Tag Archives: Tigmanshu Dhulia

Movie Review: Zero (2018)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

Zero is a disaster for many reasons, but its biggest problem is that director Aanand L. Rai and writer Himanshu Sharma failed to realize that their film’s hero is a horrible person.

So why didn’t they notice that their creation, Bauua (Shah Rukh Khan), is an irredeemable prick? The filmmaking duo has a history of writing male leads who don’t respect the women they claim to love, like Kundan in Raanjhanaa and Manu in Tanu Weds Manu Returns. There’s also the assumption that Khan’s massive fanbase will automatically project their love for him onto his character, no matter who the character is or what he does.

Mostly they were blinded by the Zero‘s central conceit: using computer generated effects and film techniques similar to those used in the Lord of the Rings movies to shrink a superstar actor. Zero was never about the struggles of a man with dwarfism. If it were, they’d have at least gone through the pretext of casting a little person for the lead role. (Same goes for Anushka Sharma’s role as a woman with cerebral palsy.) This was always about spending a budget fives times as large as the filmmaking duo had previously worked with on fancy special effects and an expensive cast, trusting in those effects and stars to bring people to the theater — regardless of whether the movie was any good or not.

Other than his diminutive stature, nothing differentiates Bauua from any number of Bollywood male leads who believe their gender entitles them to anything they want. As the son of a rich father (played by Tigmanshu Dhulia), Bauua has coasted through life on Dad’s dime since dropping out of school in the tenth grade. Now aged 38 — Khan is 53, by the way — that means Bauua has spent twenty years doing absolutely nothing.

Nevertheless, he confidently turns down all the potential brides chosen by the matchmaker (played by Brijendra Kala) until he spots a photo of Aafia (Anushka Sharma). Bauua is initially turned off by the tremors caused by Aafia’s cerebral palsy, but he decides her use of a wheelchair makes them more-or-less equal. Never mind that he’s a high school dropout and she’s a world-renowned rocket scientist.

Bauua’s defining moment is his response to being rejected by Aafia after a presumptuous proposal in front of a bunch of elementary school students. Bauua shows up at a press conference to publicly humiliate Aafia, stating that while she may be able to lead a mission to Mars, she can’t pick up the pen he just dropped on the ground. Pleased with himself, he walks away, only to hear a commotion behind him as Aafia crawls on the ground and lifts the pen.

What Bauua does is unforgivable, yet Aafia immediately forgives him and their love blossoms. Aafia’s inexplicable forgiveness of Bauua is a clear example of Bollywood’s desperate need for female storytellers. Rai & Sharma aren’t done humiliating Aafia yet, as Bauua ditches her to take his shot with the country’s sexiest actress, Babita Kumari (Katrina Kaif, in the movie’s only role with any semblance of believable humanity).

After the intermission break, Zero goes full bonkers. Bauua replaces a chimpanzee training for a space mission (which is totally not insulting to little people or anything).

I’m not sure if it’s an intentional homage, but Zero has a lot of parallels to my favorite So-Bad-It’s-Good movie: Gunda. Both have a monkey and a baby that shows up out of nowhere. Vengeful Bauua frequently speaks in movie lines, Gunda‘s Bulla in couplets. There are montages that make no geographical sense, as when Bauua spends a song stumbling through Times Square, downtown Orlando, and Huntsville, Alabama — all of which are supposed to be the same place, apparently. Zero‘s opening dream sequence even reminded me of the scene in Gunda where Bulla’s sister is raped.

All of which is to say, Zero is a terrible movie. The only reason it merits even a half-a-star rating is because Katrina Kaif is so damned good in her role. The rest of the movie is a trash fire.

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Movie Review: Hero (2015)

Hero1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Hero is a tired action romance that becomes increasingly immature as the story progresses. It’s not the sparkling debut that newbie actors Sooraj Pancholi and Athiya Shetty were hoping for.

The film has the stamp of its producer, Salman Khan, all over it. Pancholi plays a miniature version of a character Khan has played many times before: a morally, sexually pure hooligan who fights his way out of trouble.

