Fukri – A Mediocre Malayalam Family Farce

fukriFukri is an amusing timepass family comedy directed by veteran Siddique who also acts as the Fukri family patriarch in the film.  Jayasurya stars as Lucky.  Lucky is a wannabe engineer who with his band of friends tries different get rich quick schemes.  They accept a job for two young women caught skipping school for a Salman Khan film.  They girls want Lucky to pretend to be their cousin to meet the school principal.  Of course Lucky falls for the beautiful Nafsi (in the red scarf below) played by Prayaga Martin.

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The girls say he is the son of their long lost uncle who left after a violent argument with their grandfather over his interfaith marriage.  The girls saying that Lucky is their cousin sets everything in motion.  Both his Brahmin “grandmother” and his Muslim grandfather (Fukri) then want to meet Lucky and welcome him back into the family fold.  To complicate matters, the real child (Anu Sithara) of that long lost son reveals herself to Lucky.

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At first Lucky and his friends are enjoying staying in the wealthy homes of his “family”, but Lucky’s good nature lends him to try to mend the rift between the two families.  I’m sure you’ve suspected that the long lost son makes a dramatic appearance, and it’s Lal, so it’s quite the entrance.

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Family farce comedies like this are a staple in Indian film.  Mistaken identities, family feuds, arranged marriages to the wrong partner, all with happy ending wrapped in a bow.

I’ve only seen Jayasurya as a supporting player in films like Mumbai Police and Classmates, and he has impressed me in those roles.  He is charming here as the mischievous scamp with a heart of gold.  I don’t know if he quite though has the magnetic star power to carry a film like this however.  Lal has a powerful impact as the estranged son of patriarch Fukri (Siddique).  None of the actresses in the film blew me away.  They were fine, but not exceptional.

I’m not sure I’ve seen another of Siddique’s Malayalam  directed films, but I did enjoy the light Hindi film Bodyguard (remake of his Malayalam hit) starring Kareena Kapoor and Salman Khan.

I wouldn’t tell you to run out and catch Fukri in the theaters.  It’s a decent timepass to watch on a streaming service.  It had some amusing moments, but wasn’t consistently laugh out loud.

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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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Omkara – Shakespeare’s Othello works extremely well in this modern Indian adaptation by Vishal Bhardwaj with a stellar cast

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I was blown away by Vishal Bhardwaj‘s Haider, an  incredible adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet starring Shahid Kapoor.  Omkara is part of his Shakespeare trilogy (Maqbool, Omkara, Haider).  Omkara works extremely well as a modern adaption of Othello in rural Uttar Pradesh India.  This is a stellar cast, and some of the best performances I’ve ever seen of some of these actors.  I have been sitting on this DVD for Netflix for some time.  I knew it was going to be excellent from everything I’d read, but it is such a depressing story!

I think I read Shakespeare’s Othello play in school, but to be honest I’m more familiar with Verdi’s masterpiece opera Otello, which I’ve seen a few times at the Lyric Opera in Chicago.  Otello focuses much on the relationship of Desdemona and Otello and the intense emotions and drama lend themselves very well to opera.  It became a signature role for Placido Domingo, even if it’s a bit bizarre to see blackface in a modern stage production.  Giuseppe Verdi is like Vishal Bhardwaj in that he adapted Shakespeare in three Italian language operas:  Macbeth, Otello and his final opera Falstaff.

The music added to a play like Othello only enhances the inherit drama, and if it works so well in opera, then I knew it would translate well to an Indian drama.  The music enhances the contrast between the love between Omkara (Ajay Devgn) and Dolly (Kareena Kapoor) and then the final death scenes.

