Tag Archives: Sunny Leone

Movie Review: Raees (2017)

raees2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Raees (“Wealthy“) stars one of Bollywood’s most charismatic actors, a fact that the screenplay takes for granted. The story of a gangster’s rise to power lacks emotional depth, relying on the audience’s familiarity with Shah Rukh Khan’s dashing heroes of the past to fill in the blanks.

Raees (Khan) spent his childhood running liquor for Jairaj (Atul Kulkarni), a dangerous job given that Gujarat is officially an alcohol-free state. As a young man, Raees wants to branch out into his own boozy enterprise with his best friend, Sadiq (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), much to Jairaj’s resentment. A Mumbai don named Musa (Narendra Jha) helps Raees start his business after witnessing the Gujarati beat up a warehouse full of men while using a severed goat’s head as a weapon, all because someone dared to call the bespectacled Raees “four-eyes.”

As Raees’s illegal empire expands, he draws the attention of a straitlaced cop, Inspector Majmudar (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who makes it his mission to put Raees out of business. This sets up a cat-and-mouse game that is never quite as clever as one hopes.

The nature of the criminal operations in Gujarat and Mumbai makes it difficult for Raees to keep his promise to his mother that no one should ever be harmed for the sake of business. Granted, most of the people Raees kills tried to kill him first, but he willingly puts his employees in danger during one fiery political protest. There’s some retroactive rephrasing to imply that what Mom really meant was that no innocents should be harmed, but that’s not what she said (at least according to the English subtitles).

This distinction is important, because Raees goes from emphatically rejecting violence to shooting up a room full of crooks without batting an eye. Raees himself doesn’t seem bothered by the morality of his actions, and no one holds him to task. It’s as though writer-director Rahul Dholakia expects Khan’s ardent fans to see him in the role of Raees and thus assume that his character’s actions are justified, no matter what they are.

In many gangster dramas, the role of the protagonist’s conscience often goes to his love interest, but Raees’s wife Aasiya (Mahira Khan) is a willing bootlegger. Mahira Khan is something special, teasing Raees with an irresistible smirk. She’s one of the film’s highlights, and she does a fine job in her musical numbers.

The movie’s showpiece song sequence to the tune of “Laila Main Laila” is eye-catching, juxtaposing Raees’s brutality against Sunny Leone’s shimmying. The best dancing in Raees, however, is Siddiqui’s Michael Jackson impersonation, a scene that is far, far too brief.

Khan, Siddiqui, and Ayyub are all good in Raees, but they could have been even better with a script that did more to develop their characters.

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Movie Review: Mostly Sunny (2016)

mostlysunny2 Stars (out of 4)

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Watching the documentary Most Sunny, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what felt off about the film. Only later did I read that the documentary’s subject, actress Sunny Leone, has all but disowned the movie, refusing to attend its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016. I can’t say I blame her, because the film is a mess.

During her interview segments, Sunny comes across as warm, funny, and smart. She’s candid about not just her history in the adult film industry but about money as well, celebrating the $100,000 signing bonus she demanded to appear on the Indian reality show Bigg Boss in 2008 as a life-changing sum.

Her killer curves and salacious past distract from her most admirable quality: her business acumen. With the help of her husband and business partner, Daniel Weber, she parlayed a lucrative career in porn into a production company and eventually success in mainstream Indian movies. Sunny herself says, “One thing I was good at was turning a quarter into a dollar.”

It’s difficult to tell Sunny’s story chronologically because her extended family cut ties with her when she became Penthouse “Pet of the Year” in 2003. No one from the Sikh community in her hometown of Sarnia, Ontario — where she was raised as Karenjit Kaur Vohra — would agree to talk about her on camera. Her parents died several years ago, so the only relative to speak on her behalf is her younger brother, Sunny (whose name she stole in a panic to invent a stage name). Even though the siblings maintain a close relationship, they never appear together in the documentary.

There are hardly any interviews with people who’ve worked with Sunny in India either. Director Mahesh Bhatt says some kind words about her potential, as does the CEO of the channel that airs Bigg Boss. Sunny’s Ek Paheli Leela costar Rajneesh Duggal mentions that other actors turned down his role before him because they didn’t want to work opposite Sunny, but he doesn’t mention what it’s like to actually work with her. Sunny’s costumer and close confidant Hitesh isn’t comfortable talking on camera.

