Song of the Day – Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

Cannot stop listening to this song!  The minute the teaser trailer came out the song just transported me, and I wanted the whole thing NOW.  It’s out on Saavn.com and iTunes today, thank God.

I can only imagine how mind blowing the rest of the soundtrack will be.  Can’t count how many times I’ve seen the teaser trailer since midnight last night (when it was released, Chicago time).  October 28 is a long time to wait, and Shivaay comes out the same time!

Action Hero Biju – Nivin Pauly is excellent in a complex portrait of a policeman

bijuAction Hero Biju’s title leads you to think that it’s a cartoon type cop story, maybe something over the top like Singham.  What it is, is really a surprise — a complex story of what it would really feel like to ride along with Sub-Inspector Biju Palouse throughout his day.  From the rare exciting chase down of a criminal, to acting as a sort of family court judge in mundane every day issues.

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Nivin Pauly is just fantastic as Biju.  He is what I guess is equivalent to the police captain of his station.  He deals with lots of small issues himself, as judge and jury.   When a young girl is bitten by a dog — a dog sent to attack her by a rich jerk — Biju is on the case.  He nabs the guy, and humiliates him, not bowing to the pressure of politicians trying to get him to ignore the case.  It’s glorious to watch.

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When a young woman comes in because she’d worked for 50 days for a company and only received the 1000 rupee advance.  Biju calls in the company owners, and then when they won’t pay the woman, he demands their company paperwork.  Finding a technicality he can charge them with, he then turns on his righteous anger.

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Biju is almost like an Andy Griffith type character,  complete with bumbling deputies who lose their radios and accidentally shoot their guns in the station.   But I wish that he could just solve everything with words like Andy Griffith.

Biju uses discernment, going after the drug dealer plaguing a school, but letting of the kids found with him off after scaring them half to death.  And that’s my main issue with the film.  Nivin Pauly is masterful at dealing with all the people that come before his desk, except he resorts to beating people with a coconut wrapped in a cloth.  He doesn’t just give people tight slaps in the heat of them moment, or roughly throw suspects down as he’s chasing them down.  He uses beating as his judgement and as a scare tactic.  He doesn’t do it in a fit of anger, but just part of his methods.  His anger he can turn off and on, manipulating those brought before his desk.

When a protester comes into his office to talk with about the accusations of beatings, he mocks her and his husband.

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I loved so much about Nivin Pauly’s character Biju in this film.  He was so sweet with his fiance.  And when finally the big action scene comes, he takes on five guys single-handedly in a fantastic fight, complete with big declarative speech.   I loved how the film shows not just the exciting big fight catching the hardened criminal, but all the little moments in his day where he really helped ordinary people in his jurisdiction.

I didn’t recognize all the character actors, but the film’s structure was almost like a series of short stories or short films for each case Biju dealt with.

I have very mixed feelings about this film.  I thought it was a great script and structure, and the acting was fantastic.  This is about as good as I’ve ever seen Nivin Pauly.  It’s great seeing him play a mature character, and not a coming of age story.

But I just can’t get past the police beatings, and how matter of fact they are.  As I said at the beginning, Nivin Pauly’s Biju is no 2 -dimensional cartoon character.  He’s very complex.  He’s a hero, even an action hero, and he serves his constituents well.  He’s certainly not corrupt, but I just wish he didn’t have to beat suspects as a matter of course. It’s precisely because he’s not presented as larger than life.

Beatings aside, this is a very enjoyable film to watch.

Four stars out of five.

Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood delves even deeper in her glowing review.

 

 

Ayalum Njanum Thammil – Prithviraj in the story of a young doctor and his mentor

ayalum-njanum-thammil37436Ayalum Njanum Thammil (Between Him and Me) is a 2012 Malayalam film starring Prithviraj as a young doctor and the relationship he has with his mentor and teacher.  It has a tragic romance in it, but the main focus of the film is Prithviraj as Ravi and his first job out of medical school in a rural hospital.

