Review: ‘Tiger Nageswara Rao,’ starring Ravi Teja, Anupam Kher, Jisshu Sengupta, Renu Desai and Nupur Sanon

October 28, 2023

by Carla Hay

Nupur Sanon and Ravi Teja in “Tiger Nageswara Rao” (Photo courtesy of Abhishek Agarwal Arts)

“Tiger Nageswara Rao”

Directed by Vamsee

Telugu with some language in Tamil, Hindi, Kannada and Malayalam with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India, primarily in the 1970s, with some scenes in 1980 and the 1950s, the action film “Tiger Nageswara Rao” (loosely based on the real life of notorious thief Nageswara Rao) features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A Robin Hood-like thief, who robs from the rich so he can give to the poor, tries to avoid being captured by law enforcement.

Culture Audience: “Tiger Nageswara Rao” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, but it’s an overly long and repetitive mess of tiresome clichés.

Anupam Kher in “Tiger Nageswara Rao” (Photo courtesy of Abhishek Agarwal Arts)

Even though “Tiger Nageswara Rao” is loosely based on the real life of notorious thief Nageswara Rao, the movie is just a pathetic ripoff of stories about English folk hero Robin Hood, but without any charm and intrigue that define Robin Hood lore. This three-hour slog of hack filmmaking drags with empty stereotypes of action flicks about outlaws, revenge and betrayals. The movie’s rampant misogyny, bad acting and wretched story make this vile film a big turnoff. Avoid this bloated trash.

Directed by Vamsee (who co-wrote the horrendous “Tiger Nageswara Rao” screenplay with Srikanth Vissa), “Tiger Nageswara Rao” takes place in India, mostly in the 1970s. In the city of Chirala, the rehabilitation colony of Stuartpurnam exists for the Erukula tribe, which has a history of oppression from British conquerors. In the 1970s, Stuartpurnam is plagued with violent crimes. Local law enforcement is overwhelmed and can’t seem to reign in the worst criminals.

The movie begins on March 22, 1980. A code red alert has summoned deputy superintendent of police Vishwanath Sastry (played by Murali Sharma) to India’s Intelligence Bureau headquarters in New Delhi. One of the officials he meets with is an officer named Raghavendra Rajput (played by Anupam Kher), who tells Vishwanath that they are looking to take down Tiger Nageswara Rao (nicknamed Nagi), a corrupt politician who has a long history of being a thief.

Vishwanath says he knows who Nageswara is, because he had a run-ins with him in Chirala. The movie then flashes back to a train heist that was masterminded by Nageswara, sometime in the 1970s. The chase scenes (some of which take place on top of the moving train) have shoddy and very fake-looking visual effects.

The movie then further flashes back to 1956, to show Nageswara as an orphaned child at 8 years old. He became a protégé of a criminal named Gajjala Prasad (plagued by Nassar), who teaches Nageswara how to become a master thief at the age of 11. By the time he was in his 20s, Nageswara (played by Ravi Teja) was considered to be India’s biggest thief. Nageswara was also difficult to capture. Teja, who was in his mid-50s when he made “Tiger Nageswara Rao,” never looks believable as someone who is supposed to be in his 20 in this movie.

In 1971, a member of the legislative assembly named Yelamanda (played by Hareesh Peradi) supervises a auction that is held every year in Stuartpurnam. The auction, which has luxury goods, is the ideal target for a thief such as Nageswara. You can imagine what happens next. Yelamanda is one of a growing list of people who becomes an enemy of Nageswara. In addition to federal agent Rajput, there’s a local Chirala police inspector named Mouli (played by Jisshu Sengupta) who is hunting Nageswara.

Nageswara is not only greedy when it comes to money, he’s also a promiscuous lout who treats women like playthings to be used and abused. The movie shows in non-explicit ways that he thinks he’s an expert seducer of women, just because he has orgies with at least 10 women at a time. One day, while Nageswara is at an outdoor market, an attractive young woman named Sara (played by Nupur Sanon) catches his attention. It’s lust at first sight for Nageswara.

