Tag Archives: Shahid Kapoor

Movie Review: Rangoon (2017)

rangoon3 Stars (out of 4)

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Director Vishal Bhardwaj explores the intersection of World War II and the Indian independence movement in Rangoon. The film starts strong but loses momentum and finesse as it progresses.

Aware of the potential to reach an international audience of WWII-movie buffs, Bhardwaj opens Rangoon with an efficient summary of the political climate in India in 1943, when the events of the film take place. The British still ruled India and thus employed hundreds of thousands of Indian soldiers to fight the Japanese in places like Burma and Singapore. As a counter to Gandhi’s non-violent protest methods, the rebel Indian National Army (INA) allied with Japan to engage in a guerilla war against the Brits in the hopes of forcing them to relinquish control of India.

In Rangoon, not every Indian is interested in taking sides. Mumbai movie producer Rusi Billimoria (Saif Ali Khan) and his family have prospered by cooperating with the occupying British, particularly Major General David Harding (Richard McCabe). Staying on the Brits’ good side ensures access to rare materials like film stock, allowing Rusi build a successful studio around his mistress, gorgeous action starlet Julia (Kangana Ranaut).

However, such a dependent relationship allows for exploitation, and Harding threatens to cut Rusi off unless he sends Julia to Rangoon to perform for the troops. A last-minute bit of trickery by Rusi’s grandfather — who disapproves of his married, high-brow grandson carrying on a public affair with a low-class actress — finds Julia heading to Rangoon on her own.

Well, not entirely on her own. In addition to her acting troupe, Julia is assigned a bodyguard: gruff former prisoner of war, Officer Nawab Malik (Shahid Kapoor). When a Japanese attack separates Julia and Nawab from the rest of the traveling party, the bond they form over their shared survival instincts turns into a dangerous attraction.

Only under duress does Julia come to question what it means to be free, not only on a national scale but on a personal one. Rusi literally bought Julia from her mother at the age of fourteen, after watching the girl perform knife-throwing tricks on the street. He molded her into a superstar, in the process turning her sense of gratitude into one of dependence. While Julia longs for the material security and fame that Rusi can provide as a patron and potentially a husband, he makes it clear that he controls her fate so long as she is tied to him. The inequality of their relationship mirrors the exploitative relationship between Britain and India.

Major General Harding personifies Britain’s sense of inherent superiority but also its fascination with Indian culture. He prides himself on his Hindi vocabulary and uses it to assert himself — in his mind — as more Indian than native Indians. A sequence in which a kurta-clad Harding plays a harmonium and sings a classical tune is uncomfortable to watch, so effective is it at depicting cultural appropriation. McCabe is very well cast for the part.

Of course, Harding’s affinity for India only extends so far. After Julia and Nawab find their way back to the group — which now includes Rusi — the trip becomes more perilous as it heads further into INA territory. Harding and his second-in-command, Major Williams (Alex Avery), are quick to assert their race-based authority over Indian soldiers they deem suspicious, with Harding stating: “I’m white. I’m always right.”

That blunt line of dialogue exemplifies the story’s late shift from subtle character development to broad, obvious drama. Scenes are dragged out, as if hammering away at the same emotional beats will enhance their impact, even though it just slows down the film. It’s an unfortunate choice, as if the filmmaker lost faith in his audience’s attentiveness and sought to make sure they didn’t miss the climax. The result is a breaking of the spell he’d so carefully built for the first three-quarters of the movie.

With the spell broken, special effects deficiencies become impossible to ignore. The setting for the climax requires a lot of green-screening and CGI, and it’s clear that the budget didn’t allow for more seamless execution. Then again, the scale of the setting doesn’t make the ending more meaningful, so a less grand arena filled with more practical effects would have worked just as well. An early battle scene between troops in a confined area is particularly stirring, and a better example of what Bhardwaj can accomplish when he deploys his resources for maximum impact.

As always, Bhardwaj’s best asset is the music he writes for his films, and Rangoon does not disappoint in that regard. The numbers Julia performs for the troops are fun, and “Yeh Ishq Hai” perfectly suits the sexy chemistry between Kapoor and Ranaut.

