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Do Qaidi (1989)
Sometimes one gets the impression that during the 1980s and 1990s Bollywood kept making the same movie over and over again. Do Qaidi is no exception: it leaves the impression of a mix of elements that we've seen already hundreds of times. A complete déjà vu. If there is any variation at all, it's just a matter of which actor plays which role. In other words, "movie per meter".
The ingredients. Two small-time crooks, who are each other's sworn enemies, yet both are good at heart (Sanjay Dutt, Govinda). Two sisters who become their love interest (Neelam, Farha Naaz). Two cops, one honest and heroic, the second corrupt (Suresh Oberoi, Vikas Anand). And two gangsters, an old underworld king and his evil, sadistic son (Amrish Puri, Gulshan Grover).
The story. Betrayed by the corrupt cop, the honest and heroic cop ends up in the claws of the underworld, but instead of giving in to the offer made to him by the evil mafia don, he lays down his life for the good cause rather than selling out his soul. The two small-time crooks have to take the blame for his death. Of course, this only turns their animosity into friendship, and together they carry on the good cop's battle against organized crime. We all know how it ends. In the meantime, there are lots of fights and songs with dance sequences. All this happens in a tempo so slow that during the first hour one wonders whether there is any script at all. The film has its moments, but in general it's naive, unoriginal and longish.
The actors do whatever they can to make the best of their cardboard characters, but it's clear that there is not much space for any real acting. Sanjay Dutt and Govinda are okay, but nothing near other things they've done. Amrish Puri and Gulshan Grover are always great as cartoonesque bad guys, but it's not like we haven't seen them playing exactly the same roles in many other films either. The girls are just decoration and don't play a role of any significance in the story. Given the fact that all characters have about the depth of a flatboat, Vikas Anand is the only one who somehow manages to add some subtlety to his role.
All in all, a product quite typical for the mass production of Bollywood entertainment in the 1980s, but nothing that stands out in any way.
Decent acting, dull movie
Dobara is one of those movies that are short in comparison to most other Indian movies, but still appear to be longish. The story is pretty thin:
Ranbir and Anjali are a happily married couple, and then suddenly out of nowhere appears Ranbir's ex Ria, who has just escaped from a mental asylum. Ria wants everything to be like it used to be, and tries to manipulate an unwilling Ranbir into renewing their relationship. That's about a last thing Ranbir is waiting for, but because Ria claims she and Ranbir have a son of thirteen, he decides to go with her anyway and meet him in Goa. A jealous Anjali follows them. For a while, the story revolves around the question whether this son is real or imaginary, followed by a not particularly imaginative or unexpected twist, and at last all players are best buddies and Ria is miraculously cured.
The question of the true nature of Ria's disease is left unanswered, and apparently there's wasn't much research done about the subject. In other words, the whole thing is way too boring for a fairytale, and way too improbable for a story about a mentally diseased woman.
That said, the three protagonists did a bang-up job. Jackie Shroff is very a gifted actor, who played his part naturally and convincingly. Same can be said about Mahima Chaudhry, an actress who deserves much more recognition than she is actually getting. Raveena Tandon had her great moments too, although at times she was gravely overacting. However decent the acting may be, it doesn't weigh up against a weak and little exciting story. Since visually and musically this movie has little to offer either, I'm sure it doesn't add anything of value to anybody's film collection, unless he is a special fan of one of the actors.
Salman's magnum opus
Five things about Veer are actually good, even very good: Jackie Shroff, Mithun Chakraborthy, the music, the visuals, and the basic idea. And that's about where it ends. I won't even start listing those things that are bad...
Apparently, Veer was meant to become The Salman Khan Movie To End All Salman Khan Movies. Salman himself is responsible for the story, which supposedly took him no less than twenty years. The result proves that whatever one may think about Sallu, story-writing is definitely Not His Thing. It should be said, the first 30 minutes of the movie are promising and evoke high expectations, but all the rest is just one big and rather tasteless ego-trip. To such a degree that you can't even say this movie is about Veer at all... no, it is about Salman: Salman dressed up as a Pindari, Salman dressed up as an English gentleman, Salman dressed up as a gladiator, Salman dressed up as Highlander, Salman dressed up as an Indian prince, and of course, Salman in his trademark outfit, his naked muscled chest. The story appears to be completely subordinated to Salman, his poses and his costumes.