Sooraj (Pancholi) is the son of a mobster, Pasha (Aditya Pancholi, his real-life father), and is himself a goon of sorts. Sooraj only steals from other gangsters, and he distributes his stolen gains to people in need, occasionally springing for a night of dancing with his crew.

It’s at a club that he meets Radha (Shetty), a truly awful person. She’s mean, vain, stuck-up, pouty, and stupid. She is also very pretty, which explains why Sooraj makes time to scold her for being a snob instead of blowing her off, altogether.

Facing jail time, Pasha has Sooraj kidnap the daughter of the police Inspector General (Tigmanshu Dulia). Of course, the daughter is Radha. Sooraj and his boys pose as police, and she unquestioningly accompanies them to a safe house in the mountains. Only after she and Sooraj have fallen in love does she discover his true identity.

The kidnapping plot ends in the first half of the film. It’s during the second half, when Sooraj and Radha try to make their love work in the real world, that things get really stupid. There’s a ridiculous subplot about Radha’s brother inventing a fake boyfriend for her, who turns out to be very real and connected to the underworld.

Radha’s disapproving father is the real obstacle, and that gets at the heart of what’s wrong with Hero. Sooraj and Radha seem much younger than the characters they are meant to portray, who are ostensibly of legal drinking age (which is 25 in Mumbai). They act more like a pair of foolish 16-year-olds, convinced that they are Romeo & Juliet born anew.

Instead of talking with her father about her feelings privately, Radha declares them in front of a packed courtroom. When that doesn’t work, she and Sooraj stage a musical production that culminates in her threatening to kill herself unless her dad approves the relationship.

At a time when “women-centric” films are all the rage, Radha is a disappointing throwback. She’s not only restrained by her father’s wishes, but she lacks initiative of her own. When a man standing right next to her points a gun at Sooraj, she doesn’t even reach out to stop him. Her contribution is simply to shriek, “Sooraj!” while her beloved dodges bullets.

Compounding the problem of the movie’s feeling of immaturity is Pancholi’s youthful appearance. At 25, he’s baby-faced enough that he’d be playing high school roles in the US. He’s also short, which makes him appear even younger alongside the giants he fights. Instead of jumping into a leading role, it would fun to see him play the hot-headed younger brother or sidekick to an established actor.

Hero‘s redeeming factors are director Nikhil Advani and cinematographer Tushar Kanti Ray. The movie is really beautiful, especially during the first half. An opening shot of boats anchored on Mumbai’s waterfront is stunning. Advani’s affinity for contrast makes shots of the colorfully dressed characters cavorting on a snowy mountainside a treat to watch.

If only Advani weren’t saddled with an outdated template (Hero is a remake of Subhash Ghai’s 1983 film of the same name) and an aging actor-producer set on crowning his successor. Here’s hoping Advani’s next film, Katti Batti, comes with less baggage.

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Movie Review: The Shaukeens (2014)

The_Shaukeens_23.5 Stars (out of 4)

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The Shaukeens (“The Romantics“) is more than just a cute story about a trio of sexagenarians who refuse to act their age. With its unique story structure and top-notch performances, it’s one of the best Bollywood comedies in recent memory.

Akshay Kumar plays a fictionalized version of himself in the film, which opens with a Kumar dance number. His narration explains that he has an integral part in the story of three lonely Delhi men who get into trouble while looking for love in Mauritius.

The three men are Lali (Anupam Kher), a shoe store owner whose religious wife won’t put out; KD (Annu Kapoor), a lecherous bachelor; and Pinky (Piyush Mishra), a widowed spice merchant too shy to talk to the pretty massage parlor owner across the street.

After being rejected by some local prostitutes for being too old, the guys try their luck while on vacation in Mauritius. They rent a house from a beautiful young woman, Ahana (Lisa Haydon), who returns early from her own trip after she breaks up with her boyfriend.