Otello the opera starts in the middle of Shakespeare’s play and skips the early statecraft plot points, and the bits with Desdemona’s (Dolly’s) father.  But Bhardwaj keeps that all in, to great effect.  The opening scene shows Langda (Saif Ali Khan) [Iago]  telling Dolly’s groom Raj that his bride Dolly is not going to show for the wedding, Omi (Omkara) has stolen her away.  There’s then a confrontation between Dolly’s father, and Omkara.  Ajay has a dramatic entrance wearing a black shawl that looks like a big cape.  Dolly’s father doesn’t intimidate him in the least, and then there is a scene where Dolly admits to her father she went willingly to elope with Omi.  Ajay Devgn is naturally darker skinned than many actors in Bollywood and Kareena Kapoor has very light skin.  The Indian update to Othello being a “Moor” is that Omkara is half-caste, his father a Brahman and his mother a low-caste mistress.

Omkara (Ajay) is described as a Bahubali.  When I first heard this word in the movie, my ears pricked up because I’ve never heard the word except, of course, in the Telugu blockbuster Bahubali.  In the subtitles of Omkara, it’s translated as General.  I looked up the wikipedia article and this is how Omkara’s character is described:

Omkara Shukla or Omi (Ajay Devgan) is a bahubali, a sort of political enforcer. He is the leader of a gang which commits political crimes for the local politician

So interesting!  As I thought that was a Telugu word specific to Rajamouli’s movie.

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Omkara is a powerful political goon, and Langda (Iago) and Kasu (Cassio) are his lieutenants.  After Omkara elminates a political rival, their Bhaisaab (Naseeruddin Shah) is going to be the next representative at the national level, and Omkara will take his place at the state level.  There’s a ceremony to name Omkara’s successor, and the younger Kasu is picked to be the next bahubali over Langda.  Kasu is picked because of his connections to the youth and college students.  This is the source of Langda’s plotting and burning jealousy, that he was overlooked for this promotion, just as in Othello.  Again, the parallels Bhardwaj draws to the rough and tumble of Indian politics work so well, and this is definitely a realm of people taking offence to violent deadly extremes over slights of honor.

We’ve seen Omi (Ajay) be dominant, and quick to kill when someone offends him or insults his relationship with Dolly.  But we also see what a different loving person he is with Dolly.  Bhardwaj also composed all the music in the film.  This love scene has Omi coming to Dolly in anger after seeing her with Kasu, but her singing him an English love song (very badly) spurs this teasing chasing scene.  It’s one of my favorite sequences in the whole film.  With no one else can Omi show this tender side of himself. But one key difference in Omkara to Othello is that Omi does not marry Dolly right away.  He has abducted her, taken her to his home village and seduced her but drags his feet a bit on the wedding itself.  So Dolly is in a very precarious position, separated from her family.

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Saif Ali Khan is so excellent as the diabolical Langda.  (Langda means limp in Hindi, and he is described as having a leg and a half.)  He is Omi’s most trusted lieutenant and advisor, and cannot abide being passed over for the young Kasu.  I am really not a Vivek Oberoi fan to be honest, but he was perfectly cast as Kasu.  Saif also is no pretty boy here.  His teeth are stained from betel leaves, and he has a roughness about him, not his usual suave film persona.

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This is Saif Ali Khan’s finest role ever, in my opinion.  I think he mostly does action movies like Phantom at this point, and I wish he would not be so lazy and take on more work like this.  When he wants to, he really has the stuff.  He relentlessly manipulates Omi into thinking Dolly is cheating on him, gets Kasu drunk to disgrace him and so on.  When you have Ajay as Omkara, you need a worthy Iago, and Saif is just fantastic as Langda.  You hate his guts utterly, but admire the acting.

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I don’t have to tell you the outlines of the plot, and it’s pointless to talk about spoilers with a plot hundreds of years old.  But it’s interesting the Indian touches that Bhadwaj adds to the story.  Instead of the damning handkerchief of the original play, there is an heirloom bridal belt adornment that Omi gives to Dolly to wear, Langda steals and gives to Kasu, who then gives it to his girlfriend (Bips, our item girl.)  Omi completely loses his shit when he sees this loose woman shaking her tail feather wearing the family’s heirloom.  There’s also a clever modern touch with stolen cellphones leading to further misunderstandings.

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Kareena plays the innocent Dolly so, so well.  She’s completely loving, and just bewildered at Omi turning on her.  But she has her honor, too.  In their final scene, when faced with Omi’s wild accusations of adultery on their wedding night, she says, “Then  you’ll have to kill me.”  It’s devastating.

