Sushant Singh Rajput’s final movie Dil Bechara just released on Hotstar/Disney+Hotstar across the globe. For the time being, Dil Bechara is streaming for free even if you’re not a Hotstar subscriber. Here’s where to watch it in the United States: https://www.hotstar.com/us/movies/dil-bechara/1260036017
The romance Dil Bechara is a based on John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars, about a pair of young people who’ve endured serious illnesses who undertake a search for a reclusive author. Sanjana Sanghi makes her film debut opposite Sushant, with Saif Ali Khan playing the author.
If you tried to make an uncool version of The Fast and the Furious, you could not make anything as uncool as Drive. Dharma Productions’ straight-to-Netflix heist film lacks sex appeal, thrills, and all of the other exciting qualities about the series they tried to emulate.
To ensure that everyone knows this is a Fast & Furious knockoff, Drive repeatedly shows different women in short shorts standing between two race cars, their backs to the camera, ready to drop a flag to start the race. There are lots of white women of average attractiveness wearing bikini tops and jean shorts, setting a low bar for what constitutes sexiness in Drive.
Jacqueline Fernandez is gorgeous as ever as notorious thief Tara, her cleavage working overtime to add some spice to this bland dish. Sapna Pabbi looks stunning as well, as Tara’s best bud, Naina. But when the two best looking men in the cast are Boman Irani and Pankaj Tripathi — who really do look quite handsome — you’ve got problems.
Tara, Naina, and her boyfriend Bikki (Vikramjeet Virk) are a trio of thieves who moonlight as underground street racers. They want to rob the Presidential Palace in Delhi, but they need the help of a mysterious fellow crook known as The King to pull off the job. Brash driver Samar (Sushant Singh Rajput) may be able to help them, but the crew is being watched by Irfan (Irani), an agent from the Prime Minister’s office.
Irfan takes command of the government agency that polices black money, run by corrupt bureaucrat Vibha Singh (Vibha Chhibber). Where do Vibha and her goon Hamid (Tripathi) hide the money they extort? In the Presidential Palace, of course!
A hallmark of movies directed by Drive‘s producer, Karan Johar, is characters rich enough to buy whatever their hearts desire. That flippant materialism is taken to an absurd extreme in Drive, where objects seem to manifest out of nothing. Need some mannequins to help explain the heist plan? Poof, they magically appear in the thieves’ lair. Need the world’s supply of gold lamé fabric to outfit hundreds of guests at an impromptu wedding? Done!
The most cynical example of this pointless extravagance is a video montage of a trip the group takes to Tel Aviv. It’s purely an advertisement paid for by Israel’s tourism bureau that has nothing to do with the rest of the plot. It’s just five minutes of them clubbing, swimming, and zip-lining. The montage the film’s only sequence shot with grainy handheld cameras, making it stand out for the blatant cash grab it is.
Drive‘s plot is simplistic but still makes no sense. Writer-director Tarun Mansukhani yada yadas a lot of the operation planning and Irfan’s investigation. Much is made of the core trio’s suspicion of outsiders, but they seem to have any number of random flunkies on call to pose as police officers and shepherd the stolen loot away from their crime scenes. Didn’t they learn anything from Total Dhamaal? Don’t let anyone else handle your loot!
There is exactly zero chemistry between Fernandez and Rajput, who smirks like a dope through much of the film. The characters never seem in any real danger, neither from cues we’ve come to expect from other movies (someone has to die just before or after the wedding, right? No.) nor from explicitly mentioned threats, such as the Presidential Palace guards’ standing “shoot on sight” order. This is a heist film with no stakes.
And my god, the driving! Samar impresses the crew by cruising around is a suped-up Tata Nano — which sorta looks like a Honda Fit — while wearing ugly brown loafers. Fancy cars like Ferraris and Porsches are all CGI. The most time the cast spends in actual cars is during a sequence in which they discuss their plans in a parking garage. Every thirty seconds, the camera cuts to them sitting in a different parked car. Why? The movie’s not called Park! It’s called Drive!
Two lovers on opposite sides of a religious and class divide fall in love just before their world falls apart in Kedarnath. The compelling central romance is eclipsed by a well-executed disaster sequence based on the tragic floods of June, 2013, which destroyed much of Kedarnath and killed thousands.
Mansoor (Sushant Singh Rajput) works as a porter, ferrying Hindu pilgrims and their belongings up the winding mountain path to Kedarnath Temple. He and the other Muslim porters and shopkeepers have a history of cooperation with the Hindu innkeepers, allowing everyone to make a steady living during the six months of the year that the temple is accessible.
