Review: ‘Double XL,’ starring Sonakshi Sinha, Huma Qureshi, Zaheer Iqbal and Mahat Raghavendra

November 10, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sonakshi Sinha and Huma Qureshi in “Double XL” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

“Double XL”

Directed by Satram Ramani

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India and in London, the comedy/drama film “Double XL” features a predominantly Indian cast (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Two plus-sized women in their 30s—one who’s an aspiring sportscaster, the other who’s an aspiring fashion designer—become fast friends in London, where they are pursuing their dreams but experience discrimination because of their body sizes. 

Culture Audience: “Double XL” will appeal primarily to people interested in movies centered on plus-sized women and issues about weight discrimination, but the movie mishandles those issues with far-fetched situations and sappy solutions.

Huma Qureshi, Zaheer Iqbal, Mahat Raghavendra and Sonakshi Sinha in “Double XL” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

“Double XL” wants to preach about body positivity and female empowerment, but this inept dramedy is overloaded with witless clichés and irksome performances. Weight prejudices and low self-esteem are used as silly gimmicks in many unrealistic scenarios. Instead of making women look independent and capable of handling their own career decisions, “Double XL” sends a very contradictory and socially backwards message that women need love interests who can help women with their careers.

Directed by Satram Ramani, “Double XL” had the potential to be a good movie, based on the overall concept: Two plus-sized women meet by chance, quickly become friends, and encourage each other to pursue their career dreams, despite being discriminated against because of their weight. “Double XL” is pretending to be that type of female-empowerment movie. But it’s really a messy junkpile of bad rom-com platitudes pushing the misgyonistic belief that men have to set examples for women on how to be confident and make the right decisions.

“Double XL” (with an uninspired screenplay written by Mudassar Aziz and Sasha Singh) is just another lazy and outdated movie that follows an over-used formula of women acting like whiny ditzes until they have male love interests who come to their rescue and help make their dreams come true. The women scream, cry or pout when things don’t go their way. Their male companions are the voices of reason who give pep talks to the women to help boost the women’s self-esteem and give them advice about their careers.

It should absolutely be applauded when people are emotionally supportive of each other and help each other with their careers. But when a movie defines it along gender lines, as one gender being “smarter” (intellectually and emotionally) than another gender, that’s when it’s sexist and problematic. People who have the misfortune of watching “Double XL” will see that the women in the movie are always seeking advice and help from men, but men don’t seek advice or help from women. And that’s why “Double XL” is a fake feminist film.

“Double XL” begins with the biggest stereotype of stereotypical romantic comedies: A woman having a fantasy about meeing a handsome Prince Charming. In this opening scene, Rajshri Trivedi (played by Huma Qureshi) is in her bed, dreaming about being at a fancy gala, where cricket star Shikhar Dhawan (playing a version of himself) sees her and asks her to dance. Her dream is interrupted by the shrieking of her demanding mother (played by Alka Kaushal), who is in the room and ordering Rajshri to wake up.

Rajshri, who is in her mid-30s, lives with her parents and paternal grandmother (played by Shobha Khote) in the rural town of Meerut, India. Rajshri’s father (played by Kanwaljeet Singh) is passive and quiet—the complete opposite of his wife. Rajshri’s mother is the worst stereotype of an angry and pushy mother who demands that her daughter should be a wife and mother by a certain age. And if the daughter can’t meet this demand, she will be considered a failure.

Rajshri knows that she’s not ready to get married at this point in her life, but her mother won’t listen to her and insists on matchmaking for Rajshri. Needless to say, Rajshri has not found a good match with any of the suitors who are introduced to her. The movie shows her having an awkward “date” with a guy named Tito, who is visiting the Trivedi home in a matchmaking setup from Rajshri’s mother.

When Rajshri asks Tito what his dreams and goals are, he says he wants to open a ball bearing shop. Rajshri tells Tito that she wants to be a TV sportscaster (cricket is her favorite sport), and she shows him some test sportscasting videos that she wrote and directed herself. Tito then tactfully tells Rajshri that he’s not attracted to her body size. And then, he bluntly tells her that if she wants to be a TV sportscaster, “you’ll have to lose weight for that too, because the rest of the world is an idiot like me.”

