Tag Archives: Vikram Bhatt

Movie Review: Khamoshiyan (2015)

khamoshiyan2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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The Hindi word Khamoshiyan (“Silences“) sort of sounds like the English word “commotion,” which is fitting given the insane way this sexy horror film spins out of control.

Frustrated novelist Kabir (Ali Fazal) hits rock bottom when he tries to sabotage his ex-girlfriend’s wedding. She tells him, “You’re an incomplete man, Kabir. You could never complete anything in your life.” He hits the road, resolving to finally finish his book and find a purpose.

Kabir winds up at a mountain lodge which he describes as being “locked in time,” even though the building looks like a newly built McMansion. There are no other guests at the hotel, only the inn’s beautiful caretaker Meera (Sapna Pabbi) and her bedridden husband.

During his first night in the hotel, Kabir hears phantom sounds, sees figures disappear from paintings, and a poltergeist throws at book at him. He packs his bag the next morning, and we hope he’s smart enough to get the hell out of this obviously haunted house. Nope. He’s just going for a hike.

Bewitched by her pretty face and mysterious manners, Kabir resolves to uncover Meera’s secrets. He has no way of knowing what bizarre horrors haunt the inn.

That’s because the narrative takes a left turn into crazy town in the second half. You will think that you have the story figured out. “Duh, she’s a ghost,” you will say. You will be wrong. Not even writer Vikram Bhatt knows how he reached the film’s conclusion.

Now, that doesn’t mean that Khamoshiyan isn’t fun, because it is. Meera gets it on with Kabir and — in flashbacks — her husband, Jaidev (Gurmeet Choudhary). Kabir fights ridiculous CGI dogs and flops around possessed. The hotel has some amazing evil artwork, because what says “Welcome!” better than a hideous painting of a muscular chimera in the foyer?

khamoshiyan_chimera

Free hot breakfast included at the Motel 666!

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A portrait of Uncle Bob back in his Blue Man Group days…

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Where the movie falls short is in its application of a coherent mythology. There don’t seem to be any rules governing the movie’s supernatural entities. It’s unclear how to destroy them, since certain rituals work and others don’t without explanation.

It’s also unclear what motivates the spirits. Meera makes it clear that — for the sake of her husband — she’s not allowed to leave the hotel grounds. Yet the spirits don’t seem to have a problem with her humping Kabir on the hood of a sports car in the garage.

What results is a disorganized collection of occult imagery that is more confusing than horrifying. Most of the attempted chills take the form of telegraphed poltergeist effects. The mood is intermittently pretty creepy, however, and director Karan Darra deserves credit for trying to make butterflies scary.

For all its incoherence, Khamoshiyan is undeniably entertaining. Good looking people make out, and some mildly spooky stuff happens. What more do you need?

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Movie Review: Mr. X (2015)

Mr._X_Official_Poster1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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When I described the plot of Mr. X to my father and brother, they both asked: “If you can’t see the hero, then why is the movie in 3D?” Good question. Having seen the movie, the best answer I can give is that director Vikram Bhatt is the market for a yacht and wants to pay for it with the 3D upcharge for tickets.

The use of a pointless 3D gimmick fits in a movie that is a collection of half-baked ideas. It’s a romantic revenge critique of the Indian justice system with a side of superhero origin story that’s also a sci-fi action thriller about an invisible cop.

Emraan Hashmi plays Raghu, an anti-terrorism agent in love with a fellow agent, Siya (Amyra Dastur). In order to save Siya’s life, Raghu is blackmailed into publicly murdering the Chief Minister.

Raghu flees, only to be cornered by his blackmailers and tossed into a pit of chemicals, a la the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman. He survives an explosion at the chemical plant, but not without severe radiation poisoning.

Raghu’s friend Popo’s sister (stay with me) works at a pharmaceutical company, and she gives Raghu an experimental drug that will either cure the radiation poisoning or kill him immediately. He lives, with the side effect that he’s now invisible except in sunlight or under blue neon lights.

