Tag Archives: Vishakha Singh

Movie Review: Fukrey Returns (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

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Fukrey Returns is a stale bore, populated by characters the filmmakers seem determined not to give us any reasons to care about.

Familiarity with 2013’s Fukrey is essential. The only plot refresher regarding the original film is a sequence of video-only clips that run behind the opening credits of Fukrey Returns. If you haven’t seen Fukrey recently — or if it didn’t leave much of an impression — you’re going to miss some references (I know I did).

The main characters from the original are back, including: smug ladies man Hunny (Pulkit Samrat); his psychic toady Choocha (Varun Sharma); the guy who’s too smart to be hanging around with these idiots, Zafar (Ali Fazal); and the guy who doesn’t really have anything to do in the story, Lali (Manjot Singh). Also returning are the guys’ shady mentor, Pandit (Pankaj Tripathy), and their gangster nemesis, Bholi (Richa Chadda).

After a year in prison, Bholi is eager to take revenge on the four friends who sent her there. She owes a large sum of money to crooked politician Babulal (Rajiv Gupta) for arranging her release, so she needs to use Choocha’s prophetic dreams in order to raise a lot of money, fast. The plan is for the guys to collect wagers from the public, promising to double investors’ winnings when Choocha dreams of the winning lottery numbers. In fact, the lottery pays out at a rate of ten-to-one, leaving Bholi with eighty percent of the winnings. In return, the guys get to continue living.

When their scheme is thwarted, the guys are pilloried for having defrauded the public and are forced to run for their lives. Fortunately, Choocha manifests a new prophetic power he calls “deja Chu” — premonitions that offer their only hope for clearing their names, freeing Bholi from her debt to Babulal, and getting themselves off of her hit list.

The plot doesn’t unfold as neatly as I’ve described it. Establishing what the guys have been doing since the events of the original film takes up a lot of time, yet reveals surprisingly little about the characters. Subplots are introduced and then forgotten about until the end of the movie. Hunny’s girlfriend Priya (Priya Anand) and Zafar’s fiancée Neetu (Vishakha Singh) stage their own disappearing acts until their presence is required for the climax.

The quality of the cast is uneven. When characters played by Chadda, Fazal, and Tripathy interact with one another, the gulf between actors of their caliber and the rest of the cast feels as wide as the Grand Canyon, especially considering how little the script gives them to work with. It seems like Samrat and Sharma have plateaued as performers.

Of course, the most damning indictment is that Fukrey Returns just isn’t funny. Right away, we get a tired gag about Hunny being bitten in the rear by a venomous snake and Choocha having to suck out the venom, and the same gag repeats later. Director Mrighdeep Singh Lamba also doesn’t know when to end a joke, lingering on reaction shots of other characters well past the point when the audience is ready to move on the next gag. Hopefully Lamba and his co-writer Vipul Vig will accept that Fukrey‘s well has run dry and move on themselves.


Movie Review: Bajatey Raho (2013)

Bajatey_Raho1 Star (out of 4)

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Dramatic tension is a necessary element of any film, even comedies. A hero has a goal, he must overcome obstacles to achieve it, and the consequences of failure must be dire. In Bajatey Raho (“Play On”, according to the subtitles of the title track), the heroes achieve their goal with minimal effort and little at stake. Why bother watching?

The story concerns the members of a family on the verge of losing their home. Flashbacks show the recently deceased patriarch, Mr. Baweja — a bank manager — unknowingly caught up in a scheme devised by the villainous Mr. Sabbarwahl (Ravi Kishan). Sabbarwahl stole the money from the neighborhood bank run by Mr. Baweja and pinned the crime on the manager, causing him to die from shame on his way to jail.

Faced with the prospect of having their house seized to cover the debts owed to their defrauded neighbors, the remaining members of the Baweja family set out to steal the money back from Sabbarwahl.

The composition of the Baweja family is confusing. Besides Mr. Baweja’s widow, Mummyji (Dolly Ahluwalia), and their son, Sukhi (Tusshar Kapoor), there’s an orphaned kid named Kabootar (Hussan Saad); Mintoo (Vinay Pathak), who’s either a nephew or a son-in-law; and Ballu (Ranvir Shorey), whom Mummyji refers to as Sukhi’s “brother,” but who probably isn’t, biologically speaking.

The large Baweja clan is an example of the film’s tendency toward character sprawl. There are so many people affiliated with Sabbarwahl — servants, gurus, underlings, future in-laws, sexy Russian yoga instructors — that it’s impossible to keep track of them or give them meaningful roles in the story.

The police give the Bawejas a couple of weeks to return their neighbors’ money or face eviction. This perfectly coincides with the timing of the wedding of Sabbarwahl’s daughter to a soap actor. The family devises a plan to steal the money during the wedding.

