Tag Archives: Soha Ali Khan

Movie Review: Ghayal Once Again (2016)

GhayalOnceAgain1 Star (out of 4)

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I watched Ghayal Once Again, and I have no idea who anyone was or why anything happened. Though I didn’t watch the original Ghayal when it came out twenty-six years ago, I don’t think that’s the problem. The problem is that director Sunny Deol and his writers focused all their attention on lengthy action sequences and ignored the plot.

Here’s my best guess as to what the hell Ghayal Once Again is about (with spoilers, I guess, though I’m not spoiling anything by helping you avoid this movie):

Ajay (Sunny Deol) runs a high-tech vigilante firm in Mumbai. He kidnaps and tortures people, and is famous for doing so. The police don’t seem to care.

But Ajay harbors demons, presumably from stuff that happened in Ghayal. He has PTSD after being framed for murdering his wife and child. He’s functional, but by no means cured, although his neurologist, Riya (Soha Ali Khan) — who may also be his new wife — thinks he’s fine.

Ajay gives an award to four college kids for something, and then the kids sing and go on a camping trip. When they get home, they realize that they accidentally captured video footage of rich brat Kabir Bhansal (Abhilash Kumar) murdering Ajay’s friend Joe (Om Puri). Except, at that exact moment, the news reports that Joe died when he crashed into an oil tanker while driving his van with its distinctive “I Heart Butter Chicken” (or something) bumper sticker.

See, Joe met with Kabir, Mr. Bhansal (Narendra Jha), and some cringing government guy (Manoj Joshi) to complain to one of them about the other one. Mr. Bhansal is super rich, though no one knows why. Kabir calls Joe a slave, Joe gets mad, and Kabir shoots him. Then Bhansal has Troy — head of his security force of “highly trained foreigners” — put Joe in the Butter Chicken Mobile and drive it into the tanker.

The kids’ first instinct is to call Ajay, but they call one of their dads instead. Dad does the dumbest thing possible and goes to Bhansal with the evidence, rather than just destroying it. Dad is surprised when Bhansal threatens the kids and insists on bugging their phones.

It’s worth noting that Bhansal has access to such advanced surveillance equipment that it makes Mission: Impossible look like they’re using Apple ][s. He also lives in a twenty story house with a practice tee on the roof, and he regularly golfs balls onto the street below AND NO ONE GIVES A SHIT.

One of the kids was smart enough to make a copy of the video, so Troy and his goons chase the kids in a cool sequence most notable for Sunny Deol’s absence from it. Bhansal watches the action from afar, yelling at his army of code monkeys, “Why is it taking you so long to hack into his server? It’s been more than half an hour!”

When Ajay finally joins the chase, it goes on for-freaking-ever because he refuses to put the hard drive with the duplicate video in his pocket and keeps dropping it. Then he steals a helicopter and flies it into Bhansal’s house. Justice is served, though we don’t know how, why, or on whose behalf.

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Movie Review: Rang De Basanti (2006)

RangDeBasanti3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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It’s sort of depressing that the story of Rang De Basanti (“Color It Saffron“) still resonates nine years after its release. The movie’s calls for change remain largely unrealized, a testament to the power of the stagnation it rails against.

Rang De Basanti connects the present to the past through the efforts of a British documentary filmmaker, Sue McKinley (Alice Patten). She arrives in India hoping to film a recreation of the Indian independence movement of the 1920s-30s, inspired by the regret-filled diary entries of her grandfather, a jailer and torturer on behalf of the Empire.

Sue’s local contact, Sonia (Soha Ali Khan), introduces the filmmaker to her university friends, who reluctantly agree to participate in the project. Group leader DJ (Aamir Khan), sullen rich kid Karan (Siddharth), poet Aslam (Kunal Kapoor), and tag-along Sukhi (Sharman Joshi) slowly find themselves maturing as they inhabit the roles of their revolutionary forefathers.