Ahana is gorgeous, but she’s a kook. She’s an aspiring fashion designer who makes hats from used toothpicks and decorates a pair of sunglasses with painted toenail clippings. Her emotions change minute-to-minute, driven by the numbers of likes she’s getting on Facebook. Haydon is just as funny as Ahana as she was in her foul-mouthed performance in Queen.

When Ahana discovers that Akshay is in town filming a movie, she asks rhetorically, “Who do I have to sleep with to meet Akshay Kumar?” The guys take this offer seriously and start trying to unite Ahana with her celebrity crush in order to cash in on the reward.

The version of Akshay Kumar in the movie is an alcoholic jerk who’s desperate to be taken seriously as an actor. While the guys try to weasel their way into his company for Ahana’s sake, Akshay tries to impress an eccentric, award-winning director (played by Subrat Dutta), who has Akshay practice his lines with a chihuahua. For reference, Akshay has a card with photos of himself displaying different emotions. It’s hilarious, and I want one.

Every few years, Kumar takes a break from wacky slapstick roles and loud action flicks to do a movie that reminds you that he can really act. This is one of those movies. He plays everything totally straight, and he’s so funny as a result.

Kher, Kapoor, and Mishra share a great camaraderie. Their characters are distinct and balance each other out, but they’re all equally over their heads in their romantic pursuit of Ahana. KD is sleazy in an endearing kind of way. As the least educated of the group, Pinky gets the most jokes made at his expense, but he also gets the funniest bits. Who forgets to pack a swimsuit for a beach vacation?!

The story includes some weird breaks in form throughout, including a dream sequence, a hallucinatory dance number, and a single instance of fourth-wall-breaking dialogue delivery. Director Abhishek Sharma and writer Tigmanshu Dhulia go far enough to keep audience members on their toes without pushing them away.

The Shaukeens released with relatively little fanfare, which is a shame. This is a movie sure to amuse anyone who appreciates a well-told story and who is sick of formulaic movies.

[Update: A comment below by Dr. Lunch reminded me of a point I wanted to make. The Shaukeens will feel accessible to international audience members because it’s plotted a lot like a 1980s Hollywood comedy. Also working in its favor is that it’s light on references to other Bollywood movies, a common source of jokes in Hindi films that can create a barrier for those without a depth of Bollywood knowledge.]

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Movie Review: Bullett Raja (2013)

Bullett_raja0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Bullett Raja is an identity-less hodgepodge of scenes assembled with no master plan. Things happen because, well, this is what happens in movies. Rooftop chase? Check. Love at first sight? Check. Exploding car? Check.

There’s so little connecting the scenes in Bullett Raja that it almost seems like a deliberate choice on writer-director-producer Tigmanshu Dhulia’s part: a middle finger to an audience he assumes will uncritically devour anything, so long as punches are thrown and female torsos bared.

All of Bullett Raja‘s problems stem from an utter lack of character development. Saif Ali Khan’s Raja is a chameleon. He’s whoever he needs to be in any given scene, shifting at will.

The movie begins with Raja crashing a wedding to avoid some goons. (The cause of his beef with the faceless goons is never addressed.) One of the guests, Rudra (Jimmy Shergill), figures out that Raja doesn’t belong there, but befriends him anyway. (Why? Doesn’t matter.) When Raja assists Rudra in a gun battle that disrupts the wedding, the two become best friends forever.

Rudra’s uncle offers to make the two into gangsters, but they refuse because they don’t like violence (the previous day’s shootout already forgotten, apparently). But when Uncle is murdered, the two decide to become the most notorious assassins in Uttar Pradesh. Naturally, right?

Who the heck are these guys who can turn from pacifists into cold-blooded killers in a single day? Rudra and Raja have no independent identities; they only serve the plot. Because of that, it’s impossible to discern what their motives are. Do they want to be rich? Famous? Powerful? It’s never made clear why they do what they do.

Other elements are introduced into the film at random to add color and extend the overly long runtime. There’s the former assassin now living as a woman to avoid prosecution. The guys kidnap a woman, Mitali (Sonakshi Sinha), who immediately falls in love with Raja. Innumerable politicians and businessmen operate in some system that’s never explained. Also, Raja and Rudra become teen idols, because what kid doesn’t want to grow up to be a contract killer?