Both actors are as reliable as ever, with Ranaut bringing vulnerability to a woman who is more than capable of taking care of herself. As a royal descendant himself, Khan plays an aristocrat perfectly. Satoru Kawaguchi gives a notable performance as a Japanese soldier Julia and Nawab encounter in their time in the wild.

Even though the film ends with more of a whimper than a bang, there’s a lot to enjoy about Rangoon. International audiences should appreciate the opportunity to see an aspect of World War II rarely covered by Western cinema. Given the deftness with which Bhardwaj incorporates music into his movies, Rangoon is a fine introduction to Bollywood.

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Movie Review: Udta Punjab (2016)

UdtaPunjab4 Stars (out of 4)

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Several years ago, an affluent community near me realized it had a heroin problem. It did so when a pair of high school students — disturbed by the overdose deaths of three classmates within a single school year — filmed fellow students discussing their own drug use.

The students screened their documentary Neuqua on Drugs for a library auditorium full of horrified school administrators, media, and parents. The adults in the room were shocked that such a problem had festered under their overprotective noses. This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen in neighborhoods with million-dollar homes. It wasn’t supposed to happen to “good” kids.

Punjab is in the middle of its own drug crisis, without the resources of a wealthy American suburb to fight it, nor the collective will to protect a generation of potential Ivy Leaguers. Writer-director Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab (“Punjab on a High“) provides context and scope for the state’s drug problems in a film that is as entertaining as it is enlightening.

A quartet of lead characters showcase different aspects of the crisis. Musician Tommy (Shahid Kapoor) made a fortune churning out songs celebrating drug culture. Just as it becomes apparent that Tommy’s own drug abuse is hampering his ability to write new music, he’s arrested, the easy scapegoat in a police attempt to look like they are cracking down on drugs.

That’s impossible to do, however, when the cops themselves are profiting from the drug trade. Officer Sartaj (Diljit Dosanjh) even complains that police deserve bigger bribes to look the other way when truckloads of narcotics cross the border. Only when Sartaj’s younger brother, Balli (Prabhjyot Singh), is hospitalized from an overdose does the young cop realize his part in fomenting the problem.

Dr. Preeti Sahni (Kareena Kapoor Khan) is more than happy to place blame on Sartaj and the police. She operates a rehab clinic, so she’s seen first-hand the devastation drugs wreak on individuals, their families, and the community at large. Eager to thank the doctor for helping to dry out Balli and atone for his own profiteering, Sartaj joins forces with Preeti to trace the drugs to their source.

Sartaj locates the region’s main distribution hub, a compound where a young woman nicknamed Bauria (Alia Bhatt) is imprisoned as a sex slave. When Bauria found a packet of powder — thrown over the Pakistani border discus-style — in the field where she worked, she’d hoped to sell it and get rich. Only the intended recipients of the packet found out, capturing her, hooking her on drugs, and using her to service clients, including the police chief, who happens to be Sartaj’s cousin.

Everything and everyone in Udta Punjab is connected, right down to the poster of Tommy hanging on Balli’s wall. In the same way that the character’s lives entwine, so do the region’s fortunes. It only takes a few corrupt cops and politicians to sustain a catastrophe that keeps the beds at Preeti’s clinic full.

Chaubey’s story — co-written by Sudip Sharma — wisely embeds the drug crisis within the purview of ordinary life. Crops still need to be harvested, and love still blossoms, as it does between Sartaj and Preeti. His crush on the beautiful doctor develops quickly, but he’s too shy to express his feelings, intimidated as he is by her intelligence. He gathers the intel, but she has to explain to him (and thus the audience, thankfully) the intersection between government officials, chemical manufacturers, and the gangsters controlling the drug trade. She grows increasingly charmed by his enthusiasm and dedication.

Rooting the narrative within a real-life framework requires room for humor as well, tinted appropriately dark given the subject matter. Chaubey juxtaposes funny moments with grim ones, occasionally blending the comic with the tragic in the same scene. For example, a singer croons, “Her smile makes the flowers bloom,” over a shot of Bauria vomiting.

