Tag Archives: Sikander Kher

Movie Review: The Zoya Factor (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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A young woman’s good fortune causes headaches for both her and the captain of India’s cricket team as they try to win the World Cup in The Zoya Factor, based on Anuja Chauhan’s 2008 novel of the same name.

The novel and movie are both set in a timeline based on the 2011 Cricket World Cup tournament played in India, but the members of the Indian cricket team are all fictional.

Sonam Kapoor Ahuja plays Zoya, a copywriter struggling to fit in at her snooty advertising firm who’s rejected by potential romantic suitors because of her middle-class background. At least her dad Vijayendra (Sanjay Kapoor, Kapoor Ahuja’s real-life uncle) and older brother Zoravar (Sikander Kher) love her. They believe she brings them luck in their local cricket pickup games because she was born the day India won its last World Cup in 1983.

Zoya is sent on a make-or-break work assignment to photograph members of the Indian Cricket Team. She gets off to a mixed start with the team’s handsome captain, Nikhil (Dulquer Salmaan), who is charmed by her exuberance and frustrated by her determination. But when he sees Zoya’s co-workers ignore her at breakfast the next morning, he invites her to eat with the team, where she tells them that she’s her family’s lucky charm on the cricket pitch. The team wins their match that afternoon, and Zoya becomes their lucky charm, too.

Screenwriters Pradhuman Singh and Neha Rakesh Sharma skillfully adapt Chauhan’s novel, so that all of drama in the film arises from the characters’ conflicting motivations. Zoya is of course delighted when handsome, rich Nikhil takes a romantic interest in her, but she’s just as thrilled to finally fit in with a group. The team’s most superstitious players — Shivy (Abhilash Chaudhary) and Harry (Gandharv Dewan) — value Zoya for her good luck, but they also genuinely like her because she takes an interest in them. She approaches them differently than Nikhil, who believes that hard work is the only factor in team’s success. When he insists that Zoya stay away from the team, lest they put too much faith in her, he doesn’t realize that her presence has a reassuring affect on jittery players like Shivy and Harry, making them more relaxed on the pitch and helping them perform better.

Even the story’s villain, Robin (Angad Bedi), has understandable motives. It would be a lot easier for Robin to reclaim the captaincy he lost to Nikhil if the public and the Indian Cricket Board give Zoya the credit for the team’s victories — especially when Nikhil is trying to keep her away. It just so happens that Robin’s uncle is the head of the Cricket Board, which makes Zoya an offer that forces her to choose what’s really important to her.

Sikander Kher is stealthily terrific in the movie, and his character plays an important part in steering Zoya’s choices. As her big brother, he’s sincerely concerned for her well-being, but he also reinforces all of Zoya’s insecurities by asking her why someone as popular as Nikhil would be with a nobody like her. Adding insult to injury is that she hates his nickname for her, delightfully translated in the English subtitles as “Spongebob.”

The whole cast is likeable, and Salmaan and Kapoor Ahuja are quite cute together. There’s a distracting amount of product placement in The Zoya Factor, but it’s otherwise a sweet, fun romantic comedy.

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Movie Review: Tere Bin Laden – Dead or Alive (2016)

TereBinLadenDeadOrAlive2.5 Stars (out of 4)

The comedy sequel Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive starts out strong, but the story doesn’t have enough momentum to sustain laughs. Two films in this franchise are enough.

Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive (TBL 2, henceforth) begins in 2009. Manish Paul plays Abhishek Sharma, the real-life writer and director of both movies. Abhishek (the character) gets the greenlight to make his first film — Tere Bin Laden — after he spots Paddi Singh (Pradhuman Singh), a dead ringer for Osama Bin Laden. There’s a helpful refresher on the first film, which proved to be enough of a hit to merit a followup.

Shortly after production on the sequel begins, the real Bin Laden is assassinated by the United States. This puts the kibosh on Abhishek’s movie but not Paddi’s career as a lookalike. With no body or video proof of Bin Laden’s death, an inept terrorist organization in Pakistan wants Paddi so they can claim that Bin Laden is with them, alive and well. Meanwhile, the US wants to recreate the assassination, substituting video of Paddi’s murder as footage of Bin Laden’s death.

The early stages of TBL 2 are full of great bits. Ali Zafar — the star of Tere Bin Laden — appears in a funny cameo, playing an egomaniacal, womanizing version of himself. The Pakistani terror organization stages its own version of the Olympics, with games like the Bomb Relay and Landmine Jump. If you blow yourself up, you win!