“Devises a plan” isn’t exactly accurate. Stuff happens, then after the fact, the audience is told it was part of a plan we never see discussed. In fact, the circumstances by which Sukhi’s new girlfriend, Manpreet (Vishakha Singh, whose performance is the only good thing about Bajatey Raho), agrees to participate in the theft are never disclosed. One minute she’s eating ice cream and dancing with Sukhi outside of a movie theater, the next she’s acting as a mole inside Sabbarwahl’s house while posing as a dance instructor.

Why would she agree to get involved in this criminal activity so soon after meeting him? Isn’t she afraid of jail? How does she know that Sukhi’s telling the truth?

All of the moral conundrums are glossed over. No one questions whether it’s right to steal from a thief, or whether Mr. Baweja’s name can truly be cleared if done through devious methods . The characters are divided into childishly simple categories. Sabbarwahl is the bad guy and the Bawejas are the good guys, so whatever they do is okay.

As far as bad guys go, Sabbarwahl is a wimp. He only once brandishes a gun, and he doesn’t have any menacing bodyguards. He’s rich enough to buy people off, obviously, but the Bawejas don’t ever seem to be in any mortal danger from him.

Absent threat to life or limb, surely there are lots of obstacles to the plan succeeding, right? Wrong. Everything works out exactly as expected. There’s never any threat that the family will have their covers blown (Sukhi and Ballu pretend to be caterers, Mummyji and Mintoo a rich lady and her bodyguard, respectively), nor does Sabbarwahl suspect that anyone is conning him.

So the Bawejas steal the stolen money back, and then lecture Sabbarwahl on the evils of mistreating the less fortunate. No chase scene, no shootout, no case of mistaken identities. The heroes get what they want without any trouble. The end. What a waste of time.


Movie Review: Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey (2010)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Sixty-three years after the end of the British Raj, it’s clear that the Brits were in the wrong in their oppression and exploitation of South Asians. At the time, however, both sides — the oppressors and the oppressed — felt victimized when they were on the receiving end of a violent attack. One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.

Oscar-nominated director Ashutosh Gowariker’s latest, Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey, tells the story of one act of rebellion during the Raj: the Chittagong Uprising of 1930.

At the time the movie takes place, groups of freedom fighters, impatient with the slow progress of Ghandhi’s passive resistance, opt for violence as a means of ousting the British from India. In Chittagong, the local resistance group is led by Surjya Sen (Abhishek Bachchan), a schoolteacher who uses his meager salary to organize a small group of fighters.

Surjya is able to expand his plans to drive the Brits from Chittagong when a simple act brings a large group of new recruits his way: the army takes over the local soccer field to use as a camp. The town’s teenagers, outraged at being evicted from their pitch, ask for Surjya’s help in reclaiming it.

Surjya hatches a plan to simultaneously take over strategic points in town, including the telegraph office, the armory and army barracks. He’s aided by two female recruits, Kalpana (Deepika Padukone) and Pritilata (Vishakha Singh), who engage in reconnaissance by posing as maids.

Before the plan can be executed, Surjya must train his army of gangly teens. Though the boys are committed to the cause, they’re still kids and not eager to martyr themselves. As one boy observes, what good is freedom if you’re not alive to enjoy it? The first half of the movie covers the group’s preparations, and the second deals with the raid and its aftermath. (Given that the British didn’t leave India until seventeen years later, I suspected the raid wouldn’t be a complete success.)

Stills at the beginning of the movie state that the plot is taken directly from written accounts of people involved in the Chittagong Uprising. Gowariker chooses realism over big-screen clichés in his portrayal of the moving story. Characters act like real young people faced with mortal danger for the first times in their lives would: scared and confused instead of fearlessly self-assured. The absence of timely motivational speeches is refreshing.

That realism makes the movie engaging and the story of their rebellion that much more inspiring. A lifetime spent watching movies with happy endings makes you believe that maybe these plucky kids really can drive out their oppressors and go back to playing soccer. But, from our experience with the characters, we know that isn’t possible, even if the teens think it is.

The performances are solid throughout. Bachchan, Padukone and the other adult characters are riveting, as they begin to realize how they’ve endangered the teens in their care. The teens are endearing, both awkward and noble as they muster up all the courage they’ve amassed in their limited amount of life experience. The soundtrack is catchy, yet appropriate for the somber story.

I just finished reading the book Three Cups of Tea, about one American’s attempts to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In it, he recounts a story of American military helicopters flying low over an open air girls’ school, the resulting wake knocking over and breaking the school’s only blackboard.

Civilian casualties and night raids on houses get all of the publicity, but we can never know what small act — like taking over a soccer field or, perhaps, destroying a blackboard — might be the final straw that pushes a young person to violence. I wonder how our own treatment of the civilians under our care will be viewed 63 years after we leave Afghanistan.