Tag Archives: Zoya Akhtar

Movie Review: Dil Dhadakne Do (2015)

DilDhadakneDo4 Stars (out of 4)

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

One can never completely know what to expect when one walks into a theater, but when you get what you subconsciously wanted, you know the feeling. Dil Dhadakne Do (“Let the Heart Beat“) inspired that feeling for me. Writer-director Zoya Akhtar deftly wrangles a mammoth cast and innumerable subplots into a thoroughly enjoyable comedy about a dysfunctional family.

Many things are going wrong for the wealthy Mehra family. Neelam (Shefali Shah) endures her husband Kamal’s (Anil Kapoor) serial cheating. Their son, Kabir (Ranveer Singh), doesn’t want to inherit the family business, which is going bankrupt. Their daughter, Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra), is being pressured to give up her own successful company to have a child with Manav (Rahul Bose), the husband she doesn’t love.

With all of their close friends and business associates accompanying them on a ten-day Mediterranean cruise in honor of Neelam & Kamal’s 30th wedding anniversary, the Mehras try to pretend that everything is okay. Confined on a ship with dozens of associates with their own grudges and motivations, it’s impossible to keep up the front for long.

Part of the Mehra’s pretending requires them to not talk about uncomfortable things, even with one another. That becomes untenable when Kabir falls in love with Farah (Anushka Sharma), a dancer who works on the ship. She doesn’t fit with his role as the dutiful heir apparent — a role that he doesn’t even want — but he doesn’t know how to live any other way. In just a few days, he can’t envision a future without her.

As serious as the consequences of their relationship are, Kabir’s romance with Farah builds in a sweet, flirtatious way. Kabir’s seduction of Farah in the song “Pehli Baar” is equal parts playful and sexy. It’s an incredibly effective use of a choreographed number to advance the narrative (so much more so than the typical Bollywood romantic fantasy number involving a woman in a ball gown atop a windy sand dune).

Singh is something to behold in Dil Dhadakne Do. He contains his normally boundless energy, unleashing it in the dance numbers but otherwise playing it cool. His chemistry with Sharma is super. Her character is smitten but wary, given her far-less-stable financial footing.

Even better is the relationship between Singh and Chopra, playing adult children who still make faces behind their parents’ backs. So many of their scenes feel authentic: like the way Kabir calls his sister “Dude,” and his claim that the ice cream he steals from her bowl tastes better because it’s flavored with her annoyance. Their immaturity together belies an unbreakable allegiance.

It surely helps that Akhtar’s own brother, Farhan — who has a great supporting role as Ayesha’s former flame — wrote the film’s dialogue. Credit also to Akhtar’s co-writer, Reema Kagti, for a script with so many moving parts but no loose ends. It’s always clear which of the dozen or so aunties are aligned with whom, and which fellow businessmen are looking to gain an advantage.

Akhtar let scenes breathe, taking advantage of the sprawling cruise ship to allow characters to cover lots of physical ground while lost in thought. She has a top-notch cast at her disposal, and she gets the best out of her performers. Some of the best moments consist of knowing glances and wordless exchanges. She even gives the film’s villain, Manav, some funny reaction shots as he fends off his wife’s high-speed, anger-fueled tennis volleys.

The theme of women’s equality (or the lack thereof) runs throughout the film, through Manav’s possessive attitude toward Ayesha to Neelam’s willingness to tolerate Kamal’s infidelity because of her financial dependence on him. The subject is explored in a thoughtful way without seeming preachy, often presented as the younger generation trying to explain their beliefs to an older generation more comfortable with traditional gender roles.

Akhtar sets the right tones throughout Dil Dhadakne Do, interspersing serious ideas and insightful commentary without ever veering too far from the film’s comedic core. It’s funny, thought-provoking, and tear-jerking in all the right places. There’s so much to like in Dil Dhadakne Do.

Links

Advertisements

Opening June 5: Dil Dhadakne Do

One new Bollywood film hits Chicago area theaters on June 5, 2015, and it’s a big one: Dil Dhadakne Do (“Let the Heart Beat“). Zoya Akhtar directs an ensemble cast that includes Priyanka Chopra, Ranveer Singh, Anil Kapoor, and Shefali Shah as a dysfunctional family on a cruise ship that also carries Anushka Sharma and Farhan Akhtar.

