My Top 10 Indian Films of 2016

It’s still January, if barely, right?  This is a list of my favorite films in Indian Cinema released in 2016.  I have not seen every film released, by a long shot, but I’ve seen quite a few of the top releases in Hindi and Malayalam cinema in theaters.  I still haven’t seen Pink, although that is definitely on my list, and it’s now on Netflix streaming.

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1.  Kapoor and Sons (Since 1921)

Kapoor and Sons  was hands down my favorite Indian film of the year.  I just love the way the cast interacts.  It feels like you’re a voyeur in a real family and their drama.  I will admit that Sidharth is the weak link, but Alia and Fawad are so great in this.  Fawad Khan especially just blew me away.  And the soundtrack!  Kar Gayi Chull is my phone ringtone for a reason, because I never tire of hearing that hook.

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2.  Kammatti Paadam

Dulquer Salmaan had an amazing year, but Kammatti Paadam is just a masterpiece.  I’m so glad I saw this Malayalam gangster epic in a theater.  I was nearly shell shocked by the experience of seeing this Rajeev Ravi film.   Dulquer is our eyes into this world of gangsters, and dalit toughs.  He is very, very good, but the two actors, Vinayakan and Manikandan steal the show.

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3. Udta Punjab

Alia Bhatt also had a great year.  I’m still thinking about how fantastic she was in Udta Punjab, a film filled with great performances.  This is the film that introduced me to Diljit Dosanjth.  And how great was Shahid Kapoor as the comic relief?  This was an entertaining film, but also one with an important message about how the drug trade affects everyone– a message the censor board tried to suppress, and thank goodness they did not prevail.  Udta Punjab is currently streaming on Netflix.

kali-malayalam-movie-wallpaper-0922-006394. Kali

Oh my goodness, Kali is such a tense thriller.  Kali means rage.  I admire the script and how the director kept me on the edge of my seat. I did not know what would happen next at any given moment. I felt that anything could happen. And I loved that about this Malayalam movie!  The first half is a personal story of a marriage with young man with anger issues.  Then the second half grips you by the throat.  Dulquer Salmaan gives another stellar performance in a great year, matched by Sai Pallavi.

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5. Dear Zindagi

I adored Shahrukh Khan and Alia Bhatt in Dear Zindagi.  We were afraid when the film was announced it was going to be a romantic relationship, but SRK is her mentor and therapist in this fantastic film.  This is my first Gauri Shinde film, and she is a wonderful director.  This was a nice crossover film that I took some Bollywood virgins to see, and they loved it.

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6. Fan

Although not a perfect film, I submit Fan may be the one of the best performances of Shahrukh Khan’s career in the double role of Guarav and Aryan.

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7. Neerja

This really felt like a year for women in Hindi cinema.  Sonam Kapoor was perfect casting for Neerja.  This film reminded me very much of United  93 – you know what’s going to happen, but you’re still on the edge of your seat watching it unfold, filled with tension.  Neerja is currently streaming on Netflix.

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8. Dangal

I love that Aamir Khan made this movie about girl empowerment.  He let the young women at the center of this true story take the lead, and he was brave enough to play a father with a paunch, no less.  Dangal was one of the biggest family films of the year.

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9. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

I’m still not happy with the ending of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, but man it has some glorious moments.  It’s full on lush Karan Johar film making – actually my first Karan film on the big screen.  I’m reading his autobiography now, An Unsuitable Boy, and he says that Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is about his own unrequited love story.  It’s a very personal film.  I wish there hadn’t been all the controversy about Pakistani actors, and Fawad Khan had a bigger part.  That soundtrack!!  I listened to the title track on constant repeat.

 

sultan-trailer-647_05241607500610. Sultan

I really enjoyed Sultan, and Salman made a great pairing with Anushka Sharma.  It was another Hindi film with a message of female empowerment, even if the majority of the film was about Salman’s character.  Great soundtrack, too!

