Tag Archives: Tamannaah Bhatia

Movie Review: Baahubali 2 — The Conclusion (2017)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Buy Baahubali 2 in Hindi, Malayalam, or Tamil at iTunes
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The whole reason I go to the movies is for the rare opportunity to watch a film as engrossing and magical as Baahubali 2: The Conclusion. Together with its predecessor, Baahubali: The Beginning, the Baahubali films are works of tremendous artistic achievement.

As the subtitles of the Baahubali (“The One with Strong Arms“) films suggest, they combine to form a single narrative and don’t work well as standalone films. There’s a tiny summary of the events of the first film at the opening of The Conclusion, but only enough to refresh the memories of those who’ve seen the original. It’s inadvisable to watch The Conclusion without first watching The Beginning (which is readily available for purchase/rent in the US via iTunes, Amazon, etc.)

With The Beginning having established the origin of the present-day hero, Shivudu (Prabhas), the prowess of his Herculean father Baahubali (also Prabhas), as well as the specific tragedy that tore apart the kingdom of Mahishmati, The Conclusion fills in the details of what led to the tragedy. As in so many epics, it was a fight over a woman.

That woman is Devasena (Anushka Shetty), who appears in The Beginning after suffering decades of torture at the hands of the king of Mahishmati, Ballaladeva (Rana Daggubati), Baahubali’s brother. The Conclusion shows Devasena in her youth, a beautiful princess with fearsome battle skills.

Baahubali meets Devasena as he and Kattappa (Sathyaraj) travel the countryside in disguise. When Baahubali falls for Devasena, it is as much for her strong will and sense of justice as for her looks. On the other hand, Ballaladeva decides to marry Devasena after merely seeing her portrait, without even laying eyes on her in person.

In The Beginning, the female warrior Avantika (Tamannaah Bhatia) waas ultimately sidelined by Shivudu after he literally washes the grime of battle from her so she will comport to his idealized vision of pristine loveliness. The women in The Conclusion have more agency and are accepted on their own terms. Devasena won’t take guff from anyone, no matter their rank. Queen regent Sivagami (Ramya Krishnan) is the embodiment of power, her eyes flashing with rage when the honor of Mahishmati is threatened. It’s gratifying to see two such authoritative female characters in a movie whose title refers specifically to physical strength. (Avantika rejoins the fray in The Conclusion in a satisfying return to her former martial glory.)

There is, of course, plenty of physical strength on display in the film. Prabhas is a physical specimen, and Daggubati looks like a titan. A shirtless battle between the two hulks is as satisfying as it is inevitable. Legendary fighter Kattappa is no slouch either, as showcased by Satyaraja’s nimble moves.

One newly introduced character in The Conclusion is particularly memorable. Devasena’s brother-in-law, Kumara Verma (Subbaraju), is in many ways a stand in for the audience as one of the few mere mortals in this world of demi-gods. He’s pompous and cowardly, and primarily the butt of jokes in the film, yet he rises to the challenge in a critical moment, proving Baahubali’s assertion that courage is more important than strength.

The joy of both Baahubali films — but especially the second one — is that they can be watched either purely for enjoyment’s sake or for the fun of parsing every minute detail, picking out all of the myriad influences. The story is borne out of traditions from across the globe, beyond its obvious roots in Indian religion, history, and mythology. The disguise sequence is Shakespearean. Song lyrics like, “Heart stealer, eternal enchanter” sound like epithets from Greek mythology like “Hector, breaker of horses.”

[The team behind the English subtitles deserves special kudos for their precise choices and linguistic flourishes, such as this memorable lyric: “The sky says ‘bravo’ with infectious esprit.”]

There are also modern influences. When Baahubali fights, he moves more like a video game character than a movie character. Large battle sequences clearly draw from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’d argue that the Baahubali movies are the most effective cinematic fantasy epics since LOTR.

