Tag Archives: Vidya Balan

Movie Review: Kahaani 2 (2016)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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It’s unrealistic to expect Kahaani 2 to replicate the success of a movie as special as Kahaani, but the sequel lacks many of the elements that made the original so memorable.

Writer-director Sujoy Ghosh again taps Vidya Balan to play a character named Vidya searching for a lost loved one in West Bengal. Kahaani 2‘s Vidya — Sinha this time, not Bagchi — is mother to a 14-year-old girl, Minnie (Tunisha Sharma), who is paralyzed from the waist down. The pair lives in the town of Chandan Nagar, about an hour away from Kolkata. Vidya returns from work to find her daughter missing, the girl’s phone and wheelchair left behind.

While the original Kahaani‘s Vidya spent the film tracking her missing husband with the help of a smitten police officer, the sequel’s Vidya is sidelined early on. It falls on a different cop, Inder (Arjun Rampal), to discover what’s going on when he stumbles upon an accident scene and recognizes the injured woman. However, he knows the victim by the name of Durga Rani Singh, not Vidya Sinha.

Inder’s only clue is Vidya/Durga’s diary, which chronicles events from eight years ago, when Minnie was six years old (played by cute Naisha Khanna) and the duo lived north in Kalimpong. Most of Balan’s scenes in the film are from these flashbacks. It’s frustrating that her character is inactive for much of the present-day storyline.

Inder takes the lead on the case as he adjusts to a new environment. A “gut feeling” gone wrong got him demoted from Kolkata to normally uneventful Chandan Nagar. Precisely how he earned his demotion isn’t explained, but all signs point to Inder being a decent guy. He’s got a sweet daughter and a wife, Rashmi (Manini Chadha), with whom he shares a playful antagonism. Even though Rashmi knows her husband is keeping something from her, she resists the urge to snoop in Vidya’s diary, waiting until Inder is ready to tell her the truth.

While Inder is a fine character, his problems aren’t are dire as Vidya’s, thus Ghosh’s choice to present the two character arcs in parallel doesn’t work. Vidya and Minnie find themselves in a life-or-death struggle, only for the action to cut to Inder fretting about whether his work on the case will earn him a promotion back to Kolkata. The stakes are so unequal that juxtaposing them makes Inder look more frivolous than he really is.

Balan is compelling in everything that she does, and Kahaani 2 is no different. It falls on her to deliver Ghosh’s message about the enduring trauma of sexual abuse, and she does so powerfully. Both girls who play Minnie do a lovely job and show tremendous promise. Also noteworthy is a sweet turn by Tota Roychoudhury as Arun, Vidya’s mild-mannered suitor in Kalimpong.

There are some beautifully vivid shots of Chandan Nagar at night, but the town doesn’t have a strongly defined identity the way that Kolkata did in the original Kahaani. That’s most obvious difference between the films, and — more than anything else — it is what marks Kahaani 2 as the inferior of the two movies.

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Movie Review: Tumhari Sulu (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Actors Vidya Balan and Manav Kaul carry Tumhari Sulu, a task made more difficult by the story’s lack of perspective. It’s hard to tell how first-time feature filmmaker Suresh Triveni expects the audience to feel about his characters and their journey.

Balan plays Sulu, a bored housewife who entertains herself by entering radio contests. Her husband, Ashok (Kaul), ekes out a meager paycheck managing a dysfunctional tailoring shop. Their eleven-year-old son Pranav (Abhishek Sharma) earns money on the side by selling dirty DVDs and magazines to his classmates.

Sulu’s more successful sisters delight in their sibling’s lower-middle-class status, chiding Sulu for not having a job while reminding her that her lack of a degree precludes her from getting a reputable gig, anyway.

When Sulu goes to the radio station to collect her latest prize — a pressure cooker — she notices an ad for a late-night radio show host. She finagles a meeting with the station manager, Maria (Neha Dhupia), who gives Sulu a shot, if only for the chance to laugh at the frumpy, naive housewife. However, Sulu’s sultry delivery is just what Maria is looking for, and a new radio star is born.

Triveni’s story — which he wrote and directed — takes a long time to get to this point without advancing the characters’ development. The plot meanders, never lingering long enough to develop any of the potential themes — topics like Sulu’s self-worth, women’s financial independence, or the challenges of a two-income household — beyond a surface level examination.

