M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story – Compelling first half, that falls apart in the second

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I was traveling overseas on vacation and the M.S. Dhoni movie starring Sushant Singh Rajput was one of the “international” choices on the plane movie entertainment system.  So, I took a chance on it.  I know nothing about cricket — only as much as you pick up watching Lagaan.  I knew nothing about Dhoni either — only had heard his name.

 

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The first half of the film with the story of Dhoni’s childhood and early days trying to work up to the big leagues I found very compelling.  The two romances in the film were also very well done.

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After I watched the movie, I read about how many months Sushant spent working with cricket coaches to perfect the signature Dhoni swing.  I can’t speak to how well he embodied Dhoni since I haven’t ever watched the real man play, but he did a good job acting the part.

The second half of the film just fell apart for me.  It was sixer after sixer in a highlight reel of games that didn’t mean anything to me.  I suppose they were important.  Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood shared with me that she saw this film in a theater crowded with Dhoni fans who anticipated every big moment, and even change of jersey colors.  I was watching it alone on a plane, so I didn’t have that to give me any sense of dramatic tension.

 

I shouldn’t have to be an expert in cricket or the man Dhoni to feel dramatic tension and be swept up in his story.  I’ve seen other films about sports I know nothing about that are some of my favorite films ever.  Asif Kapadia’s documentary about the Formula One racer Senna is incredible.  (Kapadia went on to win the Oscar for Amy.)  I was on the edge of my seat practically the whole movie.  I’m a fan of Michael Sheen so I watched The Damned United, about the short reign of a football coach for the Manchester United team.  The conflict between Sheen’s character and the team, the management, and especially his best friend and partner is an incredibly dramatic story.  Highly recommend both films, btw.

Dhoni participated in this film, doing several hours of interviews, and they used those real details to give the “untold” story.  But that meant that they glossed over some other real events to stay in Dhoni’s good graces.  He was a “consultant” or executive producer or something on the film.  There were little moments that just slid by, that you could have based the entire dramatic arc of the second half on — like his insistence as captain of the India team to force out a few older players who weren’t “fit” to start rebuilding the team toward the World Cup years in the future.  Just mentioned and then glossed over.  There were a few moments like that.  Instead we got more footage of sixer after sixer.  I actually almost dozed off watching it.

Anupam Kher is of course great as Dhoni’s father.  He’s always great.  The music montage numbers were good.  Those songs were in the charts for weeks.  And I did like the romances.

I guess I give it 2 and a half stars for the good first half.  If you’re a fan of cricket and Dhoni, this film may be for you.  If not, give it a miss.  It’s on Netflix streaming currently in the US.

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Podcast with Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood!

 

How we met through her masters thesis project, and how we both started watching Indian 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.

Why I Love Indian Cinema

A few weeks ago, I answered a question on Quora, “Does anyone besides Indians watch Indian movies?”  This post is adapted from the answer I gave.  At first I gave a brief answer, but then people commented and wanted to know WHY?  Why would a non-Indian love Indian films?  Many commenters were at first incredulous, but then thanked me for showing them an outsider’s view of their cinema.   As of this writing, the answer has garnered over 170,000 views, and made me a Most Viewed Writer about Bollywood on Quora.  (Which still blows my mind.)

Netflix in the US has over 80 Hindi films at anyone time.  Because of the kind of films I enjoy, Netflix recommended I watch Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge about 2 years ago.  Since I fell in love with Bollywood, I’ve seen over 200 Indian films.  I’m lucky that in my area new release films play in a few local theaters.  I was able to see Kapoor and Sons just last night and I absolutely loved it.

I’m not the only non-Desi in America to love Bollywood movies, but I wouldn’t say it’s very common.

My father’s church has a monthly movie night, and he asked me to show a Bollywood movie last week.  I chose Dil Se, and showed it to 15 people, including my parents, who had never before seen a Bollywood film.  They all loved it!

Editing to add my answer from the comments below, WHY I love Indian films:

I also love old Hollywood musicals like Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly films.  Hollywood does not make them anymore.  I love the singing and the dancing in Indian cinema, but also the earnest love stories are not the kind of films that Hollywood makes either.  Rom Coms are becoming rarer and rarer in American films which tend to be more cynical.  The emotions in Bollywood films are something that is rare to see in Hollywood or English films.  People joke about how much Shahrukh Khan cries in his films, but I really respond to the emotions shown in Indian cinema.  Also, the colors on screen!  Bhansali’s film Ram-Leela is an example of this.

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I listen to Bollywood music all the time, as well.

Indian films just give me things I cannot get from Hollywood or other Western cinema.  Plus Shahrukh Khan.  I’ve watched 47 of his films alone (which doesn’t count the countless times I’ve watched DDLJ.)  🙂

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I do love South Indian films as well, and I have seen a little over 30 South Indian films.  I fell in love with Prabhas after watching Baahubali last year (four times in the theater!).  I now own many of his Telugu films on DVD.

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Recently, I’ve been watching quite a few Malayalam films, especially recent ones with Nivin Pauly and Dulquer Salmaan.  I have watched fewer Tamil films, but I asked my neighbor to bring me back some DVD’s from her recent trip to Chennai, and have been working through the dozen films she brought me.  Last week, I watched Raja Rani, and liked it.

For those interested, I keep track of all the Bolllywood films I’ve watched on Letterboxd.com, and here’s my list of Regional films I’ve seen, up to 32 now after watching the Malayalam film Classmates last night.

I asked for commenters to recommend their favorite Indian films — and oh boy, did they.  I’ve created a Letterboxd list now of all the films recommended there in the comments that I have not already seen.  Now up to 372 (!!) films in several Indian languages:  Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, Punjabi, etc.  The question now is will I live long enough to watch even half of them!

My first Bollywood film ever was Lagaan, back almost 15 years ago when it was nominated for the Foreign language Oscar.  That was back when you could only rent Netflix movies via DVD in the mail.  I then watched Dil Chahta Hai, because that also had Aamir Khan.  But it was not so easy back then for a non-Hindi speaker to find out about other Bollywood films.  The internet has helped so much, and Netflix’s recommendation engine is the reason I fell in love with Bollywood 2 years ago.  DDLJ was recommended to me, then I was able to watch Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi right after that.  I texted my Indian next door neighbor for other suggestions, and she loves Hrithik Roshan and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was also streaming on Netflix and I was off to the races with my new obsession.

I have been mentored by two other non-Desi lovers of Bollywood who then suggested many other films for me to try, and in some cases pushed the DVD’s into my hand saying, “YOU HAVE TO WATCH THIS!”

Kathy Gibson of AccessBollywood.net  and Margaret of DontCallItBollywood

Shout out also to the gang at Bollywhat forum!