An upstart Hindu landowner, Kullu (Nishant Dahiya), sees profit in building a fancy new hotel in the valley, increasing the number of pilgrims and displacing a number of shopkeepers in the process. Mansoor — whose mother’s shop would be demolished to make way for the hotel — argues that more buildings and pilgrims could put the infrastructure of the whole valley at risk. Briraaj (Nitish Bharadwaj), a Hindu priest, appreciates Mansoor’s dedication to Kedarnath despite not being a Hindu himself.
That appreciation only extends so far, however. Briraaj isn’t about to let his younger daughter, Mukku (Sara Ali Khan), date a Muslim. Mansoor’s relationship with her exposes simmering inter-religious divisions and provides a pretext for violence, led by Kullu, who’s engaged to Mukku after dumping her older sister, Brinda (the beautiful Pooja Gor). The floods hit before the town can erupt into full-scale riots.
Khan shows poise and charisma in her first film role, but Mukku is problematic. She has a lot in common with stereotypical Bollywood man-child protagonists in that she’s immature and unable to see things from other’s perspectives. She has no regard for how her romance with Mansoor affects him, his family, or the other Muslims in the valley, so confident is she that her desires are right simply because she desires them.
Unlike the typical man-child protagonist character arc in which he finds a woman who makes him aware of the world and his role in it, Mukku’s worldview doesn’t change. Her position as the privileged daughter of a powerful man makes her overestimate her ability to shape her world to her will. If she’s just persistent enough, she can break down Mansoor’s barriers and make him fall in love with her. That same persistence will get her out of her engagement to Kullu, she believes. She’s even convinced that she can influence cricket matches and the weather.
Having been mostly insulated from negative consequences thus far, Mukku fails to account for all of the other factors that influence the events in her life, like the desires of other people, the lucky bounce of a cricket ball, and the randomness of a natural disaster. Mukku’s arrogance makes one question whether, from a narrative standpoint, her star-crossed romance with Mansoor is a worthy enough endeavor to balance the deaths of thousands in raging floodwaters.
That balance undermines the vibrant romantic tension conjured by Khan and Rajput. This is Rajput’s most charming performance in years after lackluster outings in M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story and Raabta, a reminder of how good he can be in the right role. It would be fun to see these two leads pair up again in the future after Khan gains more acting experience.
Director Abhishek Kapoor successfully blends practical effects with computer generated ones in Kedarnath‘s climactic disaster, with Rajput and Khan battling treacherous waters in thrilling sequences. The rarity of Bollywood disaster movies is perhaps reason enough to watch Kedarnath, coupled with the intrigued of a star scion’s debut (Khan’s father is Saif Ali Khan). If only the central romance matched the film’s spectacle.
Note: This is a review of the 2D version of the movie.
Welcome to New York has plenty of laughs for the hardest of hardcore Bollywood fans, packaged in an enjoyable fish-out-of-water comedy.
When I say “hardcore,” I mean it. It’s not enough to be familiar with the biggest Bollywood hits of recent years. Welcome to New York requires an appetite for industry gossip, knowledge of awards shows, and a fondness for Karan Johar–particularly his talk show, Koffee with Karan.
The extremely meta setting for Welcome to New York is the 18th International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards, which were held in New York City last year. As in real life, Johar plays the host of the awards show. His actual co-host, Saif Ali Khan, is replaced in the film by Riteish Deshmukh, playing a self-deprecating version of himself who bemoans his underpaid, B-list status.
In order to boost viewership in India, awards show organizers Gary (Boman Irani) and Sophia (Lara Dutta) create a talent contest, giving two winners the chance to perform onstage during the show. Sophia uses the contest to sabotage the show and get back at Gary, choosing the two worst entries among all the submissions as the winners.
Those winners are Teji (Diljit Dosanjh), a small-town repo man and wannabe actor, and Jeenal (Sonakshi Sinha), a feisty fashion designer. Whisked away to New York, the two must overcome their differences to navigate their flashy new surroundings and make their dreams come true.
Meanwhile, an angry Karan Johar doppelgänger named Arjun (also played by Johar) plans to kidnap his lookalike before the awards show. Teji accidentally foils one kidnapping attempt, thinking he’s playing a version of the Rapid Fire Round from Koffee with Karan.
The plotlines aren’t well-integrated, but it hardly matters, given how silly the movie is. Teji’s and Jeenal’s budding friendship is sweet to watch, and Dosanjh and Sinha are both effortlessly likeable. Dosanjh’s Teji gets most of the fish-out-of-water jokes, such as when he calls Jeenal’s terrycloth robe a “coat that looks like a towel.” Their characters have some amusing interactions with Aditya Roy Kapur and Sushant Singh Rajput that play off of people’s mistaken tendency to conflate actors with their roles.