I’m on a bit of a Prithviraj kick at the moment.  I am absolutely amazed that this actor is only 33.  He’s made over 80 films!  He’s just so great in any film that he is in.  He has a worthy actor to play against in Ayalam Njanum Thammil as director and award winning actor Pratep Pothen plays his mentor, Dr. Samuel.  I really loved Pratep Pothen in this role.

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Lal Rose, who also directed Prithviraj in the classic Classmates, uses a similar flashback structure in Ayalam Njanum Thammil that he did in Classmates.  We start in the present day, and Prithviraj is a dedicated doctor at a large city hospital.  He’s brought in to consult on a young girl that needs heart surgery, but he can’t convince the parents to approve the surgery.  He does the surgery anyway, and the girl dies.  A mob forms outside the hospital, and Prithviraj gets a call, and leaves out the back way, but gets in a car accident and vanishes.  His friends and family try to reconstruct where he could have gone, and through the flashbacks we learn about how he became the dedicated to maybe an extreme surgeon he is in the present day.

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His best friend relates how they nearly flunked out of med school together, and even tried to cheat on tests.  They all thought it was a big lark.  Prithviraj’s family is Christian, and he had a long term relationship with his Muslim classmate Sainu (Samvrutha Sunil).

Prithviraj is given an ultimatum by the school dean.  Pay the rest of his tuition bill, or serve as a rural doctor for two years.  He’s confident his father will pay, but his father thinks doing some growing up away from home will be good for him.

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Dr. Samuel (Pratep Pothen) takes Prithviraj (Dr. Ravi) under his wing, and shows Prithviraj just how much he has left to learn in his medical education.  One of my favorite moments comes when Dr. Samuel accidentally calls Dr. Ravi Rahul which is his estranged son’s name, showing that he’s come to think of Prithviraj as a son.  There’s another young woman doctor at the rural hospital, Dr. Supriya (Remya Nambeesan) who becomes his fast friend.

Prithviraj has a run in with a local cop with a car accident that comes back to haunt him later.  His love Sainu is about to be married off by her parents, and Prithviraj has arranged through his friend to meet her back at the medical school to get a registry marriage.  But he’s delayed by helping Dr. Supriya with a touch and go patient.  When he finally starts driving at 3 am, there’s a roadblock and the cop won’t let him through.  How he retaliates against the cop later when the cop has an ill family member is a very tense scene in the movie, and a key moment in his relationship with his mentor, Dr. Samuel.

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I don’t think this movie will go down as one of my favorite Prithviraj performances, but it was very good.  He believably goes from mature competent dedicated super surgeon in present day, to madcap goof off student in the flashbacks.  Prithviraj’s acting carries us through the journey of Dr. Ravi growing as a person and a caring physician.

The ending is not what I would call happy, but more wistful.  It’s not the typical tidy ending one usually expects.

Three and a half stars out of five.

Read Margaret’s review of Ayalam Njanum Thammil on Don’t Call It Bollywood where she compares it to Dr. Kildare.

 

Happy Bhag Jayegi – just a nice enjoyable comedy movie

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When I saw the trailer for Happy Bhag Jayegi [Happy Will Run], I was so excited.  It looked funny, and most importantly had Jimmy Shergill as the heavy, and Abhay Deol looking bemused.  The reviews have not been stellar, but I’m here to tell you it’s a fun little over two hour romantic farce.  And who doesn’t want to spend two hours with Abhay and Jimmy?

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I really admire what Jimmy Shergill is doing with his career.  He’s taking the supporting villainish (but not too villainish) character roles now in this and in movies like Tanu Weds Manu 2, as well as supporting roles in action films.  Because he’s Jimmy Shergill, he’s the bad guy here, but he’s still so charming you almost feel sorry for him that his bride ran away.

