Hindi Film Reviews 2008

Brief reviews of current Bollywood films as they appeared in the Independent Weekly.

Hindi Film Reviews 2010 * Hindi Film Reviews 2009 *

Hindi Film Reviews 2007 * Hindi Film Reviews 2006 * Hindi Film Reviews 2005

Screenings at the Galaxy Cinema in Cary, NC * Also, a brief archive of older Hindi films

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New: June 15, 2009:

Johnny Gaddar (2008) Directed by Sriram Raghavan. Neil Mukesh, Dharmendra, Zaakhir Hussein, Vinay Pathak, Rimi Sen.

Johnny (Neil) the youngest member of a criminal gang of five, decides to double cross his pals to get enough money to escape with his lover (Rimi) to Canada. Everything seems so simple, but, of course, goes horribly wrong. A loving homage to 70s era Hindi crime films, Johnny has borrowed from a classic Amitabh Bachchan film (you see him studying Parwana) and the ironic twist and turns are nicely done. The plot rattles along swiftly after some initial confusion (Bollywood crime films can be a little dense) but runs aground due to Neil’s blank face. What is he thinking? A better actor could handle the subtleties of this anti-hero role with a bit more finesse, especially since he is sharing the screen with such accomplished character actors as former leading man Dharmendra, Vinay Pathak and Zaakhir Hussein. The music is excellent, with an evocative, funky background score and two strong songs by Shankar Eshaan Loy; the title number and "Move Your Body" (sung by Hard Kaur).


*

Rab ne Bana di Jodi (God Matches a Couple) Surinder, a mousy Punjab Power Company cubicle drone (Shah Rukh Khan) attempts to make his vivacious younger wife (it’s arranged) fall in love with him. He has his best friend, hairdresser Bobby (Vinay Pathak) give him a trendy makeover, so he can partner, in disguise, spouse Taani (newcomer Anushka Sharma) for the “Dancing Jodi” contest. Not Slumdog Millionaire, but rather a prime example of the escapist fantasies that fuel that grittier movie, RnBdJ is a delight until ¾ of the way through when the plot falls to pieces in a sumo wresting ring and never quite recovers. Shah Rukh Khan charms as the geeky everyman, whose concept of a cool guy is also hopelessly dorky. Writer-director Aditya Chopra made SRK a superstar with Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge in 1995, and they both gleefully deconstruct his “Raj” hero character, the Bollywood gold standard for romance in the last decade. Entertaining, but frustratingly imperfect.

*

Bachna Ae Haseeno (Watch Out, Beautiful Girls) Raj, a serial Romeo (Ranbir Kapoor) gets a taste of his own medicine when, after callous conquests, his true love rejects him. His first sweetie is innocent Mahi (Minissha Lambha) who dreams of a Swiss romance straight out Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, India’s romantic movie touchstone. Sexy Radhika (Bipasha Basu) cohabits with Raj, but her free spirit still expects a wedding, eventually. Then, ambitious Gayatri (Deepika Padukone, Ranbir’s real life girlfriend) the daintiest cabdriver in Sydney, Australia, breaks Raj’s heart, thinking only of her MBA. Bachna Ae Haseeno seems thoroughly modern (Ranbir kisses all his heroines, and is the first hero in a Hindi movie to wear cargo shorts--no, really this was a big deal in the publicity) but this is a cautionary tale. Sexual and social freedoms may seem preferable to the village and the arranged marriage, but bring their own thorny set of problems. Ranbir’s dorky charm is appealing in a long, escapist masala romance, one of this year's better romantic comedies.

