Tag Archives: Vijay Varma

Movie Review: Darlings (2022)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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First-time producer Alia Bhatt stars in the dark comedy Darlings. Bhatt and the rest of the talented cast turn in sterling performances that outshine a script that derails its main character’s growth.

After three years of marriage to Hamza (Vijay Varma), Badru (Alia Bhatt) isn’t living the life she planned. She’d hoped to have a baby by now and maybe be looking for a nicer home. But Hamza turned out to be an abusive alcoholic — a well-known fact in the apartment colony where they live.

One of the neighbors in the know is Badru’s mother, Shamshu (Shefali Shah), who lives in an apartment across the courtyard from Badru. The older, wiser woman believes her daughter’s abusive marriage will only get worse, so she encourages Badru to just murder Hamza and be done with it.

Badru can’t accept that Hamza won’t change, despite his mistreatment of her and her mother. So often, women in abusive relationships are criticized for not leaving after the first instance of violence, but Badru shows why it’s not always so simple. She fervently wishes for her husband not to be the monster he’s become, and she doesn’t want to be wrong for having missed the warning signs.

The grace extended to Badru and women in similar situations is the most compelling aspect of Darlings. Bhatt does a wonderful job as Badru, and Shah and Varma are equally as good as the two people pulling Badru in opposite directions. Roshan Mathew is fun as the helpful jack-of-all-trades Zulfi. Rajesh Sharma is solid as the butcher Kasim, but it feels like much of his backstory didn’t make the final cut.

When Badru announces her pregnancy and Hamza swears off alcohol, she’s convinced that things will be better. But it’s not long before he gets violent again, and Badru pays a heavy price.

Badru has two choices if she hopes to survive: run and hide, or murder Hamza before he murders her. (Badru feels she can’t report Hamza to the police after she refused to press charges against him for earlier abuse allegations.) Hiding isn’t an option since Badru’s only family member lives in the building next door, so it looks like Shamshu was right all along.

Instead, Badru opts for a third course of action. She wants to turn the tables on Hamza — make him respect her and feel what it’s like to be the powerless one in the relationship. She drugs Hamza and ties him up.

While the intention may be to show Badru finally taking control, it’s a mirage and not real character development. The very idea that Badru still thinks that she can make Hamza respect her or that he won’t follow through on his threats to kill her make Badru seem more foolish than she is. All of the comic bits where the authorities almost discover a drugged-and-bound Hamza, or whereby he almost escapes, stem from Badru and Shamshu making careless mistakes.

While watching Darlings, I was repeatedly reminded of Delilah S. Dawson’s page-turner The Violence. The main character in that book knows that someday her abusive husband will kill her unless she can find a way to escape. And even if she does get out, she won’t be truly safe until he is dead. Badru never reaches that same realization about Hamza. Despite all the trauma he has done and intends to do to her, she seems to think it’s possible for them to just go their separate ways. That’ll he’ll allow her to exist without him.

Badru’s reluctance to see violence as an option for her robs her of agency. It makes her survival contingent upon the intervention of a deus ex machina, rather than the results of her own actions. Badru tells Shamshu that the reason she doesn’t want to murder Hamza is that she doesn’t want to be haunted by his ghost — but the alternative is be hunted by him in the flesh. Moral victories don’t mean much when you’re dead.

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Movie Review: Hurdang (2022)

Zero Stars (out of 4)

The social drama Hurdang fails to build a persuasive case for the odious politics it endorses.

Hurdang is set at a college campus in Allahabad in 1990. Local goon and opportunist Loha Singh (Vijay Varma) wants to increase his political profile. He seizes upon the announced implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations — which would increase the number of university admissions and government jobs reserved for people from Other Backward Classes — as an opportunity to stoke unrest on campus and gain attention.

Loha uses his right-hand man Daddu (Sunny Kaushal) to activate the upper caste students at several area colleges. Daddu is enrolled in university, but you’d hardly know it since he never studies or goes to class. He carries multiple guns with him and is quick to point them at anyone who gives him even a minor hassle.

Daddu’s pitch to get the students to protest against the government is that the predominantly upper caste students currently enrolled in university have made their plans expecting a certain amount of government jobs to be available to them upon graduation, and that changing the rules now unfairly penalizes them. The movie makes only passing mention of the generational damage caused by systemic caste discrimination.

Writer-director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s choice to put Daddu at the center of this story is absurd. Daddu has no chance of graduating as a result of his own (non-existent) efforts, so he plans to get the final exam questions from Loha in advance and cheat. He does not see his own cheating as being at odds with the system of meritocracy he believes exists and that the reservation system supposedly undermines. What matters to the narrative is that Daddu is a victim.

