Tag Archives: Shruti Haasan

Movie Review: Rocky Handsome (2016)

RockyHandsome2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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When reviewing a remake, comparison to the original can be unavoidable. One can’t very well unsee a movie just to be able to evaluate its remake without preconceptions. The question then becomes: had I not seen the original, how do I think I would feel about the remake?

Had I seen Rocky Handsome first, I presume that I would have found it convoluted but interesting, especially in regard to its brutal violence and dark thematic elements. However, having already seen The Man From Nowhere — the South Korean film on which Rocky Handsome is based — the Hindi remake doesn’t hold a candle to the original.

Rocky Handsome‘s story is virtually identical to The Man From Nowhere, though the action shifts from Seoul to Goa. A solitary pawn shop owner (John Abraham) nicknamed “Handsome” by his neighbors goes on a killing spree when gangsters kidnap Naomi (Diya Chalwad), a neglected little girl who lives in his building. As Handsome tracks down Naomi, the cops and gangsters pursuing him learn the truth about this mysterious assassin.

Structural changes by director Nishikant Kamat and writer Ritesh Shah make the early parts of Rocky Handsome confusing. Apart from an opening credits musical flashback to Handsome’s romance with Rukshida (Shruti Haasan), the first twenty minutes focus on his tenuous friendship with Naomi, with only a glimpse of the girl’s drug-addicted mother, Anna (Nathalia Kaur). There’s no setup for an intense scene when Naomi discovers her mother being tortured by gangsters in their apartment.

A flashback explains that, one month earlier, Anna stole some heroin without realizing it belonged to notorious mafia brothers Kevin (director Nishikant Kamat) and Luke (Teddy Maurya) Fereira. In The Man From Nowhere, the theft is the opening scene. The audience knows that there will be hell to pay, but not how or when, thus building tension, if not dread.

Also during the flashback, the local police present a rapid-fire montage of the main players in the Goa drug trade, as if it’s possible for the audience to remember so many characters and relationships introduced in such a short span of time.

The selling point in the trailer for Rocky Handsome is the movie’s violence, which is handled well. It’s bloody and cruel, and John Abraham successfully pulls off everything from shootouts to knife fights. A dilapidated church is an eerie staging ground for a climactic battle.

Abraham is less successful in his characterization. As a man grieving his dead wife, he seems more emo than haunted. He first appears on screen slouching under a hoodie like a sullen teen.

Characterization is the biggest problem in Rocky Handsome. Naomi is too chipper, especially compared to her world-weary prototype from The Man from Nowhere, So-Mi. The brothers’ Thai assassin Attila (Kazu Patrick Tang) is flat and has no impact on the narrative, unlike the vitally important Rowan from the original.

Worst of all is Maurya, who turns eccentric Luke into an impotent joke. There’s nothing frightening to Luke’s antics, and he becomes increasingly annoying the longer he’s on screen.

Truth be told, there are few tense moments in Rocky Handsome. Bollywood doesn’t do menace particularly well, though Kamat and Shah had a perfect template to work from. Though there’s plenty of gore, they shy away from the best opportunities to scare the audience.

As I wrote at the outset, if I hadn’t seen The Man From Nowhere, I’d probably have been more entertained by Rocky Handsome. If entertaining is good enough, then by all means, buy a ticket for Rocky Handsome. But if you want greatness, skip it and watch The Man From Nowhere on Netflix instead.

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Movie Review: Welcome Back (2015)

WelcomeBack1 Star (out of 4)

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Even at their best, writer-director Anees Bazmee’s movies are mediocre. At their worst, they are unbearable. Welcome Back is one of the worst.

In the eight years since the events of Welcome, gangsters Uday (Nana Patekar) and Majnu (Anil Kapoor) have left their criminal pasts behind, striking it rich as hoteliers in Dubai. Deciding that it’s time to get married and start their own families, they fall for the same woman: an heiress named Chandni (Ankita Shrivastava), who’s always accompanied by her mother, Maharani (Dimple Kapadia).