When it comes to playing a role, no one in Welcome to New York does so more enthusiastically than Karan Johar, who plays the most outrageous version of himself imaginable. He’s vain, snarky, and snobbish, and he’s hilarious. He gets to spout lines like, “You are a traitor, Riteish Deshkmukh.” The payoff to subplot in which Karan advises Rana Daggubati on his career after Baahubali is worth the price of admission alone. Lara Dutta and Boman Irani being as great as always is a nice bonus.
The most disappointing element of Welcome to New York is its music. Songs range from forgettable to annoying, and there’s precious little dancing to speak of.
Casual fans may find Welcome to New York too “inside baseball,” but Bollywood junkies will see their obsession pay off in a multitude of self-referential gags. The actors seem like they had fun making the movie, and that quality translates to an enjoyable experience for the audience.
Even in movies about reincarnation, where the audience knows that the lead couple is fated to be together, we still have to want them to be together in the first place. Raabta (“Connection“) gets that part of the formula wrong, pairing a likable woman with an immature moron.
It’s hard to overstate just how awful Shiv (Sushant Singh Rajput) is as a main character. He’s an entitled boor who hits on every white woman he sees, assuming them to be easy and stupid. A new job in Budapest gives him plenty of opportunities to be an abominable lech.
Of course, when he meets a lovely Indian expat named Saira (Kriti Sanon), Shiv is immediately ready to settle down with her. The presumed inherent moral superiority of Saira’s race and national heritage make it okay for her to jump straight into bed with Shiv, while the flirtatious white women Shiv dates are depicted as disposable tramps.
Saira can’t explain the depth of her attraction to Shiv (and neither can the audience). She senses it has something to do with her vivid nightmares of drowning, and his sudden appearance in them. Shiv dismisses her suspicions, always eager to downplay her concerns and dictate the terms of their conversations.
But Saira’s not alone in suspecting a connection to the past. Debonair rich guy Zak (Neerja‘s Jim Sarbh) has seen visions of Saira as well, from an ancient time when they were once in love. They meet when Saira and Shiv agree to the dumbest possible test of their fidelity: hitting on other people at a party to see if they are as attracted to anyone else as they are to each other. Shiv promptly rips off his shirt and jumps in a pool with some blondes, and Saira flirts with Zak, who is as classy and mysterious as Shiv is tacky and vapid.
Genre convention holds that Zak will turn out to have sinister intentions that endanger Shiv’s and Saira’s preordained romance. The problem is that Zak is objectively better in every regard than Shiv. Yes, even after Zak kidnaps Saira. That’s how deplorable Shiv is.
Rajput does his character no favors, turning in the worst performance of his career. Besides being annoying in the present, Shiv’s past self — Jillan — talks in a Christian-Bale-as-Batman growl, augmented by bug-eyed twitching. The only redeeming quality either version has is a set of six-pack abs (which Zak also may have; we just don’t get to see).
Sanon’s brief career has been distinguished by capable performances in roles with zero agency. Much like Sanon’s character in her debut film, Heropanti, Saira has no control over her own body. Shiv and Zak push, pull, and grab her at will, arguing over which of them she “belongs” to.
Further reducing Saira to object status is that she’s socially isolated in a way the two men aren’t. Shiv has parents in India, and his best friend Radha (Varun Sharma) accompanies him to Budapest. Zak has dozens of paid servants and bodyguards and can turn out hundreds of guests to a party on short notice. Saira, on the other hand, works alone, was orphaned at age two, and sees her boyfriend driven off by Shiv in the span of ten minutes. She has no connections to anyone, making it easier for the two men to do with her as they please.
If there is any bright spot in Raabta, it is Jim Sarbh. He takes a role that could have easily become cartoonish and makes Zak unhinged but understandable. Zak wants Saira as fulfillment of an ancient promise but also because she’s the only other person who shares his belief that the past is repeating itself. Shiv refuses to entertain Saira’s reincarnation story, belittling her as crazy despite the fact that she’s correct — yet another knock against these star-crossed lovers.
Sarbh’s cool charisma starkly contrasts Rajput’s over-the-top antics. It’s time for filmmakers to shift Sarbh from the compelling villain slot into leading man roles (and maybe consider demoting Rajput).
The biggest star in Raabta is Deepika Padukone, who performs an unenthusiastic item number for the title track. She sways and walks the runway, and that’s about it. I hope she got a ton of money for doing next to nothing, if only to serve as a cautionary tale for filmmakers considering such transparent casting stunts.
