Tag Archives: Swara Bhaskar

Movie Review: Nil Battey Sannata (2016)

nilbatteysannata3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

Nil Battey Sannata (“Good for Nothing” colloquially) is a heart-warming story about familial bonds and the importance of education. However, the movie is more than just feel-good fare, offering a canny exploration of the complexities of poverty.

Appu (Ria Shukla) is a typical teen, more fond of hanging out with her friends and mooning over film stars than studying. Also like many teens, she doesn’t understand the lengths her mother goes to just to keep a roof over their heads.

As a single mother and the family’s sole breadwinner, Chanda (Swara Bhaskar) wears a lot of hats. She works as a maid for Dr. Diwan (Ratna Pathak) in the morning and does odd jobs at night, washing dishes or sewing clothes. When she comes home, she cooks and cleans so that Appu can focus on her studies.

Even though Appu is in her final year of high school, mother and daughter haven’t discussed Appu’s future plans. Chanda assumed her own toil would enable Appu to go to college, an opportunity high school dropout Chanda never had. She is stunned when Appu says she wants to be a maid like her mom.

Director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s story — co-written with her husband, Dangal director Nitesh Tiwari — doesn’t lay all of the blame on Appu, though the girl’s disdain for school is a huge hurdle. Her lack of ambition is partly a product of her surroundings. Everyone she knows is poor or a laborer, so what good will an education do her? Her friend, Pintu (Prashant Tiwari), plans to become a driver like his father. He’s befuddled when Chanda asks him if he wouldn’t rather own the car than drive for someone else.

Chanda’s perspective is also limited by her financial circumstances. She knows she can’t afford the tuition for medical school or engineering school, but she doesn’t know of any other jobs that could provide the comfortable lifestyle she envisions for Appu. By happenstance, Chanda meets a man being chauffeured in an air-conditioned car, and she learns that he’s the local tax collector. She immediately determines that’s the job that Appu must pursue.

Appu’s intellectual laziness has caused her to fall behind in math. With expensive tutoring out of the question, Chanda heeds Dr. Diwan’s advice and enrolls in Appu’s class so that she can tutor her daughter herself. Of course, nothing could be more mortifying to Appu than having her mom as a classmate, clad in a school uniform and all. Chanda’s efforts to help her daughter cause friction between the two of them, straining their formerly close bonds.

Bhaskar is charming and sympathetic as Chanda, though it’s hard not to pull for a mother who’ll go to any lengths for her daughter. Shukla’s job is harder given that Appu is often a pill, but the actress pulls it off, making her character relatable. Even at Appu’s worst moments, the audience can always tell that she’s a good kid at heart, thanks to Shukla’s performance.

The mother-daughter relationship is the core of Nil Battey Sannata, but Iyer Tiwari does an admirable job depicting a concept that’s hard to understand, namely the way poverty complicates all aspects of a person’s life. It’s easy to prescribe education as the ultimate solution to economic hardship, but Chanda’s and Appu’s story shows that money isn’t the only scarce resource for those on the margins. Time, experience, and connections are almost as important — and almost as rare, too.

Links

Advertisements

Movie Review: Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015)

PremRatanDhanPayo2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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

Devoted Salman Khan fans have expectations of movies starring their Bhai, and surely Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (“Received a Treasure Called Love“) fulfills their expectations. For moviegoers who aren’t hardcore Salman fans, the film seems too familiar.

Don’t get me wrong, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (PRDP, henceforth) is a fine enough film. It lives up to its billing as a spectacle, with colorful dance numbers and magnificent sets. The story is full of teary-eyed reunions and blossoming romance.

But this all feels like something we’ve seen before, and that’s coming from someone who hasn’t seen any of Salman’s three previous collaborations with writer-director Sooraj Barjatya. Salman plays the same character he always plays these days, no matter if he’s starring in an action flick or a romantic comedy.

Prem (Salman) is a supremely righteous devotee who narrates religious plays. His best friend, Kanhaiya (Deepak Dobriyal), is an actor who dresses in drag to perform the lead female roles in the plays. At Prem’s insistence, they donate all of the money they earn to a charity run by the beautiful Princess Maithili (Sonam Kapoor).

On their way to meet the princess in person for the first time, the guys are intercepted by representatives of the princess’s betrothed, Prince Vijay (also Salman). Prem looks exactly like the prince, who is presently comatose following an attempt on his life by his scheming younger brother, Ajay (Neil Nitin Mukesh). Vijay’s right-hand man, Deewan Saheb (Anupam Kher), convinces Prem to temporarily pose as the prince, giving Prem the perfect opportunity to spend time with the princess.

While posing as the prince, innocent Prem comes to learn that Vijay is kind of a jerk. Complicated family dynamics — Vijay is his father’s firstborn, Ajay was born to their father’s second wife — have strained the relationship between the brothers. Their younger half-sisters — Chandrika (Swara Bhaskar) and Radhika (Aashika Bhatia) — by their father’s mistress have turned their back on the family completely.

