Review: ‘Shabaash Mithu,’ starring Taapsee Pannu

August 8, 2022

by Carla Hay

Taapsee Pannu in “Shabaash Mithu” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

“Shabaash Mithu”

Directed by Srijit Mukherji

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India and other parts of the world, from 1990 to 2017, the dramatic film “Shabaash Mithu” features a predominantly Indian cast of characters (with a few white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy, in this biopic of cricket star Mithali Raj.

Culture Clash: Mithali Raj faces sexism and other obstacles in her quest to become a professional cricket player. 

Culture Audience: “Shabaash Mithu” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Mithali Raj and movie star Taapsee Pannu, but even those fans might be disappointed at the heavy-handed way that this true story is told.

Taapsee Pannu (standing in center) in “Shabaash Mithu” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

It’s rare to have theatrically released biopics about Indian women who are sports pioneers, so it’s a shame that “Shabaash Mithu” terribly bungles the true story of cricket star Mithali Raj. The film is bloated and sappy, with bad acting and sloppy editing. And, at an overly long 156 minutes, “Shabaash Mithu” will test the patience of anyone expecting to see an inspirational story told in an engaging way.

Directed by Srijit Mukherji and written by Priya Aven, “Shabaash Mithu” takes place from 1990 to 2017. The movie drags on for so long, viewers will feel like they’ve aged along with the characters in the movie. One of the biggest flaws in “Shabaash Mithu” is that it takes too long in showing Raj’s childhood and repeating how she was underestimated as a cricket player (even by her family), simply because she was a girl. (“Shabaash Mithu” translates to “well done, sweet” in Gujarati.)

“Shabaash Mithu” opens in 1990, with a confusing creative choice by not showing Mithali but showing the girl who would become her best friend: Noorie (played by Kasturi Jagnam), who’s 8 years old in 1990, and who is the same age as Mithali. The movie’s opening scene is of Noorie playing soccer with some neighborhood boys. Her mother then lectures Noorie to look and act more like a girl.

Viewers then see that Noorie has a best friend named Mithali Raj (played by Inayat Verma), nicknamed Mithu. Mithali’s brother Mithun Raj (played by Nishant Pradhan), who’s about 11 or 12 years old, plays cricket. And it isn’t long before Noorie and Mithali want to play cricket with the boys. The girls are predictably taunted and shunned by the boys for wanting to be part of these cricket games.

Noorie is very outspoken, sassy, and can give as much trouble as she gets. When one of the boys is rude to her, she calls him “fatso,” and then she gets into a brawl with him and some of the other boys. Mithali is more hesitant and reserved, but she also feels like she has just as much of a right as the boys have a right to learn how to play cricket. Mithali keeps her cricket playing a secret from her family, because she knows they think playing cricket should only be for boys and men.

Mithali and her brother live with their mother Leela Raj (played by Devadarshini), father Dorai Raj (played Sameer Dharmadhikari), and paternal grandmother. These family members think that Mithun is the going to be the one in the family who could become a sports star. They’re in for a shock when they’re visited by a cricket coach named Sampath (played by Vijay Raaz), who says that he’s been watching Mithali play cricket, and he’s interested in having Mithali (not Mithun) train at the Reyes Cricket Academy for children.

Older brother Mithun is jealous and a little embarrassed that he wasn’t chosen for this well-known academy. Mithali’s parents and grandmother are skeptical that Mithali has what it takes to be a cricket star. After quite a bit of pleading, Coach Sampath convinces the family members to let Mithali join the Reyes Cricket Academy, where Noorie has also been accepted as a student. At Noorie’s suggestion, Mithali eventually cuts off her long braids so that her hair won’t get in the way of her cricket playing.

This part of Mithali’s childhood should have been covered in 10 minutes or less in the movie, but it drags out with scenes that take up about 30 minutes of the film. The movie then fast-forwards to 1997, where Mithali (played by Taapsee Pannu) and Noorie (played by Anushree Kushwaha) are 15 years old and still being coached by Sampath at the Reyes Cricket Academy. Both girls plan to eventually become professional cricket players.

Noorie and Mithali are still the best of friends, but their friendship is changed forever when 15-year-old Noorie announces that she’s getting married because Noorie’s father has arranged for her to get married. Therefore, Noorie has to quit the academy and quit cricket completely. Mithali is devastated and feels abandoned by Noorie, who was the person who got Mithali interested in cricket in the first place.

Mithali then gets selected for a national cricket camp for the women’s national cricket team of India. And once again, her brother Mithun is jealous. At the Women’s Cricket Board, Mithali is immediately hazed and bullied by the other team members because she’s a shy newcomer. In one such incident, Mithali becomes a target for bullying just because she asked for pain medication for menstrual cramps.

Mithali often gets dejected and sometimes feels like giving up, but Sampath advises her not to quit and to use her emotional pain as her strength in cricket games. He also tells her that many of the other women on the team come from backgrounds of hardship and that they use these feelings of anger and bitterness in their energy for the games against the opponents. Viewers won’t learn much about cricket playing skills, unless you think it’s fascinating when Sampath utters this trite advice to Mitahli in a “mind over matter” pep talk: “The most important position in batting is in your head.”

People who know about the real Mithali’s life story might already know that Sampath won’t always be there for Mithali as her mentor. When Mitahli founds out that Sampath will no longer be in her life, the expected melodrama ensues. Mithali is able to eventually win over her teammates when she’s suddenly named team captain in a very phony-looking scene.

One of the biggest problems with “Shabaash Mithu” is how it keeps repeating scenarios, long after the point was made the first time this scenario was shown. In addition to the long stretches of the movie showing Mithali getting bullied by her teammates (before she gets their respect), “Shabaash Mithu” overloads on repetition in showing how the men’s national cricket team of India has more fame and fortune than the women’s national cricket team of India. It doesn’t help that the women’s team is on a losing streak until Mitahli becomes the team captain.

“Shabaash Mithu” has too many similar scenes of the women’s team being ignored and disrespected at airports and other public places, while members of the men team (who just happen to be nearby) are cheered and celebrated. Mithali and her team are so disrespected, Indian cricket officals decide that the women’s team will have to wear discarded uniforms that were formerly worn by the men’s team, with the men’s last names still on the back of the shirts. It’s at this point in the movie that you know the women’s team will collectively rip off those shirts in a show of defiance and female pride.

There’s a lot of heavy-handed footage of Mithali being a women’s rights crusader and doing things like marching into offices and demanding to be respected by an all-male team of decision makers. All of these scenes are so hokey, but the awful dialogue and hammy acting just make it all worse. And so much of the movie just drags on and on and on, because the editing is so horrible. “Shabaash Mithu” is a pile-on of corny clichés with no self-awareness of how dreadful everything is and how disrespectful it is to the real Mithali Raj, who surely was not this vapidly dull in real life.

And where does this leave all the cricket playing? In “Shabaash Mithu,” the games are choppily edited to the point where it’s obvious that the actors don’t have real cricket skills. It isn’t until the last third of the film, which shows the 2017 Women’s World Cup finals, where the energy picks up to where it should have been all along in showing these cricket matches. But by then, it’s too little, too late. A lot of people who have the endurance to watch this long-winded mess until the very end will have emotionally checked out by then.