Watching M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story leaves one encumbered with questions. Chiefly: “Why does this movie exist, other than to cash in on a nation’s love for its cricket captain?” The choice to make a fictionalized biopic about Dhoni’s life is bizarre.
The choice is especially weird because Mahendra Singh Dhoni has an unremarkable origin story. A gifted natural athlete, he chooses cricket over his first love, soccer, simply because his middle school team needs defenders. He excels quickly, gaining renown throughout the region. The community enthusiastically supports the lad, although his dad (Anupam Kher) also wants young Dhoni to study, just in case his sporting career doesn’t pan out.
Dhoni’s mundane childhood eats up the first hour of a three-hour-long movie. Yet writer-director Neeraj Pandey doesn’t allow enough time to explain the more complicated aspects of Dhoni’s career as he grows into a young man, played by Sushant Singh Rajput.
Audience members who don’t already understand the interconnections between India’s various cricket leagues — youth, national, semi-pro, etc. — are at a loss. Without such understanding, there are no meaningful stakes. When Dhoni misses out on a chance to play for the national under-19 team but gets called to play for another trophy instead, the significance and impact on his career trajectory aren’t explained.
The most compelling part of Dhoni’s journey comes during a multiple-year stint playing cricket for a team owned by a railroad that also requires its players to work for the railroad during the day. The company-provided accommodations sleep four people in a one-bedroom apartment. Is this how professional cricket in India works? Couldn’t he find better working conditions elsewhere? Why does a railroad even own a cricket team?
Pandey’s story doesn’t answer those questions, nor does it delve into Dhoni’s feelings during this lull. The closest we get to introspection is Dhoni telling his boss that he’s depressed, and the boss responding with a “life is like cricket” speech.
The real Dhoni is a charismatic guy, yet we see none of that spark in the fictional version. Rajput’s delivery is flat, his demeanor serious. Pandey’s Dhoni is sanitized to avoid any chance of offending the man himself (or his rabid fans).
Instead of casting a third actor to play Dhoni as a teenager, Pandey uses computer effects to shrink Rajput, similar to the technique used on Chris Evans in the first Captain America movie before scrawny Steve Rogers mutates into a superhero. The effects in M.S. Dhoni are not up to the same standard as those used in the Marvel movie, so Rajput just looks like a creepy, miniature version of his 30-year-old self. The brief sequence isn’t essential to the narrative, so it should’ve been left out.
M.S. Dhoni is a sports movie devoid of inspiration. A documentary would’ve been more compelling since it would’ve allowed us to hear from Dhoni in his own words, offering insight into the athlete’s persona that Pandey refuses to examine. There is no “untold story,” as promised by the subtitle.
Reviewer’s note: The character of Byomkesh Bakshy (originally spelled “Bakshi”) is a creation of Bengali author Sharadindu Bandhopadhyay, who wrote thirty-two stories about the detective between 1932 and 1970. I have never read any of Bandhopadhyay’s stories, so this review will not compare the original literary detective to Banerjee’s updated film version. I am treating Banerjee’s detective as a completely separate entity.
Director Dibakar Banerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is a visually stunning mystery that’s worth watching for its sumptuous style alone — though it also has much more going for it.
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! opens with a brutal drug deal gone bad, before shifting forward in time to Calcutta, 1943. Byomkesh (Sushant Singh Rajput) is an unassuming young man with a reputation for solving mysteries. He’s quick to correct anyone who calls him a detective; he just pursues the truth.
A bespectacled young man, Ajit (Anand Tiwari), asks Byomkesh for help finding his missing father, but Byomkesh is dismissive. The man was most likely murdered for being mixed up in something shady or ran off with a woman, Byomkesh tells Ajit, who punches him before storming out.
When Byomkesh’s girlfriend confesses that she’s marrying a man with better job prospects, he apologizes to Ajit and takes on the case. Clues lead Byomkesh to a boarding house in another part of Calcutta, run by clever Dr. Guha (Neeraj Kabi). The search for clues takes a dangerous turn when Byomkesh finds a connection between Ajit’s missing father an a powerful politician.
The backdrop to Byomkesh’s investigation is a city on edge due to repeated bombings of strategic British targets by the Japanese. My Midwestern American primary education on World War II included no references to the effects of the war on British-controlled India, so I found the the film’s setting fascinating. As soon as the air raid sirens sounded during Byomkesh’s first night in the boarding house, I was hooked.