Further change is thrust upon them when another pivotal role in the reenactment is filled by Laxman (Atul Kulkarni), a Hindu nationalist who has a particular problem with Muslims. His integration is uneasy, especially since his role requires him to work closely with Aslam, a Muslim.

When a tragedy hits close to home, the guys realize that the work of the independence movement won’t be complete until Indian democracy is transparent and devoid of corruption. They take matters into their own hands, adopting the violent methods of their forefathers.

Although Khan is the highest profile star in the cast, his role isn’t necessarily the most important. This is truly an ensemble picture, with every role fleshed out. Every member of the group — including Sonia — has a reason to participate in Sue’s project. They each require a kind of character growth best developed by delving into history.

Sepia-toned scenes from Sue’s documentary are woven into scenes from the present, showing the way that the lives of these contemporary young people parallel the lives of young people of the past. It’s a theme that resonates beyond the borders of India. Every democracy is founded on a struggle that modern citizens too often ignore, resulting in a failure to meet founding ideals. We can all do better.

It’s unfortunate that the poster for Rang De Basanti features only Khan, Siddharth, Kapoor, and Joshi, because every performance in the film is superb. Kulkarni portrays a difficult character with great empathy. Patten and Soha Ali Khan are resolute, their characters developing along with the young men. R. Madhavan is great in a supporting role as Sonia’s boyfriend.

Siddharth’s role is the meatiest, with Karan dropping his jaded act as the truth starts to torment him. Kapoor imbues Aslam with stoicism, and Joshi plays a great toady.

Even though it’s not a solo starring role, this is among Khan’s best performances. A highlight is a scene in which DJ confesses to Sue that he actually graduated from college five years ago, but fear of the future keeps him hanging around campus with his buddies. The scene serves the dual purpose of explaining why DJ looks so much older than the others. (Khan was already 41 when the film released, not that this would be his last time playing a college student).

Where Rang De Basanti falters is in its overuse of news footage in the final thirty minutes. It’s tricky, because the guys take drastic measures in order to inspire fellow citizens to action. But frequent shots of news broadcasts and opinion pieces slow down the narrative. Every random college student who vows to reform Indian democracy in a man-on-the-street interview distances the audience from the main characters. It interrupts the flow of emotions just when they should reach their peak.

That said, Rang De Basanti is a surefire tearjerker. It’s a sad reminder that no nation is as free or equal as it could be, but it’s an important message. The work may be hard, and it may be ongoing, but it is work worth doing, just as it was so long ago.

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Movie Review: War Chhod Na Yaar (2013)

War_Chhod_Na_Yaar_Theatrical_Poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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War Chhod Na Yaar (“Let’s Forsake War“) is neither as good nor as bad as it could have been. Given that the movie is a comedy about a war between India and Pakistan, the fact that it’s not a disaster is something of a success in its own right.

War Chhod Na Yaar (WCNY, henceforth) avoids many potential pitfalls by laying blame for the ongoing hostilities between India and Pakistan far up the chain, and not at the feet of the soldiers on the front lines. The film blames politicians hungry for votes, foreign powers hungry for money, and news outlets hungry for sensational headlines.

The action takes place primarily at a pair of army outposts along the border. The soldiers on opposite sides of the barbed wire fence exist under an informal truce built on the playfully contentious friendship between Indian Captain Raj (Sharman Joshi) and Pakistani Captain Qureshi (Javed Jaffrey), who secretly meet at night to play cards.

Their peace is threatened when the Indian Defense Minister (Dalip Tahil) reveals to a reporter, Rut (Soha Ali Khan), that war will break out in two days time. They travel to the Indian outpost where the minister enlists Rut’s help in creating a propaganda video to be released after the fighting begins. The minister quickly gets out of Dodge, but Rut stays to find out what life is really like for the soldiers. She and Raj fall in love in the process.

Many of the jokes come at the expense of the Pakistani Army, who are portrayed as bumbling due to chronic malnourishment. The leader of the Pakistani troops, Commander Khan (Sanjai Mishra), is supposed to be played for laughs, but his character isn’t well-defined enough to really be funny. He’s a collection of character flaws rather than a character with flaws.