And then (get ready to cringe), this idiotic dialogue happens: Nageswara says to Sara as a pickup line: “I’m hungry.” Sara replies in a sexual double entendre, “In order to eat off my plate, one must fast for three days.”

Nageswara doesn’t like this rejection from Sara, so he hits her so hard, she falls down. A nearby police officer goes to defend Sara, but Nageswara assaults him too. The brawling that ensues consists of more phony-looking stunts. Nageswara wins the fight and walks away without getting arrested.

Nageswara isn’t done with Sara, who is engaged to be married. Nageswara shows up unannounced and uninvited at her wedding. He ruins the wedding by telling Sara that he stole her dowry money from a chest. She slaps him, but Nageswara insists that Sara will be his, as if she’s a possession, not a human being.

Sara’s fiancé backs out of the wedding when he hears the dowry has been stolen. Nageswara uses this abandonment as “proof” that the fiancé didn’t really love Sara. Nageswara also says he did Sara a favor by exposing her fiancé as a gold digger. And in this awful movie, this tactic works. Nageswara is able to romance Sara for a while.

Through a series of circumstances, Nageswara ends up marrying someone else who doesn’t excite him as much as Sara does. Her name is Mani (played by Gayatri Bhardwaj), who becomes Nageswara’s long-suffering wife. Mani knows that Nageswara doesn’t love her as much as she loves him. Nageswara and Mani have twin daughters together. (Mani gives birth in a tacky melodramatic scene.)

“Tiger Nageswara Rao” tries to depict the title character as a “noble” folk hero who wants to use the money he steals to build a factory that can provide jobs, but the movie reprehensibly excuses his abuse of women. “Tiger Nageswara Rao” is really just a violent soap opera, where Nageswara continues to steal and avoid getting captured. He’s so smug and arrogant about his crimes, there’s nothing “noble” about him.

There are some sleazy subplots thrown into the movie, such as Sara being forced into prostitution. It’s just more of this film’s woman-hating attitude on display. No one in the movie’s cast gives a good performance. They all look like they’re on auto-pilot for their characters, who have one-dimensional personalities.

There’s so much unimaginative repetition in “Tiger Nageswara Rao” (robberies, unrealistic fight scenes, Nageswara getting away), it’s truly mind-numbing and boring to watch after a while. It’s also a movie that has musical numbers that don’t fit the film’s overall tone. “Tiger Nageswara Rao” also has an obnoxiously loud music score, which seems to be a characteristic of horrendous action flicks that mistakenly think “loud music score” equals “effective music score.” There is absolutely nothing in “Tiger Nageswara” that is truly original and worth seeing, which is another way of saying that people who value their time shouldn’t see this movie at all.

Abhishek Agarwal Arts released “Tiger Nageswara Rao” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on October 20, 2023.

Review: ‘IB 71,’ starring Vidyut Jammwal, Vishal Jethwa, Faizan Khan and Anupam Kher

May 23, 2023

by Carla Hay

Vidyut Jammwal in “IB 71” (Photo courtesy of Reliance Entertainment)

“IB 71”

Directed by Sankalp Reddy

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1971, in India and Pakistan, the action film “IB 71” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A heroic Intelligence Bureau (IB) agent in India gets involved in saving an airplane hijacked by Kashmir terrorists and thwarting an airspace attack from a Kashmiri militant. 

Culture Audience: “IB 71” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a very fabricated and ludicrous story about the real-life Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.

Vishal Jethwa in “IB 71” (Photo courtesy of Reliance Entertainment)

Even by low standards of how ridiculous action movies can be, IB 71 mishandles its depiction of real-life espionage events in 1971. If you believe this movie, then you have to believe one IB agent has a superhero level of fight skills and defense plans. It’s a 117-minute movie that barely has enough substance for a seven-minute film. Most of “IB 71” looks like a sloppy combination of revisionist history and pandering fantasies about what led up to the real-life Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.