Special mention for Brahman Naman which I saw the premiere of at Sundance back in January.  I’m not sure if it’s a purely Indian produced film, but it’s a quirky and wonderful teen sex comedy. It’s currently streaming on Netflix.

Raees – A Great Character for SRK and a Crowd pleaser of a Film

I mostly loved Raees.  If you’ve read my last post, you know I have had a difficult month with my father having been in the hospital for a couple of weeks.  He’s better but things are still rough.  I’ve been so looking forward to this date — finally a new Shahrukh Khan film.

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Raees is a great character for Shahrukh.  He’s playing a gangster — but a bootlegger with a heart, who makes dinner for his wife.  He’s got a lot of swagger and panache to him, and we are totally on his side as he seems to only kill bad people.

I love how the film starts, with the child Raees who works as a lookout and a mule for the local bootlegger.  Even as a kid, he has lots of moxie, and you never, ever call him four-eyes.

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Raees has a great foil in the police inspector played by Nawazuddin Saddiqui.  What a dream to see these two actors going head to head.  Nawaz’s introduction scene left me in stitches.  He’s so by the book about illegal liquor in Gujarat, that his superiors don’t know what to do with him.  He won’t play the game, and keeps getting transferred around.  He’s like Wile E. Coyote against Raees the Road Runner, outsmarted at nearly every turn.

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What I absolutely loved about the film was SRK’s relationship with Mahira Khan in the film.  Their romance is already existing at the beginning of the film, and the scene we discover that is amusing.  Mahira as Raees’ wife is steadfast, and the only one who can put him back on his heels.  They have a teasing relationship that feels real and adult — not a kid romance.

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Besides the setting in the 80’s and all of Raees’ cool glasses, there is a wonderful homage scene to Amitabh and the classic gangster films of the past.  I haven’t seen Deewar (I know, I know, it’s on the list!), but I have seen another great Indian gangster film, Nayakan.  This has some of the same elements.  The gangster who becomes the champion of the people.

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In Raees, he becomes a politician at one point to get past people who are standing in his way.

Is Raees a perfect film?  No.  I think Shahrukh had to stretch more as an actor in Fan.  But Raees is a crowd pleaser.  It has the music numbers, some romance, and the cool slow-mo shooting with a shot gun while falling type scenes.

I was tired going in to the film, even though it was a 2 p.m. matinee (I had to get up at four a.m. today)  And I was in a theater that had those reclining Laz-E-Boy type seats which didn’t help – but to be honest, it felt like the film lagged a bit in the middle at points.  I don’t think it was just that I was so tired.  I don’t think the film kept the tension going consistently.

Still, Shahrukh Khan had a great character to play, and it’s just a joy seeing him play a serious role like this, especially opposite Nawaz.  This is sort of like a Godfather type film, which Nayakan is an homage to, but somehow it didn’t quite have the pathos.  The Godfather and Nayakan deal with the tragedies in multiple generations, and Raees’ child is still a toddler at the end of the film.  While Shahrukh acted well in the parts where he was supposed to be a brash young man, he is getting a bit long in the tooth to pull it off.

It’s a very enjoyable film, just not a great one for the ages.  It’s nice to be arguing that kind of point about a Shahrukh Khan film.  It’s one I’ll be seeing again in theaters, and will be fun to rewatch.

Plus, Shahrukh dancing garba is always a good thing.  😉

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My Top 10 Hollywood Films of 2016

Tomorrow, Tuesday, January 24th, is one of my personal holidays.  Oscar nomination announcement day!  And while I’m late, I’m just under the wire before those announcements to give you my personal list of my top Hollywood films of 2016.  Apologies for getting to this later in January than I’d hoped.  My father was in the hospital for almost two full weeks.  Fortunately, he’s doing better, and I’m glad to be thinking of movies again instead of ICU and breathing tubes.

A major caveat is that I have not been able to see some of the films of 2016 that came out very late in the year for Oscar season.  Especially with my father’s illness, I have not seen Silence, Jackie, or Fences yet, just to name a few.

