India Insight

Movie Review: Lakshmi

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Nagesh Kukunoor’s “Lakshmi” is supposed to be a no-holds-barred, searing look at the world of human trafficking and prostitution. The protagonist, a wide-eyed, innocent girl of 14 is sold to a pimp, raped several times, and forced into the flesh trade.

When Lakshmi finally gets the courage to fight back, she finds that the law is not necessarily on her side and the rot is deep inside the system. Kukunoor, who in the past has made films that demonstrated ample sensitivity and emotions, seems to have let go and concentrate merely on shocking and titillating the viewer.

Under the guise of portraying the plight of these women, Kukunoor focuses on blood, gore and stomach-churning violence. He plays a pimp in the film, one who assaults women at will with his weapon of choice — a wooden plank with nails attached.

There are hardly any insights into what causes the initially unwilling Lakshmi to turn into a girl who practises seductive gazes and slathers herself with cheap make-up, before gathering courage to fight the men who inflicted so much pain.

Ultimately, instead of feeling for Lakshmi and her fellow sufferers, you are disgusted and weary of the director’s vision. Scenes of extreme torture and clichéd characters disguised as social issues do not make a good film.

A Minute With: Rajat Kapoor on ‘Ankhon Dekhi’

Over the past decade, film-maker Rajat Kapoor has found a niche for himself in Bollywood, writing and directing movies that rely more on unusual plots than glamorous movie stars.

His latest film, “Ankhon Dekhi”, has actor Sanjay Mishra playing a man who refuses to believe anything that he hasn’t experienced himself. The film opens in Indian cinemas on Friday.

Kapoor, 53, spoke to Reuters about “Ankhon Dekhi” and why he doesn’t work with Bollywood movie stars.

Movie Review: Bewakoofiyaan

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Nupur Asthana’s “Bewakoofiyaan” deals with money, its effects on modern-day relationships, and how couples deal with societal pressures.

But the treatment of the film is quite outdated. There are autocratic fathers who don’t trust their daughters, and grown men who are out of a job but splurge on vacations and designer clothes.

None of the lead characters invite your sympathy or attention — whether it is Mayera (Sonam Kapoor), a spoilt, petulant girl who thinks her boyfriend’s credit card limit is a sign of growth; Mayera’s loud, blustering father (Rishi Kapoor) who doesn’t think twice before spying on the boyfriend; or Mohit Chaddha (Ayushmann Khurrana), the boyfriend in question.

A Minute With: Ayushmann Khurrana

It’s been two years since Ayushmann Khurrana made an unconventional Bollywood debut with “Vicky Donor”, playing a sought-after sperm donor at a fertility clinic.

Despite its bold theme, the romantic comedy was a hit in conservative India and helped Khurrana, a known face on Indian television, gain a foothold in a competitive Hindi film industry.

The 29-year-old actor and singer has three films lined up for release in 2014. “Bewakoofiyaan” opened in cinemas on Friday, starring Khurrana as an ambitious man who loses his job but has to impress his fiancee’s (Sonam Kapoor) cranky father.

Movie Review: Gulaab Gang

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Soumik Sen’s “Gulaab Gang” wants to assure us, through its promos and marketing campaigns, that it speaks of women’s empowerment and the power they can wield against a corrupt and insensitive system.

On the contrary, this is a movie that does women’s empowerment a huge disservice — it depicts the protagonists as one-dimensional characters; equates justice with mob violence; and would have you believe that the punishment for a heinous crime is to slice off the perpetrator’s body parts.

There is so much sanctimony stuffed into “Gulaab Gang” that you find it hard to take anything in this 135-minute film seriously. Madhuri Dixit plays Rajjo, the fierce leader of a women’s group that has its own justice system and aims at standing up for victims of domestic violence or those oppressed by the dowry system. She locks up government officials who refuse to provide the village with electricity — and minutes later, breaks into a choreographed dance number.

Delhi High Court clears release of ‘Gulaab Gang’

The Delhi High Court on Thursday cleared the way for Bollywood film “Gulaab Gang” to open in cinemas, a day after it put the movie’s release on hold over allegations the film was based on a real-life women’s rights organization in India with a similar name.

Sampat Pal, the leader of the “Gulabi Gang” — a group of vigilantes wearing pink saris who act on complaints of domestic violence and dowry demands — had moved court against the movie. Pal accused the film-makers of basing the movie on her life without her permission.

On Wednesday, judge Sanjeev Sachdeva suspended the film’s screening till a court hearing in May, citing irreparable damage and injury to Pal if the film were shown.

Movie Review: Queen

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

At one point in Vikas Bahl’s “Queen”, lead character Rani has too much to drink on the streets of Paris. She bursts into loud sobs over her broken marriage, but perks up when she hears a Hindi song. Kangana Ranaut, who plays Rani, changes her body language in a flash, easily transitioning from despair to euphoria.

It is Ranaut’s ownership of the character, as well as director Bahl’s conscious attempt at a subtle, screwball comedy that makes “Queen” soar, making it a film where viewers root for the main character and find her naivete charming.

Rani (‘Queen’ in Hindi) is a timid Delhi girl, one who never disobeys her parents and holds her fiancé in such high regard that she declines a job offer because he doesn’t want her to work.

Bollywood re-creates life of Indian erotica writer Mastram

A new Bollywood film traces the fictional journey of a real-life writer of erotica whose racy low-cost works in Hindi spurred sales at bookstalls and pavement shops across India in the 1980’s and 90’s.

The identity of the author, who used the pseudonym Mastram, was never revealed, but the film’s director Akhilesh Jaiswal said he remembers sneaking the books in as a teenager, one of millions of adolescents in conservative India with little access to erotica before the Internet made pornography widely available.

Mastram’s works included “Yauvan ki Pehli Baarish” (First Rains of Youth), “Sexy Nurse” and “Manchali Bhabhi” (Salacious Sister-in-law).

Movie Review: Shaadi Ke Side Effects

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Saket Chaudhary seems to be a fan of sitcoms and SMS jokes. He combines the two to put together a script and make “Shaadi Ke Side Effects”, a movie about the modern Indian marriage, where men are trying to escape and women are obsessed with their children.

Chaudhary, who also directed the film’s 2006 prequel “Pyaar Ke Side Effects”, resorts to a heap of clichés and jaded jokes, most of which you have heard before and some which might seem offensive. Sporadically, the film manages to find a funny spot, thanks to Farhan Akhtar’s comic timing, but for the most part, “Shaadi Ke Side Effects” is a series of sitcom episodes strung together to make a full-length movie.

Sid and Trisha are the “yuppie couple” whose marriage is chronicled from their carefree days to their transition to parents and caregivers. Chaudhary chooses to tell the story from the man’s point of view, making Vidya Balan’s character purely ornamental, except towards the end.

Movie Review: Highway

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

In an interview last year, Imtiaz Ali said he didn’t have a script when he set out to make “Highway”. All he had was a one-line draft and he wrote the film during the shoot.

The journey should influence you, he said, adding that is what should drive the film — not a pre-written script. This rather unusual method of filmmaking seems to have yielded unexpected results.

What you get is a complete departure from Ali’s usual fare — a film that is as  pristine as some of the locations it is shot in; almost meditative in parts and wonderfully understated.

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