The notion of Daddu as a victim is even more ridiculous considering the privileges Daddu enjoys thanks to his relationship with Loha — and by extension the politicians Loha works for. Twice, Daddu steals a baton from a police officer and beats the officer with it, and he never faces any consequences for it. Daddu is above the law in almost every respect, but the film really wants viewers to feel sorry for him.

Bhat’s story is so lopsided that it barely acknowledges that people from lower castes exist, let alone suffer under a system rigged against them. Daddu’s much more academically talented girlfriend Jhulan (Nushrratt Bharuccha) is herself from a lower caste — a fact that’s only relevant for a scene in which her father tells her to wait until the reservation quota has been updated to take her finals so that she’ll have an easier time getting a government job. Jhulan is portrayed as virtuous for wanting to test right away and pass on her own merits. From the movie’s perspective, benefiting from a rule change is more egregious than stealing an exam and cheating.

The political position Bhat takes with his story is gross, but he doesn’t even do a good job of defending it. Hurdang is awful.

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Movie Review: Baaghi 3 (2020)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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The trailer of Baaghi 3 promises “One Man Against the Whole Country.” Could we be in for a biting commentary on the Assad regime in Syria? Of course not. Baaghi 3 is a brainless film with no intention of challenging its audience — except in its willingness to stay until the end of the movie. At the showing I attended, I was the only one who did.

Baaghi 3 is the latest in the Baaghi series of films, which have no connection to each other except that they star Tiger Shroff playing a character named Ronny (or in the case of this latest movie: “Ronnie”). The characters aren’t even the same guy, as Ronny/Ronnie’s backstory reboots with each new movie. Shraddha Kapoor played a character named Sia in the original Baaghi, and she returns to play a different character this time, now named “Siya.”

Ronnie 3.0 is the thuggish son of a cop (played by Tiger’s real-life dad, Jackie) who was fatally injured in the line of duty when Ronnie was young. On his deathbed, Dad tasked Ronnie with the care of his older brother Vikram, who is as close to an ambulatory potato as a person can be. Even as adults, whenever Vikram (Riteish Deshmukh) is in trouble, he yells “Ronnie!”, summoning his brother with a gale of wind to beat up the bad guys.

Jobless, ability-less Vikram is made a police officer because of nepotism, despite him being afraid of everything. Ronnie acts as his henchman, breaking up an international human trafficking ring while Vikram gets the credit publicly. The federal government notices and sends Vikram alone to Syria to facilitate the extradition of a terrorist — the most absurd thing to happen in a movie full of absurd stuff. Vikram is immediately kidnapped, forcing Ronnie to head to Syria to rescue him with the help of his girlfriend/sister-in-law Siya.

Siya fits into the story as part of a subplot to get Vikram married, off-loading his daily management from Ronnie onto an unsuspecting woman — in this case, Siya’s sister, Ruchi (Ankita Lokhande). Ruchi’s other purpose is to get pregnant in order to give more weight to Vikram’s predictably doomed trip to Syria. It’s a transparent emotional ploy that doesn’t work.

The “country” Ronnie takes on is actually a large terrorist outfit run by Abu Jalal Gaza (Jameel Khoury) that operates within Syria’s borders. Gaza’s agents in India and Pakistan kidnap families, forcing men to become suicide bombers by threatening their wives and children (yet another transparent emotional ploy). This seems like a risky and convoluted business model considering that Gaza only seems interested in blowing up targets within Syria. It’s painfully obvious that no one who worked on the story gave much thought to the whys or hows of the movie’s bad guys.

There’s nothing fun about Baaghi 3. It feels out-of-date, with goofball sound effects for the film’s dorky jokes. Poorly executed action choreography means Ronnie’s punches repeatedly fall short of his intended targets. Potentially novel battles in which Ronnie faces down helicopters and tanks are underwhelming. A ropes sequence set in a scrapyard feels like a macho knock-off of the song “Rewrite the Stars” from The Greatest Showman.

Shroff and Deshmukh have zero chemistry as siblings, although they both show themselves to be proficient at yelling. Vikram’s entry into the police force ushers in a subplot promoting extrajudicial police murder, which is not surprising given Baaghi 3‘s support of violence as character development. It’s not fatherhood that makes Vikram into a “real” man but rather when he finally kills people himself, instead of letting his little brother do it for him.

If there are any minor bright spots in Baaghi 3, it’s the true professionalism displayed by Jaideep Ahlawat as the kidnapper IPL and Vijay Varma as a helpful Pakistani expat in Syria in the face of utter absurdity. Shraddha Kapoor’s role is underdeveloped and superfluous, but she brings to it a weird charisma that I appreciated. Other than that, Baaghi 3 is a waste of time.

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