Meanwhile, in New Delhi, another plus-sized woman in her 30s is in a clothing store, where she’s trying on a blouse that’s size XL. She’s an aspiring fashion designer named Saira Khanna (played by Sonakshi Sinha), who is very outspoken about her opinions. Sara wears a lip ring and has green streaks in her hair, so she doesn’t look like a traditional fashion designer. Her tacky choice of clothes that she wears is also questionable for someone who wants to be taken seriously as a fashion designer, but that’s a whole other issue.

The blouse that she’s trying on is too small for her arm area, which causes the blouse to rip. Saira is infuriated because she thinks any blouse labeled size XL should automatically fit her. She marches over to the store’s sales clerk, tells him why the blouse ripped, and she yells at the sales clerk for mislabeling the blouse as XL. Saira also refuses to pay for the ripped blouse because she says that it’s the store’s fault that the blouse didn’t fit her.

It’s misplaced anger, because more than likely it was the blouse’s manufacturer, not the store, that mislabeled the blouse. As an aspiring fashion designer, Saira should know that, but this movie makes the leading female characters look very ignorant about the industries where they want to have professional careers. Saira lectures the store clerk about how she’s a fashion designer, and she would never label a blouse as XL if it’s too small for her to wear. The store clerk sheepishly says he’s sorry and admits that maybe the blouse size was mislabeled.

After going on that ill-tempered rant, Saira gets some good news at home: A company is interested in investing in her work so that she can possibly start her own fashion label. She has to go to London for this job opportunity, and she accepts this offer with no hesitation.

Saira is next seen at a house party while she’s still in India. Her boyfriend Viren (played by Danish Pandor) is also at the party, and she can’t wait to find him to tell him the good news. While he’s in another area of the house, Saira overhears a younger woman named Nomi (played by Isha Dhillon) cattily tells some female friends that Viren is just using Saira for money and sex, and that Saira can’t get a better man because of Saira’s physical appearance. Saira looks hurt by these remarks, but she doesn’t let Nomi know she overheard this insult.

Saira has a best friend named Meera (played by Dolly Singh), who doesn’t approve of Viren and thinks Saira should break up with him. At the party, Saira finds Viren and tells him the good news about the job opportunity in London. He is very happy for her and congratulates her. But Saira looks like she’s secretly bothered about what she heard Nomi say about her.

Meanwhile, in Meerut, Rajshri can no longer take the pressure from her mother to find a husband. During a heated argument, Rajshri finally tells her meddling mother that she wants to have a career as a TV sportscaster, and she’s going to pursue this career in London. Her mother thinks it’s a foolish dream.

But they both make a compromise and a bet with each other: If Rajshri can accomplish her goal of becoming a professional sportscaster within a year, then her mother will stop pressuring Rajshri to get married. If Rajshri can’t accomplish this goal within a year, then Rajshri has to move back to India and let her mother find a husband for Rajshri.

Saira and Rajshri both end up in London, but they don’t meet each other immediately. Saira has an older brother (played by Sachin Shroff) who lives in London, so she stays with him while she’s there. Rajshri is staying with her married aunt named Rolie Mausi (played by Swati Tarar), who welcomes Rajshri with open arms.

As soon as viewers find out that Saira has a best friend who doesn’t like or trust Saira’s boyfriend, it should come as no surprise what happens next. Saira has to end her trip to London sooner than she expected. When she’s back in India, she goes over to Viren’s home for an unannounced visit. He looks very surprised to see her and is reluctant to let her inside.

Saira insists on going inside and is suspicious about why Viren is nervous. He tells her nothing is wrong, but she goes from room to room, to find out if Viren is hiding anything from her. And sure enough: A woman is hiding outside on the bedroom balcony, wearing nothing but a blanket. This no-longer-secret lover is Nomi, the woman from the party who was insulting Saira.

Saira predictably has a screeching meltdown, while Viren tries to appease her. His lies and pleas don’t work. Saira, who thought she was going to spend the rest of her life with Viren, breaks up with him. And then she says out loud that she should’ve listened to what her best friend Meera said about Viren.

