Hindi Film Reviews 2009

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

Hindi Film Reviews 2010 * Hindi Film Reviews 2008 * 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

3 Idiots. Rancho (Aamir Khan) is the prankish, brilliant college friend of two buddies (Sharman Joshi and Madhavan). Vanishing after graduation, one decade later his friends embark on a search for whatever became of him. 3 Idiots is based on a best-selling autobiographical novel by Chetan Bhagat. Essentially a bromance, and thus heavy on the potty humor, the film also co-stars fiery Kareena Kapoor as Rancho’s love interest. When the film soars, it’s due to the substantial skills of writer-producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra and writer-director Rajkumar Hirani, aided by Aamir’s formidable superstar chops (even if he's 20 years past college age). Although derivative of previous hits (3 Idiots is essentially a mash-up of two undisputed recent Bollywood classics, Aamir’s Dil Chahta Hai and the Chopra/Hirani Munnabhai MBBS) it’s already a massive box office hit in India; the rare blockbuster celebrating the romance and excitement of--engineering.

*

8 x 10 Tasvir (8 x 10 Photograph)—A psychic Canadian forest ranger (Akshay Kumar) receives visions of the past from photos, and the 8 X 10 of his father’s final moments leads him to suspect foul play. It’s not surprising that accomplished writer-director Nagesh Kukunoor (Dor, Iqbal) might want to get his Hitchcock on, sadly, three quarters of the 2 hour film is utter nonsense. Javed Jaffrey, amusing as that new archetype, the OCD detective, occasionally breaks through the dross. But, the twist, when it finally arrives, is pretty good, and the conclusion segues into another sharp collaboration between Akshay and rapper Bohemia over the end credits. The multiplexes in India are on strike, and new releases are on hold, so this photo might have staying power. Ingenue Ayesha Takia and elegant 1970s heroine Sharmila Tagore co-star.

*

Ajab Prem ki Ghazab Kahani (A Splendid Tale of Strange Love) Loafer Prem, whose name means Love (Ranbir Kapoor) is smitten by Jenny (Katrina Kaif). Cyrano-like, he reluctantly helps her evade an arranged marriage to reunite with a college beau (Upen Patel). Goofball Ranbhir is a cutie pie, and pretty Katrina—finally!—relaxes on screen and acts. Director Rajkumar Santoshi convinces her to do more than smile agreeably, and I have to admit (as a language learner) to enjoying her heavily accented Hindi. If Upen was ever being groomed as a leading man, those days have clearly come to an end. But the appealing main romantic comedy plot is wrapped in a thick cocoon of pointless distractions and slapstick, apparently unavoidable in any Bollywood comedy film. The director Priyadarshans everything up, to use as an epithet the name of India’s #1 most annoying comedy director. Why do the villains have a lair with a giant vat of soapsuds and a slide? Do you have to ask?

*

Aladin. What is one to do with the Arabian Nights tales in the post 9/11 world? One could simply add a thick frosting of Harry Potter. Aladin (Ritesh Deshmukh) lives in a magical village named Khwaish (Wish). His parents die searching for the Magic Lamp, but the Lamp eventually finds him, and the Genie (Amitabh Bachchan) grants him three wishes. Aladin realizes that, wishes aside, he has been chosen to save the world from the evil Ringmaster (Sanjay Dutt). Suffice to say, if what you missed in the Potter films was a flashy number uniting Harry, Dumbledore and Voldemort on the dance floor, you’re in luck. Ritesh is rather nebbishy for a Hindi film hero, but shines as a noble dork in a cartoon character’s letter sweater. It’s an Amitabh show all the way though, with the film icon sporting a soigné wardrobe of embroidered sherwanis and an inimitable way with a song.

*

Billu Barber. Billu (Irfaan Khan) struggles to support his wife and two children with his modest village barber shop. Then, superstar Sahir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) descends in a rocket ship. Irfaan, thanks to The Namesake and Slumdog Millionaire, one of the most recognized Hindi film actors in the US, is appealing as humble Billu, who may or may not be Sahir’s school friend. His village is abuzz with the rumor, though, and bank on Billu as their pathway to movieland glam. The “lost and found” plot, central to Hindi film mythology, also relates to the story of Lord Krishna and his friend Sudama. Although this parable is apparently well known to every school child in India, it is played out with satisfying suspense and catharsis for a Western audience. Surprisingly, Billu Barber is directed by Priyadarshan, whose resumé includes the truly terrible. The best mainstream Bollywood film since late 2007, Billu Barber melds a small scale art film-ish story with the necessary pleasure of superstar charisma and thumping, otherworldly dance sequences, viewed on a movie screen, on set, or in a dream. Have your cake and eat it too? Yes, please.