The guys’ marriage plans are put on hold when Uday’s father (also played by Patekar) reveals that Uday has another sister — Ranjhana (Shruti Haasan) — he needs marry off first. The “decent” guy they find for her, Ajju (John Abraham), turns out to be a don pretending to be something he’s not — just like Uday and Majnu.

The plot unfolds at furious pace but burns out quickly. After the first thirty minutes or so, very little that happens feels necessary. Everything else appears to be the indulgence of Bazmee’s whims. Helicopters? Camels? Vampire dance party? Check.

Welcome Back‘s story spins so far out of control that Bazmee doesn’t even try to give the film a real ending. He leaves his characters hanging in mid-air, literally and figuratively.

Watching the film becomes an endurance test in the second half, when Naseeruddin Shah shows up as yet another don, Wanted Bhai. At this point, Welcome Back descends to Gunda-level geographic incoherence. Wanted lives in a mansion on an island only accessible by plane. Yet — while on the island — Uday and Majnu are able to drive to a desert and to a mountain range. They also find a graveyard on the island, evoking more memories of Gunda:

It’s hard for any performances to stand out in a movie that requires its characters to behave so stupidly, but Shrivastava is pretty good as a gold digger. Her covert expressions of disgust while wooing the much older bachelors are funny. Kapadia is also exceedingly glamorous.

Another member of the cast stands out for the wrong reasons. Shiney Ahuja plays Wanted’s drug-addicted son, Honey, who is obsessed with Ranjhana. (Azmee doesn’t even bother explaining how Honey knows Ranjhana.)

In 2011, Ahuja was convicted of raping a member of his household staff and sentenced to seven years in prison. He is out on bail while appealing his conviction (a major difference from the American justice system, where sentences are effective immediately, and appeals are adjudicated while the defendant is behind bars).

Azmee says that he didn’t take Ahuja’s conviction into account when casting him in Welcome Back, simply believing that Ahuja fit the part. “I am a filmmaker,” Bazmee told IANS, “and I do not think about anything more than that.”

Are we supposed to believe that there were no other actors who could have played this particular supporting role? While Azmee may not be bothered by Ahuja’s criminal past, many people will be. When we see Ahuja grinding on Shrivastava in a “sexy” dance number, it’s impossible not to reminded of the fact that he was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman.

Acting in films is a privilege, not a right. There was no reason for Azmee to cast Ahuja in this role at the expense of another actor without a violent criminal past. If Azmee can’t appreciate why this is a problem, is he the right person to helm a multi-million dollar film?

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Movie Review: Gabbar is Back (2015)

GabbarIsBack1 Star (out of 4)

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Even the lowest common denominator deserves better than Gabbar is Back. Director Krish and writer A. R. Murugadoss take so many shortcuts in telling their anti-corruption tale that it’s a wonder they were able to stretch it into a feature-length film.

Gabbar is Back is based on Murugadoss’s Tamil film Ramanaa, which was also remade in Telugu and Kannada. I have no idea if any of the three previous versions make any more sense than Gabbar is Back. Maybe by the fourth time, Murugadoss just stopped giving a shit.

Movie plots have an inherent sense of economy. If characters are introduced, they need to propel the story forward or aid in its resolution. Murugadoss has no sense of economy. His story is a sprawl, full of extraneous characters and poorly integrated motivations.

“Gabbar” is an alias used by a physics professor named Adi (Akshay Kumar). His casual teaching attire — jeans and a hoodie, just like the kids wear these days — makes him popular enough to inspire dozens of his students to become kidnappers and murderers. It’s all cool, though. They only kill government officials who’ve taken bribes.

The police get nervous when public sentiment turns in Gabbar’s favor. We know this thanks to innumerable TV news reports and lazy man-on-the-street shots of random people talking about how great Gabbar is. A newspaper editor even shouts, “Stop the press!”

According to honest police constable Sadhu (Sunil Grover), the four high-ranking cops tasked with finding Gabbar all bribed their way into positions of power. Yet, when Gabbar targets the most crooked police officer in the city, it’s not one of the four officials who’ve already been identified as corrupt. It’s some other cop. Why introduce a whole new character when four others have already been set up as suspects?

