Tag Archives: Zero Stars

Movie Review: Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai (2017)

Zero Stars (out of 4)

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Trying to explain what Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai is about is a futile task. Not even the writer of the movie, Amreetaa Roy, was up to the task of succinctly describing her own film. Here’s the summary she submitted to IMDb:

The film presents the naïve vulnerability of human life, the sincere saga of love and pain, and the glimpse of human emotions in raw form. So much of human nature is captured within the frames of the film, yet it takes you to the various land giving a realistic view of existence – the story traversing from a small town of Rajasthan, moving to the city of dreams – Mumbai and then goes on to the city that never sleeps – New York, ride us through interesting characters, each one with a diverse and unique character adding slice of life. Written by Amreetaa Roy

That rambling mess of a plot summary captures all the problems with Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai (JIKNH, henceforth). It has no identity or focus because it tries to be about every issue and every emotion all at once.

Our onscreen guide through JIKNH is Alia (Manjari Fadnis), who experiences — directly or indirectly — virtually every kind of gender discrimination a woman can face. That extends to the closing credits of JIKNH, in which her name appears third in the cast list despite her playing the film’s main character.

In spite of a deprived childhood in Rajasthan in which Alia’s material and emotional needs ranked a distant fifth behind those of her two younger brothers and her parents, she excels as a student, developing an affinity for writing. As a college student, her no-nonsense attitude attracts the attention of an older, villainous rich guy, Vikram (Ashutosh Rana).

To this point, Alia’s story is one of resilience and self-sufficiency in spite of her family’s utter indifference toward her. Every indication points toward her graduating and building a successful life for herself, possibly with younger, not-so-villainous rich guy, Alex (Himansh Kohli). So it makes no sense when she quickly cedes to her drunken father’s request and accepts Vikram’s marriage proposal, especially since she knows Vikram to be a violent lech with multiple mistresses.

Predictably, marriage to Vikram is a nightmare. Alia escapes with the help of her tough-as-nails maid, Laxmi (Supriya Pathak), after Vikram demands that pregnant Alia abort the female fetus she’s carrying (checking off another item on the list of Gender Issues the movie feels compelled to address).

As Alia starts a new life in Mumbai, JIKNH‘s Social Issues checklist branches out from gender-based problems like spousal abuse and the diminished earning power of rural women to topics like elder care, the education of orphans, and vaccination. Eventually, Alia winds up in a Middle Eastern war zone, directing the medical care of wounded civilians in her capacity as a journalist. Alia is out to save everyone from everything.

While in Mumbai, Alia gives birth to Vikram’s unwanted daughter, Natasha, whose existence is only worth mentioning in passing since the girl disappears for long stretches of the film. Her presence might interrupt the budding romance between Alia and a third rich guy: American philanthropist Aditya (Arbaaz Khan). They share a lunch date presided over by an offensively stereotypical horny gay waiter whose sexuality is treated as a joke.

That joke isn’t nearly as funny as the fact that Alia’s and Aditya’s love theme is an instrumental version of “The First Noel.”

International audiences will want to give JIKNH a pass not only because it’s an unwatchable disaster with no continuity or sense of direction, but because the English subtitles frequently disappear, including during the closing lines of the film.

The last quarter of the movie takes place in America, and JIKNH does a particularly awful job of depicting the States, even by Bollywood’s low standards. The white actors are unbearable, and there are some serious geography problems. According to director Keshav Panneriy — who also edited the film and is married to the movie’s writer — the island of Manhattan is nestled within a mountain range, and its nearest airport is in Maryland.

The American portion of JIKNH does yield some of the movie’s most sophisticated dialogue. Confronting a man who harasses her and her friend on the street, Alia retorts in English: “Yes, we have a nice ass, and we are proud of it. You are just an ugly ass who makes the whole neighborhood stink!”

