Tag Archives: Sridevi

Movie Review: Mom (2017)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

In a vacuum, Mom is an engaging revenge thriller that fully utilizes its star’s considerable charisma. Yet the film’s very existence raises the question as to whether the genre has exhausted its ability to add to the conversation about rape.

Sridevi plays the titular mother, Devki, a secondary school teacher. She has a young daughter Priya with her husband, Anand (Adnan Siddiqui), who brought another daughter — 18-year-old Arya (Sajal Ali) — with him into the marriage. The strained relationship between stepmother and stepdaughter is exacerbated by the fact that Devki is Arya’s Biology teacher. When a fellow student, Mohit, texts Arya lewd material during class, Devki throws Mohit’s phone out the window.

Arya later rejects Mohit’s advances at a party, so he enlists his sleazy cousin Charles (Vikas Verma), security guard Baburam (Pitobash), and drug dealer Jagan (Abhimanyu Singh) to kidnap her. They gang rape Arya and leave her for dead in a ditch. Upon waking, Arya bitterly tells Devki that the men told her “Call your mom!” during the assault.

When the justice system inevitably fails to convict the men, Devki realizes that her relationship with Arya will be irretrievably broken unless she takes revenge upon them herself. She enlists a private detective named DK (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) to track down the rapists before the lead police officer on Arya’s case, Mathew (Akshaye Khanna), uncovers her scheme.

There’s a lot to like about Mom, chiefly Sridevi, who is most heartbreaking in moments when Devki futilely tries to connect with Arya. Ali, for her part, nails the moody teen role. First-time feature director Ravi Udyawar maximizes Sridevi’s legendary beauty in a number of strikingly composed shots. (Udyawar’s camera direction is less successful in a hard-to-follow chase scene.)

Debutant screenwriter Girish Kohli provides his actors with memorable dialogue, and Khanna and Nawazuddin Siddiqui deliver their lines with style. Adnan Siddiqui gives gravity to a role that requires him to stay in the background in order to keep Sridevi in the spotlight.

Things get tricky when considering whether we need another movie about avenging rape. I’ll concede that living in America my whole life has exposed me to many stories about this topic, both fictional and non-fictional. The Hollywood film The Accused brought the story of justice for a gang rape victim into the mainstream back in 1988. Until recently, many Hindi films treated the rape of a woman as nothing more than a catalyst to provoke a male hero into action. Real-life sexual assaults in India in the last several years have shifted the focus of fictional stories — such as 2016’s Pink — onto the victims themselves.

So while there is still a desire among Indian filmmakers and audiences to confront the horrors of rape, I’m not sure that Mom treads any new ground in doing so. There is a cliched shot of Arya in the shower following the rape, scrubbing her skin so hard that it bleeds. A man is raped in jail and is laughed at for it — as though male rape is less serious than female rape. There’s a belief that the perpetrators deserve punishment that damages their sexual organs, and also a belief that doing so will restore Arya to her former self, at least to some degree.

All of these ideas have been presented so often in movies that we’ve taken them for granted. But are these ideas actually valuable, or do they just feed off the sense of helplessness experienced by bystanders to rape, whether immediate or from afar? Too many films about rape function as a kind of call-to-action fantasy for someone other than the victim — only this fantasy requires someone to suffer in order to bring it to fruition.

Director Udyawar does the right thing by not showing the acts of sexual violence, focusing instead on the aftermath. It removes any chance of such violence being sensationalized or depicted as titillating. He also fairly assumes that the Indian justice system (like the American justice system) is rigged against rape victims. But other than establishing those benchmarks for future filmmakers, Mom covers a lot of familiar territory. It’s a well-made movie, but I’m not sure it’s a story I needed to see again.

Links

Advertisements

Movie Review: English Vinglish (2012)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

One of my favorite feelings is when I watch a new film that makes me think, “Now this is a movie. I wish more movies were like this.” Films that provoke that sensation for me aren’t necessarily perfect, but they are always well executed examples of the form that feel both familiar and fresh. Watching English Vinglish gave me that feeling.

This is writer-director Gauri Shinde’s first film, but you’d never know it. She gets how movies are supposed to be made. The pacing is excellent, and the characters are complex and grow throughout the story. English Vinglish is an impressive debut.

Shashi (Sridevi) is an Indian housewife unappreciated by her husband, Satish (Adil Hussain), and preteen daughter, Sapna. Her young son, Sagar (Shivansh Kotia), is still in the cuddly phase of childhood, and her live-in mother-in-law is sympathetic, but both require Shashi’s frequent attention, reducing her existence to that of a short-order cook. Satish even resents Shashi’s modest catering business selling her homemade sweets, insisting that cooking for her own family should give her satisfaction enough.