The introduction of Vidyut Jamwal’s character, Munna, is the clunkiest of all the story’s many clunky elements. A police inspector assures a politician that he knows the perfect man to take out Raja, once and for all. Cut to Officer Munna out in the desert, beating up a gang of bandits who have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the rest of the story.

Why?

Why? Why? Why? What do any of the characters hope to gain? Why does anything happen in this whole frigging movie? WHY?!

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Opening November 28: Bullett Raja

Fans in the U.S. are getting a gift from Bollywood on Thanksgiving. Director Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Bullett Raja opens on Thursday, November 28, 2013, in America, a day before it opens in India. I’m pretty psyched for this black comedy, which stars Saif Ali Khan.

Bullett Raja opens on Thursday in four Chicago area theaters: AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 16 min.

Thursday also marks the last day to catch Singh Saab the Great in Chicago area theaters. It fails to garner a second week after earning just $138,127 in the U.S. in its opening weekend.

Last weekend’s other new release, Gori Tere Pyaar Mein, carries over for a second week at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17.

The Hindi film with the largest presence in Chicago area theaters remains Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, which gets a third week at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17, plus the Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. So far, it’s earned $2,269,358 in the U.S.

If you still haven’t caught Krrish 3, the South Barrington 30 carries it over for a fifth week with one show daily. Its U.S. earnings stand at $2,179,948.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Geethaanjali (Malayalam), Naveena Saraswathi Sabatham (Tamil), and Venkatadri Express (Telugu).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Movie Review: Gangs of Wasseypur — Part 1 and Part 2 (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent Part I and Part II at iTunes
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Gangs of Wasseypur debuted on the festival circuit as a five-hour-plus Indian crime epic. When it finally released into theaters (and on DVD), the film was chopped into two halves, released months apart as Gangs of Wasseypur Part I and Part II. It’s a decision that makes sense from a distribution standpoint, but it does the film a disservice.

Gangs of Wasseypur is truly a single film written with a place for a pause in the middle to grab snacks, not for a break of several weeks. Like those who saw the film in the theater, I watched the DVDs weeks apart, and I think the viewing experience suffered for it. If you have the opportunity to watch both parts of Gangs of Wasseypur back-to-back, do it.

With that caveat, how does the film stand up as a cohesive work? Director Anurag Kashyap is something of an outlier in Indian cinema due to his willingness to let scenes breathe and unfold at their own pace. It’s wonderful to watch, but not indefinitely. There’s so much material in Gangs of Wasseypur that I would have enjoyed it more as two distinct films with two sets of midpoints, climaxes, and denouements. As it exists, Gangs of Wasseypur is a bit too much.

The plot chronicles a story of revenge that spans multiple generations of two families in the town of Wasseypur. After the British depart India in 1947, a young industrialist named Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia) assumes control of the local mine. He hires a goon named Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) to force the local laborers to work in deplorable conditions.

One night, Ramadhir overhears Shahid talking to his son, Sardar Khan, and his cousin, Nasir (Piyush Mishra, the film’s narrator) about his plans to kill Ramadhir and take over the mine himself. Ramadhir acts first, luring Shahid to his death, though his plot to murder Sardar and Nasir fails. Young Sardar vows to one day murder Ramadhir in retaliation, eventually passing on his hatred of the industrialist to his own sons.

That setup encompasses about the first hour of the film. The remaining four hours deal with the ongoing power struggle between the Singhs and the Khans and the resulting bloodshed. This is a gory film by any standard, but especially so compared to other Hindi films.

The bulk of the story centers on the two most charismatic members of the Khan family: Sardar (Manoj Bajpai) and his second oldest son, Faizal (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Rather than murdering Ramadhir outright, Sardar plots to become his equal and destroy everything Ramadhir has built. Sardar makes a fortune stealing iron ore and intimidating the populace. This long game gives Sardar time to raise a family (or two) while plotting his revenge.

