Tag Archives: Zakir Hussain

Movie Review: Judwaa 2 (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Even with a new cast, Judwaa 2 feels dated.

Judwaa 2 is less of a true sequel to 1997’s Judwaa than a reboot, switching out Salman Khan in the lead role for Varun Dhawan (son of the director of both films, David Dhawan). Unlike a lore-heavy fantasy or superhero flick, watching the original Judwaa isn’t a prerequisite for watching Judwaa 2.

The reboot opens with Mr. Malhotra (Sachin Khedekar) flying home for the birth of his twin sons. A seemingly friendly fellow passenger named Charles (Zakir Hussain) slips some contraband into Malhotra’s bag, but Malhotra has already alerted the police, who attempt to apprehend Charles when he shows up at the hospital to collect his goods.

Charles escapes with one of the newborn baby boys as a hostage, accidentally dropping him on some train tracks. Charles blows up a building, lying that the boy was inside and vowing to come back some day for Malhotra’s other son. This seems like a disproportionate revenge response given that the police were already on to Charles and Malhotra just made their job a little easier.

As the cops haul Charles away and Malhotra grieves for the son he believes to be dead, a train bears down on the dropped baby. The boy — who will shortly be named Raja by the lady who discovers him — gets a metaphysical assist from his brother, Prem. The doctor who delivered the boys explained to the Malhotras that, because the boys were born attached at the arm (separated by a surgery that doesn’t even leave a scar, LOL), they share a connection that occurs “one in eight million” times. When the boys are within even a few miles of one another, they will feel each other’s emotions and physical sensations.

Sensing Raja’s fear at the oncoming train, Prem — displaying remarkable muscle control for a newborn — rolls to his side in his crib, causing Raja to roll safely off the tracks as the train passes by. The sequence is exactly as stupid as it sounds, made stupider by cheap-looking CGI.

The Malhotras flee to safety in London, where Prem grows up to be a wimpy nerd who is nevertheless built like a Mr. Universe contestant. Raja is a brash street urchin with a heart of gold who gets into trouble when he beats up rich guy Alex (Vivan Bhatena) for being a jerk. Raja and his adopted brother Nandu (Rajpal Yadav) flee to London to escape Alex’s wrath. Nandu is excited at the opportunity to sexually harass the air hostesses on the flight, and Raja hits on Alishka (Jacqueline Fernandez), the beautiful woman sitting next to him.

With the long-lost brothers finally in the same city, their metaphysical link reactivates. Raja feels the pain when a bully grabs Prem’s junk, and Prem slaps people when Raja gets into a fight. Prem also kisses his cute classmate Samaira (Taapsee Pannu) and her mother (Upasana Singh) when Raja smooches Alishka in an attempt to hide his face from the police.

While multiple Baahubali references root the story in the modern day, elements such as lazy plotting and the normalization of sexual harassment make Judwaa 2 feel out-of-date. There’s no reason why the gags involving the female love interests couldn’t have been updated to reflect the progressive direction many Hindi films have adopted regarding gender politics.

It’s a missed opportunity, considering the caliber of Judwaa 2‘s two leading ladies. Jacqueline Fernandez is perhaps Bollywood’s best female physical comedian. She sells every scene she’s in, no matter how silly she’s asked to be. If you can take your eyes off of her impressive dance moves, watch her expressive face during her song performances. She’s a total pro.

Taapsee Pannu’s performance is a reminder of her incredible versatility. She proved her dramatic chops in Pink and her action skills in Baby and its follow-up Naam Shabana, a spin-off created just for her. Judwaa 2 is a return to her roots in Hindi cinema; her debut film was the 2013 comedy Chashme Baddoor, also directed by David Dhawan. Judwaa 2 not only finds Pannu playing for laughs again, but dancing up a storm and flaunting a physique as impressive as any of her Bollywood contemporaries.