Happy (Diana Penty) is a spitfire.  Her father has arranged her marriage to politician Jimmy Shergill, also the head of the local goon gang.  While Jimmy dances (badly!) at their engagement, Happy jumps out the bathroom window into a waiting truck.  Trouble is, it wasn’t the truck her boyfriend had arranged.

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She pops out of a box in the home of Abhay — son of the ex-Governor in Lahore, Pakistan.  Abhay’s father is played by the always great Pakistani actor Javed Sheikh.  Bollywood audiences know him  as SRK’s father in Om Shanti Om, but I loved him as Fawad Khan’s father in the Pakistani soap Zindagi Gulzar Hai.

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Abhay just wants to play cricket, but his father has great political aspirations for him.  They’d been in Amritsar on a diplomatic mission, and the truck is full of diplomatic gifts!

Happy is stuck in Lahore, without the fiance she really wants to marry, and poses a problem because she has no passport or visa?  And Abhay is of course engaged as well, so how to explain a strange girl in his house?

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The whole thing is a lighter than air farce.  Even when Happy gets kidnapped at one point, you know she’s really in no danger, as the goons are scared of our feisty heroine.  Happy’s intended Guddu (Ali Fazal) is a rather feckless musician.  It’s no wonder her father had doubts about him!  Abhay has to figure out a way to get Guddu into Lahore, get them married and then deport them!  All while keeping Jimmy Shergill at bay.

What I liked about this movie is that the Pakistanis are all nice people.  They are not the bad guys at all!  I can’t for the life of me understand how this movie could be banned in Pakistan, because it’s so positive about Pakistan!  The misunderstandings between the two countries are presented in a humorous way, and barriers between people broken down.  The director wrote an open letter to Pakistan, and the official who banned it, because he doesn’t get it either!

The women in the movie are strong, both Happy and Abhay’s fiance Zoya (Momal Sheikh).  They make the men in their lives rise to the occasion.

It was a very pleasant way to spend a little over two hours, and I laughed out loud at quite a few points.  Abhay, it’s great to have you back.  I’ve missed you.

Looking up Ali Fazal, I don’t remember him at all from 3 Idiots, but he’s set to play Abdul in Stephen Frears’ Victoria and Adbul opposite Judi Dench!  I wasn’t super impressed with you in this trifle, but go you!

Three and a half out of five stars.

Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood and I saw it together.  Read her spoiler free review here.

Rudhramadevi – Great story with horrible CGI

rudramadevi-759Rudhramadevi is currently on Netflix streaming in the US, unfortunately the original Telugu dubbed in Hindi.  Anushka Shetty of Bahubali fame, plays queen Rudhramadevi.  The coolest thing about this historical epic is that the main characters in this film are all based on real people.  Rudhramadevi ruled in what is now Telegana, dying in 1295, and was one of the first reigning queens in India.

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Gona Gannareddy (Allu Arjun) truly was a Robin Hood like figure supporting Radhrumadevi’s rule.  [I read Mahesh Babu turned down the role.]

For some bizarre reason, the filmmakers frame the film by having Marco Polo narrate the story  — to show how women ruling is a good thing, I guess.  But the CGI of those opening scenes and the sailing ship, is just horrendous.  At other points they use very cool animation drawings and I wish they’d just used those throughout, or drawings of maps.

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The film Rudhramadevi supposes that when she was born the King’s chief adviser (Prakash Raj) suggests the birth of a son be announced to the kingdom, so the unruly populous and the feuding relatives angling to take over the throne will be assured there is a male heir.  The young prince is raised in the forest and trained in warfare and sword fighting.  The young actress who played the young Rudhramedeva was really good.  She comes to court as a young teen for the first time, and meets two princes –  Gona Gannareddy and Chalukya Veerabhadra.  They escape the palace together, and she sees a statue of a woman, and realizes with shock that that’s what she looks like.  She runs home, and in a stunning scene for an Indian film, finds her pants soaked with blood down to her ankles.  She runs to her mother who tells her the truth.  She is given the choice to become the princess, but chooses to continue to live as the prince heir of the kingdom.

