Tag Archives: Vineet Kumar Singh

Movie Review: Saand Ki Aankh (2019)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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The real-life women who inspired Saand Ki Aankh (“Bull’s Eye“) are extraordinary, but the film about their lives is less so, because the actresses who play them are miscast. That isn’t to say that thirty-somethings Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar are bad in their roles. They’re just not convincing playing women in their sixties.

The main factor that keeps the movie from being immersive is that the “old lady” makeup and hair coloring applied to Pannu and Pednekar throughout looks absurd. It’s impossible not to notice it. Their temporary gray hair dye isn’t applied realistically and seems like something that you’d find at a Halloween store, meant to be sprayed on in the morning and washed out at night (if it hasn’t all flaked off by then). The same dye looks especially bad when painted onto Pednekar’s eyebrows. The texture of their face makeup might be passable for a stage performance, but it doesn’t holdup under the gaze of a movie camera.

Pannu and Pednekar play Prakashi and Chandro Tomar, respectively, two sisters-in-law living in a village in Uttar Pradesh in 1999. Their crowded household is shared by their husbands, children, and grandchildren, and governed by their husband’s older brother, Rattan Singh Tomar (Prakash Jha), along with his own wife and offspring.

All of the other performers in Saand Ki Aankh play characters their own age, with Rattan and his brothers played by younger actors in the film’s few flashbacks. Pannu and Pednekar are the only constants, further drawing attention to the age difference between the actresses and their characters. Given how brief the flashbacks are, there’s no logical explanation for why actresses aged closer to sixty weren’t cast in these roles.

Prakashi and Chandro have toiled for decades on behalf of their family: cooking, cleaning, stacking bricks, and each birthing eight children while their husbands lounge about. When Dr. Yashpal (Vineet Kumar Singh) opens a shooting range, promising government jobs to those who excel, the boys in the Tomar family scoff at the notion of working for a living. But Prakashi and Chandro recognize a chance for their granddaughters to break out of the stifling patriarchal system and chart their own destinies.

Secretly, Chandro brings her granddaughter Shefali (Sara Arjun) to the range, while Prakashi accompanies her daughter Seema (Pritha Bakshi). To encourage the two girls, the older ladies take their turns firing, only to discover that they are naturals. Dr. Yashpal convinces Chandro and Prakashi to enter a shooting tournament for seniors. In order to compete, they have to trick their husbands and brother-in-law into letting them travel to the city — no easy feat since Rattan’s strict rules for women includes veiling their faces even inside the house. The ladies pull off the ruse and win the tournament, starting their careers as clandestine sharpshooters.

For all its faults, Saand Ki Aankh is very clear about who Chandro and Prakashi are and what motivates them. They are housewives, and even after they taste success, they don’t expect more from life. When the husband of a fellow shooter talks about how proud he is of is wife, the sisters-in-law can barely understand how that’s possible. They accept that there is nothing they could accomplish that would make their husbands feel proud of them. They can only meet expectations or face potential violence for failing to do so.

It’s refreshing that, even though the story is inspiring, inspiration was never the goal of the characters. Everything Chandro and Prakashi do is for the betterment of the lives of their daughters and granddaughters.

Saand Ki Aankh‘s structuring is awkward, which is unfortunate, since this is the directorial debut of experienced screenwriter Tushar Hiranandani. Though Hiranandani didn’t write this script (which is credited to Balwinder Singh Janjua), perhaps he could have given it a final polish to reorganize it a bit. The film’s opening sequence — which repeats after about an hour when the story catches up to it chronologically — is overly long and not attention-grabbing enough to warrant a double take. Shefali serves as the off-screen narrator for a few random scenes, so it would’ve made more sense to open with her narration and use it consistently throughout. Trimming at least half-an-hour off the overall runtime would’ve helped, too.

The Tomar sisters-in-law have certainly lived lives worth making into a movie. I just wish this one was a little better.

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Movie Review: Gold (2018)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Director Reema Kagti and screenwriter Rajesh Devraj took some liberties with Gold, their fictionalized account of India’s 1948 Olympic field hockey victory, changing the names of players and minor details while keeping the core of the story intact. Yet the story’s predetermined ending seems to have stumped the filmmakers, as almost every attempt to create tension in Gold feels forced and inorganic.

The events of Gold are told from the perspective of Tapan Das (Akshay Kumar), an assistant manager on the British Indian field hockey team that won gold at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. As the world’s most formidable hockey team for many years running, frustration builds among the team at being forced to share their glory with their British oppressors. But with the independence movement growing in strength, Tapan and the team’s captain, Shankar (Kunal Kapoor), hope to one day win the gold for India alone.

World War II cancels the Olympics in 1940 and again in 1944. This is addressed in a song montage that shows Tapan spiraling into despair and alcoholism, but it warranted further exploration. What was it like for those athletes who spent their prime competitive years on the sidelines, particularly those in countries far removed from the theater of war? We learn from Tapan that Shankar became a coach and that another player, Imtiaz Ali Shah (Vineet Kumar Singh), became a freedom fighter, but not how they felt about being unable to compete.

Gold’s greatest fault is that it is too focused on Akshay Kumar’s character. His emotional journey is the only one shown in any real depth, and events are shown exclusively from his perspective. It’s a stark contrast to 2007’s Chak De! India — another patriotic field hockey movie — which managed to establish about a dozen other memorable characters, in addition to a manager played by a superstar actor (in that case, Shah Rukh Khan).

When the war ends and a new Olympic games is announced for 1948 in England, Tapan rushes to assemble a team. With independence from Britain right around the corner, it’s the perfect opportunity to beat the Brits on their home soil. The sports commissioner Mr. Wadia gives his consent, with the provision that Tapan share managerial duties with Mr. Mehta (Atul Kale).