Ajay Devgn can be so brutal on film.  We’ve seen him play many mafia type leaders in movies.  If there’s any actor that can play someone who the audience believe would kill his own bride in a fit of jealous rage, Ajay is the one who can truly pull it off.  But Omkara shows his tenderness, his quick temper, and then his utter desolation as the truth of Langda’s machinations are revealed in the final scenes.

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I don’t really remember if Othello’s sister had as large a role in the original play, but she warrants his final duet in Otello the opera.  Konkona Sen Sharma is a standout in a stellar cast in Omkara.  She is Langda’s wife Indu, and a tough woman in her own right.  She is a friend and support to Dolly, willing to battle her brother when she sees Dolly bruised.  And it’s not Omi that finally serves justice on Langda but Indu.  Thank you Bhardwaj for including that and giving Konkona Sen such a powerful moment.  In the original play, his wife is what leads to Iago’s arrest, but that’s not the kind of swift justice meted out in Omi and Indu’s village.

This film is dark.  Almost relentlessly so, but the acting performances are absolutely fantastic.  This film won award after award, and rightly so.

Four and a half stars out of five.

Udta Punjab -A Triumph. A triumph of film making, acting and most importantly, over the censor board

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I saw Udta Punjab on my birthday which may not have been the best idea.  Because it’s a very dark film.  It’s taken me some time to process it and mull it over.  I’m really impressed with the film making of writer/director Abhishek Chaubey.  I enjoyed his film Ishquiya, and he was also a writer on Kaminey and Omkara.  This film straddles the issue of drugs in the Punjab (the title means Punjab’s High or Punjab’s Flying) by telling the stories of four people affected by it.

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Alia Bhatt is a field worker who comes across a packet of drugs from Pakistan.  Shahid Kapoor is a coke addicted rapper rock star who sings about drugs.  Kareena Kapoor is a saintly doctor who runs a drug clinic, hands out needles and speaks out against the drug problem.  And then there’s Diljit Dosanjh who plays a cop, complicit in looking the other way and taking bribes until he realizes that his younger brother is an addict.

This reminded me immediately of the Hollywood film Traffic that told the story of how the Mexican drug cartels impact four people.  I actually have not seen that Oscar winning film, but I did see the BBC series it was based on, Traffik which dealt with drugs from Pakistan in the UK, and it’s a British politician’s daughter who is the addict.  The story of Traffic/Traffik and Udta Punjab are not the exact same plot, but the intention is the same — show the impact through four different characters involved in the drug crisis in different levels.  And show how the problem is very political.  That is overt in Udta Punjab, and that’s why the Indian Censor Board demanded 89 cuts.

Abhishek Chaubey fought back, with the backing of other filmmakers and took it to the High Court.  In the end, the only cut and change was re-editing a scene where Shahid’s rock star urinates all over his audience at a concert.  Which we saw in the trailer!!  I’m so glad this film was released on time and that it is basically exactly what the filmmakers wanted to show us.  There was such a rush that the subtitles on the copy I saw still had some copy errors – when characters sang the subtitles were supposed to be italicized, but we saw typed out <i>.

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I don’t want to spoiler the movie.  The performances were amazing.  Kareena Kapoor was well cast as the cool, collected doctor.  I wasn’t surprised that she was good.  After the bomb of Shaandaar (which I did enjoy parts of), Alia and Shahid are back with a bang.  Shahid in Udta Punjab is acting at the levels he reached in Kaminey and Haider.   His character is a rock star.  He’s larger than life at nearly every moment, but he’s not just a comic caricature – Shahid manages to find some nuance and depth in the quiet moments, like when he’s arrested for lewd behavior and is thrown into a cell filled with criminals.

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Alia Bhatt just keeps getting better and better.  I thought she was a lightweight when I first saw her in Student of the Year, and she is very good in romantic comedy roles.  But when she’s in a drama like Highway, she can really pull out the stops with some amazing scenes.  And there are even more show stoppers in Udta Punjab.  Horrible things happen to her in this movie, and it is her indomitable spirit that carries us through.  I was stunned at what happens to her and how she just perseveres to the end.