I’d further argue that the Baahubali movies succeed in that regard precisely because they were made with greater budget constraints than similar Hollywood movies. Huge numbers of extras in brilliantly colored costumes give a life to crowd scenes that is missing from most CGI-heavy contemporary fare. Director S.S. Rajamouli employs his resources in a way that achieves a consistency of look, which in fantasy films is more important than realism.

Most importantly, Rajamouli and writer Vijayendra Prasad create a world of such detail and depth that one might forget that they did in fact create it. It feels real, like an alternative history of the world. It’s so easy to be swept up by Baahubali 2, to imagine a world of superheroes who believe in justice and mercy above all else. It’s wonderful.

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Streaming Video News: September 4, 2015

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with one new addition to the catalog. The 2014 Akshay Kumar comedy Entertainment is now available for streaming. Tamannaah Bhatia is really funny in the film, but many of the jokes are meaningless if you don’t understand Hindi or have a serious depth of Bollywood knowledge.

Thoughts on Baahubali

I write about Hindi-language movies almost exclusively at this site, but I have to make an exception for Baahubali: The Beginning. The Telugu-Tamil fantasy film became such a huge success internationally — with collections in North America alone well above $8 million — that producers commissioned a special edition of the film for international audiences. Editor Vincent Tabaillon is tasked with trimming the nearly three-hour epic for screening at festivals and shopping to distributors. I’m hopeful that the new edition will get a run in the US, even after we already got the original version. Baahubali is a movie that needs to be seen by as many people as possible.

I adore Baahubali. The world created by SS Rajamouli is so vast and colorful that it feels like a video game mashup. Its hero, Shivudu, is a superpowered version of Uncharted‘s Nathan Drake, but with beefier arms and no guns. Shivudu leaves his jungle home by climbing a massive waterfall, and then finding snowy fields that border an ancient metropolis, giving the feeling of progressing through the levels of a Japanese role playing game (e.g., Xenoblade Chronicles).

And if gorgeous settings, political intrigue, and epic battles aren’t incentive enough, stars Prabhas, Rana Daggubati, and Tamannaah Bhatia are all fabulous looking.

When considering the film’s re-edit, the most obvious material for Tabaillon to excise are battles and musical numbers. As cool as the giant battle in the second half of the film is, it goes on for a really long time. It’s possible to maintain a sense of the battle’s scale while trimming it rather significantly. As for the music, I’d personally prefer to see as much of it retained as possible, since the soundtrack is incredible — especially “Dhirava“.

Assuming that the goal of the Baahubali re-edit is to reach new fans who don’t otherwise watch Indian films, there are a couple of issues that could surprise or offend Western audiences, and I’m not sure they’ll be able to be satisfactorily addressed in the editing process. First is Shivudu’s “courtship” of Avanthika. Rather than just talk to her, he sneaks up on her twice and tattoos her. Not only is it creepy, but he doesn’t seem to appreciate that his actions endanger her and threaten her standing among her people. And, no, this isn’t just a case of American political correctness imposing itself on another culture. Indian critic Anna MM Vetticad wrote a thorough takedown of the sequence, going so far as to call it rape.

Another issue is the way the movie addresses skin color. Bollywood has a preference for fair-skinned heroines, and the US does more than its share of whitewashing in movies and TV shows, so it’s a common problem. But Baahubali uses makeup in some overt ways that send the message that light skin is good, dark skin is bad.

Avanthika first appears to Shivudu in a vision as a pale apparition who entices him to climb the waterfall. When he sees her in reality, she’s a warrior with sun-baked skin. During their love song, he dips her under a waterfall, washing away her tan so she looks like the pale goddess of his imagination. He isn’t content to love her the way she is. He wants his dream girl, and his dream girl is fair.

On the flip side, the villains who attack the kingdom in the film’s second half are played by actors covered entirely in black makeup. It’s not clearly identified as some kind of war paint, so this appears to be blackface on a massive scale. While blackface doesn’t have the same stigma in Indian films that it does elsewhere in the world, Western audiences — Americans especially — will cringe when they see this.

