their characters as provocative rather than overtly sexual.

While the vignettes have their charms, the framing device is uneven. The interludes between the mini-movies seem to be driving toward a love triangle finale that would force Ruchi to choose between Maanav and Nitin. A new character is introduced at the last minute, seemingly invalidating the implication that Nitin was ever interested in Ruchi.

Mirch also makes the unfortunate mistake of putting a character in blackface. When the husband in the third story dons a disguise in order to seduce his wife, he covers his skin in dark makeup. It’s a crude attempt at humor that’s loaded with racist undertones. A wig and a fake mustache would have been sufficient.


Movie Review: Game (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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The murder mystery genre is a well-established one — so much so that audiences have internalized the genre’s rules, whether consciously or not. Game breaks a number of rules that the genre demands must be followed, ruining what is otherwise a great-looking and well-acted movie.

Game starts with a promising contrivance. Billionaire Kabir Malhotra (Anupam Kher) summons four people to his private Greek island right at the moment they are most in need of rescue. Tisha (Shahana Goswami) is caught driving drunk, O.P. (Boman Irani) is about to lose his political career, Neil (Abhishek Bachchan) is on the run from Colombian drug dealers, and Vikram (Jimmy Shergill) has a suitcase with a dead body stuffed inside.

Malhotra’s generous offer isn’t quite what it seems. He holds the three men responsible for the untimely death of a daughter he never knew he had. And Tisha is his dead daughter Maya’s fraternal twin sister. Malhotra has enough dirt on the men to ruin their lives, dirt which he plans to turn over to international authorities in the morning.

The circumstances of Maya’s death are divulged within the first 30 minutes of a 135 minute movie, so that’s clearly not the movie’s real mystery. Instead of moving the story forward from that point, the plot is interrupted by Neil flashing back to Maya (Sarah-Jane Dias) performing a burlesque dance number, ruining the flow of the film.

At the fifty minute mark, the true mystery is finally revealed. Malhotra dies alone in his office — presumably by his own hand — and all of his evidence on the men is destroyed. The international authorities arrive, but lead inspector Sia (Kangana Ranaut) is forced to let the four invitees go home. Her primary suspect, for no apparent reason, is Neil, and she begins trailing him to uncover his guilt.

There’s a lot to like about Game. Bachchan and Ranaut are compelling leads, and veterans Kher and Irani deliver as always. Goswami and Shergill make the most of their supporting roles. The movie is beautifully shot in gorgeous locations in India, Turkey, Thailand, England and Greece. There are a few great action sequences and one painful jogging chase scene that ends when the pursuers succumb to sprained ankles and side cramps.

But the film’s plot has some issues that are too large to be glossed over. To paraphrase a familiar axiom about mysteries, the outcome must, in retrospect, feel unpredictable but inevitable. There’s nothing about the ultimate outcome of Game that is any way inevitable, despite a few half-hearted attempts at retroactive continuity.

The introduction of new major characters, illogical plot twists, and ludicrous revelations dominate the last 30 minutes of the movie. Plot twists can’t exist independently for the sake of shock value alone; they must exist in service of the larger story (or else they’d just be called “twists”).

The filmmakers didn’t understand that, after a good mystery, the audience should leave saying,  “I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming.” Instead, Game‘s audiences will exit theaters wondering, “Where the hell did that come from?”


Movie Review: Break Ke Baad (2010)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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I have a hard time being objective when it comes to Deepika Padukone. I adore her. She’s one of the world’s best actresses at the moment, and she’s only 24. But I think I can say with some measure of professional detachment that Break Ke Baad (“After the Break”) could be her most nuanced work to date. It’s worth seeing just for her.

Padukone plays Aaliya, a 20-year-old wild child who aspires to an acting career against the objections of her mother, Ayesha (Sharmila Tagore), herself a former screen idol. Aaliya’s in a relationship with her childhood best friend and long-time sweetheart, Abhay Gulati (Imran Khan). With Abhay poised to take over operations of his dad’s movie theater, everyone assumes that “Al” and “Gelato” will soon be married.

This is fine with Abhay, even though he hates his job and has no life outside of Aaliya. But Aaliya wants to experience the world first, though she doesn’t come out and say it. Instead, she secretly applies to a one-year Communications program in Australia and only tells Abhay about it when she complains that Ayesha won’t let her go.

Eventually, Aaliya leaves for Australia, and she gets Abhay to consent to “a little break.” But, to Aaliya’s annoyance, he won’t stop calling, going so far as to show up at her house one day. Aaliya finally breaks up with him for good, but Abhay refuses to leave Australia without her. He works a variety of jobs in the hopes of finding one he really likes.

Writers Danish Aslam and Renuka Kunzru have a real understanding of what it’s like to be at that age where you’re desperate to chart an independent course for your life, but still eager for parental approval. The dialog is thoughtful, as when Ayesha tells selfish Aaliya that people don’t love her because she’s special, she’s special because a few people love her intensely.

Nuanced writing requires skilled acting to make it come to life, and Padukone does that with Aaliya. Aaliya is careless of others’ feelings in a way unique to pretty girls in their early twenties. She usually gets her way, so she doesn’t worry about the manner in which she does so.

Padukone is careful to make Aaliya simultaneously lovable and frustrating. Aaliya’s obviously fun, and she is caring, but she also deflects blame onto others and fails to consider their feelings before she acts. Padukone manages to show Aaliya’s potential for growth despite her current faults.

Khan has a somewhat detached performance style that actually works for Abhay, who’s simply going along with whatever life throws at him. He doesn’t get worked up about much because he doesn’t know what he wants, nor does he consider the possibility that things won’t work out for him. Khan does a nice job playing low-key opposite Padukone’s more dynamic character.

Supporting characters Nadia (Shahana Goshwami) and Cyrus (Yudhishtir Urs), beach-bum siblings living off their inheritance, keep the plot moving. Misanthropic Nadia’s sarcasm is on point and forces Aaliya and Abhay to act. Horndog Cyrus provides the comic relief. The lead characters’ parents are also good, though I would’ve liked to see more of their relationships with their kids.

Break Ke Baad may not be as universally relevant as some romantic comedies, but it knows its characters well and portrays them with sophistication. This would be a great movie to show to teens as a guide for “how not to act in a few years.” Not that they’d listen, of course, but at least they’d be entertained.