Even if one assumes that Triveni is leaving it to the audience to draw their own conclusions, he doesn’t give them enough information to do so, chiefly because the characters don’t have meaningful conversations. Sulu doesn’t take her husband seriously, and she has no friends to confide in. Without substantive dialogues — or even internal monologues — it’s hard to infer what is important to the characters, and there’s only so much meaning we can derive from their actions alone.

Triveni also takes for granted the notion that a family’s ability to function is ultimately a woman’s responsibility. When complications arise concurrent with Sulu’s new job, it’s implied that, even if the problem’s aren’t specifically Sulu’s fault, they are her responsibility to fix. Nevermind that Ashok’s work situation was hardly ideal or that Pranav was already a junior pornographer before Sulu started her radio gig.

As is the case with every movie starting Vidya Balan, she is Tumhari Sulu‘s greatest asset, always fun and engaging. Yet, Kaul’s performance enables Balan to be her best. During Sulu’s and Ashok’s happier moments, the pair are adorable together — an unexpected delight, given that Kaul usually plays villains. Dhupia is a great choice to play a hip radio station manager, but her character is too easygoing to be convincing, given the competitive nature of that industry.

Songs are weirdly integrated into Tumhari Sulu, and the inclusion of random parkour stunts into one of them almost hints at an insecurity about whether the film itself is exciting and cool enough to grab the audience’s attention. Perhaps a co-writer for Triveni would have mitigated some of the burden on Balan’s and Kaul’s shoulders.

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Movie Review: Te3n (2016)

Te3n3 Stars (out of 4)

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When eight-year-old Angela (Aarnaa Sharma) was kidnapped and killed eight years ago, time stopped for her grandfather, John Biswas (Amitabh Bachchan). Not in a literal sense, of course, as evidenced by his increasingly stooped posture and shuffling gait. John’s wife, Nancy (Padmavathi Rao), uses a wheelchair that she didn’t need back when little Angela lived with them.

Figuratively, though, nothing has changed for John. Every day, he stops by the police station to ask if they have new leads in the case. Every day, the new police chief Sarita (Vidya Balan) tells him, “No,” with a mixture of patience and pity.

The kidnapping that turns John’s life into a daily nightmare pushes another life in a totally different direction. Martin (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) was the police officer in charge when Angela’s case went haywire. Unable to cope with his failure, Martin became a priest. But John won’t let Martin run from the past.

By happenstance, John finds a clue about Angela’s kidnapping. Shortly thereafter, a little boy goes missing under the same circumstances as Angela. Against Martin’s will, he’s forced to act as an investigator again — examining both John’s clues from the past and Sarita’s clues from the present — to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.

Te3n is tense and chilling without being gory. The atmosphere is enhanced by a tremendous score by composer Clinton Cerejo. Bachchan himself sings one version of the sad song “Kyun Re,” making his character’s pain feel all the more heartbreaking.

The movie belongs to Bachchan, but his fellow actors are just as strong. Sarita is the story’s straight woman, and Balan plays her matter-of-factly. It’s not a flashy performance, nor should it be.

Same for Siddiqui’s low-key turn as the priest. Martin’s past arrogance led to catastrophic mistakes that he’s obviously learned from. In his new role, he observes more than he speaks. Yet, as Sarita correctly points out, Martin’s plan to leave things “to God” conveniently excuses the former cop’s inaction.

Bachchan’s performance is tragic and moving. Never has the superstar seemed so old, which is crucial, since that’s what Te3n is about even more than the crime — it’s about the horrors that time and age inflict upon us. It’s about getting old.

Remove the dead granddaughter from the equation, and John’s life is a pretty accurate depiction of the lives of many people in their later years. He’s not as nimble of body or mind as he once was. His world has shrunk so much that he fixates. His days are a routine of mundane chores, and he’s starting to forget to do some of them. He’s depressed.

It’s no wonder that no one takes John seriously when he keeps pressing forward with his own investigation. Even Nancy thinks that he’s lost perspective, and his refusal to cope with reality makes him a worse husband.

Director Ribhu Dasgupta uses “Stranger Danger” imagery to emphasize another age-related theme in the film: namely young parents’ concerns about their own parents’ fitness to care for their grandchildren. Both children are abducted by a hooded stranger in a black van while under the care of their grandfathers. Te3n‘s scenario is the extreme version of fears many parents have when, say, Grandpa wants to drive the kids to get ice cream or Grandma insists on babysitting even though she just had back surgery.