Sunny Leone’s story is about her fame and acceptance in sexually conservative India following a career in porn, but filmmaker Dilip Mehta is hung up on Sunny’s racy past. Topless shots of the actress scroll across the screen multiple times, a choice that does nothing to inform the audience about the woman herself but to capitalize on a career she acknowledges but has left behind.

Mehta makes a bizarre choice during a segment about Sunny’s adult film production house, SunLust Pictures, where she directs movies but doesn’t appear in the them. There is a shot of a movie in production featuring a full-on sex scene between a man and a woman, their genitals blurred as they engage in intercourse. What is the narrative purpose of this shot? If the point is to titillate, why bother blurring the genitals? It’s not like we can’t tell what’s happening. Mostly Sunny has no MPAA rating, but this scene alone makes otherwise PG-13 content into a hard R.

The topless shots and the sex scene ensure that any people still reluctant to embrace Sunny will never watch the movie. What is the point of Mostly Sunny if not to showcase her as an interesting, normal person? Who does Mehta think his audience is?

It’s hard to decipher Mehta’s objectives for this movie. Scene transitions frequently consist of footage of poor people shot from inside a moving car. Sunny herself isn’t in the car, so this isn’t meant to show what she sees on he way to work at a Mumbai movie studio. It neither reinforces nor juxtaposes with anything else we’re hearing and seeing. It’s just poverty porn.

The footage that runs behind the ending credits is likewise inexplicable. As patrons exit a movie theater following a film showing, they notice Mehta’s camera pointed at them and start dancing or mugging for the camera. What purpose does this serve?

As is often the case in her Bollywood movies, Sunny’s charisma transcends the mediocre quality of this film. That a documentary specifically about her lets her down is disappointing.

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Movie Review: Mastizaade (2016)

Mastizaade0 Stars (out of 4)

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Writer-director Milap Zaveri doesn’t seem to understand the difference between being funny and making fun of someone. His latest film, Mastizaade, is hateful.

Take for example the film’s lone gay character, Das, played by Suresh Menon. (There’s also a trans character who is depicted as frightening and repulsive.) Das is portrayed as a lustful sexual predator who sneaks into people’s hotel rooms. He is shown being sexually aroused by what he mistakenly thinks is an act of bestiality. His own father calls him “disgusting.”

Does Zaveri not have the empathy to realize that writing such characters reinforces harmful stereotypes about gay men? Apparently not, otherwise he’d be more circumspect about writing East Asians, people with speech impediments and physical disabilities, and women as well. Unless you are a cool, thirtysomething Indian dude, Zaveri considers you a target.

The cool dudes at the heart of Mastizaade are Aditya (Vir Das) and Sunny (Tusshar Kapoor), a pair of ad men who make juvenile commercials laden with sex references. They frequent sex addiction support groups, hoping to get beautiful recovering addicts to fall of the wagon and into their beds. If they don’t succeed there, they bring booze to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Hope for redemption for two such despicable characters arrives in the form of Lily and Laila Lele (both played by Sunny Leone), a pair of voluptuous twins who run a sex addiction clinic. The twins are the first women the guys have been able to see as something more than potential conquests.

Lily and Laila mistake Aditya and Sunny for sex addicts, a fact of no narrative consequence despite how many times it’s restated in the film. Somehow everyone winds up in Thailand, and the twins fall in love with the idiots for no good reason. Plot is not Zaveri’s foremost concern.

It’s also unclear why Lily speaks with a stutter. It’s not a challenge for her character to overcome during the course of the story, nor does it have any noticeable effect on the dialogue she delivers (as far as I can tell). Her stutter exists because Zaveri thinks people who stutter are funny.

He also gets a kick out of people with physical disabilities, having a crowd of bystanders point and laugh at a man left behind in his motorized wheelchair as everyone else takes off on a car chase.

If a child exhibited the kind of bullying behavior Zaveri writes into Mastizaade, he’d be sent to his room without supper and grounded for a month. Why Zaveri thinks he can get away with it as an adult boggles the mind.

