Review: ‘Maidaan,’ starring Ajay Devgn

April 12, 2024

by Carla Hay

Ajay Devgn in “Maidaan” (Photo courtesy of Zee Studios)


Directed by Amit Sharma

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India and other parts of the world, from 1952 to 1962, the dramatic film “Maidaan” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Against the odds, Syed Abdul Rahim, also known as Rahim Saab, takes India’s national soccer team, which was on a losing streak for years, to the Olympics and to the 1962 Asian Games. 

Culture Audience: “Maidaan” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in sports biopics, movies about soccer, and stories about underestimated people who overcome challenges.

A scene from “Maidaan” (Photo courtesy of Zee Studios)

“Maidaan” did not need to be a three-hour movie, but this drama about soccer coach Syed Abdul Rahim, also known as Rahim Saab, is undoubtedly inspirational. The team players needed more character development, but the soccer matches are exhilarating. “Maidaan” is reliably predictable, mainly because what Rahim (played by Ajay Devgn), who was nicknamed S.A., achieved is already well-known to many people and is the type of subject matter that gets made into a movie like this one. However, “Maidaan” gives more insight into the behind-the-scenes challenges and the power struggles within the All India Football Federation that affected Rahim’s in his life and his quest to turn India’s national soccer team in to a world-class championship team.

Directed by Amit Sharma, “Maidaan” (which means “field” in Hindi) was co-written by Sharma, Saiwyn Quadras, Aman Rai and Atul Shahi. The movie takes place in chronological order, from 1952 to 1962, during which Rahim had a transformative reign as the head coach of India’s national soccer team. As “Maidaan” shows, it was a turbulent experience where Rahim got resistance at various times from certain members of the All India Football Federation board of directors, which votes for who will be the head coach.

“Maidaan” opens in 1952, with a scene that was unfortunately all too common for India’s national soccer team: The team loses a match. In this case’s India was playing against Yugoslavia’s national soccer team and lost in a humiliating 10-1 final score.

Rahim is shown in a conference room meeting with members of the All India Football Federation. At this point in his career, Rahim had been a teacher (with a college degree in arts), a professional soccer player, and a coach for soccer teams in his birthplace/hometown of Hyderabad, India. Rahim tells the assembled federation committee members that India’s national team has been on a losing streak for three main reasons:

  • The team members play in bare feet.
  • India’s domestic matches are 70 minutes each, while international teams have 90-minute matches.
  • Too much belief in old team stars who need to retire.

Rahim confidentially tells the federation committee that if they elect him to be the head coach of India’s national soccer team, he can help the team achieve something that the team had not achieved since it began doing international tours in 1924: Win a championship. Although there are some skeptics on the committee, Rahim gets enough votes to become the head coach. Rahim doesn’t promise quick success with this goal, but he is sure he can achieve this goal if he find the right team players. (In real life, Rahm became the head coach of India’s national team in 1950, not 1952.)

“Maidaan” then has the expected montage of Rahim traveling to various places in India (such as Calcutta, Punjab, Bombay and Kerala) to find the players who will be on his “dream team.” They include forward Tulsidas Balaram (played by Sushant Waydande); striker PK Banerjee (played by Chaitanya Sharma), who was the team’s captain for a period of time; goalkeeper Peter Thangaraj (played by Tejas Ravishankar); striker Neville D’Souza (played by Aryann Bhowmik); and striker Chuni Goswami (played by Amartya Ray). The casting for “Maidaan” is very admirable, since all of the actors portraying the star team members resemble the real-life people and are convincing as professional athletes. (For the purposes of this review, the characters in the movie are referred to by their first names.)

One of the first things that Rahim does that’s a revolution in Indian soccer is that he requires the team members to wear shoes, which obviously reduces cuts and bruises to the team members’ feet. “Maidaan” does a pretty good job of showing how this wasn’t an easy adjustment for most players, who were accustomed to being barefoot while playing the game. Getting shoes for the team members was also fraught with financial issues, because India’s cash-strapped national soccer team couldn’t afford large expenditures. n the early years, they often had to use previously owned or donated shoes.

The players themselves also needed a lot training in other areas. “Maidaan” shows that there was a lot of raw talent that Rahim had to hone into finely tuned and disciplined athleticism. When Rahim first meets Tulsidas, Rahim says that Tulsidas is talented but needs more stamina. PK is heartthrob with a large female fan base, so Rahim tells him not to get distracted by dating fans. Chuni is kind of a prima donna, so Rahim has to train Chuni to be more of a team player.

Meanwhile, during Rahim’s career that is depicted in the movie, he has two main adversaries: a powerful All India Football Federation board member Shubhankar (played by Rudranil Ghosh) and influential sports journalist Roy Chaudhary (played by Gajraj Rao), who were early and very vocal skeptics of Rahim. Because of their initial skepticism, Shubhankar and Roy want to be proven they were right, so they want to see Rahim fail, even if it means that India’s national soccer team will fail too. Various scheming ensues between these two manipulative haters.