Sardar is an interesting choice for a lead character because he’s an awful person, regardless of his tragic beginnings. In addition to being a violent crook, he’s a terrible husband to his first wife, Nagma (Richa Chadda), whom he abandons to marry a second woman, Durga (Reema Sen), whom he eventually leaves to return to Nagma. At various times, Sardar neglects his four sons with Nagma and his one son with Durga. To varying degrees, all of his children hate him as much as they fear and respect him.

Such a negative character only works as a lead because Manoj Bajpai is so talented. Sardar shares moments of genuine affection with both of his wives when he’s not being a total narcissist. Bajpai plays Sardar with such swagger and menace that it’s easy to understand how he achieves the success he does.

Faizal is not much like his father. With an older brother, Danish (Vineet Singh), as Sardar’s natural heir, Faizal can waste his time getting stoned. Circumstances eventually force him to take a more active role in the family business, and Faizal proves to be unexpectedly ruthless.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui owns every scene he’s in. He’s talented enough to make scenes in which Faizal sits starring some of the most riveting scenes in the movie. Faizal’s conflicted feelings about his violent lifestyle make him more relatable than his father, and he’s downright charming as he woos the lovely Mohsina (Huma Qureshi).

The problem inherent in revenge films is that the characters often have little room for growth. Either they get their revenge, or they don’t, whether by choice or failure. Revenge is an okay motive for a shorter movie, but my interest waned after the third hour or so.

Also at around the three-hour mark, the story pushes two new characters to the forefront: Sardar’s two youngest sons, Definite (Zaishan Quadri) and Babua (Aditya Kumar). At that point — about 60% of the way through the film — I didn’t have the energy to get invested in two essentially brand new characters. Had Gangs of Wasseypur Part II been a proper sequel, the introduction of the new characters wouldn’t have seemed so late.

What ultimately makes the film worth seeing is Kashyap’s directing style. In addition to letting the scenes breathe, he uses music to incredible effect. He has mastered the montage. In addition to star turns by Bajpai and Siddiqui, Kashyap gets great performances out of the rest of the cast as well.

Gangs of Wasseypur would’ve been better as two distinct films, but I applaud Kashyap’s effort in trying to push the boundaries of Indian cinema.

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Movie Review: Paan Singh Tomar (2010)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Paan Singh Tomar lived a fascinating life. A gifted athlete betrayed by his government, his story went largely unnoticed until thirty years after his death. But the movie made about him doesn’t quite do him justice.

The film opens in 1980 with a sort of framing device: a reporter seeks an interview with the legendary dacoit (“bandit”) Paan Singh Tomar. I say it’s only sort of a framing device because the action of the last thirty minutes of the film all takes place after the interview.

Paan Singh (as he’s referred to) explains that he’s not a bandit, but a rebel. He narrates his story to the reporter, starting in 1950 as a young army officer. Paan Singh (Irrfan Khan) angles for a spot on the national track and field team — an offshoot of the army — because the athletes get larger portions of food at mealtime than soldiers do.

Since TVs weren’t common household items at the time, Paan Singh’s athletic achievements go largely unnoticed outside the big cities. His wife doesn’t learn that he’s set a new record in the steeplechase until he tells her himself on one of his brief trips home to his small town.

Paan Singh leaves the army when a cousin, Bhanwar Singh (Jahangir Khan), attempts to seize all of the local farmland for himself. Paan Singh is offered the chance to move his family to safety and coach the national track and field team, but he elects to fight for his farm. He asks the local police for help, citing his service to the country in the army and in competitive athletics. The police have never heard of Paan Singh Tomar, but they know Bhanwar well, thanks to the generous bribes he pays them.

Unable to stop his cousin peacefully, Paan Singh and the other displaced farmers wage a guerrilla war against Bhanwar.

The events of Paan Singh Tomar’s life are certainly exciting enough to inspire a feature film. The problem is in the way the plot unfolds. It’s as though writer-director Tigmanshu Dhulia is ticking off boxes on a biographical checklist, rather than telling a story. Scenes are too brief, ending abruptly before moving on to the next too-brief scene.