DDD opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge, and AMC Loews Crestwood 18 in Crestwood. Ticket demand is expected to be so high that the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 17 are showing DDD on multiple screens. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 50 min.

Tanu Weds Manu Returns gets a third week at all of the above theaters, except for the Crestwood 18. Piku gets a fifth week at the South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and MovieMax, which also holds over Welcome 2 Karachi for a second week.

The English-Hindi film Unfreedom — touted for being banned in India — also opens on June 5 at the Goodrich Randall 15 in Batavia. It has a runtime of 1 hr. 42 min. It is my least favorite film of 2015. Click here for a national theater list.

Another release of note this weekend is the restored version of director Satyajit Ray’s The Apu Trilogy. The three Bengali classics start their run on Friday at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago. Click here for a national theater list.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Masss (Tamil w/English subtitles) and Pandaga Chesko (Telugu) at the Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge and MovieMax, which also carries Nee-na (Malayalam) and the Telugu movies Andhra Pori, Asura, and Rakshasudu.

Movie Review: Bombay Talkies (2013)

Bombay_Talkies3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Bombay Talkies is a collection of short films by four young directors, created to honor one hundred years of cinema in India. The results are mixed, but the two best shorts make the whole film worth watching.

Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh by Karan Johar

Johar’s short — a story of a gay tabloid intern (played by Saqib Saleem) who upends the life of his married boss (Rani Mukerji) — is the least successful of the four films. It doesn’t feel like a complete story, but rather a subplot of a full-length feature. The events depicted in the short would’ve made a nice catalyst for the further development of Mukerji’s character or an interesting interlude in a longer movie about Saleem’s character, struggling to find his way both as a young adult and as a gay man who’s been cast out from his family. The short film as it stands doesn’t work.

Star by Dibakar Banerjee

Banerjee’s effort is much more polished and showcases the incredible talent of Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Siddiqui plays Puradev, a failed actor who hops from job to job while waiting for his big break. Banerjee’s narrative includes some charming whimsical elements, such as Puradev’s pet emu and the disappointed ghost of his acting mentor. Siddiqui shines in a great scene in which Puradev pantomimes the events of his day for his daughter’s amusement.

Sheila Ki Jawaani by Zoya Akhtar

Akhtar’s short is the best of the bunch. Her story concerns a little boy named Vicky (Naman Jain) who wants to be a dancer, much to the chagrin of his macho father (played by Ranvir Shorey). Vicky’s idol, actress Katrina Kaif, appears to him in a vision, encouraging him to follow his dreams covertly. He gets further support from his understanding older sister, Kavya (Khushi Dubey).

Like Banerjee’s short, Akhtar’s movie includes some fantastical elements, celebrating the way in which movies allow us to envision a more magical version of reality. Hindi movies rarely feature child protagonists, so it’s refreshing to see a story that focuses on the concerns of children. Jain and Dubey are terrific.

Kaif’s advice to Vicky — be true to your dreams, but don’t broadcast them — seems like a bit of a bummer until her audience is taken into consideration. Vicky — like all children — has so little control over his present circumstances that there’s wisdom in trying to make his day-to-day life easier until he’s an adult and can do what he wants. It’s also a warning to parents to remember that children need respect as individuals as much as they need guidance and protection.

Murabba by Anurag Kashyap

After Akhtar’s delightful short, Kashyap’s film is a downer. His story follows a rural guy named Vijay (Vineet Kumar Singh) on his quest to meet Amitabh Bachchan and get him to take a bite of a piece of preserved fruit. Vijay’s father believes he’ll be cured of his ailments if he eats the rest of the fruit blessed by Bachchan’s bite, and he sends his son on a fool’s errand. Given the security retinues of modern stars, Vijay’s task is practically impossible to complete, and much suffering is inflicted upon the dutiful son in the process. It’s not fun to watch, and the payoff isn’t worth it.

“Apna Bombay Talkies”

The quartet of films is followed by a cheesy song-and-dance number featuring clips of old films and lip-syncing by current Bollywood stars. It’s almost as painfully self-congratulatory as the celebrity role-call song “Deewangi Deewangi” from Om Shanti Om, but it’s not as well choreographed. Check it out:

Links

Streaming Video News: October 6, 2013

The great road trip flick Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is now available for streaming on Netflix. I really like both ZNMD and director Zoya Akhtar’s previous film, Luck By Chance, which is also on Netflix.

