Tag Archives: Vir Das

Movie Review: Shivaay (2016)

shivaay1 Star (out of 4)

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As producer, director, and star of Shivaay, Ajay Devgn had the freedom to create exactly the film he wanted. Such a concentration of power meant there was no one to tell him when he was headed in the wrong direction. As a result, Devgn’s second directorial venture is dense and slow, with an undercurrent of hostility toward women.

Shivaay‘s titular hero is another rendition of the human instrument of divine justice Devgn regularly plays. The character’s slightly superhuman qualities are displayed in an early song sequence, with Shivaay speedily descending a mountain while lyrics proclaim that “Shiva is in all of us.” Godlike, Shivaay tells some soldiers he rescued, “I will be here whenever I am needed.”

Unlike Devgn’s iconic character — police officer Bajirao Singham, from the Singham films — Shivaay isn’t beholden to the rules of any professional organization. He defines his own morality, which conveniently allows him to destroy much of Bulgaria in his quest to free his daughter from child traffickers.

His daughter, Gaura (British child actor Abigail Eames), is the product of an affair between Shivaay and Olga (Polish actress Erika Kaar), a Bulgarian woman studying in India. They fall in love on one of Shivaay’s Himalayan treks, for which Olga inexplicably packs short-shorts and tank tops. He saves her from an avalanche, establishing a precedent for Shivaay to rescue dozens of other women in distress before the closing credits roll.

The sequence that accompanies the song “Darkhaast” had the potential to be an interesting take on traditional romantic numbers. Shivaay and Olga make love in a precariously positioned tent as they await rescue after the avalanche. Olga is frightened as the tent falls to a ledge below, but the song continues, as do Shivaay’s romantic overtures, assured as he is of their divine protection. The problem is that Olga has a broken leg. Ain’t no way she gonna be rollin’ about and climbing on him with a broken leg!

Olga convalesces at Shivaay’s house, reminding him that she has to return to Bulgaria soon because her mother and sister depend on her financially. When Olga accidentally gets pregnant, Shivaay ignores her pleas not to be forced to carry a child she doesn’t want and can’t afford to care for. “Please give me this child…and you go,” he tells her. She caves to his emotional blackmail and births Gaura, but returns to Bulgaria without so much as looking at her daughter. Gaura grows up, inheriting her mother’s fair complexion and her father’s love for mountain climbing.

Casting Eames is a mistake for a couple of reasons. In order to work around Eames’ British accent and presumable inability to speak Hindi, Gaura is mute. Gaura is also supposed to be eight years old, yet Eames was twelve when Shivaay was filmed and looks very much her age. The miscasting is particularly distracting when Gaura throws violent tantrums that would be considered immature enough for an actual eight-year-old, much less a tween.

Gaura finds evidence that her mother is not dead — as she’d been told — and she demands to meet Olga. Father and daughter travel to Bulgaria and immediately stumble upon a child trafficking ring. Shivaay liberates a little boy and exposes the criminals, who kidnap Gaura in retaliation. By this point, there’s been an avalanche, a love affair, childhood montages, and an international trip, and the movie is barely an hour into its two-and-a-half hour runtime.

The quest to rescue Gaura triggers several chase sequences that would be more exciting if they were half as long. Also, with Devgn in charge of everything, perhaps no one felt comfortable addressing his rigid, sluggish running form. Many members of the audience at my showing headed to the restroom or concession stand during the action sequences, which is a worse condemnation than anything I can write.

Years spent raising Gaura haven’t tempered Shivaay’s anger at Olga, and he unleashes a torrent of abuse at her when she comes forward to help find Gaura. Nevermind that Shivaay didn’t even try to contact Olga before heading to Bulgaria, which would’ve avoided this whole problem in the first place, yet again placing his own desires before hers.

Shivaay’s hostility toward Olga is part of a weird undercurrent in the film that seems to question women’s ability to love children. Note the absence of mothers from the movie. Shivaay himself grew up without a mother, as did Gaura. When Shivaay frees another woman from forced prostitution, she doesn’t mention her mom, only wondering why her father didn’t come to save her.

Then there’s Anu (Sayesha Saigal), an Indian embassy worker who lives with her elderly father (she’s motherless, too, apparently). When Anu tells Shivaay to stop acting like a criminal, he takes her hostage, all the while questioning her patriotism for daring to tell an Indian man what he can’t do. Anu’s father sides with Shivaay, explaining that he simply did what any father would do to save his child, and that Anu can’t possibly understand. By that logic, doesn’t that then obligate Anu’s dad to attack Shivaay for trying to harm Anu?

