Tag Archives: Sushant Singh

Movie Review: Dirty Politics (2015)

DirtyPoliticsZero Stars (out of 4)

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About three-quarters of the way through the movie, my hands grip my head as if trying to contain an imminent explosion. I scream, “What is happening?!” and tear at my hair. That sums up the entire experience of watching Dirty Politics.

The movie’s problems are immediately apparent, most obviously so in the way the film looks. The camera never stops moving. It doesn’t matter if the movement obscures the faces of the characters who are speaking: camera movement is paramount! The action can be dramatic, such as a crane shot from directly overhead that swoops down to ground level then back up again. It can be more subtle, such as persistent zoom-ins on actors’ faces.

In one shot, the camera rapidly zooms in to closeup and pulls back twice in the span of about three seconds. A judge says, “Court is adjourned,” and the camera pans from the judge up to a clock above his chair, even though there’s no significance to the clock or the time of day. Then the same shot is repeated a few minutes later, again for no reason.

I don’t blame cinematographer Panveer Selvam for this travesty of technique as much as I do director K.C. Bokadia, who also wrote this farce. Bokadia’s vision for Dirty Politics is obviously shaped by a fundamental misunderstanding of how to make movies.

The story opens in the middle of a search for missing dancer-turned-politician Anokhi Devi (Mallika Sherawat). We know this because the characters say the name “Anokhi Devi” about a hundred times in the first ten minutes. Characters are introduced in quick succession without a sense of where they fit into the larger story, and an absence of backstory is keenly felt.

Anokhi Devi’s appearance via flashback more than twenty minutes into the runtime doesn’t really clear things up. Her dancing grabs the attention of political party leader Dinanath (Om Puri). In exchange for sex, Dinanath promises to make her the party’s candidate in the next election. Naturally.

There’s a hullabaloo because a gangster named Mukhtiar (Jackie Shroff) wants the same candidacy. He gets a great introduction from Anokhi Devi’s secretary, Banaram (Rajpal Yadav), who announces his arrival at her house: “He’s Mukhtiar. A well-known goon of our area.”

Dirty Politics is full of hilariously ponderous lines. When Anupam Kher’s character Mishra — who is a CBI officer and a lawyer who’s sixty days away from retirement(!) — presents his case in court, the defense attorney responds: “He is very cleverly trying to make his points strong.” Eloquently said, man who doesn’t realize that he’s describing the very nature of his own job.

One can only imagine how Bokadia managed to rope so many talented actors into this doomed project. In addition to vets like Kher, Shroff, and Puri, Naseeruddin Shah his a role as an activist who steals the movie’s absurd closing scene. Govind Namdeo’s overacting is the height of comedy. Atul Kulkarni and Sushant Singh remind us why they are rarely called upon to play action heroes.

Shah’s character has a daughter whose sole narrative purpose is to be raped in order to blackmail him. There are only three women in the whole movie, and all of them are brutalized: two in order to intimidate their relatives, and Anokhi Devi for aspiring to a more meaningful purpose than that of Dinanath’s mistress.

Puri and Sherawat deserve some modest praise for fumbling through the most awkward sex scenes in cinema history. If Bokadia was counting on sex to sell Dirty Politics, he obviously didn’t watch any footage of his movie as it was being shot.

One can only fathom the sheer terror racing through the mind of editor Prakash Jha as he received each batch of footage. “How am I supposed to make a movie from this?” he asks himself. “There’s nothing to work with!” Hence how we end up with the exact same reaction shot of Jackie Shroff staring at a desk — his jaw muscles twitching — four times in succession.

Bonus: Everything you need to know about the lack of craft that went into making Dirty Politics, in just twelve seconds!


Movie Review: Baby (2015)

BABY_poster_20152.5 Stars (out of 4)

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A lot happens in Baby, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. A choppy story structure and underdeveloped characters make Baby feel like a TV mini-series shoehorned into movie format.

Writer-director Neeraj Pandey’s broad vision pays dividends in certain ways. Globetrotting Indian counter-terrorist operative Ajay (Akshay Kumar) follows his targets to visually interesting places like Turkey, Nepal, and Saudi Arabia. Ajay’s luckier than his poor boss, Feroz (Danny Denzongpa), who only appears in scenes set in office buildings.

Ajay’s first mission — in which he tracks a rogue special agent to Istanbul — starts the movie on a promising note. Ajay extracts enough information to thwart a bomb blast, and the rogue operative foreshadows future attacks before killing himself.

The attacks are the work of a radical Muslim cleric in Pakistan, Maulana Mohammed Rahman (Rasheed Naz). Ajay must disrupt Maulana’s network — which includes a local recruiter, a jailed militant (Kay Kay Menon), and a corrupt businessman (Sushant Singh) — to get to Maulana.