Links

  • Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai at Wikipedia
  • Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai at IMDb
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Movie Review: MSG — The Messenger (2015)

MSGTheMessengerEntertainment Factor: 3.5 Stars (out of 4)
Quality Factor: 0 Stars

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It is not possible to be prepared for the sensory assault that is MSG: The Messenger. It is vastly more bizarre than the mind can fathom. It must be seen to be believed.

MSG is the vanity project of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, spiritual leader of the religious order Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) and self-proclaimed saint. Singh takes credit for the following roles in MSG: actor, director, writer, director of photography, music director, singer, lyricist, choreographer, action director, costumer, and art director.

MSG is a highly stylized recruitment video for DSS. Despite a note at the film’s open and close that reads, “This is a work of fiction and no claim is made of any individual possessing any miraculous power,” you’re obviously supposed to believe that Singh has miraculous powers.

He’s super strong. He can fly. He’s telepathic and telekinetic. He shoots electricity from his mind. He’s got a drink that cures everything from blindness to AIDS. He has a flying lion.

More importantly, Singh is cool as heck: “the youth icon of our country.” He raps, and he wears a giant diamond encrusted “1” pendant. He has a fleet of garishly customized vehicles that he never rides more than once.

Yet Singh’s defining characteristic is his fashion sense, which is a cross between hip-hop and circus performer, only more flamboyant. My favorite is a crocheted rainbow-striped shorts outfit that looks like a swimsuit from the 1920s, topped off with a flowery headband. Singh goes through more outfit changes in this movie than an entire troop of Rockettes.

The minimal story concerns a plot to kill Singh after he gets everyone in India to stop doing drugs. Who does the international drug cartel call for a job of such importance? Mike! Just… Mike. Daniel Kaleb plays the succinctly-named bald assassin, who at one point rips open his t-shirt to reveal…another shirt!

If there’s anything that keeps MSG from being completely enjoyable in its absurdity, it’s Alice, an annoying foreign reporter who wants to film a documentary about Singh, despite not having a video camera. Alice is the product of the combined efforts of Olexandra Semen — the Ukranian actress who plays her onscreen — and an unnamed American woman who dubbed Alice’s voice.

Semen’s exaggerated facial expressions prompt the voiceover artist to respond with similarly weird enthusiasm. Awkwardly written dialogue makes matters worse. Alice’s English is mostly fine, but then her brain shorts out, leading her to respond to a question about where she’s from with, “Me Ukraine!”

The murder plot is tangential to the film’s primary purpose of letting the world know about all the great things Singh has done for society. He rescues injured people, frees women from forced prostitution, and cleans up the city streets. There is a sequel to MSG, though I can’t imagine what’s left to address that wasn’t covered in the original.

Singh explicitly mentions how DSS features in the Guinness Book of World Records for achievements like the World’s Largest Blood Drive, but then he unironically chides reporters for asking him questions about it, saying that records aren’t important. He likewise scolds Alice for praising his wardrobe. Dude, if clothes aren’t important to you, than why do you have so many?

MSG‘s purpose as a propaganda film limits its potential for so-bad-it’s-good greatness. Something like Gunda is a classic because its creator was trying to make a real movie and failed at it so spectacularly. Singh doesn’t really care about MSG as a work of art, but rather as a vehicle for spreading his message. In that regard, it succeeds, and success is anathema to the so-bad-it’s-good movie.

I can’t believe I’ve gotten this far without mentioning the music. There are a ton of songs in MSG, and they are all horrible in the best way. Because Singh insisted on writing and performing every song himself — and allegedly choreographing them, although he personally dances without moving his feet — they all share the same lack of musicianship and craft. The performances are a delight to watch.

Likewise, all the action scenes are over-the top and impossible by the laws of physics. Inept editing enhances the hilarity, such as when Mike runs at Singh only to appear suddenly floating horizontally into the frame, feet first.