(inside the cd cover)

*

Blue. Sagar (Sanjay Dutt) knows where Lady in Blue, a British ship sunk while ferrying treasure out of India just before Independence, sleeps in the deep. Wealthy Aarav (Akshay Kumar) can’t convince him to salvage the loot until Sagar’s younger brother (Zayed Khan) presses him for a payoff owed to the Bangkok mafia. If you expect bikinis, bikes and sharks, you won’t be disappointed, as the on-screen testosterone bubbles like oxygen escaping from a tank. The underwater photography by Pirates of the Caribbean Director of Photography Pete Zuccarini is exquisite, and a sequence of the actors simply swimming in the azure Bahama waters to A R Rahman’s insinuating score (his first since his Slumdog Oscar) is more captivating than the (mostly) coherent thriller plot and the surfeit of stunts. This acceptable diversion highlights a hot item number by Australian Madonna-be Kylie Minogue. But, for those wishing for another action movie as good as Dhoom 2 will just have to wait...until Dhoom 3?

*

Chandni Chowk to China. My universes collided this week. Shah Rukh Khan, the King of Bollywood, introduced the awards sweeping Slumdog Millionaire clips at the Golden Globes, and Chandni Chowk to China, the first Bollywood movie to sip the enchanted elixir of Warner Brothers promotional mojo, released a record 130 prints in the US. Akshay Kumar, CC2C’s star was the subject of a glowing New York Times profile, and a Bollywood review finally cracked the pop culture barrier at Entertainment Weekly. Has the moment of crossover arrived?

As always, the answer is “kinda.” SRK’s fans searched the web in vain for any red carpet photos. Although sometimes described, in terms of global audience, as “bigger than Tom Cruise” the Hindi film superstar was ignored by the Western paparazzi (a humbling experience for him, I’m sure). And, what of Chandni Chowk? Akshay has an unbroken string of hits in India over the last couple of years, and WB was wise, in principal, to hitch their wagon to his star. Last year, Sony, hot after moviegoer rupees, invested in auteur Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s dreary Saawariya, which was such a critical and box office disaster they yanked it after a week.

Ever since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, martial arts films have been the international film cross-over gold standard, and there were lots of non-Indians in the Galaxy Cinema audience this weekend. CC2C cost a paltry (by Hollywood standards) $15 mil, and exploits Akshay’s proven formula of late, the country bumpkin/clown who becomes a hero by tapping into Indian cultural values. He’s a former karate instructor whose chopsocky impresses—15 years ago, his moves put the current digital stylings to shame, and he still looks great, stunting, dancing or pratfalling.

Nothing would please me more than to report that CC2C is a thrilling example of a “kung fu comedy” as the publicity would have it. As usual, the script, by Bluffmaster scribe Shridhar Raghavan and directed by Nikil Advani (Kal Ho Na Ho) borrows liberally, sometimes with a wink, from world cinema. The basic plot is Seven Samurai, in which a downtrodden village, kin to the subterranean one from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, recruits Siddhu, a lowly roadside cook from a busy Delhi crossroads after mistaking him for the reincarnation of a legendary hero. Akshay bumbles far too long before deciding to become a kung fu master avenging the death of his foster father at the hand, or rather the razor brimmed Oddjob derby, of Hojo, played by Hong Kong stalwart Gordon Liu.

The Chinese locations are spectacular, and there are some amusing details, like high tech gadgets courtesy, not of Q but of a Home Shopping Network. Deepika Padukone charms as twins, one a model, the other an assassin named Meow Meow. And, you’ve got to hand it to the star, willing to look as uncool as Will Ferrell before finding his destiny. But, is it really nearly two hours before the most entertaining sequence, Siddu’s training by another martial arts icon, Roger Yuan? Most of songs seem truncated (did WB put the kibosh on them?) and while EW’s Owen Gliberman grumped that CC2C wasn’t as good as Lagaan (what is?) more to the point, it isn’t even as good as Akshay’s last, Sinngh is Kinng. Still, Akshay’s most devoted admirers won’t find it a waste of time. Whether Warner Brothers does remains to be seen.