Varun Dhawan is charismatic in his double role, but there’s not much that we haven’t seen from him before. His resume is already heavy on comedies, and this isn’t one of the better ones. It’s not just the poor treatment of the female leads at his characters’ hands that makes Judwaa 2 feel like a throwback. There’s an offensive fight sequence involving a group of black men whom Raja refers to as “the West Indies team.” Raja repeatedly taunts them, ending his sentences with a Caribbean-accented “mon,” even though the men themselves say the word “man” with British accents.

Other than those issues, Judwaa 2 isn’t as morally problematic as it could have been (faint praise, indeed). The dance numbers are fun, and Fernandez and Pannu make more out of their roles than they’re given to work with. Judwaa 2 is a watchable movie, but not a memorable one.

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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: Saala Khadoos (2016)

SaalaKhadoos3 Stars (out of 4)

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Writer-director Sudha Kongara’s Saala Khadoos (“Mr. Snooty,” according to the English subtitles) is a moving tale that utilizes all the best elements of sports movies past. Ritika Singh makes a splash in her debut, working opposite R. Madhavan in this story of two hot-headed boxers working toward a common goal.

Madhavan plays Adi, a boxing coach still smarting over the abrupt end to his own fighting career nearly twenty years ago. Dev (Zakir Hussain), the man who sabotaged Adi’s career, now heads the Indian Women’s Boxing Federation. Fearful that Adi will make public what he knows of Dev’s past misdeeds — as well as the chairman’s penchant for trading places on the national team for sex — Dev exiles Adi to the boxing backwater of Chennai.

Despite being set up to fail, Adi finds a promising fighter who has as little respect for authority as he does. Madhi (Singh) is the younger sister of the Chennai club’s top prospect, Lux (Mumtaz Sorcar). Madhi is a better natural fighter than Lux, but it’s Madhi’s fiery temper that leads Adi to focus his attention on her, at Lux’s expense.

As much as the story is about the personality changes that Adi and Madhi undergo while he tries to turn her into a champion, Saala Khadoos is also a story of sibling rivalry. Lux has always been special, the one who will finally lift her family out of poverty. A successful boxing career will confer her a spot in the police academy, and all of the family’s resources to this point have gone toward helping her reach that goal. Madhi’s success in the ring threatens not only Lux’s future but her very identity.

An old assistant coach (played by Nasser) explains the significance of the local conditions to Adi. All of the young women who train at the gym are poor, and boxing is a lifeline, not just a hobby. Adi can be as much of a hard-ass as he wants during training, but he’s morally obligated not to abandon them.

Adi’s character evolution is predictably slow. He’s never really cared about anyone before, and Dev’s betrayal still weighs heavily on him. Likewise, Madhi’s attitude problems make her hard to love. She’s been on the defensive for so long that she has trouble trusting anyone’s motives.

Singh is so much fun to watch as Madhi. That defensive attitude is reflected in her posture, her shoulders hunched protectively, giving away her confident swagger as the bluff it is. When Madhi hurts her right hand just before a fight, she spends the entire round holding her hand out of the way to avoid further injury.

Madhavan is terrific as well, looking especially cool as Adi rides his motorcycle during the opening credits. Nasser and Sorcar are super in their supporting roles, and Hussain is slimy as can be as the villain.

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Movie Review: Johnny Gaddaar (2007)

JohnnyGaddaar3 Stars (out of 4)

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Bollywood loves its own history. Too many Hindi films cater to fans with a depth of Bollywood knowledge at the expense of newcomers to the genre, who feel left out of the inside jokes. The neo-noir thriller Johnny Gaddaar (“Johnny the Traitor“) avoids that trap, enthusiastically paying homage to the past while providing enough context to welcome Bollywood newcomers.

It helps that writer-director Sriram Raghavan really understands how and why stories work onscreen. That understanding manifests subtly in the two films he made after Johnny Gaddaar: Agent Vinod and Badlapur. In Johnny Gaddaar, his references are explicit, using clips from other movies to advance his own heist story.

“Johnny” is an alias used by Vikram (Neil Nitin Mukesh), junior member of a quintet that runs a gambling ring. Veteran crook Seshadri (Dharmendra) holds together the uneasy group, which consists of Vikram, casino owner Prakash (Vinay Pathak), financier Shardul (Zakir Hussain), and the crew’s muscle, Shivay (Dayanand Shetty).

