Tag Archives: Varun Sharma

Movie Review: Fukrey Returns (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack on iTunes

Fukrey Returns is a stale bore, populated by characters the filmmakers seem determined not to give us any reasons to care about.

Familiarity with 2013’s Fukrey is essential. The only plot refresher regarding the original film is a sequence of video-only clips that run behind the opening credits of Fukrey Returns. If you haven’t seen Fukrey recently — or if it didn’t leave much of an impression — you’re going to miss some references (I know I did).

The main characters from the original are back, including: smug ladies man Hunny (Pulkit Samrat); his psychic toady Choocha (Varun Sharma); the guy who’s too smart to be hanging around with these idiots, Zafar (Ali Fazal); and the guy who doesn’t really have anything to do in the story, Lali (Manjot Singh). Also returning are the guys’ shady mentor, Pandit (Pankaj Tripathy), and their gangster nemesis, Bholi (Richa Chadda).

After a year in prison, Bholi is eager to take revenge on the four friends who sent her there. She owes a large sum of money to crooked politician Babulal (Rajiv Gupta) for arranging her release, so she needs to use Choocha’s prophetic dreams in order to raise a lot of money, fast. The plan is for the guys to collect wagers from the public, promising to double investors’ winnings when Choocha dreams of the winning lottery numbers. In fact, the lottery pays out at a rate of ten-to-one, leaving Bholi with eighty percent of the winnings. In return, the guys get to continue living.

When their scheme is thwarted, the guys are pilloried for having defrauded the public and are forced to run for their lives. Fortunately, Choocha manifests a new prophetic power he calls “deja Chu” — premonitions that offer their only hope for clearing their names, freeing Bholi from her debt to Babulal, and getting themselves off of her hit list.

The plot doesn’t unfold as neatly as I’ve described it. Establishing what the guys have been doing since the events of the original film takes up a lot of time, yet reveals surprisingly little about the characters. Subplots are introduced and then forgotten about until the end of the movie. Hunny’s girlfriend Priya (Priya Anand) and Zafar’s fiancée Neetu (Vishakha Singh) stage their own disappearing acts until their presence is required for the climax.

The quality of the cast is uneven. When characters played by Chadda, Fazal, and Tripathy interact with one another, the gulf between actors of their caliber and the rest of the cast feels as wide as the Grand Canyon, especially considering how little the script gives them to work with. It seems like Samrat and Sharma have plateaued as performers.

Of course, the most damning indictment is that Fukrey Returns just isn’t funny. Right away, we get a tired gag about Hunny being bitten in the rear by a venomous snake and Choocha having to suck out the venom, and the same gag repeats later. Director Mrighdeep Singh Lamba also doesn’t know when to end a joke, lingering on reaction shots of other characters well past the point when the audience is ready to move on the next gag. Hopefully Lamba and his co-writer Vipul Vig will accept that Fukrey‘s well has run dry and move on themselves.

Links

Advertisements

Movie Review: Raabta (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

Even in movies about reincarnation, where the audience knows that the lead couple is fated to be together, we still have to want them to be together in the first place. Raabta (“Connection“) gets that part of the formula wrong, pairing a likable woman with an immature moron.

It’s hard to overstate just how awful Shiv (Sushant Singh Rajput) is as a main character. He’s an entitled boor who hits on every white woman he sees, assuming them to be easy and stupid. A new job in Budapest gives him plenty of opportunities to be an abominable lech.

Of course, when he meets a lovely Indian expat named Saira (Kriti Sanon), Shiv is immediately ready to settle down with her. The presumed inherent moral superiority of Saira’s race and national heritage make it okay for her to jump straight into bed with Shiv, while the flirtatious white women Shiv dates are depicted as disposable tramps.

Saira can’t explain the depth of her attraction to Shiv (and neither can the audience). She senses it has something to do with her vivid nightmares of drowning, and his sudden appearance in them. Shiv dismisses her suspicions, always eager to downplay her concerns and dictate the terms of their conversations.

But Saira’s not alone in suspecting a connection to the past. Debonair rich guy Zak (Neerja‘s Jim Sarbh) has seen visions of Saira as well, from an ancient time when they were once in love. They meet when Saira and Shiv agree to the dumbest possible test of their fidelity: hitting on other people at a party to see if they are as attracted to anyone else as they are to each other. Shiv promptly rips off his shirt and jumps in a pool with some blondes, and Saira flirts with Zak, who is as classy and mysterious as Shiv is tacky and vapid.

Genre convention holds that Zak will turn out to have sinister intentions that endanger Shiv’s and Saira’s preordained romance. The problem is that Zak is objectively better in every regard than Shiv. Yes, even after Zak kidnaps Saira. That’s how deplorable Shiv is.