The real point of contention in the family is that Shashi doesn’t speak English. Her husband speaks it at his office and her children study it at school, so Satish and Sapna are able to make jokes at Shashi’s expense without her understanding. When Shashi’s sister asks her to fly to New York for a few weeks to help with preparations for her daughter’s wedding, Shashi is forced to confront her feelings of inadequacy regarding English. She enrolls in a language course that changes her perspective on everything.

Of course, Shashi’s linguistic problems are just part of a larger identity crisis. Is she more than just a cooking- and cleaning-machine? Should she even aspire to be more than that? Why does she need to know English if she never leaves the house without her husband or kids to act as translators?

Shashi’s search for self-worth is universal, but there are distinct feminine aspects to her problem. It’s expected that men define themselves by their jobs, but what metric should a homemaker and mother use to define herself? As Shashi tells one of her classmates, “When a man cooks, it’s art. When a woman cooks, it’s duty.” Defining a life by the execution of rote tasks seems insufficient.

The classmate Shashi discusses cooking with is a handsome French chef named Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou). They form a friendship based on their love of food as well as their sense of isolation as foreigners who don’t speak the dominant language. The relationship is also fueled by Laurent’s obvious crush on Shashi.

Laurent’s affection puts Shashi in a precarious situation. She doesn’t lead him on, but she’s pleased to finally have someone — let alone a good-looking younger man — make her feel like she’s beautiful, funny, clever, and talented. Laurent’s compliments are hard to resist when the alternative is being treated like a glorified servant by her husband.

The French chef’s crush is understandable because, at age 49, Sridevi still looks perfect. Her performance as Shashi is likewise flawless. She channels every mother throughout history when Shashi puts on a brave face in response to her daughter’s insults, determined to hide her emotions until she’s alone.

Sridevi’s subtlety gives Shashi an air of realism: her quick, birdlike movements as she tries to comprehend the ticket machine in the subway; her slight smile as she silently mouths one of her newly acquired English words; even her dance moves are small and slightly embarrassed, rather than the broad gestures of a seasoned performer.

Nebbou’s performance as Laurent is also perfectly restrained. Since he can’t say the words, Laurent shows his fondness for Shashi through glances that linger longer than is considered socially appropriate. He’s not pushy, but he is persistent. He’s charming, but not in a cartoonish way.

The members of Shashi’s family are well-drawn. Her niece, Radha (Priya Anand), is an enthusiastic co-conspirator who encourages Shashi’s personal growth. Satish and Sapna aren’t villains, but they seem to enjoy sharing knowledge that Shashi lacks. Little Sagar is adorable, and never annoying or distracting.

Shashi’s English class is populated with characters who all have their own motivations, though not all are successfully portrayed. Jennifer (Maria Pendolino), the language school receptionist, is so believable that, for all I know, they cast an actual language school receptionist to play the part. However, the class’s lone East Asian of unspecified national origin, Yu Son (Maria Romano), distracts with her indeterminate accent.

Also suffering from accent-related problems is David (Cory Hibbs), the teacher of the class who initially speaks with a quasi-British accent that fades as the movie progresses. What does not fade is David’s flamboyant gayness. His over-the-top affectations make him into a caricature who can’t even be humanized by Shashi’s “gays are people, too” speech late in the film.

If the only real problems in a movie relate to a couple of minor characters, it’s safe to declare the film a success. English Vinglish is a refined, adult coming-of-age story with a fantastic heroine at its heart. This is definitely a must-see.

Links

Opening October 5: English Vinglish

The new Bollywood film opening in Chicago area theaters on October 5, 2012 — English Vinglish — marks the return of superstar actress Sridevi after a fourteen-year absence from the big screen. The film also has the worst theatrical trailer I’ve ever seen:

This alternate trailer — which never aired at my local cinema — is more substantive:

English Vinglish 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 2 hrs. 10 min.

Of last weekend’s two new Hindi releases, OMG Oh My God carries over at all three of the above theaters, while Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal is deservedly booted from all local theaters except the South Barrington 30. The South Barrington 30 is also the only theater holding over Heroine, which has earned $560,285 in its first two weeks in U.S. theaters.

Barfi!, meanwhile, continues to perform phenomenally well at the box office, having earned $2,462,008 in three weeks in the U.S. It gets a fourth week at the South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, AMC River East 21 in Chicago, and Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Puthiya Theerangal (Malayalam), Rebel (Telugu), and Thaandavam (Tamil).