Hindi Film Reviews 2010

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

Hindi Film Reviews 2009 * 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

*

Action Replayy. It’s Back to the Future—Bollywood style, as commitment phobic Bunty (Aditya Roy Kapoor) takes a time machine back to transform his parents chilly arranged marriage into a love match. Director Vipul Shah’s 70s Bombay bursts with turquoise, fuschia and lemon yellow as the termagant Mala (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) berates the terminally dorky Kishan (Akshay Kumar). Although the milquetoast becoming a hero is one of my favorite plots, the first half drags as we wait for Akshay to doff his silly fake teeth and man up. And, it’s impossible not to fault hyperactive Bunty next to Michael J. Fox’s angsty Marty McFly, a classic performance; plus no pesky Oedipal shenanigans here. Pritham’s music, especially the catchy “Zor Ka Jhatke” is enjoyable, and the lavish costumes provide a lot of the laughs. In a slack year when superstars Shah Rukh, Hrithik and Abhshek’s movies sadly disappointed, Action Replayy looks pretty good.

*

Anjaana Anjaani (Strangers) Akash (Ranbir Kapoor) burned by his stock market shenanigans, drops his Blackberry off the George Washington Bridge and plans to follow it. He’s distracted by Kiera (Priyanka Chopra) also teetering on the brink; they decide to live for 20 days more and end it all together. Only star wattage overcomes this strained premise, with its icky Harold and Maude-ish death wish. Ranbir is always worth watching, and Priyanka, at first overdoing the kooky manic girl thing, settles down in the second half. Director Siddarth Annand (Hum Tum) knows his romcoms, but Vishal-Shekar’s score is tepid, and the film drags. It does, however, have one of those scenes that could only exist in Bollywood: Ranbir is forced to do a strip routine in a gay cowboy bar in the Nevada desert, and sings the cheesy 80s Mithun anthem "I am a Disco Dancer" delighting the drooling roughnecks. Must see to appreciate.

*

Badmaash Company (Naughty Company). Four college grads in 1994 Bombay decide you need, not a lot of cash, but just one big idea for success. In a country starved for Western consumer goods, the gang devise a way to game customs, making big profits on brand name goods. Interesting premise, but doesn't go far enough, although you have to applaud the effort of writer director Parmeet Sethi, previously best known as the Bad Boyfriend in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. The lead actors, Shahid Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Meiyang Chang and Vir Das have great chemistry, but they look completely wrong. No pastel padded shoulder suits and blinding Versace print shirts for the guys, and Anushka eschews the giant frilly dresses familiar from 90s Bollywood. There is a slight nod to giant telephones and VHS tapes, but this lack of committment haunts. The early scams have a bit of energy, but the inevitable downfall drags, and by the arrival of the amusing climax, which includes a Madras plaid shirt and Michael Jackson, it's too little too late.

*

Dabanng (Fearless) Salman Khan stars as a corrupt local policeman who styles himself as a rural Robin Hood. Dabanng is a curry Western with high tech action sequences-- lifting from The Matrix is expected, but updated with a steal from Sherlock Holmes. Salman’s real-life brother Arbaaz plays his weak sibling (and produces the film) and his sister-in-law (Malaika Arora Khan) contributes a lively dance (“Munni has ruined her reputation”). A debuting actress, Sonakshi Sinha, plays an ingénue with backbone, and Sonu Sood is a foul-hearted villain. I’ve never been a big Salman fan, but in this film and his previous one, Wanted, he has torn into his anti-heroes with relish, clearly enjoying both the thrills and laughs. And, he is apparently the only Bollywood star still immune to Hollywood cross-over, fully invested in full-out 70s style masala movies, with mayhem, catchy tunes (Sajid-Wajid) mother love, romance, comedy, brother against brother conflict…pure entertainment value.