What makes the plot so jarring is that Ajay’s participation is the only connecting thread between operations. (Feroz coordinates the missions, but he never gets to leave his office.) Ajay is alone on his first mission in Turkey, while his subordinate, Jai (Rana Daggubati), foils the bomb plot in India. New flunkies join Ajay for his next mission, and he gets a female sidekick, Shabana (Taapsee Pannu), for the mission after that. It’s only after the militant escapes from jail that Jai reenters the story, after an absence in real-time of over an hour.

Segmenting the story this way keeps Ajay from forging strong connections with his people, thereby lowering the stakes. Would Ajay care if Jai died? It’s not like Jai is his partner or a trusted friend. He’s just a guy who shows up when called on and disappears when he’s not needed.

Worse still is Ajay’s forced family narrative. He shares two scenes early on with his wife (Madhurima Tuli) and two kids, but the kids are never seen again after that. The wife — whatever her name is — reappears for a spy-movie cliché scene, in which she calls to reminds him about their daughter’s birthday while he’s in the middle of frisking a suspect.

It’s another example of the low stakes for Ajay. His family is never endangered by his job, and he hardly thinks about them. In fact, he’s rarely in any real danger at all. The terrorists don’t realize he’s onto them, so they go about their business until he shows up. If they were tracking him in return, it would’ve raised the tension.

The movie’s lengthy 150-minute runtime also keeps Baby from being a truly thrilling thriller. Though effective early on, Pandey employees the same tension-building camerawork patterns repeatedly, making scenes that should be intense predictable.

Kumar is well-suited to anchor this kind of film. He plays the role straight, allowing Anupam Kher to lighten the mood as a reluctant hacker. Kumar also cedes the movie’s most exciting fight scene to Pannu, who is terrific in her minor role.

Despite the film’s bloated runtime, its villains are woefully underdeveloped. Menon’s character doesn’t have any dialogue after his opening scene, which is a shame given some great non-verbal acting he does during his character’s escape from prison. The cleric Maulana spouts some ideology early on but is likewise mute for most of the rest of the movie.

The silent villains may be a deliberate choice on Pandey’s part. De-emphasizing the terrorist’s ideology brings to the forefront a political opinion expressed by both Feroz and Ajay. Feroz explains to the Prime Minister that, when young Indian Muslims choose to fight for Pakistan, it’s India’s fault for making them feel unwelcome in their own country. That inclusive sentiment is one that any government that values diversity should take to heart.


Movie Review: Yeh Saali Zindagi (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Yeh Saali Zindagi (“This Darn Life”) is a modern attempt at film noir that goes overboard with the “noir.” Many scenes are so dark that you can’t tell what’s happening.

It’s one thing when visual darkness is meant to conceal dark deeds, such as when the hero, Arun (Irrfan Khan), sees the lounge singer he loves, Priti (Chitrangda Singh), kissing another man in a shadowy hallway. Arun then uses the cover of night to follow Priti and the man, only to see her and her new beau kidnapped by a gang of thugs.

But the majority of the time, the darkness onscreen just seems like a failure to provide adequate lighting for the shot. Inside the cell where the lead thug, Kuldeep (Arunoday Singh), hatches a plan to spring his boss, Bade (Yashpal Sharma), from jail, the light coming in from the windows isn’t strong enough to illuminate the faces of the schemers, even if it is atmospheric.

More clumsy is a later scene on a balcony in which Kuldeep, recently freed from jail, frets about his failing marriage to a corrupt jailor, Satbeer (Sushant Singh). The sun is behind the actors, so there’s no way to see Kuldeep’s expression as he breaks down; the only way to interpret his anguish is from his sobbing. If I were one of the actors, I’d be upset that no one could actually see my performance.

The story unfolds through the parallel experiences of Arun and Kuldeep. Kuldeep mistakenly kidnaps Priti, thinking she’s the politician’s daughter engaged to Shyam (Vipul Gupta), the man Arun saw in the hallway with Priti. When Kuldeep and his gang realize their mistake, they don’t have a Plan B. Instead, they rely on Priti to come up with a way to get their ransom: Bade’s freedom.

Given how inept this gang is, it’s a wonder Priti doesn’t go straight to the police when she’s allowed out of their hideout. Instead, she turns to Arun. But she really believes the gang will kill Shyam, so she plays her part and returns to the hideout. The fact that they’re willing to let her live, despite the fact that she knows their identities, indicates that perhaps they’re not really up for murder.

Shyam’s unwillingness to try to help himself further removes any urgency from the situation. It’s not clear what Priti sees in him, other than the fact that she thinks he’s rich (he’s not). Once she learns that he’s broke, why not split?

There’s not much in the way of action, as Arun’s rescue attempt primarily involves bank transfers. The characters and side plots are only okay, the music unremarkable. Couple all that with the shadowy cinematography, and there’s just not much in Yeh Saali Zindagi to hold one’s attention.


Movie Review: Mirch (2010)

2.5 Stars (4 Stars)

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Mirch (“Chili Pepper”) stands out from other Bollywood fare because of its subject matter: women’s sexuality. It’s a topic that makes some people skittish, yet Mirch addresses it with a sense of humor. However, the otherwise amusing movie fails to reach its full potential.

