Tag Archives: Sunil Grover

Movie Review: Pataakha (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Director Vishal Bhardwaj is a master world-builder, designing rich spaces for his characters to inhabit and filling them with evocative music of his own creation. Pataakha (“Firecracker“) is the latest example of Bhardwaj’s formidable skill.

Based on the short story Do Behnein (“Two Sisters“) by Charan Singh Pathik, Pataakha‘s plot is simple. Badki (Radhika Madan) and her younger sister Chhutki (Sanya Malhotra) are constantly at war, each blaming the other for her sorry lot in life. But when they set out to achieve their dreams independently, they discover they need each other more than they thought.

The tale feels like a familiar parable, something one might expect to find in a storybook for children, were it not for all the swearing and fighting. Badki and Chhutki are their small Rajasthani town’s source of entertainment, their curse-filled brawls drawing enthusiastic crowds. Every fight ends with the girls’ father, Bechara Bapu (Vijay Raaz), dragging his daughters home — but not before getting battered in the melee himself.

Adding to Pataakha‘s folkloric feeling is the presence of a trickster character, an itinerant jack-of-all trades named Dipper (Sunil Grover), whose joy in life is instigating fights between the sisters. He snitches on them to each other, and he invents conflict when things are too peaceful. When Badki and Chhutki get boyfriends — Jagan (Namit Das) and Vishnu (Abhishek Duhan), respectively — it gives Dipper more fuel to stoke the fires of war.

Bhardwaj is clearly fond of both the character of Dipper and the actor who plays him. This may be more perception than reality, but it’s almost like Grover’s face is in sharper focus than the other actors’ — and it certainly seems like he gets more closeups. Whether that’s true or not, my attention always gravitated toward Dipper, just to see what he was going to do or how he would react, no matter what other chaos was happening on screen.

For so much attention to be given to a secondary character — as delightful as he is — hints at Pataakha‘s biggest problem: there isn’t enough material to warrant a full-length feature film. Trimming the runtime by thirty minutes would’ve been a start, but Pataakha‘s story would feel most at home as part of a collection of short stories.

It’s by the strength of Bhardwaj’s world-building and the performances he gets from his actors that Pataakha is as enjoyable as it is. Raaz is charming as the girls’ flawed father, who lectures them on the dangers of smoking by showing them the warnings on a half-empty packet of cigarettes he pulls from his own pocket. Madan and Malhotra give it their all in what must have been a fun but exhausting shoot, spending most of their screentime fighting, screaming, and crying as they do. Das and Duhan are solid in their supporting roles.

The movie’s showstopping item number, “Hello Hello,” is another highlight. Written by Bhardwaj and performed by his wife, Rekha, the sexy song is brought to life by the incomparable Malaika Arora. Unlike many lesser item numbers, cinematographer Ranjan Palit keeps his camera a respectful distance from Arora, without zooming in on particular body parts. This is not just a matter of decency but an acknowledgement that, when Arora dances, you need to see her from head to toe.

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Movie Review: Baaghi (2016)

BaaghiEntertainment Factor: 3.5 Stars (out of 4)
Quality Factor: 1 Star

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Baaghi‘s sheer ineptitude is its greatest asset. It assembles a hodgepodge of movie cliches into something inadvertently hilarious.

Right off the bat, the movie hints at the stupidity to come. A henchman, Biju, enters the lair of the villain, Raghav (Sudheer Babu). “We found her,” Biju declares, handing his boss…a magazine with a woman on the cover?! Either Biju is the world’s worst detective, or this woman is the world’s worst at hiding.

Probably the latter. The woman is Siya (Shraddha Kapoor), who has some sort of disorder the film chalks up to spiritedness. Siya giggles whenever it rains, and she yells at the clouds when it stops. This is her entire character.

Despite being a mental lightweight, Siya’s beauty charms two men for whom nothing must matter but looks: Raghav and Ronny (Tiger Shroff), a standard issue Bollywood man-child brat whose overwhelming character flaws are forgiven because he’s cute.

In a flashback, we see Ronny fall in love with Siya on a train journey south to Kerala. She’s visiting her grandmother, and he’s joining a martial arts academy. He arrives at the academy bearing a note from his dad, who’s basically Chappy from Iron Eagle: “By the time you read this, I’ll be dead.” The head of the school is Chappy’s former comrade, and the note begs the headmaster to turn butthole Ronny into a decent human being.

There is no indication that Ronny knows or cares that his father is dead.