The role of princess Yashodhara was obviously meant to be played by Salman's fiancée, but because Katrina had other obligations, he had to find replacement. And so he picked a débutante as his heroine, whose only asset appears to be a certain physical similarity to La Kaif. Mistake number 2, because "Zatrina" quite clearly lacks the talent, the acting skills and the charisma to pull off this one. Her screen presence irritates from the first to the last scene, even though the role wasn't a particularly challenging one anyway. In fact, the film would have been a lot better off without the whole obligatory love story, annoying even for Bollywood standards.
Watching this movie, I got the impression that Salman hoped to create his own "Jodhaa Akbar" or "The Rising". But all he managed was creating his own "Dharam Veer" - without Dharam to that! Manmohan Desai's "Dharam Veer" is at least funny and absurd, however, Salman's Veer is not funny at all. If he would at least have added some humor the Veer character, things might have turned out differently, because Salman happens to a good comedian from time to time. But instead, he left the comedy bits to his brother Sohail who, although not a bad actor himself, is notoriously bad at comedy. And thus, the movie that was supposed to showcase all Salman's abilities as an actor, turns out more successful at showcasing his limitations. The feeling that remains is that this movie deserved to become something much better than it actually became: a major disappointment.
Three old men and an orphan
"Umar" is the story of three old Indian men: a Hindu, a Muslim and a Sikh, spending their last years in England, far away from their homeland. They are completely dependent on their selfish children, who insult them, humiliate them and treat them as servants. What keeps them alive is their friendship, and together they are awaiting the inevitable end. Until they become friends with Shashank, a young student/waiter/singer, who unlike their own children treats them kindly and with respect. Things take an unexpected turn when Shashank is suddenly accused with murder. Although the evidence against him is strong, they are convinced of his innocence and even help him escape the police, thus making themselves outlaws as well.
This is, in short, the story of Umar. The basic ingredients remind of another memorable movie, Baghban: the clash between the older generation, who have spent their entire lives working hard for the benefit of their children, and a spoiled and greedy younger generation, who not only cannot appreciate that fact, but openly disrespect and abuse their elders, too. And just like in Baghban, it is an orphan who sets things right, helping the same old people refind their dignity. Of course, both groups have been portrayed in a rather stereotypical way in both movies, but this is an understandable and forgivable move.
It should be said, all three old gentlemen (Prem Chopra, Kader Khan and Satish Kaushik) give excellent performances. Watching them is a pleasure from the beginning till the end. They are joined in their efforts by two other Bollywood actors of the same generation, Dilip Tahil and Shakti Kapoor. The role of Shashank is played by Jimmy Shergill. Although he is definitely a gifted actor, it seems like this role was not exactly challenging for him, so that his performance was acceptable at best. Sadly, the entire rest of the cast is terrible. This goes for Shenaz Treasurywala, Shashank's love interest and basically the pretty face of the movie, murder victim Emily Clark, the unsympathetic children, as well as all other minor roles. The acting of practically the entire supporting cast is at such an embarrassingly low level that it actually damages the movie itself.
The story, albeit not the most probable one, is not really predictable either. The morale about the elder generation deserving more respect might have been spun out a little less heavily. Still, despite some obvious weaknesses, Umar is an enjoyable movie with some great moments.
Bombay to Bangkok (2008)
Not a masterpiece, but...
Not a masterpiece, but definitely a friendly and entertaining movie. A tad slow perhaps, but not enough to make it boring. Someone described it as "cute", and that's an excellent description for this one.
Except for Shreyas Talpade and the great Naseeruddin Shah (the latter only in a very short guest appearance), all roles in this movie are played by less-known actors. Nevertheless, they perform their tasks very well. Shreyas is both convincing and entertaining as Shankar. Lena Christensen's role was perhaps not a hard one, but she does a decent job nonetheless. Most of all, however, I enjoyed Vijay Maurya in the role of a rapping gangster who deep inside isn't that bad at all, and Manmeet Singh, who for a change plays a bigger role than the occasional taxi driver. I surely hope to see more of both gentlemen in the future. All in all, a well-chosen ensemble cast.
The story itself holds the middle between a road movie, a love story and a comedy of errors. Nothing special really, but good enough for an enjoyable movie.
As for the music, usually I admire the work of the duo Salim-Suleiman, but Bombay to Bangkok is definitely not their best work. The background is okay, but the songs hardly worth remembering. Besides, they don't really seem to fit well within the movie. But criticism aside, Bombay to Bangkok is a nice and entertaining movie, and there is no harm in watching it one time.