*

Dance Pe Chance (A Chance to Dance) Do you like the first half of those “Star is Born” movies where the gifted newcomer struggles for success, but the subsequent descent into the boozy excesses of fame…not so much? Then, this is the movie for you. Sameer, an aspiring actor (Shahid Kapoor) auditions and auditions. Unable to pay rent, he lives in his car, while teaching dance to a loveable crop of school kids. He’s smitten by choreographer Tina (Genalia D’Souza) while chasing his dream on the reality show “Star of India.” Adorable Shahid, with his floppy hair and slightly rabbity smile, is one of Bollywood’s best dancers (Sameer doesn’t pray to Michael Jackson every morning for nothing) and he and Genalia make a sweet couple. The plot holds no surprises. But, if you are exhausted by present day Hollywood’s thirst for blood, enter here.

*

Guzaarish (Request) Ethan (Hrithik Roshan) was once a celebrated magician. Now, he’s a quadriplegic, living in an isolated colonial mansion on Goa, dependant on the care of his devoted nurse, Sofia (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). Agonizing as his body fails one organ system at a time, he petitions the court: if he has the right to live, doesn’t he have the right to die? Hrithik knows one doesn’t get awards for playing superheroes or sexy villains in genre films, a skill at which he excels. He’ll win accolades for his performance, it's an actor's picture, not an audience's, and serious Hindi filmgoers love writer-director Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Seemingly inspired by The Sea Inside, Bhansali has again created an insular, exquisitely photographed world. For some reason, Aishwarya is dressed like Frida Kahlo, but it suits her. I’m kindly disposed, since Bhansali’s Devdas kindled my passion for Bollywood movies, but dreary Guzaarish is a tough slog.

*

Housefull. Aarush (Akshay Kumar) is an unlucky fellow. He works for a casino, and when the gamblers are winning, Aarush is summoned; a brush of his fingers on the gaming tables ruins everyone’s streak. Akshay’s sad sack entrance to the strains of Shankar-Esaan-Loy’s “He’s such a loser” sets up the laughs. And, for once, we’re not disappointed! Three quarters of Housefull’s quest to change Aarush’s destiny is quite fun, unlike some of Akshay’s recent, dismally strained efforts. He has the support of three chipper ladies, Deepika Padukone, Lara Dutta and Jiah Khan, and goofy guys Ritesh Deshmukh, Arjun Rampal, Boman Irani and, especially, Chunky Pandey as a desi Italian, mangling three languages, in sun-baked Puglia, Italy. A former action hero, Akshay seems to enjoy his dweebish character, with lame haircut, plaid shirts and wide ties. And, for once, there are no comedy gangsters! Sajid Khan’s farce is an enjoyable diversion, at least until the inevitable concluding chaos.

*

I Hate Luv Stories. Skeptical Jay (Imraan Khan) assistant director to Bollywood’s King of Filmi Romance, is forever arguing about sappy screen clichés vs. real relationships with set designer Simran (Sonam Kapoor). Jay has American sass (Imraan grew up in Sunnyvale CA) and can clearly charm the pants off anybody. But, he falls for timid Simran. Sonam stands around for much of the film, her arms at her side, wearing a blank expression; Imraan deserves a more passionate partner. Where are all the spunky girls? IHLS is hilariously dense with references, both verbal and visual, to the great Bollywood love stories, and, when Jay finally falls, imagining himself in the Alps wearing Shah Rukh Khan’s sheer black shirt, with Sonam swooning in a chiffon sari, it’s a hoot. First time director Punit Malhotra takes on the challenge of mocking something and taking it seriously at the same time, with mixed success. The first half of the film is snappy and fun, but the second is too long and mopey. The supporting cast, especially Jay’s boss (Samir Soni) and best friend (Kavin Dave) add needed crackle. Not perfect, but certainly better than any recent Hollywood romcom.

*

Jhoota Hi Sahi (Yeah, Whatever) Siddarth’s (John Abraham) phone number accidentally gets posted as a suicide help line, and he falls for Mishka (Pakhi) a fragile soul devastated by her romantic break up. Meeting her for real brings the usual sit-commy complications and Sid misses chance after chance to fess up and clear the air. Rocking Cary Grant’s Bringing Up Baby glasses, John shows once again he has a surprising flair for comedy, and his cadre of buddies (bringing disparaging critical comparisons in the Indian press to Friends, so unusual is it in Hindi films to have a surrogate family of singletons) are amusing. But, John’s chemistry with Pakhi, who has a story credit, is zilch. She hasn’t done herself any favors, as Mishka’s character is irritating and Pakhi’s acting is strained. A R Rahman’s so-so score doesn’t help. But, too bad Sid’s tantalizing Indian bookstore in London isn’t real!