The movie is actually a series of four short stories — two set in the ancient past, two set in modern times — held together by a framing device. A rookie screenwriter, Maanav (Arunoday Singh), can’t find anyone willing to buy his original screenplay because the subject matter is deemed too dark and not “sexy” enough. So Maanav comes up with another plan: turn four stories from the ancient Panchatantra into a film.

The four stories all feature sexually liberated women who use their wits to get the better of their jealous, promiscuous spouses. Maanav’s girlfriend, a movie editor named Ruchi (Shahana Goswami), convinces her producer boss Nitin (Sushant Singh) to listen to Maanav’s pitch, even though it appears Nitin has his own designs on Ruchi.

The four stories unfold as Maanav’s narration gives way to cinematic depiction, starting with the two historical vignettes. First is the story of a frisky wife (Raima Sen) whose manual laborer husband becomes suspicious of her eagerness to hop in the sack with him.

Second is a story of a young bride (Konkona Sen Sharma) married to an impotent old king. The bride is desperate to lose her virginity, and she chooses a young courtier (also played by Arunoday Singh, who appears in two other stories as well) to do the deed. However, the courtier will only consent if the bride agrees to do it in front of her husband.

The characters in the “real life” storyline acknowledge a need for stories set in modern times, shifting the time period forward for the final two stories. Sen returns in the third story as another devoted wife whose husband (Shreyas Talpade) tests her fidelity. Sharma likewise returns for the fourth vignette, as a wife who catches her husband (Boman Irani) trying to cheat on her.

All of the stories start with straightforward premises but end with a twist: either the wife turns the tables on her husband, or she was hiding a secret all along. In every case, the stories acknowledge the fact that women have their own desires apart from fulfilling their husbands needs. Sen and Sharma carry the movie, playing their characters as provocative rather than overtly sexual.

While the vignettes have their charms, the framing device is uneven. The interludes between the mini-movies seem to be driving toward a love triangle finale that would force Ruchi to choose between Maanav and Nitin. A new character is introduced at the last minute, seemingly invalidating the implication that Nitin was ever interested in Ruchi.

Mirch also makes the unfortunate mistake of putting a character in blackface. When the husband in the third story dons a disguise in order to seduce his wife, he covers his skin in dark makeup. It’s a crude attempt at humor that’s loaded with racist undertones. A wig and a fake mustache would have been sufficient.


Movie Review: Lahore (2010)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Filmmaker Sanjay Puransingh Chauhan is obviously well-versed in sports movie clichés, as Lahore is full of them. But most sports movies also have a formula, and Chauhan gets the formula all wrong.

Dheeru (Sushant Singh) is an up-and-coming kickboxer poised to make his debut for the Indian National Kickboxing Team. He has a shrill girlfriend, Neela (Shraddha Nigam), and a younger brother named Veeru (Aanaahad).

Veeru is an up-and-coming cricket star who was once himself a talented kickboxing prospect. He switched to cricket because he doesn’t like violence. By the law of sports movie clichés, this can mean only one thing: Dheeru is going to die in the ring, and Veeru will have to start kickboxing again to avenge his brother’s death.

This cliché in itself is not a problem. Rocky IV and Kickboxer are examples of the revenge cliché done well. Where Lahore gets the formula wrong is that the first half of the movie is footage of Dheeru training for his fatal fight. We all know he’s going to die; just kill him already, so that we can watch Veeru train for his revenge match! It’s kind of like if the first half of Rocky IV had been nothing but training footage of Apollo Creed.

With so much time wasted on Dheeru, Veeru’s storyline is rushed. Less than a month after his brother’s death (and in just a few minutes of screen time), Veeru becomes a skilled enough fighter to represent India in a friendly tournament against Pakistan — fighting the very man who killed Dheeru.

The heavy focus on doomed Dheeru also compresses the storyline involving Ida (Shraddha Das), a psychiatric intern for the Pakistani team, and Veeru’s eventual love interest. A musical montage shows Ida befriending Neela at the tournament where Dheeru dies. We don’t get any reasons why they suddenly become BFFs, other than that the plot requires it. Ida accompanies the coffin home and helps with Dheeru’s funeral, even though she only knew him for a matter of days.

The movie asserts that forgiveness and a shared interest in sports can help heal the division between countries as antagonistic as India and Pakistan. But Veeru’s inevitable forgiveness of Dheeru’s murderer strains credulity. Who among us would be able to hug it out with the person who murdered our loved one in cold blood after less than a month?

Besides the bad application of clichés, Lahore is poorly edited. The action shifts rapidly between shots of Dheeru engaged in a kickboxing match, Neela watching nervously in the stands, Veeru taking batting practice hundreds of miles away, and the guy operating the scoreboard at the kickboxing match. It removes the tension from the action scenes and makes the fight choreography seem sloppy.

The flow is so disjointed, watching Lahore is like trying to watch TV when your channel-flipping dad is charge of the remote control.