It would be difficult to make changes to the thousands of warriors who fight for the bad guys, but perhaps some CGI makeup effects could be added to the rival chieftain to make it clear that this is battle regalia, and not a bunch of lighter-skinned actors dressing up as “evil” black guys.

Nevertheless, I think Baahubali is a tremendous achievement, especially considering that it cost less to produce than most American romantic comedies. Hollywood studios are foolish if they don’t offer Rajamouli a superhero franchise to direct. I’m excited that new audiences will get to experience Baahubali thanks to this re-edit. More than anything, I can’t wait until the release of Baahubali: The Conclusion in 2016!

Movie Review: Entertainment (2014)

Its_Entertainment2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

The distributors of Entertainment should require prospective international audience members to take a placement exam before entering the theater. Do you speak Hindi fluently? Have you seen every Bollywood movie of note since 1960? No? Then don’t bother buying a ticket, because you won’t understand most of the jokes.

It’s so frustrating because Entertainment‘s plot is straightforward and high concept. Akhil (Akshay Kumar) discovers that he’s the illegitimate son of a recently deceased millionaire, Pannalal Johri (Dalip Tahil). Thinking he had no heirs, Johri left his estate to his dog, Entertainment (Junior, a cute Golden Retriever). Akhil tries to get rid of the dog and claim the inheritance but learns that he’s not the only one after the money.

With Entertainment, directing duo Sajid-Farhad had the chance to make the kind of accessible, family friendly film that remains rare in Bollywood. Unfortunately, many potential audience members will feel left out while watching the movie.

As with many Bollywood comedies, there are loads of wordplay jokes that by their very nature don’t translate well from Hindi to English. Furthering the problem is that Akhil’s best friend, Jugnu (Krishna Abhishek), speaks exclusively in movie references. Only some of his references to the plots of classic movies are explained.

Worse, he cites dozens of popular actors, using the literal meanings of their names as the punchline. (The English equivalent would be names like Grace, Daisy, or John.) The production team’s stalwart translators display only the literal meanings for the English subtitles on screen. Though one can hear Jugnu say “Sonakshi Sinha” as part of a punchline, her name doesn’t appear on screen, only the direct translation. It botches the joke and clearly delineates non-Hindi speakers as outsiders.

Of course, the bulk of the audience for Entertainment resides in India, watches Bollywood movies, and speaks Hindi, but the easy-to-follow story and English title made this an obvious crossover movie. The final product squanders that opportunity.

Entertainment is much more successful when it demonstrates an understanding of movie conventions and uses them for humor than when it just has characters list the names of films and film stars. Some of Entertainment‘s funniest moments are when the movie breaks the fourth wall, usually at the hands of Akhil’s girlfriend, Saaskshi (Tamannaah Bhatia).

Saakshi is a TV soap opera actress who has trouble leaving her work at the office. She breaks into soliloquies in which she addresses the camera directly, and the results are always funny.

One more great bit of metafiction involves the other claimants to Johri’s fortune, stepbrothers Karan (Prakash Raj) and Arjun (Sonu Sood). Whenever Karan raises his hand to strike Arjun, Arjun cries and invokes their dead mother. This triggers a mournful old movie tune sung by a woman, which causes the brothers to cry and make up. This song isn’t just in their heads. It’s audible to everyone, causing Saakshi and Akhil to look around confusedly for the source of the spectral singing.

Though Kumar’s comic performances are hit-or-miss, he’s pretty good in Entertainment, because the slapstick isn’t overdone. The supporting performances are good, too, especially Bhatia, but also Johnny Lever as Johri’s estate manager, Habibullah. (There are a bunch of jokes involving people messing up Habibullah’s name, and I didn’t understand what was so funny about them, either).

If you speak Hindi and have a depth of knowledge of Bollywood movies, you’ll probably enjoy Entertainment. It has some good gags, there are tons of cute dogs, and the story moves quickly enough. If you don’t understand Hindi or aren’t a Bollywood historian, I’d skip it.