Another problem is that many of the jokes rely on Hindi wordplay and rhymes, and they don’t survive the translation into English. Likewise, certain jokes rely on regional and cultural knowledge that international audiences lack.

Joshi and Jaffrey are charming as the friendly officers, but Khan doesn’t pull off the reporter role. The soldiers from two hostile countries engage in a singing competition, but Rut doesn’t find it newsworthy enough to record with her video camera.

Tahil plays not only the Indian Defense Minister, but the defense minister from Pakistan, America, and China. The Chinese defense minister would’ve been recognizable in his army uniform and Chairman Mao hairstyle, so I could’ve done without the potentially offensive eye makeup. (And why are the Chinese minister’s two bodyguards African?) But Tahil is pretty funny as the American defense chief, who’s clearly modeled on George W. Bush.

WCNY portrays China and America as pitting India and Pakistan against each other in a proxy war. The U.S. gets off relatively easy under accusations of profiteering. China, on the other hand, is repeatedly criticized for flooding India and Pakistan with cheaply made products. The Pakistani army is so ineffective because all of their Chinese-made weapons are defective.

WCNY falls prey to a common mistake: over-explaining things rather than trusting the audience to interpret events for themselves. When the predetermined nature of the war is revealed on Rut’s cable news network, the film cuts to reaction shots of ordinary citizens as they take to the streets in outrage.

All the movie needs to show is the ruse revealed. The audience can figure out what would come next. The movie doesn’t need to show man-on-the-street interviews of random people saying how bad corruption is. We know it is!

I doubt that WCNY will inspire many other filmmakers to tread the tricky ground of India’s ongoing tension with Pakistan, but it does show that it’s possible to do so without being offensive. Now the trick is to make it funny.

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Opening October 11: War Chhod Na Yaar

I’m stunned that War Chhod Na Yaar is opening in the Chicago area on October 11, 2013. The movie wasn’t promoted in local theaters, and with mid-tier stars like Sharman Joshi and Soha Ali Khan in leading roles, I never expected WCNY to open here. Something tells me Besharam‘s poor box office performance may have had something to do with it.

WCNY opens on Friday at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 59 min.

To put Besharam‘s disappointing box office performance in perspective, we can look at the amount it earned per screen in its opening weekend in the United States. Besharam opened in 217 theaters — a very high number for a Bollywood film in the U.S. — and earned $389,000 from Friday to Sunday, for an average of $1,793 per screen. (Including Wednesday and Thursday returns, Besharam‘s total stood at $504,000 as of Sunday.) By comparison, here’s what other recent releases earned per screen in their opening weekends:

Through its fourth week in theaters, Chennai Express continued to earn more per screen than Besharam did in its opening weekend. Nevertheless, Besharam carries over at all three of the above theaters, plus the Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

Movie Review: Midnight’s Children (2013)

MidnightsKids2 Stars (out of 4)

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Midnight’s Children takes the fascinating history of India since Partition and muddles it up with a bizarre personal story that’s impossible to connect with.

The events of the film — which are narrated by Salman Rushdie, who wrote the novel on which the film is based — begin well before Partition, starting with the meeting of the main character’s grandparents in Kashmir, 1917. They raise their children, including Mumtaz (Shahana Goswami), the main character’s mother. She has a brief, fruitless marriage to a man named Nadir before she marries the main character’s father, Ahmed Sinai (Ronit Roy) and changes her name to Amina. The first marriage becomes relevant later when the parentage of the main character, Salim, is called into question.

There’s good reason for this, since Salim is not the Sinais’ biological son. At the very moment the British left India and divided it into India and Pakistan — midnight, August 14, 1947 — two boys were born in the same hospital: the Sinais’ biological son, Shiva, and Salim, the son of a busker whose wife dies in childbirth. Inspired by her revolutionary boyfriend, a nurse named Mary (Seema Biswas) switches the boys, forcing the rich boy to grow up poor and making the poor boy rich.

