Tag Archives: Vipin Sharma

Movie Review: Main Aur Charles (2015)

MainAurCharles3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

Main Aur Charles (“Me and Charles“) — a fictionalized account of the life of serial killer Charles Sobhraj by writer-director Prawaal Raman — explores not just the life of a charismatic criminal but the human tendency to hear only what we want to hear.

The real Charles targeted Western tourists in countries across Southeast Asia during the 1970s, often killing them to steal their money and passports. Raman’s version briefly shows two of those murders in Thailand, but the majority of the story concerns Charles’ 1986 escape from a Delhi prison.

With the help of several co-conspirators — including his girlfriend Mira (Richa Chadha) and fellow inmate Richard (Alexx O’Nell) — Charles (Randeep Hooda) walks out of jail in broad daylight. He escapes despite having less than a year remaining on his sentence and a relatively cushy life behind bars: books, a chess set, liquor, and parties with foreign women, all the fruit of bribing the warden (Vipin Sharma).

The police chase Charles from Delhi to Mumbai to Goa, where he shacks up in a hippie commune. Even when he’s recaptured, Charles wears the same smug grin, as though the cops are doing exactly what he wants them to.

The “Main” from the title — Inspector Amod Kanth (Adil Hussain) — doesn’t become a major player in the story until after Charles is back in the clink. It’s Kanth’s job to figure out how Charles managed to escape and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Kanth also becomes fixated on how a smart woman like Mira could fall for a conman like Charles. Even if she refuses to believe Charles a murderer, it’s hard to ignore the parade of women he’s slept with, some since they’ve been together. As Mira puts it, “He can escape, but no one can escape him.”

Charles’ magnetism is undeniable, especially with Hooda maxing out his own considerable charms in his portrayal. The conman chooses his targets carefully, identifying women primed to fall for his focused amorous attention. He uses his worldly air to impress men, promising them friendship and protection in exchange for their assistance.

That air of worldliness — characterized by Charles’ tendency to switch between languages, all tinged with a French accent — rankles Kanth. Why do so many people fall for this guy? It especially burns him when his wife (Tisca Chopra) becomes overly interested in the case.

Hooda is an ideal choice to play such a seductive conman, and Chadha shines as his willing victim. I’d love to see their intense chemistry in other romantic dramas. Hussain is also very good as the frustrated detective.

One persistent problem in the movie is the way Raman uses his camera to depict women. There are too many closeups of specific body parts or shots of women’s bodies with their heads out of frame. Mandana Karimi’s character Liz is introduced via a closeup of her buttocks. Liz and other “headless women” aren’t just anonymous victims but Charles’ valued accomplices, so there’s no narrative justification for erasing their identities and reducing them to body parts.

Then again, one has to wonder how or if this movie would even have been made had Charles exclusively targeted Indian women. The unwritten rule in Bollywood is that the bodies of white women and women of mixed Indian heritage (like Karimi) can be objectified in ways that the bodies of Indian women can’t. The ethnicity of Charles’ victims enables Raman to present the story in a spicier way than would otherwise be possible, making his choice of camera angles feel like additional degradation.

Problems aside, Main Aur Charles is an engrossing film with solid performances and satisfying narrative payoffs. Watch it for Hooda and Chadha, for sure.

Links

Advertisements

Movie Review: Dhanak (2015)

Dhanak3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Dhanak (“Rainbow“) is as charming as can be, a sweet fairy tale about a blind boy and his devoted sister. The deserts of Rajasthan provide the perfect setting for writer-director Nagesh Kukunoor’s story of faith, family, and the general goodness of mankind.

8-year-old Chotu (Krrish Chhabria) and his 10-year-old sister Pari (Hetal Gada) are orphans, living in a tiny village with their aunt and uncle. Aunty (Gulfam Khan) is a classic “wicked stepmother,” stingy and resentful of having to raise children who aren’t her own. Uncle Durgaram (Vipin Sharma) loves Pari and Chotu, but he’s a stoner who won’t stand up to his domineering wife.

Chotu and Pari are movie buffs who spin tales about their celluloid heroes: Chotu’s idol, Salman Khan, and Pari’s imaginary boyfriend, Shahrukh Khan. Outside of the town movie hall, Pari spies Shahrukh on a poster for a vision charity. The Shahrukh of her stories is noble and generous, so Pari believes he’s the man who can restore Chotu’s sight.

The village buzzes with news that Shahrukh is filming in nearby Jaisalmer (nearby being relative, since Jaisalmer is 300 kilometers away). When Uncle Durgaram won’t take them to ask Shahrukh for his help, Pari and Chotu put on their flip-flops and begin the long walk to Jaisalmer alone.

The relationship between brother and sister is adorable. Love underlies their argumentative banter, all the funnier thanks to their quick-wittedness. When Chotu leaves behind their water bottle, he scolds Pari, “How can you trust an 8-year-old? A blind 8-year-old at that?!” Pari looks heavenward and prays, “God, give me the strength not to kill my brother.”

They receive a considerable amount of help on their journey, getting lifts from friendly truck drivers and guests heading to a wedding. The kids are so guileless that most adults are eager to help, without trying to dissuade them from their mission.

