Tag Archives: Slumdog Millionaire

Movie Review: Peepli Live (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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In the United States, India’s image is that of an increasingly modern nation on the path to prosperity. It supports a glamorous movie industry. A well-educated, English-speaking workforce makes India an attractive place for American companies to outsource customer service jobs. South Asians living in the States are, on average, one of the most financially successful demographic groups.

With so many positive examples, it’s easy to overlook the fact that a large portion of Indians still live in poverty. Slumdog Millionaire exposed Americans to the plight of the poor in large cities, but some of India’s poorest citizens live in rural areas that tourists never see and that get little news coverage.

Peepli Live — a movie produced by Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan — presents international audiences with a vivid depiction of rural life. The farmers in the movie live in a kind of destitution unimaginable in America. Homes with no running water or electricity, food cooked over fires fueled by cow dung, not even a private place to relieve oneself.

Such conditions prompt Peepli Live‘s lead characters, brothers Bhudia (Raghubir Yadav) and Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri), to consider drastic measures. A local money-lender refuses to give them a loan but recommends a government program for impoverished farmers. If a farmer commits suicide, the government allegedly will pay his family $2000 — enough money for Bhudia and Natha to pay back the bank loan they took out to buy seeds and fertilizer from the large, American agricultural firm, “Sonmanto.”

Elder brother Bhudia initiates a conversation in which both he and Natha politely offer to kill themselves for the sake of the family, which includes their ancient mother and Natha’s wife and three kids. The conversation ends when Bhudia calls Natha’s bluff (“I’ll kill myself.” “No, I’ll kill myself.” “Okay, you kill yourself!”). While it makes no sense for Natha to kill himself — he’s the one with the wife and kids, after all — he’s reluctant to challenge his big brother.

A freelance reporter overhears Natha speaking about his planned suicide and prints a story in the local newspaper. The story catches the eye of a large TV news channel. Reluctant to miss out on the story, dozens of news crews descend on Natha’s house, spawning a figurative (and, eventually, literal) circus.

Local politicians try to turn Natha’s suicide to their advantage. The politicians in power are desperate to change Natha’s mind so that they look like they care about poor farmers. Their opponents want Natha to kill himself. No one cares that Natha doesn’t actually want to die.

When the plot focuses on the farmers, Peepli Live is a great movie. There’s a hilarious enmity between Natha’s mother and his wife, Dhaniya (Shalini Vatsa), who runs the household under a barrage of vulgar insults from her mother-in-law. Though by no means a tender woman, she doesn’t want her husband to die. Yet their situation is so dire, there don’t seem to be many alternatives.

The movie slows down shortly after the news vans roll in to town. The newscasters aren’t nearly as compelling as the farmers, but they dominate screentime in the second half of the movie. Bhudia seems to disappear altogether, and his lippy mother is relegated to lying silently on her cot.

Part of the point of the movie is the disconnect between urban and rural life: the way big city broadcasters promote sensational stories about farmers’ struggles for only as long as the stories earn ratings and without offering a solution to the problem. By shifting the focus from Natha and his family and onto the news crews covering them, Peepli Live is guilty of the same surface treatment of the issue that it’s criticizing.

The movie ends with a card that explains that, from 1991-2001, eight million farmers in India quit farming. And? Is that a bad thing, given how hard it is to make a living in agriculture? If so, what should the government do about it? Like the news channels it criticizes, Peepli Live entertains and asks questions, but doesn’t offer any solutions.


Movie Review: Striker (2010)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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When I sat in front of my computer to watch Striker on YouTube, I had some concerns. I was glad that I didn’t have to drive over an hour to the only theater near me that was showing it, but I wondered if I’d be as immersed in the experience watching it at home as I would be in the theater. Within minutes, Striker‘s riveting characters put my fears to rest.

Striker flashes back and forth through three time periods in the life of Surya (Siddharth), a young man who lives in Malvani, a Mumbai ghetto. As a child in 1977, he watches his older brother playing carrom — a table game like billiards, where small wooden disks are flicked with the fingers into corner pockets. Surya excels at the game but loses interest as he gets older.

Flash forward to 1988. Surya works as a courier who specializes in transporting jewelry and large amounts of cash. Because it’s a risky job — he’s responsible for repaying the money if he’s robbed en route — Surya pays a broker to find him a lucrative manual labor job in Dubai.

When the broker disappears with Surya’s money, his childhood friend, Zaid (Ankur Vikal), comes up with a scheme to get it back: playing carrom for money. Zaid runs errands for the local don, Jaleel (Aditya Pancholi), and is able to get Surya into some high stakes games.

Jaleel is, of course, not to be trusted. He and his goons don’t brandish weapons openly, but there’s an unmistakable air of menace about them. Zaid isn’t much more reliable, given his drug use and frequent arrests. And the rules governing life in Malvani are in flux after the arrival of a tough police inspector, Farooque (Anupam Kher).

In 1992, a time when religious riots are engulfing Malvani, Surya turns to Inspector Farooque for help. The movie begins and ends in this timeframe.

Striker opens with a note from the filmmaker, Chandan Arora, stating that the movie is based on true stories from people who live in Malvani. The movie’s structure, which shows Surya at various points in his life rather than following one linear narrative, makes Surya seem more like a real person than a typical hero. He’s not the poor kid who grows up to transcend his meager upbringing by leading a righteous life. He’s a guy who doesn’t have many options and occasionally tries to make good choices, but often doesn’t.