Written and directed by Sankalp Reddy, “IB 71” (which is set in 1971) is yet another loud and bloated action film that quickly becomes repetitive because it doesn’t have much to say that’s interesting and just wants to show people fighting and yelling at each other. The Intelligence Bureau (IB) agent “hero” from India is named Dev Jammwal (played by Vidyut Jammwal), who has the personality of a spent bullet, but viewers are supposed to believe he’s extraordinary in how he can single-handedly avert an international crisis. The movie’s scenes go back and forth between India and Pakistan.

An early scene in the movie shows Dev at the Ministry of Defense headquarters in Delhi, India. Dev tells officials that the prison camps in India have had at least 10 runaways recently. Dev’s boss is N.S. Avasti (played by Anupam Kher), who is told that the Pakistanis are too busy kiling each other to be much of a threat to India. Dev has a sidekick IB partner named Sangram (played by Suvrat), who is as generic as generic can be.

Meanwhile, the IB is investigating Maqbool Bhat, a Kashmiri separatist, who is said to be planning some type of air raid in 10 days, with China being involved. (China has been helping guard East Pakistan.) N.S. Avasti and other IB officials are told that Maqbool Bhat only cares about gaining control in Kashmir, not India or Pakistan. And so begins the countdown for Dev to figure out what to do about this likely raid.

The movie then gets caught up in Dev being the hero for an airplane hijacking committed by two Kashmiri separatists who are followers of Maqbool Bhat, the leader of the National Liberation Front. The hijackers have taken a small plane (with about 20 to 25 passengers) hostage because they want 36 imprisoned National Liberation Front members to be set free from their prisons in India. These bumbling terrorists don’t know at the time of the hijacking that the airplane pilot is an IB agent named Dev Jammwal.

The hijackers are cousins Qasim Qureshi (played by Vishal Jethwa) and Ashfaq Qureshi (played by Faizan Khan), who make a lot of stupid mistakes. Qasim is the younger cousin. He looks like he’s barely out of high school. And he tries to make up for his youth and inexperience with arrogance and having a bad temper. Qasim gets very angry if anyone acts like he’s too young to be a leader. Ashfaq is a dimwitted follower who doesn’t really question what Qasim says or does.

“IB 71” just becomes a back-and-forth convoluted slog of Dev handling the hijacking and the countdown to the planned air raid, as if he’s the only person in charge of the IB. Everything about “IB 71” looks fake and ill-conceived. There’s really no point in watching bombastic junk like this unless you want to see terrible acting in a soulless and idiotic action film.

Reliance Entertainment released “IB 71” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on May 12, 2023.

Review: ‘Connect’ (2022), starring Nayanthara, Sathyaraj, Haniya Nafis and Anupam Kher

December 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Haniya Nafis in “Connect” (Photo courtesy of Rowdy Pictures)

“Connect” (2022)

Directed by Ashwin Saravanan

Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2020, in Mahabalipuram, India, the horror film “Connect” features an Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: During the COVID-19 quarantine lockdowns, a widowed businesswoman finds out that her teenage daughter is possessed by a demonic spirit.

Culture Audience: “Connect” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching horror movies that don’t have many surprises but have above-average acting and plenty of suspenseful moments.

Nayanthara and Haniya Nafis in “Connect” (Photo courtesy of Rowdy Pictures)

“Connect” is not a groundbreaking movie about a teenage girl possessed by the devil. However, this horror flick delivers some effective jump scares and has very good acting, despite the predictable story. The movie excels at creating a foreboding and creepy atmosphere through its cinematography, production design and musical score.

Directed by Ashwin Saravanan (who co-wrote the “Connect” screenplay with Ramkumar Kaavya), “Connect” begins with a deceptively cheerful scene of four family members spending time together on a beach in Mahabalipuram, India. The family members are business executive Susan Joseph (played by Nayanthara), her doctor husband Joseph Benoy (played Vinay Rai), their teenage daughter Anna “Ammu” Joseph (played by Haniya Nafis) and Susan’s father Arthur Samuel (played by Sathyaraj). The adults watch in delight as Ammu, who is a talented singer/musician, plays an acoustic guitar and sings a song for them.

