Noor – Bridget Jones type Rom Com with a serious issue shoe-horned in

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Under two hours is just not enough time for all the things this film wanted to be and do.  I have been anticipating Noor for months and months, mostly because I heard comedian Kanan Gill was going to have his debut in a Bollywood film.  If you’re not familiar with Kanan Gill, he has a hilarious Pretentious Bollywood Review Youtube channel, and is extremely amusing on Snapchat [@kanangill].

 

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Kanan Gill plays the character Saad from the book Karachi, You’re Killing Me by Saba Imtiaz who is the childhood best friend of Sonakshi Sinha’s Noor (Ayesha in the book).  There are films that have improved upon the source novel, but Noor is not one of those films.  Karachi, You’re Killing Me at first seems like a Bridget Jones knockoff, but the unique thing about it is the city it’s set in — Karachi, Pakistan!  In the book, Ayesha is a journalist with an incompetent male boss, and she covers everything from terrorist bombings to fashion shows.  It gave you a true sense of her life in the city in all its variety — how she had to get her liquor from her bootlegger — and how she loves the city, but also yearns for an international life working for CNN.   The novel reaches a real peak near the end when she and her boss are caught in a terrorist bombing, and her calm quick thinking saves her boss.

Noor the movie has some of the same fun light tone in the first half.  Like Bridget Jones, Noor obsesses about her weight, snacks on junk food, drinks a bit too much, and feels that attractive young men are merely an “urban legend” in Mumbai.  Changing the film’s setting to Mumbai just inherently takes away what was so unique about the novel.  But I think Sonakshi does a great job still in playing Noor.  She’s a modern young woman journalist, who cringes at doing a Sunny Leone interview when she really wants to be doing SERIOUS work.

The film keeps her Three Musketeer friendships with Saad (Kanan Gill) and Zara (Shibani Dandekar).  I loved Noor’s friendship with club DJ Zara and I wish there had been a bit more of their interactions, but again, this film was really short for a Hindi film.  Noor keeps the seemingly distracted but actually very supportive relationship of Noor’s widowed father.   I liked the actor who plays Noor’s boss, Manish Chaudhary but they made him a sort of Lou Grant type.  This was one of my biggest problems with the film adaptation because in the book, the boss is a total incompetent, and Ayesha’s mentor is another woman in the news business.  Missing that strong female role just erases a lot of the feminist message of the book.  If the boss is going to be a fusion of both book characters — then make it a woman for cripes sake!

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Not only does Noor change the setting to Mumbai but the serious issue that Noor the journalist covers is now organ trafficking.  They keep the romance with the sexy photo journalist, Purab Kohli as Ayan Banerjee.  She gets betrayed in her career for the scoop she has, and that leads to Saad (Kanan) taking her away to his home in London to get her away from the danger she’s in.

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Film stylist and costumer – I love you for giving Kanan this sweater/scarf look!

Kanan plays the devoted best friend with his signature snarky humor very well.  You could see the loving looks he gives to Noor who seemingly never catches on.  One minor quibble with the film adaptation at this point in the story is that Ayesha sees that the first photo prominently displayed in Saad’s apartment is one with her – not with any of his many girlfriends.  That little realization moment is missing, but I can forgive because Kanan is so charming in these scenes.

This second half of the film gets super serious because of the organ trafficking plot with Noor’s maid’s brother.  The actress playing Noor’s maid is one of the best things about the film.  She will break your heart.

But I found the whiplash change in tone a bit too much.  I think the film would have succeeded more if it had stayed more in the lighter rom com mode.  Maybe if the film had been a more traditional 2 and half or three hour length, it could have incorporated this dramatic change in tone better.

Sonakshi did a good job as Noor, and I’m glad she’s getting these starring female centric films, but I wish she could get ones with better scripts.  Kanan Gill did very well for a debut, especially in the lighter moments. I hope this leads to more roles for him.

The director, Sunhil Sippy, is my biggest problem with Noor.  The direction was at times amateurish and horrible.  Scenes felt awkwardly filmed or dragged on much too long — like Noor’s tearful, “Mumbai, you’re killing me!” diatribe monologue that miraculously goes viral online.  I know the source material could have been a really great film, and that’s why I left the theater disappointed.  It’s not Sonakshi’s fault, or Kanan’s or Purab Kohli’s.  The fault lies squarely on the shoulder of the director.  Sonakshi and Kanan deserve a better script and film.  The last epilogue scene over the credits where Saad awkwardly proposes to Noor was adorable.  Give us more of that!

The end credit song feels just completely tacked on — wait, we need a Badshah rap and throw Diljit Dosanjh in too, for no reason at all.

I wouldn’t run out to the theater to see Noor, but it would be fine to stream when it becomes available online for the a timepass.  It tries to have a feminist message, with a modern Indian career girl at the center, so kudos for that at least.

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Shivaay – Awesome Action in this attempted mashup of Taken and Bajrangi Bhaijaan

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I love Ajay Devgn.  Unabashedly love him.  In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, I am totally Team Ajay.  One of my Desi friends expressed amazement that I like Ajay and was looking forward to Shivaay, “What?  He’s so ugly!” She’s still my friend even though I now wonder both about her eyesight and her mental acuity.  He has superb screen presence and can actually act, but he just has an unmistakable swagger as an action star.  The Shivaay trailer just blew me away.  We’ve never seen this level of stunt work and action cinematography in Indian cinema.  I had heard mixed things about Shivaay once it came out, but there was no way I was going to miss this film on the big screen.

With Shivaay, it’s almost like Ajay the director is trying to combine an action thriller like Taken with the emotion and family heart of Bajrangi Bhaijaan.  The action sequences are fantastic, and really thrilling.  They measure up to the quality of Hollywood films, and the Bulgarian scenery is just gorgeous.

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I absolutely adored Ajay’s relationship with his young mute daughter.  She was a terrific child actress.  Did she have to be mute? — maybe that was a way to get around the plot point that she doesn’t look like her Indian father and the actress wouldn’t be able to speak good enough Hindi.  As Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood points out, this is really a special father/daughter relationship on screen.  It has nothing to do with a daughter leaving home for marriage, and we have an adoring single father. raatein_shivaay_ajay_abigail

Why did this film not touch me in the heart the same way Bajrangi Bhaijaan did?  It has more serious peril with human trafficking by the Russian mafia, and a cute kid and all, I can’t quite put my finger on why it didn’t work for me.  Shivaay was just that much darker and had few moments of lightness and fun.  Ajay also didn’t have anyone supporting him of the quality of Nawaz or Kareena.

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There was maybe too much time spent in this romance plot with Polish actress Erika Kaar, who does not have the acting chops of Kareena Kapoor Khan.  The villains are also mostly interchangeable Eastern European bad guys.  The big reveal of the ultimate bad guy mastermind was pretty predictable, and the final battle was pretty damn awesome.  The title track by Badshah is great, but the rest of the music tracks also don’t have level of Bajrangi Bhaijaan’s soundtrack.

Ajay is a solid action director.  I wish the script had been a bit better, and aside from the delightful child actress, the supporting players of better caliber to match Ajay’s intensity.  I would still recommend catching Shivaay in the theater, because the action scenes look amazing on the big screen.  Ajay’s showing the way — you can play a dad, and still have swagger and cool.

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And wield wicked weapons like those rock climbing hooks!

Three and a half stars out of five for the great action.

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