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1. La La Land

Did you have any doubt after this rapturous review describing my tears of joy, that La La Land would be my favorite film of the entire year?  I live and breathe movie musicals, and Damien Chazelle reviving the genre in Hollywood is my dream come true.  My love of musicals are why I love Indian Cinema so much (I’ll be posting a separate top list for Indian Cinema).  La La Land garnered a record number of Golden Globes with seven, and could make history tomorrow with a shattering 15 Oscar nominations.  With a musical, you add in song, score, etc. to all the traditional categories.  The previous record number of nominations would be 14 (All About Eve and Titanic).  Could it sweep?  Maybe….

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2. Moonlight

Moonlight is a movie that has really stayed with me.  I have been frankly amazed at how well this film has done.  I’m not sure it will resonate with the average Academy member (white, male and over 65), but it really did with me.  I’m crossing my fingers that it gets lots of nominations, especially for director Barry Jenkins and that Mahershala Ali wins Supporting Actor.  He was amazing.

manchesterbythesea_trailer3. Manchester By The Sea

I was privileged to attend the premiere of Kenneth Lonnergan’s Manchester By The Sea at Sundance last January.  I didn’t know what I was about to see, just that I had to see the latest film by the man who made You Can Count On Me.  I didn’t know that Casey Affleck was going to rip my heart out with his devastating performance.  Viewers now know that this is a sad film, but it has wonderful moments of comedy, especially with Affleck’s relationship with his nephew, played by Lucas Hedges, who I hope will get an Oscar nod tomorrow morning.

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4. Captain Fantastic 

Captain Fantastic may be a career best performance for Viggo Mortenson, as the father of six children, determined to home school them completely off the grid in the wilderness of the Northwest.  I hope and pray that Viggo gets recognition tomorrow with an Oscar nomination.  The film has kind of fallen of the radar, except that Viggo’s performance cannot be denied.  I strongly urge you to give this film a chance.  It’s available for rental on Amazon, Youtube, etc.  It was one of my favorites from Sundance last year.

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5. The Lobster

I loved every absurd moment of The Lobster.  Colin Farrell was amazing.  Highly recommend, and it’s now included with Amazon Prime.

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6. Deadpool

Oh, my goodness, I did not realize how stale the superhero movie genre had become until the fresh air of Deadpool.  Ryan Reynolds was made for this role, and aren’t we all so glad he fought so hard to win this role and get the movie made.  Second favorite thing about the movie is the snarling teenage girl X-men.  Love her!!  It’s a great film to rewatch as there is just so many little nuggets of goodness to catch.

7. Hunt For the Wilderpeople

You MUST see Hunt For the Wilderpeople.  Taika Waititi, the writer director has created a comic masterpiece about a young Maori foster kid and the ultimate curmudgeon, Sam Neill.  I feel so much better about the upcoming Thor movie, because Taika Waititi is a comic genius.   It’s included with a Hulu subscription right now, and also available to rent online.  You’ll thank me.

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8. Hell or High Water

Such a fantastic script for Hell or High Water.  Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges were particularly good.

9. Ali and Nino

I saw this sweeping historical love story epic, directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia (Amy), at Sundance.  It only got a limited release, but it’s available to rent on demand.  It has a script by  screenwriter Christopher Hampton who wrote Atonement.  I could eat this movie with a spoon, it’s just so wonderful.  Ali and Nino tells the story of a Muslim prince of Afghanistan who falls in love with a Christian young woman (her father is played by Mandy Patinkin).  It’s set in the time of World War I, and I had no idea that Afghanistan was almost at democracy.  The movie was filmed just across the border in Turkey and the scenery is just stunning.

arrival210. Arrival

Choosing a last film of a top ten feels very arbitrary because there were a couple of films that were all about equal for me.  This could also easily be Zootopia, which I really enjoyed.  But I’m picking Arrival for Amy Adams’ wonderful performance.  This is the kind of Sci-fi movie I enjoy, one that makes you think.  Amy Adams sells you on this movie, and hip hip hurray, it was so much her movie.  Jeremy Renner was very much the supporting actor.  Linguist Amy Adams led the team who tried to communicate with the aliens, although  my brother pointed out that you didn’t really see her lead her team in an active way.  I hope Amy gets an Oscar nomination for this wonderful film tomorrow morning.