*

Kites. J, a divinely handsome Las Vegas hustler (Hrithik Roshan) is bewitched by Natasha, a sadistic gangster’s fiancée (Mexican telenovela beauty Barbara Mori). They share a few fleeting moments of happiness before a deadly pursuit across the desert Southwest begins. Kites is crafted to be the cross-over Bollywood has been aching for, and it has already received indulgent American reviews, an NPR feature and a spot in the US box office Top Ten. This week brings the release of a 90 minute English version Kites: The Remix recut by Rush Hour’s Brent Ratner, shorn of songs, Hindi dialogue, and presumably, character development.

The lead couple’s mischievous charm sparks on-screen and, with their flawless “international” looks, they could easily be poised for superstardom. Hrithik, playing a salsa instructor, dances up a storm in his only number, and slickly glamorous movie is overfilled with explosive stunt sequences. Yet, in a week when the musical sensation Glee graces the cover of EntertainmentWeekly, must the Hindi film industry, and Hrithik’s producer-father, court global audiences not with melodious melodrama but with Tarentino-esque brutality? Although promoted as a passionate romance, the gentler emotions are swiftly replaced with dread, as Natasha’s savage inamorata surfaces again and again, with innocent bystanders sacrificed at an alarming rate.

“Money can buy you happiness, if you know where to shop” one character is cautioned. Please tell me, why must the universal cinematic language be bloodshed, when clearly, Hrithik was made for love?

*

Knock Out. Irrfan Khan is a motormouth bagman for corrupt politicians, trapped in a phone booth by a mysterious sniper (Sanjay Dutt). Although roundly derided for being a copy of the Colin Farrell Phone Booth, Knock Out takes the premise in quite a different direction. Dutt’s puppetmaster is like a samurai, fed up with the wholesale looting of the Indian treasury into the pockets of slime like Bapuji (Gulshan Grover) whose very name makes a mockery of Gandhi’s reverent title Bapu (Father). Sanjay looks healthier than he has of late, and does his action hero bit with relish. Kangna Ranaut as a plucky reporter, and Sushant Singh as an incorruptable cop provide excellent support. But, the picture belongs to latest crossover star Irrfan, soon to be shrunk by Gabriel Bryne on HBO's In Treatment. Hampered by an oddball jericurl wig, he still holds the screen brilliantly, whether lying as fast as he can, or being forced to dance to his ring tone, the sexy “Zara Zara Touch Me.”

*

My Name is Khan. Rizvan Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) is a Muslim living in San Francisco with Mandira, his Hindu wife (Kajol) and their son. Rizvan has Asperger’s Syndrome, and after a 9/11-provoked hate crime against his family, he takes Mandira’sangry demand that he tell the US President “My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist” literally.

Shah Rukh and Kajol, Hindi film’s favorite romantic couple, reunite after nearly a decade, in a film directed by Karan Johar, author of two of their iconic hits. SRK is India’s biggest star, a secular Muslim, married to a Hindu, and his global celebrity stands strongly behind this film’s plea for tolerance. He plays Rizwan engagingly with a minimum of differently-abled showboating, and Kajol is magnetic. Rizvan’s American Odyssey, sharing the inherently peaceful nature of Islam, in spite of violent religious fanatics, has its cheesy moments. But, the film’s humanistic heart is in the right place. His selfless aid to a hurricane stricken African American hamlet, uplifted to a repurposed Hindi version of “We Shall Overcome” is a bit much, and Rizwan’s picaresque journey in the second half dawdles a bit.

Fox Searchlight distributes My Name is Khan, in the wake of their worldwide smash, Slumdog Millionaire. This is the new face of Bollywood crossover, a single plot without any lip-synched song and dance (although, for some reason, the songs in the underscore are not subtitled). My Name is Khan is well crafted, and Shah Rukh and Kajol still make onscreen magic together. But, if Karan Johar, the modern master of the masala film, permanently deserts the form, that would be a cinematic shame.