Rajput does his character no favors, turning in the worst performance of his career. Besides being annoying in the present, Shiv’s past self — Jillan — talks in a Christian-Bale-as-Batman growl, augmented by bug-eyed twitching. The only redeeming quality either version has is a set of six-pack abs (which Zak also may have; we just don’t get to see).

Sanon’s brief career has been distinguished by capable performances in roles with zero agency. Much like Sanon’s character in her debut film, Heropanti, Saira has no control over her own body. Shiv and Zak push, pull, and grab her at will, arguing over which of them she “belongs” to.

Further reducing Saira to object status is that she’s socially isolated in a way the two men aren’t. Shiv has parents in India, and his best friend Radha (Varun Sharma) accompanies him to Budapest. Zak has dozens of paid servants and bodyguards and can turn out hundreds of guests to a party on short notice. Saira, on the other hand, works alone, was orphaned at age two, and sees her boyfriend driven off by Shiv in the span of ten minutes. She has no connections to anyone, making it easier for the two men to do with her as they please.

If there is any bright spot in Raabta, it is Jim Sarbh. He takes a role that could have easily become cartoonish and makes Zak unhinged but understandable. Zak wants Saira as fulfillment of an ancient promise but also because she’s the only other person who shares his belief that the past is repeating itself. Shiv refuses to entertain Saira’s reincarnation story, belittling her as crazy despite the fact that she’s correct — yet another knock against these star-crossed lovers.

Sarbh’s cool charisma starkly contrasts Rajput’s over-the-top antics. It’s time for filmmakers to shift Sarbh from the compelling villain slot into leading man roles (and maybe consider demoting Rajput).

The biggest star in Raabta is Deepika Padukone, who performs an unenthusiastic item number for the title track. She sways and walks the runway, and that’s about it. I hope she got a ton of money for doing next to nothing, if only to serve as a cautionary tale for filmmakers considering such transparent casting stunts.

Links

Movie Review: Dilwale (2015)

Dilwale1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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

Dilwale is a generic Frankenstein cobbled together from elements of countless other Bollywood comedies and romantic dramas, lurching from one predictable plot point to the next. Given the talent and budget at director Rohit Shetty’s disposal, the result is disappointing.

Shahrukh Khan plays Raj, a man absurdly devoted to the happiness of his younger brother, Veer (Varun Dhawan), so much so that he tears up and starts to shake whenever anyone mentions having a younger brother. Raj’s big secret is that he was adopted and is not Veer’s biological brother.

So Shahrukh plays a character with the same name as the one he made famous in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, with the same backstory as the one he played in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. See what I mean about Frankenstein?

When Veer falls in love with a beautiful woman named Ishita (Kriti Sanon) — whom he calls Ishu just so he can repeatedly say, “Ishu, this is a big issue” — it prompts Raj to flashback to his own failed romance.

With no scene transition of which to speak, we are transported fifteen years into the past, when “Raj” went by the name Kaali and worked as a gangster in Bulgaria. There he meets a lovely artist named Meera (Kajol, Shakrukh’s love interest both DDLJ and K3G), and they break each other’s hearts. Surely this can’t be the last we see of Meera, right?

The plot unfolds predictably, as obstacles arise in Veer’s and Raj’s paths to romance. These obstacles would disappear if Raj and Meera would stop withholding information that is unpleasant but not earth-shattering, but writer Yunus Sajawal can’t seem to think of a better way to delay the inevitable happy ending for more than two-and-a-half hours.

Further dragging out the film is a ridiculous anti-drug subplot that could not have been handled with any less subtlety. Boman Irani plays the world’s cuddliest drug kingpin, King. When King’s men try to strongarm a barkeep named Uncle Joe into dealing their goods — by banging a huge bag of weed on the cashier stand, in front of everyone in the bar — Uncle Joe responds with some incredibly direct dialogue (courtesy of writers Sajid-Farhad): “I won’t sell your drugs here. Youngsters come here to have fun.”

The “Drugs are bad, m’kay?” subplot reaches its hypocritical crescendo when Veer, his sidekick Siddhu (Varun Sharma), and well-meaning miscreant Mani (Johnny Lever), get completely drunk on booze and self-righteousness while burning a bag of King’s drugs.

Siddhu is the fourth comic role I’ve seen Sharma play, which I think gives me enough information to definitively say that Varun Sharma is not funny.

But being funny isn’t really the point in Dilwale, where roles are cast not by suitability but by similarity. Need some outrageous older comic bit players? Hire Lever and Sanjay Mishra. Does the bad guy need a bald right-hand man? Hire Pradeep Kabra.