Vikram breaks a cardinal rule by falling in love with Shardul’s wife, Mini (Rimi Sen). In order to get enough cash for the two of them to flee to Canada, Vikram decides to steal the money the group pooled for a deal with the corrupt policeman, Kalyan (Govind Namdeo).

Even though he’s the most educated member of the crew, Vikram is also the newest to a life of crime. He concocts a solid plan to steal the cash, going so far as to chloroform himself in order to time how long his victim will remain unconscious. Yet he lacks the wiliness of an experienced crook, and his plan goes wrong in ways he never anticipated.

The primary theme of the film is the danger of unintended consequences, not just the direct effects on one’s own life but the psychological damage incurred when one inflicts pain on others, intentionally or not.

Vikram and his gang aren’t violent. He doesn’t own a gun, and the others aren’t in the habit of carrying theirs with them. Shiva is a gentle giant. When Vikram experiences his first taste of violence, it disturbs him. Sadly, that first experience makes violence a possible response to future conflicts, in a way it never was before.

It helps that Mukesh — in his first film role — looks as young and slight as he does. He doesn’t appear the least bit tough. It’s easy to accept him as the naive character he plays.

There’s another theme in the film about the nature of love, namely that Vikram doesn’t know what real love is. How can he be sure of his feelings for Mini or her feelings for him when they developed under duress? Vikram protests to Seshadri that their love is real, and Seshadri just shrugs.

Seshadri is one of multiple examples of what true love is that Vikram ignores in pursuit of his affair. Widowed Seshadri reminisces while listening to a recording of his wife singing. Prakash dotes on his wife, Varsha (Ashwini Kalsekar), a proud working mom. Shiva has a sweet, budding romance with the nurse who cares for his ailing mother.

Shardul doesn’t seem like such a bad husband to Mini, at least by mafia-film standards. He comes home and wants to catch up on the day with his wife, but she can’t get away from him fast enough. Her disgust for him is so obvious that you almost feel bad for the guy.

Even Kalyan — who is the scariest character in the film — tries to warn Vikram about the danger he’s in. When Vikram confesses that his favorite actor is Amitabh Bachchan, Kalyan asks if Vikram has seen Parwana, a movie in which Bachchan plays an obsessed lover who resorts to murder when his beloved falls for another man. Of course, Vikram hasn’t seen the movie.

Clips from Parwana are interspersed throughout Johnny Gaddaar, along with snippets of other Bollywood and Hollywood films. For movie buffs, it’s fun to try to spot all of the references Raghavan includes in his movie. The references never derail the story, and Raghavan makes some explicit enough that even non-movie buffs can feel included (as when Seshadri says he feels like he’s in a scene from Scarface as the gang counts their loot).

Johnny Gaddaar is a balanced, solid thriller that feels like a love letter to films of the past. It’s worth watching just to see an early piece of work by a promising director.

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Movie Review: Alone (2015)

Alone3 Stars (out of 4)

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A horror movie starring Bipasha Basu (or anyone, for that matter) as a pair of conjoined twins sounds like a recipe for disaster. But Alone is creepy, well-paced, and far better than one would expect it to be.

Basu plays Sanjana, the surviving member of a pair of identical twins once joined at the waist. Her deceased sister, Anjana (also Basu, in flashbacks), wore glasses, making it possible to tell the two apart.

Sanjana’s marriage to Kabir (Karan Singh Grover) is suffering due to her co-dependence. Her survivor’s guilt led them to flee her family home in Kerala. When her mother is seriously injured in a suspicious accident, Sanjana and Kabir return to the home haunted by memories of Anjana. But is it just Anjana’s memory haunting the place, or Anjana herself?

The married couple shares a complicated dynamic. Who can blame Sanjana for having emotional issues, considering her mother’s present ill health and her unresolved guilt about her sister’s death? Apparently Kabir can. He’s unsympathetic toward his wife, which is shocking given that he’s known the twins since childhood and should be able to understand their unique bond.