As a now young man, she’s expected to marry, and Nithya Menon plays the young princess she marries.  (Which totally made me think of Yentl, but she tells the princess she must remain celibate.)  Rudhramadevi has strong feelings for her best friend Chalukya Veerabhadra (Rana Daggubati).  He catches a glimpse of her outside the palace dressed as a woman, and becomes obsessed.  He’s derelict in his war duties he’s so smitten, and she appears again to him as a woman, which gives us this fantastic love duet, one of the highlights of the film for me:

What I loved about the story is that Anushka Shetty as Rudhramadevi is a kick ass warrior queen, and she’s not going to run off to marry her lover when she has duties as queen.   The whole story is so awesomely feminist and woman positive, and Anushka’s performance, especially in the fighting  and battle scenes makes me even more excited for Bahubali 2.

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The story is great, but the CGI is so bad that it takes you out of the film at times.  I don’t understand why they had to use digital outdoor backdrops for several scenes.  It seemed completely unnecessary.  This film wanted to be what Bahubali achieved, but they didn’t have the same money to execute it.

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This is an example of some of the worst effects.  To show either Allu or Rana riding a horse, they were head on to the camera with their head horribly photoshopped on a repeating GIF of a body moving up and down on a fake horse head.  Over and over and over.  It looked SO bad.  And they made it a poster!  Ugh!

If I had a young daughter, this is a fantastic story of a warrior queen, but I’m not sure older more sophisticated kids could get past the bad special effects.

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Still, a mostly enjoyable watch, with very cool characters, great action battles, and some nice song numbers.  Kudos to Rana Daggubati for playing the Chris Pine to Anushka Shetty’s Wonder Woman.

Three stars out of five.

Check out Margaret’s take on Rudhramadevi on her blog Don’t Call It Bollywood.  She delves much deeper into the gender politics the film.

 

Aiyyaa – How can a movie be so sublime and so awful all at the same time

I love Rani Mukherji so Aiyyaa was on my watchlist, but it moved right up to the top after I saw this video:

I have only seen a few Prithviraj films, and my impression was of a very good serious actor in Ennu Ninte Moideen, Classmates and Mumbai Police or even Aurangzeb.  But I hadn’t seen him like this:

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Holy moly.  (Is it getting hot in here?)

Aiyyaa means Oh, My!  Aiyyaa was a comeback film for Rani, but was Prithviraj’s Bollywood Debut.  (He made Aurangzeb around the same time.)  The film was produced by Anurag Kashyap and was directed by Sachin Kundalkar.

Rani is Menaskshi, a young woman who loves zany Bollywood films, the more over the top the better.  The songs in Aiyyaa are her fantasies.  She imagines herself at the beginning as Madhuri, Juhi and Sridevi.  Her parents want to arrange her marriage, but first she gets a job at the local art college.

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She is struck speechless by the appearance of art student Surya, and is entranced by his smell.  (The director Sachin Kundalkar, had done a previous Marathi film about the senses.)  She asks around to learn more about her crush Surya.  He always has red eyes so the rumor is that he’s on drugs or spends all his nights drinking.  He barely ever speaks to Rani, and is very mysterious and standoffish.  She finds him sleeping in doorways and hallways.  She knows he speaks Tamil to the chaiwallah boy, who she bribes to teach her to speak Tamil.  “How do I say I like dark skin people, not fair skin?”  The chaiwallah recommends she watch the Tamil Midnight Masala TV channel.

Rani dreams she’s in a Southern Masala film, and we get this insane number that made me just laugh in delight:

As Prithviraj said in an interview — it’s Bollywood’s crazy view of Southern films.  What I absolutely love about this song sequence is that I’ve never before seen Prithviraj so silly, and you can just see him going for it with gusto.