Saira goes back to London, where she is rejected to be the director of a fashion travelogue because of her physical appearance. Around the same time, Rajshri goes on an open audition to be a sportscaster, but she’s also rejected because of her body size. It also doesn’t help that Rajshri doesn’t dress like a professional sportscaster during a job interview but dresses more like she’s a frumpy schoolteacher or a nanny.

After these rejections, Saira and Rajshri end up sobbing in the same public restroom. They tell each other why they’re crying and find out that they’ve both experienced discrimination because of their body sizes. And just like that, Saira and Rajshri decide that they’re going to become friends who will help each other fulfill their career dreams.

Saira’s brother works at a TV station, so that’s how Saira meets mild-mannered Srikanth Sreevardhan (played by Mahat Raghavendra), a camera operator who is Tamil and barely fluent in Hindi. Saira has decided to do a video fashion shoot of her fashion designs, so Srikanth has been recommended to her as the camera operator. Srikanth has a co-worker friend named Zorawar Rahmani (played by Zaheer Iqbal), nicknamed Zo, a line producer who is a hyper and talkative partier. Srikanth and Zorawar are both bachelors who don’t have girlfriends.

Even though “Double XL” is ostensibly about Saira and Rajshri helping each other, all the big breaks they get are only because of actions taken by their new male companions. Rajshri unrealistically gets to interview real-life, retired cricket star Kapil Dev (playing himself in the movie) because Zorawar set up the interview. “Double XL” makes a point of mentioning that it was Zorawar’s idea for Rajshri to do the interview, and he took the initiative to arrange for the interview to happen, so that he could give Rajshri a pleasant surprise.

But this accomplishment is tainted, because in order to get the interview, Zorawar lied and said that Rajshri operates an orphanage for 150 children. Kapil thinks he’s doing an interview for a charity. This interview (which is not on TV but recorded for Rajshri’s intended demo reel) becomes the source of some ridiculous hijinks that complicate Rajshri’s sportscaster dreams.

Meanwhile, the storyline about Saira’s fashion career becomes a time-wasting drag where her biggest “challenge” is filming models on the streets of London without a permit. She only chooses slender models for her first fashion shoots. And then, Saira has an “a-ha moment” that you know is coming as soon as the movie had that scene with Saira getting angry about trying on a size XL blouse that was too small for her.

“Double XL” is very lopsided in presenting the storylines of Saira and Rajshri, because Rajshri’s storyline takes up the bulk of the anxiety-ridden “drama” in the movie. Saira has a lot more self-confidence than Rajshri has. Saira’s career struggles aren’t as bleak, because she has a talent to create things on her own and just has to find enough people to buy her designs. Fashion designers (unless they are also models) are not judged as harshly for their physical appearance as people whose job is to be in front of a camera.

By contrast, Rajshri’s TV career goal is entirely dependent on being a hired by a mainstream media company that will judge her on how she looks, including her body size. And there’s also the matter of Rajshri being from a rural area and getting used to living in a big city. Saira has been a resident of a big city for a long time, so her adjustment to being in London is a lot easier than Rajshri’s adjustment. The movie has plenty of moments where Rajshri is depicted as a naïve “country bumpkin.”

With “Double XL” focusing almost all of the career problems and self-confidence issues on Rajshri, Saira’s storyline looks less significant in comparison. The biggest thing that Saira does for Rajshri in her career is predictably give her a fashion makeover. But what does Rajshri really do for Saira’s career? Not much, except tag along at her fashion shoots because Saira asked her.

Because’s Saira’s storyline become so uninteresting and limp—literally limp, because Saira sprains her ankle during a photo shoot—”Double XL tries to spice it up by making Saira annoyed with Zorawar and his irresponsible ways. And when a formulaic movie like “Double XL” has two unmarried people of the opposite sex who get irritated with each other but have to spend a lot of time together, you know where everything is going with this contrived relationship.

Rajshri is so caught up in trying to get a job as a TV sportscaster, she doesn’t notice that Srikanth has quietly become attracted to her. He opens up to Rajshri that his dream is to become a feature-film director. Srikanth says that his father encouraged this dream but didn’t live long enough to see Srikanth fulfill this goal. Srikanth eventually makes a huge move to show his affection and admiration for Rajshri.