The sharpest barbs are reserved for the Americans. Their drone control room is set up like an arcade, complete with coin-operated remote weapons. The “Chief of Invasions” is a man named David DoSomething, played by Sikander Kher in white-face makeup and a blond comb-over wig. Kher’s southern accent is deliberately hilarious.

In order to dupe Paddi and Abhishek, David dons brown-face makeup to pose as David Chadha, an NRI Hollywood producer. He quickly masters Hindi, though he mispronounces his last name as “cheddar.”

The movie acknowledges just how racist this is gambit is, with David consulting a makeup chart featuring a range of ethnically appropriate skin tones. When President Obama (Iman Crosson) sees David in his desi avatar, he quips, “I see you painted your white-ass face brown.” Considering that TBL 2 released on the same day as Gods of Egypt — a Hollywood film featuring no Egyptian actors — the digs seem deserved.

Though supporting characters like David, his female assistant Junior (Mya Uyeda), and President Obama are funny, they often feel better suited for a sketch comedy show rather than a feature film. There’s something missing from TBL 2 that causes it to slow down as soon as all of the characters are introduced.

One potential explanation that there’s no B-story in the plot. Elements such as Abhishek’s abandoned career as a confectioner and his fraught friendship with Paddi are introduced but don’t go anywhere. The story needs an anchor or emotional hook of some sort. Jokes aren’t enough.

TBL 2‘s strongest attribute is its subtitling and localization. It’s among the best I’ve ever seen in a Hindi film. For example, the Hindi word “jalebi” is translated as “churro,” substituting a piped, fried sweet popular in India for one popular in the U.S. Kudos to the TBL 2 translation team, the real stars of the film!

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Movie Review: Aurangzeb (2013)

Aurangzeb3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Aurangzeb should not work. The premise is silly: a long-lost twin impersonates his brother to take down their father’s criminal empire. Yet writer-director Atul Sabharwal executes his vision with such sincerity that the movie succeeds. I unapologetically love this action soap opera.

Sabharwal worked in television before this, his feature film debut, and it shows. There are so many twists and turns in the plot that it feels like a full season of a TV series condensed into one 140-minute movie. Aurangzeb: The Series would fit right in alongside The Vampire Diaries on The CW.

Arya (Pritviraj Sukumaran) — the film’s narrator — has a troubled relationship with his father, a disgraced police officer played by Anupam Kher in a moving cameo. Because of his father’s emotional distance, Arya was primarily raised by his uncle, Ravi (Rishi Kapoor), a crooked cop.

On his deathbed, Arya’s father confesses that he has a secret wife and son that Arya is now obligated to take care of. Arya resentfully breaks the news to the woman, Veera (Tanvi Azmi), only to realize that her son looks exactly like the son of the criminal mastermind, Yashwardhan (Jackie Shroff).

Uncle Ravi realizes that Veera and her son, Vishal (Arjun Kapoor), are Yashwardhan’s wife and son, presumed dead for the last 25 years after a “botched” police shootout that cost Arya’s father his job. In order to clear his father’s name, Arya and Ravi conspire to kidnap Yashwardhan’s son Ajay (also played by Arjun Kapoor) so that Vishal can impersonate his identical twin brother while acting as a police informant. Ravi explains that Vishal must act like Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor who gained his throne by defeating the brothers ahead of him in the line of succession.

The soapiness of the story is enhanced by an amazing soundtrack. Heartrending musical themes accompany Veera’s confessions to her sons. Bombastic rock blares when Ajay (or Vishal) strides into a room, ready to bust some heads. Thankfully, the soundtrack album includes several of the great instrumental songs by Amartya Rahut and Vipin Mishra.

As with any good soap opera, the film is really about family conflicts: brothers turned against one another, children resentful of their parents’ favoritism, and parents who feel they can’t express their feelings to their hot-headed sons. Arya hates Vishal because of the love his own father showed the gangster’s son. Vishal hates his mother for robbing him of a relationship with his biological father. Ajay hates everybody.

As in his debut, Ishaqzaade, Arjun Kapoor plays a scumbag, and he’s great at it. Ajay is loathsome almost beyond the point of sympathy, yet the hurt behind his lashing out is always obvious. Vishal undergoes some real character growth as he, too, as his timidity gives way to aggression.

Pritviraj puts Arya in a similarly precarious position to Ajay’s. One of Arya’s early scenes has him belittling his dying father, so it’s hard to love him. However, it does give him room to grow when he’s forced to choose between his father’s “family first” approach to morality or his uncle’s belief in success at any cost.