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He just has this crazy grin through the whole song.  They rhyme humping and thumping, and he bobs his head following her waist gyrations.  Prithviraj’s having his own fun spoofing regional song sequences.  Having seen several South Indian films, I felt like I was in on the joke.

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Rani’s eccentric family have placed a matrimonial ad and she grits her teeth through meetings with several suitors.  One very nice average guy she reluctantly agrees to see again.  He’s kind and sweet, but he just doesn’t float her boat like Surya – who seemingly doesn’t even know she exists.  While shopping for wedding saris, she has the lustful Aga Bai fantasy song from the top of the review.

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I wouldn’t have minded if Surya had just been a fantasy and she ended up with the nice average Maadhav (Subodh Bhave).  On the day of her engagement, she escapes the house and follows Surya.  Finally she discovers the source of his intoxicating scent, and they connect.  The romance is just so swoon worthy.  It’s sublime.

But unfortunately, Prithviraj, Subodh and Rani aren’t the only people in the film.  Rani’s family is at first amusingly eccentric.  In the first half, it’s not so bad, but her brother character especially in the second half just goes off into crazyland.  The very worst character is her co-worker Maina, who has big buck teeth and comes to work with vodka in a bear shaped water bottle.  She’s not only un-funny, she’s just blatantly offensive.  The writer-director was going for zany, and he veered too far on the wacky spectrum.  You know it’s bad when Johnny Lever would have brought subtlety to this film. If this film instead had had the comedic tone of something like Dum Laga Ke Haisha it would have been perfect.   It was just so uneven lurching between the extreme awful comedy and then the swooniness of the romance.

I loved the romance bits of this film so much I have rewatched it already, but I fast-forwarded through all the family scenes and the Maina bits.  Rani in her fantasies in Aiyyaa reminded me a bit of Amelie, that magical realism French film:

 

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So dear reader, I have trouble whole-heartedly recommending this film.  The film has a great message about cross-cultural romance and even with a male director is interested in the female gaze and point of view.  If you’re a big fan of Rani like I am, you’ll agree that she was fantastic as Meenakshi.  If you love Prithviraj as I am beginning to, you’ll love seeing him be almost Mr. Darcy like, and also having zany fun being a sex symbol.  If you can stand to watch not so great films for the transcendent good parts, just do yourself a favor and keep your finger on the fast-forward button.

Three stars out of five.  Aiyyaa is available on ErosNow, which is where I watched it.

 

Dil Aashna Hai – Lace remake only for the biggest SRK fans

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Dil Aashna Hai (The Heart Knows the Truth) is my 50th Shahrukh Khan film.  This film is Camp with a capital “C”.  Dil Aashna Hai came out in 1992, and is one of SRK’s earliest films.  The DVD is hard to track down, and Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood let me borrow it.  I’m on a quest to watch every one of Shahrukh Khan’s films, from the sublime to the not-so-great.  Fully a quarter of all the Hindi films I’ve seen have been Shahrukh Khan movies.

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Dil Aashna Hai is a Hindi adaptation of Shirley Conran’s 1982 novel Lace, which was also a huge TV mini-series in 1984.   “Which one of you bitches is my mother?” TV Guide listed as one of the best lines in TV history.  I don’t remember much about the Phoebe Cates starring mini-series, but Lace the book was one of the first romance novels I ever read.  It was scandalous and racy, a book passed around from high school girl to high school girl, sex scenes marked and dog-eared.

The book was reissued on its 30th anniversary in 2012, and Sarah Hughes wrote in The Guardian that the book wasn’t just a bonkfest, it had a strong feminist message.   The flashbacks in the book as Lily tries to find which of three women is her real mother show the three women each pursuing their own career paths:

Along the way Conran tackles everything from teenage abortion and the iniquities of the porn industry to double standards around one-night stands. We remember the vividly described sex scenes, but in reality the book is filled with pages of argument about a woman’s right to work, the need for equal pay and the juggling of children and career.