*

Dostana (Friendship). Sam (Abhishek Bachchan) and Kunal (John Abraham) pretend to be a gay couple so they can share an übercool Miami flat with fashionista Neha (Priyanka Chopra). In India, consensual homosexuality is severely criminalized, and it’s actually rather shocking to see two sexy A-list leading men, well known for their beautiful partners (Abhishek is married to Aishwarya Rai, and John dates sultry Bipasha Basu) camping it up with wild abandon, completely secure in their masculine star images. John, a former model, preens incessantly for the enjoyment of all in a pair of miniscule trunks. The two guys share crackling comic timing, and Sam’s mother (Kirron Kher) wails, “Those mama’s boys are way too spoiled.” The second half flags a bit as plot intrudes (Priyanka falls in love with her boss, a dazed Bobby Deol) but this crowd-pleasing farce argues tolerance for the liberating sexual choices Indian expats make away from home.

*

Drona (Savior of the World). An epic fairy tale drawn from myriad sources, Drona’s surest road map may simply be Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Powerful forces have stashed Adi (Abhishek Bachchan) in chilly Prague for safekeeping. A simple shop clerk, (in spite of the eerie blue rose petals drifting through the window like owl posts, and a gaudy gold cuff gifted to wear under the sleeve of his grubby hoodie) he’s really a knight destined to protect the elixir of immortality from the clutches of demon magician Riz Raizada (Kay Kay Menon). Enlightenment dawns when Sonia, his Xena-ish bodyguard (Priyanka Chopra) appears in a bright yellow Alpha Romeo just in time to save him from a hoard of Dementors. Imaginative production design, almost good enough CGI, Kay Kay’s enthusiastic scenery chewing (he has a catchphrase “Gustakhi Maf”—“forgive my impertinence” and a crazy Alfalfa hairdo) and Abhishek’s sexy brooding makes Drona diverting, if not magnificent.

*

Fashion. A small town girl yearning to be a supermodel (PriyankaChopra) meets her sneering, showstopping idol (Kangana Ranaut) who is beginning her downhill skid in Madhur Bhandarkar's take on A Runway Star is Born. Kangana's character is rumored to be based on a former top model found begging on Mumbai's mean streets, and Mugda Godse is a real model, lending some veracity to the glamodrama. Some gay stereotyping, edgy for Bollywood brought hoots from the audience (but wait until next week's Dostana). Kangana's acting chops are a given, but it's former Miss World Priyanka Chopra who surprises, as she takes a first cigarette, a sip of wine and then a line of coke. Well cast character roles, Arbaaz Khan as slimy seducer and some eye-catching fashion looks bring on, as the theme song has it, "Jalwa" (splendor). (I saw this in a beautiful movie palace in Delhi, the Delight. The real action appeared to be downstairs at Golmaal Returns, which had quite a rowdy audience).

*

Ghajini. Sanjay (Aamir Khan) hunts down vicious Ghajini, murderer of his happy-go-lucky beloved, Kalpana (Asin). Trouble is, after a konk on the noggin, Sanjay’s memory endures only 15 minutes at a stretch. You might be reminded of Christopher Nolan’s Memento, in spite of the opening disclaimer. But, Nolan could never have conceived of this mega masala of song, dance, comedy, romance and violence. Memento also lacked a comely medical student (Jia Khan, who never stops to help the injured) also adept at a sexy dance number for the medical college cultural program. But, the Hindi film revenge genre (and a Tamil film of the same name also written and directed by A.R. Murugadoss) is the major influence. The hyper-stylized visual design telegraphs the absurd speed-up-no!-slow-down battles. Aamir is a well known perfectionist, excelling both in body building, and being the most crazed, most wronged hero EVER. He even snarls like a mad dog when he finally corners Ghajini, single handedly upping the ante for beefcake hamboning. This aspiring blockbuster lurches towards parody, banking, perhaps, that Indian audiences are in the mood for revenge.

*

Ghatothkach. A loveable roly poly boy with magical powers, the half prince half demon Ghatothkach, makes jungle mischief withhis elephant pal Gajju. A Disney-esque frolic aimed at the 4-10 demographic (complete with McDonald’s tie in) it has songs and dialog dubbed into English for us, but also versions for audiences who speak Hindi, Tamil, Telegu, Bengali, Kannada and Malayalam. The film, one of only a handful of cartoon features from India (using both hand drawn and computer techniques) premiered at Cannes. This animated episode from the Mahabharata has its cute moments, but the overarching plot rivalry between the powerful Kaurava and Pandava clans becomes increasingly complicated for those unfamiliar with the epic. And, after the interval, cute Ghatothkach suddenly grows into a fat, mustachioed man whose love for food prompts him to occasionally grow two extra heads. Those parents wishing to expose their tots to a different cartoon culture might enjoy sharing the magic of the 'Angalika, Bangalika, Jangalika, Rangalika' spell—as Indian families surely will.