Viacom18 Studios released “Shabaash Mithu” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on July 15, 2022.

Review: ‘Jugjugg Jeeyo,’ starring Varun Dhawan, Kiara Advani, Anil Kapoor and Neetu Kapoor

July 18, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured in center: Kiara Advani, Varun Dhawan, Anil Kapoor and Neetu Kapoor in “Jugjugg Jeeyo” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

“Jugjugg Jeeyo”

Directed by Raj Mehta 

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mainly in Patiala, India (and briefly in Toronto and New York City), the comedy/drama film “Jugjugg Jeeyo” has a predominantly Indian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A married man and his parents experience marital problems around the same time, while people in the family juggle secrets and lies about their relationships.

Culture Audience: “Jugjugg Jeeyo” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Anil Kapoor and anyone who doesn’t mind watching jumbled movies that treat love and marriage as silly plot devices.

Tisca Chopra, Varun Dhawan and Anil Kapoor in “Jugjugg Jeeyo” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

“Jugjugg Jeeyo” plays so fast and loose with marital breakups and makeups, it loses all credibility. This comedy/drama has some eye-catching musical sequences, but the rest of the movie is just a jumbled mess of people who are flaky about marriage. The comedy wears thin very quickly, while the drama isn’t very engaging.

Directed by Raj Mehta, “Jugjugg Jeeyo” (which means “juggle live” in Hindi) has four people credited with writing the movie: Rishhabh Sharrma, Sumit Batheja, Anurag Singh and Neeraj Udhwani. Usually, when four or more people are credited with writing a movie screenplay, the movie suffers from “too many cooks in the kitchen” syndrome. That appears to be the case wtih “Jugjugg Jeeyo,” which throws in too many plot twists—and almost all these plot twists are not believable.

The movie is told from the perspective of Kuldeep “Kukoo” Saini (played by Varun Dhawan), a man who is floundering in his career and in his love life. In the beginning of the movie, life seems to be pretty good for Kukoo. In his hometown of Patiala, India, he has a dream wedding to Nainaa Sharma (played by Kiara Advani), in a marriage that was not arranged but is a love match. Kukoo and Nainaa’s courtship is never shown in the movie.

Five years later, Kukoo and Nainaa are living in Toronto, because Nainaa got a job as a business executive in an unnamed industry. Their marriage has hit a rut, mainly because they aren’t communicating well with each other, and Kukoo feels insecure about having a stalled career. Kukoo has a university degree in hotel management, but the only work he’s been able to find in Toronto is as a security bouncer/doorman at a nightclub. Needless to say, Kukoo hates his job.

To make matters worse, Nainaa has secretly accepted a job offer in New York City, but she hasn’t told Kukoo yet. For their five-year wedding anniversary, Kukoo and Nainaa have a tension-filled dinner at a restaurant. They begin arguing, and Kukoo announces that he wants a divorce.

Nainaa doesn’t seem surprised and seems to also want to get divorced. Things get worse on the car ride home. Nainaa is driving, another argument ensues, and she’s so distracted by this argument, she accidentally rear-ends a car in front of her. As for Nainaa’s decision to move to New York City, “Jugjugg Jeeyo” handles it in a clumsy way.

The couple’s decision to divorce comes at an inconvenient time because Kukoo and Nainaa are soon expected to go to Patiala to attend the wedding of Kukoo’s younger sister Ginny Saini (played by Prajakta Koli), who is having an arranged marriage. In order to not upset their families, and in order not to disrupt the wedding, Kukoo and Nainaa agree not to tell anyone about their impending divorce until after Ginny’s wedding. But in a movie like “Jugjugg Jeeyo,” you just know someone is going to break that agreement.

Ginny likes her soon-to-be-husband Balwinder (played by Savant Singh Premi), but she’s not in love with him. Ginny has unresolved feelings for an ex-boyfriend named Gourav (played by Varun Sood), who is still in love with Ginny. Gourav has been invited to the engagement party and wedding. You can easily predict what will happen in this awkward arrangement.

At the engagement party for Ginny and Balwinder, things get even more uncomfortable, as Kukoo and Nainaa try to pretend to everyone else that they’re happily married. However, Kukoo’s mother Geeta Saini (played by Neetu Kapoor) senses that something isn’t quite right about the relationship, and asks Kukoo if he and Nainaa are having marital problems. Kukoo denies any problems and tells his mother that he is happy.

As the engagement party is winding down, Kukoo and his father Bheem Saini (played by Anil Kapoor, no relation to Neetu Kapoor) have a drunken conversation where they confess to each other that they are both having marital problems. Kukoo tells Bheem that he and Nainaa are separated and are headed for divorce. Bheem says that he’s planning to divorce Geeta. Ginny is so oblivious to her parents’ marital woes that she later tells Kukoo that she has planned a surprise ceremony for their parents to renew their wedding vows.

Meanwhile, the preparations for Ginny and Balwinder’s wedding are often disrupted by Nainaa’s hard-partying brother Gurpreet Sharma (played by Manish Paul), who is a stereotypical loudmouth who will do anything to get attention and cause mischief. Gurpreet comes up with the idea to invite Bheem to Balwinder’s bachelor party. Gurpreet knows it’s unusual and inappropriate for a future father-in-law to be at his future son-in-law’s bachelor party, but Gurpreet doesn’t care.

It’s also an example of how Balwinder is kind of a pushover for letting someone else control the invitations to his own bachelor party. It’s all just a flimsy excuse for “Jugjugg Jeeyo” to have contrived situations where family members are put in embarrassing scenarios. And there will be more embarrassing scenarios to come, with the expected arguments and meltdowns.

It isn’t long before Kukoo finds out Bheem’s unhappiness in his marriage is more than just feeling alienated and bored. Bheem has had a secret life that will be exposed and will have the effect of an emotional bomb going off in the family. And his secret is the most obvious secret you can imagine.

One day, Kukoo and Bheem are watching a movie together in a theater when a woman sits next to Kukoo. Kukoo recognizes the woman as someone who was a teacher of his when he was in high school. Her name is Meera (played Tisca Chopra), and she re-introduces herself to Kukoo. They exchange pleasant talk before Bheem’s secret is revealed.

And then, Bheem tells Kukoo that Meera is Bheem’s mistress. Their affair has been going on long enough where it’s obvious that Bheem plans to go public about his relationship with Meera after Bheem gets a divorce. Kukoo is in shock, of course. He’s also angry at his father for this betrayal. (This isn’t spoiler information because it’s in the movie’s trailer.)

Bheem eventually tells the family that he’s going to divorce Geeta, who is devastated and feels even more humiliation when she finds out about Bheem’s affair with Meera. “Jugjugg Jeeyo” then takes a melodramatic detour when Bheem gets a heart attack, presumably from all the stress. This heart attack causes certain family members to feel sympathy for Bheem, as loyalties in the divorce start to shift. Eventually, more secrets come out, resulting in over-the-top reactions from certain family members.