Let’s not forget the way Zaveri looks down on women. Even though Sunny Leone is by far the biggest star in the picture, her characters lack agency, playing second fiddle to the two male leads. Laila is entirely defined by her sexual appetite, though she is only able to land Sunny when she dresses as a traditional Indian housewife and prays for her beloved’s well-being.

Naive Lily is engaged to wheelchair-bound Deshpremi (Shaad Randhawa), who seems like a decent guy. However, Zaveri’s narrative calls Deshpremi’s manliness into question based on his disability. This somehow gives license to Aditya to torpedo Lily’s relationship with Deshpremi through trickery. Why exactly are we supposed to be happy when Lily chooses Aditya over Deshpremi?

Time after time, Milap Zaveri is involved in projects that are mean-spirited and bigoted, whether it’s as the dialogue writer for Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3, the screenwriter for Grand Masti, or the writer-director of Mastizaade. Maybe its time to stop patronizing a filmmaker who insists on churning out such poison.

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Movie Review: Ek Paheli Leela (2015)

EkPaheliLeela1 Star (out of 4)

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Ek Paheli Leela aspires to a level of storytelling that simply isn’t possible given the constraints under which the movie was made. This is a film built to sell a soundtrack, not the other way around.

The need to prominently feature nine songs creates problems with the narrative flow right from the start. The story opens with a mean guy named Vikram (Jas Arora) searching for a valuable statue. Then opening credits roll and the first song montage starts, set to footage of a musician named Karan (Jay Bhanushali) and his buddies decorating his new apartment.

Karan has a vivid nightmare of one man whipping another sometime in the distant past. But that thread is dropped in favor of another musical number, a sexy dance scene featuring Meera (Sunny Leone), a model working in London.

There’s little connective tissue holding the plot lines together. Karan continues to have bad dreams, and Meera gets tricked into traveling to India for a photo shoot where she falls in love with a Rajasthani prince (played by Mohit Ahlawat). Vikram is absent for a full seventy-five minutes of the film.

In fact, it’s not until nearly an hour has passed that it becomes clear what the plot actually is. A holy man explains Karan’s dreams: “You are part of a 300-year-old incomplete story. You have been bestowed this life to complete it.” It takes another forty-five minutes for Karan and Meera to meet, leaving less than thirty minutes to wrap up the reincarnation story line.

Leone is the biggest star in the cast playing the title character — Meera’s ancient doppelgänger, Leela — but she’s just window dressing. The narrative positions Karan as the lead character, even though he undergoes no character growth and isn’t in most of the movie.

Ek Paheli Leela is marketed as a Sunny Leone film, so why isn’t Meera the one to uncover her link to the past? Leone is the only actor to appear in both the present and past storylines, yet her character doesn’t actively participate in solving the mystery. She’s there to writhe around in song numbers and love scenes, but she doesn’t get to be the hero.

Despite Leone being relatively new to Bollywood and the Hindi language, her acting isn’t the problem (at least not entirely). Many of the performers are guilty of awkward dialogue cadences and stilted mannerisms. The comic relief characters — gay stereotype Andy (played by Andy) and weird servant Maan Singh (Ehsaan Qureshi) — are unbearable.

Writer-director Bobby Khan also runs into trouble when altering facts about mental illness to suit his narrative. Meera suffers from claustrophobia and panic attacks, both of which are described as potentially fatal, even though they are absolutely not. It spreads an inaccurate message about anxiety disorders, which are already widely misunderstood.

The ending unfolds in an unexpected and mildly interesting way, but it doesn’t feel earned. The plot threads simply take too long to weave together around the plethora of soundtrack singles, and the metaphysical rules at play don’t make a whole lot of sense. Having the characters remark how weird it is that only Meera looks the same as her past avatar is a wink at the audience, not a real explanation.

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Movie Review: Jackpot (2013)

Jackpot_2013,_official_poster0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Given how much I enjoyed director Kaizad Gustad’s incredibly stupid film Boom, I hoped that Jackpot would also be so-bad-it’s-good. Sadly, Jackpot is as inept as Boom, but nowhere near as fun.