It’s only after a psychologist, Dr. Namit (Zakir Hussain), tells him to stop being such a jerk that Kabir starts treating his wife with the understanding she deserves. Kabir’s early bad behavior only looks worse when he and the doctor finally see proof that Sanjana’s troubles aren’t all in her mind; her sister’s spirit really is out to kill her.

Alone‘s plot has a lot of twists and turns, appropriately mirroring Sanjana’s disturbed mental state. Any confusion as to why events proceed the way they do is resolved in satisfying fashion by the story’s end. The clever way the tale is told looks even better upon further reflection.

The acting is uneven, partly due to the way the characters are written. There’s only so much Grover can do to make a jerk like Kabir appealing. Basu struggles initially to make scared, fragile Sanjana relatable, but her character evolves as the movie proceeds, culminating in a fun, crazy climax. The two attractive leads share a steamy chemistry during the film’s love scenes.

For a Hindi movie, Alone is fairly scary, without resorting to gross visuals or gore. The large, dark house sets a spooky mood where one can easily imagine seeing things moving about in the night. The movie doesn’t shy away from jump scares, and it features some nice misdirection.

I admit, I expected Alone to be more unintentionally funny than anything else. It only is on a couple of occasions, as when Basu has to simulate a poltergeist attack by flinging herself onto the ground and into walls. There is also some not-so-subtle innuendo in the lyrics of a love song sung by a male vocalist: “I’ll trickle drop by drop and stay on your body.”

But Alone dashed my low expectations and delivered a solid horror film. Except for an overly long scene involving a religious ritual, the momentum never flags. The story gets progressively more interesting and complicated, and the payoff is satisfying. It’s an entertaining flick.

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Movie Review: Singham Returns (2014)

Singham_Returns_Poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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The release of Singham Returns on Independence Day in India feels wrong. Rarely does a movie try so hard to be patriotic but feel so cynical and almost anarchistic. When a country’s political, judicial, and religious leadership is depicted as so corrupt that the establishment of a police state seems preferable, the problems are far too big for one man, even if that man is Bajirao Singham.

While Singham is supposed to be a morally perfect dispenser of divine justice, he advocates a system in which he and his fellow police officers are judge, jury, and executioner. His methods are themselves criminal, so Singham relies on sympathetic politicians and reporters to turn a blind eye. It amounts to a conspiracy to protect an unelected individual who has assumed the ability to decide life or death.

Maybe it’s just that the release of Singham Returns comes at the end of a week in which an unarmed teenager in a small town in America was killed by the police in public, and that the protests that followed were greeted by police with tear gas, sniper rifles, and the imprisonment of skeptical politicians and media members. Whatever the reason, the solutions offered by Singham Returns seem terrifying.

Following his successful cleanup of Goa in 2011’s Singham, supercop Bajirao Singham (Ajay Devgn) is promoted to Mumbai. His former teacher, Guruji (Anupam Kher), wants to eradicate political bribery and has a slate of young reform candidates poised to challenge in the upcoming elections.

In order to keep the black money flowing, corrupt politician Prakash Rao (Zakir Hussain) and the crooked evangelist Babaji (Amole Gupta) threaten Guruji and his candidates. But Singham won’t allow such intimidation on his watch.

Like all Bollywood supercop characters, Singham’s only character flaw is that he’s unmarried. Apparently, every character who carried over from the first movie to the second has forgotten about Kavya (Kajal Agarwal), Singham’s fiancée from the first movie, who is never mentioned.

Instead, Singham is fixed up with Avni (Kareena Kapoor Khan), the sister of one of the candidates. The totality of Avni’s character is that she is irrationally jealous and eats a lot. This is an embarrassing role for an actor of Kapoor Khan’s talent.

Kher and Pankaj Tripathi — who plays one of Rao’s goons — give two of the film’s noteworthy supporting performances. Dayanand Shetty is also entertaining as Singham’s big deputy, Daya.

Devgn’s performance is fine, but his character is not. Singham quickly resorts to violence when provoked, and his wrath is indiscriminate: directed at obvious villains, but also at their victims and brainwashed minions. He lashes out, even when it hurts his moral standing in the community. He advocates the murder of those he deems guilty, independent of any judicial system.