One of the major problems with “Double XL” is that the characters are more like caricatures. Viewers with enough life experience and common sense will have a hard time connecting to the four main “Double XL” characters, who all are very immature for their ages. They act more like people in their early-to-mid-20s rather than in their 30s. Rajshri’s storyline is much worse than Saira’s because of all the “only in a movie” fakeness in her plot developments.

Rajshri is also hopelessly ignorant about how the sportscasting industry really works. “Double XL” tries to make this ignorance look like Rajshri is just a sweet, innocent ingenue. But in reality, her ignorance makes her look unprofessional and undeserving of all the lucky breaks that she expects to rapidly come her way, just because she’s in London.

Rajshri gives up too easily, but Srikanth is there to tell her all the right things and improve her confidence. Rajshri knows that her body size could be an obstacle to getting certain jobs, but the movie makes Rajshri use her body size as a self-defeating crutch/excuse for every single failure that she has in life. After a while, this self-pity becomes pathetic. Rather than portraying Rajshri as enterprising and clever, “Double XL” makes her into a “damsel in distress” who needs a man to rescue her—in other words, the opposite of female empowerment.

The movie’s dialogue is very trite and mostly not very funny at all. The acting isn’t much better, although Sinha (as Saira) fares the best out of all the principal cast members when it comes to comedic timing and delivering her lines in a way that tries to look natural. All of the other characters in the movie are either too bland or too obnoxious.

“Double XL” has predictable scenes of Saira and Rajshri complaining to each other about how society can body shame women, especially women who are plus-sized. And what do Saira and Rajshri do to further wallow in their misery? They go to a fast-food place and order as much junk food as they can on the menu.

It’s supposed to be an act of defiance, but what are they trying to prove? No one else in the movie cares that Saira and Rajshri want to binge on junk food. This gluttony scene is the type of “comedy” that “Double XL” is desperately trying to convince viewers is funny, but it’s really a thinly veiled mockery of plus-sized women. “Double XL” gets worse as it goes along until it eventually becomes a thinly veiled mockery of real female empowerment.

T-Series Films released “Double XL” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on November 4, 2022.

Review: ‘Army of the Dead’ (2021), starring Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Tig Notaro, Matthias Schweighöfer and Garret Dillahunt

May 13, 2021

by Carla Hay

Dave Bautista in “Army of the Dead” (Photo by Clay Enos/Netflix)

“Army of the Dead” (2021)

Directed by Zack Snyder

Culture Representation: Taking place in Las Vegas during a zombie apocalypse, the horror flick “Army of the Dead” features a racially diverse cast (Asian, white, African American and Latino) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A ragtag group is enlisted to retrieve $200 million in cash from a casino bank vault before the government drops a nuclear bomb in the zombie-infested area. 

Culture Audience: “Army of the Dead” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in epic and suspenseful zombie thrillers.

Ella Purnell in “Army of the Dead” (Photo by Clay Enos/Netflix)

What’s a filmmaker to do when there are so many movies and TV shows about a zombie apocalypse that cover a lot of the same problems? In the case of director Zack Snyder, you up the ante by making the story about looting a vault filled with $200 million in cash, before the area is detonated by government bomb. That’s the concept of writer/director/producer Snyder’s “Army of the Dead,” which definitely won’t be confused with director Joseph Conti’s 2008 low-budget supernatural horror movie “Army of the Dead,” which was about ghostly conquistadors.

Snyder (who was also the cinematographer for his “Army of the Dead” movie) isn’t new to directing a zombie film, since the previous zombie flick that he directed was the critically acclaimed 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead.” With a total running time of 148 minutes, “Army of the Dead” has a lot of time for viewers to get to know the story’s individual human characters, who each have a distinct and memorable personality. And believe it or not, a few of the zombie characters have semblances of personalities too—or at least a hierachy and customs that they follow—which is a departure from most zombie stories where the zombies only think about killing humans for their next meal.

Is it worth spending nearly two-and-a-half hours of your life watching “Army of the Dead”? It depends. If you’re inclined to watch gory horror movies, then the answer is a definite “yes,” because there’s enough of a good story and suspenseful moments that will keep you riveted. If you can’t stomach seeing brutal battles with blood and guts, then “Army of the Dead” is something that you can skip. The “Army of the Dead” screenplay (written by Snyder, Shay Hatten and Joby Harold) keeps things simple, so that even though there’s a relatively large cast of characters, nothing gets confusing.