MSG is a testament to what one man can achieve when given seemingly limitless amounts of money and manpower to execute his ridiculous vision. Something tells me a guy who calls himself a saint doesn’t have a lot of people around him to tell him “no.” That might have resulted in a more competent film, but would that have been better? Of course not. MSG is only watchable because of how clumsy it is.

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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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Movie Review: Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3 (2016)

KyaaKoolHainHum3Zero Stars (out of 4)

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Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3 (“How Cool Are We 3“) is so stupid that it seems easy to dismiss. However, the film is built on offensive racial stereotypes, so it can’t be let off the hook no matter how moronic it is.

The plot of Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3 (KKHH3, henceforth) follows the exploits of two good-for-nothing guys — innocent Kanhaiya (Tusshar Kapoor) and his horny friend, Rocky (Aftab Shivdasani) — who wind up working as porn stars in Thailand. When Kanhaiya falls for Shaalu (Mandana Karimi), a woman outside of the industry, the porn crew has to pretend to be a traditional Indian family in order to win over Shaalu’s conservative father (played by Darshan Jariwala).

Being that this is a mainstream Hindi movie, pornography is hinted at rather than shown. There’s no nudity, and sex is depicted as two people dancing together in skimpy clothing. The crew specializes in dirty versions of popular Bollywood movies, so familiarity with Hindi films is a prerequisite (though the crew’s remake of Khoobsurat as Boobsurat is self-explanatory).

Almost nothing in KKHH3 is particularly funny. Jokes mostly consist of dirty puns and obvious sex references, such as the guys celebrating Kanhaiya’s grandmother’s 69th birthday. There are tons of Hindi wordplay jokes that don’t translate into English.

The juvenile humor frequently comes at the expense of gay men and people with speech impediments. Kanhaiya also has an unfunny condition in which his eyes cross when he sees the color red.

Yet the greatest offenses are aimed at women, particularly Western women. KKHH3 opens with a tour of Rocky’s mansion. Four naked white women sleep in four different beds, presumably having each had sex with Rocky the night before. When the guys imagine Thailand, they picture a dance sequence featuring a dozen bikini-clad blondes, not Thai women.

The two porn actresses are played by Claudia Ciesla, who is Polish-German, and blue-eyed Gizele Thakral. Karimi herself is of Indian-Iranian heritage, which gives her character leeway to dance in a bikini and make sexual overtures to Kanhaiya (who politely demurs, since they aren’t yet married). Two of the other three explicitly Indian female characters who act sexually are drugged with aphrodisiacs when they do so.

The implication is clear: “good Indian girls” don’t voluntarily do the kind of naughty stuff that slutty Westernized women do. Can we get past this harmful stereotype already? If you’re not willing to even consider casting an Indian actor in a role, then maybe that role shouldn’t exist.

KKHH3‘s one redeeming feature is that the music video for the song “Expectation” by the excellent K-pop band Girl’s Day plays in the background of a scene set in a movie store. Just watch the music video below and give Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3 a miss.

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Movie Review: Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 (2015)

PyaarKaPunchnama2Zero Stars (out of 4)

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Calling Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 (“Postmortem of Love 2“) a comedy is false advertising. It’s impossible for a movie so hateful to be funny.

Three bros — Gogo (Karthik Aaryan), Sid (Sunny Singh), and Thakur (Omkar Kapoor) — find life in their carefree bachelor pad turned upside down by the apparent source of all evil: sexy women. Faced with female sexiness, the men become unthinking automatons, doing whatever the women say, at the expense of their own happiness.

The budding romances proceed through the same gender clichés that were tired back in the 1980s: women love shopping; they don’t like sports; they have nosy friends. Presumably the scene of several women going to the restroom together was left on the cutting room floor.

Gogo’s girlfriend, Chiku (Nushrat Barucha), is a walking stereotype. She schools a disinterested Gogo on the various shades of pink, and she talks during a televised cricket match. Sid’s girlfriend, Supriya (Sonalli Sehgall), isn’t any more modern, fearing to tell her traditional parents about their relationship.

