Tag Archives: Shashank Arora

Movie Review: Rock On 2 (2016)

rockon22 Stars (out of 4)

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The realism that made the relationships in 2008’s Rock On!! so compelling is missing from Rock On 2, replaced by bizarre behavior masquerading as drama.

Following the events of the original film, the surviving members of the rock band Magik (RIP, keyboardist Rob) had a good run for about three years, playing shows and running their own recording label. Then the suicide of an aspiring musician broke them up once again.

Fast-forward five years to the present day, and formerly destitute guitarist Joe (Arjun Rampal) is a wealthy club owner and reality show judge. Drummer KD (Purab Kohli) still dabbles in music, leaving him with enough free time to narrate the film. Singer Adi (Farhan Akhtar) is living near Shillong on a farmers’ collective, despite having no background in farming whatsoever.

There’s a real logical leap required for Adi’s choices to make the slightest bit of narrative sense, let alone make him a hero. His overblown reaction to the aspiring musician’s suicide is to flee to the hinterlands of India (Shillong is on the other side of Bangladesh), not only breaking up his band and depriving Joe and KD of their source of income, but also abandoning his wife, Sakshi (Prachi Desai), and their then three-year-old son.

Somehow, Adi’s version of penance for playing a minor role in a troubled young man’s death means punishing everyone who loves and depends on him. As Adi puts it: “Every time I’ve tried to make music, I’ve hurt someone.” Substitute any other activity for “make music” to hear how dumb and selfish that rationale sounds: “Every time I’ve tried to clean the bathroom, I’ve hurt someone.”

Adi’s commitment to his new farming community isn’t as solid as he thinks it is. Days after rejecting an in-person plea from KD, Sakshi, Joe, and Joe’s wife, Debbie (Shahana Goswami), to return to Delhi, a suspicious fire destroys the farmers’ crops and homes. Adi gives the farmers some cash and heads back to his old life, telling the farmers to call him if they have any problems.

More than a month goes by without Adi giving so much as a thought to his buds in Shillong, let alone check on them to make sure they’re okay. When his former right-hand man finally rings to say that everyone is starving, Adi yells, “Why didn’t you call me sooner?!” Probably because he was trying not to die, you entitled dope!

Adi’s solution to raise awareness of the farmers’ plight is, not surprisingly, to hold a Magik reunion benefit concert, including new band members Jiah (Shraddha Kapoor) and Uday (Shahshank Arora, whose role is too small for an actor of his caliber). Yet dumbass Adi has the bright idea to hold the concert in a field in Shillong, Woodstock-style.

Consider all the reasons why this is stupid. All of the infrastructure for the concert — stage, restroom facilities, equipment storage — has to be built from scratch, at great expense. All the people with the money to afford concert tickets — the farmers are all broke, remember — live far away, meaning they have to travel (at great expense) just to get to the show.

Joe owns a freaking music club! Just have the concert at his place and charge a couple hundred bucks a ticket! All that money that went into setting up the stupid concert and travel expenses could’ve gone directly to the farmers instead of enabling Adi to waste it on another vanity project to ease his troubled conscience.

Joe is the only rational character in the story, dutifully fulfilling his responsibilities, while refusing to be blamed for things that aren’t his fault. Yet he’s written as a kind of villain, just because he considers events in context and isn’t guided entirely by his emotions. Joe, you’re the real hero of Rock On 2.

P.S. Since this is a movie about a rock band, I should mention the music. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy did a great job writing songs in distinct styles for Jiah and for Magik. Shraddha Kapoor has a good voice, and her character gets the film’s best songs, including “Tere Mere Dil” and “Udja Re” (both embedded below). Magik’s numbers are okay, but I don’t think I can keep trying to convince myself that I like Farhan Akhtar’s singing voice.

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Movie Review: Brahman Naman (2016)

BrahmanNaman3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Brahman Naman was a part of the 2016 Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.

“Right now, we could have been in between the thighs of whores losing our virginity, but here we are trading electoral trivia.” “That’s all we have, Ajay: trivia.” Brahman Naman paints a hilarious portrait of the lives of some sex-obsessed college quiz masters in 1980s Bangalore.

Naman (Shashank Arora) leads the university’s quiz team, which includes his right-hand-man Ajay (Tanmay Dhanania) and their pal with a broken leg, Ramu (Chaitanya Varad). Onstage, they rule the school with a mastery of arcane knowledge and British literary quotations. They recruit a timid younger student named Randy (Vaishwath Shankar) to fill out the team.

Offstage, however, the guys rank low in the social pecking order, a fact made painfully obvious by their foil, Ronnie (Sid Mallya), the handsome captain of the cricket team. Naman’s plan to humiliate Ronnie by distributing pictures of the jock’s genitals backfires when proof of the captain’s endowment entices even more of the university women into the athlete’s arms — and out of reach of the desperate quiz team.