 

 

OK Jaanu – Adiya Roy Kapur is adorable in this decent remake of OK Kanmani

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I’ll be honest that I’ve been dreading OK Jaanu [OK Darling] because I love OK Kanmani so very much.  I went to an A. R. Rahman concert in Chicago and I heard the song Mental Manadhil for the first time, and I was completely blown away.  Rahman played this video while he sang the song, and I just had to see this movie.

OK Kanmani is a Mani Ratnam Tamil movie about two young people who are working in Mumbai, and thrilled to find another Tamil speaker.  I didn’t know at the time that Dulquer Salmaan is actually from Kerala and known for his Malayalam films.

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So Adorable!

I’ve become like all those people in South India — the Southern original is so much better!  There is an undeniable magic to the Mani Ratnam Tamil original.  The chemistry between Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya Menen is amazing.  And it’s one of my all time favorite A. R. Rahman soundtracks.  I listen to it all the time.  O Khadal Kanmani is the movie that started me on my journey of watching Malayalam films, because I just had to see what other films Dulquer and Nithya had done, which led me to Bangalore Days and on and on.  It all started with the Tamil OK Kanmani, which I have watched multiple times.

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So, I had trepidation about OK Jaanu.  I like Aditya Roy Kapur okay, and Shraddha Kapoor.  I saw Aashiqui 2, and they do have decent chemistry together.  Then the Humma song came out, and I got excited.  The song from this scene in the original movie is cute, but one of the weakest of the Tamil soundtrack.  This is waaay sexier.

Then, something happened a week ago.  My father became very seriously ill and he has been in ICU at the hospital for this entire past week.  It’s been incredibly stressful, but he seems to have come out of the crisis.  I’ve been exhausted and spending all my time at hospital with my parents.  When I’ve had a moment to wind down, I’ve turned to Bollywood song videos as my sort of comfort food.  And tonight, I decided I deserved a break, and went with a neighbor to OK Jaanu.  It was just what the doctor ordered.  It took me away from all my cares and worries for a few hours.

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I think this is the best movie I have seen Aditya Roy Kapoor do.  He was truly adorable.  Because I know Dulquer’s performance in the original so well, I could tell when he was even trying to match Dulquer’s mannerisms, but he made it his own.  Shraddha is no sparkling Nithya but she was good enough.   Aditya was good in Aashiqui 2 and, not horrible in Fitoor (that movie had other problems), but I like him so much better quirky and cute like this than brooding and angry.  I’m also one of the few people who liked most of Daawat-e-Ishq.  (Not Aditya’s best look, but I still love this title song!)

The plot of OK Jaanu is basically identical to the original.  Adi (Aditya Roy Kapur) is a young video game designer who has just arrived in Mumbai, and is staying in a room of the house of his brother’s former boss (Nasureedin Shah).  Nasureedin’s wife has Althzeimer’s.  Adi meets Tara and a torrid romance begins, but they both vow they never want to marry.  He’s determined to move to the US, and she wants to study architecture in Paris.  They convince Adi’s landlord to let them live in sin together in his room.  All comes to a head when they both have to leave to follow their careers — will they choose love or their career?  It does have a fantastic message that a girl shouldn’t have to give up her career for marriage — her career is just as important.

 

Some of what made the original special is lost in the Hindi translation.  Part of what drew Adi and Tara together was that they were two Tamil speakers alone in the big city of Mumbai.  That plot point is gone. Naseeruddin Shah is of course his excellent self, but I so adored the big hulking Prakash Raj, who so often plays the big villain, being the tender devoted husband to his ailing wife in the Tamil OK Kanmani.  The sets are certainly bigger and more expensive looking.

