Tag Archives: Sobhita Dhulipala

Movie Review: Ghost Stories (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Ghost Stories is the third installment in the Hindi anthology series from directors Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, and Karan Johar, following Bombay Talkies and the Netflix Original Lust Stories. The latest is a strong collection, but some of the short films are more enjoyable than others.

Akhtar’s opening short is a fitting introduction to the overall theme, with a beautiful young woman in a creepy house. Janhvi Kapoor plays Sameera, a home health nurse sent to care temporarily for bedridden dementia patient Mrs. Malik (Surekha Sikri). Sameera was told Mrs. Malik’s adult son was taking care of her over the weekend, but there’s no sign of him when Sameera arrives at the cluttered, dimly lit apartment. Mrs. Malik says he’s hiding. Suspicious sounds in the hallway tip Sameera off that something is very wrong.

Akhtar bucks horror conventions by making Sameera a woman of questionable ethics, rather than some imperiled virgin. She invites her married boyfriend over for a romantic rendezvous and riffles through Mrs. Malik’s jewelry box. Instead of being about virtue under threat, Akhtar’s story explores which morals really matter when times get tough, and what obligations we have to other people and ourselves.

Anurag Kashyap’s story is next. It’s the most ambitious but least successful of the four films. After her first child died minutes after its birth, Neha (Sobhita Dhulipala) has eventually become pregnant again. She’s still struggling with the psychological damages from her previous loss. On top of that, the little boy she babysits, Ansh (Zachary Braz), isn’t keen on sharing her affections with anyone else. And she may have been cursed by a bird.

There’s so much going on that it’s hard to keep track of why things happen, let alone differentiate between what’s real and what’s not. Is Neha simply paranoid or out of touch with reality? Is she cursed, or does Ansh really have some kind of evil powers to harm her unborn child? Everything ends in gory, bizarre chaos. Women with a history of fertility problems or miscarriages may find this film disturbing.

The gore-fest continues in the third film, director Dibakar Banerjee’s parable of a small village literally cannibalized by its big-city neighbors. A bureaucrat (played by Sukant Goel) arrives in Smalltown to find it destroyed, with a boy (Aditya Shetty) and a girl (Eva Ameet Pardeshi) the only survivors. They explain that her father — a councilman from Bigtown — ate most of the residents and turned everyone else into zombies. Only when the man is nearly eaten himself does he accept that they kids are telling the truth.

Despite some truly disgusting moments, this is an intriguing story of greed and the sacrifices people will to make to save themselves. Banerjee does an excellent job building a world and giving his audience a lot to chew on (cannibal pun intended).

The anthology’s closing tale is much what you’d expect from a Karan Johar ghost story. Two rich and very attractive people, Ira (Mrunal Thakur) and Dhruv (Avinash Tiwary), agree to marry. When Dhruv interrupts their honeymoon lovemaking to say “good night” to his grandmother — who’s been dead for twenty years — Ira wonders what kind of mental illness afflicts her new husband. But maybe she’s the one who can’t see the ghost right in front of her.

Johar’s story is a light, fun respite after the two heavy shorts that came before it. Dhruv’s family mansion is gorgeous. There’s also a minor theme about faith that gives the story some dimension.

Other than Kashyap’s dense narrative, the stories all suit the short film format. They say what they need to say and end before they run out of steam. There are so many ideas in Kashyap’s story that he might have been able to better organize them in a feature-length film. Overall, Ghost Stories is an interesting collection that creates chilling scenarios without relying on jump scares. Just be ready for some blood and guts.

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Movie Review: Chef (2017)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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The first half of Chef is delightful. The second half is repetitive, with remarkably low stakes for the main character.

Writer-director Raja Krishna Menon’s official adaptation of Jon Favreau’s 2014 film Chef relocates the story first to New York, and then to India. Roshan (Saif Ali Khan) is a lauded but temperamental chef working in a fancy restaurant in New York City who loses his job when he punches a dissatisfied customer. His coworker Vinnie (Sobhita Dhulipala) suggests that Roshan’s uninspired cooking of late might be reinvigorated by a trip to Kerala to visit his pre-teen son Ary (Svar Kamble) and his ex-wife Radha (Padmapriya) in the city of Kochi.

After many years away from his son, Roshan is delighted to find that Ary is as much of a foodie as Roshan was at the same age. He takes the boy up to Delhi for a tour of his childhood haunts in his neighborhood of Chandni Chowk, including an uncomfortable reunion with his own estranged father (Ram Gopal Bajaj), who disapproves of Roshan’s career choice.

Back in Kochi, Radha enlists her rich, handsome boyfriend Biju (Milind Soman) to make Roshan an offer designed to keep him in India: a ramshackle double-decker bus to refurbish into a food truck. Roshan gets over his initial insult, seeing instead an opportunity to work on the project with Ary and strenghten their relationship. Still, Roshan longs to restore his reputation and reap the financial rewards of a triumphant return to New York.

As one would hope from a movie so titled, there is a lot of tantalizing food on display in Chef. A mouth-watering sequence in which Roshan cooks tomato chutney is alone worth the price of admission. It’s part of a strong first half which takes its time introducing the characters and their relationships, leaving enough room for the camera to linger on some gorgeous grub.

There’s a moment where it seems as though Chef is going to delve into anti-capitalism, with friends of Radha’s mentioning Che Guevara and Vinnie referring to Roshan’s New York loft as a “middle-class trap.” But after that, the importance of money in Roshan’s life seems more a matter of convenience. It’s very important when he needs to give Ary an excuse for why he must return to New York, less so when Roshan explains to Ary the work ethic he learned as a poor apprentice cook in Delhi. Money is readily available for the duo’s impromptu Delhi trip or to dress up the food truck to the nines.