In the course of taking revenge on those who tried to murder him, Raghu encounters his greatest obstacle: Siya, who is all impulse, no introspection. She never questions why a good cop like Raghu killed the Chief Minister, deciding that their love must have been a lie and professing to hate him. When he finally tells her what really happened, she loves him again.

The reunion is short-lived, because she pulls a gun on him when he rejects her plan to arrest the culprits in favor of just killing them. Her feelings are absolute, until they change completely.

What’s funny is that Siya’s law-and-order approach actually works until Raghu shows up with a gun and sparks a hostage situation. He claims to be a “protector of justice” while actively working against a system that seems functional.

All this is to set up Raghu/Mr. X as a kind of folk hero, and Bhatt uses my least favorite Bollywood trope to do so: the man-on-the-street interview. A news report is interspersed with shots of everyday dopes praising Mr. X with stupid crap like, “I’ve heard Mr. X is totally cute.”

The problem — besides the sheer laziness behind this trope — is that the public doesn’t know the motive for Mr. X’s murders. They don’t know that he was set up. As far as anyone knows, the people Mr. X kills are upstanding public servants, yet the moronic interviewees hail Mr. X as a superhero.

As mentioned above, the 3D adds nothing to the film. However, the CGI invisibility effects are pretty good. Raghu appears and disappears smoothly as he moves from light to shadow, with sometimes only parts of his body disappearing. Bhatt uses the lighting to direct the audience to areas in each shot where Raghu is likely to turn invisible.

However, the practical effects leave a lot to be desired. A chase scene in which Raghu disappears leaves us with a visual of a wobbly, riderless motorbike being pulled along by an offscreen mechanism. It looks equally dumb when Raghu vanishes while holding Siya in his arms, making her appear to float in mid-air. The film’s fight choreography is awful.

Raghu is a hard guy to like because he doesn’t show much personality, except for when Siya makes him mad and his eyes get all buggy. It’s not Hashmi’s most interesting role by a long shot. Dastur is at least committed to Siya’s absolute sense of morality, but she needs to train her voice not to sound so shrieky when she screams. Siya’s wardrobe is outstanding.

Mr. X rates high in terms of novelty, but its execution doesn’t justify an overpriced 3D ticket.

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Movie Review: Creature 3D (2014)

creature2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Hindi horror movies are few and far between, and monster movies are rarer still. Taking into consideration the largely nonexistent infrastructure of screenwriters, directors, and visual effects artists that specialize in monster movies, my expectations for Creature 3D were low. While it lived down to my expectations, Creature 3D is so bad, it’s good.

Here’s an example of how Creature 3D qualifies for “so bad, it’s good” status: the humanoid monster’s roar is literally a guy saying, “Roar.” Not making a roar sound, but saying the word, “Roar.”

The creature’s victims are primarily guests and employees of the Glendale Forest Hotel, a place that sounds more like a rehab clinic than a mountain resort, according to my brother (with whom I watched the film). The hotel belongs to Ahana (Bipasha Basu), who left Delhi following her father’s death. Her hopes of a fresh start in the hinterlands are dashed when a monster starts eating her clients.

The monster also interrupts a budding romance between Ahana and Kunal (Imran Abbas), one of her guests. Kunal is supposedly a famous author, but he gets mysterious phone calls asking if he’s done what he came to the hotel to do.

Do Kunal’s mysterious phone calls or the events that drove Ahana from the city have any connection to the creature? No. Unlike American horror movies in which a supernatural attack is often a response to a sin committed — why do you think the teens making out in a car are always first to die? — Ahana’s encounter with the creature is just a case of bad luck. So says Professor Sadanand (Mukul Dev), a zoologist familiar with the creature.

If there’s a moral to the story, it’s that one can’t run from one’s problems. However, the problems that drove Ahana from the city aren’t the kind that can be fought. She’s just grieving her dead dad. Kunal guilt-trips Ahana for taking anti-anxiety medication, which he considers a moral weakness.

Ultimately, Ahana decides to stay and fight the creature, because there wouldn’t be a second half of the movie if she didn’t.

As for the hybrid man-lizard creature itself, oh, boy. It’s entirely computer generated, so it lacks the physical presence of a man in a suit or even a puppet. Some of its movements are neat, but it feels fake and never scary.