As for Rahim’s personal life, it’s a secondary part of the story. He has a stereotypically loyal and loving wife at home named Saira (played by Priyamani), who is supportive of Rahim, even though she knows that his job requires him to frequently be away from home. Rahim and Saira have two children: son Hakim and daughter Seerat. In the beginning of the movie, Hakim (played by Devyansh Tapuriah) is about 9 years old, while Seerat (played by Nitashi Goel) is about 5 years old. Hakim as a teenager and young adult is played by Rishabh Joshi.

Rahim is obviously a workaholic, but the toll that it takes on his marriage seems a little too glossed over in the movie. Rahim’s frequent absences from home and obsession with soccer have caused him to have a somewhat distant relationship with Hakim, who desperately craves Rahim’s attention. It should come as no surprise that Hakim decides to become a player on India’s national soccer while still being an engineering student at a university.

Rahim took the team to the Asia Games and the Olympics more than once. The outcomes of these experiences won’t be revealed in this review. However, it’s enough to say that a big part of these experiences was how Rahim and the team dealt with racism and xenophobia. Rahim becomes under increasing pressure when a championship title becomes more elusive than he imagined. And, since this is a sports movie, there are the expected injuries that happen during crucial moments in or before a match.

Devgn gives an impressive (but not award-worthy) performance as Rahim, who is not presented as flawless or “too good to be true.” Rahim can be stubborn, impatient and arrogant. However, Rahim is also an empathetic and motivational leader who inspires his team instead of intimidating them.

The supporting cast members also do fine jobs in their roles, although Shubhankar is written as bit of a two-dimensional villain. Considering the movie’s three-hour runtime, there could have been more shown in the movie about the individual players. The most that viewers will see about the indivdual players’ personal lives is when PK tells Rahim that PK is distracted during a practice session because PK’s father has lung cancer. If you know what happened in real life to Rahim (a heavy smoker), then you will already know that Rahim will have his own health crisis in this story.

“Maidaan” has moments when the movie’s pacing drags. However, viewers who have the patience to keep watching will be rewarded in the movie’s final hour, which is the best part of the film. The 1962 Asian Games depicted in the movie have some adrenaline-charged, immersive scenes that will make viewers feel like they’re experiencing the matches right along with the players. A.R. Rahman’s stirring musical score also adeptly heightens the moods in each scene. “Maidaan” is not a groundbreaking sports movie, but it’s competently made, and it delivers exactly what it’s supposed to deliver in crowd-pleasing entertainment.

Zee Studios released “Maidaan” in U.S. cinemas and in India on April 10, 2024.

Review: ‘Shaitaan’ (2024), starring Ajay Devgn, R. Madhavan, Janki Bodiwala, Jyothika and Anngad Raaj

March 22, 2024

by Carla Hay

R. Madhavan in “Shaitaan” (Photo courtesy of FunAsia Films)

“Shaitaan” (2024)

Directed by Vikas Bahl

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Dehradun, India, the horror film “Shaitaan” (a remake of the 2023 horror film “Vash”) features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A family of four people are the targets of a demonic stranger, who casts a spell on the family’s teenage girl to do whatever he tells her to do. 

Culture Audience: “Shaitaan” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and horror movies that have overly long and repetitive scenes that can’t hide plot holes.

Janki Bodiwala, Jyothika and Ajay Devgn in “Shaitaan” (Photo courtesy of FunAsia Films)

“Shaitaan” is a bloated and bombastic horror movie that becomes increasingly ridiculous as the plot careens into a pathetic pit of stupidity. The movie’s villain wants to take over the world, but there’s no logic in how he goes about it in this lousy story. Horror movies generally aren’t known for being logical, but as soon as viewers find out what the villain wants to do, it becomes clear that at least 85% of what’s in the movie did not need to exist.

Directed by Vikas Bahl and written by Aamil Keeyan Khan, “Shaitaan” is a Hindi-language remake of director Krishnadev Yagnik’s 2023 horror movie “Vash,” a Gujarati-language film. Both movies are about a family of four people who go on vacation and become targets of a mysterious villain, who places the teenage girl in the family under his spell to do whatever he tells her to do. “Shaitaan” (which means “devil” in Hindi) shows that the stranger has demonic powers, but the movie never bothers to show or tell the stranger’s origin story.

In “Shaitaan,” Kabir Rishi (played by Vikas Bahl) is an accountant who lives with his wife Jyoti Rishi (played by Jyothika) and their two children in Dehradun, India. The couple’s daughter Janvi (played by Janki Bodiwala), who is about 17 or 18 years old, is outspoken and wants more independence from her parents. The couple’s son Dhruv (played by Anngad Raaj), who is about 12 or 13 years old, is a friendly and obedient child.

An early scene in the movie shows Kabir and Dhruv in a car parked outside of Janvi’s high school. Kabir is there to give Janvi a car ride home from school. Kabir is curious and concerned when he sees Janvi canoodling with a male student whom Kabir does not know. It bothers Kabir that Janvi has not told him anything about this apparent boyfriend. Kabir asks Dhruv if he knows who Janvi’s male companion is, but Dhruv doesn’t know either.