Writer-director Luv Ranjan doesn’t know what to make of Thakur’s girlfriend, Kusum (Ishita Raj). She portrayed variously as cheap, greedy, thrifty, and extravagant. The ultimate point is that she’s money-conscious, which is a no-no in Thakur’s free-spending world. He doesn’t know how much money he spends, and he doesn’t care.

All of the women’s flaws are revealed after only a few dates, so why do the men stay with them? The promise of sex. None of the women makes a promise so explicitly, but that’s presumably why the men to stick around, despite their misery.

The thing is, only Thakur and Kusum have sex regularly. Gogo and Sid wait around to collect on their promise for a year-and-a-half before realizing that, perhaps, their relationships aren’t worth it. These guys are complete idiots.

Further, not one of these guys is willing to take any responsibility for his part in these messy relationships. No one is holding a gun to their heads, making them date these women. It’s a choice. Yet the movie never assigns them any guilt.

To do so would mean that men can be flawed, which is not possible in Ranjan’s narrative. Women are the ones who are wrong, except for mothers –mothers who live and die for their sons’ happiness and love them unconditionally. If only these guys could have sex with their mothers…

When the guys finally decide to end their romances is when things get really nasty, and this orgy of hatefulness constitutes the whole of the film’s third act. Gogo is comparatively kind, only going so far as to trick Chiku into thinking he loves her before revealing that he’s been secretly recording her conversations to use against her.

Thakur mounts his high horse after Kusum suggests that he save some money and develop a plan before quitting his lucrative job to “start a website.” He takes her suggestion as a treasonous lack of support, ignoring the fact that his current job pays all the rent for the guys’ bachelor pad. Have fun living on the street with your bros, dumbass.

The darkest of the breakups is between Sid and Supriya, which is a shame since Sid is the only one of the three guys who isn’t nauseatingly smarmy. Supriya spends the night with Sid after confessing her intention to marry him. The next morning, her father — whom she fears — shows up at Sid’s door accompanied by the police.

At the station, Supriya’s father asserts that the guys drugged his daughter in order to keep her overnight, and Supriya doesn’t contradict him. Sid protests to a cop, “But she came of her own free will!” The cop replies, “No girl tells the truth here.”

How many times have those very phrases been used to discredit rape victims, to blame them for their own violation? How many times have Indian police turned away victims because they believed the women deserved it? Now, Ranjan uses the same language in a comedy film to give a spineless twerp a reason to finally dump a woman he was never going to be able to marry anyway. What a man!

If victim-blaming wasn’t bad enough, Ranjan makes a joke out of drunk driving. One of Chiku’s friends wants to drive after a night of partying, and Gogo doesn’t stop her for fear of jeopardizing his hypothetical chance of someday sleeping with Chiku. The next day, Chiku laughs about how lucky they were not to get in an accident, given how drunk her friend was. Thakur gets mad because Gogo never lets him drive the car, even when he’s sober.

Hilarious. Just hilarious. The lack of humanity in Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 is stunning.

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Movie Review: All Is Well (2015)

AllIsWellZero Stars (out of 4)

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Few movies have angered me as much as All Is Well. It’s cruel and offensive, making light of human suffering for the sake of an easy moral lesson.

This is a huge surprise given that Umesh Shukla is behind the camera. The last film he directed (and co-wrote) — 2012’s OMG: Oh My God — is funny, understanding, and generous of spirit. Then again, Shukla also directed 2009’s Dhoondte Reh Jaoge, a rip-off of The Producers that I also described as offensive. Maybe OMG was the aberration, and All Is Well is Shukla showing his true colors again.

All Is Well fancies itself a comedy about a bickering father and son, played by Rishi Kapoor and Abhishek Bachchan, respectively. When Bhalla (Kapoor) isn’t losing money via his unpopular bakery, he’s yelling at his wife Pammi (Supriya Pathak) and son Inder (Bachchan).