After the boys go to their respective, incorrect homes, Mary feels guilty. Not guilty enough to confess, mind you, but Mary becomes Salim’s nanny so that she may watch over the boy. She also watches Shiva beg outside the Sinais’ mansion every day.

There are practical reasons for her to choose the path she does, but Mary’s act of penance seems cruelly inadequate. Rather than helping the boy she doomed to a life of poverty, she makes things even easier on the boy whose life was likely going to be a comparative piece of cake.

As the boys grow up, they discover that the hour of their birth gave them (and thousands of other kids born on the same night) magical powers. It’s unclear what Shiva’s powers are, but Salim can summon visions of the other “midnight’s children” by sniffing. It’s not as cool as the superpower of a girl named Parvati, who can make things disappear.

The superpowers aren’t really important to the story, until they are used as an excuse to round-up the now-adult “children” during Indira Gandhi’s rule-by-decree in the mid-1970s. Salim admits in his narration late in the film that things didn’t work out as well for “midnight’s children” as they had hoped. So, a thousand kids with freaking superpowers are no match for India’s internal conflicts and perpetual problems with Pakistan. What a depressing sentiment.

While the idea of paralleling India’s troubled progress with the lives of two of its citizens is compelling, the magical realism isn’t well-integrated into the story, and it keeps the audience at arm’s length. Also, Salim’s constant runny nose is gross. The story would’ve been more interesting without the magic.

The film boasts an impressive lineup of actors who typically perform in Indian films, but fans of traditional Bollywood fare should watch the film with caution. There’s a fair bit of sex and some nudity, plus coarse language. This is not a film for the whole family (not to mention that kids would be bored out of their mind by the movie’s plodding pace).

Another note of caution is that the performances are uneven. Seema Biswas and Shahana Goswami at terrific as always, as are Ronit Roy and Soha Ali Khan, who plays Salim’s little sister, Jamila, as an adult. But Anupam Kher and Rahul Bose are over-the-top as Salim’s great-grandfather and uncle, respectively. They’re the most obvious examples of a distracting strain of quirkiness that pervades the film.

Worst of all is British actor Satya Bhabha as adult Salim. His intense performance seems more suited to the stage than to film. With so much weirdness inherent in the story, a strong main character is needed to anchor the movie. I’m not sure if the fault lies more in Bhabha’s performance or the way Salim is written, but, either way, Salim isn’t a strong enough anchor.

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Movie Review: Chaurahen (2007)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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At one point, one of the characters in Chaurahen (“Crossroads”) asks another if he thinks she’s a ghost. She asks it as a rhetorical question about the state of their relationship, but I’d been wondering if she actually was a ghost before she voiced the question. There’s something about the characters in Chaurahen that seems out of sync with reality.

The film is an adaptation of three short stories by author Nirmal Verma. I’m going to assume that much of the original dialog made it from page to screen, because the way that the characters speak to each other feels very written and inorganic.

Thematically, the interwoven stories are linked by death, specifically the way the death of a family member affects the living relatives left behind. The theme is most obvious in the best of the stories, concerning a young man who returns home to Kochi following the death of his older brother.

Nandu (Arundathi Nag) debates how long he has to wait to return to his happy life in Vienna after his brother, Keshi, is killed in military service. His parents seem desperate for Nandu to stay but know nothing about their youngest son, having previously reserved their affection for seemingly perfect Keshi. It’s a painful yet perfectly understandable situation.

Death also haunts the life of a young writer in Mumbai, Farooq (Ankur Khanna). He lives in a few rooms of a giant house he inherited from his deceased parents. When Farooq’s girlfriend, Ira (Soha Ali Khan), asks for a tour of the rooms Farooq keeps locked, she learns that her boyfriend is mired in grief.

Ira’s the character who asks if she’s a ghost. For a while, I honestly wasn’t sure if she was or wasn’t (she’s not, I don’t think). Ira and Farooq speak grandly about philosophical issues, taking at each other and not to each other. I found it hard to muster compassion for them.