Janvi wants to go on an unchaperoned vacation trip with 10 friends. She thinks she’s old enough for this trip without any parental supervision, but she gets some resistance from her protective parents. After some arguing and negotiation, Janvi’s parents agree to let her go on the trip, as long as they can keep track of her location via a phone app.

These early scenes of Janvi trying to assert her independence, in order to prove that she has a mind of her own, are supposed to contrast with how Janvi is for most of the movie, when she has lost her mind to a demonic sorcerer who casts a “black magic” spell on her. These “possession” scenes become extremely long-winded and repetitive. After a while, they don’t advance the story but just make the story drag, like a car spinning its wheels while stuck in a ditch.

With the family conflict resolved over Janvi’s trip, the Rishi family decides to go on a short weekend vacation trip to what they call their “farmhouse,” but it’s really a mansion in a (horror movie cliché alert) remote wooded area. On the road trip to their vacation home, the family stops to have lunch at a cafe. A stranger approaches the Rishis and gives them some chai tea that he has bought for them.

The stranger introduces himself as Vanraj (played by R. Madhavan) and says that they look like they are visiting travelers, so he offers to help if they need directions. To put them at ease, Vanraj shows a photo of someone he says is his teenage daughter. Kabir thanks Vanraj for the tea and says they don’t need directions because they are going to their vacation house. Kabir invites Vanraj to join them at the table for the family meal.

Janvi says she doesn’t drink this type of tea, but Jyoti scolds Janvi and tells her not to be rude. As soon as Janvi drinks the tea, the movie’s soundtrack starts playing very ominous music, as Janvi stares strangely at Vanraj. Meanwhile, Vanraj smirks at Janvi, as if he knows exactly what’s going to happen. After the meal ends and the family is about drive off, Vanraj gives Janvi a packet of biscuits and tells her to eat the biscuits when she gets to the house.

At the house, Janvi eats the biscuits. And it isn’t long before Jyoti notices that Vanraj is lurking outside the house’s front gates. An alarmed Jyoti immediately tells Kabir, who goes outside and asks what Vanraj is doing there. Jyoti is frightened and angry because no one in the family told Vanraj the address of the house, so she thinks that Vanraj is stalking the family. Kabir is willing to give Vanraj the benefit of the doubt.

Vanraj doesn’t explain how he found the house, but he says he needs to come inside to charge his phone battery. Kabir lets him inside. And that’s when the terror starts. It doesn’t take long for Vanraj to reveal that he has put Janvi under his spell and she will do anything he tells her to do.

At first, her parents don’t believe it. But then, Vanraj makes Janvi do several violent and disturbing things under his orders, such as slap herself in the face repeatedly and bash Dhruv’s head onto a staircase newel. Dhruv gets more than one serious head injury during the movie, which shows if he lives or dies.

Kabir and Jyoti try to get rid of Vanraj, of course. However, Vanraj’s spell has made Janvi his ruthless enforcer/bodyguard. One of the first things that he has Janvi do is destroy all the cell phones, phone lines and Internet connections that can be found in the house. Something happened soon after the family arrived at the house that’s a big clue that not all communication in the house is going to be cut off from the outside world.

“Shaitaan” becomes an elongated series of torture scenes during this home invasion. And it’s not just the Rishi family being tortured. Viewers watching this dreck will feel some kind of torture in how the movie drags on without an explanation for why all of this is happening to the Rishi family. Of course, patriarchal Kabir wants to rescue his family. But how?

In one of the movie’s many plot holes and gaps in logic, Vanraj foolishly forgot to make sure that the Rishi parents couldn’t use the car they drove to the house. Observant viewers will notice this plot hole immediately, but it takes more than half of the movie before this plot hole is glaringly obvious. “Shaitaan” has even more mindless things that won’t be revealed in this review.

A trailer for “Shaitaan” already reveals that in this wooded area, Vanraj has hidden numerous teenage girls and young women, who are all under his spell. About two-thirds of the way into the movie, Vanraj yells that he wants to take over the world. But he has an odd and idiotic way of doing it. If he has mind control over Janvi, why not just tell her to secretly go to the hideaway place, instead of wasting time torturing her family members, who are potential witnesses?

It also doesn’t make sense that Vanraj only puts powerless teenage girls and young women under his spell. Why doesn’t he put powerful leaders under his spell, if he wants to take over the world? And why weren’t all of the Rishi family members put under Vanraj’s spell if Vanraj thought the family would get in the way? Do the filmmakers of “Shaitaan” honestly expect viewers to believe all the garbage being shoveled in this cinematic trash heap? Apparently so.

All of the performances in “Shaitaan” are mediocre, except for Madhavan’s awfully hammy villain performance, which because increasingly tacky and laughable. A plot twist at the very end of the movie just raises more questions that “Shaitaan” never bothers to answer. One of those questions is: “When will filmmakers learn that inferior and unnecessary movie remakes are a turnoff?”

FunAsia Films released “Shaitaan” in select U.S. cinemas on March 8, 2024, the same date the movie was released in India.