“Jugjugg Jeeyo” starts off with some slightly amusing relationship scenarios, but the movie gets worse as it goes along. The biggest problem with the film is that it expects audiences to root for these characters to find love and happiness when many of these characters don’t really respect themselves or other people when it comes to finding true love and happiness. They treat marriage as something that they can discard and pick up like a set of clothes they want to wear when it’s convenient for them.

In other words, the breakups and makeups in this movie look very phony and unearned. The movie’s cast members do adequate jobs in their roles. The problem is that their characters are written and directed like they’re fools in a badly conceived movie that wants to be a soap opera and a sitcom at the same time, with some elaborate musical numbers thrown in as filler. Some viewers might enjoy the silliness of it all, but there’s nothing entertaining about watching adults acting this deceitful and stupid.

Viacom18 Studios released “Jugjugg Jeeyo” in select U.S. cinemas, in India and in several other countries on June 24, 2022.

Review: ‘Veetla Vishesham,’ starring RJ Balaji, Sathyaraj, Urvashi, Aparna Balamurali and K.P.A.C. Lalitha

July 8, 2022

by Carla Hay

Urvashi and Sathyaraj in “Veetla Vishesham” (Photo courtesy of Zee Studios)

“Veetla Vishesham”

Directed by RJ Balaji and N.J. Saravanan

Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Tamil Nadu, India, the comedy/drama film “Veetla Vishesham” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: When a 50-year-old married woman unexpectedly gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby, members of her family and community have reactions that include embarrassment, fear, scorn and reluctant support. 

Culture Audience: “Veetla Vishesham” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching realistic movies about how a later-in-life pregnancy can affect families.

Aparna Balamurali and RJ Balaji in “Veetla Vishesham” (Photo courtesy of Zee Studios)

Without being preachy, the comedy/drama “Veetla Vishesham” adeptly depicts issues of ageism and sexism that arise when a 50-year-old married mother unexpectedly gets pregnant. The realistic performances from the movie’s talented cast enliven this story that can be heartwarming and heartbreaking. The movie could have been exploitative or demeaning in the subject matter, but “Veetla Vishesham” admirably handles it with grace and wit.

Directed by RJ Balaji and N.J. Saravanan, “Veetla Vishesham” (which takes place somewhere in Tamil Nadu, India) is a remake of the 2018 Hindi-language film “Badhaai Ho,” which was a big, award-winning hit in India. Amit Ravindrenath Sharma directed “Badhaai Ho,” which was written by Akshat Ghildial by Shantanu Srivastava. (“Badhaai Ho” means “congratulations” in Hindi.) The adapted screenplay for “Veetla Vishesham” (which means “special at home” in Tamil) is credited to RJ Balaji and Friends.

“Veetla Vishesham” sticks very closely to the same story as “Badhaai Ho,” but with a few differences. Many of the same scenes are recreated. Both movies are told from the perspective of a mid-20s man who’s the eldest child of the 50-year-old woman with the unplanned pregnancy. In “Badhaai Ho,” he was an office worker who’s dating a co-worker and contemplating a relocation to the United States. In “Veetla Vishesham,” he’s a schoolteacher who also works with his girlfriend, but the added twist is that her family owns the school, and she is his supervisor.

The gender dynamic of a male employee dating his female boss makes “Veetla Vishesham” a little bit more interesting and complicated than “Badhaai Ho,” in terms of how this work relationship will affect the couple’s personal relationship. In “Veetla Vishesham,” this schoolteacher protagonist is 26-year-old Ilango Krishnan (played by RJ Balaji), who really likes his job and has no intentions or thoughts about leaving India, unlike the protagonist of “Badhaai Ho.”

Ilango (sometimes spelled as Elango) is dating Sowmya (played Aparna Balamurali), who is the school principal. They are happy in the relationship, but they’ve agreed to keep their romance a secret from their families until they both feel comfortable revealing their relationship. (It’s another big difference from “Badhaai Ho,” where the co-worker romance was out in the open with everyone in the couple’s lives.)

However, the people at the school know about the romance, so Ilango and Sowmya are sometimes the subject of gossip at work. Sowmya is intelligent but somewhat insecure over the perception that her career accomplishments are largely because of nepotism. It’s a big reason why Sowmya doesn’t want people to think she is giving Ilango special treatment at work.

Ilango is a biology teacher of students who are about 9 or 10 years. And because “Veetla Vishesham” is a movie about pregnancy, there’s a predictable scene where Ilango asks his students if they know how humans reproduce. He gets very different answers from the students, and all of the answers are incorrect. For example, one boy says that his parents told him babies are made when parents drink milk from the same cup, the mother vomits the milk, and then the baby is born. This scene is the movie’s way of showing that parents are uncomfortable with telling their children the truth about the biology of human conception.

Eventually, Ilango meets Sowmya’s widowed mother (played by Pavitra Lokesh), but Ilango is intimidated because Sowmya’s family is wealthy, while he has a working-class background. In addition, Sowmya’s mother (whose first name is not mentioned in the movie) owns the school where he works. When he first meets Sowmya’s mother, Illango admits to her that he was afraid of meeting her.

That’s because in addition to the differences in social class, Ilango could tell from the way that Sowmya talks about her mother, Sowmya’s mother is very domineering and judgmental. It also makes Ilango uncomfortable when Sowmya tells Ilango that she confides in her mother about her love life. Later in the movie, viewers find out that Sowmya is desperate for her mother’s approval because her mother doesn’t really visit or communicate with Sowmya on a regular basis.

Because of his modest schoolteacher salary, Ilango still lives with his family. Sowmya wants to meet Ilango’s family, but he has been delaying this meeting. Ilango’s easygoing father Unnikrishnan, nicknamed Unni (played by Sathyaraj), has been a longtime ticket taker working for Indian Railways. He is planning to retire in the near future.

Ilango’s mother Krishnaveni, nicknamed Auchu (played by Urvashi), is a mild-mannered homemaker. Ilango’s younger brother Aniruth, nicknamed Ani (played by Visvesh), is about 15 or 16 years old and is a student in high school. Also living in the household is Unni’s outspoken and cranky mother (played by K.P.A.C. Lalitha), a widow who does not have a name in the movie. Unni’s mother often scolds Unni when she thinks that he’s not being a dominant patriarch.

After one of these arguments, Unni and Auchu retreat to their bedroom and are sexually intimate. About 19 weeks later, a concerned Unni has accompanied Auchu to a doctor’s appointment because she’s been feeling sick. They think it might be food poisoning. They’re in for a shock when they find out that Auchu is four months pregnant.

Auchu tells Unni in a private conversation in their car that she wants to keep the baby. Unni’s immediate reaction, once he gets over the shock, is to say he feels too old to start raising a child again. He also wonders if Auchu and the baby will have health problems because of this later-in-life pregnancy. And he worries about what other people in the community will think about him being a father of a young child at an age when most people are expecting him to be a grandfather.