*

Delhi 6. Roshan (Abhishek Bachchan) a thoroughly Americanized desi from New York, brings his ailing grandmother (Waheeda Rehman) back to her old Delhi neighborhood. Alarmed at first by crowds and chaos, he settles comfortably into the local rhythms and relationships, especially with his 2nd cousin (?) Bittu (Sonam Kapoor). The first half delights with the sights of urban India, unusual in commercial films, punctuated by a bit of news channel fluff, as locals tangle with the skittering shadow of a “kala bandar” a black monkey. But then, it morphs into hulking metaphor, and we are all asked to expel the divisive and violent black monkey within ourselves, the demonic phantom who promotes conflicts between religions and castes. This is no surprise coming from Rang de Basanti director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, whose suffocating moralizing finally trumps both plot and characterization. Abhishek is charming, but Roshan is a cipher, and there is too little of the talented Waheeda and Rishi Kapoor. The music is by Slumdog Millionaire’s double Oscar winner A. R. Rahman.

*

Dil Bole Hadippa (My Heart Says Hurray). Feisty Punjabi village belle Veera (Rani Mukherji) longs to play cricket, a game that’s just for boys. English ace Rohan (Shahid Kapoor) arrives to train the locals, and she dons turban and beard to become star batter Veer. Making peace between India and Pakistan, AND challenging women’s oppression is a heady agenda for a musical romance, but Bollywood films have always been about nation building. Veera hotly demands to know why Goddesses are revered, but ordinary women are slapped down. Underdog sports movies always demand a suspension of disbelief, but Rani bites off, chews and spits out her double role like a piece of sweet sugar cane. She and Shahid are both prickly and adorable together, although the film never asks if he is attracted to Veer, as well as Veera. There’s a lot of cricket, but first time director Anurag Singh dazzles with this year’s best Bollywood film so far. I'm mystified why this film has received such tepid reviews.

*

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom: A re-review. You might think that I am going to renege on my lauditory opinion of 2007's Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. Au contraire. I've watched JBJ at least half a dozen times--it's one of moviediva jr's (now 19) favorites. And, she's discovered that it is also a favorite of other girls her age, some of them Hindi film freaks and some not. It's the familiar (to Hollywood audiences) opposites attract, four character, rom com formula, so NOT masala, which is sometimes hard for Westerners to digest. The flashy dance sequences are ironic, irony being the overwhelming raza of American movies, and the music bouncy. Plus, it has the best performances til date of Lara Dutta and Bobby Deol, both unexpectedly playing dual roles. Priety Zinta excels at fresh, modern heroines, and Abhishek, although adept at the broody scowling thing (like in the Sarkar movies) seems to particularly relish comedy. Why was this movie a flop? Perhaps, it would have benefited from some cross-over dreams, in the place of the disasterous Saawayriya and Chandni Chowk to China. And, an unexpected legacy? Slumdog Millionaire (which does not have a credited choreographer) and also has pivotal scenes set in a railway station, blatantly "borrows" the concept of the casual crowds joining together in an impromptu dance routine. Will somebody please give JBJ its due?

*

Kambakkht Ishq (Damn Love) A sexist Hollywood stuntman (Akshay Kumar) woos a fiery supermodel/surgeon (Kareena Kapoor). Set in LA, and sporting awkward cameos by Sylvester Stallone, Brandon Routh and Denise Richards, this glitzy action comedy romance begs for a fast forward button to skip past the pointlessly vulgar and politically incorrect. Yes, it’s silly, and pretty misogynistic at times: having the hero call the heroine a bitch, “that’s a deal breaker, ladies” as Tina Fey would say on 30 Rock. Yet, luscious Kareena is so fierce, even if her being in medical school is a little far fetched, that it’s less objectionable than the other recent Taming of the Shrew movies (The Proposal, My Life in Ruins) because the Tamer also needs to be Tamed. Fair's fair, na? Akshay with his Star Trek sideburns and hair-trigger temper seems energized by finally having a comedy co-star who gives as good as she gets. The songs are lively, and thanks to Akshay and Kareena, KI is occasionally laugh-out-loud funny.

*

Kaminey (Scoundrels). “What screws you is not the path you take, but the one you leave behind,” believes Charlie. He’s one identical twin, the bad one, who lisps; the good one, Guddu, stutters. There’s a drug stash, a mix-up, a gang war, but it’s all just so much pointless steadicam, gore and hubbub. Shahid Kapoor (Charlie/Guddu) and Priyanka Chopra as his inconveniently preggo honey are great, and seem to enjoy a stab at the down and dirty in this homage to 70s Hindi crime films and the perennial theme of brothers on opposite sides of the law. But, there’s a traffic jam of rival gangsters, sloppy murders and chuckling sadists. Director Vishal Bhardwaj is known for his stylish juxtaposition of Shakespeare (Macbeth/Maqbool and Othello/Omkara) into the Indian underworld, but without a strong narrative backbone, this seizure-inducing thriller (with one rocking song, "Dhan Te Nan") is just so much cinematic junk food.