A masterpiece in the "So bad it's good" genre
Kanti Shah's "Darwaza" is an absolute must-see for those who enjoy watching such cinematographic curiosities as Indian Z-grade horror flicks. The storyline doesn't immediately become quite clear, because it all happens in different time frames, but here's the essence of it:
Near an ominous-looking cemetery somewhere deep in the Indian woods stands a huge residence, inhabited by two brothers. Thakur Ranbir Singh is a serious and decent man, but his brother Thakur Pratap Singh enjoys scaring the hell out of people by dressing up in a skeleton suit, wearing an ugly plastic mask and making all kinds of scary sounds. Nothing strange, therefore, that one day Thakur Pratap Singh is possessed by an evil spirit himself. A woman (his wife? a servant?) who sees it happening is killed instantly. Once Ranbir finds out what's going on, he doesn't hesitate and calls Baba, an exorcist living at the cemetery dressed up in all kinds of Halloween decorations, for help. With a curious plastic skull, Baba successfully manages to lock up the evil spirit behind a door, which may never be opened.
Now, that would have been the end of the story if many years later a pretty young girl named Asha, Pratap's cousin, weren't having dreams about a mysterious door, from which a hand reaches under her night skirt and starts, hm, touching her breasts. Although she doesn't exactly seem to object against this treatment, after waking up she decides it was a nightmare and is determined to find out the truth. Thus, she travels to the same old residence and opens the door... Again, the Devil is unleashed and starts committing murders. But Dr. (!) Asha, who has established a hospital in the residence in the meantime, is not only very sexy but also very clever, and therefore asks the same Baba for help. The evil spirit is terrified, but Baba mercilessly locks it up in a bottle. Sadly, the bottle doesn't do the trick any more than the door did, because shortly after Baba's aide opens it, unleashing Thakur Pratap Singh once again. The evil spirit, now really ticked off, is determined to take its revenge... But this time, it decides to play it safe and change bodies first: it enters the body of one of its previous victims, a sexy-looking girl.
The fun really starts when Dr. Asha's boyfriend invites a group of fearless friends for a party in the residence. This is precisely what the horrendously evil spirit is waiting for: fresh meat. Already during the first night, one of them (who is remarkably similar to BA from the A-Team) stumbles upon the mysterious girl. She seduces him, they have some sort of sex, and then she murders him. Shortly after, a second guy, equally similar to BA, undergoes a similar treatment, after which BA no. 1 mysteriously reappears, as if the editing department had forgotten the poor fellow was dead already. In the meantime, we get treated on juicy dialogs of the type: "I wonder who killed Shetty", "I just can't figure it out, who would want to kill Shetty?", "I don't know, Shetty didn't have any enemies, now did he?", and that for a good five minutes. But after that, grief over poor Shetty's death fades away: "Sweetheart, it doesn't matter that he was killed. Let's forget about all this unpleasantness and make love instead." "Yes, you're right." At last, it all boils down to the question: does Dr. Asha manage to survive and beat the evil spirit of her uncle?
No need to go on. This movie is bad, really bad, so bad that watching it is a great and memorable experience. Monsters with pizza-like latex masks, making all kinds of idiotic growling sounds? Sexy (though not necessarily slim) girls parading around in their bra most of the time, venturing on dangerous expeditions in miniskirts? Huge and ugly but otherwise completely useless guys with the brains of a shrimp, serving no other purpose than being killed? Actors who are quite obviously reading their dialogs from a board next to the camera? One actor playing multiple roles for the lack of means to hire another one? A touch of comedy in the form of a certain Dr. Motilal, played by an actor who looks suspiciously much like Johny Lever? Thunderbolts concluding every ominous sentence? Sloppy editing, lousy dialogs, unsharp image? Go see Darwaza, because this movie has it all! But don't think Darwaza is the worst movie ever, because whatever can be said about it, it has at least some sort of storyline in it, and the actors may not be topnotch, but at least they are trying. If you really want to see the worst film ever, by all means go see Harinam Singh's "Shaitani Dracula". Yet, "Darwaza" is definitely worth a shufty as well. "Darwaza" is yummy!
Chandra Mukhi (1993)
Delightfully absurd sci-fi from India
Science-fiction and fantasy are not exactly common genres in Bollywood, but fortunately for us, there are a few exceptions. And although the Mumbai-based film industry has grown pretty mature over the last ten years, Chandra Mukhi is a cute example from well before that. It's one piece of work, believe me. Don't expect a masterpiece if you decide to watch it, but be in for a real treat.