Review: ‘Bholaa,’ starring Ajay Devgn, Tabu, Sanjay Mishra, Deepak Dobriyal, Gajraj Rao and Vineet Kumar

March 30, 2023

by Carla Hay

Ajay Devgn in “Bholaa” (Photo courtesy of Panorama Studios and PVR Pictures)


Directed by Ajay Devgn

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India, the action film “Bholaa” (a remake of 2019’s “Kaithi”) features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A recently released prisoner agrees to help police fight and capture a drug cartel, in exchange for reuniting with his 10-year-old daughter, who has been placed in an orphanage. 

Culture Audience: “Bholaa” will appeal primarily to people who fans of the movie’s headliners and who like watching mindless action movies that are more than two hours long.

Deepak Dobriyal in “Bholaa” (Photo courtesy of Panorama Studios and PVR Pictures)

“Bholaa” takes all the worst elements of bloated action flicks and puts them into this overly long, messy and idiotic film. The police in this movie are so stupid, they leave their police station unlocked and unstaffed while prisoners are inside. This time-wasting junk movie (which clocks in at a mind-numbing 144 minutes) includes every vacuous cliché of movies about cops versus criminals—a rebellious “hero,” who the unrealistic ability to survive violence that would kill most people; gravity-defying and unrealistic fight scenes; a “female in peril” subplot; and formulaic double-crossing and betrayals.

“Bholaa” is also one of the most worthless movies that you could ever seen in 3-D, since the 3-D format adds nothing meaningful to the movie’s action and visuals. Viewers who watch “Bholaa” in 3-D might forget they’re watching a 3-D movie. “Bholaa” was also released on some IMAX screens, which just means that viewers can see on a bigger screen how horrible “Bholaa” is on every level.

Directed by and starring Ajay Devgn, “Bholaa” is a remake of the 2019 Tamil language film “Kaithi.” Six people are credited with writing the “Bholaa” screenplay: Govind Bhana, Shridhar Dubey, Lokesh Kanagaraj, Aamil Keeyan Khan, Sandeep Kewlani and Ankush Singh. It’s never a good sign when so many people have screenwriter credits for one screenplay, because it’s usually a sign of “too many cooks in the kitchen” syndrome. In the case of “Bholaa,” these screenwriters cooked up a screenplay that should have been dumped in the garbage.

“Bholaa” is yet another action movie about a roguish protagonist who has to find a way to save a loved one while battling enemies in phony-looking fight scenes. Bholaa (played by Devgn) is a former gang leader who was sentenced to prison for his crimes, shortly after his doctor wife Swara (played by Amala Paul) was murdered by a rival gang leader. In the beginning of “Bholaa,” he is let out of prison, after serving a 10-year sentence.

Bholaa’s backstory is told as a flashback about midway through the movie, which has substandard film editing and makes the entire movie very muddled. The irony of Bholaa’s imprisonment was that he had given up his life of crime before he married Swara, who did not approve of his criminal lifestyle. However, Bholaa’s nefarious past caught up to him. Shortly before Swara was murdered, she had given birth to a daughter named Jyoti.

Because there were no other family members who could have taken custody of Jyoti after Bholaa was sentenced to prison, Jyoti was put in an orphanage. Now 10 years old, Jyoti (played by Hirva Trivedi) lives at the Saraswati Orphanage in Lucknow, India. She hears that someone has been trying to contact her, but the movie contrives a number of scenarios (some more ridiculous than others) for why Bholaa can’t reach Jyoti over the phone.

The most ludicrous-looking scenario shows Bholaa calling Jyoti on the orphanage phone while he’s driving a bus full of police officers, but then a Molotov cocktail is thrown through the front windshield, thereby cutting off the phone call before Bholaa gets a chance to have a conversation with Jyoti. And the movie expects viewers to believe that Bholaa has the phone number for Saraswati Orphanage, but he can’t figure out a way to find this orphanage. He also doesn’t know how to identify Jyoti when he sees a photo of children at the orphanage, even though her name hasn’t changed, and he could use the Internet or other resources to find out what she looks like.

There’s some nonsense about Bholaa putting ash on his forehead as a ritual, to signify the ashes of his slain foes. Bholaa also has a trident that is used for gruesome stabbings. All of these superficial gimmicks could have been left out of the movie and it still would’ve made no difference to this terribly written story and what happens in the end.

Before he can reunite with Jyoti, Bholaa finds out that he is being sought after by Inspector Diana Joseph (played by Tabu), who leads a team that has confiscated a large stash of cocaine worth ₹1 billion that was going to be trafficked by the notorious Sikka Gang. Diana is determined to capture the Sikka Gang, including its co-leaders: cunning Nithari (played by Vineet Kumar) and his loose-cannon younger brother Ashwathama, nicknamed Ashu (played by Deepak Dobriyal), who wears heavy eyeliner and frequently snorts cocaine. Diana wants Bholaa to help her capture this gang, as part of Bholaa’s parole.