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Major details of the original plot have been changed for the Bollywood remake, but at its core it’s still the tale of four women, and that alone is something to be celebrated.  That’s I’m sure what attracted director Hema Malini to the story.  Shahrukh Khan, no matter the size of his picture on the poster, is not the star of this film.  He’s a helpmate and support to Laila (Divya Bharti), a courtesan singer he falls in love with, who works at his father’s hotel.

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Kabir Bedi plays SRK’s evil father, who is not thrilled that SRK wants to marry a girl who grew up in a brothel!  (Side note, Kabir was pretty hot back in the day!)

When the woman Laila has known as her mother on her death bed confesses that she was not her biological mother, Laila and Shahrukh go on a quest to find her true mother.  In the book, Lily is a famous film star, and has the money and power to go on her revenge quest on her own.  Here, Shahrukh proves his love for Laila by finding the orphanage she was stolen from by the brothel pimp.

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Through flashbacks we see three young college girls played by Dimple Kapadia, Amrita Singh  and Sonu Walia fall in love and one of them becomes pregnant.  That is the same as Lace, but the blackmail of the headmaster of the college is cut from the Hindi movie.   The great thing about this movie is seeing these three actresses act together as young girls, and then mature women.   They rent a house together and enjoy all being mothers together of the young baby, but plan that the first to marry will adopt the little girl.

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The movie just doesn’t have the same bite as the original, and it’s all saccharin sweet.  The romance between Laila and Shahrukh only gets one nice love song, but not so much screen time.  While it’s great that for once the women are center stage in a Bollywood film, if you’re looking for a great SRK romantic film, this is not the movie for you.  He’s adorable, and great playing the supportive boyfriend, but there’s not much here for him.

 

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Divya Bharti overacts her way through the melodrama, brandishing the locket left with her at the orphanage in her confrontation with the three women.  It’s  all very campy, but not “Which one of you bitches is my mother?” deliciously campy.  It’s been watered down.

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Now I can say I saw one of SRK’s earliest films, but it’s certainly not going down as one of my favorites.  Margaret loves it, but I’m not as fond.  She discusses and compares it to the original mini-series in her review.

Two stars out of five.  Only for the biggest SRK fans who need to see every one of his films.

Mohenjo Daro – a somewhat enjoyable hot mess

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Nearly two years is a long time to wait between Hrithik Roshan movies.  My neighbor and I didn’t care what the reviews said, or the mocking of her husband.  We were bound and determined to spend two and half hours with Hrithik.

My neighbor had no idea who the director was, but expectations naturally run high when Ashutosh Gowariker, whose works include Lagaan, Jodhaa Akbar and Swades returns to the helm after a six year absence.

And therein lies the rub.  The reviews have been harsh, because we expect so much, both from Gowariker and Hrithik.  This film was a swing for the rafters and a big miss.  The trepidation started with the trailer.  That fight with the crocodile looked fake, and the story didn’t seem very compelling.

Annnd, my fears were born out.  I think it was good that I had read a few reviews, and watched Anupama Chopra’s disappointed savaging.  I went last night knowing it would be a hot mess, and just went along for the ride.

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Hrithik’s costumes I liked, but the headresses of Pooja Hegde were absolutely ridiculous and distracting.  It’s classic poor farmer comes to the city and falls in love with the beautiful girl from the rich side of town – with a bit of Aladdin thrown in (I kept humming “Riff Raff, Street rat“)

Pooja as the high priest’s daughter is pretty enough but she doesn’t have much sparkle to her.  I kept thinking how much personality a Deepika or a Priyanka would have brought to this role.  Pooja is fine, but she’s not enough to carry this film, when there’s so many other issues with it.

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At the very end they show this famous dancing girl artifact from Mohenjo Daro tumbling in the water, and just look at the attitude of that young girl.  This is the girl I wish the movie had been about.  I want to know about her story – she has so much personality and moxie frozen in metal.