In an effort to hit all of the biographical highlights, character development is minimized. Paan Singh’s wife, Indra (Mahie Gill), has little to do apart from submit to her husband’s groping on his brief visits home. I’d have thought she’d have a lot to say about his choice to spend his military career away from her and their children, only to spend the rest of his life running from the law. We never hear her side of the story.

There’s little time allowed to explore the motivations of the characters, and that includes those of Paan Singh himself. The nobility of his choice to fight for his family farm is tempered somewhat by the means by which he finances his guerrilla war. He and his gang kidnap people and use the ransom to buy weapons. But, even after the situation with Bhanwar is resolved, the kidnappings continue. Why?

Was retaking his farmland for his family Paan Singh’s real goal? Was it simply revenge? Is he really a rebel or just a vigilante?

Even with his lack of character development, Khan gives a gripping performance as Paan Singh. As the movie progresses, it’s easy to get caught up in Khan’s charisma. It’s only after the movie ends that the questions of “Why?” come to the forefront. Paan Singh Tomar doesn’t offer enough answers.

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Movie Review: Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (2011)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (“Sir, Wife, and Gangster” literally, “The King, His Wife, and the Gangster” colloquially) is a romantic thriller full of passion and intrigue that entertains while falling just short of its potential.

Aditya (Jimmy Shergill) is the descendent of a noble family in northern India. As a sign of respect, everyone — including his wife — calls him Saheb (“sir”). But Saheb has a secret: he’s broke. He relies on handouts from his wealthy stepmother to pay for his army of thugs and his mistress, Mahua (Shreya Narayan).

A mafia don named Gainda Singh aims to usurp Saheb by murdering the nobleman’s thugs and undercutting Saheb on lucrative construction contracts. Gainda even arranges for a desperate young man named Babloo (Randeep Hooda) to spy on Saheb while serving as a fill-in chauffeur.

At Saheb’s compound, Babloo is warned about the dangers of the place by spunky Suman (Deepal Shaw), the daughter of Kanhaiya (Deepraj Rana), Saheb’s right-hand-man and head assassin. Saheb’s wife, Madhavi (Mahie Gill), is mentally ill and prone to fits. She’s also lonely and seduces Babloo, placing him in peril.

Madhavi identifies Babloo as an opportunist, though he bristles at the label. His actions drive the plot forward, as his allegiance switches between Gainda, Saheb, and Madhavi. All this happens under the noses of Saheb and Gainda, who are absorbed in their own power struggle. Screenwriters Sanjay Chauhan and Tigmanshu Dhulia (also the movie’s producer and director) do an impressive job keeping many different balls in the air.

While the machinations of the characters are varied and entertaining enough to sustain interest, the characters themselves aren’t as fully developed as they could have been. Madhavi is particularly problematic. She’s introduced in a kind of manic state, prone to wild outbursts. Those outbursts disappear almost entirely once she begins her affair with Babloo. Whether he has some kind of calming influence on her or they disappear as part of some sort of manic-depressive cycle is unclear.

Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster eventually hints that perhaps Madhavi’s erratic persona is an act, but nothing that comes before supports such an abrupt change. If she is genuinely as disturbed as she appears to be, she would not be able to turn it off when a better opportunity presents itself.

Suman is underused in what could have been a pivotal role. Apart from her initial warnings to Babloo, she has little to do until Saheb suggests that she and Babloo get married. Even then, the idea is scuttled by Babloo’s reaction, which essentially amounts to, “Eww. Gross.”

The film could’ve amped up the tension had there been real romantic chemistry between Babloo and Suman. How would she have reacted if he pushed her aside to pursue an affair with Madhavi? Would she have protected him from her father’s suspicion? Ratted on him to Saheb? Sought revenge in other ways?

On the whole, the film has an entertaining amount of intrigue but doesn’t go far enough to be a great thriller. Perhaps Dhulia will push the envelope in his upcoming sequel to Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster.

Links

  • Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster at Wikipedia
  • Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster at IMDb