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But Diljit Dosanjh’s humble policeman was the revelation of the film to me.  Diljit is big star in Punjabi films, but I have not seen him before Udta Punjab.  I have had Jatt and Juliet recommended to me, and I’m definitely going to seek it out now.  He was adorable in his timid romance with Kareena Kapoor’s doctor.  He wants to be the hero, and show her he can make a difference.  He’s trying to save his drug addict younger brother, as their father has died and he is the head of the house.  He has amazing quiet everyman screen presence and then can be explosive when an action scene calls for it.

This is a film that left me stunned, as it has realism like you rarely see in Hindi cinema.  It gives you a lot to think about.  And it lays bare just how big the drug problem apparently is in Punjab.  Udta Punjab already garnered a lot of press and talk just because of the censor fight.  I hope now that everyone can see for themselves the content of the film, that it will spur conversations about the issues raised in the film.

Four and a half out of five stars.

If you don’t mind spoilers, or if you’ve seen the film, I urge you to read Margaret Redlich’s excellent analysis on her blog Don’t Call It Bollywood.  She delves much deeper into the film than I have here.

 

 

Ki & Ka – Film Review

The first thing you need to know is that I find Arjun Kapoor adorable in just about anything.  And I’m one of those people who enjoyed Tevar.  Still love Superman!

I had big hopes for Ki & Ka.  We haven’t seen Arjun in a film for over a year.  But Ki & Ka, while it had some enjoyable moments, was a disappointment.

I liked the chemistry between Arjun and Kareena, and am glad she broke her “no kissing” pledge. I feel like this is a film that had an interesting concept, but the script still needed work. And maybe a woman’s perspective on the script.

Kareena is Kia, a very ambitious marketing executive. She meets Arjun’s Kabir on a plane when he is sobbing over his late mother’s birthday.   They go out for a drink after the flight and he stuns her during a date by telling her he wants to be a housewife just like his mother. His father is a very wealthy builder, and Kabir has been a “topper” in an MBA program, but has no interest in the rat race.

He proposes they marry after a very brief courtship. He’ll create the home she’s never had (her single mother sent her to boarding schools), and she can pursue her career with no barriers.

Arjun’s character is just too perfect. There was really no comedy of him dealing with learning to manage the house. He’s a master chef. He redecorates (with model trains!!). He manages Kia’s mothers sugar levels by cooking healthy food. Kia gets home late, and rather than complain, he just massages her feet and covers her with a blanket. The conflicts are pretty predictable in their marriage, and are resolved very quickly.

Maybe it’s the Indian cinema thing about having a hero be perfect with no flaws. While advantageous in a crime fighting supercop, in a domestic drama it’s not quite as interesting.

This movie is not helped by the fact that I’ve just seen Kapoor and Sons twice. Now THAT is a domestic family drama where everyone is complex and has flaws.

The couple also don’t have children by the end of the movie. That’s the kind of thing that could have provided comedy by upsetting his perfect routine.  There is a pregnancy scare, and you can see Kareena added layers to her reaction that were probably not in the original script.  Kudos to her for trying to add depth.  But once the scare is over, the issue is never dealt with again.  Yet another missed opportunity.  So many directions this plot could have taken, that were just left hanging.  Balki, the writer/director is evidently known for these high concept films, but not great follow through.  Having more subplots and side characters would have helped this film, too.

That said, Kareena and Arjun give it their all, and I did like their chemistry. It was a pleasant timepass, but not the deep social commentary it was preaching to us about. The cameo by Amitabh and Jay Bachchan, though, was a delight!

I do enjoy this song!  But the rest of the soundtrack was just okay.

Kathy Gibson of AccessBollywood.net and I saw the film at the same showing.  She really hated it.   Margaret of DontCallItBollywood.com goes in depth into the missed opportunities in the film.  And gives a full summary here comparing it to a sitcom!