Ammu, who is about 16 or 17 years old, has been accepted into the prestigious Trinity School of Music in London. She’s excited about this opportunity. However, her parents aren’t quite ready for Ammu to live so far away from home. Susan tells Ammu that she can pursue whatever dreams she wants, but the timing has to be right. Ammu can sense that her parents won’t let her go to this school, but something happens that prevents the family from discussing the matter in more detail.

The COVID-19 pandemic comes on in full force, causing worldwide quarantine lockdowns. Joseph is a medical doctor at a hospital, where he has to work long hours during the pandemic crisis and he doesn’t have time to go home. Susan and Ammu communicate with him by videoconferencing. Ammu is considered a “daddy’s girl,” so she is very worried about what will happen to her father being around so many people infected by COVID-19.

Within a matter of days, the family’s worst fears come true: Joseph gets infected, and he quickly dies. The family is devastated by this loss. One night, Ammu secretly goes into a room by herself, lights a candle in front of a Oujia board, and communicates via a video chat with an unnamed woman (played by Mekha Rajan) who claims to be a spiritual medium. Ammu wants this spiritual medium to help Ammu contact the spirit of Joseph.

A ritual is performed. The spirtual medium sings an eerie song that seems to put her in a trance. Suddenly, Ammu’s computer screen freezes, and the room where the spiritual medium is goes dark. And almost immediately, the closed door behind Ammu opens, and Ammu notices that no one visible has opened the door. Ammu gasps in fright. And then the scene fades to black.

The next scene shows Susan on the phone with a doctor to report that Ammu hasn’t been eating or sleeping very well. Susan thinks that she and Ammu might have been infected with COVID-19 but are not showing severe-enough symptoms to go to a hospital. Ammu and Susan have been quarantining, and the only person Susan can think of who might have infected Susan and Ammu is the family housekeeper, who is never seen in the movie.

Ammu then begins to act strangely. She stays in her room for hours and refuses to let Susan inside. By the second day of Ammu appearing to be sick, Ammu refuses to talk to Susan. The rest of “Connect” goes exactly how you think it might go in a movie about a teenage girl plagued by demonic possession.

However, what will keep viewers interested is seeing how what happens during Ammu’s transformation and how Susan deals with it. Because they are stuck in a house together during pandemic lockdowns, it’s not as simple as leaving the house to get help. Similarly, people who could help are reluctant to make home visits during the pandemic. A priest named Father Alex (played by Avinash Yelandur) and a therapist named Sheela (played by Praveena Nandu) are contacted and try to help, but viewers see how Ammu deals with them. (It’s not as cliché as you might think it is.)

There’s also a great deal of the story where Susan has no idea that Ammu is possessed. She thinks that Ammu is going through a mopey teenage phase and grieving over the death of Joseph, until it reaches a point where Susan sees some things that she can’t ignore. It’s one thing for Ammu’s bedroom to have upside-down crosses drawn on the walls like graffiti. But it’s another thing when Ammu starts hiding in dark places and hissing, or when Ammu vomits when Susan makes Ammu drink a glass of water that Ammu doesn’t know has holy water in it.

As shown in the movie’s trailer, Anupam Kher has a supporting role as Father Augustine, the priest who is contacted to perform the exorcism. (Ammu and her family are Roman Catholic.) “Connect” is convincing in how it depicts Susan’s claustrophobic fear of being stuck inside because of quarantining from a deadly pandemic but also feeling like her life is in danger because of the person who’s stuck inside with her.

Nayanthara gets most of the screen time in “Connect” as Susan, but Nafis makes an impessive feature-film debut as Ammu, who becomes a genuinely sinister character. “Connect” director/co-writer Saravanan cleverly keeps Ammu off screen for most of the movie, in order to keep viewers on edge to see when Ammu might show up again and what she might do next. “Connect” isn’t gory by most standards of scary movies. What the movie does so well is show the horror of feeling trapped somewhere with a loved one who has become a monster.