I would describe the plot of Jackpot if I could. Even after watching the whole movie — which is a mercifully short ninety minutes — I still have no idea what happened. A group of people try to con a casino owner named Boss (Naseeruddin Shah) out of money. That’s the best I can do.

Gustad must have a grudge against context, because he provides none. We don’t know who the con artists are, what their relationships are to one another, and what their relationship is to Boss. There’s also no sense of when any scene is taking place. The action jumps back and forth in time with no clue as to how one scene relates to another chronologically.

The thieves’ plan is totally convoluted, with con layered on top of con, and it’s impossible to tell what money is stolen when and as a result of what con job. The thieves steal money to get into a poker tournament, steal the money from the poker tournament, and try to convince Boss to invest in Disneyland in Goa, all while they try to steal money from one another. It makes no sense.

The con artists are led by Francis (Sachiin Joshi, who exudes whatever the opposite of charisma is). He has a sexual, possibly romantic relationship with Maya (Sunny Leone), who works for and may have a sexual relationship with Boss. There’s also Kirti (Elvis Mascarenhas), who serves no purpose in the story, and Anthony (Bharath Nivas), who is a dumbass.

From an unintentional comedy standpoint, the best part of the film is the plan to have Anthony win the poker tournament. The whole plan hinges on his ability to count cards. However, not only does Anthony not know how to play poker, he doesn’t even know what the cards are. They have to explain to him that there are four suits in a deck of cards: two red and two black.

Ultimately, Anthony wins the tournament. While he stands on a stage to receive his briefcase full of money, Francis runs by and steals it. If Francis was just going to steal the briefcase anyway, why did Anthony have to win the tournament?!

As if Boom weren’t proof enough, Jackpot cements that Gustad is a terrible writer and director. Jackpot‘s plot makes no sense. Gustad handles his actors so clumsily that he makes Naseeruddin Shah look like a goof. Sunny Leone has a confused smile painted on her face most of the time, since she apparently doesn’t know any more about what’s happening in the movie than the audience does.

Gustad’s framing and scene execution is also idiotic. He routinely speeds up shots of characters walking and driving, rather than just having the characters walk shorter distances. There’s no dynamism in any of the scenes since the characters are almost always sitting down. The only person who isn’t is Leone, the bulk of whose screentime consists of shots of her torso while she mills about behind other characters having seated conversations.

I wish that this train wreck was funny enough for me to recommend, but it isn’t. If you have ninety minutes to waste, just stare at a wall. It will be more rewarding than watching Jackpot.

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Streaming Video News: November 19, 2014

I updated my list of Bollywood films streaming on Netflix to include a new addition to the catalog: 2013’s Jackpot. The movie — which didn’t release theatrically in the U.S. — stars Sunny Leone and Naseeruddin Shah in a ridiculous wig. More importantly, Jackpot is made by Kaizad Gustad, director of the sublimely stupid film Boom. Needless to say, I’m excited to watch it.

Movie Review: Ragini MMS 2 (2014)

Ragini_MMS_21.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Trying to understand a movie like Ragini MMS 2 (RMMS2, henceforth) is a futile exercise. It’s not that the movie is especially complex. It simply has some of the worst English subtitles I’ve ever seen in a Hindi movie.

The plot is so full of self-references that I’m getting a headache just trying to summarize it. The “found footage” from the original Ragini MMS inspires a director named Rocks (Parvin Dabas) to film a fictional reenactment at the haunted house where the allegedly real events took place. Basically, RMMS2 is a (real) movie that tells the story of the making of a (fictional) movie that is a rehashing of some (fictional) found footage that was the basis for another (real) movie.

Rocks explains that he elected not to cast any stars in his movie in order to allow the audience to become absorbed in the story. In reality, it’s RMMS2 director Bhushan Patel’s meta way of explaining to theaudience why they just paid for tickets to a movie with few known actors.

The film reaches its self-referential apex when Rocks introduces his lead actress: Sunny Leone (Sunny Leone). Like the real-life actress, Sunny the character is also a former porn star, something we’re never allowed to forget as she strips, licks, and fakes orgasms through the rest of the film.

The film crew arrives at the house and ignores all the signs of its haunting. The only one who doesn’t is the movie’s writer, Satya (Saahil Prem), who apparently insisted on filming at this location, though it’s never explained why.