In fact, it’s almost like writer-director Vikram Bhatt — who probably has more experience with the horror genre than anyone else presently working in Hindi cinema — went out of his way to make Creature 3D not scary. There isn’t a single frightening moment in the film.

There’s no payoff in scenes where you expect a jump scare. When Ahana and Kunal stand in front of a window, the creature doesn’t pop up on the other side of the glass. Instead, the camera cuts to a window on the other side of the room, and we see the creature’s hand reach over the windowsill before he slowly pulls himself over it. Several shots are just pans across a blank wall with growling sounds in the background that end with the monster coming into the room through an open door.

Far scarier than the monster is Kunal, who spends the bulk of the movie leering at Ahana. One of the film’s song sequences — “Hum Na Rahein Hum” —  is just Kunal staring at Ahana while she goes about her day. Whether she’s buying flowers or driving through the woods, he’s always lurking. I’ve included a link to the hilarious music video below the review.

Mukul Dev is the real hero of the film, providing most of the unintentional comedy. Even though the professor saves a dining room full of people by scaring the monster with fire, his elaborate plan to kill the creature doesn’t involve flames. Instead, it requires “an old bus” and a human dummy covered in meat.

When that plan doesn’t work, the professor must rescue Ahana and Kunal using — you guessed it — fire. This sets up the single greatest shot in the whole film. Instead of soaking his jacket in gasoline, running to the old bus, setting the jacket on fire, and throwing it into the bus to give Ahana and Kunal a chance to escape, Professor Sadanand lights the jacket on fire first and then starts running. The sight of Mukul Dev running down the road trying not to get burned by his flaming sport coat is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

Despite a tremendously boring final twenty minutes, there are abundant reasons to watch Creature 3D: Kunal lurking seductively in the woods. The creature’s “roar.” Mukul Dev’s flaming sport coat. Meat dummy.

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Movie Review: Raaz 3 (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Note: This review covers the 2D version of the movie, not the 3D version.

I am not a fan of horror movies. I startle easily, and I’ve been known to walk out of the theater if a film is too intense. With that in mind, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed Raaz 3.

Despite being the third film in the horror series, Raaz 3 isn’t a true sequel. None of the characters from the previous Raaz (“Secret”) films carry over into this one, though actors Emraan Hashmi and Bipasha Basu are back for a second round.

This time, Basu plays Shanaya, a superstar actress who sees her fame being usurped by a new starlet, Sanjana (Esha Gupta). When conventional prayers don’t work, Shanaya turns to black magic to dethrone Sanjana. Shanaya enlists her boyfriend, Aditya (Emraan Hashmi), to help her carry out her evil plans.

Aditya, himself a successful director, helps out of love for Shanaya and obligation to her for furthering his movie career. He casts Sanjana in his new film as a means to poison her with an evil concoction that traps her soul in the spirit world. When the spell starts to have real world consequences beyond Sanjana’s emotional torment, Aditya realizes that being loyal to Shanaya was a mistake.

As with most horror films, the scares are the gilding on a traditional morality tale. Raaz 3 is really about the dangers of ego, jealousy, and the pursuit of fame, embodied by Shanaya. A neat shot early in the film captures Shanaya sitting in her luxurious apartment in front of a wall-sized photo of her own face. Her whole apartment is a tribute to herself, and Shanaya sees a threat to her standing in the industry as a threat to her very existence.

Basu is magnificent as Shanaya. She strikes the perfect balance of rage, vulnerability, and egomania. Her fear is understandable, and that’s what makes it so dangerous. Basu plays every scene perfectly, shedding tears as Shanaya reels Aditya in, turning ice-cold the second he consents to help her.

Hashmi likewise hits the right notes with Aditya, a guy whose good nature makes him an easy target. There are some great shots of Aditya as doctors and priests speculate as to what’s wrong with Sanjana, his face revealing his internal debate over whether he should admit his role in her suffering.