Rowdy Pictures released “Connect” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on December 22, 2022.

Review: ‘Uunchai,’ starring Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher and Boman Irani

November 20, 2022

by Carla Hay

Anupam Kher, Boman Irani and Amitabh Bachchan in “Uunchai” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)


Directed by Sooraj R. Barjatya

Hindi and Nepalese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India and Nepal, the dramatic film “Uunchai” features a cast of predominantly Indian characters (and with some Nepalese people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After their longtime friend unexpectedly dies, three elderly men decide to fulfill their dead friend’s wish to take an adventure trip and hike on Mount Everest, despite people telling them that they’re too old for this type of physical activity. 

Culture Audience: “Uunchai” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s principal stars, but “Uunchai” is filled with cringeworthy stereotypes and takes too long to get to the Mount Everest part of the story.

Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher and Boman Irani in “Uunchai” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Uunchai” takes a simple and not-very-original concept (elderly people going on an adventure trip) and ruins it with a bloated run time of 173 minutes, very hokey scenarios, and mediocre acting. “Uunchai” (which means “height” in Hindi) is supposed to be about three elderly men who take a trip to Mount Everest in Nepal, as a tribute to their recently deceased friend. It takes the movie about 45 minutes to finally show them starting this road trip. The movie is half over by the time they get to Mount Everest.

Directed by Sooraj R. Barjatya and written by Abhishek Dixit, “Uunchai” is a perfect example of a movie that is overstuffed with filler scenes that are completely unnecessary. And just as irritating is the movie’s unrelenting predictability. “Uunchai” tries to throw in a badly contrived “surprise” toward the end of the film. It’s really no surprise at all, considering that the movie’s central conflict is that these old men want to prove to naysayers that they’re strong enough and healthy enough to go on this Mount Everest trip.

“Uunchai” begins in Delhi, India, at a birthday celebration for a retired man named Bhupen (played by Danny Denzongpa), whose three best friends are at the party. Bhupen is a never-married bachelor who does not have any biological family members who are in his life. His three best friends are his family. All four of the men are in their 60s or 70s.

The other three friends are:

  • Professor/author Amit Srivastava (played by Amitabh Bachchan), who is separated from his wife and has no children.
  • Bookstore owner Om Sharma (played by Anupam Kher), who is a widower with a married son, who manages Om’s store.
  • Boutique owner Javed Siddiqui (played by Boman Irani), who is married and has a married daughter.

Bhupen’s party is a joyous event. Not long after the party, Bhupen tells his three buddies that he wants to fulfill a longtime dream of going with these friends to Mount Everest. He doesn’t want to do anything too dangerous, such as try to climb Mount Everest. Bhupen wants to go to Mount Everest Base Camp, which offers hiking and exploring activities on Mount Everest.

Amit and Javed are politely open to the idea, but Om is the most skeptical and nervous about it. Om quips, “We can barely climb the stairs, let alone a mountain!” However, after the four men have a night of drunken partying at a pub, Om agrees to take the trip.

Not long after they have this discussion, Bhupen suddenly dies of heart attack, alone in his home. His friends are devastated, of course. After the funeral (Bhupen was cremated), Amit is looking through some of Bhupen’s possessions when he finds four tickets that Bhupen bought for the Mount Everest trip. It’s how Amit discovers that Bhupen had been planning to surprise Amit, Om and Javed with these tickets as a gift.

Amit is so emotionally moved, he insists to Om and Javed that they all take the trip as a tribute to Bhupen. They also decide that they will spread Bhupen’s ashes on Mount Everest. The plan is set in motion to take the trip in the near future. They are going to travel to Mount Everest by car. Amit will do the driving.