All the hostility toward women, combined with bad pacing and monotonous action scenes, make Shivaay a slog. The most amusing moment in the film is when a hacker played by Vir Das yells, “I’m being double hacked!” But that line’s not actually supposed to be funny. Give Shivaay a miss.

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Movie Review: Revolver Rani (2014)

RevolverRani0.5 Star (out of 4)

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You know that flustered feeling you get when some older relative starts telling you a story about someone you don’t know, without giving you any context? “Bob Smith’s daughter found a new wedding venue, so now his dog can have that operation.” You’re left with more questions than answers, and you’re not even sure why you’re supposed to care. That’s the feeling one gets from Revolver Rani.

Writer-director Sai Kabir’s gangster drama lacks any of the hallmarks one expects from a story told by anyone over the age of seven — let alone a professional moviemaker — such as logical plot progression, character development, continuity, or audience awareness.

The story begins so abruptly that it feels as if the first part of the film was accidentally cut from the reel. Uday Bhan Singh (Zakir Hussain), who may be a crook, is elected minister of a small town. Two of his cronies beg Uday’s leave to kill Alka Singh — whoever she is — to avenge their brother’s death at her hands, but Uday says no. This scenario repeats itself several more times throughout the film, and it’s just as tiresome each time.

Instead, the brothers kidnap Alka’s boyfriend, Rohan (Vir Das). Then the opening credits roll.

Ten minutes into the film, there’s still no sign of Kangana Ranaut, the star upon whose fame the project is sold. We can presume (correctly) that Ranaut plays Alka Singh, but we have no proof, and no information as to who Alka is or why she is important.

After the credits, Alka finally shows up to rescue Rohan. The action immediately cuts to a flashback in which Rohan arranges to win an underwear-modeling contest held in Alka’s honor — huh??? — in order to use her money and influence to further his acting career.

This is the way the whole movie unfolds. Scenes are stitched together seemingly at random. Characters operate without backstory, motivation, or clearly explained connections to one another. Political machinations presented as the obvious course of action are baffling without the necessary context.

I have no doubt that the world of Revolver Rani and its inhabitants make perfect sense to Sai Kabir. He just forgot that the rest of us can’t see inside his head.

There are plenty of opportunities to fill-in the details of this cinematic world, but Kabir instead clutters the story with boring song montages that don’t elucidate anything. Worse still, most of the music in Revolver Rani is bad.

As talented an actress as Ranaut is, she’s given so little to work with that Alka’s character winds up a garbled mess: soft-spoken one minute, enraged and gun-toting the next. No one else in the picture fares any better.

The idea of a modern female gangster with Wild West sensibilities and a couture wardrobe is intriguing. So is the notion of how such a woman would incorporate marriage and kids into her violent lifestyle. But these ideas don’t go anywhere in the confusing, half-baked Revolver Rani.

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Movie Review: Mastizaade (2016)

Mastizaade0 Stars (out of 4)

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Writer-director Milap Zaveri doesn’t seem to understand the difference between being funny and making fun of someone. His latest film, Mastizaade, is hateful.

Take for example the film’s lone gay character, Das, played by Suresh Menon. (There’s also a trans character who is depicted as frightening and repulsive.) Das is portrayed as a lustful sexual predator who sneaks into people’s hotel rooms. He is shown being sexually aroused by what he mistakenly thinks is an act of bestiality. His own father calls him “disgusting.”

Does Zaveri not have the empathy to realize that writing such characters reinforces harmful stereotypes about gay men? Apparently not, otherwise he’d be more circumspect about writing East Asians, people with speech impediments and physical disabilities, and women as well. Unless you are a cool, thirtysomething Indian dude, Zaveri considers you a target.

The cool dudes at the heart of Mastizaade are Aditya (Vir Das) and Sunny (Tusshar Kapoor), a pair of ad men who make juvenile commercials laden with sex references. They frequent sex addiction support groups, hoping to get beautiful recovering addicts to fall of the wagon and into their beds. If they don’t succeed there, they bring booze to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Hope for redemption for two such despicable characters arrives in the form of Lily and Laila Lele (both played by Sunny Leone), a pair of voluptuous twins who run a sex addiction clinic. The twins are the first women the guys have been able to see as something more than potential conquests.