In Chef’s second half, the action slows down and scenes repeat themselves. It becomes increasingly clear that Roshan isn’t going to face any real consequences for his previously neglectful behavior (or for his desire to once again physically distance himself from his son). Radha and Ary are only ever annoyed with Roshan for a few minutes, forgiving him as soon as he whips up something tasty by way of apology.

Roshan himself is in constant need of validation, whether he’s seeking praise for his cooking or showing off one of the many other skills he’s mastered, from dancing to guitar playing. It’s presumably borne out of his own truncated childhood, having run away from home at fifteen to escape his father’s enmity. Still, it’s odd that no one is willing to even challenge Roshan’s attention-seeking behavior, let alone demand that he behave like a grownup and get over himself.

Roshan’s childish streak makes it hard to sympathize with the way he parents Ary, who’s hardly allowed to have an emotional reaction at all before Roshan corrects him. Invariably, Ary responds with a glum, “I’m sorry, Papa,” prompting Roshan to tickle him as they both laugh. Despite a likeable performance by young Svar Kamble, Ary never feels like a real person.

The same can be said for Roshan and Radha. Khan and Padmapriya are good in their respective roles, but the characters are written with such limited emotional ranges that the story feels incomplete. Likewise, supporting characters like Vinnie, Biju, and Roshan’s dad don’t seem to exist outside of the main plot, only materializing when Roshan needs something.

Chef falls short of what could have been, especially considering how well it starts. Nevertheless, those in the mood for food porn will find plenty to savor.

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Movie Review: Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016)

RamanRaghav23.5 Stars (out of 4)

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A man tells a woman hiding in a locked bedroom: “I can do anything to you and get away with it,.” That line is spoken not by the serial killer in Raman Raghav 2.0, but by the police officer hunting him. Being one of the “good guys” doesn’t make you a good guy.

The cop who utters the threat — Raghavan (Vicky Kaushal) — is introduced not in uniform, but at a dance club, high as a kite. His sexy intensity attracts a call girl named Simmy (Sobhita Dhulipala). She waits in her car while Raghavan pays a visit to his “uncle,” a drug dealer.

Raghavan finds the man murdered, unaware that the killer — Ramanna (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) — is still in the house. When a neighbor checks on the commotion, Raghavan’s un-cop-like reaction reveals that he’s not the hero type.

Each section of the film has its own chapter title, complete with dates. Following the events of the prologue (described above) and a trippy opening credits sequence, Chapter One jumps the story ahead two years. Ramanna turns himself into the police, claiming credit for multiple murders. Raghavan and his fellow officers assume the skinny, homeless fellow is lying, and they beat him and lock him in an abandoned building from which he escapes.

Raghavan is still with Simmy, though he treats her like garbage and won’t publicly acknowledge their relationship. The context that writer-director Anurag Kashyap and his co-writer, Vasan Bala, provide for Raghavan’s appalling behavior highlight the cop’s sense of entitlement. Raghavan is a violent drug addict because his powerful father is disappointed in him. Boo hoo.

On the other hand, Ramanna’s background makes his sadism seem almost inevitable. He’s a sexual abuse survivor who believes that he can communicate with the God of Death. At a young age, he turned his perverted rage outward, venting it on animals and his sister, Lakshmi (Amruta Subhash).

The entire sequence involving Ramanna and his sister is riveting in a gut-churning way. He turns up outside of her apartment, wondering why her six-year-old son doesn’t recognize his uncle. Lakshmi asks how Ramanna found her address. The retrained terror in Lakshmi’s eyes as she tries desperately not to do anything to provoke her brother is chilling. Subhash handles the role perfectly.

Fans who complained that Siddiqui was too understated in Te3n will not be disappointed by his crazy turn in Raman Raghav 2.0. Nevertheless, his character is at his most intimidating when he’s calm, the sinister content of his words at odds with the relaxed manner in which he delivers them.

Kaushal’s performance is likewise compelling. Whether it’s because of Raghavan’s job or the fact that Kaushal looks like a movie hero, we keep waiting for Raghavan to be a better man than he is. Dhulipala is a fitting match as world-weary Simmy, who diffuses Raghavan’s temper with glibness.

Raman Raghav 2.0 isn’t as soul-crushing as some of the South Korean thrillers of the last decade that have dealt with similar themes. Kashyap uses music to provide emotional distance during the most disturbing sequences. Ramanna’s most heinous crime is accompanied by a somewhat jazzy tune featuring a woman singing about what a bad guy he is.

Kashyap’s film is also less gory than other recent thrillers from elsewhere in Asia. Most of the violence in Raman Raghav 2.0 takes place out of frame. That, along with the prominent music and evocative city scenery give Kashyap’s film a real Indian identity, in contrast to recent Hindi remakes of South Korean movies that barely deviate from the original (such as Rocky Handsome).

There is one element to the Raman Raghav 2.0 that confused me. The movie opens with a note that Raman Raghav was an infamous serial killer in Mumbai in the 1960s. As the story progresses, Ramanna repeatedly states that he is Raman, and “Raman needs Raghav.” Wouldn’t that be like someone saying, “Charles needs Manson”?

That confusion aside, Raman Raghav 2.0 sews up every loose thread, answers every question. It’s not a movie for the squeamish, but it is a gripping character study about the darkness lurking in the human heart.

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