Poor Sadhu figures out who Gabbar is, but he doesn’t get to apprehend him. Halfway through the film, Murugadoss introduces yet another government officer to lead the investigation. Why are there so many characters?!

Adi’s motivation for becoming a serial killer is mentioned exactly once, in song form. His family died when an unsafely built high-rise collapsed, yet Adi never mentions this to anyone. All his motivation warrants is a musical flashback.

Partway into the film, Adi’s personal revenge narrative takes over the anti-corruption plotline before jumping back again, with no attempt at artful integration. If Adi’s minions knew he was using them to carry out a vendetta against a private citizen, would they still risk criminal prosecution for him?

Another poorly integrated plot element is Shruti (Shruti Haasan), who adds nothing to the movie. She plays a moron who somehow passed the bar exam. She prefaces statements with, “According to Google…”, because she apparently doesn’t understand how search engines work.

There is no character development in Gabbar is Back, and the only narrative theme is “Corruption is bad.” Well, duh. That’s where screenwriting starts, not where it ends. Tossing in a couple of song cameos by Chritrangda Singh and Kareena Kapoor Khan isn’t enough, nor is having Akshay Kumar kick people. This theme has been addressed plenty of times before, and more skillfully. Murugadoss and Krish shouldn’t be rewarded for their laziness.

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Best Bollywood Movies of 2013

What stands out most on my Top Ten list for 2013 is the diversity of genres represented. No matter what you’re in the mood for, there’s a really good movie on this list. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)

Want a fun teen dance flick? Check out ABCD: Any Body Can Dance.
Looking for a good sports movie or biopic? Try Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.
In the mood for a family drama set in the underworld? You’ve gotta see Aurangzeb.

In addition to the great variety on the list, all the movies mentioned are accessible to an international audience. Familiarity with Hindi movies and their structure may enhance one’s appreciation of Phata Poster Nikla Hero or Commando: A One Man Army, but a lack of prior experience shouldn’t keep Bollywood newcomers from enjoying them. In fact, Commando‘s best selling point is that it’s a martial arts action flick with a romantic dance number in the middle.

2013 was a great year for films featuring ensemble casts. Movies like Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola and D-Day showcase the work of veteran stars, while Shuddh Desi Romance and Kai Po Che! — both of which star Sushant Singh Rajput — feature up-and-comers with bright futures ahead of them.

D-Day also features my single favorite scene in any movie from 2013: a heartbreaking song montage about the doomed relationship between an assassin (Arjun Rampal) and a prostitute (Shruti Haasan).

My favorite Hindi movie of 2013 offers the perfect mix of passion and drama in a beautiful setting. If I could dream up an ideal romantic movie, it would be Lootera. [Buy it on DVD here.]

Writers Vikramaditya Motwane and Bhavani Iyer took a short story by O. Henry and adapted it to depict a tumultuous time period in India, as family fortunes were dismantled in the years following partition. Imagine trying to cope with the heightened emotions of first love while your way of life is turned on its head. Such are the circumstances for Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha) and her beau, Varun (Ranveer Singh).

Fans of Victorian literature or contemporary period dramas like Downton Abbey: Lootera is made for you.

Best Bollywood Movies of 2013

  1. Lootera — Buy at Amazon
  2. D-Day — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  3. Kai Po Che! — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  4. Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola — Buy/rent at Amazon
  5. Shuddh Desi Romance — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  6. Commando: A One Man Army — Buy at Amazon
  7. ABCD: Any Body Can Dance — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  8. Aurangzeb — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  9. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  10. Phata Poster Nikla Hero — Buy at Amazon

Previous Best Movies Lists

Movie Review: Ramaiya Vastavaiya (2013)

R_Vastavaiya1 Star (out of 4)

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“Weird Al” Yankovic has a song called “One More Minute” in which he lists the things he’d rather do than spend time with the woman who broke his heart. Examples include ripping out his own intestines and jumping onto a pile of thumbtacks. While watching Ramaiya Vastavaiya, I gained a new appreciation for the song. Ramaiya Vastavaiya is a stupid movie that I wish I’d never seen.