The final plotline is indirectly about literal death and more about the death of a relationship. There’s a lingering resentment between Dr. Bose (Victor Banerjee) and his lonely wife, and he pursues a romantic affair with a blonde French girl who works at the local used book store. This Kolkata-based story is at its most interesting when it focuses on Dr. and Mrs. Bose (Roopali Ganguly), and less so when focused on Dr. Bose and Lea, the young woman.

Most of the problem is the clunky way Lea is played by Kiera Chaplin (Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter). Chaplin’s acting is wooden, and she even walks with a stiffness that diminishes her allure.

The acting overall is uneven. Ira’s pretentiousness is minimized somewhat by Khan’s innate likeability. The actors in Nandu’s storyline, including Nandu himself, are good.

The film ends with several of the characters from the disparate storylines crossing paths at what is presumably the airport in Kochi. Why would the characters from Mumbai and Kolkata chose to fly out of Kochi instead of closer airports? Logic is abandoned for the sake of a memorable closing shot.

That shot is emblematic of my problems with Chaurahen. It’s a movie about ideas and feelings but lacks the substance to make the experience meaningful. Chaurahen looks great and is well-paced but needs more finesse.

*Despite having been completed in 2007, Chaurahen opened in Indian theaters on March 16, 2012. The film is internationally available for streaming on Mela. Chaurahen has a runtime of 87 minutes. Its dialog is primarily in English with some Hindi.

Links

  • Chaurahen at IMDb
  • Watch Chaurahen on streaming video via Mela

In Theaters March 16, 2012

The only Hindi movie playing in Chicago area theaters the weekend beginning Friday, March 16, 2012, is Kahaani. The terrific thriller carries over for a second week at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles and AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Ee Adutha Kaalathu (Malayalam) and the Telugu films Mr. Nokia and Nuvva Nena.

After making the festival rounds for several years, 2007’s Chaurahen (“Crossroads”) is finally being released theatrically in India on March 16. The English-language film is an adaptation of three short stories by author Nirmal Verma and stars Soha Ali Khan.

To coincide with the Indian theatrical release, streaming video service Mela is making Chaurahen available in the U.S. on Friday as well. The film can be streamed via Mela’s set-top box, Roku player or iPad app. Check Mela’s website for details.

Movie Review: Soundtrack (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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During the closing credits for Soundtrack, a note onscreen reads: “Inspired by the movie It’s All Gone Pete Tong.” Reading the plot summary for It’s All Gone Pete Tong at Wikipedia reveals that Soundtrack is more of a beat-for-beat imitation.

When a book is turned into a film, the credits typically read “Based on a novel by…”, thereby acknowledging that someone else deserves credit for writing the original story.  I’m not suggesting that there’s anything nefarious in Soundtrack‘s appropriation of another movie’s plot, but there’s something unsavory about acknowledging it in such an offhand way.

The good thing about writer-director Neerav Ghosh basing Soundtrack on a previously successful movie is that he has a solid structure to work with. As a result, Soundtrack is watchable. It’s reasonably well-paced, and plot points occur when we instinctively want them to occur.

Where Soundtrack falls short is in the construction of the main character, Raunak Kaul (Rajeev Khandelwal). Raunak is a DJ who moves to Mumbai hoping to strike it rich. He quickly does, thanks to his uncle’s contacts at a popular nightclub. Soon, Raunak is up to his eyeballs in booze, drugs and women eager to sleep with him.

After a period of debauchery, a combination of lifestyle factors and genetics causes Raunak to go completely deaf. He breaks down, only to gain a new purpose in life, with the help of his lip-reading instructor, Gauri (Soha Ali Khan).

Soundtrack‘s effectiveness depends entirely upon the degree to which the audience sympathizes with Raunak, and there’s little reason to care about him. He’s an angry ingrate who’s already an alcoholic before he gets to Mumbai. He gets the life of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll that he wants and enjoys it while he’s able, even though his addictions make him unreliable.