After listening to Unni ramble on about how the pregnancy will affect him, Auchu snaps at him and reminds him that she’s the one who’s pregnant. She also tells him that she won’t change her mind about keeping the baby. Unni makes a sincere apology to Auchu and tells her that it really is her choice, and he promises to support her decision. He still feels a lot of apprehension over how people he knows will react to this pregnancy news.

For whatever reason, Auchu has decided to let Unni tell the rest of the family this news. It leads to some comedic moments where Unni stammers and gets nervous because he doesn’t know how to tell people about this pregnancy. Ilango’s first reaction to this news is embarrassment. Ani’s first reaction is annoyance that the baby might get his bedroom, and he will have to share a bedroom with his grandmother. Unni’s mother reacts with pure disgust because she thinks Auchu is too old to have a baby.

Auchu gets this disgusted reaction from many other people who find out about her pregnancy. Meanwhile, Auchu’s sons Ilango and Ani start to avoid being around her. When her pregnancy starts to show, they often don’t want to be seen in public with her. This shunning deeply hurts Auchu, and it takes a toll on her self-esteem. She starts to become emotionally withdrawn and becomes a lot less talkative.

The pregnancy also affects Ilango’s relationship with Sowmya, because he has been thinking about proposing marriage to her and starting a family with her after they’re married. However, Ilango worries about how Sowmya will feel about having a child who’s close in age to the unborn child who will be Ilango’s youngest sibling. Ilango is also concerned that Sowmya’s snobbish mother will think less of his family, when he knows she already somewhat disapproves of him because he comes from a working-class family.

Social class differences and society’s prejudices against pregnant women in their 50s all come to the forefront in the emotional conflicts that ensue in “Veetla Vishesham.” The movie’s comedy pokes fun at how ridiculously mean-spirited people can be with these prejudices, but the movie doesn’t make light of the damage that these prejudices can cause. And sometimes, the worst damage can come from what family members, not strangers, do to each other.

“Veetla Vishesham” doesn’t excuse any of the awful things that people say or do when expressing these prejudices. The movie shows in no uncertain terms that these prejudices are often rooted in misogyny. Unni and Auchu made this baby together, but Auchu is the one who gets most of the shame and ridicule for this pregnancy. Fortunately, Unni is a kind-hearted husband who respects his wife, but even he has to learn what his boundaries are when it comes to getting criticism from other people about this pregnancy.

What makes “Veetla Vishesham” so interesting to watch is to see how all of the actors stay true to their characters in a manner that looks natural and effortless. Urvashi’s role as Aushu is probably the most difficult to perform because Aushu is fairly quiet for much of the movie, so Urvashi has to convey a lot of emotions through facial expressions and body language. Balaji’s performance as Ilango is also a standout, since he’s the family member who’s the most conflicted about the pregnancy. Balamurali is also very good in her role as Sowmya. There isn’t a bad performance from any of the cast members in “Veetla Vishesham.”

Many times, movies with this subject matter will have character transformations that are abrupt and look very phony. The screenplay and direction of “Veetla Vishesham” make any learning experiences that the characters go through look realistic and not forced. Just like in real life, “Veetla Vishesham” shows that the biggest learning experiences can come from making painful mistakes, and personal growth comes from admitting those mistakes and making an effort to do better.

Zee Studios released “Veetla Vishesham” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on June 17, 2022.

Review: ‘Janhit Mein Jaari,’ starring Nushrratt Bharuccha

July 6, 2022

by Carla Hay

Nushrratt Bharuccha in “Janhit Mein Jaari” (Photo courtesy of Zee Studios)

“Janhit Mein Jaari”

Directed by Jai Basantu Singh

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India, the comedy/drama film “Janhit Mein Jaari” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A young woman gets criticism from her family and other people in society when she begins working as a salesperson for a condom company, and she then becomes an activist in reproductive rights. 

Culture Audience: “Janhit Mein Jaari” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in female empowerment stories, but this movie mishandles the subject matter with a lot of hokey melodrama and silly comedy.

Nushrratt Bharuccha and Anud Singh Dhaka (pictured in front) in “Janit Mein Jaari” (Photo courtesy of Zee Studios)

Although well-intentioned in its message of female empowerment in reproductive rights, the comedy/drama “Janhit Mein Jaari” gets bogged down in too many vapid gimmicks that cheapen the message. The movie also gets too repetitive in showing scene after scene of people (usually men) reacting with horror, disgust or ridicule at the idea of a woman being a salesperson for a condom company. That’s the unexpected occupation of the movie’s female protagonist, who is also under pressure from her family to get pregnant after she gets married.

Directed by Jai Basantu Singh, “Janhit Mein Jaari” (which means “issued in public interest” in Hindi) takes place in an unnamed city in India. Singh co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Raaj Shaandilyaa and associate writers Yusuf ali Khan and Utsav Sarkar. It should be noted that none of these screenwriters is a woman, which might explain why so much of this movie looks very phony in how it deals with women’s issues.

Right from the beginning, the movie’s protagonist—Manokamna “Manu” Tripathi (played by Nushrratt Bharuccha)—does something regarding maternity that is very over-the-top and fake. Manu, who appears to be about six or seven months pregnant, gets on a crowded bus and expects people to give up a seat for her because she’s pregnant. When an inquisitive woman on the bus asks Manu what she plans to name her son (the woman automatically assumes that the baby is a boy), Manu replies that the baby’s name will be “Shut up.”

The stranger on the bus, who is oblivious to Manu’s insult, then cheerfully tells Manu to give her regards to Manu’s husband. It’s the movie’s obvious way of showing that Manu is living in a very patriarchal community. Manu is visibly annoyed at how this stranger is already judging her a certain way (and even assuming that the Manu is pregnant with a boy), just because Manu appears to be a pregnant woman.

It turns out that Manu really isn’t pregnant and she’s not married. She was wearing a pillow to appear to be pregnant, just so she could get people to give her a seat on the bus. Who goes out of their way for that type of petty deception? Is that something people are supposed to admire in a woman? Apparently, the filmmakers think it’s “cute” for a woman to act this way, or else they wouldn’t have put it in the movie as a joke that they want viewers to think is “cute.”

Manu, who is in her mid-to-late 20s, still lives with her parents, who are pressuring her to get married. She tells them that she doesn’t want to get married until she’s independent and has her own career. Manu is well-educated (she has a master of arts degree), but the type of job she wants would require her to have a master of business administration (MBA) degree.

Manu’s parents introduce her to a potential suitor named Nilesh, also known as Nilu. However, Manu is not interested in him. She wants a love marriage, not an arranged marriage. Manu is also anxious to move out of the family home, which is fairly crowded. The Tripathi’s modest household consists of her parents, Manu, Manu’s two teenage sisters and Manu’s teenage brother.

Manu is desperate to find a job so that she can earn enough money to live independently. And she takes the first job that offers her a salary that’s acceptable to her: 40,000 rupees a month, which is about $506 a month in early 2020s U.S. dollars. She will be working as a salesperson for Little Umbrella Company.

