Tag Archives: Vikas Verma

Movie Review: Mom (2017)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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In a vacuum, Mom is an engaging revenge thriller that fully utilizes its star’s considerable charisma. Yet the film’s very existence raises the question as to whether the genre has exhausted its ability to add to the conversation about rape.

Sridevi plays the titular mother, Devki, a secondary school teacher. She has a young daughter Priya with her husband, Anand (Adnan Siddiqui), who brought another daughter — 18-year-old Arya (Sajal Ali) — with him into the marriage. The strained relationship between stepmother and stepdaughter is exacerbated by the fact that Devki is Arya’s Biology teacher. When a fellow student, Mohit, texts Arya lewd material during class, Devki throws Mohit’s phone out the window.

Arya later rejects Mohit’s advances at a party, so he enlists his sleazy cousin Charles (Vikas Verma), security guard Baburam (Pitobash), and drug dealer Jagan (Abhimanyu Singh) to kidnap her. They gang rape Arya and leave her for dead in a ditch. Upon waking, Arya bitterly tells Devki that the men told her “Call your mom!” during the assault.

When the justice system inevitably fails to convict the men, Devki realizes that her relationship with Arya will be irretrievably broken unless she takes revenge upon them herself. She enlists a private detective named DK (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) to track down the rapists before the lead police officer on Arya’s case, Mathew (Akshaye Khanna), uncovers her scheme.

There’s a lot to like about Mom, chiefly Sridevi, who is most heartbreaking in moments when Devki futilely tries to connect with Arya. Ali, for her part, nails the moody teen role. First-time feature director Ravi Udyawar maximizes Sridevi’s legendary beauty in a number of strikingly composed shots. (Udyawar’s camera direction is less successful in a hard-to-follow chase scene.)

Debutant screenwriter Girish Kohli provides his actors with memorable dialogue, and Khanna and Nawazuddin Siddiqui deliver their lines with style. Adnan Siddiqui gives gravity to a role that requires him to stay in the background in order to keep Sridevi in the spotlight.

Things get tricky when considering whether we need another movie about avenging rape. I’ll concede that living in America my whole life has exposed me to many stories about this topic, both fictional and non-fictional. The Hollywood film The Accused brought the story of justice for a gang rape victim into the mainstream back in 1988. Until recently, many Hindi films treated the rape of a woman as nothing more than a catalyst to provoke a male hero into action. Real-life sexual assaults in India in the last several years have shifted the focus of fictional stories — such as 2016’s Pink — onto the victims themselves.

So while there is still a desire among Indian filmmakers and audiences to confront the horrors of rape, I’m not sure that Mom treads any new ground in doing so. There is a cliched shot of Arya in the shower following the rape, scrubbing her skin so hard that it bleeds. A man is raped in jail and is laughed at for it — as though male rape is less serious than female rape. There’s a belief that the perpetrators deserve punishment that damages their sexual organs, and also a belief that doing so will restore Arya to her former self, at least to some degree.

All of these ideas have been presented so often in movies that we’ve taken them for granted. But are these ideas actually valuable, or do they just feed off the sense of helplessness experienced by bystanders to rape, whether immediate or from afar? Too many films about rape function as a kind of call-to-action fantasy for someone other than the victim — only this fantasy requires someone to suffer in order to bring it to fruition.

Director Udyawar does the right thing by not showing the acts of sexual violence, focusing instead on the aftermath. It removes any chance of such violence being sensationalized or depicted as titillating. He also fairly assumes that the Indian justice system (like the American justice system) is rigged against rape victims. But other than establishing those benchmarks for future filmmakers, Mom covers a lot of familiar territory. It’s a well-made movie, but I’m not sure it’s a story I needed to see again.

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Movie Review: Shaandaar (2015)

Shaandaar3 Stars (out of 4)

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Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Shaandaar (“Fabulous“) is not as polished as director Vikas Bahl’s runaway hit from 2014, Queen, yet there’s plenty to like in this romantic comedy. Bahl’s unique vision warrants a viewing.