Hrithik gives over 100% in any role he takes on.  His dancing is graceful in Mohenjo Daro even if it’s absolutely ridiculous that he would be disguised by a bit of red eye makeup and a horn on his head.  His dance with Pooja in Tu Hai was my favorite of the film.  The rest of A. R. Rahman’s soundtrack didn’t send me, but I love this song.

 

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Hrithik’s very good in the action sequences, especially in this athletic battle against two cannibals.  (What is it with Indian movies and the dreaded cannibal warriors?)  Hrithik’s intensity is often expressed in just shaking with rage.  Literally shaking.  It gets to be a bit much, to be honest.

The main flaw in the film is not Hrithik over doing it, or Pooja under doing her performance.  It’s the story.  It’s just not enough somehow.  The script needed more work.

Kabir Bedi is a reliable villain, even if he’s getting a bit long in the tooth to be thrown around.  Arunoday Singh plays his son, Moonja, who’s betrothed to the young priestess.  Poor Arunoday just has that kind of face that looks like a slightly stupid villain, like he did in Main Tera Hero.

The very last part of the film is a big pretty unbelievable action sequence rescuing the city inhabitants from a dam breaking.  My neighbor informed me that excavations have shown that Mohenjo Daro was destroyed by water.  Maybe the film would have had more excitement to it if it had been more of a disaster movie than a pseudo political drama of an ancient city.

Mohenjo Daro is a bit of a hot mess, but it had some enjoyable moments.  It’s just not very good, and with Ashutosh Gowariker‘s pedigree, that’s really very disappointing.  And after Baahubali, the special effects in this Indian epic don’t measure up.

Two and a half stars out of five.

Student of the Year – A look back ahead of the Dream Team concert

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I woke up to this @KaranJohar tweet this morning:

And my reaction was just like this one I saw on Tumblr:

“student of the year 2!!!”

“…starring tiger shroff”

I have yet to see a Tiger Shroff movie (and I hear I’m not missing much).  But he is a good dancer:

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I looked back at my original Student of the Year review, and it’s quite the time capsule.  I wasn’t into Indian cinema when it came out in 2012.  I saw it in November of 2014, and it was my first introduction to Alia Bhatt, Siddarth Malhotra and Varun Dhawan.  (Whatever happened to that Fault In Our Stars remake?)

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It was curiosity about Varun Dhawan, who has been cast as a lead in the Bollywood remake of Fault in Our Stars (with Deepika), that led me to check out this Karan Johar film. SOTY is set at a junior college where the gay dean (Rishi Kapoor) has an annual contest for, you guessed it, the Student of the Year to win a scholarship to an international college. And this contest is not just academic, there is a triathlon, a scavenger hunt AND a dance contest. The film begins with the group of former students gathering at the hospital bedside of the dying dean, and then flashes back 10 years in the past.

Evidently, it was quite notable that Karan Johar debuted several young actors and actresses in this film, rather than matching one unknown with an established actor/actress. Of the students, only the college vamp is played by a familiar face, Sana Saeed albeit when she was a child actress in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai as little Anjuli.

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This film reminds me of John Hughes films of the 80’s with the rich kids pitted against the scholarship kids from the Indian equivalent to the wrong side of the tracks. Or Gossip Girl or The O.C., etc. Karan Johar is just SO good at setting up melodramatic love triangles. Varun is the rich kid and Sidharth Molhotra the scholarship kid, and Alia Bhatt plays the rich girl that they both love. I had not seen any films with these three young new actors, and while all are good, Sidharth Molhotra’s performance is the standout. (Seems like all the Indian awards agreed, nominating him for best male debut.) Very Ben MacKenzie (a la O.C.) silently pining over the rich girl while trying to act all tough.

