Tag Archives: Sharat Saxena

Movie Review: Thugs of Hindostan (2018)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Despite its novelty as a rare Bollywood seafaring epic, Thugs of Hindostan is done in by  predictable character development and a familiar plot focused too heavily on its male protagonists.

The film begins promisingly enough, with Ronit Roy playing the leader of the last Indian kingdom to resist takeover by the British East India Company in 1795. After instructing his young daughter Zafira (played by fierce little Deshna Dugad) on the importance of protecting her homeland, King Mirza plans to attack the Brits at dawn, but the Company’s merciless lead officer Clive (Lloyd Owen) attacks first. Only Zafira escapes with the help of the royal family’s devoted bodyguard, Kattappa…er, Khudabaksh (Amitabh Bachchan).

Fast-forwarding eleven years introduces the swaggering trickster Firangi (Aamir Khan). Firangi’s name means “foreigner,” explaining his willingness to pit Indians against Indians and Brits against Indians, all in the name of making a buck. He has no allegiance to the burgeoning resistance movement threatening the Company, making him the perfect spy to gather information on behalf of Clive’s second-in-command, Officer Powell (Gavin Marshall, who coordinated the circus acts for Dhoom 3, which also starred Khan and was directed by Thugs director Vijay Krishna Acharya).

The rebel leader “Azaad” (“Free”) is really Khudabaksh, assisted by grown up Zafira (Fatima Sana Shaikh), who’s become a deadly fighter. The name Azaad is confusing, because it’s hard to tell when the rebel army shouts the word if they’re cheering for the man specifically or the concept of freedom, generally. This is significant because the first character we see in the movie is Zafira as a girl. Thugs should be her revenge saga, but Khudabaksh appears to get all the credit for attacking the Brits — unless the masses really are cheering for freedom and not just for him. Either way, crown princess Zafira winds up playing second fiddle to her bodyguard.

As is the case for many Hindi films, the challenge in Thugs is weighing the needs of the story against the needs of the stars. The stars’ needs clearly trump the narrative in this case. Without Khan or Bachchan — and perhaps with an actress with a longer resume than Shaikh’s — Zafira would be the main character. But one feels a calculus governing the whole plot, and that’s ensuring that the biggest stars get the most screentime. For example, Khan must be onscreen for three-fourths of the movie (I’m estimating), Bachchan for less (but he gets more dramatic entrances), etc. That limits the scope of what other characters are able to do and diminishes their importance.

That calculus is responsible for the absurdly lazy incorporation of Katrina Kaif’s dancer character Suraiyya into the plot. She’s summoned out of the ether as the screenplay demands, with no attempt to make her feel like a person who exists when she’s not onscreen. She’s a character designed for item numbers, nothing more. It’s a shame because Kaif is captivating in her brief dialogue scenes, and there had to have been some way to further utilize the grace and athleticism she displays in the songs “Suraiyya” and “Manzoor-e-Khuda”.

Shaikh is likewise underutilized, despite having the most compelling emotional arc. She and Kaif share a nice moment in which their characters discuss the dangers of revolutionary action (after telling Khan’s chatterbox character to shut up). The film’s high point is a touching scene in which Zafira mourns her family, and Khudabaksh sings her to sleep as he did when she was a girl. The film is lessened for putting Zafira’s thirst for vengeance second to the question of whether Khan’s Captain Jack Sparrow-lite character will finally become a good person (of course he will).

One point in Thugs of Hindostan‘s favor is that they cast British actors who don’t sound ridiculous speaking Hindi, which is not common practice in Bollywood. There are good supporting performances by Roy, Sharat Saxena, and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub as Firangi’s psychic sidekick. Ila Arun has the only other female role of note, giving a funny turn as Jaitumbi, a potion-maker with a crush on the much-younger Firangi.

Thugs of Hindostan has one of the biggest budgets of all time for a Bollywood film, and it gets quite a lot of value for the money. Battle scenes are fun and clever, set against stunning backdrops. The leather armor worn by Zafira and Khudabashk is gorgeous, designed by Manoshi Nath and Rushi Sharma. Dance numbers are grand in scale.

High production values coupled with decent story pacing are enough to maintain interest while watching Thugs of Hindostan, even if its narrative deficiencies make it ultimately forgettable.

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Movie Review: Race 3 (2018)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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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.

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Movie Review: Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon (2015)

KisKiskoPyaarKaroon1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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One of the things that matters most in a comedy of errors is how the main character gets out of the mess he’s created, but the resolution to Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon (“Who Should I Love“) is the film’s downfall.

The man responsible for the troubles in Kis Kisko Pyaar KaroonKKPK, henceforth — is Shiv Ram Kishan (Kapil Sharma). His efforts to help three different women end up with him married to all three. He marries Juhi (Manjari Phadnis) to honor her father’s dying wish. He marries Simran (Simran Kaur Mundi) to preserve her dignity when his buddy leaves her at the altar. And he’s forced to marry Anjali (Sai Lokur) by her gangster brother, Tiger-Bhai (Arbaaz Khan).