While the film crew unknowingly prepares to die in gruesome ways, psychologist Dr. Dutta (Divya Dutta) tries to figure out what caused Ragini (Kainaz Motivala) from the found footage to lose her marbles. Ragini tells Sunny — who meets the young lady at an insane asylum while researching her film role — that she’s been possessed by a witch. Dr. Dutta, woman of science, concurs.

This is particularly funny because the movie opens with a disclaimer that it is not trying to promote superstition. It then proceeds to use science as a tool to validate superstition. The Archeological Society of India posts a sign near the haunted house warning people to stay away after sunset. Dr. Dutta — who must be good since she’s from New York — performs an exorcism. Try that in New York, and they take away your license.

These mixed messages about superstition are still clearer than any information conveyed by the English subtitles. There are large stretches of the film in which the subtitles disappear entirely. That includes all voice-overs, such as Dr. Dutta’s vital explanation of the witch’s origins. And, for some reason, one of the nurses at Ragini’s insane asylum is never subtitled.

The English subtitles for spoken English dialogue are terrible. When Dr. Dutta says, “Built in 1920,” the subtitles read, “Built in 1930.” Sunny says, “Global warming,” and the subtitles read, “Not yet.” The name of the character Gina (Anita Hassanandani) — who sports a visible tattoo of her own name written in English — is always written as “Tina.”

Lest you think this is a problem just for non-Hindi speakers, the witch’s Marathi dialogue isn’t subtitled either.

Sunny Leone is actually pretty good in the film. She’s obviously sexy, especially in an effective dream sequence number near the movie’s midway point. She’s intense and scary during a scene in which the witch takes control of her body.

The scene itself is somewhat subversive, playing with the anxieties someone like Leone provokes in a culture in which on-screen kissing only recently lost its taboo. Her possessed character howls “Fuck me!” at Satya, turning what would normally be an enticing offer into something grotesque and terrifying.

But I’m wary of giving RMMS2 more credit than it deserves. Why does Sunny become aggressively sexual when possessed by the spirit of a grieving mother? And, if the spirit is just looking for absolution, why the need for an exorcism?

The answer to both question is, “Because this is what happens in horror movies.” Conventions are used because they are conventions, not because they serve any narrative purpose. The truth is, Ragini MMS 2 hopes that you’ll be too distracted by Leone’s cleavage to notice the gaps of logic and poorly-matched subtitles.

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Opening March 21: Ragini MMS 2 and Gang of Ghosts

Two spooky new Hindi movies arrive in Chicago area theaters on March 21, 2014. First up is the erotic horror sequel Ragini MMS 2, starring Sunny Leone.

Ragini MMS 2 opens on Friday at the AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 50 min.

On the other end of the supernatural spectrum is the comedy Gang of Ghosts.

Gang of Ghosts also opens on Friday at the South Barrington 30. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 9 min.

After a dismal opening weekend performance at the North American box office, the smartly written rom-com Bewakoofiyaan is only sticking around for a second week at the South Barrington 30.

The delightful comedy Queen continues to build on its great word of mouth, carrying over for a third week at the South Barrington 30 and Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles and expanding to the AMC River East 21 in Chicago on Friday.

The Lunchbox carries over for another week at the Century Centre Cinema in Chicago, Century 12 Evanston in Evanston, and Renaissance Highland Park in Highland Park.

Shaadi Ke Side Effects gets a fourth week at the South Barrington 30 and Golf Glen 5, which is also carrying over Total Siyapaa.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Balyakalasakhi (Malayalam) and Cuckoo (Tamil) at the Golf Glen 5 and Kaum De Heere (Punjabi) at the Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale.

New Trailers: February 3, 2014

Two new HIndi movies released their trailers today. First up is the erotic horror film Ragini MMS 2, starring the voluptuous Sunny Leone. The trailer doesn’t pull any punches: Ragini MMS 2 is an unapologetic skin flick with a few scares. The video isn’t safe to watch at work since it features lots of shots of a barely clad Leone and some English swear words. Ragini MMS 2 hits theaters on March 21.

March 28 sees the release of Youngistan, a romance set against the backdrop of Indian politics. Without official English subtitles — turn on the video’s CC function for some funny but unhelpful English captions — it’s hard to discern the plot, but I’ll watch almost anything with Boman Irani.