It all happens somewhere in East Africa, although the only thing that adds some couleur locale are a few zebras, giraffes and a lion at the very beginning of the movie, because during the entire movie we won't encounter a single black person, as if East Africa were inhabited exclusively by Hindi-speaking Indians. The hero of our story is Raju, an about 8 years old kid, who spends most of his time playing around with his friends. Raju's grandfather is a rich businessman, and Raju is the apple of his eye. However, Raju's maternal uncle Madan and his wife Kamini are not pleased with Raju's privileged position at all. Madan and Kamini are evil people ("He could do harm to normal people, but he can't do harm to us, because we are EVIL PEOPLE, mwahahahaaaaa!"). Together they run a small gang of cartoonesque goons, and their plan is to bump off grandpa and Raju in order to get hold of grandpa's huge property. However, their plans don't work out as they should. Because what happens? Somewhere far, far away in the universe lies a heavenly kingdom ruled by a severe but kind-hearted queen. The queen has a beautiful daughter (played by Sridevi) with a peculiar hobby: the princess enjoys floating (!) over Earth, and the queen cannot approve of that, because Earth is a wicked and dangerous place. To prevent her from going there, the queen entrusts the princess with a magical golden leaf, the key to all power in the universe. But of course, the princess goes anyway and stumbles upon Dhola (a huge bald fellow in a superhero suit who wants to kill the princess, steal the leaf and take over power), so that she loses the leaf, falls down and loses her power. Down on Earth, she quickly makes friends with Raju and the other kids. They name her Chandra Mukhi after one of the Devdas characters. When Chanda Mukhi witnesses how bad poor Raju is treated by his evil uncle, she decides to help him, using all the power that is left in her to turn him into an adult muscle-man overnight. Of course, it won't last long before Raju (played by Salman Khan) and the sympathetic alien princess fall in love.
These are the basic ingredients. Just add an evil sorcerer, a tribe, a village, a lonely cannibal and a band of merry thieves - all this apparently within a radius of a few miles at most - to the mix and you'll get an idea. Those who enjoy watching Salman's naked chest will, as usual, not be disappointed either.
Chandra Mukhi has lots of elements that would easily qualify it as a low-budget movie of the "so bad it's good" genre. Yet, that wouldn't entirely do justice to the movie. It has visibly been made with humor and an odd kind of love. Sridevi plays her role charmingly and decently, and besides, she's a terrific dancer. Salman may never have been a great actor, but his acting still had some of the freshness that later got lost in mannerisms. Gulshan Grover is funny in the role of Madan. For the rest, the whole thing is just incredibly naive and delightfully absurd - even for a children's movie.
In my experience, Sins is not half as bad as some describe it. Frankly, I don't care whether a movie is a "remake" or "based on the storyline" of another movie at all. Strangely, when Hollywood makes a remake of a European or Asiatic movie, we all should treat that as a great honor, but when the same thing happens in India, we start yelling about plagiarism or ripoffs. I don't buy that.
The problem with this movie is not that it is a remake, not that the story is bad. No, the problem is the language. Why on Earth was it made in English? To be honest, all those English dialogs spoken on the South Indian countryside have a really bad effect on the credibility of the whole story. And the worst is: it's quite obvious that Shiny Ahuja, the main protagonist of the movie, doesn't know the language well enough to perform in a relaxed manner. I generally like Shiny as an actor, but in this movie his acting is so horribly wooden and clumsy, that I can't help getting the impression that he had to waste too much energy on trying to remember his English text. All in all, it's sad to see how an otherwise great actor becomes the one who actually kills a potentially good movie.
Beautiful but awfully sentimental
Veer-Zaara has been in my possession for quite a long time, but somehow I could never convince myself to watch it. Now that I've finally taken that step, I have to say that my fear comes true: a visually beautiful movie (especially the scenes in Punjab), with music that is absolutely wonderful, but the final result is too much of a tearjerker anyway, and a way too long one to that. The love story is nice, sometimes even touchy, but nothing special when you think of it. The scenario... well, I've seen worse, much worse, but if a movie is supposed to absorb you entirely, then the illogical behavior of the protagonists, clearly with no other purpose but securing later events, doesn't benefit credibility at all. What I like, however, is the positive way Pakistan is portrayed, and that is undoubtedly the strongest point of the film. Another morale, related to emancipation of women, is sympathetic as well, although I have the impression that all these morales are a tad too much for one movie that is essentially about something completely different.