With the former superstar Shankar comfortably retired, Tapan enlists Imtiaz to serve as captain, bringing veteran leadership to a squad of young players with no international experience. Two hopeful new stars include a Punjabi policeman named Himmat (Sunny Kaushal) and Raghubhir Pratap Singh (Amit Sadh), a prince from a noble family.

Yet the plans Tapan and Imtiaz make in anticipation of independence are destroyed by the surprise implementation of Partition. Violence forces Imtiaz and several other Muslim players to flee with their families to the newly formed Pakistan, and the team’s British-Indian players head to Australia. Gold‘s best sequence is the heart-wrenching moment when Imtiaz decides to leave the nation whose independence he fought for, saying: “My country is different now.” His character’s particular struggles warrant a standalone movie.

Sadly, Gold heads downhill from here. The newly assembled team’s training is plagued by problems that promise to generate dramatic tension. Only that tension never really manifests — since the problems are all solved as quickly as they start. Mehta undermines Tapan, but Wadia immediately endorses Tapan’s approach. The team won’t work together, but then they learn to do so in a matter of minutes.

It’s a shame that Kagti and Devraj abandon politics at this point, since it could have been a good source of intra-team conflict, especially since the characters aren’t strictly based on any of the real-life team members. How do working class team members feel about playing with a prince, who seems unaffected by the fallout from Partition? Is Himmat worried about the violence in Punjab while he’s in training? How do any of the other dozen or so unnamed players feel about… well, anything? Instead, the climactic tension is created by one character needlessly withholding information from others — a silly shortcut, given all the potential sources of conflict available.

The acting is uniformly decent, with Singh giving the film’s standout performance. Shah and Kaushal are good as well. Kumar is fine, but the film’s uneven mix of drama and comedy keeps this from being one of his more memorable roles. Mouni Roy — who plays Tapan’s wife, Monobina — likewise suffers for having to perform comedy scenes that aren’t especially funny. Roy is seventeen years younger than Kumar, which makes one wonder why her young, attractive character would marry a much older, intermittently-employed drunk — a question that could have been avoided by casting an actress closer in age to Kumar.

Many of Gold‘s shortcomings could be forgiven if its hockey scenes were exciting, but they aren’t (the few that exist anyway). The Olympic scenes are also hampered by distracting CGI crowds in the background. Contrast that with the thrilling, beautifully-shot hockey scenes in Chak De! India, and Gold is strictly average.

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Movie Review: Bombay Talkies (2013)

Bombay_Talkies3 Stars (out of 4)

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Bombay Talkies is a collection of short films by four young directors, created to honor one hundred years of cinema in India. The results are mixed, but the two best shorts make the whole film worth watching.

Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh by Karan Johar

Johar’s short — a story of a gay tabloid intern (played by Saqib Saleem) who upends the life of his married boss (Rani Mukerji) — is the least successful of the four films. It doesn’t feel like a complete story, but rather a subplot of a full-length feature. The events depicted in the short would’ve made a nice catalyst for the further development of Mukerji’s character or an interesting interlude in a longer movie about Saleem’s character, struggling to find his way both as a young adult and as a gay man who’s been cast out from his family. The short film as it stands doesn’t work.

Star by Dibakar Banerjee

Banerjee’s effort is much more polished and showcases the incredible talent of Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Siddiqui plays Puradev, a failed actor who hops from job to job while waiting for his big break. Banerjee’s narrative includes some charming whimsical elements, such as Puradev’s pet emu and the disappointed ghost of his acting mentor. Siddiqui shines in a great scene in which Puradev pantomimes the events of his day for his daughter’s amusement.

Sheila Ki Jawaani by Zoya Akhtar

Akhtar’s short is the best of the bunch. Her story concerns a little boy named Vicky (Naman Jain) who wants to be a dancer, much to the chagrin of his macho father (played by Ranvir Shorey). Vicky’s idol, actress Katrina Kaif, appears to him in a vision, encouraging him to follow his dreams covertly. He gets further support from his understanding older sister, Kavya (Khushi Dubey).

Like Banerjee’s short, Akhtar’s movie includes some fantastical elements, celebrating the way in which movies allow us to envision a more magical version of reality. Hindi movies rarely feature child protagonists, so it’s refreshing to see a story that focuses on the concerns of children. Jain and Dubey are terrific.

Kaif’s advice to Vicky — be true to your dreams, but don’t broadcast them — seems like a bit of a bummer until her audience is taken into consideration. Vicky — like all children — has so little control over his present circumstances that there’s wisdom in trying to make his day-to-day life easier until he’s an adult and can do what he wants. It’s also a warning to parents to remember that children need respect as individuals as much as they need guidance and protection.

Murabba by Anurag Kashyap

After Akhtar’s delightful short, Kashyap’s film is a downer. His story follows a rural guy named Vijay (Vineet Kumar Singh) on his quest to meet Amitabh Bachchan and get him to take a bite of a piece of preserved fruit. Vijay’s father believes he’ll be cured of his ailments if he eats the rest of the fruit blessed by Bachchan’s bite, and he sends his son on a fool’s errand. Given the security retinues of modern stars, Vijay’s task is practically impossible to complete, and much suffering is inflicted upon the dutiful son in the process. It’s not fun to watch, and the payoff isn’t worth it.

“Apna Bombay Talkies”

The quartet of films is followed by a cheesy song-and-dance number featuring clips of old films and lip-syncing by current Bollywood stars. It’s almost as painfully self-congratulatory as the celebrity role-call song “Deewangi Deewangi” from Om Shanti Om, but it’s not as well choreographed. Check it out:

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