Driving to his eldest daughter’s wedding at an English palace, Bipin (Pankaj Kapur) literally runs into a haughty motorcyclist (played by Shahid Kapoor). They engage in a war of words, inflamed by the googly eyes the biker makes at Bipin’s younger daughter, Alia (Alia Bhatt).

Bipin is dismayed when the biker turns out to be the family’s wedding coordinator, Jagjinder Joginder. Jagjinder immediately charms the bride-to-be, Isha (Sanah Kapoor), and her tough-as-nails grandmother (Sushma Seth).

As if the troublesome wedding coordinator weren’t bad enough, Bipin’s future in-laws — the Fundwanis — are a bunch of tacky boors. The groom-to-be, Robin (Vikas Verma), is a musclebound narcissist who shows up to his own wedding shirtless.

Shaandaar has a number of selling points. The relationship Bipin shares with his daughters is warm, though he’s particularly fond of Alia, whom he adopted as a little girl. Alia and Isha are protective of one another, especially since Isha’s mother and grandmother are quick to remind Alia that she is not Bipin’s biological child.

Alia and Shahid make a fun and attractive couple. Though both of their characters are precocious, Alia’s eyes twinkle with a particular mischievousness. Their frequent daydreams manifest in the form of flashbacks and hallucinations. When Jagjinder first sees Alia, he’s so smitten that he sees the dragonflies embroidered on her sweater take flight and swarm colorfully about her.

Some of the film’s flashbacks are animated, with Naseeruddin Shah on voiceover duty. The very opening to Shaandaar is a cartoon retelling of Alia’s adoption that explains the tension within the family. Though clever, the sequence is overly long.

That’s perhaps Shaandaar‘s single biggest problem: it’s too long. There are a number of scenes that should have been cut, since they fail to advance the plot or tell us anything about the characters that we don’t already know.

On a couple of occasions, the film’s negative characters — like Grandma, Robin, and Harry Fundwani (Sanjay Kapoor) — use offensive insults. For example, Harry asks a squinting Jagjinder if he is Chinese. The use of these insults is supposed to reflect poorly upon the speaker, but there’s ample evidence that the villains are the villains. The movie doesn’t need to trade in harmful stereotypes in order to establish that.

Robin’s character is the most offensive. His whole storyline is that he doesn’t want to marry Isha because she is overweight, and he makes sure that everyone knows that he finds her unappealing. While Isha has a moment of triumph later in the film, it feels as though it comes at too high a cost.

In fact, it’s time to retire the trope that marrying an overweight woman is a form of punishment. Movies like Dum Laga Ke Haisha and even Shaandaar empower their female characters, but too often the trope is used as a punchline. Akshay Kumar’s character in Singh Is Bliing flees the state rather than marry a heavy woman. It’s a tired plot device. Bollywood storytellers need to find a new reason for male characters not to want to marry female characters, preferably one that doesn’t have to do with the female characters’ looks.

As narrowly defined by her appearance as her character is, Sanah Kapoor is really terrific as Isha. Sanah comes across naturally, despite this being her first film. Perhaps acting alongside her brother (Shahid) and father (Pankaj) helped evoke such a comfortable, charming performance.

Another highlight of Shaandaar is the choreography by Bosco-Caesar that accompanies Amit Trivedi’s catchy tunes. It’s hard to resist dancing along to “Shaam Shaandaar” and “Gulaabo.”

Shaandaar warrants a special warning for international viewers like myself. The movie is less accessible than other mainstream Hindi films. From a practical standpoint, the English subtitles appear on screen in a white font with no drop-shadow, rendering them invisible against light backgrounds. When the characters speak in English, the words spoken are often different from those written in the subtitles.

There are additional problems from a contextual standpoint. Harry — the head of the Fundwani family — talks incessantly about his status as a “Sindhi” ambassador and his feeling that every person of repute is a “Sindhi.” The significance of being a Sindhi isn’t explained at all, which is frustrating, because this is all Harry ever talks about.

Because of Shaandaar‘s flaws, it can’t be called a complete success. It fulfills genre obligations by being both funny and romantic, but it’s definitely not a movie for everyone. Still, it doesn’t look like any other romantic comedies out there, and it deserves accolades for that. If only more filmmakers were as ambitious as Vikas Bahl.

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