Te3n fails to wrap up the central mystery in a believable way, yet the volume of good elements early in the film offset its subpar ending. The movie is at its most thought-provoking when Bachchan is on screen, his posture and mannerisms emphasizing the extent to which his character has been broken by time and sadness. Enjoy Te3n for the thrills, but don’t overlook what the story is really about.

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Movie Review: Hamari Adhuri Kahani (2015)

HamariAdhuriKahani1 Star (out of 4)

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“He is so stupid.” In an otherwise quiet theater, one woman spoke for all of us as Emraan Hashmi’s character in Hamari Adhuri Kahani set out to do something moronic. This is not a good movie.

That’s not to say that Hamari Adhuri Kahani (“Our Incomplete Storyin English) isn’t fun, albeit unintentionally. The audience laughed heartily when Hashmi’s character’s mother said, in all seriousness, “Who is this wandering soul who feels like a kindred spirit?” More chuckles when a hotel owner asked, “Is this a business meeting or an insulting session?”

Hamari Adhuri Kahani is among the most earnest, corniest movies ever. It feels like it was written by a clever 15-year-old girl who isn’t as worldly-wise as she thinks she is. That it is actually written by a man in his mid-60s — Mahesh Bhatt — is a problem.

Vidya Balan plays Vasudha, a hotel florist and single mother of a 5-year-old son, Saanj. Her husband, Hari (Rajkummar Rao), ran off just after Saanj was born, yet Vasudha is regularly caught off guard by questions about her husband’s whereabouts. After five years, she doesn’t have a pat answer?

Her world is turned upside down when her exemplary customer service impresses hotelier Aarav (Hashmi). Aarav is a teen-girl-fantasy: a lonely rich guy who wants nothing more than to make all of Vasudha’s dreams come true. That he wants to do so primarily to make up for his own childhood as the impoverished son of a single mother who worked in a hotel just makes things weird.

Vasudha and Aarav are overly melodramatic about everything. He makes an entire plane full of passengers wait so that he can smell some flowers that remind him of her. She’s torn by the fact that she’s married, even though Hari is a cartoonish jerk who may be a terrorist.

As if emotional fireworks aren’t enough, there are actual fireworks. Also a hotel fire, bullets, and landmines. Essentially, Hamari Adhuri Kahani is a series of wordy, teary-eyed scenes with cheesy dialogue followed by explosions.

Since every scene is overwrought, it’s impossible to misunderstand what’s happening in the movie. Still, international audience members will miss out on the significance of many cultural and religious references. Vasudha’s marriage fulfills some sort of religious obligation, and though the particular religion isn’t named, it’s clear that she’s basically property transferred from her father to her husband. (I can’t verify if this is orthodox to the religion depicted, but director Mohit Suri’s point is explicit.)

Vasudha’s future plans are also questioned in cultural context: is she going to be like Sita in her marriage to Ram or like Radha in her relationship with Krishna? Again, I’m not overly familiar with either parable, but the meaning is apparent: does Vasudha want to be a devoted wife even at the expense of her own life (Sita-Ram), or does she want a more egalitarian kind of love (Radha-Krishna)?

The cultural and religious references are used to criticize the historically unequal treatment of women in India. One older woman says ruefully, “Even after they are dead, men still control a woman’s body.” The movie’s feminist sentiment feels hollow for a couple of reasons.

First, Vasudha is a dud. It’s hard to care about such a passive heroine. When she finally decides to take action, the action is to beg Hari to stop being such a jerk.

Second, Vasudha’s romance with Aarav is a relic of Bollywood stalker love stories. In a dramatic conversation in the middle of desert in front of an approaching sandstorm, Aarav uses as proof of Vasudha’s love for him…a piece of paper upon which he has written her name multiple times. Wait, what? How exactly do his schoolboy doodles prove that she loves him?

It doesn’t ultimately matter, since Vasudha eventually begs Aarav to teach her how to love again (more begging!). There’s not much Balan and Hashmi can do with such one-dimensional characters. Same for Rao, who just shows up periodically to be mean in different wigs.

The resolution to Aarav’s arc is telegraphed, yet it’s so cornball that it’s hard to believe that Suri will go through with it until it actually happens. When it does, it is sublimely ridiculous. Hamari Adhuri Kahani is stupid, yet I left the theater with a smile on my face.