*

Love Aaj Kal. (Love Today and Yesterday) Jai (Saif Ali Khan) and Meera (Deepika Padukone) meet uncute. A lame pick up line, a car park smooch, and soon, they are a couple. But, she’s going to Delhi for her job, and he’s staying in London for his, and a break-up makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Are partners interchangeable, or is there such a thing as true love? Jumping back and forth between the romantic social conventions of the last generation and the current one, writer-director Imtiaz Ali’s (Jab We Met) film resonates with Jai and Meera’s fear of commitment, even within a sexual relationship, rather shocking for Bollywood. Saif, one of Hindi films best actors, and Deepika, an on-screen natural, glow together. Rishi Kapoor adds his charisma as a father figure who believes in love’s destiny. The second half has its longeurs, but Love Aaj Kal has a freshness that Hollywood romcoms might emulate.

*

Luck. Luck is a knuckleheaded action movie with an intriguing premise. Moussa (Sanjay Dutt) heads a gambling syndicate orchestrating deadly contests in which entrants are selected based on the power of their fate—their luck. This triggers a Most Dangerous Game with an adrenalinized video game vibe, climaxing with an imperiled heroine and a thundering locomotive…an image dating from the dawn of movies. Written and directed by Soham Shah, the skilled cast includes the reliable Sanjay, swoon-worthy Imran Khan, 80s supervillain Danny Denzongpa and 80s hero Mithun Chakraborty, who, at 60+ still kicks ass. Shruti Hassan, a star kid making her debut is ridiculous, but feisty little Chitrashi Rawat (Chak De India) and Ravi Kishan as a cackling serial killer keep the red shirt elimination fresh. The risky-looking stunts are courtesy of Dhoom 2’s Allan Amin. Genre considered, you could do (much) worse.

*

Luck by Chance. Two struggling actors scrape and claw the edges of the Bombay movie business in this dishy inside Bollywood scoop. Vikram (convincing Farhan Aktar) is an opportunist who believes in making his own destiny. Sona (the always excellent Konkana Sen Sharma) hopes the casting couch will make her a star. Both redefine personal and professional success in this umpteenth A Star is Born retread. First time writer-director Zoya Aktar and her brother Farhan were raised in the Hindi film industry. Zoya is so well connected, that there are few Bollywood biggies who do not cameo as themselves. Hrithik Roshan plays a burnt-out superstar with self-mocking humor, and dances dazzlingly in a number meant to parody the genre’s excess. Dimple Kapadia glows as a selfishly clever diva and Rishi Kapoor entertains as a bombastic producer struggling in a changing industry. Bollywood has been looking in the mirror lately, and this art film-mainstream hybrid, mostly, delivers.

*

New York. Three carefree college friends (John Abraham, Katrina Kaif, Neil Nitin Mukesh) surely cast for their “international” looks, find their lives irrevocably changed by 9/11. Sam (John) is falsely accused of terrorism and redacted to Guantanamo Bay. There is an extremely intense sequence of Sam’s torture, with methods familiar from news reports, and well, who remembers anything after that? Director Kabir Khan (Kabul Express) was a war correspondent in Afghanistan. He intends the film to be an indictment of the Bush administration policies which radicalized Muslims worldwide. FBI agent Roshan (Slumdog’s Irrfan Khan) is on the case, stressing Islam’s innate peacefulness, and that the Muslim world must take responsibility for quashing fanatical hatreds. John is excellent, and Irrfan brings a droll humor, although as usual, the American bit players are bottom of the barrel. Kabir’s film is ambitious and provocative, but he has too much to say for just one movie.