Sure, there are plenty of explosions and enough fights to make you wonder if director Rohit Shetty bought his “slap” sound effects in bulk. Singham Returns isn’t boring. It’s just hard to cheer for a superhero who seems so undemocratic.

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Movie Review: Phata Poster Nikla Hero (2013)

Phata_Poster_Nikhla_Hero3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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The trailer for Phata Poster Nikla Hero (“Through the Poster Emerges the Hero“) promises an overly wacky, seemingly disjointed screwball comedy. Fortunately, the movie succeeds by subverting the promises of the trailer. Instead, Phata Poster Nikla Hero exploits Bollywood conventions to produce a hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable movie.

As a child, young Vishwas is obsessed with movies, but his mother makes him swear before God that he’ll grow up to be an honest police officer. She further warns him that, should he ever do anything wrong, she and God will know about it. Nevertheless, the boy’s Bollywood dreams persist into adulthood. When his mother (Padmini Kolhapure) arranges an interview with the Mumbai police department, Vishwas (Shahid Kapoor) heads to the city, intent on pursuing his movie career behind his mother’s back.

When Vishwas accidentally thwarts a kidnapping while still wearing the police uniform he had donned for a photo shoot, it brings him fame and the unwanted attention of the local crime bosses. Worse, his mother finds out, and she comes to Mumbai to visit. Things get out of control as Vishwas tries to hide the truth from his mother, avoid the police and gangsters, and still make it big as an actor.

There are dozens of moving parts in Phata Poster Nikla Hero, but writer-director Rajkumar Santoshi keeps everything under control. As opposed to another recent comedy of errors, Chennai Express, Santoshi pays careful attention to continuity. He doesn’t introduce side characters for temporary plot convenience; all of the friends and enemies Vishwas makes along the way are with him ’til the end.

This is great, because there are some very funny supporting characters in Phata Poster Nikla Hero. Upon arriving in Mumbai, Vishwas rents a room in a guest house run by Yogi (Sanjay Mishra), a screenplay guru who “almost” wrote a number of hit films. Yogi and the other aspiring actors who rent rooms from him help Vishwas keep the truth from his mom. The only downside is that all of the other renters are terrible actors.

Kajal (Ileana D’Cruz) is another character who creates headaches for Vishwas in her attempts to help him. She mistakes Vishwas for a real police officer, setting up the accidental heroics that bring him unwanted notoriety. D’Cruz’s plucky earnestness makes dynamic Kajal a perfect foil and love interest for poor Vishwas, who’s just trying to keep his ruse from falling apart.

The cops and robbers generate some good laughs, too: Saurabh Shukla as a local don enamored of Vishwas’s fighting skills; Darshan Jariwala as flustered Police Commissioner Khare; and Zakir Hussain as Officer Ghorpade, a man whose loyalty is divided because he’s getting paid by both the police and the gangsters.

Of course none of this works if Vishwas is a dud, but Shahid Kapoor gives a funny and charming performance. All of his hammy bits in the trailer make sense in context, and Kapoor fashions Vishwas as a good guy torn between doing the right thing and following his heart. This is easily my favorite performance by Kapoor.

In addition to busting out some of the exciting dance moves for which Kapoor is renowned, he gets to show off his physicality in several funny fight scenes. Given that Vishwas is a boy raised on movies, all of the fights have a deliberately over-the-top, cinematic style. It’s so obvious when Kapoor is wearing a harness, it’s as though Santoshi is winking at the audience. The film’s title comes from an early scene in which Vishwas leaps through a movie poster to rescue a woman, as though he’s a celluloid hero made flesh.

Santoshi deserves the most credit for the success of Phata Poster Nikla Hero. He gives the audience exactly what they’ve come to expect over the years — Parental conflict! Gangsters! An abrupt tone change in the second half! A dance number featuring a woman in a ball gown on a beach! — but he does it on his own terms. There’s a great moment at the end where Vishwas lists all of the filmy plot points he’s hit during his journey. Such self-awareness is refreshing.

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