One thing that is a welcome addition are the new songs.  Enna Sona, sung by Arjit Singh is gorgeous, and the film turns black and white during this sequence as Adi is missing Tara while she’s away on a work trip.

My neighbor thought OK Jaanu was better than the original.  But she doesn’t really speak Tamil (her husband does) and watched it without subtitles.  She said Dulquer Salmaan’s accent was so thick she couldn’t understand him.  The original will remain one of my favorite films, and if you live in the US, I urge you to watch it on Netflix.   But, the Hindi remake is quite enjoyable.  It’s partly my frame of mind with all I’ve been going through but, this movie allowed me to forget my troubles for a few hours.   Thank God for Indian Cinema and that it is there whenever I need it.  I told my husband what a comfort it is to me in times like this.  I think I’m being more generous than some other reviewers may be, so sue me.  It’s no hardship to watch Adiya being this adorable for a couple hours!

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New Years Notes

Tom Hardy reads a bedtime story with a sleeping dog in his lap.  You’re welcome.

 

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How Deadpool Saved Ryan Reynolds.  Rogue One Editors talk about reshoots and added scenes.  Mark Hamill tribute to Carrie Fisher.  Must listen interview with Carrie Fisher on Fresh Air.  Scorsese worries cinema is gone.  Being the “no” woman at work.  Ellen Barry on young Indian women chasing big-city dreams.

I’m obsessed with Billy on the Street.  Super interesting Fresh Air interview with him.

 

2016 – My Movie Year

 

Letterboxd.com is where I keep a diary of all the films I watch, including films I rewatch.  They have a very cool year in review feature.  I was inspired by this Matt Bowes post about all the media he consumed in 2016, to make this post.  I’ll just talk about the movies here, but I love how he listed all the comics, podcasts, etc., too!

So, according to Letterboxd, I saw 222 films in 2016, which includes short films and rewatches.  That averages out to over 18 a month, and over 4 a week.  Weeks like our visit to the Sundance Film Festival, where we saw 30 films (including shorts) certainly help to bump up that average, but I am an avid movie viewer no matter how you slice it.  I just started this blog in April, but I had been posting short reviews on most films to Letterboxd before that.

2016 started with The Hateful Eight (which I didn’t love) and ended with Zootopia, which I did love.  There were mostly older films, but I did watch 82 films that were released in 2016.  It won’t surprise any of my readers that fully half were films from India, 111 of them.

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Interestingly, the actor with the most films I saw was not Shahrukh Khan (who was second with 12), but Nasser with 14!  That man is in EVERYTHING!

This year I discovered Telegu cinema megastar Mahesh Babu (9 movies) and Malayalam cinema star  Prithviraj.  I’ve got a stack of more Prithviraj movies to watch — the man has made so many!  I’m amused that Prithviraj’s early film Stop Violence – which I watched without subs! – Letterboxd lists as my “most obscure movie”.

The highest rated (by people on Letterboxd) film I saw in 2016 is Moonlight, which is heading to the Oscars.  The lowest rated is Yoga Hosers.  Yeah.  Have to pretty much agree with that — but Assassin’s Creed is giving it a run for it’s money on that score. Yoga Hosers is just crazy silly (Brat Nazis!) but it was worth it to go to the midnight premiere just to see Kevin Smith.

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2016 will always be in my memory, because this was the year that a movie I helped get made premiered at Sundance.

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 How To Tell You’re A Douchebag is the movie I saw the most times this year, as I attended screenings of the film, and showed it to friends and family.  I’m so proud of writer/director Tahir Jetter’s achievement.  It was bought by BET and aired this summer.  You can watch it on iTunes, Amazon video or Google play now!

Top films from 2016 I saw in Hollywood and Indian cinema coming soon.