Raghav falls for Siya on the same train trip, despite never actually talking to her (which explains everything). She has no clue who he is. In addition to being the head of an international crime syndicate based in Bangkok, he’s also the headmaster’s best student… and son!

While Ronny romances Siya and gets Miyagi’d into shape by the headmaster, Raghav bribes Siya’s piece of crap dad (Sunil Grover) for her hand in marriage. A bunch of stuff happens that drives all the characters apart and out of Kerala, leading us back to the start of the film, with Raghav “finding” Siya and kidnapping her.

Siya’s piece of crap dad pays Ronny to rescue Siya, a job Ronny only agrees to because he needs the money to — I shit you not — pay for surgery to help a mute little boy speak again. The mute boy can only say, “Ya ya,” which he does all the freaking time. The surgery is only mentioned once, with zero followup.

During a fight scene, the boy gets thrown about in the best cinematic instance of child-tossing since Gunda‘s Shankar tossed his adopted daughter to a monkey. There’s also a shootout at a quarry, again evoking Gunda imagery (as does all of the terrible acting and plot construction).

Speaking of evoking other movies, director Sabbir Khan and writer Sanjeev Datta boiled down the entire plot of The Raid: Redemption into one 14-minute-long action sequence. They did it so ham-handedly that the producers of The Raid took the producers of Baaghi to court. Make no mistake, the sequence is a total ripoff.

But that’s all Baaghi really is: a collection of elements of other movies awkwardly stapled together into an amateurish scrapbook. At times, the formula yields unintentionally hilarious results. Siya and Ronny make it onto a descending elevator seconds before Raghav, so what does Raghav do? He grabs a firehose and John McClanes it out the window to beat them to the ground floor!

There are many other golden moments that need to be seen to be believed, and the climax is a thing of botched beauty. Watching Shroff struggle to emote is likewise entertaining. Kapoor — who has it in her to be better than this — does nothing to help him.

Baaghi‘s worst moment is an alleged comedy sequence in which a blind cabdriver played by Sanjay Mishra molests a woman because she is Thai and wearing a miniskirt. It highlights a nasty strain of ethnocentrism in the film, which repeatedly belittles East Asian cultures. Another example is the atrocious wig the filmmakers force upon Kazu Patrick Tang, Bollywood’s all-purpose “East Asian bad guy.”

Still, it’s hard to take anything too seriously in a movie this dumb. If you’re delighted by misguided failures, Baaghi is for you. If you want to see an actual good movie, watch The Raid: Redemption.

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Movie Review: Gabbar is Back (2015)

GabbarIsBack1 Star (out of 4)

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Even the lowest common denominator deserves better than Gabbar is Back. Director Krish and writer A. R. Murugadoss take so many shortcuts in telling their anti-corruption tale that it’s a wonder they were able to stretch it into a feature-length film.

Gabbar is Back is based on Murugadoss’s Tamil film Ramanaa, which was also remade in Telugu and Kannada. I have no idea if any of the three previous versions make any more sense than Gabbar is Back. Maybe by the fourth time, Murugadoss just stopped giving a shit.

Movie plots have an inherent sense of economy. If characters are introduced, they need to propel the story forward or aid in its resolution. Murugadoss has no sense of economy. His story is a sprawl, full of extraneous characters and poorly integrated motivations.

“Gabbar” is an alias used by a physics professor named Adi (Akshay Kumar). His casual teaching attire — jeans and a hoodie, just like the kids wear these days — makes him popular enough to inspire dozens of his students to become kidnappers and murderers. It’s all cool, though. They only kill government officials who’ve taken bribes.

The police get nervous when public sentiment turns in Gabbar’s favor. We know this thanks to innumerable TV news reports and lazy man-on-the-street shots of random people talking about how great Gabbar is. A newspaper editor even shouts, “Stop the press!”

According to honest police constable Sadhu (Sunil Grover), the four high-ranking cops tasked with finding Gabbar all bribed their way into positions of power. Yet, when Gabbar targets the most crooked police officer in the city, it’s not one of the four officials who’ve already been identified as corrupt. It’s some other cop. Why introduce a whole new character when four others have already been set up as suspects?

Poor Sadhu figures out who Gabbar is, but he doesn’t get to apprehend him. Halfway through the film, Murugadoss introduces yet another government officer to lead the investigation. Why are there so many characters?!

Adi’s motivation for becoming a serial killer is mentioned exactly once, in song form. His family died when an unsafely built high-rise collapsed, yet Adi never mentions this to anyone. All his motivation warrants is a musical flashback.