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Opening June 12: Hamari Adhuri Kahani

The romantic drama Hamari Adhuri Kahani — starring Vidya Balan, Emraan Hashmi, and Rajkummar Rao — opens in Chicago area theaters on June 12, 2015.

Hamari Adhuri Kahani opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 9 min.

Dil Dhadakne Do carries over at all of the above theaters, plus Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

Tanu Weds Manu Returns gets a fourth week at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and Woodridge 18.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Premam (Malayalam) at the Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont and MovieMax, which also carries Ranna (Kannada), Kerintha (Telugu), Inimey Ippadithan (Tamil), Romeo Juliet (Tamil), Jyothi Lakshmi (Telugu), and Ivide (Malayalam).

Streaming Video News: January 9, 2015

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with two pieces of bad news. First, Kahaani is set to expire from the streaming service on January 16, 2015. This is one of my favorite movies, and I find new details to love whenever I watch it. I’ve shared this film with people who don’t normally watch Hindi films to rave reviews. If you haven’t seen this great thriller before, check it out this weekend. If you have, watch it again to be reminded of how wonderful Vidya Balan is.

The other piece of bad news is that Daawat-e-Ishq is now available for streaming. This film squandered all of its potential and wound up on my list of the ten worst Bollywood films of 2014.

Better options from 2014 on Netflix include Ankhon Dekhi and Siddharth, both of which made my Top Ten List.

Movie Review: Bobby Jasoos (2014)

BobbyJasoos3 Stars (out of 4)

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Vidya Balan shines again in Bobby Jasoos (“Bobby the Detective“). Her contrarian tomboy private investigator makes for a charming lead character whose independent spirit gets her into trouble.

30-year-old Bobby (Balan) wants nothing more than to work as a detective in Hyderabad. Rejected by a proper investigative firm, she scrapes by on minor jobs, such as steering prospective brides away from TV news anchor Tasawur (Ali Fazal), who wants to stay single but is too cowardly to tell his parents. She even extorts money from her cousin Afreen (Anupriya Goenka), whose secret affair with the goon Lala (Arjan Bajwa) would displease the family.

Bobby gets her big break when a rich man, Aneez Khan (Kiran Kumar), asks her to find a young woman, with no information other than the woman’s name and the location of a birthmark. When Bobby succeeds, she gets a big payday and the name of another girl Khan wants found. But why is Khan looking for these women?

Lacking formal training and an office staff, Bobby’s methods involve a lot of trial and error — and a lot of costumes. The disguise gags are cute, and Balan is passable in drag. But ultimately, Bobby solves her mysteries with her wit and not silly outfits.

She’s assisted by a trio of sidekicks: restaurateur Munna (Aakash Dahiya), internet cafe owner Shetty (Prasad Barve), and mobile phone seller Sohail (Tejas Mahajan). Their friendships with Bobby are sweet, establishing her as likeable as well as talented. They also stand in contrast to her difficult homelife.

Despite the support of a doting mother (Supriya Pathak) and a younger sister, Noor (Benaf Dadachandji) — who perfectly encapsulates their sibling rivalry with the line “Go die! Come back soon.” — Bobby can’t win over her traditional father (Rajendra Gupta). He’s past the point of tolerating her career ambitions, and he only wants her to get married like all the other women her age.

The conflict with her father helps flesh out Bobby’s character. She’d headstrong and confident, but she’s also desperate for her father’s approval. Nevertheless, she can’t be someone she’s not. Balan is the perfect choice to portray a character who is feisty yet vulnerable, and a fine role model for girls. The film is extremely family friendly.

Another selling point in Bobby Jasoos‘ favor is Ali Fazal. His subtly humorous reactions are pitch-perfect, as poor Tasawur tries to cope with Bobby’s impulsiveness while unwittingly falling for her. Fazal and Balan share a wonderful chemistry.

The mystery at the center of the movie is its weakest element. It’s not particularly challenging, and the payoff is melodramatic. However, if this movie is just a setup for future mysteries starring the character Bobby Jasoos, I can happily live with it.

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Opening July 4: Bobby Jasoos and Lekar Hum Deewana Dil

July 4, 2014, sees two new Hindi movies opening in Chicago area theaters. First up is one of the two movies releasing in 2014 that I have been most excited about (the other was Highway): Bobby Jasoos! Vidya Balan plays a woman who aspires to be Hyderabad’s number one detective.