I’m skeptical that either of these movies will release in the U.S. due to their relative lack of star power. Of the two, I’m more intrigued by Ragini MMS 2 because of its potential for unintentional hilarity and great drinking games. Close-up shot of Sunny Leone’s butt? DRINK! Awkward dirty talk? DRINK! Which of the two films are you more excited to see?

Movie Review: Shootout at Wadala (2013)

ShootoutAtWadala3 Stars (out of 4)

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Two men reminisce about the circumstances that led them to abandon their idealistic principles for a more practical, cynical approach to morality. One man is a gangster, the other the police officer who has mortally wounded the former. Such is the opening of Shootout at Wadala, a thrilling action film that raises moral questions with no easy answers.

The film is based the real-life extrajudicial killing of mobster Manya Surve in 1982. It was the first officially documented “encounter killing” by the Mumbai police, setting the stage for decades of unofficially sanctioned police murders of known gangsters. As at-odds as the practice is with the rule of law, the film makes the case that both the police and Surve felt that circumstances left them with no good choices.

As Manya (John Abraham) slowly bleeds to death in the back of a police van, he tells Officer Baaghran (Anil Kapoor) how his promising college career gave way to a life of crime. In 1970, Manya was unfairly jailed for life as an accessory to a murder committed by his step-brother. Manya quickly learns that an ability to instill fear is his best defense in jail.

Eight years later, Manya and his crony, Munir (Tusshar Kapoor), escape prison. Rather than settling for being underlings in someone else’s gang, they recruit members and form their own.

The action periodically returns to the present day so that Baaghran can recall events from his own perspective. Just before Manya’s prison break, Mumbai was run by a ruthless gang of murderers and rapists lead by a man named Mastan. The police watch in frustration as the gang members they arrest bribe their way back onto the streets.

An enterprising newspaperman suggests that the police employ sibling thugs the Haskar brothers — Zubair (Manoj Bajpai) and Dilawar (Sonu Sood) — to clean up Mastan’s gang. It puts the police in the uncomfortable position of choosing which underground syndicate will control the city. When Manya’s gang runs afoul of the Haskar brothers, leading to even more violence, Officer Baaghran and the rest of the police force decide to deal with the problem without waiting for the judicial system’s approval.

Writer-director Sanjay Gupta makes the case that, regardless of the morality of their decisions, both Manya and Baaghran felt forced into their choices by a broken system. The cops are outgunned by the criminals and have no support from judges or politicians. As a result, the public doesn’t trust the police to keep them safe. Locking up innocent bystanders and low-level crooks like Manya and his step-brother temporarily soothes the cops’ sense of futility, even if it creates bigger problems later.

Even while acknowledging the moral conundrum, Gupta manages to make his movie very cool. The background score is atmospheric, and everyone looks awesome in their early-’80s get-ups, especially Bajpai and Sood (as seen on the poster above). Mustaches and aviator sunglasses abound.

Manya’s plotline also includes a complicated love story. His college sweetheart, Vidya (Kangna Ranaut), encourages Manya to rescue his step-brother, who then stabs his attacker while Manya restrains him, to Manya’s shock and horror. Manya resents Vidya’s role in his imprisonment and her seeking his permission to move on with her life; she blames him for robbing them of their future together. When they reunite after Manya’s escape, both the love and resentment remain. Abraham and Ranaut portray this tension expertly.

After an information-packed first hour, the film starts to drag. A couple of song montages are clumped together in the middle of the film, and there are three ridiculous item numbers. (Sunny Leone’s abundant cleavage in the song “Laila” will prompt easily scandalized audience members to run screaming from the theater.)

There’s also a funny training montage early in the film. In an effort to disguise Abraham’s Hulk-ish physique, Manya’s college student avatar is forced to don absurdly oversized shirts. In prison, Manya enlists a mentor to transform him into a fighting machine in the span of a month. Cue the training montage in which Manya is suddenly transformed into a Mr. Universe competitor!

A couple of silly problems aside, Shootout at Wadala distills a complicated true story into a stylish and entertaining action flick that also engages the brain.

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