*

Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai. Sultan (Ajay Devgn) once only an orphan with an aptitude for crime, rises to rule Bombay with a velvet glove. But Shoaib (Emraan Hashmi) a policeman’s bad seed, challenges the Don’s authority with his uncontrolled appetite for violence. Director Milan Luthria muses on the biography of true life gangster Dawood Ibrahim, (the elaborate opening disclaimer ordered by the Indian courts immediately hints something is up) conjuring the cinema magic of the 1970s, a landmark of Bollywood high style. The atmosphere, production design and score are spot on, and it’s not excessively bloody. But, Emraan does not have the acting skill to make you care about his amoral character. Why would a nice girl like Mumtaz (Prachi Desai) want to stay with him? Sultan’s romance with a Bollywood actress, Rehana, is a nice touch, but Kangana Ragnut can burn up the screen if given a chance, and she isn’t. A recast of the movie (how about Sanjay Dutt and Abhay Deol??) would have juiced it up. The enjoyable moments in the well-written script, like when Shoaib points out his flashy shirt to his cringing girlfriend …”do you know how expensive this is…it’s NYLON” and the popping remix of the 70s hit “Logon Ko” notwithstanding, it’s just another gangster movie.

Kangana does her best Zeenat

*

Peepli (Live). A tv human interest story bemoaning suicide rates amongst farmers lurches out of control in this evocation of India’s midcentury rural neorealistic cinema by way of Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole. Brothers Natha (Omkar Das) and Budhiya (Raghuvir Yadav) needed a loan for their mother’s medication, and now, the bank wants to foreclose their farm. A callous local official suggests that the $2000 their family would get as government compensation for a suicide is their only solution. Their dilemma makes the local paper, then, newschannels and politicians swoop down, twisting the tragic story to their advantage. Superstar Aamir Khan produced this satire of media overload written and directed by former journalist Anusha Rizvi. A critical and box office hit in India, this very un-Bollywood movie is clearly made for an international festival audience. Does Aamir envision this film bringing him the Oscar that slipped through his fingers for Lagaan?

*

Prince. Is Prince a thief or a cop? Even he doesn’t know, after waking with amnesia at a Durban, South Africa, beach house. But, he’s a man with a catch phrase (“It’s showtime”) and in Action Movie World, that’s all that matters. There are three kick-ass girls each claiming to be his girlfriend Maya, a sneering villain (the excellent Isaiah) flexing his robotic hand--his henchmen are white guys in black Neo coats--the hero's lair has a life size picture of the comic book Batman, there are plenty of ridiculous stunts and an homage (intentional?) to Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality. The McGuffin is a coin, concealing a nanomaterial computer chip, which provokes non-stop video game-inspired shenanigans, punched up with Oscar winner Resul Pookutty’s sound design. Vivek Oberoi is good enough as Prince, but is it something new, or just gussied up 70s masala? Intermittently entertaining, Prince is no Dhoom 2.

*

Raavan. Abhishek Bachchan and his real-life wife, Aishwarya Rai, reinterpret the Ramayana in Mani Ratnam’s new thriller.Instead of the demon, Raavan, abducting Sita, the virtuous wife of the god, Ram, Beera, a village outlaw, kidnaps Ragini, an inspector’s wife, for revenge after Beera’s sister is brutalized by the police. Ratnam daringly approaches scripture without sanctimoniousness. Good is not quite so good, and evil not so evil, and Sita don’t take no guff. Abhishek uses his imposing body for a glowering, chattering, seething villainy suitable to silent film. He seems to be having a blast, and Aishwarya meets him halfway. Actor Vikram, as the inspector, played Beera in the Tamil version filmed simultaneously; his hero, perhaps, too much the villain here, unbalancing the carefully crafted triangle. Lushly photographed in remote jungle locations, the score by Oscar winner A. R. Rahman includes a flamboyant dance number for the “tribals” in grand Bollywood tradition, no crossover dreams here.