The friends have two potential obstacles: First, they have to get the approval of their doctors. Second, Javed knows that his very possessive and nagging wife Shabina Siddiqui (played by Needa Gupta), nicknamed Bhabhi, will not let him go on this trip. And so, Javed comes up with a plan to let Shabina go on the road trip with them but to drop her off at the home of their daughter Heeba (played by Sheen Dass), who lives in Gorakhpur, India—about213 kilometers (or 132 miles) southeast of Delhi.

Because it takes so long in the movie for this road trip to actually begin, “Uunchai” has several tedious scenes of Amit, Om and Javed going through physical training and medical checkups to prepare for their Mount Everest adventure. Amit’s doctor advises him not to go on the trip because of the high altitudes of Mount Everest. Amit responds that he’s not changing his plans for the trip: “Doctor, I’m leaving tomorrow.”

During this long and monotonous road trip, “Uunchai” fills up the time with irritating bickering, usually instigated by Shabina, who is miserable being on the road. In addition, Om has some emotional baggage to deal with because he is estranged from his brothers, who live in a rural area and who think that Om abandoned them to become a businessman in Delhi. Om and his brothers have inherited some property, which has caused a family feud that is detailed in the movie.

When the four travelers get to Lucknow, India, they meet a woman in her 60s named Mala Trivedi (played by Sarika), who had a history with Bhupen. Her history is exactly what you think it might be. (It’s all so predictable.) And it’s why Mala ends up going on the road trip too. Mala is also with the men when they go to Mount Everest.

“Uunchai” is so formulaic and so treacly with its obvious attempts to pull at people’s heartstrings, it become a chore to watch this movie because of the way it drags on and on, without any real character development and nothing exciting happening. By the time these travelers get to Mount Everest, you can easily guess that they will have a tour guide who’s skeptical that these senior citizens are capable of keeping up with the rest of the younger people in the group. This cynical tour guide is named Shraddha (played by Parineeti Chopra), and she gets into stereotypical arguments with these elderly men—especially with “alpha male” Amit, who is the most determined of the three pals to prove her wrong.

And speaking of clichés, expect to see a lot of scenes of the old men huffing and puffing, as they run out of breath and struggle to keep up with the rest of the group during their physically demanding activities at Mount Everest. As shown in the trailer for “Uunchai,” Om slips and falls and inveitably gets hurt. And there are more “look at the old people trying to be fearless hikers” spectacle scenes that are too similar to each other and repeated over and over.

“Uunchai” also pours on the schmaltz in eye-rolling ways, such as a scene where the elderly travelers end up playing soccer with some Buddhist monks (who are in their monk clothes) and some of the local Nepalese people. Mostly, the trip consists of generic hiking scenes that show some beautiful scenery but has a lot of uninspired dialogue and a few contrivances. For example, during the trip, Om is distracted when he hears about some warehouse problems that are affecting his business back in Delhi.

Amit, who is a successful and famous author, is supposed to have the most fascinating life out of the three pals, but his life is depicted in a very shallow way in the movie. The only insight to any personal growth that Amit might experience is early on in “Uunchai,” shortly after Bhupen has died, when Amit remembers some constructive criticism that Bhupen gave to Amit. Bhupen told Amit that Amit’s self-help books were starting to sound less like they came from the mind of a writer and more like they came from the mind of a salesman.

Amit’s marital problems, which are barely mentioned in the movie, are then dealt with in a rushed and phony way toward the end of the film. Nafisa Ali Sodhi has a small role in “Uunchai” as Abhilasha Srivastava, Amit’s estranged wife. Amit is supposedly re-evaluating his life after Bhupen’s sudden death, but Amit’s marriage is treated like an afterthought in the overall plot.

“Uunchai” is the type of over-inflated movie where much of the production budget was spent on traveling and hiring the famous actors who headline the film. That money is wasted if the movie just turns out to be stale mush that rehashes similar movies about elderly people who go on a “wish fulfillment/bucket list” trip. The acting isn’t terrible, but it’s terribly generic. For a movie of this annoyingly excessive length, “Uunchai” has very little to say that’s witty, enthralling or truly original.

Yash Raj Films released “Uunchai” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on November 11, 2022.

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