During this cocaine confiscation, Diana and some of her fellow police officers were in a wild car chase and gun shootout on a highway, where Diana was firing a gun from a police car driving backwards. It’s the movie’s opening scene. Diana gets wounded in her left arm, and wears a sling throughout the rest of the movie. But her injured arm is often “forgotten” in fight scenes where Diana moves her left arm as if she has no injuries at all. It’s just more of the sloppy filmmaking of “Bholaa” on display.

Nithari ends up in a jail cell at the police station with other prisoners in the same cell. There’s a long segment of the movie where Diana and her police force leave the station unattended and unlocked so they can go looking for the Sikka Gang. Yes, that’s how foolish this movie is. A group of college students (three males and one female) are visiting a prisoner and are confused that there are no police at this police station. A prisoner asks one of the students to get the jail cell key that’s hanging on a nearby wall.

All of sudden, a 55-year-old constable from another precinct shows up and stops the student from handing over the key. The constable’s name is Angad Yadav (played by Sanjay Mishra), and he becomes a liaison over the phone for Diana in dealing with the Sikka Gang, while he mans the police station all by himself. Does any of this tripe make sense to you? It shouldn’t, because “Bholaa” is hell-bent on being as illogical as possible.

On the outside, Ashwathama finds out there’s an unidentified informant in the Sikka Gang who has been leaking important Skikka Gang information to the police. Ashwathama decides the best way to find the informant would be to kidnap Diana and torture the information out of her. And so, there’s another long stretch of the movie were the Sikka Gang goes after Diana, whom Ashwathama insists should be captured alive. Ashwathama tells his gang members that he doesn’t care if anyone else they fight ends up dying.

There are three other police officers who play roles in this silly story. Devraj Subramaniam (played by Gajraj Rao) and Deep Singh (played by Lokesh Mittal) are both corrupt, while Kadchi (played by Amir Khan) is Diana’s buffoonish sidekick. Kadchi is more comfortable being a office guy who looks at statistics rather than being in the middle of violent fights.

Almost every imaginable act of violence is shown in “Bholaa.” And it all becomes empty and monotonous after a while, especially after multiple scenes where Bholaa takes and defeats several men at the same time. And in typical fashion for action schlock that’s all style and no substance, “Bholaa” has a bombastic and blaring soundtrack music, as if the “Bholaa” filmmakers think that loud music is supposed to make all the stupidity better. There’s absolutely no suspense in “Bholaa,” which just regurgitates the same type of dreck that can be found in dozens of other big-budget, low-quality action movies.

Panorama Studios and PVR Pictures released “Bholaa” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on March 30, 2023.

Review: ‘Drishyam 2’ (2022), starring Ajay Devgn, Tabu, Akshaye Khanna, Shriya Saran and Ishita Dutta

December 2, 2022

by Carla Hay

Shriya Saran, Ishita Dutta, Ajay Devgn, Yogesh Soman and Akshaye Khanna in “Drishyam 2” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Drishyam 2” (2022)

Directed by Abhishek Pathak

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional city of Pondolim in India’s Goa region, and briefly in London, the dramatic film “Drishyam” features an all-Indian cast representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A family with a terrible secret about the death of a young man becomes the focus of suspicion again when new clues are uncovered. 

Culture Audience: “Drishyam 2” will appeal primarily to people interested who are fans of the movie’s stars; the first “Drishyam” movies; and crime dramas with unusual plot twists.

Kamlesh Sawant and Tabu (center) in “Drishyam 2” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

In order to fully appreciate the crime drama “Drishyam 2,” viewers need to have seen or know about what happened in the original “Drishyam” movie—a story about a family keeping a scandalous secret about a dead sexual predator/blackmailer, and how the parents of this deceased man will do whatever it takes to uncover that secret. (This review has spolier information about the first “Drishyam” movie, which is necessary to discuss “Drishyam 2.”) “Drishyam” began as a 2013 Malayalam-language film and was then remade into 2015’s Hindi-language “Drishyam” film. A Malayalam-language “Drishyam 2″ movie (also known as Drishyam 2: The Resumption”) was released in 2021.

The Hindi-language “Drishyam 2,” released in 2022, is a remake of the Malayalam-language “Drishyam 2.” It’s a dependable remake of a movie sequel that didn’t really need to be remade. Most people who don’t know how “Drishyam 2” ends will be impressed by the clever and very unexpected plot twist, which is not far-fetched but could actually work in real life.

Directed by Abhishek Pathak, the Hindi-language remake of “Drishyam 2” (which was co-written by Pathak and Aamil Keeyan Khan) is more intensely dramatic than the Malayalam-language “Drishyam 2,” which is also a very good film with fine performances from the cast members. One of the main reasons why the Hindi-language version of “Drishyam 2” has a more urgent tone is Devi Sri Prasad’s musical score is very pronounced in creating suspense. The movie’s cinematography and editing look worthy of being seen in a movie theater, compared to the Malayalam-language “Drishyam 2,” which was released directly to Prime Video and has some very TV-movie production characteristics.