*

Robot. High tech Chitti is a helpful robot, cooking and cleaning and defending Sana (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) from local thugs. Dr. Vaseegaran decides emotion would improve function, but Chitti begins to pine for Sana, and then the evil Dr. Bora (Danny Dezongpa) intervenes, and with a diabolical red chip turns Chitti into the perfect terrorist. Super Star Rajni (yes, he’s billed that way) plays both creator and creation in a sci-fi spectacle that channels Frankenstein via Sleeping Beauty, concluding with a whirlwind of Terminator-esque annhilation. It was #1 in global box office last week, appearing in the US Top 20 both in Tamil (# 12) and Hindi (#17). Over three hours of dancing robots (Chitti gets his wiggle on before martial arts programming) comedy, romance, action, morality and a feather-bedecked item number overlooking Machu Picchu, in other words, totally, as they say in Hindi--paisa vasool: worth the money.

*

Teen Patti (Three Cards) A college professor (Amitabh Bachchan) seeks to prove his probability theories by engaging five students in an applied mathematics lab—at underground gambling clubs. His students are easily corrupted, as they view the experiment as involving--not abstract theories--but actual money. Greed, blackmail and violence ensue. Director Leena Yadav’s last film was Shabd, (a guilty pleasure, starring Sanjay Dutt in one of his best performances) about a man obsessed with words instead of numbers. Teen Patti is a character study masquerading as thriller, so the card table tension is limp, and nobody ever explains exactly how to play teen patti. Sir Ben Kingsley cameos, but his scenes with Amitabh, which promise a scenery chewing duel, are decidedly too polite. Although the print I saw showed them speaking in English, in India, Kingsley’s voice was apparently dubbed into Hindi by Boman Irani. Perhaps restraint was required for that reason. The film benefits from the intense performance of the peerless Amitabh, as well as the excellent stunt casting of the high rollers, including 70s hero Ranjeet, terrifying Mahesh Manjrekar and the always slimy Shakti Kapoor. Jackie Shroff, in a cowboy getup including a leather hat, lip synchs to a version of “Summertime” unimagined by George Gershwin. And luckily, forays into new clubs demand an item number. The musicby Salim Sulaiman is excellent, with "Neeyat" and "Life is a Game" particularly singable. Teen Patti is diverting on screen, if regrettably not a top-notch thriller.

*

Tees Maar Khan. Akshay Kumar plays Tees Maar Khan, a con man hired to rob a moving train of its cargo of priceless antiques. The plan: pretend to shoot a movie, enlisting the help of an entire village to do the deed. He’s helped, somewhat, by his ambitious starlet girlfriend (Katrina Kaif) and a movie actor (Akshaye Khanna) lusting after the Oscar attention heaped on Dumbdog Millionaire and one of its stars, Bollywood hero (and 24 star) Anil Kapoor. Farah Khan, whose first two films were blockbusters, is likely the world’s top grossing woman director. Unfortunately, she relied this time on a script by her husband, Shirish Kunder, a dodgier screenwriter, who liberally sampled from Neil Simon's script for Peter Sellers’ After the Fox (1966) which was a lampoon of Fellini and Antonioni, popular Italian directors of the day. There’s definitely some merriment in TMK, and one inescapably catchy song, “Sheila ki Jawaani,” in which Katrina shakes it like Shakira.

(Note designer Aki Narula's cool floral hoodie, TMK's stylistic trademark)

*

We Are Family. The Bollywood remake of Stepmom casts Kareena Kapoor and Kajol in the roles originated by Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon. Arjun Rampal is the husband caught in the middle, when a medical crisis unites warring factions under one roof. Stepmom could use a reboot, as the original was an hour of yelling followed by an hour of crying. But, two hours of crying is no improvement. Debuting writer-director Siddarth Malhotra should have noted director Chris Columbus’ contrast of comedy and tragedy, especially since Kajol and Kareena are accomplished comediennes, talents ignored here. When Malhotra attempts to lighten the mood, he has somebody throw something, as if it was a Keystone Kops movie. Arjun is an improvement, as it was difficult to understand why two strong and attractive women were fighting over Ed Harris. Co-released with Columbia Pictures, once again, the American distributor foregoes subtitling the songs, making it less… Bollywood? What were they thinking?

*