*

Paa (Father) An unwed mother returns from Cambridge University to India to have her baby after a college romance. Auro is born with a genetic defect, progeria, making him physically geriatric at 12. A school function introduces him to the father he never knew. Paa belongs to 67 year old Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan, who completely disappears into his convincing prosthetics as pre-teen Auro. Just a few weeks ago, he was a dapper, rapping genie in Aladin! The ace cast includes Abhishek, Amitabh’s real-life son, as an idealistic politician, adopting Spiderman’s mantra ("with great power comes great responsibility") as he crusades against corruption. R. Balki’s film asks if a man, however well-intentioned, can father a nation if he cannot father his own son. Vidya Balan, in her best role in years, keeps her chin up as Auro’s plucky Maa, with the help of granny Arundhati Naag. Freakish, yet oddly affecting, Paa doesn’t mimic a disease-of-the-week Lifetime channel weeper, instead reveling in impish humor and genuine emotion.

*

Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year. Harpreet Singh Bedi (Ranbhir Kapoor) is an average guy. He graduated firmly in the middle of his college class, and his modest aspiration is a sales job. He joins a computer company and finds that his core values of hard work and honesty are disdained in a system that runs on rank, favoritism and bribes. But, like the office version of an underdog sports movie, he teams with other company misfits, a South Indian hardware wiz, a disrespected office peon (his main job is to make sure everyone has their tea) and a downtrodden receptionist. He takes an insult, the teasing paper airplanes--rockets--that sail into his cubicle and makes them the symbol of his shadow company, which provides better service at a better price than his employer. Subverting authority is a given in Hollywood movies, but it’s quite a radical notion in Indian ones. A film in which a person’s daily work is central, and romance is in the background, is unusual and refreshing in any film culture. Ranbhir is the son and grandson of Bollywood royalty (his parents are 70s superstars Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh) and he could have breezed through the role on his not inconsiderable charm. His thoughtful, underplayed acting in this unglamorous, low budget movie is a tribute both to his skills, and his ambitions. One quibble, the fab song used as a promo “Pocket mein Rocket hai” should have been included over the end titles.

*

Wake Up, Sid. Sid (Ranbhir Kapoor) doesn’t graduate from college, he flunks out. Now what? He’s got oodles of charm and a rich daddy. But, after a blow-up about his laziness, he moves out of his parents’ home in a huff, and in with a friend, Aisha (Konkona Sen Sharma). She’s also out on her own, and, Ugly Betty-like, she’s toiling as a Mumbai Beat Magazine assistant, with her eye on a writer’s job. Sid, a spoiled brat, doesn’t see any reason to waste his life sitting at a desk in his father’s bathroom furnishings business. It takes a focused woman to jolt him into the realization that he can have career goals separate from his father's, respect his parents and fall in love without losing his youthful spontaneity. Wake Up, Sid is light and fresh for a Bollywood romance, but reflects the latest Hollywood rom com formula, with its conflict (as formulated by David Denby of the New Yorker) between the slacker ( a boy who won't grow up) and the striver (always an ambitious woman). Blurring the line between the two distinctive national cinemas, Wake Up Sid also appropriates the montage to the obvious pop song, to new compositions by Shankar Ehsaan Loy instead of VH1’s greatest hits. The difference is that the film lavishes time on the ups and downs of their (non-sexual) relationship, so that you care about the fates of both Sid and Aisha. Ranbhir, a 4th generation Bollywood blue blood, should have a long career ahead of him. He excels even in the small scene; while photographing a neighbor and her little boy, Sid realizes, for the first time, the emotions of his own long-suffering mother towards her ungrateful son. There is no better young actress than Konkana, and the pair clicks on screen. Wake Up, Sid is beautifully designed, too, with the pair's efficiency apartment furnished believably (a mattress on the floor, one chair) but with a clever painted wall mural of birds sitting on wires. Konkana’s modest, but stylish, wardrobe by Manish Malhotra, includes a wonderful camel print kurti. The high energy item number over the end credits provides a welcome final flourish.

*

What’s Your Raashee? (What’s Your Zodiac Sign?) Yogesh (Harman Baweja) a University of Chicago MBA, returns to India and is pressured into a hasty marriage in order to inherit his grandfather’s estate. He interviews one girl from each sun sign hoping to fall in love. All are played by Priyanka Chopra, because “in the face of every girl you meet, you see the girl of your dreams.” Lagaan’s Ashutosh Gowarikar is fond of the epic, but 3 ½ hours is too long for a romance. It’s like an entire season of a tv sitcom in one go. However, it's a must for Priyanka fans, as she relishes playing her dozen potential brides, some comically eccentric, some critiques on arranged marriage (Yogesh refuses a dowry) like the girl being hastily married off because she’s not a virgin, or the 15 year old from an impoverished household. Harman (Priyanka’s real-life boyfriend) is pleasant enough, but lacks the charisma for so much screen time.

c.moviediva2009