Consider this a warning rather than a recommendation: Grand Masti debuts on Eros Now on Friday, October 11.

Movie Review: Talaash (2012)

Talaash_poster3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Talaash: The Answer Lies Within is exactly I wanted it to be: an engaging thriller with great performances.

Talaash opens with footage of Mumbai’s red light districts set to a jazzy theme: an intro to the excellent soundtrack by Ram Sampath that permeates the film. The action begins as a car veers suddenly from a seaside road near the red light district, soaring over a wall and crashing into the ocean.

The car’s driver is Armaan Kapoor (Vivan Bhatena), a famous actor. The circumstances of Armaan’s death — Why was he in such a seedy part of town? Why was he driving instead of his chauffeur? — are suspicious enough to lead Inspector Surjan Shekhawat (Aamir Khan) to treat the case as more than a simple accident.

The case also provides Surjan with a convenient escape from the tension at home. He and his wife, Roshni (Rani Mukerji), are struggling with the recent accidental death of their young son. Both blame themselves, but Surjan refuses to discuss his feelings with Roshni, choosing to throw himself into his work.

Surjan finds an investigative ally in Rosie (Kareena Kapoor), a coy prostitute who knows which of Mumbai’s least savory residents has clues to Armaan’s death. Two persons of interest in the case include a pimp named Shashi and his much abused errand-boy, Tehmur (Nawazuddin Siddiqui).

Rosie does more for Surjan than just help his case. She provides him with a place free from memories of his son. At home, Roshni stares at Surjan with expectation, waiting for the chance to really talk with her husband, whereas Rosie’s eyes hold an invitation.

Khan is powerful as the tortured Surjan. Whether it’s investigating Armaan’s death or following beguiling Rosie, Surjan is desperate for a problem to solve. All that comes from thinking about his son’s death are the questions of what he could’ve done to prevent it.

Mukerji is likewise terrific as Roshni, who is just as saddened by her son’s death, but even more troubled that Surjan won’t work with her to heal their wounds. She stares at her husband with such longing before finally resolving to find peace on her own.

Kapoor’s Rosie is too coy at the start, and it takes a while before she seems like a real person and not a caricature of a prostitute. When she finally starts to discuss serious topics with Surjan, she does so with an evasive glibness.

As is the case with seemingly every movie he’s been in recently, Nawazuddin Siddiqui again steals the show. Pitiable Tehmur is the perfect target for abuse: his mother was a prostitute and he has one misshapen foot, so he has no other option but to do what Shashi says. Siddiqui plays Tehmur as resourceful and scrappy, and he seizes an opportunity to get rich quick, even if it gets him in way over his head.

The sweetest relationship in the film is between Tehmur and Nirmala, a prostitute who’s been told she’s too old to be of any value. World-weary Nirmala is not overly affectionate with Tehmur, but because she’s the only person who treats him with any kindness at all, he acts as though she’s promised him eternal love. The relationship wouldn’t be so affecting without someone as skilled as Siddiqui playing Tehmur.

In Talaash, director Reema Kagti and her co-writer Zoya Akhtar have created an entertaining thriller that uses every one of its 139 minutes wisely. It’s easily accessible for anyone who’s a fan of thrillers, as the English subtitles are well-translated from Hindi.

Links

Best Bollywood Movies of 2011

2011 was a standout year for Bollywood in terms both experiments with storytelling style and elevating the status of women in the film industry. Here are my picks for the best movies of the year. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)

There were some good examples of familiar narratives — including the family drama Patiala House and the romantic comedy Mere Brother Ki Dulhan — but plenty of films pushed the envelope. Ra.One lead the Hindi film industry’s foray into 3D technology. Rockstar experimented with making a movie feel like an extended music video.

The most successful experiments of the year were created by Aamir Khan Productions. The company released two intriguing films — Dhobi Ghat and Delhi Belly  — with runtimes that clocked in at under two hours long, uncharacteristically brief for Indian movies. Further, the company insisted that the films show in theaters without the standard intermission break, paving the way for future success in international markets.

