Tag Archives: Suresh Menon

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: Dhanak (2015)

Dhanak3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Dhanak (“Rainbow“) is as charming as can be, a sweet fairy tale about a blind boy and his devoted sister. The deserts of Rajasthan provide the perfect setting for writer-director Nagesh Kukunoor’s story of faith, family, and the general goodness of mankind.

8-year-old Chotu (Krrish Chhabria) and his 10-year-old sister Pari (Hetal Gada) are orphans, living in a tiny village with their aunt and uncle. Aunty (Gulfam Khan) is a classic “wicked stepmother,” stingy and resentful of having to raise children who aren’t her own. Uncle Durgaram (Vipin Sharma) loves Pari and Chotu, but he’s a stoner who won’t stand up to his domineering wife.

Chotu and Pari are movie buffs who spin tales about their celluloid heroes: Chotu’s idol, Salman Khan, and Pari’s imaginary boyfriend, Shahrukh Khan. Outside of the town movie hall, Pari spies Shahrukh on a poster for a vision charity. The Shahrukh of her stories is noble and generous, so Pari believes he’s the man who can restore Chotu’s sight.

The village buzzes with news that Shahrukh is filming in nearby Jaisalmer (nearby being relative, since Jaisalmer is 300 kilometers away). When Uncle Durgaram won’t take them to ask Shahrukh for his help, Pari and Chotu put on their flip-flops and begin the long walk to Jaisalmer alone.

The relationship between brother and sister is adorable. Love underlies their argumentative banter, all the funnier thanks to their quick-wittedness. When Chotu leaves behind their water bottle, he scolds Pari, “How can you trust an 8-year-old? A blind 8-year-old at that?!” Pari looks heavenward and prays, “God, give me the strength not to kill my brother.”

They receive a considerable amount of help on their journey, getting lifts from friendly truck drivers and guests heading to a wedding. The kids are so guileless that most adults are eager to help, without trying to dissuade them from their mission.

Dhanak‘s rural setting — with smalls town separated by miles of sand dunes — is the perfect venue for telling the kind of story that no longer seems possible in the West. Given the omnipresence of technology that allows parents to be in constant contact with their children at all times, it’s refreshing to see a movie where the kids are the decision makers. They receive adult assistance, not interference.

That’s not to say that the world Pari and Chotu live in is perfectly safe. They encounter dangers, often from unlikely suspects. Then again, how safe were they at home, with their cruel aunt and spineless uncle? Since Dhanak is for kids as much as it is about them, the dangers Pari and Chotu face aren’t depicted in detail. The film is totally family friendly, and realistic without being scary.

Just as the kids are occasionally betrayed by figures of authority, they are encouraged to choose their allies based on more than first impressions. One of the sweetest relationships in the film is between the kids and Badrinath (Suresh Menon), a former truck driver mad with grief over the deaths of his own children. Their need allows him to regain some of what he’s lost, even for a short time.

A kindly grandmother tells Pari and Chotu that there is magic in the world, and they just have to reach out and grab it. Whether or not magic exists as an independent force in the film is debatable. Yet the kids’ journey teaches them that there is kindness and friendship to be found in the world, and that those forces are sometimes enough to make dreams come true.

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