*

Jodhaa Akbar. Amidst a spectacle of 16th century Mughal empire power and glory, director Ashutosh Gowariker (Lagaan) personalizes a complicated web of princely state conquests and alliances by focusing on an apocryphal love story between the Muslim emperor Akbar and his Hindu princess, Jodhaa. Historical movies can be a bit stiff, the actors muffled by their weighty costumes and historical gravitas. Hrithik Roshan as the emperor (introduced broncho busting an elephant) and Aishwayra Rai Bachchan as the fiery Jodhaa, inspire sighs in midst of all the pageantry. Stunt coordinator Ravi Dewan orchestrated 5,000 extras, 250 stunt men and a screen full of elephants and camels into startling battle scenes—real life is cheaper than CGI in India. Hrithik reorients his dancing skills for some thrilling swordfights worthy of Errol Flynn. Neeta Lulla created a stunning array of embellished clothes and weighty ornaments; Akbar even wears his pearls into battle. The music by A. R. Rahman is mostly an underscore, with few lip synced songs. Jodhaa Akbar is gorgeous, but has a political agenda, too: Hindu-Muslim unity alone guarantees the uture of an enlightened state. Both faiths have some divine inspiration along the way, but Akbar does not find his so fragile that it’s threatened by Jodhaa’s. Muslim hard-liners will eventually be exiled to Mecca, where they can presumably meditate on their dutyto Islam. When the glow of national religious unity reflects from the faces of two of the most gorgeous people on the planet, who can say no to World Peace Through Bollywood? An expensive film by Indian standards, the $10 million project was released with a record 115 prints in American theaters. Judging by the lines at the Galaxy Cinema, this 3 hour 38 minute epic will likely land in the USA top twenty and sell a lot of snack bar samosas in the next few weeks.

*

Kidnap. The world’s richest Indian (Sanjay Dutt) is forced to play mind games with a hot young kidnapper (Imran Khan) who has abducted his estranged daughter (Minissha Lamba). Director Sanjay Gadhvi (the Dhoom series mastermind) has concocted a thoroughly far fetched, but deeply Indian meditation on nature/nurture that hearkens back to one of the pillars of Hindi cinema, Awaara, in which a good boy is forced into a life of crime. Imran, an up-and-coming star, seems too nice to have devised such a devilish plan, Minissha’s new bikini-ready breast implants are distracting and action movie paragon Sanjay Dutt looks sadly weary. This is Sanjay’s first film after his latest jail term for a 15 year old arms trafficking charge, and his character refuses to carry a gun, “since they are for the police or criminals,” reminding us all that he has learned his lesson. I can never get over the enjoyment of somebody pulling a caper, then joining the item girl on stage to sing a song taunting the bad guy, though. Not to mention rhyming “mausam” (weather) with awesome.

*

Kismat Konnection. Once again, Shahid Kapur’s dazzling smile and snake hips adorn a whisper-thin romantic plot. This time, he is Raj, an aspiring Toronto architect who seeks a contract to design a shopping mall that will destroy a community center important to a bunch of twinkly elders, and managed by Priya (Vidya Balan). A kooky oracle (played by the always delightful Juhi Chawla) leads him to believe the cantankerous Priya is his lucky charm. The lead pair have zero romantic chemistry on screen. And, oddly, the hero’s clothes are cuter than the heroine’s; Vidya’s once again trapped in an alarming dowdy wardrobe and her role is a rehash of one of her better movies, Lage Raho Munnabhai. Entirely predictable and thoroughly harmless, Kismat allows three leisurely hours to bask in Shahid’s adorableness. Someone please help him pick another movie as good as Jab We Met!