Lily and Laila mistake Aditya and Sunny for sex addicts, a fact of no narrative consequence despite how many times it’s restated in the film. Somehow everyone winds up in Thailand, and the twins fall in love with the idiots for no good reason. Plot is not Zaveri’s foremost concern.

It’s also unclear why Lily speaks with a stutter. It’s not a challenge for her character to overcome during the course of the story, nor does it have any noticeable effect on the dialogue she delivers (as far as I can tell). Her stutter exists because Zaveri thinks people who stutter are funny.

He also gets a kick out of people with physical disabilities, having a crowd of bystanders point and laugh at a man left behind in his motorized wheelchair as everyone else takes off on a car chase.

If a child exhibited the kind of bullying behavior Zaveri writes into Mastizaade, he’d be sent to his room without supper and grounded for a month. Why Zaveri thinks he can get away with it as an adult boggles the mind.

Let’s not forget the way Zaveri looks down on women. Even though Sunny Leone is by far the biggest star in the picture, her characters lack agency, playing second fiddle to the two male leads. Laila is entirely defined by her sexual appetite, though she is only able to land Sunny when she dresses as a traditional Indian housewife and prays for her beloved’s well-being.

Naive Lily is engaged to wheelchair-bound Deshpremi (Shaad Randhawa), who seems like a decent guy. However, Zaveri’s narrative calls Deshpremi’s manliness into question based on his disability. This somehow gives license to Aditya to torpedo Lily’s relationship with Deshpremi through trickery. Why exactly are we supposed to be happy when Lily chooses Aditya over Deshpremi?

Time after time, Milap Zaveri is involved in projects that are mean-spirited and bigoted, whether it’s as the dialogue writer for Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3, the screenwriter for Grand Masti, or the writer-director of Mastizaade. Maybe its time to stop patronizing a filmmaker who insists on churning out such poison.

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Streaming Video News: January 15, 2015

I updated my list of Bollywood films on Netflix with one new addition to the catalog. The 2013 comedy Sooper Se Ooper, starring Vir Das, is now available for streaming.

New Trailers: June 15, 2014

Two new Hindi film trailers released today. Coming first to theaters — though not in the U.S., I suspect — is the cute-looking Vir Das comedy Amit Sahni Ki List, releasing July 18.

One of the biggest movies of the year — Salman Khan’s Kick — hits theaters the following weekend on July 25.

I’m going to have to wait until an English-subtitled version of the trailer is released in order to make heads or tails of the plot. The romantic storyline involving beardless Salman and Jacqueline Fernandez looks awful, but I’m reassured by the presence of Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Randeep Hooda in the bearded Salman storyline. Kick could be a lot of fun.

Movie Review: Go Goa Gone (2013)

Go_Goa_Gone_poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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Timing is everything in horror movies. Getting it right keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. Get it wrong, and the audience feels like they’re ticking boxes on a horror cliché checklist. The zombie flick Go Goa Gone gets its timing all wrong.

The premise is actually good. Dumped by his girlfriend, dope-smoking loser Luv (Vir Das) wants to forget about his romantic troubles. His horny roommate, Hardik (Kunal Khemu), sees this as a perfect excuse for a weekend of partying. They tag along with their straight-laced pal, Bunny (Anand Tiwari), on a business trip to the beach paradise Goa. The guys find themselves in trouble when a new party drug turns a bunch of ravers into the living dead.

Instead of getting right to the action, there’s a bunch of needless setup scenes. Hardik gets in trouble with his boss. Luv tosses out all his booze and drugs in order to impress his girlfriend, only to have her ditch him when he proposes to her. This is all stuff that could’ve happened offscreen beforehand, and the guys could cover it while they sit on the couch getting high. We don’t need to see it.

It takes about twenty minutes for the guys to get to Goa, and another twenty minutes for the zombies to show up. In a movie with a runtime of 110 minutes, that’s way too long.

Go Goa Gone has a lot in common with Delhi Belly (which also starred Das), another raunchy comedy made for an adult audience. Unfortunately, directors Raj & D.K. missed one of the crucial elements that made Delhi Belly so effective: no intermission.

With a runtime of only 90 minutes and no intermission, Delhi Belly maintains a cracking pace. It’s efficient, with no wasted scenes and no extraneous dialog. Go Goa Gone‘s additional twenty minutes of time to kill and the need for a break at a sensible point in the middle makes it bloated and slow by comparison.