Rishi Kapoor is compelling as the head of a family of corrupt cops. Ravi’s son, Dev (Sikander Kher), is involved in the family business, too, and gets to do some sleazy stuff.

Jackie Shroff plays the most sympathetic of the movie’s flawed father figures. Yashwardhan is old enough that he’s not the fearsome thug he once was, making it hard for Vishal to reconcile the man before him with the villainous image he was sold.

The movie isn’t all emotional turmoil. There are plenty of cool fight scenes to keep things entertaining, and it’s impressive how well they integrate with the melodrama. This kind of action-soap opera can’t succeed if it’s done halfway, and Sabharwal goes all out. Aurangzeb is exciting, touching, and totally engrossing.

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Movie Review: Players (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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With source material as rich as not one, but two, versions of The Italian Job to draw from, Players should be a slam dunk. Wisely, filmmaking duo Abbas-Mustan take the best aspects from their inspiration and add enough new touches to make it an enjoyable Indian action flick.

My biggest fear before seeing Players was that it wouldn’t be able to hold interest for 2 hours and 47 minutes. But Players is about as well-paced as a nearly three-hour-long movie can be, hitting plot points at the right times so as not to let the action drag.

Abhishek Bachchan anchors the film as Charlie Masceranas, a career thief. He learns from a dying friend about the Russian government’s plans to transfer a large amount of gold bars to Romania. With the help of his imprisoned mentor, Victor (Vinod Khanna), Charlie assembles a team of experts to execute a daring heist.

The team includes Charlie’s sometimes girlfriend, Riya (Bipasha Basu), master of disguise Sunny (Omi Vaidya), explosives expert Bilal (Sikander Kher), illusionist Ronnie (Bobby Deol) and a hacker named Spider (Neil Nitin Mukesh).

So as not to appear to condone thievery, the filmmakers give the crew corny motivations for stealing the gold. Charlie wants to fulfill Victor’s dream of opening India’s largest orphanage. Ronnie, a former magician, wants to build a fully automated house for his daughter, who was accidentally paralyzed during one of his tricks.

Ronnie gets some unintentionally hilarious lines when he explains the end of his stage career: “Magic doesn’t do anything. It only ruins lives.”

Thankfully, Sunny, Bilal, Spider and Riya are just in it for the money. When the plan goes awry, Victor’s daughter, Naina (Sonam Kapoor), comes to Charlie’s aid.

There are some nice interactions between the team members. Sunny and Bilal are funny sparring partners, and Naina’s crush on Charlie creates tension between her and Riya. Charlie is the anchor, but this really is an ensemble film.

Besides the star cast, the movie’s main attractions are its action sequences. The gold-theft scene is tense, and the car chases are pretty good. Strange editing and artificially sped-up shots keep the fight scenes from looking their best, but interesting locales like Russia and New Zealand elevate the whole experience.

A tendency toward corniness pervades Players, to its detriment. It keeps the film from achieving the snappy sophistication of the films that inspired it. In addition to Charlie’s and Ronnie’s Robin Hood motivations, the score heavy-handedly tries to provoke emotions.

The most pandering element in Players is the needless inclusion of comic actor Johnny Lever, a regular feature in Abbas-Mustan films. I don’t find Lever funny, or more accurately, I don’t find the outrageous characters he always plays funny. That directors feel the need to pair his appearances with wacky sound effects just makes things worse. Any spell the movie could hope to cast is broken when Lever appears onscreen.

Another element that can’t be overlooked is how pointedly the movie targets a male audience. Basu and Kapoor both have a couple of forgettable dance numbers requiring to them to gyrate in skimpy dresses. Another female character is viewed through frosted glass as she showers. Almost every Anglo woman in the movie is kitted out in hot pants.

Yet the male stars aren’t required to doff their clothes, apart from a brief scene featuring Mukesh in a bubble bath. Bachchan and Deol are regular romantic leads, and Kher is clearly fit. Why not work in a shirtless shot of one of them, in the name of gender equality?

The thread of sexism isn’t limited to who’s asked to expose the most skin. Naina and Riya are both asked to play the role of seductress to aid the team, which features five men (six, including Victor) and only two women. Language denigrating women goes largely unchallenged by the male heroes.

That said, Players works as an action film. It hits the right notes often enough to sustain excitement for almost three hours, which is the primary objective of any action movie.

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