“Army of the Dead” opens with a military convoy of trucks and vans somewhere in the Nevada desert, with one of the trucks carrying super-secret cargo. Two military guards named Corp. Bissel (played by Zach Rose) and Sgt. Kelly (played by Michael Cassidy) are in a truck together and speculate about what they might be guarding that’s so top-secret. Bissel thinks it might be an alien from outer space, because whatever is in the mystery truck came from Area 51. Kelly has been told on a walkie talkie to stay away from a truck that’s in the middle of the convoy.

Bissel and Kelly are about to found out what’s in that mysterious truck. A newlywed couple named Mr. Hillman (played by Steve Corona) and Misty Hillman (played by Chelsea Edmundson), who are in a car in the opposite lane of the highway, are engaging in some sexual activity, and the husband takes his eyes off the road while driving. Big mistake. The resulting crash is a big pile-up that ends with a massive explosion that kills the newlyweds and most of the people in the convoy, except for Bissel and Kelly.

The truck that was supposed to be “off limits” topples over. And out comes a zombie named Zeus (played by Richard Cetrone), who immediately goes on a rampage. Bissel and Kelly make a valiant effort to save themselves, but they inevitably become the zombie’s prey and then become zombies themselves.

“Army of the Dead” then fast-forwards to Las Vegas in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, by having a fairly long sequence of opening credits showing much of the action in slow-motion. The movie has many touches of humor, such as zombie showgirls who attack the type of creepy older men who would probably sexually harass them under other circumstances. Zombies have taken over casinos and are shown terrorizing people at slot machines and game tables. And because this is Vegas, there’s at least one Elvis impersonator who’s a zombie.

During all of this mayhem, a news announcement comes on TV that the government will drop a “low-yield, tactical nuclear bomb” in the worst zombie-infested area of Las Vegas, at sunset on (of all days) the Fourth of July. All people in the area have been ordered to evacuate. But a wealthy casino owner named Bly Tanaka (played by Hiroyuki Sanada) has other plans.

Bly’s eponymous high-rise casino is now abandoned and is in the area that’s scheduled to be bombed. The casino has a secret vault filled with $200 million cash. And he wants to get the cash out in time by having other people do the dirty work for him.

Bly visits Scott Ward (played by Dave Bautista), a widower who works as a cook at a diner. Scott isn’t an average diner employee though: He received a Presidential Medal of Freedom for saving several people at the start of the zombie apocalypse. (This heroism is mentioned, but not shown, in the movie.)

And due to his shady past, Scott knows the right people to assemble to get all of that cash out of the vault, even if it means risking their lives in an area crawling with zombies. Bly offers Scott $50 million to do the job and says that it will be up to Scott how Scott wants to divide the payment amongst Scott’s team members. Scott eagerly accepts the challenge because he wants the money to open his own fast-food business.

The decision of where to drop the bomb is controversial because it’s in a quarantine area for people who’ve been suspected of being exposed to zombie infections. In one of the movie’s satirical moments, there’s a TV news debate with political pundits on both sides weighing in on the controversy. Real-life liberal Democrat pundit Donna Brazile (a former acting chair of the Democratic National Committee) and real-life conservative Republican aide Sean Spicer (a former White House press secretary in the Donald Trump administration) are seen in this debate arguing over the ethics of this bombing. Brazile thinks the bombing is a human rights violation, while Spicer thinks the bombing is necessary to ensure the safety of non-infected humans.

Scott’s estranged daughter Kate Ward (played by Ella Purnell) works as a volunteer at the quarantine shelter/refugee camp. Kate has befriended a single mother named Geeta (played by Huma Qureshi), who is desperate to have her two underage children smuggled out of the shelter before the bomb hits. Geeta begs Kate to take the children to the nearby city of Barstow if anything happens to her.

One of the supervisors at the shelter is a sleazy bully named Burt Cummings (played by Theo Rossi), who takes particular pleasure in demeaning women. When he does a thermometer scan of Geeta, he stands too close for comfort and tells her that if she doesn’t like it, he’ll use another way to take her temperature: “I could use my rectal thermometer,” he smirks.