Growing up in such a hostile environment turns Inder into a complete misanthrope. After having been kicked out of the house for calling his dad a loser, he’s spent ten years in Bangkok, avoiding his parents and struggling as a musician.

Inder’s misanthropy is most acutely directed at Nimmi (Asin Thottumkal), a brain-dead chatterbox who is in love with him. Nimmi is so oblivious that she can’t recognize Inder’s contempt for her. Her arranged marriage subplot is shoddily tacked on to the main story, in which Inder is tricked into coming home to settle his father’s debts. Everyone is an unrepentant jerk throughout, and few cinematic “happy endings” have felt less earned.

All Is Well does wrong by so many people. Dwarfs and people with dark complexions are the butt of needless, hurtful jokes. The movie — written by Sumit Arora and Niren Bhatt — has no respect for women, hence why Nimmi is portrayed as a total dumbass, desperate to marry.

No character suffers as much as Pammi, who is a human plot device. Inder returns to India to find his mother in an “old folks home” suffering from Alzheimer’s. (Note that Pathak is only 54.) The movie makes the following untrue claims about Alzheimer’s, all in the name of moving the story forward:

  • The progression of Alzheimer’s can be stalled if you keep the patient happy at all times.
  • Alzheimer’s is caused by familial neglect, somewhat on the part of one’s spouse, but mostly due to neglect by one’s children.
  • Alzheimer’s can be improved, if not outright cured, if said neglectful children move back in with their parents.

I haven’t mentioned it at this website, but earlier this year, my mother died in her mid-sixties after suffering for five years with a degenerative neurological condition. Not Alzheimer’s, but another incapacitating disease with no specific cause and with a similarly slow decline (both mental and physical) and grim prognosis.

It’s hard to watch a parent undergo such hardship without any hope of a cure and without anyone to blame for it. There was no accident, no source of infection. There was no one to yell at, no one to sue — not that it would have helped. She was predisposed to get sick, she did, and it was horrible.

So, for Umesh Shukla, Sumit Arora, and Niren Bhatt to imply that someone like my mom might suffer a terrible death because her kids didn’t pay enough attention to her is bullshit. It’s offensive, and it’s mean.

To make light of such a dreadful condition for the sake of a comedy film is beyond callous. Pammi might as well be just another prop, the way she’s shuffled from car to house, forced into a situation she can’t possibly understand. She utters only a handful of words, which is a tremendous waste of an actress of Pathak’s caliber.

There’s no reason to see All Is Well. None. Something this hateful shouldn’t be rewarded.

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Movie Review: Dirty Politics (2015)

DirtyPoliticsZero Stars (out of 4)

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About three-quarters of the way through the movie, my hands grip my head as if trying to contain an imminent explosion. I scream, “What is happening?!” and tear at my hair. That sums up the entire experience of watching Dirty Politics.

The movie’s problems are immediately apparent, most obviously so in the way the film looks. The camera never stops moving. It doesn’t matter if the movement obscures the faces of the characters who are speaking: camera movement is paramount! The action can be dramatic, such as a crane shot from directly overhead that swoops down to ground level then back up again. It can be more subtle, such as persistent zoom-ins on actors’ faces.

In one shot, the camera rapidly zooms in to closeup and pulls back twice in the span of about three seconds. A judge says, “Court is adjourned,” and the camera pans from the judge up to a clock above his chair, even though there’s no significance to the clock or the time of day. Then the same shot is repeated a few minutes later, again for no reason.

I don’t blame cinematographer Panveer Selvam for this travesty of technique as much as I do director K.C. Bokadia, who also wrote this farce. Bokadia’s vision for Dirty Politics is obviously shaped by a fundamental misunderstanding of how to make movies.

The story opens in the middle of a search for missing dancer-turned-politician Anokhi Devi (Mallika Sherawat). We know this because the characters say the name “Anokhi Devi” about a hundred times in the first ten minutes. Characters are introduced in quick succession without a sense of where they fit into the larger story, and an absence of backstory is keenly felt.