Partway into the film, Adi’s personal revenge narrative takes over the anti-corruption plotline before jumping back again, with no attempt at artful integration. If Adi’s minions knew he was using them to carry out a vendetta against a private citizen, would they still risk criminal prosecution for him?

Another poorly integrated plot element is Shruti (Shruti Haasan), who adds nothing to the movie. She plays a moron who somehow passed the bar exam. She prefaces statements with, “According to Google…”, because she apparently doesn’t understand how search engines work.

There is no character development in Gabbar is Back, and the only narrative theme is “Corruption is bad.” Well, duh. That’s where screenwriting starts, not where it ends. Tossing in a couple of song cameos by Chritrangda Singh and Kareena Kapoor Khan isn’t enough, nor is having Akshay Kumar kick people. This theme has been addressed plenty of times before, and more skillfully. Murugadoss and Krish shouldn’t be rewarded for their laziness.

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Movie Review: Zila Ghaziabad (2013)

Zilla_Ghaziabad1 Star (out of 4)

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When a movie is as crude and inept as Zila Ghaziabad, it’s hard to know what to prioritize when describing why it’s so horrible. The bad acting or the nonexistent story structure are both good places to start, but they miss what the film is really about: cigarettes.

Zila Ghaziabad is preceded by a two-minute video that graphically showcases the ways cigarette smoke ravages the human body. A voice-over implores the audience not to smoke. Then, throughout the entire film, every single time a character is shown smoking a cigarette or puffing on a hookah, a subtitle appears in the bottom right corner of the screen that reads: “Cigarette smoking is injurious to health.”

Because the vast majority of the characters in the film smoke, the warning appears on screen through almost half the movie, becoming the dominant image of the entire film. With just a hint of foresight into the likely dictates of the Censor Board, director Anand Kumar could’ve trimmed out a few shots of his characters lighting up and kept the audience focused on the story.

However, perhaps the focus is exactly where Kumar wants it to be. I posit that Zila Ghaziabad is really an anti-smoking parable and not a gangster movie. Vivek Oberoi plays the presumptive hero, a teacher named Satbeer. He’s admonished for smoking early in the film by his elder brother, and he abstains ever after. By the end of the movie, Sanjay Dutt’s maverick cop character, Pritam Singh, takes pity on the teacher because, “There was something about Satbeer that touched my heart.” Avoiding tobacco equals moral righteousness.

The short version of Zila Ghaziabad‘s story is that a guy named Fakira (Sunil Grover) gets jealous of his boss’s increasing reliance on Satbeer and causes a whole bunch of problems because of it. Lots of people get killed and nothing is solved by the end.

Arshad Warsi’s character — a hoodlum named Fauji — reunites with his gang in Ghaziabad and is welcomed home in spectacularly homoerotic fashion. Dozens of dudes break into a song about what a bad-ass Fauji is while firing long-barreled shotguns into the air and thrusting their pelvises with abandon.

The air-humping doesn’t stop there. Two item numbers feature a lone female gyrating while surrounded by dozens of horny guys. Since the lovely lady is obviously heading home with whatever rich guy hired her to dance in the first place, and there aren’t any other women in sight, one can only guess as to how the lathered-up lackeys will expend their sexual energy.

Fakira tricks Fauji into fighting with Satbeer in order to get back into the good graces of his uncle/boss, The Chairman (Paresh Rawal). This sets off a string of retaliatory attacks that draw national media attention to Ghaziabad. The overwhelmed police force turns to the only man who can fix this mess: Pritam Singh.

To say that Singh is a maverick is putting things mildly. While Singh has the requisite super-human strength of other movie supercops (e.g., those played by the likes of Salman Khan and Ajay Devgn), Singh lacks the moral righteousness supercops always have. Singh is at best a trickster, and at worst amoral.

A flashback shows how Singh resolves a dispute between a trio of lawyers who beat a food vendor demanding that the lawyers pay their bill. Singh slaps the lawyers around before handing his gun to the vendor and forcing the man to shoot one of the lawyers in the face.

That’s just par for the course in Zila Ghaziabad, a movie that has no moral center whatsoever. If anything, it appears to advocate violence over non-violence. When Satbeer decides to stop being Mr. Nice Guy, a song proclaims, “Forsaking his studies, he’s out to wage war.” Satbeer, with tears in his eyes, roars and shoves one of Fauji’s guys onto a pile of spikes. He then uses the dead guy’s own cell phone to break the news to Fauji. Satbeer tosses the phone over his shoulder, and I was disappointed when it didn’t explode on impact.

The point is that it doesn’t matter how many people Satbeer kills. He’s the hero because he doesn’t smoke.

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