Esha Gupta is outshone by her costars. It’s only her second role, so I’ll cut her some slack, but she plays Sanjana all wrong early on. Sanjana, who’s supposed to be the innocent young actress uncorrupted by fame — the foil to Shanaya — aggressively pursues Aditya romantically on the set of their film. She comes across as desperate for love, almost as desperate as Shanaya is for fame.

Even though it’s nearly 140 minutes long, Raaz 3 is paced well enough to never feel slow, and characters are given time to develop. Director Vikram Bhatt doesn’t miss an opportunity for a callback (you didn’t think you’d seen the last of that creepy clown in the photo with Sanjana, did you?). There are some cool sets as well, from Shanaya’s glamorous apartment to the eerie pond in the slum where she bargains with the evil spirit.

The fact that I was able to endure the whole movie inside the theater indicates that Raaz 3 is probably tame by the standards of hardcore horror fans. There are a number of jump scares that are (mercifully) predictable, and those don’t even start until 30 minutes into the movie. It’s minimally gory, but its R rating is reason enough to leave the kids at home.

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Movie Review: Hate Story (2012)

1 Star (out of 4)

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Hate Story is a distressing allegory about revenge. In an attempt to create an erotic thriller with an empowered female lead character, writer-producer Vikram Bhatt instead reinforces a belief system that blames women for the sexual violence committed against them.

The story begins as up-and-coming newspaper reporter Kaavya (Paoli Dam) is tipped off to a secret meeting between a judge and the CEO of a construction firm. The tip comes at dinnertime, and Kaavya’s mom is miffed that her adult daughter won’t be able to help set the table. That Kaavya’s parents treat her job as a cute hobby and not the profession it is indicates where Hate Story falls on the gender-equity continuum.

Kaavya breaks the bribery scandal with the help of her male photographer/best friend Vicky (Nikhil Dwivedi). The son of the construction firm’s owner, Sid (Gulshan Devaiya), offers Kaavya a job in order to keep her from reporting such stories in the future. Kaavya chucks her journalistic ethics and takes the job.

A lot of stuff happens in the first forty minutes of the film. Kaavya falls for Sid and sleeps with him, only to learn that the job and romance were a ruse. Sid fires Kaavya, shoves her to the ground, and points a gun at her, telling her, “I fuck the people who fuck with me.” Kaavya learns that she’s pregnant and tells Sid she’ll get half his money anyway. So he has her kidnapped and taken to an illicit country clinic for an abortion. For good measure, Sid has the doctor permanently sterilize her.

Kaavya’s natural response to this horrific violation is to want revenge. Gelding Sid seems like the most equivalent form of retribution, but it’s never mentioned. Neither is murder. Instead, Kaavya wants to ruin Sid’s business. Somehow, that doesn’t seem comparable to being raped, impregnated, and forcibly sterilized.

Even stupider is Kaavya’s plan to ruin Sid by becoming Delhi’s most sought-after prostitute. Wouldn’t her skills as a journalist be more valuable than her ability to turn tricks? Given that she directly tells a couple of male characters, “I’m sleeping with you to get info to use against Sid,” only for them to have sex with her and give her the info anyway, maybe it’s not such a dumb plan after all.

What the plan highlights is the appalling idea that a woman who’s been sexually assaulted is damaged goods, only useful for yet more sexual acts. Bhatt tries to write a few lines to explain that this was Kaavya’s choice, but I don’t buy it. First of all, the plot moves along too quickly for any meaningful character development that could explain Kaavya’s abrupt transition from innocent young woman to jaded sex worker.

More importantly, Kaavya doesn’t have any other options. After nearly dying as a result of the forced abortion, her parents disown her and leave town to avoid their gossipy neighbors. Even Vicky blames Kaavya for the rape, since she did fall in love with Sid. Vicky, who loves Kaavya, never offers to marry her and build a new life with her.

The theme of Hate Story is that revenge is a dangerous game, but the counterpart of revenge is justice. There’s never any mention of Sid going to jail for his crimes against Kaavya, and no one pursues justice on her behalf. If revenge isn’t an option either, how is Kaavya supposed to respond to her sexual assault? I’d like to know Vikram Bhatt’s response.

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