Even though Manu is educated, she doesn’t show much common sense. During the job interview, Manu never asks what she will be selling and doesn’t do any research on the company before the interview. The supervisor (played by Brijendra Kala) who interviews Manu asks her if she’s sure she wants to work there. Manu insists that she’s interested in the job, so she’s hired on the spot.

It isn’t until Manu shows up for her first day on the job that she finds out that Little Umbrella Company makes condoms. And she’s the company’s only female employee. Her boss tells her that the company has been losing money. “We need a girl like you to fill the void,” he says.

At first, Manu is furious at the boss for not telling her that Little Umbrella Company is in the business of selling condoms. It makes her look ridiculous and unreasonable to blame the boss, when it was really her responsibility to find out details of the company before agreeing to the interview. Because Manu is desperate for money, she reluctantly agrees to stay on the job and try to make the most out of it.

Expect to see many scenarios in “Janhit Mein Jaari” where Manu gets shamed and ridiculed for being a woman selling condoms. She’s so embarrassed by her job that at first she keeps it a secret from her family and will only say that she found a job working for an umbrella company. She also doesn’t tell potential suitors what her real job is. As already shown in the movie’s trailers, the people in Manu’s life eventually find out the truth.

“Janhit Mein Jaari” has several overly contrived scenes of Manu’s failed attempts at selling condoms. One of the first things she does is visit male-owned small businesses and tries to sell condoms directly to the owners. The business owners usually react with disgust or amusement that a woman is talking to them about condoms, so they generally reject her sales pitch. Manu also attempts to get grocery stores to stock the condoms. She essentially gets laughed out of these stores.

Manu also tries selling condoms directly to individual men on the street. It leads to a scene where she approaches a man, who looks old enough to be a grandfather or great-grandfather, and gets him to buy a half a box of condoms. It’s a joke that doesn’t land as well as intended. Apparently, the filmmakers think that it’s automatically supposed to be hilarious to think that men over the age of 70 have sex.

Manu also has a disastrous sales experience when she tries to sell condoms at a wrestling match. This supposedly “smart” woman goes about this sales attempt in the dumbest possible way. She interrupts the match and spontaneously takes a microphone to make her sales pitch to the audience, while the angry crowd boos at her for disrupting the wrestling match.

Manu is told to leave. She’s shocked at this hostile reaction to her sales pitch. Anyone with common sense wouldn’t be shocked. It’s why “Janhit Mein Jaari” often and insultingly makes Manu look like a ditsy woman, even though she’s supposed to an intelligent and empowered woman.

“Janhit Mein Jaari” also piles on clichés seen all too often in movies were a bachelorette is under pressure to get married. One of those clichés is a love triangle. Manu has a co-worker named Dev (played by Paritosh Tripathi), who works in the manufacturing department of Little Umbrella Company. Dev soon makes it known to Manu that he has a crush on her and wants to date her.

However, Manu meets a stage actor named Ranjan Prajapati (played by Anud Singh Dhaka), who begins pursuing Manu. Ranjan and Manu have instant chemistry together, and they begin dating. There’s a not-very-funny-scene where an envious Dev is with a friend named Makdoom (played by Shaan Yadav), as they both spy on Manu and Ranjan when Manu and Ranjan are on a romantic date.

During this date, Manu asks Ranjan if he would like to get a hotel room for them to continue their date. However, Ranjan declines the offer because he says he doesn’t want their relationship to be about casual sex. Manu then tells Ranjan that her suggestion to get a hotel room for a sexual tryst was just a test of his character. She informs Ranjan that he passed the test because he said exactly what she wanted to hear.

Manu and Ranjan continue to have their courtship, they fall in love, and then they get married about halfway through the movie. (This isn’t spoiler information because it’s in the movie’s first trailer.) Ranjan knows that Manu works for a condom company, but he agrees to her request that they keep it a secret from their traditional families. Manu thinks that their families just wouldn’t understand her job.

But, of course, people in both families eventually find out, and they have the expected reactions. Manu is pressured to quit her job, especially by the person who disapproves of her job the most: Ranjan’s domineering and sexist father Keval Prajapati (played by Vijay Raaz), who isn’t happy that Ranjan has a love marriage, not an arranged marriage. Keval also doesn’t like the fact that Manu is two years older than Ranjan.

Manu quits her job at Little Umbrella Company and begins selling plastic containers to women, similar to what a Tupperware salesperson would do. She doesn’t like this job as much as she liked selling condoms. After hearing about a neighborhood teenage girl who died of a botched illegal abortion, Manu has an “a-ha” moment.

And just like that, Manu decides that Little Umbrella Company should be marketing the condoms to women, who are more likely than men to be responsible for deciding what birth control will be used. Manu’s idea is a hit. Sales increase significantly for Little Umbrella Company.

This sales success then morphs into Manu becoming a reproductive rights activist preaching that more condom usage can prevent unwanted pregnancies that often lead to botched abortions. It isn’t long before Manu is making pro-condom speeches to crowds of women and being interviewed on TV as a reproductive rights activist advocating for contraception by choice. All of these plot developments are revealed in the movie’s trailers.

While Manu gives lectures about how to prevent pregnancy with condoms, she and Ranjan are getting pressure from their relatives to start having children. Meanwhile, Ranjan and Manu begin having marital problems. The movie also throws in a subplot about the sex life of Ranjan’s sister Babli (played by Sukriti Gupta), Babli’s boyfriend Hennant (played by Ishtiyak Khan), and how Manu’s crusading for condom usage affects this couple.

It all leads to a very messy and sloppily written series of events in the last third of the movie. The slapstick scenes in the movie are very corny, such as a scene where a blind man opens a wrapped condom and thinks it’s a wrapper of antacid, so the condom is dropped in a glass of water. Someone else has to rush to grab the glass before the blind man drinks it. Yes, it’s that type of movie. The last 15 minutes of “Hanhit Mein Jaari” are nothing but heavy-handed manipulation involving a health scare.

None of the acting in “Janhit Mein Jaari” is particularly good. But the worst aspect of the movie is how it bungles the comedy with bad jokes. The movie over-relies on comedy that wants people to laugh at anything showing a woman talking about, buying or holding condoms. “Janhit Mein Jaari” constantly uses goofy cartoon sound effects that are supposed to elicit laughs but are actually very distracting.

“Janhit Mein Jaari” makes a mockery of the serious subject of family planning by contriving unfunny scenarios revolving around pregnancy fears. The movie irresponsibly doesn’t really mention that condoms are also used to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. And the movie makes it sound like condoms are the best birth control method. Even the most basic levels of sex education are supposed to teach that condoms can be faulty if they break or are not worn correctly.

Even though the “Janhit Mein Jaari” filmmakers probably thought that they were making a movie about an open-minded and progressive female protagonist, a lot of “Janhit Mein Jaari” actually has a very outdated and backwards mindset toward women. Putting aside all the ways that the movie makes Manu look less-than-smart when she starts her condom sales job, “Janhit Mein Jaari” also makes it look like the women in this developed and modern area of India are incapable of considering condoms as birth control until Manu comes along to teach them. “Janhit Mein Jaari” becomes a soap opera in all the wrong places, and the movie just isn’t very funny in the scenes where it’s supposed to be amusing.