The whole movie is uninspired because the point is not to do anything unique or innovative but to evoke memories of earlier, better films starring the same people. The only way Shetty could have tried any less hard would be not to have made the movie at all.

By only looking to the past for inspiration, Dilwale winds up peppered with sexist insults. Siddhu repeatedly steals from Veer, but he’s forgiven because he says that he only did it so that he could take his girlfriend to the movies and out for coffee. The incident is brushed off by the men onscreen, who agree that women are greedy and high-maintenance.

Jokes are also made about Kajol’s weight, based on the assumption that she — like all women — is perpetually dieting. What is this, a Cathy comic strip from 1982? Beyond being tacky and outdated, the jokes are undermined by the fact that Kajol is stunning. Her gorgeousness is the movie’s lone selling point.

There is a stretch of a few minutes when Kajol saves a scene that should be stupid, and one briefly thinks, “Ooh, this could get interesting.” That hope is short-lived when Meera falls in love with Raj just because he loves her. To quote Cathy, “Ack!”

Kajol is better than this. Shahrukh is usually better than this. Varun is definitely better than this. Kriti’s character is so level-headed that she seems like she wandered onto the wrong set. Dilwale is not the Kajol-Shahrukh romantic reunion we deserve.

Links

Movie Review: Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon (2015)

KisKiskoPyaarKaroon1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes

One of the things that matters most in a comedy of errors is how the main character gets out of the mess he’s created, but the resolution to Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon (“Who Should I Love“) is the film’s downfall.

The man responsible for the troubles in Kis Kisko Pyaar KaroonKKPK, henceforth — is Shiv Ram Kishan (Kapil Sharma). His efforts to help three different women end up with him married to all three. He marries Juhi (Manjari Phadnis) to honor her father’s dying wish. He marries Simran (Simran Kaur Mundi) to preserve her dignity when his buddy leaves her at the altar. And he’s forced to marry Anjali (Sai Lokur) by her gangster brother, Tiger-Bhai (Arbaaz Khan).

Shiv’s best friend, Karan (Varun Sharma), persuades his pal to move all of the wives into the same apartment building: Juhi on the fourth floor, Anjali on the sixth floor, and Simran on the eighth floor. That cuts down on Shiv’s commute, giving him more time to woo the one woman he truly loves, a dancer named Deepika (Elli Avram).

Much of the plot consists of near misses in which Shiv’s scheme is almost revealed. The funniest of those bits involve Anjali’s feisty maid, Champa (Jamie Lever). The least funny involve Tiger-Bhai, who can speak perfectly but is completely deaf, a gimmick that becomes tired almost immediately.

There’s a cute subplot involving Shiv’s divorced parents, played by Sharat Saxena and Supriya Pathak. Shiv tries to conceal the truth from both of them, but they are too busy falling back in love with one another. Romantic music swells and a fan softly blows Mom’s hair when Dad sees her. It’s a more compelling relationship than all four of Shiv’s combined.

KKPK is about thirty minutes too long, the close calls losing their tension as they accumulate. When it’s finally time for Shiv to answer for his actions, he gives a speech deflecting all responsibility onto his wives, blaming (what he perceives as) their fragile emotional natures. He even holds his mother partially responsible, claiming that he’s just following her orders to never break a woman’s heart.

Shiv offers a bleak assessment of modern marital obligations. By his reckoning, he’s holding up his end of the bargain by providing each wife with a nice apartment and money for shopping. It’s enough that he tells each of them, “I love you,” even though he doesn’t mean it.

They should also be happy with the five minutes he spends with each of them each day. Never mind that none of them work, and that Simran’s only human contact comes from short-tempered Champa. Juhi and Anjali don’t have maids and are alone all day, yet Shiv thinks five minutes is enough fulfill his duty to them.

Speaking of duty, none of these marriages appear to have been consummated. The most physical contact Shiv has with his wives is a peck on the check. That, and his aggressive rejection of Anjali’s sexual advances. Though there’s some mention of him rotating nights with each spouse, the movie never shows him waking up in any of their apartments. Isn’t sex one of Shiv’s marital duties?

It’s a question that directing duo Abbas Mustan and writer Anukalp Goswami choose to ignore. Instead, we are left with Juhi, Simran, Anjali, and even Deepika defined only in relation to Shiv, a mouse of a man. Given how funny most of KKPK is, the story’s resolution is a real disappointment.