Anokhi Devi’s appearance via flashback more than twenty minutes into the runtime doesn’t really clear things up. Her dancing grabs the attention of political party leader Dinanath (Om Puri). In exchange for sex, Dinanath promises to make her the party’s candidate in the next election. Naturally.

There’s a hullabaloo because a gangster named Mukhtiar (Jackie Shroff) wants the same candidacy. He gets a great introduction from Anokhi Devi’s secretary, Banaram (Rajpal Yadav), who announces his arrival at her house: “He’s Mukhtiar. A well-known goon of our area.”

Dirty Politics is full of hilariously ponderous lines. When Anupam Kher’s character Mishra — who is a CBI officer and a lawyer who’s sixty days away from retirement(!) — presents his case in court, the defense attorney responds: “He is very cleverly trying to make his points strong.” Eloquently said, man who doesn’t realize that he’s describing the very nature of his own job.

One can only imagine how Bokadia managed to rope so many talented actors into this doomed project. In addition to vets like Kher, Shroff, and Puri, Naseeruddin Shah his a role as an activist who steals the movie’s absurd closing scene. Govind Namdeo’s overacting is the height of comedy. Atul Kulkarni and Sushant Singh remind us why they are rarely called upon to play action heroes.

Shah’s character has a daughter whose sole narrative purpose is to be raped in order to blackmail him. There are only three women in the whole movie, and all of them are brutalized: two in order to intimidate their relatives, and Anokhi Devi for aspiring to a more meaningful purpose than that of Dinanath’s mistress.

Puri and Sherawat deserve some modest praise for fumbling through the most awkward sex scenes in cinema history. If Bokadia was counting on sex to sell Dirty Politics, he obviously didn’t watch any footage of his movie as it was being shot.

One can only fathom the sheer terror racing through the mind of editor Prakash Jha as he received each batch of footage. “How am I supposed to make a movie from this?” he asks himself. “There’s nothing to work with!” Hence how we end up with the exact same reaction shot of Jackie Shroff staring at a desk — his jaw muscles twitching — four times in succession.

Bonus: Everything you need to know about the lack of craft that went into making Dirty Politics, in just twelve seconds!

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Movie Review: Unfreedom (2015)

UnfreedomZero Stars (out of 4)

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The fact that writer-director-producer Raj Amit Kumar believes that his English-Hindi debut film Unfreedom is an enlightened piece of social commentary is exactly what makes it so vile and offensive.

Kumar tosses together narratives without bothering to connect them. Action shifts between unrelated stories about a newly-out lesbian in New Delhi and a jihadist in New York City, though both stories have weird subplots attached to them — a woman who has a miscarriage or abortion (it’s unclear which) and a corrupt cop in cahoots with the terrorists — that aren’t resolved.

The stories are primarily excuses for pornography: sexual in the case of the lesbian, Leela (Preeti Gupta), and torture in the case of the jihadist, Husain (Bhanu Uday).

Leela flees her arranged marriage to a man in order to reunite with her female lover, Sakhi (Bhavani Lee). They haven’t seen each other in a year, and Sakhi is now dating a man. Leela murders the man in front of Sakhi in order to get her attention, and it inexplicably works. Immediately after Sakhi escorts her mortally wounded boyfriend to hospital, she returns to Leela and confesses her love for her. Not the foundation for a stable relationship.

Meanwhile, in New York, Husain is on a mission to kill a Muslim scholar for being too liberal. First, he kidnaps and tortures the scholar and one of his students: a white guy who Husain nails to a modified cross and presumably kills, so far as we ever know.

Back in India, Sakhi and Leela spend their time in an island fantasy, until they’re caught and thrown in jail. Mind you, they get busted for being lesbians, not for their connection with the boyfriend’s murder, which nobody cares about. Catching gays is apparently more important than catching killers.