The “Drishyam” saga is a tale of two feuding families in the fictional city of Pondolim, India. On one side of the feud is the Salgaonkar family: Vijay Salgaonkar (played by Ajay Devgn), his wife Nandini Salgaonkar (played by Shriya Saran), and their two daughters: Anju Salgaonkar (played by Ishita Dutta) and Anu Salgaonkar (played by Mrunal Jadhav), who’s six years younger than Anju. Vijay, who is passionate about movies, owns Mirage Cable Networks and a movie theater. He’s also an aspiring movie producer. On the other side of this feud are wealthy businessman Mahesh Deshmukh (played by Rajat Kapoor) and his wife Meera Deshmukh (played by Tabu), who has had a career in a police law enforcement.

This version of “Drishyam 2” picks up in 2021—seven years after the events of the first “Drishyam” movie, with the principal cast members reprising their roles in this sequel. In the first “Drishyam” movie, which takes place in 2014, the Salgaonkar family covered up the death of Sameer “Sam” Deshmukh (played by Rishab Chadha), the only child of Mahesh and Meera Deshmukh. Sam had secretly recorded a video of Anju (who was 18 at the time) taking a shower. Sam threatened to make the video public unless Anju or her mother Nandini had sex with Sam.

In a physical fight to get the video, Anju accidentally killed Sam while her mother was in the same room. Nandini helped Anju bury Sam’s body in the family’s backyard. Anu witnessed the murder and cover-up. Vijay wasn’t home at the time of this manslaughter, but when he found out what happened, he helped destroy evidence, in order to protect Anju and Nandini from being arrested.

Meera Deshmukh was Pondolim’s police inspector general at the time. She immediately became suspicious of the Salgaonkar family’s involvement in Sam’s disappearance and had the family arrested. However, with no body found, it couldn’t be proven that Sam was dead. A twist at the end of the movie revealed that Vijay had tricked the police and moved Sam’s body somewhere else. Where he moved the body won’t be revealed in this review.

In “Drishyam 2,” the Salgaonkar family’s secret is constantly at risk of being exposed. Seven years after Sam’s disappearance, he is presumed dead. Meera is angrier and more vengeful than her husband Mahesh, who is more inclined to show some mercy on the Salgaonkar family if they just tell Mahesh and Meera where Sam’s body is. Mahesh makes this personal plea to Vijay when they happen to see each other in person, but Vijay continues to lie and say he doesn’t know what happened to Sam.

Vijay is close to fulfilling his dream of making a movie. And the movie he wants to make is about what he and his family went through when they were accused of foul play against Sam. Vijay has hired a screenwriter named Murad Ali (played by Saurabh Shukla) to write the movie’s script. At Mirage Cable Networks, Vijay continues to work with his assistant Jose (played by Prathamesh Parab), who is buffoonish and provides some of the movie’s comic relief.

Vijay and Nandini have some tension in their marriage not only because they are burdened with keeping this dark family secret but also because Vijay is heavily in debt because of the money he put into making the movie. Nandini thinks the movie is a bad idea because it will just bring unwanted attention to the family all over again. Many people in their community still suspect that Salgaonkar family was involved in Sam’s disappearance and the cover-up.

Meanwhile, Anju (who is now a 25-year-old college student living on campus) has developed post-traumatic stress disorder because of this secret. She has terrible nightmares and panic attacks. During the course of the movie, Anju is on a college break and is staying at her parents’ home.

“Drishyam 2” opens with a flashback scene of something that happened on the night of October 4, 2014. A man named David Brazagna (played by Siddharth Bodke) has met with a thug named Tony (played by Vineeth MV) to hand over a travel bag full of cash to Tony. David tells Tony after this handoff that he doesn’t want to do the job anymore, so David tries to get the cash back from Tony. A scuffle ensues, and David shoots Tony dead and flees with the cash.

Police officers nearby respond to the gunfire shots, and David runs away through the woods and hides. David makes his way home, where he has a wife named Mary (played by Ashmita Jaggi) and a toddler son named Agnelo (played by Pakshal Jain). David knows it’s only a matter of time before the police come to arrest him. And he is arrested for the murder of Tony. The movie later shows that David saw something important that night that is related to the Salgaonkar family scandal.

Meanwhile, in 2021, Vijay and Nandini have become disturbed when they find out that the married couple living next door is involved in domestic violence. The two spouses are Shiv Kulkarni (played by Nishant Singh) and Jenny Thomas (played by Neha Joshi). According to what Vijay and Nandini see, Shiv is an angry drunk who beats Jenny.

Vijay and Nandini intervene by calling the police and reporting the domestic abuse. Shiv is eventually arrested. Nandini and Jenny become friends, and they confide in each other about their marriages and other things. Nandini lets her guard down and lets it slip to Jenny that she knows more than she’s telling about Sam’s disappearance. Will this semi-confession come back to haunt Nandini?

Sam’s mother Meera, who is now retired from law enforcement, is still filled with vengeful rage over his presumed death. Certain things happen that jumpstart the investigation and put the Salgaonkar family on the radar of the police again. Meera uses her clout with her former colleagues in the police department to put pressure on the Salgaonkar family. The police currently investigating the case include a cynical inspector general named Tarun Ahlawata (played by Akshaye Khanna), a logical inspector named Vinayak Sawant (played by Yogesh Soman) and a hotheaded inspector named Gaitonde (played by Kamlesh Sawant).