*

Krazzy 4 (Crazy 4) Shrink Dr. Sonali (Juhi Chawla) treats 4 wild and krazzy guys; Irfaan Khan (The Namesake) for OCD, Arshad Warsi for anger management, Rajpal Yadev, deluded that India has not yet gained independence, and stand-up comic Suresh Menon as a mute. If it wasn’t a surprisingly literal swipe of 1989’s The Dream Team, which starred Michael Keaton and Christopher Lloyd, one would suggest that in the US, all these institutionalized patients would be at home taking their meds. The main attraction is three steamy item numbers one by “Miss Spicy Mix” Rakhi Savant (OCD Irfaan tries to wipe off her tattoo with his hankie) supple Hrithik Roshan (see below) and the Badshaah of Bollywood himself, Shah Rukh Khan. For a knuckleheaded comedy, it could be much worse.

*

Love Story 2050. The reliable reincarnation plot gets a new spin as Karan (Harman Baweja) hops a time machine to look for his true love, Sana (Priyanka Chopra) in the future. After an interminable drippy puppy love story, year 2050 appears after the interval (Fritz Lang’s Metropolis layered with a glaze of candy-colored Blade Runner). What follows is a mega mash up of every sci fi movie ever made. Yet, at heart, Love Story 2050 is still Indian, most fabulously in a futuristic night club, where robots do “the robot” to “Milo na Milo.” The CGI is the best ever in an Indian movie, miraculous considering the $12 million budget. The film launches Harman, who tries really, really hard; the film is lovingly produced, directed and written by his father, and co-stars his real life girlfriend. If only you had a time machine to skip ahead to the So Bad It’s Good half, the Mumbai of tomorrow.

*

Race. Two ruthless half brothers (Saif Ali Khan and Akshaye Khanna) clash in this sun baked film noir set in tropical Durban, South Africa. Mix in two femmes fatale (Bipasha Basu, Katrina Kaif) plus a shady police detective (crowd pleasing Anil Kapoor) and his ditsy assistant (Samara Reddy) and you have the formula for a flashy masala film with horse race hanky panky, speeding cars, explosions, catchy disco numbers and comedy cameos. By the end, you’ll be so stunned by the action scenes staged by stunt director Allan Amin and Abbas-Mustan, the hyphenated team of popcorn movie mavens, the pulsing music and the glam stars that even if you can’t follow all the double crosses, you’ll no longer care. Not art, but fun…and you’ll be singing “Touch Me Zara Zara” on the way to your car.

*

Rock On!! Rock and roll melodrama becomes the latest Western export, as the contest winning band Magik’s riches to rags to riches story unfolds. Ten years after walking out on a recording contract, Aditya (Farhan Aktar) has an MBA, a chilly high rise flat and a sweetly puzzled wife. KD—Killer Drummer—(Purab Kohli) slaves in his father’s jewellery store. Rob (Luke Kenny) is a desultory studio musician and Joe (Arjun Rampal) scrapes by giving guitar lessons. Is a reunion possible? Indian music has zestfully absorbed American pop since the rumba, and composers Shankar Ehsaan Loy nail a grungey boy band sound with Magik’s catchy hits. Farhan, an accomplished director (Dil Chahta Hai) makes his on-screen debut--his acting and singing are not bad--and Arjun’s sulky sex appeal has a George Harrison vibe. American movie audiences may be jaded, but it’s refreshing to see this familiar arc played as if it’s being invented, and for Magik’s audience, it is.