With all the concern in Bollywood over the way item numbers objectify women, Unfreedom shows what real objectification looks like. Kumar treats women’s bodies like things, especially the bodies of white women. Husain’s moment of clarity — or whatever the hell happens — comes only after he has literally butchered a white woman to death.

Kumar’s sexism is most obvious in the way he portrays Leela and Sakhi. Both of them are naked throughout much of the film, but Sakhi — a white American — is depicted more salaciously. She’s an artist, a lousy one, who paints in the nude for no reason. A naked self-portrait features her standing facing forward, with her legs apart and her hands at her sides.

Husain is also shown nude on a couple of occasions, but his nudity is depicted entirely differently. He is only shown from behind while in the shower, the camera pulled back much farther than in the close shots of the women’s bodies. Husain’s genitals are not shown, and even his buttocks are obscured by the shower’s steam. His nakedness is camouflaged, while the women’s nudity is overt.

Kumar wants to make it clear that we in the audience know that Sakhi is a slut. Other characters repeatedly call her “slut” and “whore.” Her portrayal reinforces the Indian myth of the oversexed white Western female, now an instrument of corruption for both men and women.

Unfreedom conflates sex and violence throughout. When Leela and Sakhi engage in a tawdry, explicit sex scene, it’s not provocative. It’s meant to shock in the same way that Husain’s gruesome torture of the professor is meant to shock. And just in case it wasn’t clear that this is supposed to be an “edgy” film, both women are violently gang-raped.

In addition to botching his film’s message, Kumar also deserves blame for terrible handling of his actors, many of whom — like Adil Hussain — are quite talented. Lee’s performance as Sakhi is particularly awful.

If Unfreedom is Kumar’s idea of challenging, progressive cinema, he needs to do some real soul-searching.

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Movie Review: Shamitabh (2015)

ShamithahfilmZero Stars (out of 4)

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For all but a few of Shamitabh‘s two hours and thirty minutes, I wished I was anyplace other than the theater. I would spare you that same pain.

The element of Shamitabh that should’ve precluded it from ever being made is its asinine premise. Dhanush plays Danish — all three leads play characters with variations of their own names — a mute, small-town guy who wants to be an actor. He fails to break into the Mumbai film industry until a sympathetic assistant director, Akshara (Akshara Haasan), takes him under her wing. Akshara’s father is a doctor whose colleagues in Finland have created a revolutionary technology to aid mute people.

The technology involves implanting a chip in the patient’s throat that acts as a receiver. When words are spoken aloud by someone wearing a connected earpiece/microphone, the sound comes out of the mouth of mute patient when he moves his lips. In essence, the technology turns a mute person into a living ventriloquist’s dummy.

This invention is idiotic. Why would a mute person want to speak if he always had to do so in someone else’s voice, never able to speak his own thoughts? Who would want to be the person permanently tethered to mute person, effectively rendered mute themselves for the sake of someone else?

Somehow, Danish becomes a superstar actor after he hires Amitabh (Amitabh Bachchan) — a drunk with a great baritone — to supply his voice while making movies. No one on the movie set wonders why a 30-year-old guy sounds like a man in his 70s.

The sheer stupidity of the premise is reason enough to avoid Shamitabh, but there are many other reasons to dislike it as well. Writer-director R. Balki clearly intends for Shamitabh to be an exploration of the actor’s craft and filmmaking in general. The stupid premise might have worked as a satire, but Balki’s Shamitabh is a straightforward wannabe tear-jerker that provides no insight on its subject matter.

For a movie about filmmaking, there’s a distinct absence of craft in Shamitabh. Shots are framed awkwardly. Transitions are jerky. The editing is poor. Scenes are too long. A romance scene between Danish and an actress is totally out-of-place. The dialogue is too on the nose.