The bomb is supposed to be dropped in 72 hours. But Dave is able to quickly assemble his team. They are:

  • Maria Cruz (played by Ana de la Reguera), a strong-willed mechanic who had a past romance with Scott.
  • Vanderohe (played by Omari Hardwick), a quintessential action hero who has a sensitive side (he works at a retirement home) beneath his tough exterior.
  • Marianne Peters (played by Tig Notaro), a wisecracking helicopter pilot who will be responsible for flying the team’s getaway helicopter.
  • Dieter (played by Matthias Schweighöfer), a socially awkward and nerdy locksmith who will be responsible for cracking the safe’s complex security codes, which change on a regular basis.
  • Mikey Guzman (played by Raúl Castillo), a semi-famous YouTuber who likes to make extreme stunt videos of himself hunting zombies.
  • Chambers (Samantha Win), a feisty but emotionally aloof friend of Mikey’s who only trusts Mikey in the group.
  • Lilly (played by Nora Arnezeder), also known as The Coyote, a cunning warrior type who works at the quarantine shelter and was introduced to the group by Kate.
  • Kate, Scott’s daughter, who insists on being part of the team because she wants some of the money to help Deeta.
  • Martin (played by Garret Dillahunt), a security expert who works for Bly and is there to keep tabs on this motley crew so they won’t steal all the money for themselves.

One of Mikey’s friends named Damon (played by Colin Jones) was also supposed to be part of the team. But a fearful Damon quits early, before they even start their journey, when he finds out that the area they’re going to has a colony of zombies that will be sure to attack. Lilly knows the most about the zombies living in this colony, and she’s the go-to person to come up with strategies on how to outsmart the zombies.

As Lilly tells the rest of the team, these are not ordinary zombies. Regular zombies, which are more common, are called “shamblers” because they don’t think beyond eating and killing. The zombies that are near the casino are called “alphas,” because they’re smarter, faster and stronger than the shambler zombies.

These alpha zombies have formed a tribe headed by a king (Zeus, the same zombie who escaped from the military convoy) and a queen (played by Athena Perample), who expect the rest of the zombie tribe to follow their lead. These zombies, as seen in several parts of the movie, seem to have emotions of anger and sadness. And they also understand things such as bargaining, which might or might not come in handy for this group that will soon invade the alpha zombies’ territory.

“Army of the Dead” keeps things at a fairly energetic pace, although there are a few parts of the movie where people are standing around and talking a little too much. But the action, when it happens, lives up to expectations in intensity and realistic gore. There are some splatter scenes that were deliberately filmed for laughs. The movie also has a male zombie tiger named Valentine, which Lilly says used to be owned by Siegfried and Roy. Valentine is a scene-stealer, even though this creature is nothing but visual effects.

And in this group of opinionated people, there are personality conflicts, of course. Vanderohe doesn’t respect Dieter at first because he thinks Dieter is too wimpy and ill-prepared for the zombie-killing aspects of this mission. Kate has a lot of bitterness toward Scott because of how her mother died. (The death of Kate’s mother/Scott’s wife is shown in a flashback.) And no one seems to really like or trust Bly’s henchman Martin, who has a tendency to be a bossy know-it-all.

The big showdown battle toward the end of the movie is definitely one of the best scenes, as it should be. “Army of the Dead” doesn’t sugarcoat any violence, although there are moments that stretch the bounds of realism with some heavily choreographed stunts. All of the actors play their roles well, with Castillo, Notaro, Schweighöfer and Arnezeder bringing the most individuality to their characters’ personalities. Bautista doesn’t have a wide range of emotive skills as an actor, but “Army of the Dead” is the type of movie that showcases him at his best, rather than the silly action comedies that he sometimes does.

The biggest complaint or disappointment that viewers might have about “Army of the Dead” is regarding the movie’s final five minutes, when a character finds out something that this person should have found out much earlier. It drastically changes the tone of the film’s ending. But this potentially divisive ending doesn’t take away from “Army of the Dead” delivering plenty of thrills and chills that make it a better-than-average zombie movie.

Netflix released “Army of the Dead” in New York City on May 12, 2021, and will expand the movie’s release to more U.S. cinemas on May 14, 2021. Netflix will premiere “Army of the Dead” on May 21, 2021.

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