The film’s performances are likewise balanced between the straightforward deliveries of Kapoor Khan and Dosanjh, and the wilder turns of Bhatt and Kapoor. The horrors of Bauria’s circumstances are made clear but not dwelt upon, focusing instead on the character’s strength and ingenuity, movingly depicted by Bhatt. Kapoor plays Tommy with a manic energy that doesn’t dissipate even when the singer is sober.

Chaubey’s film is perfectly balanced, in every respect. That makes the Censor Board controversy surrounding Udta Punjab‘s release seem even more ridiculous. There’s nothing in the film that comes close to glorifying drug use, so attempts to stall its release with demands that every reference to Punjab be removed is simply an attempt by vested interests to deny that Punjab has a drug problem. People in my own community and thousands of Punjabi citizens know the truth: while politicians bury their heads in the sand, people are dying.

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Movie Review: Shaandaar (2015)

Shaandaar3 Stars (out of 4)

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Shaandaar (“Fabulous“) is not as polished as director Vikas Bahl’s runaway hit from 2014, Queen, yet there’s plenty to like in this romantic comedy. Bahl’s unique vision warrants a viewing.

Driving to his eldest daughter’s wedding at an English palace, Bipin (Pankaj Kapur) literally runs into a haughty motorcyclist (played by Shahid Kapoor). They engage in a war of words, inflamed by the googly eyes the biker makes at Bipin’s younger daughter, Alia (Alia Bhatt).

Bipin is dismayed when the biker turns out to be the family’s wedding coordinator, Jagjinder Joginder. Jagjinder immediately charms the bride-to-be, Isha (Sanah Kapoor), and her tough-as-nails grandmother (Sushma Seth).

As if the troublesome wedding coordinator weren’t bad enough, Bipin’s future in-laws — the Fundwanis — are a bunch of tacky boors. The groom-to-be, Robin (Vikas Verma), is a musclebound narcissist who shows up to his own wedding shirtless.

Shaandaar has a number of selling points. The relationship Bipin shares with his daughters is warm, though he’s particularly fond of Alia, whom he adopted as a little girl. Alia and Isha are protective of one another, especially since Isha’s mother and grandmother are quick to remind Alia that she is not Bipin’s biological child.

Alia and Shahid make a fun and attractive couple. Though both of their characters are precocious, Alia’s eyes twinkle with a particular mischievousness. Their frequent daydreams manifest in the form of flashbacks and hallucinations. When Jagjinder first sees Alia, he’s so smitten that he sees the dragonflies embroidered on her sweater take flight and swarm colorfully about her.

Some of the film’s flashbacks are animated, with Naseeruddin Shah on voiceover duty. The very opening to Shaandaar is a cartoon retelling of Alia’s adoption that explains the tension within the family. Though clever, the sequence is overly long.

That’s perhaps Shaandaar‘s single biggest problem: it’s too long. There are a number of scenes that should have been cut, since they fail to advance the plot or tell us anything about the characters that we don’t already know.

On a couple of occasions, the film’s negative characters — like Grandma, Robin, and Harry Fundwani (Sanjay Kapoor) — use offensive insults. For example, Harry asks a squinting Jagjinder if he is Chinese. The use of these insults is supposed to reflect poorly upon the speaker, but there’s ample evidence that the villains are the villains. The movie doesn’t need to trade in harmful stereotypes in order to establish that.

Robin’s character is the most offensive. His whole storyline is that he doesn’t want to marry Isha because she is overweight, and he makes sure that everyone knows that he finds her unappealing. While Isha has a moment of triumph later in the film, it feels as though it comes at too high a cost.

In fact, it’s time to retire the trope that marrying an overweight woman is a form of punishment. Movies like Dum Laga Ke Haisha and even Shaandaar empower their female characters, but too often the trope is used as a punchline. Akshay Kumar’s character in Singh Is Bliing flees the state rather than marry a heavy woman. It’s a tired plot device. Bollywood storytellers need to find a new reason for male characters not to want to marry female characters, preferably one that doesn’t have to do with the female characters’ looks.

As narrowly defined by her appearance as her character is, Sanah Kapoor is really terrific as Isha. Sanah comes across naturally, despite this being her first film. Perhaps acting alongside her brother (Shahid) and father (Pankaj) helped evoke such a comfortable, charming performance.