More distracting than any of these flaws is the movie’s music. The songs are horrible, but the incidental music is downright clownish. Any emotional moment is punctuated with garish musical cues so amateurish that it’s hard to believe that this is Balki’s third film.

Perhaps the greatest indictment of a film that’s supposed to be about actors is that the acting is terrible. Dhanush’s movements are exaggerated to a ridiculous degree, as though his body is rebelling against the fact that he can’t talk. Akshara’s facial expressions are bizarre, and she delivers her dialogue in either a monotone or hysterical screaming. She needed better direction in her debut film.

There are moments when the legendary Bachchan shows his skill, in subtle reactions to some ridiculous request by Danish. But Bachchan gives a number of excessive monologues that would be tiresome no matter who delivered them, and they destroy the flow of the film.

Watching Shamitabh is a uniquely painful movie-going experience that should be avoided at all costs.

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Movie Review: Kick (2014)

Kick0 Stars (out of 4)

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Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but Kick asks its audience to forget everything they know about quality filmmaking for 146 minutes. Kick is boring, annoying, and offensively stupid.

Though no one associated with this turd comes off well, Kick is primarily a failure of storytelling. The moronic plot lacks any sense of organization. Explanations come out of left field. The characters — in particular Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s villainous rich guy, Faroz — operate without clear motivation. There’s nothing in this that makes a lick of sense.

Though Kick is a Salman Khan vehicle, the movie opens with Shaina (Jacqueline Fernandez) moping about in Warsaw, Poland. She shares a train ride with Himanshu (Randeep Hooda), a top cop visiting from India. Their families want the two of them to marry, but Shaina explains that she’s still mourning the end of her previous relationship.

The movie should’ve stopped at that point. When Randeep Hooda starts talking marriage — especially while looking cute in a sweater vest — the only answer is, “Yes.” Roll credits. Instead, we get forty-five minutes of flashbacks to Shaina’s romance with annoying lout Devi Lal (Khan).

It’s hard to believe that a woman intelligent enough to become a licensed psychiatrist would fall for a schmuck as irritating as Devi Lal, but Shaina does nonetheless. He dumps her after she suggests that — since he finds steady employment and conventional romance a kind of “hell” that interferes with his adrenaline addiction — they live with her dad after marriage. Devi Lal declares that he won’t be a live-in son-in-law and stalks off.

It takes nearly two hours before alleged genius cop Himanshu realizes that the master thief “Devil” he’s tracked to Warsaw is Shaina’s ex, Devi Lal, who’s managed to worm his way into Shaina’s care with a purported case of amnesia.

Things get increasingly stupid as politically connected healthcare tycoon Feroz is revealed to be Devil’s next target. Siddiqui plays Feroz as a cackling supervillain, but he doesn’t have a sinister agenda or plan for world domination. He’s just a rich guy who’s kind of a dick.

(Speaking of genitalia, did no one on the crew notice that Randeep’s nuts were practically busting out of his pants during Himanshu’s balcony drinking scene with Devi Lal?)

The explanation for Devi Lal’s transition from unemployed schmo to master thief hinges on writer-director Sajid Nadiadwala’s exploitation of disabled children to provoke audience sympathy. It’s tacky.

It also doesn’t hold up to scrutiny from a story perspective. No matter what Devil’s Robin Hood-like motivations are, he kills several Polish police officers who try to stop his destructive chase through downtown Warsaw (which may have actually been London, since Devil drives a red double-decker bus headed for King’s Cross).

But, this being a Salman Khan film, morality always tilts in Khan’s favor. No matter how many lives Devi Lal/Devil takes, he’s always the hero because his intentions were good. Like every Khan character, Devi Lal’s only flaw is that he doesn’t have a girlfriend when the movie begins.

There’s nothing good about this movie. The performances are terrible. Even the choreography sucks because it has to accommodate Khan’s stiffness.

Enough. We’ve seen this all before. Kick just takes the typical Khan movie to jaw-dropping new lows.

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