The trouble with sentimental films like this one is that they often operate on the verge of bad taste. Sometimes that works excellently, and I have to admit that some of them have managed to evoke a tear or two with me as well. However, for sentimentality to work, it needs to be dosed carefully, because an overdose may cause it to stop working completely, and then the whole thing suddenly becomes ridiculous or even disgusting. And from that point of view, Veera-Zaara is really pushing it, sometimes even pushing it too far. There's nothing wrong with a tear here and there, but too many of them makes the whole thing irritating. Apart from the fact that this movie is obviously too long, this is the biggest minus.
Rani Mukherjee is the saving grace of this movie. Although none of the characters is particularly credible, she manages best in portraying hers. Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini bring in something great as well, but then, they always seem to be a nice pair. I have a problem with Preity: although she is obviously not bad, her character appears to be pale and colorless anyway. Frankly, I don't really understand what Shahrukh likes so much in her at all, especially, what makes her worth the effort of spending 22 years in prison, only to save her from the disgrace of having to admit that she had been in love with a fellow before she got married to another one. But okay, that's the script and nobody can blame Preity for performing it that way. Most issues I have with Shahrukh himself, who is overacting so mercilessly that sometimes I got the feeling of watching Salman Khan instead of Shahrukh. He turns his character into a complete Devdas, the difference only being that Devdas is basically a jerk who is completely in love with his own pain, and while this kind of acting may work very well for Devdas, it obviously doesn't for the much more positive character of Veer Pratap Singh.
Encounter Dayanayak (2005)
Action movie based on true events
While watching Dayanayak, I was completely unaware of the fact that this movie is entirely based on true events. In short, it is the story of sub-inspector Daya Nayak, who hails from a small, poor village in Karnataka. When forty innocent people are taken hostage by the Mumbai underworld, he wants to ask his superiors for their permission to interfere, but cannot reach them, and so he takes the decision for himself. He liberates the hostages successfully by killing four gangsters, and becomes a popular hero. His superior officer, tied to the underworld himself, is utterly displeased with Daya's behavior and tries to have him kicked out of the force, but the interior minister himself makes sure Daya Nayak becomes part of a special police unit dedicated to combat the underworld. Thus, Daya Nayak becomes a special agent with a license to kill. During less than five years, he finishes off no less than eighty gangsters in encounters, and becomes an almost legendary figure to the public. From the money collected by him from numerous rewards he received, he builds a school in his native village and hands it over to the government. However, neither the local politicians, nor the corrupt police and the underworld are pleased with Daya's rising star, and to get rid of him, they file official complaints against him for corruption.
On the other side, we have a fearsome, merciless mafia don, Yousuf Khalil, who wants to move his activity from Dubai to Mumbai, turning it into a kingdom of crime. Obviously, he and Daya Nayak are each other's worst enemies, both determined to kill the other.
Dayanayak is an action movie more than anything else. The film begins with a James Bond-like intro, followed by Khalid's arrival in Bangalore. The atmosphere of the movie remains pretty much in the spirit of James Bond, and the "licenced to kill" ingredient only strengthens that impression. Like we can see often in South Indian movies, the film is strongly hero-oriented, turning him almost into a superhero who can easily jump from the 10th floor and shoot a few of his adversaries on the way down. To add some more spice to the mix, "nayak" means "hero" in Hindi, a nomen-omen case of Donald Duck-like proportions, which only demonstrates how reality can sometimes surpass fiction!
That said, I find Sachin's portrayal of Daya Nayak far from impressive. In spite of his thorough preparation and some similarity to the real Daya Nayak, he looks more like a gray office clerk than an Indian version of Dirty Harry. In the action sequences he seems grotesquely out of place, while his dialogs are less than credible. Fortunately, Mahesh Manjrekar gives a sublime performance as the villain Yousuf Khalil. His appearances in the movie are a true lust for the eye. The actor who played Ashok Nayak (unfortunately I haven't been able to find his name) gives a memorable performance as well.
If this hadn't been a true story, I might have said: a weak and unoriginal script full of exaggerations and other improbabilities, resulting in a sub-standard action movie at best. But that wouldn't do justice to Mahesh Manjrekar's fine performance, some outstanding camera work, and the fact that Daya Nayak is a real life character after all. Therefore, I heartily recommend this somewhat obscure Kannada movie, in spite of its numerous imperfections.