Banerjee takes the time and place into consideration in his shots. Shadows pervade, since overhead interior lights and bright streetlamps wouldn’t have been common during that era, and particularly not during wartime. The brightest shots in the film take place on the set of a movie starring Anguri Devi (Swastika Mukherjee, who looks every bit the bombshell).
The sound design of the film is equally as effective as the lighting. Urban hubbub stands in for a background score, and the specter of the air raid siren looms. When Byomkesh tentatively approaches a dormant furnace during his investigation, a ghostly mechanical thrum accompanies his steps.
When Banerjee does employ music with lyrics, the songs have a contemporary feel, be it Indian music or thrash metal. The juxtaposition of the period visuals with modern music heightens the emotional impact. Banerjee isn’t going for total authenticity. His representation of Calcutta is highly stylized, and the contemporary music suits it.
The music also makes the film’s graphic violence feel more appropriate. While there isn’t a lot of violence, that which exists is bloody and brutally administered. It’s shocking, and perhaps not for the faint of heart (and it’s especially inappropriate for children).
Yet what also makes it appropriate is Byomkesh’s reaction to this violence. He abhors it and feels responsible for those harmed even indirectly by his investigation. It’s one aspect of Byomkesh’s personality that makes him such a great character. He’s an ordinary guy in a pop culture era when trend demands that Western movie and TV detectives be quirky or socially maladroit. His only quirk is that he can’t let go of a case until he discovers the truth, even when it puts his life in danger.
Rajput is terrific, giving an understated performance that blends with the story rather than drawing attention to itself. During the course of the film, Byomkesh and Ajit develop a nice working friendship, and Tiwari matches Rajput’s style well.
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is ripe for a sequel, and it hope it gets several. A great lead character and a stunningly rendered Calcutta make Bakshy’s world one I want to revisit over and over again.
PK — filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani’s exploration of religion — is a laugh riot. Hirani points out the absurdities of religious customs without causing offense by filtering his observations through an innocent protagonist: an alien called PK (“Tipsy”).
A spaceship drops the alien (played by Aamir Khan) in the middle of a desert in Rajasthan, with no clothes and no ability to communicate. The first human PK comes into contact with steals the glowing pendant that allows PK to contact his ship and request a lift home.
PK’s best chance to recover his pendant comes when he meets a rookie TV journalist named Jaggu (Anushka Sharma) in Delhi. Six months removed from a heartbreaking end to a whirlwind romance in Belgium with a grad student named Sarfraz (Sushant Singh Rajput), Jaggu is stuck reporting dull human interest stories about depressed dogs.
Hesitant as Jaggu is to believe PK’s alleged otherworldly origins, she’s intrigued by his take on human religion. Everyone he asks for help finding his pendant tells him, “Ask God.” But which god? How is he supposed to pray in order to get an answer?
PK’s bumbling attempts to navigate varying faiths are hilarious. He gets the nickname “Tipsy” because everyone assumes he must be drunk in order to be so clueless. Seeing wine served in a Christian church, he brings two bottles to a mosque. Whenever someone pulls back a hand to slap him, PK puts stickers depicting Hindu deities on his cheeks, since no one would dare slap Ganesha or Shiva. PK calls the stickers “self-defense.”
Even though the jokes relate to religions more common in India than in the West, the movie supplies enough information for international audiences to get the jokes without needing to know anything about Jainism or Hinduism. Besides, the point of the jokes is that they could be made about any religion anywhere in the world.
From the perspective of international accessibility, PK is as good as it gets. The English subtitles are phenomenal, incorporating slang like “chillax” and “kaput.”
A terrific cast helps, too. Sharma and Rajput are completely adorable together. She strikes the perfect balance as an ambitious career woman principled enough not to exploit her vulnerable new friend. Boman Irani is great in a small role as Jaggu’s boss.
Another great supporting performance comes from Sanjay Dutt, playing a band leader who befriends PK shortly after his arrival on Earth. Like Jaggu, he’s canny but honestly fond of the befuddled extraterrestrial.
Khan is tremendous as PK. He’s earnest and not at all goofy, making the ridiculous situations PK finds himself in that much funnier. It’s especially fun to watch PK adapt to his environment. He learns which mistakes will provoke a slap, and he’s always a step ahead of the angry mob chasing him. A scene in which PK figures out how money works is side-splitting.
The story slows down in the second half as laughs give way to serious questions of exactly what the faithful get for their devotion. However, the ultimate payoff to PK’s and Jaggu’s story is beautifully done.
The universality of PK‘s subject mater, the accessible way it’s presented, the nicely incorporated song-and-dance numbers, and the fact that this is just a damned funny movie make PK a great starter Bollywood film.