Zee Studios released “Janhit Mein Jaari” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on June 10, 2022.

Review: ‘Vikram’ (2022), starring Kamal Haasan, Vijay Sethupathi and Fahadh Faasil

July 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kamal Haasan in “Vikram” (Photo courtesy of Red Giant Films)

“Vikram” (2022)

Directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj

Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India in 2019, the action film “Vikram” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: The leader of a black ops team goes on a mission to find a serial killer, who might or might not be a drug lord who is also being sought for arrest. 

Culture Audience: “Vikram” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Kamal Haasan and who don’t mind watching overly long action movies with messy stories and silly fight scenes.

Fahadh Faasil in “Vikram” (Photo courtesy of Red Giant Films)

At nearly three hours long, “Vikram” overstays its welcome, as it becomes more of a convoluted mess of plot holes and increasingly far-fetched action scenes. The movie’s biggest “mystery reveal” has no real surprises. “Vikram” is just a repetitive and mind-numbing loop of double crosses and fight scenes from people who often have secret identities. At least one hour of this movie didn’t need to exist.

Written and directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj, “Vikram” is a sequel to the 2019 action film “Kaithi” (another cops versus drug smugglers story) and is somewhat of a sequel to the 1986 movie “Vikram.” Because of all the twist and turns in the plot in the 2022 “Virkam” movie (most of these twists which are clumsily handled), there’s not much to say about the movie’s story except that it essentially revolves around three main characters:

  • Agent Amar (played by Fahadh Faasil) is an alpha male commander of the black-ops squad, which is unoriginally called the Black Squad. About five to seven men report to Agent Amar in this group. Amar has a generically overconfident personality and all the stereotypical actions of a black ops leader in a movie that’s more concerned about fight scenes and explosions than in creating characters with meaningful personalities.
  • Sandhanam (played by Vijay Sethupathi) is the leader of the Vetti Vagaiyara gang, which is involved in drug trafficking. And it goes without saying that Sandhanam is the movie’s chief villain. At least the movie made Sandhanam a colorful character with a lot of memorable quirks. Sandhanam is the middle of 24 siblings, he has three wives, and he’s described in the movie as “a bit of a psycho” and a “hardcore doper.” Sandhanam has bizarre plans to start his own government, which he wants to be funded by money he makes from drug trafficking.
  • Karnan (played by Kamal Haasan) is a mystery man who is shown murdered early in the movie, but his identity is crucial in unraveling the movie’s overly tangled mystery. Karnan’s murder is part of a series of murders committed by a roving group of masked terrorists who kidnap their victims, tie them up, and them kill them on videos that they send to law enforcement. Before each victim is murdered, one of the masked men snarls, “We declare war against your system.”

Karnan was one of three men whose murders were committed by this mysterious group of serial killers within a short period of time. The other two men were Narcotics Control Bureau official (and “Kaithi” movie character) Stephen Raj (played by Hareesh Peradi) and Narcotics Control Bureau assistant commissioner of police Prabhanjan (played by Kalidas Jayaram), who was Karnan’s adopted son. The video recordings of all three murders were also sent to law enforcement.

As far as the investigators know, Karnan was a civilian and not part of law enforcement. However, Karnan apparently had a seedy background as a drug addict, alcoholic and womanizer who frequently visited brothels. It might explain how Karnan was connected to the underground drug trade, but will that be enough information to solve these murders?

Predictably, someone in the Vetti Vagaiyara gang gets greedy and wants to betray gang leader Sandhanam. This traitor is named Veerapandian (played by Gowtham Sundararajan), who hatches a plan to team up with a member of rival gang to get a big drug shipment that has gone missing and deliver it to a mysterious crime boss named Rolex. Veerapandian’s partner in crime is Rudra Pratap (played by Aruldoss), and they both want to get the money from Rolex (played by Suriya) that would have gone directly to Sandhanam.

Amar’s supervisor is police chief Jose (played by Chemban Vinod), who has put Amar on this mission to find out who’s behind these terrorist murders. At the same time, Amar is also tasked with busting Sandhanam’s Vetti Vagaiyara gang of drug traffickers. It doesn’t take long for Amar to find out that Rudra Pratrap is the target of a murder plot.

All of this might sound like an intriguing story, but it’s handled in a sloppy and often nonsensical way. Viewers are expected to believe a lot of moronic plot twists and overlook many illogical story flaws. The last hour of “Vikram” is a steady pile-on of reveals until viewers feel like it reaches the ludicrousness of a bad soap opera. None of the acting in this movie is special or noteworthy.

As for the excessive violence in “Vikram,” it plays into the usual mindless stereotypes where the “hero” can, all by himself, take on and defeat several armed men at the same time without the “hero” getting any serous injuries. There are several heinous scenes in the movie where a toddler (played by Dharsan) is in the middle of the violence, and no one stops to get this child out of harm’s way. The baby is better off than most viewers of “Vikram” though, because the baby is blissfully unaware of “Vikram” being such a terrible movie.

Red Giant Films released “Vikram” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on June 3, 2022.

Review: ‘Samrat Prithviraj,’ starring Akshay Kumar

June 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Akshay Kumar in “Samrat Prithviraj” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Samrat Prithviraj”

Directed by Chandraprakash Dwivedi

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India and Afghanistan, between the years 1177 and 1192, the action film “Samrat Prithviraj” has a nearly all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: Prithviraj Chauhan has battles with rivals over his leadership power of Delhi.

Culture Audience: “Samrat Prithviraj” will appeal primarily to viewers who are looking for a biopic action film that relies heavily on shallow and violent clichés instead of being an accurate historical drama.

Akshay Kumar and Manushi Chhillar in “Samrat Prithviraj” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Samrat Prithviraj” is an example of a biopic that’s a huge waste of time and money. This sorry spectacle amounts to nothing more than looking like a big-budget, mindlessly violent video game version of the story of real-life Indian historical figure Prithviraj Chauhan. The movie’s epic fight scenes in battlefields look very fake and hollow. And the human interactions that don’t involve fighting are also poorly contrived and acted. With a total running time of 135 minutes, this bloated and repetitive mess wears out its welcome very quickly and then drags on until its very predictable end.

Written and directed by Chandraprakash Dwivedi, “Samrat Prithviraj” (which means “Emperor Prithviraj” in Hindi) is just a series of historically inaccurate scenes showing feuds over power and revenge. All of the cast members just look like they’re going through the motions with no authentic-looking feelings. In some parts of the movie, it really does just look like a video game. There could be CGI visual effects instead of real actors, and there wouldn’t be much difference in the performances.

The movie, which takes place in India and Afghanistan from 1177 to 1192, opens with an over-the-top unrealistic scene taking place in 1192 in Ghazni, Afghanistan. A stadium full of people will be witnessing the torture of a blind prisoner fighting off three lions that have been set loose in the stadium. That prisoner is exiled Indian leader Prithviraj Chauhan (played by Akshay Kumar), whose eyes are missing for reasons shown later in the movie. The scene is grossly unrealistic in how Prithviraj, who is armed with an axe and a spear, is able to kill all of the attacking lions. After he kills the lions, Prithviraj collapses from exhaustion.