Zaid is the most interesting character in the film. Vikal plays Zaid as just charming enough to get by without any real vocation or goals. But, from the moment he shows up in the 1988 timeframe, it’s clear that whatever fate awaits Zaid is not a happy one.

Striker is wonderfully atmospheric. Malvani isn’t a slum as decrepit as the one in Slumdog Millionaire. It’s a neighborhood with houses and shops and various places to get into trouble. The carrom-playing scenes are as evocative as any scenes set in the smoky pool halls of Hollywood films. Appropriately, there are no song-and-dance numbers. Striker will appeal to fans of mainstream American films, inviting them to explore Indian movies beyond the musical masala fare.

Runtime: 2 hrs. 7 min.

Notes on the YouTube viewing experience:
I was impressed with the quality of the YouTube rental experience. The movie downloaded in its entirety almost immediately, so I didn’t have to pause and wait for the video to load. The English subtitles appeared in white text on a black band below the main movie, making them easier to read against a consistently colored background (and, I presume, easier to ignore if you don’t need them). I’d happily rent more movies from YouTube in the future, especially if they’re made available the same day as the theatrical release.

Movie Review: Kal Kissne Dekha (2009)

Kal Kissne DekhaZero Stars (out of 4)

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Kal Kissne Dekha is a movie about a young man with a special power: the power to bore an audience to tears by relying on Bollywood cliches.

The young man in question is Nihul (Jackky Bhagnani), a country boy who can see the future. He leaves his lonely, heartbroken mother and heads to a university in the city to become a scientist.

As is the case in many Hindi films these days, Nihul is supposedly the most awesome guy ever. He doesn’t do anything to warrant this status; it’s simply that he’s the protagonist and the plot demands it.

However, there’s a group of cool kids at college who don’t like the flashy newcomer. The mean guy and the snobby girl pick on Nihul until his psychic ability allows him to save their lives. Only then do they realize how fabulous Nihul really is.

In between motorcycle chases, fight scenes and dance numbers, Nihul falls in love with the snobby girl, Nisha (Vaishali Desai). Not for any good reason, mind you, but because the plot demands it. Then the requisite gangsters, gay stereotypes, terrorists and incompetent policemen show up, just to make sure no Bollywood cliche is left behind. It’s as though the film was written by checking items off of a list.

Kal Kissne Dekha is writer-director Vivek Sharma’s second effort, following last year’s forgettable Bhoothnath. I’d appreciate it if he’d stop making movies, and not try to see if the third time is the charm. Sharma’s storytelling style insults the audience’s intelligence by relying on cliches and stunts in place of even the barest hint of character development. And he shamelessly includes two of the young stars of Slumdog Millionaire in brief cameo appearances in order to capitalize on their fame.

If Sharma insists on writing and directing more movies, he needs to abandon two themes present in both of his efforts to date. First is the notion that the only route to popularity is by using a supernatural ability to save someone. In Bhoothnath, the young protagonist relies on his ghostly pal to pull the school bully out of a well, thereby winning the bully’s friendship. As a moral to a story, it’s a pretty depressing one for those of us without superpowers.

The second bizarre theme is that disaster befalls those who dare move out of their parents’ homes. It’s blatant in Bhoothnath, but it also crops up in Kal Kissne Dekha, as when Nihul tells his mother, “I never should have left home.” It’s a conservative message that doesn’t mesh with the fact that, by moving to the city, Nihul gets to study science, make friends and meet his girlfriend — stuff he couldn’t have done in his small village.

Opening June 12: Kal Kissne Dekha

Finally, Bollywood is back in the Chicago area. One new Hindi film opens this weekend, while another enters its second week in theaters.

New this weekend is Kal Kissne Dekha. The movie stars newcomer Jackky Bhagnani as Nihal, a psychic college student who comes to the aid of Meesha, played by fellow newcomer Vaishali Desai. The film also features performances by Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, two of the cute kids from Slumdog Millionaire. Kal Kissne Dekha opens Friday, June 12 at the AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles.

Carrying over for another week at the Golf Glen 5 is the comedic thriller 99, which stars Kunal Khemu, Boman Irani and Soha Ali Khan.

Here’s the trailer for Kal Kissne Dekha:

Movie Review: Delhi-6 (2009)

delhi63 Stars (out of 4)

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Fans of Slumdog Millionaire who’ve never seen a movie put out by the Indian film industry should check out Delhi-6. By including some of the same elements as the 2008 Best Picture Oscar winner — shots of crowded Indian streets and a pulsing soundtrack by A. R. Rahman — Delhi-6 is a great introduction to Bollywood.

Abhishek Bachchan plays American-born Roshan, who travels to India with his dying grandmother, so that she can spend her remaining days at her home in the Chandni Chowk neighborhood of Delhi. Roshan immerses himself in the unfamiliar culture of Chandni Chowk, where pregnant cows cause traffic jams and holy men are called in to catch criminals.

Just as Roshan starts to fall in love with Delhi (and a girl who lives there), he gets caught up in a series of misunderstandings that inflame previously dormant religious tensions between the neighborhood’s Hindus and Muslims.

Delhi-6 takes its time without ever feeling slow. Roshan’s position as an outsider makes him the perfect travel guide to his grandmother’s neighborhood, his ever-present camera phone proof that he’s an American. The movie doesn’t have any typical Bollywood dance numbers, but music permeates the film.

The Indian committee that selects the country’s official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar category would be wise to consider nominating Delhi-6 for next year’s Academy Awards.