Tag Archives: Vikramaditya Motwane

Movie Review: AK vs AK (2020)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch AK vs AK on Netflix

AK vs AK is the most novel Hindi film to release in 2020, but novelty is just part of its appeal. Director Vikramaditya Motwane’s meta take on the Indian film industry — and two members of it in particular — is smart, insightful, and a lot of fun.

The AKs of the title are Anil Kapoor and Anurag Kashyap, who play outlandish versions of themselves, as do other members of the Kapoor family. The story is fictional but trades on the participants’ real-life reputations and circumstances. AK vs AK‘s Anurag is a temperamental and self-important arthouse director who feels he deserves more acclaim, while Anil is an aging star who’s slow to accept that his biggest films are behind him.

Anil’s character seems further removed from the real person (no offense to Anurag), but he serves to highlight both the importance of the Bollywood star system and the refusal of many of the men within it to acknowledge the passage of time, insisting on playing college students into their fifties. The fact that Kapoor chose to play the character as he does in AK vs AK shows why he’s the model for aging gracefully in Bollywood.

The story opens with Anurag and Anil onstage for a question and answer session with film students. They trade barbs, bringing to the surface a simmering resentment from when Anurag was a young filmmaker and Anil turned down a role in one of his movies. Anil accidentally spills water on Anurag’s expensive shoes, and Anurag retaliates by throwing water in Anil’s face.

All of this is captured by a video camera operated by Yogita (Yogita Bihani), a filmmaker shadowing Anurag for a documentary project. Yogita helps Anurag concoct an audacious revenge plan to kidnap Anil’s daughter Sonam (playing herself) and film Anil’s search for her. Anurag believes this will cement his directorial genius by capturing Anil’s most realistic performance ever.

What follows is a nighttime chase, as Anil tries to find Sonam before sunrise, at which time the kidnappers who’ve nabbed Sonam have promised to kill her. A video of a tearful Sonam bound and gagged convinces Anil that Anurag is not joking. The two cruise around in Anil’s SUV along with Yogita, who documents the search.

The chase involves a stop at Anil’s house to put in a cursory appearance at his own birthday party to placate his suspicious family, who don’t know about the kidnapping. Anil and Anurag get in a fistfight and destroy a Christmas tree, but it’s somehow not even the funniest part of the sequence at the house. That honor goes to Anil’s son Harsh (playing himself), who is desperate to work with a director of Anurag’s caliber. Harsh acts out his pitch to play an action figure while Anil tries to get him to leave, ending with Harsh screaming about AK vs AK director Vikramaditya Motwane ruining his career when their movie Bhavesh Joshi Superhero flopped. It’s insidery, but hilarious.

Those familiar with the Hindi film industry will get more out of AK vs AK than those who aren’t. I’m sure I missed some references to films from earlier in Kapoor’s career. That said, the overall story is totally comprehensible for those who aren’t Bollywood fans. The way it’s shot — with long takes and clever camera angles that keep Yogita out of frame except for when she’s part of the story — is reason enough to watch it.

There’s also a great examination of the price of stardom. In his most vulnerable moments, Anil can’t get anyone to help him without first taking a selfie with them. Years of entertaining people onscreen isn’t enough for a cop or taxi driver to give Anil information without demanding an additional toll. Not only does he not get special treatment in his hour of need, he doesn’t even get the same courtesy one would afford a complete stranger.

Motwane walks a fine line, making sure the audience always knows how to react to a given scene. AK vs AK is funny when it’s supposed to funny and sad when it’s supposed to be sad. Even the uncomfortable moments where the audience is forced to consider whether something is funny or not clearly feel intentional. Motwane always makes great movies, and AK vs AK is no exception.

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Movie Review: Bhavesh Joshi Superhero (2018)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

Hindi cinema loves a vigilante, that one good man who fights against a corrupt system. Bhavesh Joshi Superhero takes that template in a fresh, contemporary direction, addressing problems that are uniquely Indian but tie in with struggles being fought around the world.

After the government crushes their political opposition group, young activists Bhavesh (Priyanshu Painyali) and Siku (Harshvardhan Kapoor) take their fight for justice to YouTube. Wearing paper bags over their heads, they confront lawbreakers for infractions like public urination and traffic violations, while their videographer buddy Rajat (Ashish Verma) records the encounters.

Years of small-scale victories but no systemic change take their toll on the trio, emotionally and also physically when the occasional video subject decides to fight back. Siku and Rajat are ready to move on, accepting a broken social contract as an annoying inconvenience in their otherwise comfortable middle class lives. Unemployed Bhavesh resents his friends for quitting before the fight is won.

Things come to a head when Bhavesh uncovers evidence of a scam to divert water from the municipal supply. He doesn’t have all the pieces to the puzzle, but he’s willing to take risks to find them. Siku’s too preoccupied with a potential job transfer to Atlanta and how that will affect his relationship with his girlfriend Sneha (Shreiyah Sabharwal) to care.

India’s water infrastructure problems are uniquely complicated, and basing the story’s big crime around it roots the film in a specific place. Yet the characters’ frustrations are relatable to anyone who isn’t rich.

It’s an especially interesting choice by writer-director Vikramaditya Motwane — whose impressive resume includes Udaan, Lootera, and Trapped — and his co-writers Abhay Koranne  and filmmaker Anurag Kashyap to set up a class conflict within the main trio. Siku is an engineer and Rajat a journalist, so they have options that Bhavesh does not. Bhavesh sympathizes with the underclass because he’s a member of it. Champions of workers rights across the globe face the same challenge: how to motivate members of the middle class for whom matters like access to water or healthcare are merely academic, not an urgent need.