Bobby Jasoos opens on Friday at MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 1 min.

The other movie releasing on Independence Day is Lekar Hum Deewana Dil (“With Our Joyful Hearts“), a romantic drama featuring newcomers Armaan Jain and Deeksha Seth.

Lekar Hum Deewana Dil opens on Friday at the South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and AMC River East 21 in Chicago. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 10 min.

Ek Villain carries over for a second week at the AMC Showplace Niles 12 in Niles, South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and MovieMax, which also gives a third weekend to Humshakals.

As far as other Indian movies go, the Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale has Punjab 1984 (Punjabi w/English subtitles), while MovieMax carries Ra Ra Krishnayya (Telugu), Arima Nambi (Tamil),  Autonagar Surya (Telugu), Bangalore Days (Malayalam), Oohalu Gusagusalade (Telugu), and Mundasupatti (Tamil).

New Trailers: May 27, 2014

Three new trailers were just released, and it looks like we could be in for a strong run of Hindi films from late June through mid-July. First up is the creepy trailer for Ek Villain, which stars Shraddha Kapoor, Sidharth Malhotra, and Riteish Deshmukh, It opens on June 27, 2014.

Next up is Bobby Jasoos, a comedy in which Vidya Balan plays a private investigator with an array of disguises at her disposal. Bobby Jasoos opens on July 4.

Finally, we have the romantic comedy Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, starring Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt. It releases July 11.

All three movies feature strong casts, so I’m looking forward to all of the films. However, I cannot wait for Bobby Jasoos on July 4. The world needs as much Vidya as it can get, and she even romances a younger guy in the film! (Vidya Balan is 36, and her costar, Ali Fazal, is 27.) This could be a terrific summer at the movies.

Movie Review: Shaadi Ke Side Effects (2014)

Shaadi_ke_side_effects2 Stars (out of 4)

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Shaadi Ke Side Effects (“The Side Effects of Marriage“) should be retitled Parenthood Ke Side Effects. The main characters — Sid (Farhan Akhtar) and Trisha (Vidya Balan) — enjoy their married life just fine until they have a kid. Then their lives go to hell.

Shaadi Ke Side Effects (SKSE, henceforth) is a standard marital romantic comedy, full of all the expected clichés about marriage. The wife controls the relationship, and the husband has to accede to her ridiculous demands to keep her from making his life miserable. Also, he must tell her that she’s not fat, despite the fact that he secretly thinks she is (and despite the fact that she objectively is not).

Trisha gets pregnant, and the couple decides to have the child, even though they’d planned to wait until they felt more settled financially. Parenthood turns Trisha into a control freak, and Sid goes to increasingly complicated lengths to get away from her and their daughter, Mili.

Writer-director Saket Chaudhary deserves credit for the progressive way he handles the couple’s response to Trisha’s pregnancy. They initially decide — due to Sid’s reluctance — to abort the fetus and try again in a few years. Sid changes his mind while Trisha is in the operating room, following a chance encounter with an overwhelmed father of quadruplets conceived as a result of fertility treatments. It’s refreshing to see a movie couple consider abortion as an option, like many real-life couples do.

Unfortunately, the rest of SKSE is unimaginative, and the considerable talents of Vidya Balan are underutilized because of it. Balan has little to do besides play the shrew, and her character only changes for the worse over the course of the film.

Akhtar’s character narrates the film as he evolves from free-spirited musician to henpecked husband to duplicitous lout. Like Balan’s role, Sid doesn’t give Akhtar many opportunities to shine. It’s nice that Akhtar gets to sing a couple of songs in the movie, but the trite script causes his talents behind the mic to overshadow his talents in front of the camera.

As safe as the script is, the story takes an unexpectedly dark turn in the last twenty minutes of the film. It’s jarring and by no means an improvement. If anything, it makes marriage and parenthood seem like traps to be avoided at all costs.

Such a turn might work if SKSE was meant to be subversive, but it isn’t. It’s light popcorn fare for couples to enjoy on a rare night out while Grandma watches the kids.

With such escapist fare, the outcome of the film should never be in doubt: Sid and Trisha overcome their problems to ultimately reaffirm their love for one another. We should never wonder if Sid and Trisha would be better off apart. After watching Shaadi Ke Side Effects, I’m not so sure.

Links

  • Shaadi Ke Side Effects at Wikipedia
  • Shaadi Ke Side Effects at IMDb