Shiv’s best friend, Karan (Varun Sharma), persuades his pal to move all of the wives into the same apartment building: Juhi on the fourth floor, Anjali on the sixth floor, and Simran on the eighth floor. That cuts down on Shiv’s commute, giving him more time to woo the one woman he truly loves, a dancer named Deepika (Elli Avram).

Much of the plot consists of near misses in which Shiv’s scheme is almost revealed. The funniest of those bits involve Anjali’s feisty maid, Champa (Jamie Lever). The least funny involve Tiger-Bhai, who can speak perfectly but is completely deaf, a gimmick that becomes tired almost immediately.

There’s a cute subplot involving Shiv’s divorced parents, played by Sharat Saxena and Supriya Pathak. Shiv tries to conceal the truth from both of them, but they are too busy falling back in love with one another. Romantic music swells and a fan softly blows Mom’s hair when Dad sees her. It’s a more compelling relationship than all four of Shiv’s combined.

KKPK is about thirty minutes too long, the close calls losing their tension as they accumulate. When it’s finally time for Shiv to answer for his actions, he gives a speech deflecting all responsibility onto his wives, blaming (what he perceives as) their fragile emotional natures. He even holds his mother partially responsible, claiming that he’s just following her orders to never break a woman’s heart.

Shiv offers a bleak assessment of modern marital obligations. By his reckoning, he’s holding up his end of the bargain by providing each wife with a nice apartment and money for shopping. It’s enough that he tells each of them, “I love you,” even though he doesn’t mean it.

They should also be happy with the five minutes he spends with each of them each day. Never mind that none of them work, and that Simran’s only human contact comes from short-tempered Champa. Juhi and Anjali don’t have maids and are alone all day, yet Shiv thinks five minutes is enough fulfill his duty to them.

Speaking of duty, none of these marriages appear to have been consummated. The most physical contact Shiv has with his wives is a peck on the check. That, and his aggressive rejection of Anjali’s sexual advances. Though there’s some mention of him rotating nights with each spouse, the movie never shows him waking up in any of their apartments. Isn’t sex one of Shiv’s marital duties?

It’s a question that directing duo Abbas Mustan and writer Anukalp Goswami choose to ignore. Instead, we are left with Juhi, Simran, Anjali, and even Deepika defined only in relation to Shiv, a mouse of a man. Given how funny most of KKPK is, the story’s resolution is a real disappointment.

Links

  • Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon at Wikipedia
  • Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon at IMDb (listed as Kis Kisko Pyaar Karu)

Movie Review: Bumboo (2012)

1 Star (out of 4)

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The English translation of the Hindi slang word “bumboo” is “a mess.” Bumboo is an apt title for this movie, but not in the way the filmmakers intended it.

Bumboo is based on L’emmerdeur, a French comedy from 1973 that spawned a French remake in 2008. The premise is intriguing: an assassin’s stakeout is interrupted by the heartbroken, suicidal man staying in the hotel room next door.

While the premise is good, the film itself is not. Bumboo relies on my least favorite comedy gimmicks to try to generate laughs. Characters run around frantically, tripping over each other in order to get close enough to slap each other. Fart jokes abound. None of it is funny.

Sharat Saxena plays an assassin named Mangal Singh. The sharpshooter positions himself in a hotel room hours before a notorious embezzler is due arrive at court, where he plans to name his accomplices. Mangal’s room offers him a clear shot at the courthouse steps.

The hotel room adjoining Mangal’s has a good, but slightly less clear shot of the steps, and it’s occupied by a newspaper photographer, Suresh Sudhakar (Kavin Dave). However, Suresh is too distracted by despair over his failed marriage to care about his job.

Suresh tries to kill himself in his room, but nosy bellhop Vincent Gomes (Sanjai Mishra) saves him. By virtue of residing in the adjoining room, Mangal is deputized by the bellhop to be Suresh’s caretaker. The assassin’s mission is further compromised when Suresh’s ex, her new boyfriend, and the crooks who hired Mangal show up at the hotel.

Characters scream most of their dialog, even though the bulk of the scenes take place in two small hotel rooms connected by an interior door. Writer-director Jagdish Rajpurohit seems to equate volume with humor.

As a result of the all-screaming-all-the-time system of dialog delivery, the acting is overdone. Sharat Saxena has a bit of charisma as the stymied assassin, but not enough to make up for his constant bellowing. Kavin Dave as the heartbroken photographer is almost as annoying as Mandy Takhar, who plays Suresh’s ex-wife, Pinky.

The irritating side characters who exist solely to complicate Mangal’s assassination attempt — such as the bellhop and Pinky’s idiotic new flame, Dr. Souza (Sumit Kaul) — add nothing to the film. But the worst side character of all is the flatulent crook Manu Gupta (Sudhr Pande). Scenes of his transport to the courthouse incorporate all manner of bodily functions and disgust more than they amuse. Why?

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