And I do mean literal pictures of genitals. There are a lot of penises in Brahman Naman, as well as plenty of breasts, bodily fluids, and some inventive methods of masturbation. This is not a tame Bollywood sex comedy. (The dialogue is entirely in English, too.)

Naman and his friends armor themselves in condescension, convinced that their superior brainpower will yield future rewards, both fiscal and romantic. Thus, Naman regularly humiliates the one woman who is actually attracted to him — Ash (Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy) — because of her acne. Ash is sweet and cute and deserving of someone far better than Naman, a fact he slowly realizes over the course of the film, as a tiny seed of understanding grows within him.

As rotten as Naman often is, it’s hard to dislike him, because the source of his bad attitude is so obvious. His intellect and status as a member of the respected Brahman caste hold no sway with the ladies in town. He wants to have sex, but he’s also terrified of it. He feels equally entitled and unsure.

Writer Naman Ramachandran’s delightful script is brought to life by director Qaushiq Mukherjee (better known as Q). The story is peppered with strange asides, in the form of Naman’s daydreams and quiz questions for the audience. Ronnie is introduced with a few-seconds-long montage of him catching balls and doing other crickety things, establishing him as a classic ’80s teen movie villain.

The eclectic soundtrack plays an important role as well. My favorite moment is when Naman’s crush, Rita (Subholina Sen), walks by, and Ramu cries, “Oh, no! Not again!” Before my brain could complete the thought — “Aren’t those the lyrics to…” — Rod Stewart’s song “Infatuation” kicks in. Rita walks by in slow motion while Naman gawks. The music drops out abruptly, and we’re left with Ramu singing, “Infatuation. Infatuation.”

The cast is something special. Arora’s magnetism — the selling point of the movie Titli — makes Naman the most charming of anti-heroes. The rest of the supporting cast is amazing as well, including Biswa Kalyan Rath of “Pretentious Movie Reviews” as a frenemy with outlandish tales of sexual conquest.

Brahman Naman is a real treat, with great characters and visual flourishes that make it a must-see movie.

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Movie Review: Titli (2015)

Titli3 Stars (out of 4)

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Titli (“Butterfly“) is a film that is much easier to appreciate than it is to enjoy. Though well-made, the story’s grim tone and visceral elements make it hard to watch.

The title character, Titli (Shashank Arora), is the youngest son in a family of thieves. He provides distractions so that his older brothers — Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) and Baawla (Amit Sial) — can beat up drivers and steal their cars. Their TV-obsessed father (Lalit Behl) is disreputable, too.

Vikram is the most dangerous of the lot. Those used to watching Shorey play comic roles will find his sinister turn in Titli shocking. Vikram’s own father and brothers are too scared to stand up to him. The only reason his ex-wife was able to escape is that she has enough evidence of Vikram’s spousal abuse to send him to jail for a long time.

With the family in dire financial straits — thanks to Titli losing all their money in a poorly planned escape attempt — they decide to add a woman to their bandit gang in order to make heists easier. They do so by marrying Titli to a young woman named Neelu (Shivani Raghuvanshi).

As scared as Neelu looks when her parents arrange the match with Titli, she has no idea what horrors await. The film’s most violent scene involves the brothers staging a carjacking while Neelu and Titli are on a test drive. She sees her new in-laws as the monsters they are when Vikram and Bawla beat the car salesman with a hammer and leave him for dead.

Not only is Titli at times graphically violent, but director Kanu Behl seems to revel in personal hygiene and bodily functions. Someone in Titli’s family is always brushing his teeth, face covered in foam, drool spilling from his mouth. The noises Vikram makes when clearing his throat are revolting. Titli vomits for what feels like forever.

The whole atmosphere of the family’s small corner of India seems grimy, with a translucent, yellow layer of smog permanently obscuring the view. Their apartment is crowded and tiny. One can’t even go outside to escape, because people are always around, selling something or playing a game in the street. There’s so little privacy, it feels like a prison.

That lack of privacy leaves Titli nowhere to plan his escape. Then again, Titli is as ordinary a guy as they come, so how good of a plan could he concoct even under the best of circumstances?

Shashank Arora is a miracle of casting. As Titli, his default expression is that of someone smelling something foul. There’s a blankness in his eyes. While Titli’s desire to escape his life of crime indicates a moral superiority over his brothers, he’s not a good guy. He was raised in the same environment, so he’s just as capable of violence and deceit as Vikram and Baawla.

As Neelu, Raghuvanshi acts as the outsider, as horrified by the conduct of Titli’s family as the audience is. Still, she gives Neelu strength to endure an unbearable situation. A scene in which Neelu and Titli negotiate the terms of their future is the film’s highlight.

Behl is a talented director and storyteller. Titli is engrossing, but in a “can’t look away” sense rather than one of hopeful anticipation. I admire the craft that went into making Titli. I just hope I never have to watch it again.

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