“Samrat Prithviraj” (whose original title was “Prithviraj”) then shows flashbacks that depict what led Prithviraj to this far-fetched “battle with the lions” scene. The story goes back a few years before in India, where Prithviraj gets caught up in a power struggle over leadership of Delhi. It all starts when Prithviraj is ruling over Ajmer, and he is visiting the land of Kannauj. It’s where he meets and falls in love with a princess named Sanyogita (played by Manushi Chhillar), whose ruthless king father Jayachandra (played by Ashutosh Rana) does not approve of the relationship.

Meanwhile, back in Ajmer, Prithviraj offers asylum to a man named Mir Hossain (played by Anshuman Singh), who has come to Ajmer because he ran off with a woman named Chitralekha, who was the concubine of Hossain’s brother Muhammad Ghori (played by Manav Vij), the sultan of Ghor. Ghori dispatches an underling named Qutb al-Din Aibak (played by Sahidur Rahaman) to Ajmer, to send a message demanding that Prithviraj send Hossain back to Ghori, or else Ghori threatens to declare war against Prithviraj and the people of Ajmer.

Prithviraj refuses this demand. And you know what that means: Ghori and Prithviraj go to war. Soldiers from their respective lands getting caught in this power struggle, and often lose their lives as a result. One of the casualties is Mir Hossain. Prithviraj is victorious in this war. Ghori is captured, but is then foolishly released a few days later.

Prithviraj then becomes the ruler of Delhi, which he inherited when the previous ruler gave the leadership of Delhi to Prithviraj instead of a biological heir (his grandson), who becomes yet another person to hold a grudge against Prithviraj. With Prithviraj now the ruler of Delhi, this rise to power does not sit well with Jayachandra, who does not want his daughter Sanyogita to marry Prithviraj.

Sanyogita and Prithviraj get married anyway. As the saying goes: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” And so, this marriage leads to Jayachandra forming an alliance with Ghori to get revenge and kill Prithviraj. Eventually, the movie shows what happened after Prithviraj fainted in the stadium after he killed the lions.

“Samrat Prithviraj” has several mind-numbing battle scenes that should be suspenseful but they actually become very boring after a while. The scenes that don’t take place on a battlefield are just as monotonous. Supporting characters—such as Prithviraj’s closest confidant Chand Vardai (played by Sonu Sood) and Prithviraj’s uncle Kaka Kanha (played by Sanjay Dutt)—are completely underdeveloped.

Worst of all, “Samrat Prithviraj” does very little to make viewers care about the characters, especially because this movie looks more like an overblown fantasy film rather than a historical drama based on real people. Everything about this era’s conflicts between Hindus and Muslims is over-simplified to the point where none of it is believable. “Samrat Prithviraj” shows what can happen when filmmakers take a lot of money and put very little of it to good use.

Yash Raj Films released “Samrat Prithviraj” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on June 3, 2022.

Review: ‘Kehvatlal Parivar,’ starring Siddharth Randeria, Supriya Pathak, Bhavya Gandhi, Shraddha Dangar, Vandana Pathak and Sanjay Goradia

June 10, 2022

by Carla Hay

Vandana Pathak and Siddharth Randeria in “Kehvatlal Parivar” (Photo courtesy of Coconut Motion Pictures)

“Kehvatlal Parivar”

Directed by Vipul Mehta

Gujarti with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Gujarat, India, the comedy/drama film “Kehvatlal Parivar” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A family that owns and operates a dhokla-selling small company deals with unexpected problems relating to the business and their personal lives.

Culture Audience: “Kehvatlal Parivar” will appeal primarily to people who like watching family movies that have an appealing blend of amusing comedy and heartfelt drama.

Siddharth Randeria and Supriya Pathak in “Kehvatlal Parivar” (Photo courtesy of Coconut Motion Pictures)

“Kehvatlal Parivar” adeptly balances lightweight comedy with some heavy drama in this appealing story about a family that’s in the business of selling dhoklas. The movie has some unexpected twists and turns that make it better than the average family dramedy. In addition, the movie’s cast members all give engaging performances that shine the most when the family confronts painful secrets from the past. And people who like dhoklas will have a visual feast in this movie’s creative display of a variety of this delectable-looking food.

Written and directed by Vipul Mehta, “Kehvatlal Parivar” (which translates to “Kehvatlal Family” in English) starts of looking like yet another screwball comedy about a family members who often disagree with each other. However, the movie goes through a very different transition when the family dynamics are changed by someone who is a long-lost relative. What begins as a family bickering over how to run the dhokla business turns into a more meaningful story about forgiveness and redemption.

“Kehvatlal Parivar” centers on a family led by Raju Bhai Thakar (played by Siddharth Randeria), who started the dhokla business but is struggling to make the business grow. He sells dhoklas from a food cart on the street, but he wants the business to expand so that he can sell his dhoklas to retail stores. Raju’s bachelorette sister Bhadra (played by Vandana Pathak) lives with Raju, but she’s not much help with the business, because she likes to spend a lot of her time on the Internet.

Raju is a single parent to two adult children in their 20s: son Himesh (played by Bhavya Gandhi) and daughter Heta (played by Shraddha Dangar), who both have very different views of the family business. Heta is an obedient child who wants to help the expand the business and improve its profits. Himesh is a rebellious troublemaker (an early scene shows Raju having to bail Himesh out of jail) who’s reluctant to get involved in the family business.

Bhadra says she married, but that her husband lives far away. She has no biological children of her own, but Bhadra has helped raise Heta, Himesh and a flamboyant man in his 20s named Sam (played by Neel Gagdani), who is the son of a widower friend of Bhadra’s. Sam and Bhadra adore each other very much. Sam thinks of Bhadra as being like a mother to him. And therefore, Sam is treated like a member of the Mehta family.

Raju’s biggest competition as a food cart vendor is his cousin Shamu (played by Sanjay Goradia), who also operates a food cart that sells dhoklas. They often sell on the same street, which makes their rivalry more intense. Raju has an employee named Natu (played by Aakash Zala) to help him with the food cart sales. At the moment, Shamu has been doing better business than Raju, who is jealous. Raju’s sales have gone down, while Shamu’s sales have gone up.

Shamu likes to brag that his dhoklas are better than the dhoklas that Raju is selling. Shamu is often joined in his bragging by Shamu’s wife Falguni (played by Meghana Solanki), who works alongside Shamu in selling dhoklas from their food cart. Shamu has been more successful than Raju at business marketing, since Shamu has flashier cart signs and is generally better at getting attention for his services.

Adding to Raju’s business troubles, he is pressured to pay off corrupt cops who demand money to secure “police protection” for his food cart. In one disturbing scene, Raju gets beaten up by cops because Raju didn’t pay this extortion money. The corrupt cops then damage Raju’s food cart.