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Movie Review: Humshakals (2014)

Humshakals_poster0 Stars (out of 4)

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Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

How does a filmmaker who goes out of his way to set a low bar for himself still fail to make a movie that’s even slightly funny or appropriate? Director Sajid Khan achieves that feat with Humshakals (“Lookalikes“), his worst film yet in a career full of horrible films.

Khan opens Humshakals with an allegedly humorous director’s note about having forgotten something important a wise man once told him. Then he introduces his main character, Ashok (Saif Ali Khan), a millionaire moonlighting as a terrible standup comedian. Later, Ashok and his best friend, Kumar (Riteish Deshmukh), are tortured by being forced to watch Khan’s awful 2013 film Himmatwala.

Ashok’s bad jokes are pertinent because they set up a theme that runs through all of Khan’s movies: a lack of respect for women. Even if Khan doesn’t personally feel that way, he panders to the segment of the audience that does.

Ashok’s jokes are straight out of my 8-year-old nephew’s joke book, yet TV presenter Shanaya (Tamannaah Bhatia) finds them unironically hilarious. Beautiful and stupid: Khan’s ideal woman.

Shanaya’s not the only mental lightweight in the movie. Ashok and Kumar are imprisoned in a mental asylum by Ashok’s evil uncle, Mamaji (Ram Kapoor), alongside a pair of identical lookalikes, also named Ashok (Saif) and Kumar (Riteish), only the lookalikes have the mental capacity of children.

In yet another knock against women, the asylum’s psychologist, Dr. Shivani (Esha Gupta), falls instantly in love with Stupid Ashok when he tells her she’s pretty. Shivani — a doctor — is so insecure and desperate to have her physical appearance validated that she agrees to marry the first man who compliments her, even if he has the intellectual capacity of a grade schooler.

At least twice more Khan asserts the belief that a woman’s most important quality is her appearance. Shivani, Shanaya, and Mishti (Bipasha Basu) — a doctor, a TV presenter, and Rich Ashok’s estate manager — save the day by baring their midriffs and performing a racy dance number.

The worst is what happens when hefty Mamaji’s lookalike, Johnny (Ram), dresses in drag to help Rich Ashok and Rich Kumar. As soon as Johnny appears on screen in a dress and wig, the soundtrack is punctuated with elephant sound effects. Not when Johnny is dressed as a man of exactly the same proportions, only when he’s pretending to be a woman.

When a woman’s only value is how sexually appealing she is to straight men, there’s no greater character flaw than being overweight or unattractive. It’s such an egregious flaw that it deserves ridicule, even though an overweight man does not.

Khan really, really likes to poke fun at people he thinks are abnormal. Jokes are made at the expense of overweight women, little people, gays, Koreans, and especially the mentally ill. Everyone in the movie with a mental illness is also portrayed as being intellectually deficient.

Know who else Khan thinks are hilarious? Nazis. The asylum’s warden (played by Satish Shah) wears an SS uniform and prays to a photo of Adolf Hitler. He gives a “Heil Hitler” salute and threatens to send Ashok and Kumar to the “gas chamber.” Because there’s nothing funnier than genocide.

In addition to lacking empathy or an appropriate sense of humor, Khan is also a thief. Stupid Ashok mistakes a model of an orphanage for an “orphanage for ants,” a joke lifted from 2001’s Zoolander (I’ve included a video of the original below). Khan stole a joke from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles for Himmatwala, so this is a pattern.

On top of all these offenses, Humshakals just plain sucks. Shots are out of focus. The plot moves at a snail’s pace. The songs are soulless. The choreography is lazy. The acting is bad, even though Ram Kapoor tries to humanize his characters.

With this track record of misogyny, intellectual property theft, and general disrespect for large segments of the global community, it’s time for actors to question whether appearing in a Sajid Khan film is worth the paycheck. I hope that the actors in Humshakals didn’t realize how offensive the movie was as they were making it (although Saif and Riteish should’ve known better when asked to prance around as a pair of gay stereotypes). I’m trying not let this piece of garbage tarnish my respect for them as performers, but it’s difficult.

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