2011 was a tremendous year for women working in the Hindi film industry. Director Zoya Akhtar struck box office gold with Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Actresses Vidya Balan and Kalki Koechlin played gritty, compelling main characters in The Dirty Picture and That Girl in Yellow Boots, respectively.

My favorite movie of the year also features a strong, complex woman as the lead character, in a story surprisingly macabre for Bollywood.

The Best Bollywood Movie of 2011 is 7 Khoon Maaf.

Talented director Vishal Bhardwaj puts his unique stamp on this dark comedy about a black widow and her seven husbands. In the lead role, Bhardwaj cast Priyanka Chopra, an actress who’s made a point of choosing a diverse array of characters throughout her career. Chopra manages to make the serial killer Susanna calculating yet sympathetic. Better still, the movie is often quite funny as the grim tale unfolds.

7 Khoon Maaf isn’t quite like any other Hindi movie released in recent years. Look past the dance numbers and cast of Indian A-listers, and it could easily transcend the “Bollywood” label — and instead be considered a “Foreign Film” (a genre with more critical cachet here in the US).

The movie is available for streaming on Netflix, making it accessible to an audience who may have missed it in theaters early last year. If you haven’t seen 7 Khoon Maaf, I encourage you to check it out.

Previous Best Movies Lists

Movie Review: Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Writer-director Zoya Akhtar’s sophomore effort, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, is good enough to push her into the top tier of filmmakers working in India at the moment. Her ability to create realistic characters keeps the old Bollywood recipe fresh, updating it for a young, global audience.

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (ZNMD, henceforth) follows three lifelong friends from India as they roadtrip through Spain. The trip is a sort of bachelor party for Kabir (Abhay Deol), in which the groom-to-be and his two pals, immature Imraan (Farhan Akhtar) and serious Arjun (Hrithik Roshan), each get to choose a different adventure on which the others must go along, no matter what.

The trip gets off to a rocky start. There’s a lingering animosity between Imraan and Arjun, who keeps getting work-related phone calls. Kabir selects scuba diving for his adventure, even though Arjun can’t swim and is terrified of water.

The trip is saved by their beautiful, free-spirited diving instructor, Laila (Katrina Kaif). She helps Arjun overcome his fears and shows the boys around Spain. The trip proceeds so that the friends can find what they are really looking for: not just a little fun in the sun, but the means by which to fill the voids in their lives.

What I loved about Zoya Akhtar’s first movie, Luck By Chance, was her devotion to believable, nuanced characters. She exercises the same care in ZNMD. Imraan’s attention-getting jokes mask his insecurity; Arjun struggles with the greedy workaholic he’s become; Kabir is so busy trying to keep everyone else happy that he doesn’t know what he really wants.

Kabir’s jealous fiancée, Natasha (Kalki Koechlin), is so well written, it’s eerie. I recognized Natasha’s cold reaction when Kabir introduces her to Laila over Skype as the way I might’ve reacted as a young adult. Kudos to Zoya and her co-writer, Reema Kagti, for creating such a realistic character, and to Koechlin for bringing her life.

The acting in ZNMD is brilliant, across the board. As suspicious as Koechlin plays Natasha, Kaif keeps Laila breezy and winsome. Roshan, normally a charming leading man, seizes the rare opportunity to play an unlikeable character and makes Arjun a real jerk early in the film.

But Deol and Akhtar take the cake with their easy, natural rapport. Their expressions as Imraan and Kabir joke behind Arjun’s back make some scenes feel like candid outtake shots rather than directed scenes. Deol, Akhtar and Roshan deserve extra credit for singing their own parts in the catchy song “Señorita.” (I’ve included a teaser video of the song below.)

My only complaint about the movie is that it’s longer than it needs to be. While the scenery is beautiful, and footage of the boys scuba diving and skydiving is exciting, there are lengthy periods that feel like a promotional video for the Spanish tourism board or for an adventure tour company.

That said, I understand why those scenes are in the movie. Akhtar opted to tell her story using the traditional Indian runtime of about two-and-a-half hours, and she filled the time to maximize the amount of escapism. It’s as easy to get lost in the story as it is in the footage of the Spanish countryside.

Since my only quibble with Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is a matter of personal preference, and not a problem of execution, I don’t hesitate to recommend it. Zoya Akhtar is setting new storytelling standards that other Hindi directors must try to keep up with.

Links