Much of the press leading up to the film’s release focused on Harshvardhan Kapoor, the son of a prominent acting family, in his second movie after a disastrous debut (at least from a box office perspective). He’s perfectly fine in this, as are Verma and Sabharwal. The movie’s villains are likewise well acted, although I found their relationships a little complicated due to my unfamiliarity with job titles within the Indian bureaucracy.

The real surprise is Priyanshu Painyuli as Bhavesh. He pivots easily from Bhavesh’s exuberance during happy times to his simmering rage when things start to fall apart. Bhavesh is frequently lit in red to emphasize his righteous anger and revolutionary spirit, and Amit Trivedi’s dynamic score sets the perfect tone.

Even though Bhavesh Joshi Superhero draws from Bollywood’s vigilante legacy, it makes the case that social movements aren’t a solo effort. They require a group of people working together. One person may sacrifice more than the others, but you can’t change the world alone.

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Best Bollywood Movies of 2013

What stands out most on my Top Ten list for 2013 is the diversity of genres represented. No matter what you’re in the mood for, there’s a really good movie on this list. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)

Want a fun teen dance flick? Check out ABCD: Any Body Can Dance.
Looking for a good sports movie or biopic? Try Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.
In the mood for a family drama set in the underworld? You’ve gotta see Aurangzeb.

In addition to the great variety on the list, all the movies mentioned are accessible to an international audience. Familiarity with Hindi movies and their structure may enhance one’s appreciation of Phata Poster Nikla Hero or Commando: A One Man Army, but a lack of prior experience shouldn’t keep Bollywood newcomers from enjoying them. In fact, Commando‘s best selling point is that it’s a martial arts action flick with a romantic dance number in the middle.

2013 was a great year for films featuring ensemble casts. Movies like Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola and D-Day showcase the work of veteran stars, while Shuddh Desi Romance and Kai Po Che! — both of which star Sushant Singh Rajput — feature up-and-comers with bright futures ahead of them.

D-Day also features my single favorite scene in any movie from 2013: a heartbreaking song montage about the doomed relationship between an assassin (Arjun Rampal) and a prostitute (Shruti Haasan).

My favorite Hindi movie of 2013 offers the perfect mix of passion and drama in a beautiful setting. If I could dream up an ideal romantic movie, it would be Lootera. [Buy it on DVD here.]

Writers Vikramaditya Motwane and Bhavani Iyer took a short story by O. Henry and adapted it to depict a tumultuous time period in India, as family fortunes were dismantled in the years following partition. Imagine trying to cope with the heightened emotions of first love while your way of life is turned on its head. Such are the circumstances for Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha) and her beau, Varun (Ranveer Singh).

Fans of Victorian literature or contemporary period dramas like Downton Abbey: Lootera is made for you.

Best Bollywood Movies of 2013

  1. Lootera — Buy at Amazon
  2. D-Day — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  3. Kai Po Che! — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  4. Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola — Buy/rent at Amazon
  5. Shuddh Desi Romance — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  6. Commando: A One Man Army — Buy at Amazon
  7. ABCD: Any Body Can Dance — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  8. Aurangzeb — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  9. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  10. Phata Poster Nikla Hero — Buy at Amazon

Previous Best Movies Lists

Movie Review: Lootera (2013)

Lootera-New-Poster14 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Vikramaditya Motwane made his directorial debut in 2010 with the incredible movie Udaan. His sophomore effort is Lootera (“Robber”), a film that is romantic, tragic, beautiful, and damned near perfect.

The story is set in the early 1950s, not long after Great Britain abdicated its control of India. Local governments are in the process of reclaiming and redistributing the wealth gifted by the British to aristocratic families. The Zamindar of Manikpur is slow to accept that life as he knew it is about to change.

At the same time, a young archeologist named Varun (Ranveer Singh) arrives to excavate an ancient temple on the Zamindar’s estate. The handsome archeologist attracts the attention of the Zamindar’s bright daughter, Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha). Romance blossoms under the restrained social conventions of the time. The two contrive to spend time together under the guise of Varun teaching Pakhi how to paint, even though she knows far more about the art than he does.

Varun’s assistant, Debdas, warns him to end his flirtations before he breaks Pakhi’s heart. They will leave as soon as their project ends, and besides, Varun’s uncle won’t allow him to get married.

Lootera takes its time parsing out information, allowing the audience to fall in love with the characters before hinting at the possible complications. Varun and Pakhi are both young, smart, and attractive. Her father is fond of Varun, not to mention rich. Why would Varun’s uncle object to their relationship?

When the answer is revealed, it sets off a cascade of events that set up a thrilling second half. Amit Tridevi’s score augments the film perfectly, as does the frequent absence of a background score when atmospheric sounds are more appropriate.

Overall, Lootera is a quiet movie. Varun and Pakhi speak in whispers or sit together in silence, drawing the audience into the intimacy of their relationship.

With such a tight focus on the leading couple, the success of the film depends entirely upon the performances of Singh and Sinha. Both actors are more than up to the task. Singh does some excellent work when Varun tries to heed Debdas’ advice and push Pakhi away. He speaks of not wanting to see her anymore, but his face can’t help but give Pakhi — and the audience — a hint that he’s lying.

Pakhi undergoes some major changes of the course of the movie, and Sinha is superb at adapting while keeping the core of the character intact. Even in Pakhi’s darkest moments, some small joy lights up her face in the same smile as the innocent girl introduced at the start of the film. This is undoubtedly Sinha’s finest work to date.

The pacing of the story, the gorgeous cinematography, and the tremendous acting make Lootera a movie that should have universal appeal and stand the test of time. I look forward to revisiting this many times in the years to come — and recommending it to everyone I know.

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