Tag Archives: Sushant Singh Rajput

Movie Review: M.S. Dhoni — The Untold Story (2016)

m-s-dhonitheuntoldstory2 Stars (out of 4)

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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.

Links

Opening September 30: M.S. Dhoni — The Untold Story

The sports biopic M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story is the only new Hindi film opening in the Chicago area on September 30, 2016. Sushant Singh Rajput plays the legendary Indian cricket captain.

M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story opens Friday in the following local theaters: AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Century 12 Evanston/Cinearts 6 in Evanston, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 3 hrs. 4 min.

Banjo carries over for a second week at the South Barrington 30. Pink gets a third week at the South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and MovieMax, which also holds over Baar Baar Dekho.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend:

Movie Review: Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015)

Detective_Byomkesh_Bakshy_poster4 Stars (out of 4)

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

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.

Links

  • Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! at Wikipedia
  • Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! at IMDb

Opening April 3: Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!

Finally, a new Hindi film is coming to Chicago area theaters! Sushant Singh Rajput stars in Detective Byomkesh Baskhy!, releasing April 3, 2015. It looks quite cool.

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! opens on Friday at the AMC Showplace Niles 12 in Niles, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 28 min.

The only other Hindi film showing locally this weekend is NH10, which gets a fourth week at the South Barrington 30.

Other Indian films showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Jil (Telugu w/no subtitles) at the Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge and MovieMax, which also carries Ennum Eppozhum (Malayalam), Nannbenda (Tamil), Komban (Tamil), and Yevade Subramanyam (Telugu).

Movie Review: PK (2014)

PK3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or Rent at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

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.

Links

Best Bollywood Movies of 2013

What stands out most on my Top Ten list for 2013 is the diversity of genres represented. No matter what you’re in the mood for, there’s a really good movie on this list. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)

Want a fun teen dance flick? Check out ABCD: Any Body Can Dance.
Looking for a good sports movie or biopic? Try Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.
In the mood for a family drama set in the underworld? You’ve gotta see Aurangzeb.

In addition to the great variety on the list, all the movies mentioned are accessible to an international audience. Familiarity with Hindi movies and their structure may enhance one’s appreciation of Phata Poster Nikla Hero or Commando: A One Man Army, but a lack of prior experience shouldn’t keep Bollywood newcomers from enjoying them. In fact, Commando‘s best selling point is that it’s a martial arts action flick with a romantic dance number in the middle.

2013 was a great year for films featuring ensemble casts. Movies like Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola and D-Day showcase the work of veteran stars, while Shuddh Desi Romance and Kai Po Che! — both of which star Sushant Singh Rajput — feature up-and-comers with bright futures ahead of them.

D-Day also features my single favorite scene in any movie from 2013: a heartbreaking song montage about the doomed relationship between an assassin (Arjun Rampal) and a prostitute (Shruti Haasan).

My favorite Hindi movie of 2013 offers the perfect mix of passion and drama in a beautiful setting. If I could dream up an ideal romantic movie, it would be Lootera. [Buy it on DVD here.]

Writers Vikramaditya Motwane and Bhavani Iyer took a short story by O. Henry and adapted it to depict a tumultuous time period in India, as family fortunes were dismantled in the years following partition. Imagine trying to cope with the heightened emotions of first love while your way of life is turned on its head. Such are the circumstances for Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha) and her beau, Varun (Ranveer Singh).

Fans of Victorian literature or contemporary period dramas like Downton Abbey: Lootera is made for you.

Best Bollywood Movies of 2013

  1. Lootera — Buy at Amazon
  2. D-Day — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  3. Kai Po Che! — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  4. Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola — Buy/rent at Amazon
  5. Shuddh Desi Romance — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  6. Commando: A One Man Army — Buy at Amazon
  7. ABCD: Any Body Can Dance — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  8. Aurangzeb — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  9. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  10. Phata Poster Nikla Hero — Buy at Amazon

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