This is most noticeable in the dialog, which is very funny at times — but which, like the undead, goes on longer than it should. For example, when Luv realizes that he and Hardik are being pursued by a bunch of flesh-eating zombies, he asks, “We only have ghosts and spirits in India. Where’d they come from?” “Globalization,” answers Hardik.

Rather than ending on that clever line, the scene continues on with further speculation as to the origin of the zombies. Watching the film, I kept thinking about the Seinfeld episode where George realizes that he’s dragging out his jokes too long and resolves to “end on a high note.” (A clip from the episode is embedded below.) Raj & D.K. don’t know when to end a funny scene, and the jokes get lost.

Even the scenes with the zombies feel boring. The creatures most often appear in large, slow-moving hordes, which the main characters easily outrun. Characters open doors with impunity, since there never seems to be a zombie hiding behind them. I usually hate jump scares, but even I was disappointed by the film’s lack of them.

The only advantage to the big groups of zombies is that it allows the Russian mobster Boris (Saif Ali Khan) to use them for target practice. Khan’s dyed-blond hair and exaggerated Russian accent are funny, but not for long. The fact that he’s always there to save the guys takes the agency away from our heroes.

Das and Khemu have a great rapport and do their best to carry the film. Tiwari’s character seems shoehorned in to make self-aware jokes about being the friend who always gets killed first in horror films. Pooja Gupta fits in better as Luv’s new love interest, Luna. Her presence sparks some amusing conflict between Luv and Hardik, as they compete over her in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.

There’s a lot of funny stuff in Go Goa Gone, but this kind of movie doesn’t work in the traditional Indian tale-of-two-halves format. The intermission break is the biggest thing keeping horror from becoming a popular genre in Bollywood. Without quick-hitting jokes and surprising scares at the right intervals, this kind of horror-comedy just doesn’t work.

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Movie Review: Delhi Belly (2011)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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It seems as though the hallmark of American comedies for adults in recent years has been to include as many graphic bodily function gags as possible. It’s why I don’t generally see comedies in the theater: I’m likely to walk out when things get too disgusting.

Delhi Belly, India’s first mainstream foray into Western-style gross-out comedy, comes as a relief because the filmmakers realize that a little goes a long way. By emphasizing quality over volume when it comes to scatological humor, Delhi Belly showcases the genre at its best.

Freelance reporter Tashi (Imran Khan) lives in a filthy apartment with his two pals, photographer Nitin (Kunaal Roy Kapur) and cartoonist Arup (Vir Das). Tashi’s gorgeous but ditzy girlfriend, Sonia (Shenaz Treasurywala), takes a package from a suspicious Russian man in the airport where she works as a flight attendant. Without realizing that the package is full of contraband, Sonia asks Tashi to deliver the package for her so that she can run errands.

Tashi hands the package off to Nitin, who promptly contracts a case of “Delhi belly” (diarrhea) from some unsanitary street food. Nitin asks Arup to deliver the package on his way to the doctor, who’s requested a stool sample from the ailing Nitin. You can guess what happens when Arup makes his deliveries.

Delhi Belly is not a typical Indian film, and not just because of its genre. The dialog is primarily in English, and the plot structure is also more like a Hollywood film. Bucking the standard formula for a two-hour-plus masala picture — split the story into two halves, separated by an intermission — Delhi Belly‘s plot has three acts that run continuously for 100 minutes, sans intermission.

What results from these breaks with Indian cinematic tradition? A damned funny movie. The writing is hilarious, and the dialog generates as many laughs as the physical gags and fart jokes do. Fair warning: even by much looser American ratings standards, this would be an R-rated film. Copious use of the f-word, violence, reference to sex acts and scatological humor make this adults-only fare.

Director Abhinay Deo — who failed to impress with his debut earlier this year, Game — shows a real flair for comedy. The story is well-paced, and Deo uses the camera deftly to exaggerate the ridiculous situations Tashi and his pals find themselves in. The movie’s two musical numbers are hysterical and fit seamlessly into the production.

There’s also an emphasis placed on the relationships between the main characters. The friendship between Tashi, Nitin and Arup never wavers. When Tashi and Nitin meet a hip, cynical fellow journalist named Menaka (Poorna Jagannathan), it’s clear that she fits in with the goofy trio much better than Sonia does. This is a group of misfits we want to see succeed, and great performances by the cast only enhance that desire.

If I had to sum Delhi Belly up in one word, it would be “satisfying.” It has everything I want in a comedy. As long as you can stomach the cuss-words and gross-out gags, this is about as good as it gets.

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