“Drishyam 2” has enough intriguing plot developments that the movie’s total running time of 140 minutes is well-earned and doesn’t look like a waste. However, this movie biggest weakness is that it will confuse a lot of viewers who don’t know anything about what happened in the first “Drishyam” movie. “Drishyam 2” has some flashbacks that explain some key plot points, but some of those flashbacks sometimes a little too late in the story. All of the movie’s cast members give performances that range from better-than-average (Devgn as the complicated Vijay) to competent (most of the cast) to overly dramatic (Tabu as hate-filled mother Meera).

Despite the movie’s flaws, “Drishyam 2” will keep viewers guessing until the very end about what will happen next. It’s the type of thriller that sometimes attempts to be too tricky for its own good. However, the story explores themes of guilt and redemption in the context of leaving it up to viewers to decide who deserves to be punished and who deserves to be forgiven. By trusting viewers to make up their own minds, “Drishyam 2” offers a much more interesting story about human complexities than if the movie had been a simplistic tale of good versus evil.

Yash Raj Films released “Drishyam 2” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on November 18, 2022.

Review: ‘Thank God’ (2022), starring Ajay Devgn and Sidharth Malhotra

October 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sid Malhotra in “Thank God” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

“Thank God” (2022)

Directed by Indra Kumar

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2018, in India and in heaven, the comedy/drama/fantasy film “Thank God” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After getting into a car accident that leaves him unconscious and near death, a selfish real-estate agent’s spirit is transported to heaven, where he must pass a series of tests to determine if he will go to heaven or hell after he dies.

Culture Audience: “Thank God” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Ajay Devgn and Sidharth Malhotra and stories about the afterlife, but this movie is neither clever nor interesting.

Ajay Devgn (center) and Sid Malhotra (far right) in “Thank God” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

“Thank God” is a fantasy film about the afterlife that puts schmaltz over substance. Much of the movie is set in heaven, but there’s nothing heavenly about the cloying manipulation and gimmicks in this feeble and clumsily constructed story. The movie crams in some very silly plot twists that further ruin what could have been an intriguing story about life after death and redemption.

Directed by Indra Kumar, “Thank God” is a remake of the 2009 Danish comedy film “Sorte Kugler” (which means “what goes around” in Danish) and follows the same basic concept, but “Thank God” changes the deity characters to those from the Hindu religion. Aakash Kaushik and Madhur Sharma co-wrote the unimaginative “Thank God” adapted screenplay. The movie has scenes that take place in India and a location described in the movie as heaven.

In the beginning of “Thank God,” which takes place in 2018, Ayaan Kapoor (played by Sid Malhotra) is a 33-year-old real-estate agent who has fallen on hard times. He used to be a hotshot, successful agent. But he lost his fortune due to the Indian government’s demonetization of currency. Ayaan is now in debt to 16 crores, which is about $140,000 U.S. dollars in 2018.

Ayaan wants to sell his house, which has not yet found a buyer. In the meantime, Ayaan and his wife Ruhi Kapoor (played by Rakul Preet Singh) and their daughter Pihu Kapoor (played by Kiara Khanna), who’s about 4 or 5 years old, have moved into the house owned by Ruhi’s family until Ayaan can get back to the financial status that he used to have. Ayaan and Ruhi (who is a police officer) had a whirlwind, romantic courtship. But lately, the marriage has been strained because of Ayaan’s financial problems and because of his arrogant and workaholic ways.

Ayaan’s money problems have not humbled him or made him re-evaluate his life. He is still the same conceited real-estate agent who makes his work a higher priority than his family. In some ways, Ayaan has become even more ruthless, self-centered and ill-tempered than before his financial crisis, since he’s determined to never lose his fortune again. As an example of how cold-hearted Ayaan is, when he walks by a poor, elderly woman begging for money on the street, he doesn’t just ignore her. He’s very rude to her when refusing to give her any money.

During a real-estate deal that Ayaan hopes to close, a married couple is close to buying a house that Ayaan is selling. The spouses tell Ayaan that they are buying the house for their adopted son Chiku (who’s about 5 or 6 years old), so that the Chiku can inherit it when he becomes an adult. Chiku is waiting outside the house when Ayaan congratulates him on having wonderful adoptive parents.

Chiku begins crying because he tells Ayaan that he didn’t know that he was adopted. A panicked Ayaan doesn’t want Chiku to tell the parents that Ayaan disclosed this secret to Chiku, so he locks Chicku in the house’s bathroom and plans to keep Chiku in there until the parents sign the paperwork to close the deal. However, the parents notice that Chiku is missing, and they start to look for him. Ayaan acts like he doesn’t know anything about the child’s disappearance.