The film has an incredibly dorky opening. Raghu (Sonu Sood) sits in his cell on the eve of his release from jail, a beatific glow on his face as he stares at photo of himself and his little sister as children. The friendly jailer asks glowing Raghu how a nice guy like him ended up in the clink — it’s been seven years, and you’re just wondering this now, Mr. Jailer? — prompting Raghu to recount a tale of romance between two young people of different economic classes.

Mind you, Raghu isn’t one of the young lovers. The couple comprises his sister, Sona (Shruti Haasan) and her rich boyfriend, Ram (debutant Girish Kumar Taurani, whose father produced the film), whom she meets at a friend’s wedding at which Raghu is not present. Raghu would seem to be an odd choice to narrate a love story he wasn’t around to witness, but Sona’s romance with Ram is just a perfunctory plot contrivance. The story isn’t about how Ram woos the girl but about how he woos Raghu.

Ram is a textbook example of the male-fantasy hero of so many Hindi films (to be fair, many Hollywood films, too). He’s immature, annoying, and spoiled, yet he gets his salt-of-the-earth dream-girl anyway, no effort required. As poorly as the character is written, Taurani does his best to make Ram as irritating as possible.

Ram’s obligatory character growth in which he learns the value of hard work happens not to impress Sona, but to win over Raghu. This is made doubly hard since Raghu arrived at the friend’s wedding in time to witness Ram’s snobby mother accuse Sona of being a gold-digger and have her thrown out of the wedding.

Prabhu Deva’s schizophrenic directing style compounds the film’s many problems. Uncomfortable scenes such as the one involving Ram’s mother follow on the heels of pratfalls and slide-whistle sound effects. The second half of the movie is replete with bodily function gags and lots and lots of cow dung.

Action scenes are edited so jarringly that the action is hard to follow. The climactic fight scene — which ends in unexpected brutality — is so fast and erratic that I started to experience motion sickness.

While Prabhu Deva is renowned as a choreographer, the movie’s dance numbers are nothing special. There’s no context for the film’s big item number, which inexplicably finds Jacqueline Fernandez dolled up and dancing in a field.

Ramaiya Vastavaiya has two things going for it: 1) Shruti Haasan is really, really pretty, and 2) Paresh Ganatra is funny as the manservant Bijli. Is that enough to make me prefer watching Ramaiya Vastavaiya to having my blood sucked out by leeches? No.

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Movie Review: D-Day (2013)

D-DayPoster4 Stars (out of 4)

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At least twice in D-Day, Rishi Kapoor’s character Goldman utters the phrase, “Everyone has a price,” as movie villains are wont to do. He fails to heed another truism that the Indian spies pursuing him know all too well: there’s a limit to every person’s utility. Reach yours, and you become expendable.

D-Day introduces the arms dealer Goldman at the start of his reign of terror in 1993. Twenty years and several hundred dead bodies later, India finally gets its chance to nab Goldman at his son’s wedding in Pakistan. India can’t afford to mount the kind of raid the Americans used to catch Bin Laden without risking all-out war, so Chief of Intelligence Ashwini (Nassar) — who’s days away from retirement, naturally — activates a sleeper agent he placed in Karachi years ago.

The agent, Valli (Irrfan Khan), has spent years establishing a life in Karachi, complete with his own barber shop, a wife, and a son. When called upon to do his duty for his country, he’s assisted by three other agents: explosives expert Zoya (Huma Qureshi), getaway driver Aslam (Aakash Daahiya), and cagey mercenary Rudra (Arjun Rampal).

The film shows the crew’s exciting capture of Goldman early on, before backtracking to their initial meeting. Events catch up to Goldman’s capture at the halfway point in the film and proceed from there. Predictably, things don’t go as smoothly as planned.

Even though D-Day contains certain clichéd spy-movie elements — the raid that doesn’t go as planned, the retiring chief — the movie is so well-constructed that it reminds us why those clichés exist. The chief is under a time limit; he has to see this through before he loses his power. If Goldman is captured without incident, there’s no second half to the movie.

D-Day so carefully executes the formula that the audience has come to expect that it’s able to turn some of those expectations on their heads. For example, the movie subverts the kind of romantic song-break familiar to Bollywood fans. Lovers stare longingly into each others eyes while romantic music plays, only one of the lovers is in the process of being brutally victimized by a third party. It’s so damned clever yet completely moving at the same time, that I found myself crying even while my jaw gaped in astonishment.