 

Also notable was a supporting role by Kayoze Irani who gets a big “Go to Hell Dean” speech near the end, who it turns out is Boman Irani’s son. Huh, fancy that, a child of a Bollywood star getting a role in a KJo film. 😉 Boman, Kajol and Farah Khan all have cameo appearances.

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Fairly predicable plot with the Bollywood emphasis more on the bromance of the two male leads than on the romance of Sidharth and Alia’s characters.  Karan Johar is masterful at taking you on that emotional journey, and I tip my hat to him.  Very entertaining and enjoyable.

I gave the film three and a half stars back then, out of five.

What’s fascinating to me is how I wasn’t that impressed with Varun and Alia, and they have gone on to mature so much more over the subsequent years in film.  Alia blew me away in Highway and in Udta Punjab.  Varun just was off the chain in Badlapur and fantastic in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania and Main Tera Hero.  We got a hint of Varun’s great dancing in SOTY, but he was so good in ABCD2, and worth watching even if the plot wasn’t.  Siddarth tried to do more dramatic work, in Brothers, and Kapoor and Sons, but he just doesn’t seem to have the chops of the other two.  But that’s okay – he’s carved out a niche as the strong silent type in romantic movies like Hasee Toh Phasee and the upcoming Baar Baar Dekho.

Thank you Karan, for giving us all three young new stars.  And for this.  Always for this:

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AND for SOTY’s fantastic soundtrack!  Can’t wait to see these three stars and the rest of the Dream Team this Friday perform live in Chicago!

Wake Up Sid – Slacker Ranbir Coming of Age

wake-up-sid-12hI liked Wake Up Sid more than I thought I would.  To be honest, the story is a bit too close to home, as my son has graduated college and is trying to find his way in the world.

Ranbir Kapoor is Sid.  He’s a rich Bombay kid who flunks his college finals.  Anupam Kher is his father (who else!) and tells him he has to go to work in the family plumbing fixture business.  When he walks out, Sid and his father have a huge fight and he is kicked out of his family home, his credit cards canceled.

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Sid can’t think of anywhere to go than to the apartment of his new friend Aisha ((Konkona Sen Sharma).  I think Aisha was supposed to be 27 and Ranbir much younger as he was supposed to be a college graduate (maybe 23?).  Anyway, it’s unusual to have the woman be older in any Bollywood relationship so brownie points for that.  Aisha is new to Bombay and starting a new job and an independent life.

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Sid learns all the real life skills that he has had no clue about in his sheltered life, like laundry, fixing up an apartment and cooking an egg.  Sid has a passion for photography and ends up getting a job at the magazine where Aisha works.

It sounds trite, but the script is actually pretty clever.  This is the debut feature film of director Ayan Mukerji who also wrote the story of the film.  He won the Filmfare best debut director deservedly.  Wake Up Sid was quite the success, and his second feature is the mega-hit Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.  His films both have characters and situations that while filmi, still feel grounded in reality, aa specific young urban reality.   (I’m a little leery that his next project is reported to be a superhero film, also starring his muse Ranbir Kapoor, Dragon.)

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The romance evolves organically.  They’re just friends at first and sleep on separate pallets in the same room.  Aisha tries not to fall in love, because Sid is at first such a mess and so purposeless.  But this is charming Ranbir after all, she has no chance.  Once he reconciles with his parents upon getting his first magazine job paycheck, he moves out, and that’s what makes both of them realize how their feelings have changed.

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Fortunately, the film doesn’t just focus on Sid and his travails.  Aisha gets her own storyline with an almost romance with her sophisticated jazz-loving boss.  It was nice, frankly, to see Konkona Sen Sharma get a juicy big part like this in a romantic film.

My feelings about this film are just tinged by the fact that I’m living this right now with my own son.  So it’s not exactly escapist fare for this mom.  Sid only took about a month to wake up.  Sometimes the process is longer.

Still, I think the director is fantastic, and I look forward to all his future projects, even if he makes Ranbir a superhero (gulp!)

Four stars out of five.