Links

  • Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon at Wikipedia
  • Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon at IMDb (listed as Kis Kisko Pyaar Karu)

Movie Review: Dolly Ki Doli (2015)

DollyKiDoli1 Star (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Was footage accidentally left out of Dolly Ki Doli? That’s the only way to account for a climax and resolution that come completely out of left field.

Sonam Kapoor plays Dolly, “The Plundering Bride” as she’s known by the police. She flits around the outskirts of Delhi, marrying eligible bachelors and drugging and robbing them on their wedding night. She arranges marriages with men of various religions and traditions, requiring her to change her appearance and mannerisms to appeal to each family she’s marrying into.

Dolly is a seductress only in a fantasy sense. She never so much as allows her grooms to kiss her, delaying their affection with excuses* until the drugs she’s administered have taken effect.

While Dolly’s swindled grooms — including nouveau riche braggart Sonu (Rajkummar Rao) and horny loser Manjot (Varun Sharma) — are jerks, so is she. Dolly works with a group of fellow cons who pose as her family, and her fake brother, Raju (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), is in love with her. Dolly knows this, and she ridicules Raju for it.

Dolly’s pride derails their criminal enterprise. After being rejected as a prospective bride by Manjot’s mother for being too tall, Dolly insists on pursuing Manjot in order to take revenge on his family. This mistake lands her in the clutches of police officer Robin Singh (Pulkit Samrat), who has his own reasons for pursuing Dolly. The history between Robin and Dolly isn’t developed enough for the film’s final act to feel remotely believable.

While Kapoor imbues Dolly with a fun vibe, that’s the thief’s only positive attribute. She lacks chemistry with her potential beaus, and she lacks character depth. Dolly says that she’s a thief because she’s good at it. That’s a valid enough reason, but the movie gives no sense of what ambitions Dolly has for her future, when she can no longer keep up the con.

I’m still not sold on the acting abilities of Samrat and Sharma, who got their big breaks in 2013’s Fukrey. Ayyub is earnest as lovelorn Raju, but the script gives his character no room to grow.

What Dolly Ki Doli does show is what a terrific actor Rajkummar Rao is. Sonu tracks down Dolly not for revenge but because he genuinely loves her. He stares at her with such devotion and longing that one secretly hopes Dolly will return to him. It’s a quality performance that deserved a better film.

* – I’d like to thank Dolly Ki Doli‘s subtitles for me teaching me a nauseating euphemism for menstruation I’d never heard before. When Dolly puts off one of her grooms by saying she’s having “ladki problems” (“girl problems”), the subtitles read, “I’m chumming.”

Links

Movie Review: Warning (2013)

warning2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the movie at Amazon or iTunes

Movies about killer animals are rare in Bollywood, and that lack of familiarity with this particular sub-genre of horror movies is evident in Warning. The movie contains many of the elements required for a successful horror film, but they are organized so inexpertly that Warning is devoid of dramatic tension and scares.

A motley crew of school friends reunite as young adults for what is supposed to be a fun weekend at sea on a luxurious yacht. The group consists of the nerd, Fatty; the long-haired rebel, Aman (Varun Sharma); beautiful and ambitious Gunjan (Madhurima Tuli); sweet Sabina (Manjari Fadnis); her husband, Deepak; their infant daughter, Sarah; Bakshi, the owner of the yacht; and his French girlfriend, Jeanine.

There’s lingering romantic tension within the group. Gunjan and Aman broke up when she left town to start her career. Sabina and Bakshi had wild times together before she settled down and met Deepak. With Bakshi’s attention focused on his former flame — much to Deepak’s frustration — Fatty tries to create some romantic tension of his own with Jeanine.

Through a series of blunders, the group finds themselves stranded in the water next to the boat while baby Sarah snoozes peacefully on board. With no way to get back on the boat — apparently no one bothered to drop the anchor, yet the boat stays conveniently in place by magic — the pals just have to wait there. And wait some more.

While stranding is a perfect scenario for testing the bonds of friendship and setting up some grisly deaths, it happens way too early in the movie. The friends are stuck in the water next to the yacht by the thirty-minute mark, and they quickly run out of ideas for how to get back on the yacht. That leaves another seventy-five minutes of runtime with nothing for the cast to do but bob around in the water.

Plus, it’s hard to create any real tension for the audience when we know that the friends have no option but to wait out whatever trouble comes their way, hoping that someone will come to save them. When Jeanine needs medical attention, pleas for help are futile since all of the useful resources are out of reach on the boat.

Revealing that Jeanine runs into problems won’t be a spoiler to anyone who’s seen a horror film before. Her character is introduced while showering topless aboard the yacht. (Her back is to the camera, so you don’t see anything.) Then she sips champagne while cooking breakfast the next morning. According to the rules of horror movies, Jeanine the Slutty Drunk will be the first character imperiled.