There’s not a bad performance in the bunch, but Irrfan and Rampal deserve special plaudits for their tense rivalry. Valli’s struggles with the fact that his loyalty to India could cost him his wife and son provoke the ire of misanthropic Rudra, who only begrudgingly accepts that he needs Valli’s knowledge of the local terrain.

D-Day also has a couple of strong female characters, and not in the current Hollywood sense of “strong” meaning a woman who is able to physically overpower men. Qureshi gets to do a bit of fighting, but her strength lies in keeping the crew on task while coping with fears that she’ll never see her husband again. Shruti Haasan has an important role as Pooja, a prostitute whom Rudra shacks up with to save money (rooms in Karachi brothels are apparently more affordable than hotels). Pooja knows Rudra will leave her like every other man she services does, but her eyes give away the faintest hint of hope.

While D-Day is an all-out entertaining spy thriller, it’s aware of the nuances of Pakistani-Indian relations. It makes it clear that victim-aggressor status is fluid and subjective, and it gives credit to the intelligence agencies of both countries for knowing that as well. When war is always a possibility, sometimes allowing your opponent to save face is the most prudent course of action.

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Movie Review: Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji (2011)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Watching Ajay Devgn’s terrific performance in Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji (“The Heart Is But a Child”) gave me insight into why I hated Rascals so much. Devgn is a great comic actor, and to see his talents squandered in something loud and stupid like Rascals is infuriating.

Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji (DTBHJ, henceforth) follows the exploits of three single guys. Neran (Devgn), in the midst of a divorce, moves into his parents’ old house. To help with the rent and to stave off loneliness, Neran places an ad for a couple of roommates. He gets a nerdy poet named Milind (Omi Vaidya) and a gigolo named Abhay (Emraan Hashmi).

Unlike other Bollywood movies featuring a trio of guys learning about love — such as Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Dil Chahta Hai — the relationships between the male characters are secondary. They get along fine, but they don’t know each other well enough for their friendship to ever be at stake.

What the guys do offer one another is differing views on love. Milind is so hopelessly optimistic that he falls for Gungun (Shraddha Das), a radio DJ who’s way out of league. He refuses to believe that she’s stringing him along for his money.

Cynical Abhay sets his sights on Anushka (Tisca Chopra), an older ex-model in need of a boy toy. He lets her shower him with gifts until a beautiful, young philanthropist named Nikki (Shruti Haasan) makes him consider settling down.

Both Abhay and Milind give their questionable advice to Neran, who’s nervous about reentering the dating scene. Neran finds himself drawn to June (Shazahn Padamsee), a 21-year-old intern at his office (he’s 38, which is middle-aged in Bollywood). He pursues her, failing to notice that she only calls him “Sir.”

DTBHJ, in an attempt to portray relationships realistically, avoids many of the shortcuts in logic other romantic comedies take. The women don’t fall for the men simply because the guys love them. Likewise, they don’t undergo radical personality changes to fit the needs of the plot. Part of the point is that Neran, Milind and Abhay aren’t seeing the women for who they are, but for who they’d like them to be.

Accordingly, it’s up to the men to change. Abhay is set up for the most dramatic transformation, but Neran’s is the most satisfying (though a little more backstory on why his marriage failed would’ve been nice). He has to come to terms with being a single dad on the verge of turning forty, before he can think about being someone’s husband again. Devgn’s deadpan facial expressions are the high points of the film.

The biggest disappointment is that Milind remains essentially unchanged throughout the movie. He’s also irritating, as is Gungun, who’s much nastier than she needs to be to drive home the point that she’s not interested in Milind.

DTBHJ falters in a few other areas as well. Jokes early on are punctuated with annoying “wacky” sound effects that mercifully diminish as the story progresses. Director Madhur Bhandarkar, as he did in Fashion, includes a gay character who is nothing more than a flamboyant, horny stereotype. It’s an unfortunate misstep in an otherwise enjoyable film.

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