Worst of all, from Prem’s perspective, is that Vijay is mean to Maithili. The royal couple argues all the time, and Vijay once tried to get fresh with Maithili (a big no-no to Prem, who doesn’t even approve of kissing before marriage).

Prem takes his opportunity as Vijay to try to heal the relationship between the siblings and to make things right with Maithili. If he can’t have her himself, at least he can lay the foundation for a happy marriage to Vijay. Prem asks her to list all of Vijay’s faults, which she does in song form. Unfortunately for international fans, the song lyrics in PRDP are not subtitled.

As one would expect, Salman is almost always the focus of attention. This myopia means that the villainous machinations against Vijay take place primarily offscreen. The revelation of who was plotting what and why is abrupt and confusing.

If you’re going to cast Neil Nitin Mukesh as the villain, use him. Don’t give him fewer than thirty minutes of total screentime, especially in a movie that’s nearly three hours long.

Same goes for Deepak Dobriyal, whose character is sidelined once they get to Vijay’s palace. Dobriyal is one of those actors who has my attention whether he’s the focus of the scene or not. Again, if you’re going to cast him, use him.

Prem describes his relationship with Kanhaiya thusly: “You’re my compulsory companion.” That’s a good description of any character who plays sidekick to Salman. Salman’s characters are often written as being unconcerned by money, which means that it falls to his “compulsory companions” to pay for everything Salman’s characters buy. Since Salman’s characters are usually supposed to embody moral purity, why are they always mooches?

PRDP delivers a bunch of songs, many of which are lavish spectacles. Sonam is pretty, and Salman is heroic. Things proceed pretty much as expected. A happy ending is all but guaranteed.

I don’t know that that’s enough to make PRDP a must-see movie for its own sake. For a holiday weekend outing with family and friends, it’s reasonably entertaining (although the lengthy runtime is a challenge, especially if your theater doesn’t have an intermission break). But is it unique? Is it memorable? I’m not so sure.

Links

Movie Review: Raanjhanaa (2013)

Raanjhanaafilmposter2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

What a difference perspective makes. Had Raanjhanaa been told from the point of view of Sonam Kapoor’s character, Zoya, it would’ve been a horror movie along the lines of Fatal Attraction.

Instead, the main character in Raanjhanaa is a scrappy guy named Kundan (Dhanush). He’s supposed to be a tragic romantic hero, but he’s actually a stalker so possessive of Zoya that he destroys her life.

Their one-sided romance starts harmlessly enough. Muslim Zoya and Hindu Kundan grow up in the same neighborhood. He flirts with her, and she doesn’t discourage him. Things progress as far as a hug before her parents learn of it and send her away. Kundan vows to wait for her forever, even though he’s only in tenth grade, and she’s in ninth.

Eight years later, Zoya returns and doesn’t recognize Kundan. When he reminds her that he’s the reason she was sent away, her memory sparks, but romance does not. She laughs off his marriage proposals and makes it clear that he resides in The Friend Zone.

Besides, Zoya is in love with someone else: Akram (Abhay Deol), a politically active classmate from college. Akram is everything that Kundan is not: rich, principled, educated, and motivated. Zoya says that she loves Akram because he treats her as an equal, not as an object of worship or a trophy to be guarded.

Kundan doesn’t take the hint and instead acts like a manipulative drama queen. He slits his wrists, then stages a sham marriage to his childhood friend, Bindiya (Swara Bhaskar) to try to make Zoya jealous. This is particularly cruel because Kundan knows that Bindiya is in love with him. Ultimately, Kundan robs Zoya of her home, family, love, and future, all because she doesn’t love him in return.

What makes Raanjhanaa more interesting than another recent stalker-as-hero movie, Ekk Deewana Tha, is that the movie acknowledges that Kundan is in the wrong. He recognizes his mistakes, and justice is served in the end.

Yet the fact that the story is told from Kundan’s perspective is problematic. Most of the movie’s second half is about Kundan trying to redeem himself in Zoya’s eyes, though his actions are heinous enough that he doesn’t deserve forgiveness. The fact that he believes his actions are motivated by love is itself a kind of self-administered absolution, a shield for behavior that would otherwise be deemed evil. Perhaps the story might have been more satisfying had Kundan realized during his atonement that what he feels for Zoya is obsession, not love.

The story is all the more tragic because Kundan is a different, more endearing person when he’s with his friends, Bindiya and Murari (Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub). He’s more relaxed and playful, and the three share a great rapport. One of the movie’s best scenes is when Bindiya reluctantly agrees to help Kundan and Murari sink one of Zoya’s potential suitors, a doctor, by turning a medical check-up into an x-rated encounter.

The acting is uniformly good. Sonam Kapoor gives Zoya depth and allows her to grow throughout the film. Dhanush also gives a strong performance. It was nice to see a couple of romantic leading men portrayed by actors who don’t look like professional bodybuilders, for a change.

Raanjhanaa is entertaining, even if it is troubling. Zoya spells out exactly what modern women want in a love interest. Time for filmmakers to write their leading men accordingly.

Links