*

Sarkar Raj (Godfather’s Kingdom) “Power cannot be given. It has to be taken.” So, idealistic mobsters Subhash Nagare (Amitabh Bachchan) and his son Shankar (Abhishek Bachchan) believe. Director Ram Gopal Varma’s biggest hit of recent years was Sarkar, an overt homage to The Godfather. This sequel of sepia shadows, massive close ups and portentous music adds Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (Abhishek’s new bride) as the CEO of a London based company entering the nexus of a battle royal over rural electrification. No longer interested in the usual criminal pursuits, several ruthless factions shed blood while tussling about providing (and skimming profits from) electricity. The first half lags as an extended debate over proposed power plant sites and the second half’s action arrives both too abruptly and too late. Amitabh and Abhishek are excellent as expected, and Aishwarya surprisingly adept in her understated role. The Nagres are dogooders, but still bloody gangsters, profiting not from drugs, but from the new revenue streams of economic development.

*

Singh is Kinng. A fusion of slapsticky gangster comedy and Frank Capra’s sentimental Lady for a Day, Singh is Kinng soars on Akshay Kumar’s high spirits. Happy Singh (Akshay) an accident prone Punjabi villager, journeys to Australia to retrieve King Lucky Singh (Sonu Sood) now a down under underworld Don. On the way, he falls in love with Katrina Kaif, and is soon mistakenly named the new King when Lucky, seething from his sickbed, is thought to have anointed him as his replacement. Incredibly catchy tunes (I’ve been singing them for weeks) well staged dance numbers (spectacularly at the Temple of Karnak in Egypt, and another over the end credits with a slightly nervous Snoop Dogg) a contingent of funny sidekicks (especially Javed Jaffrey) combine for an undemanding, but enjoyable experience. Katrina finally loosens up and plays a girl worth wooing, and who but charismatic Akshay could rock an outfit like a jeweled hot pink turban, black suit coat, no shirt and matching Capri length dress pants?

*

Tashan (Style) A cherry-red Mercedes convertible, the radio lurching between AD/DC's "Highway to Hell" and the old Hindi film love song "Kabhie, Kabhie," swerves across a sun-seared desert track. Likewise, the life of Jimmy Cliff, a call-center English tutor (Saif Ali Khan), has run off the road. The beauteous Pooja (Kareena Kapoor) summoned him to give language lessons to her boss, the ruthless Bhaiyyaji (Anil Kapoor) and now he is flummoxed by both greed and passion. The power of English as a tool of social mobility is a comic subplot: Bhaiyyaji admires Jimmy in mangled Hinglish ("man is harami (scoundrel) but talks just like George Bush"). Later, a small town hoodlum (Akshay Kumar in top form) arrives to steal the movie. The second half drags, and the prolonged climax has so much carnage (although clearly a joke) that it takes a bit of fizz out of the cola. Why the reviews of this movie have been so dismal puzzles me: sure, it doesn't make all that much sense, but, more than Race! Still... thoroughly enjoyable, as Vishal and Shekar's thumping score and Aki Narula's witty costuming add to zany Tashan's style.

*

 

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Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic (A Little Love, a Little Magic) An activist judge saddles Ranbeer, a callous industrialist (Saif Ali Khan) with four orphans, after he accidentally kills their parents in a car wreck while texting instead of driving. Chaos ensues until an angelic Mary Poppins (Rani Mukherji) arrives. TPTM is a remake of a beloved 1993 movie, Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke starring Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla, itself an homage to the Cary Grant-Sophia Loren Houseboat. There are echoes of The Sound of Music, too (and its Hindi avatar, Parichay) and a vital incident is purloined from I Married a Witch with Veronica Lake. As with all "reimaginings" a de rigueur remake ramp up ensues, more anger, more tears and more people falling into swimming pools. The kids want revenge—after all, Ranbeer did kill their parents! Eventually, they realize that it was fate, and Ranbeer merely the instrument. There is a magical museum visit, which includes joining Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent protests against the British tax on salt, promises of future economic equity with the museum sweeper, and an Indo-Pak cease fire along with the computer animated dancing dinos; typically, more ambitious than an American kidpic. Rishi Kapoor seems to enjoy his cameo as God, and Amisheea Patel is quite funny as Ranbeer's shallow girlfriend. Rani and Saif have made better (Hum Tum) and worse (Ta Ra Rum Pum) together; the screen positively glows when they’re together.

 

c.moviediva2008