Dhanak‘s rural setting — with smalls town separated by miles of sand dunes — is the perfect venue for telling the kind of story that no longer seems possible in the West. Given the omnipresence of technology that allows parents to be in constant contact with their children at all times, it’s refreshing to see a movie where the kids are the decision makers. They receive adult assistance, not interference.

That’s not to say that the world Pari and Chotu live in is perfectly safe. They encounter dangers, often from unlikely suspects. Then again, how safe were they at home, with their cruel aunt and spineless uncle? Since Dhanak is for kids as much as it is about them, the dangers Pari and Chotu face aren’t depicted in detail. The film is totally family friendly, and realistic without being scary.

Just as the kids are occasionally betrayed by figures of authority, they are encouraged to choose their allies based on more than first impressions. One of the sweetest relationships in the film is between the kids and Badrinath (Suresh Menon), a former truck driver mad with grief over the deaths of his own children. Their need allows him to regain some of what he’s lost, even for a short time.

A kindly grandmother tells Pari and Chotu that there is magic in the world, and they just have to reach out and grab it. Whether or not magic exists as an independent force in the film is debatable. Yet the kids’ journey teaches them that there is kindness and friendship to be found in the world, and that those forces are sometimes enough to make dreams come true.

Links

Movie Review: Shahid (2012)

Shahid4 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon

The best and worst aspects of humanity are on display in Shahid, a biographical film based on the life of the lawyer Shahid Azmi. Azmi’s assassination while defending an innocent man against terrorism charges embodies the personal and social costs of choosing quick, easy solutions at the expense of the truth.

Rajkummar Rao plays Shahid, whose own past mirrors the lives of the men he defends in court. As a teen, Shahid witnesses the gruesome murders of his neighbors in a religious riot in his Muslim neighborhood. Feeling powerless, he joins a militant Islamist training camp, only to flee after a few months.

Upon his return home, Shahid is arrested when his name is found in a terrorist’s diary. Torture and coercion at the hands of the police result in Shahid’s imprisonment for seven years.

In jail, Shahid finds his calling. Two fellow prisoners — a kindly professor and a reformed militant — recognize Shahid’s intelligence and steer him away from the terror recruiters in the jail. Professor Saxena (Yusuf Hussain) tutors Shahid and War Saab (Kay Kay Menon, who is delightful in every scene) finances Shahid’s studies.

On the outside, Shahid finishes his law degree and discovers how easy it is to manipulate the legal system. Shahid’s first case of note involves a computer repair man named Zaheer who lends his laptop to a friend. Unbeknownst to Zaheer, the friend uses the laptop to plan a terror attack, and Zaheer is implicated in the crime.

Despite having no direct evidence tying Zaheer to the crime, the prosecutor, More (Vipin Sharma), drags the trial on for years. Shahid’s persistence results in Zaheer’s eventual release and earns Shahid a reputation as a defender of unjustly persecuted Muslims. Shahid himself is violently targeted while defending a man wrongly accused of participating in the Mumbai terror attacks of November 26, 2008.

What stands out in the two trials depicted in the film — the real Shahid earned seventeen acquittals in his brief career — is how weak the state’s cases are. More’s stalling tactics are outrageous. In the second case, the prosecutor’s arguments are easily disproved.

Why would a government spend so much time and money to convict innocent men when those resources could’ve been spent trying to catch the real perpetrators? The prosecutor in the second case, Tambe (Shalini Vaste), reveals the answer when she says that even citizens who weren’t personally endangered during the attacks now feel scared in their own homes. The government needs to convict someone — anyone — so that the people will feel safe again.

As flawed as the justice system is, its agents aren’t depicted as monsters. Prosecutor More has one of the sweetest moments in the film. Following an intense argument with Shahid, More spies a sandwich in Shahid’s briefcase and tries to goad the young lawyer into splitting it with him, dissolving Shahid into giggles.

Shahid himself is far from perfect. He’s a lousy husband to his wife, Mariam (Prabhleen Sandhu), a former client. He refuses to address the persistent threats made against him, keeping his family in the dark even though their lives are in danger, too.

The character closest to perfect is Shahid’s devoted brother, Arif (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, who’s great in the film). Arif covers for Shahid when he joins the militants and encourages him to study law, even if it means Arif must support the family financially by himself. When Arif finally blows up at Shahid, it seems deserved.

Director Hansal Mehta uses the camera to emphasize how the justice system can diminish an individual. During Shahid’s initial interrogation, he huddles on the floor naked, the camera positioned at the ceiling to make him appear tiny compared to the police officer towering above him. In his first difficult days in prison, Shahid tells Arif to stop coming to visit him. Arif is fully in focus while Shahid stands behind a screen, the camera partially fulfilling Shahid’s wish to fade into obscurity.

Rao navigates skillfully through all the ups and downs in Shahid’s life. Rao’s infectious smile comes to Shahid’s face easily and often during the character’s first trial and initial courtship of Maryam. As the story progresses and the cycle of unjust imprisonment of innocent men persists, Shahid’s smile all but disappears.

Links