It’s hard to feel bad for a character who is both unlikable and the cause of his own problems. Ghosh never gives Raunak his “save the cat” moment: an action that lets the audience know that the character is really a good guy, in spite of appearances.

Gauri’s character is also underdeveloped. She serves as a plot device to get Raunak back on the right moral track. Her character is supposed to have been born deaf, but she merely speaks with a lisp, not the way those born deaf actually talk. It’s a missed opportunity to add realism to her character.

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Movie Review: Tum Mile (2009)

tummile2 Stars (out of 4)

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It’s unfortunate that Tum Mile — a rare Bollywood disaster movie — was released on the same weekend in the U.S. as the Hollywood disaster epic, 2012. Scenes of catastrophe take a backseat to romance in Tum Mile, and the characters never really seem to be in mortal danger. It’s the obvious second choice for theater-goers looking for thrills.

The action in Tum Mile takes place on July 26, 2005, the day historic rainfall swamped Mumbai, causing mass strandings and over 1000 deaths. Think of the destruction Hurricane Katrina caused to New Orleans about one month later — only in a city with 28 times more people than pre-Katrina New Orleans.

Lead characters Akshay (Emraan Hashmi) and Sanjana (Soha Ali Khan) meet unexpectedly on a plane bound for Mumbai. They used to be lovers, but they haven’t spoken in several years, since a painful breakup. They exchange business cards upon landing and go their separate ways, as the rain begins to fall.

The bulk of the film consists of flashbacks chronicling the couple’s initial meeting, obstacles to their relationship and their eventual breakup. It’s more detailed than is necessary to show that Akshay and Sanjana still harbor feelings for each other.

In fact, the excess of backstory has the effect of making Akshay an unsympathetic hero. While dating, Akshay first resents Sanjana for financing his floundering art career. When he follows her advice and gets an office job, he resents her for making him abandon his art.

At one point, Sanjana asks, “Why does he have to make it so hard for me to love him?”. Khan plays Sanjana as understanding and self-confident, and it’s hard to believe that she’d still have feelings for him after so many years.

The present-day story arc kicks in when Mumbai’s streets start to flood, and Akshay gets a sense that Sanjana is in danger. He sets out to search for her in the rain. On foot. In a city of 14 million people.

Miraculously, he finds her after she’s escaped from a flooding car — not that the audience actually gets to see her escape. One minute she’s in a flooding car, and the next minute, she’s walking through the flooding streets. Rule #1 of disaster movies: show the escape.

Akshay and his buddy, Vic, take shelter with Sanjana on a stalled bus to wait for the waters to recede. A tree falls on the bus, threatening to roll the bus on its side, blocking the main doors. Everyone on the bus panics as though death is imminent, though an inconvenient escape via the rear exit or windows seems the worst likely outcome of a tipped bus.

While floods are unquestionably deadly, the “danger” in Tum Mile never feels very dangerous. In Titanic — a movie that clearly inspired Tum Mile, right down to the scenes of the male lead painting the female protagonist’s portrait — the ship is in danger of sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The prospect of a bus rolling on its side in four feet of water on a city street isn’t nearly as terrifying.

Opening November 13: Tum Mile

One new Hindi movie opens in Chicago area theaters on Friday, November 13: the disaster flick Tum Mile. The movie stars Soha Ali Khan and Emraan Hashmi as a pair of star-crossed lovers who must brave the floods that shut down Mumbai on July 26, 2005. Based on this preview, it looks pretty exciting:

Tum Mile will open in the Chicago area at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles and AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington. The movie has an official runtime of 2 hrs. 20 min.

The enjoyable comedy Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani sticks around for a second week at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago and AMC Cantera 30 in Warrenville.

In addition to Hindi films Tum Mile and APKGK, the Golf Glen 5 is also showing Heer Ranjha (Punjabi), Kurradu (Telugu), Olave Jeevana Lekkachara (Kannada), Swa Le (Malayalam) and Village Lo Vinayakudu (Telugu).