Her suffering provides the perfect opportunity to include some of the T&A one expects from a movie about sexy people in danger. Jeanine’s condition apparently requires her to arch her back so that her fake, bikini-clad breasts protrude from the water. It’s hilarious.

There’s other dubious medical advice in Warning that provokes chuckles. When little Sarah’s screams bellow through the baby monitor Sabina left on deck, Deepak freaks out, fearing that Sarah will choke to death while crying. Uh, that’s not the way things work, Deepak.

Sarah’s crying punctuates the soundtrack for the entire second half of the movie. It is really, really annoying.

What’s most disappointing about Warning is the failure to utilize its two selling points: 3D and sharks. The 3D effects are virtually non-existent, except during a conversation between Bakshi and Sabina in which some books feature extra prominently in the foreground.

Sharks are also largely absent from the movie. They don’t become much of a factor in the story until after the hour mark, and even then, the characters aren’t that concerned about them. The characters are all more worried about baby Sarah, who’s likely suffering from nothing more than a dirty diaper.

Also, the sharks in Warning are easily avoided by swimming to the other side of the boat.

Warning has all the necessary pieces to make a good horror movie, they’re just assembled incorrectly. The novelty factor alone makes Warning worth checking out, but not for the inflated 3D prices charged by theaters.

Links

Movie Review: Fukrey (2013)

fukrey0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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

There’s a fundamental problem at the root of Fukrey. The story is about a couple of guys: one who has prophetic dreams, and another who interprets those dreams to pick the day’s winning lottery numbers. The guys run into trouble when they borrow money from a mobster and can’t pay it back.

Here’s the problem: with this infallible gambling system, why do they need to borrow money? Why aren’t they already rich?!

That the writers missed such an obvious problem is indicative of just how shoddily organized Fukrey is. As a result, the movie is a boring waste of 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Nothing occurs in a succinct or timely fashion in Fukrey. The prophetic dreams aren’t even mentioned until thirty minutes into the movie, and they don’t become relevant to the plot until the fifty-minute mark. The guys don’t get into trouble with the gangster until 75 minutes have passed, so nothing of consequence happens until the movie is half over.

All the time up to that point is spent establishing the characters as total morons. The dreamer, Choocha (Varun Sharma), and the interpreter, Hunny (Pulkit Samrat), are horny high schoolers eager to get into college so that they can score with chicks, or so they say. They grab each other and make kissy faces while they talk of future romantic conquests. They ogle every woman they see, so much so that it seems like overcompensation, especially in Choocha’s case. He seems to be quite in love with Hunny.

Meanwhile, Hunny is completely obnoxious in his pursuit of Priya (Priya Anand). He pops his collar and lies about his experience with French kissing (unless he’s been practicing on Choocha). Hunny lingers outside Priya’s house, posing with his best Derek Zoolander “Blue Steel” expression. He does everything that would turn a real-life woman off, but Priya falls for him because Hunny is the hero, and movie heroes always get the girl.

For some reason, writer Vipul Vig and director Mrigdeep Singh Lamba decided to make this about a quartet of guys, rather than keeping the story focused on Choocha and Hunny, the only two characters germane to the plot. Lali (Manjot Singh) would like to get into college to spy on his cheating girlfriend, and Zafar (Ali Fazal) hangs around campus playing guitar. Lali’s only contribution to the plot is that he puts his family’s restaurant up as collateral in the gambling scheme. Zafar is a superfluous mope.

Richa Chadda plays the mobster, Bholi. Her gang consists of a bunch of musclebound black men who operate a diversified crime  portfolio of drug peddling, extortion, prostitution, and even a telemarketing scam. The race of Bholi’s bodyguards is only significant because, at one point, Choocha refers to her gang as “the Chicago Bulls.” Shortly thereafter, Hunny wears a polo shirt sporting a Confederate flag patch. Not content to just be boring, Fukrey has to be racist, too.

The movie might make a little sense if Bholi had heard about Choocha’s prophetic dreams and decided to exploit his abilities for her own gain. But why do Choocha and Hunny need to go to her at all? The first time they won the lottery, why didn’t they save a little of their winnings and do the same thing the next day? That’s how gambling works: you win a little bit, and you keep playing hoping to win even more.

Since Hunny and Choocha know their system works, why haven’t they been exploiting this system for years, amassing a huge fortune? Just how dumb do you have to be to screw this up?

It’s not possible to care about characters this stupid. I hoped that Bholi would get sick of these morons and kill them for kicks. She doesn’t, so there’s really no good reason to see Fukrey.

Links