Aashiqui 2 -The Hindi remake of A Star Is Born

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NOW I get it.  When Aditya Roy Kapoor did his solo numbers at the Dream Team concert in Chicago, the girls in the crowd went crazy, especially when he covered one of the dancers with his jacket.

And it was because he was lip syncing the two big songs from Aashiqui 2 [Love]Sunn Raha Hai Na Tua and Tum Hi Ho.

I’ve been suffering with what I think is a bad sinus infection for days and haven’t felt up to watching anything with subtitles as I couldn’t even concentrate.  Margaret at Don’t Call It Bollywood mentioned that she’s going to write a review of Aashiqui 2 soon, and I realized that I should really watch it before OK Jaanu comes out next weekend.  I rented it last night from Amazon streaming, but I’m a little worried something may have been cut in their copy as the run time was only 2 hours 6 minutes.

I have not seen the classic 1954 Judy Garland A Star is Born, but I have the Barbra Streisand/Kris Kristofferson version from the ’70’s.  Aashiqui 2’s plot is completely A Star Is Born.  Successful male takes talented woman under his wing, and then her career eclipses his as he declines into alcoholism.

While Aditya Roy Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor had decent romantic chemistry in Aashiqui 2 and acted, well, okay… there are so many flaws in this film.  I could totally believe that Aditya was a rock star.  With Arjit Singh singing those songs, he had the swagger to pull it off.  Shraddha’s character is this young naive ingenue, scraping by singing in a bar in Goa when Aditya stumbles in to hear her sing his song, Sunn Raha Hai Na Tua.  The problem is her singing voice in the film is not a powerhouse raw talent.  It’s tinny and thin sounding.  She looks up to Lata as her inspiration, but her singing did not blow me away AT ALL.  That is the whole point of A Star Is Born — this talent that is just so amazing, that the male lead has to share it with the world.

When I was growing up, you could not escape Barbra Streisand’s Evergreen from the 1976 film.  Kris Kristofferson was well cast, because while he is a talent, he’s not the legendary BARBRA.

So, from the get go, I’m not buying Shraddha as this big talent, but the romance plot in the first half is nice and it is refreshing to have a male Indian lead doing everything to support a woman’s career.  But oh that demon alcohol.

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You can tell Aditya is a real alcoholic because he drinks straight from big bottles!  The addiction storyline here is treated so ridiculously.  Shraddha remains a naive ingenue to the end, convinced that she can solve his addiction just by taking him away to the mountains and giving him a nice shave outside to get him clean.

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Your boyfriend, who never even mentions marriage and is fine living with you and ultimately off your earnings, goes into drunken rages and pushes you to the ground, and you can just hug him even tighter and it will all be okay?  Blech.  I wanted to shake some sense into Shraddha in this movie.  This is not 1954!  Surely, her character could have had a little more spine in this day and age or even some character development.  And sorry for the spoilers, but gee, alcoholism can’t be solved by love alone.  And it’s noble to kill yourself rather than go to rehab or accept your father’s help because even though you didn’t marry the poor girl, she’s ready to give up her career for you?   If you’re going to copy the entire plot of A Star Is Born, then I guess you have to end it that way, but it could have been portrayed as more dark and desperate rather than noble and misguided.

 

The music is central to a film like this, and this film has a couple of amazing blockbusters.  You can’t help but love this soundtrack.

350827-aashiqui-2So, in all, glad I finally watched this first pairing of Aditya Roy Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor.  But I think they look like they have even better romantic chemistry in the trailers of OK Jaanu.  I hate to see OK Kanmani remade (because it is perfection) but hopefully they won’t screw it up too much.  Aashiqui 2 won’t be a film I want to rewatch, but I will definitely be downloading the songs.

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And now there’s going to be a new Hollywood version of A Star Is Born with a release date in September of 2018 starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.  Cooper will not only act in the film, it will be his directorial debut.  Lady Gaga is the kind of powerhouse talent perfect for the role. Bradley’s acting is Oscar caliber, but I hope his directorial skills will be up to the task.

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