Another highlight of Shaandaar is the choreography by Bosco-Caesar that accompanies Amit Trivedi’s catchy tunes. It’s hard to resist dancing along to “Shaam Shaandaar” and “Gulaabo.”

Shaandaar warrants a special warning for international viewers like myself. The movie is less accessible than other mainstream Hindi films. From a practical standpoint, the English subtitles appear on screen in a white font with no drop-shadow, rendering them invisible against light backgrounds. When the characters speak in English, the words spoken are often different from those written in the subtitles.

There are additional problems from a contextual standpoint. Harry — the head of the Fundwani family — talks incessantly about his status as a “Sindhi” ambassador and his feeling that every person of repute is a “Sindhi.” The significance of being a Sindhi isn’t explained at all, which is frustrating, because this is all Harry ever talks about.

Because of Shaandaar‘s flaws, it can’t be called a complete success. It fulfills genre obligations by being both funny and romantic, but it’s definitely not a movie for everyone. Still, it doesn’t look like any other romantic comedies out there, and it deserves accolades for that. If only more filmmakers were as ambitious as Vikas Bahl.

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Opening October 22: Shaandaar

One of fall’s biggest Bollywood releases hits Chicago area theaters on Thursday, October 22, 2015. Director Vikas Bahl’s romantic comedy Shaandaar stars Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt.

Shaandaar opens on Thursday at the Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, Regal Round Lake Beach 18 in Round Lake Beach, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 24 min.

Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 carries over at the Cantera 17 and South Barrington 30, which also holds over Jazbaa and Talvar.

Meet the Patels opens on Friday, October 23, at the Cantera 17 and carries over for another week at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago , Wilmette Theatre in Wilmette, and Regal Lincolnshire Stadium 21 in Lincolnshire.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Kanche (Telugu) at Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, which also carries 10 Endrathukulla (Tamil), Bruce Lee – The Fighter (Telugu), and Rudhrama Devi (Telugu). All movies have English subtitles.

Movie Review: Haider (2014)

Haider4 Stars (out of 4)

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Classic works of art earn the designation because of their ability to connect with audiences long after their creators are dead. Filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj demonstrates why William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a classic by updating the play as Haider, a film that presents Hamlet‘s essential truths in a way that is fresh and compelling.

Bhardwaj changes the story’s setting from the royal court of Denmark to Kashmir in 1995. The film supplies more than enough information for international audiences to understand the social and political conflict present in the region at the time.

The city of Srinagar is officially under Indian control, though militants wishing for the region to unite with Pakistan offer armed resistance. Hilal (Narendra Jha), a doctor, secretly performs surgery on a militant leader, citing his oath to preserve all life. His wife, Ghazala (Tabu), is afraid. As the army officer Pervez (Lalit Parimoo) puts it, “When the elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled.” Ghazala knows she and Hilal are the grass, not the elephants.

A masked informer tells the army that Hilal is harboring a terrorist. The doctor is carted off and his house destroyed.

The doctor’s son, Haider (Shahid Kapoor), returns to Srinagar to find his house a smouldering ruin and his mother giggling in the company of his fraternal uncle, Khurram (Kay Kay Menon). Ghazala and Khurram protest that the situation is not what it looks like, but Haider isn’t buying it.

Haider’s personal quest to discover what happened to his father takes place within an environment of increasing turmoil. There’s a lot of money and power to be had, thanks to Indian government initiatives to track down militants. Pervez, Khurram, and even the two guys named Salman who own the local video store are eager to cash in. Information is the most valuable currency, so no one can be trusted.

A lack of trust also lies at the heart of Haider’s troubled relationship with Ghazala. Flashbacks showing a happy household give way to memories of emotional manipulation and simmering resentment.

Kapoor and Tabu are brilliant together. That mistrust bubbles under the surface of every conversation, breaking through just when they seem on the verge of sharing a tender moment. Yet their bond is overpowering. He is her only son, she his only remaining parent.

Each of the principal characters is driven by complicated motives. Menon is duplicitous and opportunistic, but he genuinely loves Ghazala. Ghazala — though she doesn’t wish for her husband’s death — enjoys being doted on by Khurram. She fruitlessly tries to explain to Haider that parents are adults with their own needs and feelings that have nothing to do with their children.