Meanwhile, Chiku has snuck out of the bathroom window and goes in the room where his parents and Ayaan are talking. Chiku starts wailing again and tells his parents everything that happened. Needless to say, the parents get angry and don’t do the deal with Ayaan. This is the type of comedic scene that could have been funny, but the substandard acting in the movie just makes everything seem so silly and trite.

Ayaan has a real-estate deal in his not-too-distant past that also brought unhappiness, for different reasons. A couple named Mr. and Mrs. Gaikwad bought a bungalow for 150 million rupees (about $1.8 million U.S. dollars in 2018), but the spouses are now been forced to sell the home because of financial problems. Ayaan wants to buy the bungalow for himself and his family, knowing that Mr. and Mrs. Gaiwad will be losing their home to him. Ayaan’s decision on how to deal with the couple’s problem comes back to haunt him.

In the meantime, Ayaan is upset that he lost out on this most recent real-estate deal because of his extreme way of trying to silence an innocent child. Aayan calls Ruhi on hs phone while he’s driving to complain about losing the deal and to let her know that he won’t be able to attend the Parent Teachers Association meeting for their daughter Pihu. Aayan is holding his phone in one hand while he’s driving. And you know what that means: He gets into a car accident when he takes his eyes off the road and crashes into another car.

The next thing that Ayaan knows, he’s been transported to a mystical-looking place that can best be described as a floating amphitheater, with spectators who are dressed all in white. Ayaan is escorted to a stage in the middle of this amphiteater. Ayaan’s guide to this stage is someone calling himself YD (played by Mahesh Balraj), also known as Yamdhoot, who is a Yamaduta, a Hindu messenger of death. YD introduces a confused Ayaan to someone named CG (played by Ajay Devgn), who is supposed to be the Hindu deity Chitragupta.

CG explains to Ayaan that Ayaan is in heaven, and Ayaan’s unconscious body is currently on Earth, where Ayaan is in a hospital undergoing an operation for the next five hours because of his car accident. CG shows Ayaan a vision of Ayaan in the operating room. In the meantime, CG says that Ayaan will have to play the Game of Life to determine if Ayaan will go to heaven or go to hell if he dies in the hospital.

Ayaan refuses to play this game at first, but CG shows Ayaan a preview of what life in hell looks like. (The movie has very outdated-looking and unconvincing visual effects.) Ayaan quickly changes his mind when he sees the terrifying existence he would have in hell. At the same time, Ayaan’s hubris makes him think that whatever game he plays, he’s going to win.

In this game, Ayaan has to take several challenges based on each of his biggest flaws. Two see-through cylinders (each about 10 feet tall) are placed on the stage. If Ayaan loses a challenge, the spectators throw black balls into the cylinders. If Ayaan wins a challenge, the spectators throw white balls into the cylinders. Ayaan will lose the game if both cylinders overflow with black balls.

The six challenges based on Ayaan’s personality flaws are essentially variations of Christianity’s seven deadly sins, except for the sin of sloth, which doesn’t apply to workaholic Ayaan. The six rounds that Ayaan goes through to complete the game have to do with his anger, greed, jealousy, pride, lust and deception. In each round, Ayaan is put in a simulated reality scenario, and he has to decide what to do when a particular personality flaw is tested.

For example, in the round where his anger is tested, Ayaan is stuck in an elevator with an irritating, talkative man who keeps doing things to delay the elevator from moving. In the round where Ayaan’s jealousy is tested, CG reveals to the crowd that Ayaan wanted to become a police officer when Ayaan was a child, so Ayaan is secretly jealous that his wife Ruhi is a police officer who recently got a job promotion. In this challenge, Ayaan is given a chance to be a police officer during an armed robbery of bank, where the bank robber is holding hostages.

“Thank God” aims to impart serious messages about ethics and morality, but the comedy is awkwardly placed and cheapens all of the movie’s moralistic preaching. The slapstick comedy just isn’t very clever. And all of the cast members turn in performances that range from mediocre to embarrassingly exaggerated. Nora Fatehi has a supporting role as Reema, a gold-digging temptress who sets out to seduce Ayaan in his “lust” challenge round, which is just an excuse to have the movie’s most extravagant song-and-dance sequence.

The movie becomes more and more ridiculous with sudden plot twists that look like the filmmakers didn’t really know how to end the movie and just threw in lot of ideas to try to make the conclusion look impactful. It all just looks like a jumbled heap of mushy stereotypes instead of a cohesive story. The last 15 minutes of the film are particularly sloppy.

Several movies have already covered existential topics of humanity that ask these questions: “What happens to people after they die?” and “Do the actions of people when they’re alive affect what happens to people after death?” Most religious teachings have some basis in trying to answer these questions.

Because many films have covered these well-worn topics, “Thank God” had an opportunity to present a unique and intriguing angle to these topics. Instead, “Thank God” took the laziest route, by serving up a stale story that doesn’t really entertain audiences but just insults audiences by pandering to over-used and predictable clichés. If any viewers who believe in a god decide to watch the horrific “Thank God” until the very end, they might be thinking at the end of the movie: “Thank God this mess is finally over.”

T-Series Films released “Thank God” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on October 25, 2022.

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