Caught in the middle is Arshee (Shraddha Kapoor), Haider’s childhood sweetheart. With Haider back in town, she’s ready to get married. She doesn’t realize that Haider’s path of vengeance likely precludes a wedding.

What’s interesting about the female characters in Haider is the way they have both more and less autonomy than the male characters. The women can move freely about town, without the ID checks and pat downs the men endure at every turn. Arshee publishes articles critical of the Indian government in the local paper.

Yet their futures are still governed by men. Arshee’s brother, Lucky (Aamir Bashir), and her father, Officer Pervez, have the power to cancel her engagement to Haider. While Hilal is considered officially missing but not deceased, Ghazala is designated a “half-widow,” unable to mourn and remarry, forced to wait.

The genius of Bhardwaj’s creation is the way it so successfully tells both the story of Hamlet and the story of Kashmir. Bhardwaj turns Shakespeare’s story into the ideal tool to illuminate a complicated, controversial part of India’s past and present, all while maintaining the tone and spirit of the original.

Bhardwaj is also responsible for the film’s masterful background score and soundtrack. The sound design in the movie is spot on, with frequent quiet periods to enhance the effectiveness of the music.

There’s one dance number in the movie, and it seems designed to make all future Bollywood dance numbers look superfluous and bland by comparison. Haider stages a musical performance to try to intimidate his uncle, and it’s spectacular. Kapoor is a skilled individual dancer, but here his talents are used as an integral part of the story.

Every performance is tremendous. The cinematography uses Srinagar’s abundant snow as a backdrop for breathtaking shots. The music is spectacular. Haider is a movie that begs to be seen.

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Movie Review: R… Rajkumar (2013)

R..._Rajkumar_Theatrical_poster_(2013)1 Star (out of 4)

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Director Prabhu Deva’s schizophrenic style strikes again. In R… Rajkumar, he derails an enjoyable action rom-com with a casual treatment of violence against women.

The double shame is that the character who suffers most from this misogyny, Chanda (Sonakshi Sinha), is a strong female character. Yet the script reduces her to a plot device, beaten and threatened with rape just to inspire the heroic deeds of the title character, Romeo Rajkumar (Shahid Kapoor).

Romeo, a hired thug, comes to town to join a gang headed by Shivraj (Sonu Sood), a drug lord at war with a rival opium dealer, Parmar (Ashish Vidyarthi). He falls in love with Chanda at first sight, becoming so lovestruck that it hampers his ability to carry out his duties on behalf of Shivraj.

Romeo’s love-induced impairment repeatedly endangers the life of his fellow henchmen and best friend, an apparently unnamed goon played by Mukul Dev. Their playfully antagonistic friendship is the highlight of the movie, even though it mostly disappears in the second half of the film.

The humor in Romeo’s friendship and in his pursuit of Chanda are hard to reconcile in the context of a movie that treats violence against women as a given. Chanda is brutally lashed with a belt a dozen times by her uncle, who objects to her romance with Romeo. In the very next scene, the same uncle is seen clowning around with his underlings, accompanied by a flatulence sound effect.

Is the audience supposed to ignore the beating the uncle administered to his niece just seconds earlier? Is he supposed to be a source of comic relief or a monster? It’s one thing for the uncle to abuse his underlings; they signed up for the job. Chanda is beaten because she is a woman.

In another scene, Shivraj threatens Chanda in order to provoke Romeo: “I’ll tie her up and rape her in front of you.” However, in the English subtitles, the word “rape” is censored, written as “r**e.” So rape is too vile a word to read, but not too vile an act to depict onscreen or use as a threat?

It’s so frustrating because R… Rajkumar is otherwise pretty good. Romeo and Chanda develop a sweet relationship over the course of the film. Kapoor shows a wide range in his performance, and his dancing is top-notch, as always. Sinha is brave and resolute while enduring all the abuse the script throws at her.

I wish I could recommend R… Rajkumar, but I just can’t. It portrays violence against women as a social norm, something a woman can only escape if she has a boyfriend with superhuman strength to defend her. Why couldn’t this just be a fun movie and not a regressive piece of social commentary?

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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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