Raju has some other concerns besides his dhokla business. He’s worried that his unmarried children won’t get married. Raju promises Heta that he will find her a husband, but she tells her father that she would rather have marriage based on love, not an arranged marriage. Himesh tells his father that he will eventually get married, but he never wants to be involved in Raju’s dhokla-selling business.

Raju has been telling people that he’s been a widower for 23 years. But a family secret is about to be revealed when a woman named Kalandi “Laju” Thakar (played by Supriya Pathak) shows up unexpectedly at the family home. Kalandi, who has been living in the United States for the past several years, announces that she’s Raju’s long-lost wife and the mother of Heta and Himesh. This announcement throws the family into disarray when Kalandi offers to help with the family business while she’s visiting from the U.S.

Why did Raju tell people he was a widower? And why was Kalandi living in the United States for all those years without being in contact with her husband and children? Those answers are eventually revealed in the movie.

Raju has to deal with a lot of bitterness and resentment that his estranged wife has come back into his life, while Heta and Himesh have mixed emotions about this tension-filled family reunion. Himesh and Heta were very young when Kalandi left them, so they don’t know their mother at all.

A lot of the movie is about Kalandi trying to win back the trust of the family that she abandoned. She comes up with a lot of good ideas to expand the family’s dhokla business, but Raju is old-fashioned, stubborn, and thinks he’s the one who should have the best ideas. He’s resistant to a lot of change, such as when Heta suggests that Raju promote the business on social media. Not only does Raju resist the idea of being on social media, he also doesn’t have an email address.

“Kehvatlal Parivar” doesn’t sugarcoat the raw feelings that happen when an estranged family member wants a reconciliation, but other members of the family have different feelings about being willing to forgive. Kalandi is now a U.S. citizen who started a new life in the United States. And that leads to another secret being revealed. This secret isn’t too surprising at all.

At any rate, Kalandi has to decide if she is going to go back to the United States and continue to lead the life she’s had there, or if she will try to start over with the family she left behind in India. Whatever her decision is, she has a visitor visa in India, so there’s only a limited time that she can legally spend in India. In the midst of all this family drama, “Kehvatlal Parivar” has some fun scenes in showing how Raju’s dhokla business starts to grow through family teamwork.

“Kehvatlal Parivar” could have been a messy failure in trying to mix the comedy and drama in this story. However, writer/director Mehta keeps the movie flowing on an even keel, so that the switch in tones is seamless and organic, not forced and awkward. The movie’s musical scenes are a delight to watch.

“Kehvatlal Parivar” isn’t perfect, because some of the film’s sentimental moments can be very mushy. And the characters of Shamu and Natu come close to being shrieking caricatures, although these two gloating spouses become more tolerable toward the end of the movie. Overall, “Kehvatlal Parivar” is a very entertaining option for anyone looking for a family movie with some life lessons about love.

Coconut Motion Pictures released “Kehvatlal Parivar” in India on May 6, 2022, in select U.S. cinemas on May 13, 2022, and in Australia on May 19, 2022.

Review: ‘F3: Fun and Frustration,’ starring Venkatesh Daggubati and Varun Tej

June 6, 2022

by Carla Hay

Venkatesh Daggubati, Varun Tej and Mehreen Pirzada in “F3: Fun and Frustration” (Photo courtesy of Sri Venkateswara Creations)

“F3: Fun and Frustration”

Directed by Anil Ravipudi

Telugu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Hyderabad, India, the comedy film “F3: Fun and Frustration” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Two men with financial problems come up with “get rich quick” schemes, but their plans keep getting ruined for various reasons.

Culture Audience: “F3: Fun and Frustration” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching hyperactive silliness in a two-and-a-half-hour movie.

Murali Sharma in “F3: Fun and Frustration” (Photo courtesy of Sri Venkateswara Creations)

“F3: Fun and Frustration” offers very little fun and a lot of frustration. It’s a witless comedy, manically told with terrible acting, in an irritating story that’s overstretched to two-and-a-half hours. What makes this movie even more difficult to watch is that it has no self-awareness about how bad it is. “F3: Fun and Frustration” tries to cram in as many dumb ideas as possible, thereby making the story lurch around from one horrible subplot to the next.

Written and directed by Anil Ravipudi, “F3: Fun and Frustration” is a sequel to the 2019 film “F2: Fun and Frustration.” Unfortunately, “F3: Fun and Frustration” gets trapped in a pitfall that plagues many sequels: In trying to surpass its predecessor, the sequel overstuffs the plot with too many things, thereby lacking a real focus and leaving major plot holes in its wake.

“F3: Fun and Frustration,” just like its predecessor, is supposed to be a wacky comedy. But “wacky” should not mean “incoherent.” The only consistent thing about the movie is that two friends named Venky (played by Venkatesh Daggubati) and Varun (played by Varun Tej, also known as Konidela Varun Tej) are still two buffoons who get caught up impersonating people as part of their foolish schemes. In “F2: Fun and Frustration,” Venky and Varun had false identities in order to prevent their love interests from getting married to other people. In “F3: Fun and Frustration,” the two pals assume fake personas as part of a con game to get rich quick.

In the beginning of “F3: Fun and Frustration” Venky is an agent working for the Regional Transport Office in Hyderabad, India. He’s married to Harika (played by Tamannaah Bhatia), who has a large and meddling family whose surname is Chambal. Venky has a strained relationship with his father (played by Goparaju Ramana) and his father’s second wife (played by Tulasi), who have four other children together. Venky’s mother died when Venky was a child, so Venky feels resentment about his father’s second marriage and the new family that his father started with Venky’s stepmother.

Venky lost almost all of his money when he invested in a restaurant owned by Harika’s family. As shown in a brief flashback, the day that restaurant opened, it had the misfortune of a food inspector eating at the restaurant and getting food poisoning. Venky says, “Our opening day became our closing day.”

Meanwhile, Venky’s best friend Varun is also having financial problems because he invested in the failed restaurant too. Varun is a fairly successful businessman who has won awards for his business skills, but his reputation becomes tainted because of his association with a criminal uncle named Katthi Seenu (played by Sunil Varma), a local thug and extortionist. In order to ease his financial woes, Varun decides he needs to find a rich woman to marry.

This is where the movie starts to get stupid: Varun meets a woman in a restaurant named Honey (played by Mehreen Pirzada), whom he thinks is a rich woman. Because Varun has a stutter, he asks Venky to pose as a rich business heir named Varun, in order to court Honey. Venky has night blindness, so when he meets Honey for a date at night, he doesn’t recognize that Honey is Harika’s sister.

Meanwhile, a police officer named Nagaraju (played by Rajendra Prasad) becomes a local hero for discovering an illegal election fund in cash worth two crores, which is about $258,000 ( U.S. dollars) in early 2020s money. Many people in the story end up competing with each other to find the cash after it gets stolen. Take a wild guess who two of those people are.

“F3: Fun and Frustration” also has moronic plot developments involving a successful businessman named Anand Prasad (played by Murali Sharma), who owns a toy manufacturing company called JK Industries. Varun and Venky see Anand doing a TV interview lamenting over his son, whom he says ran away from home 20 years ago, when the boy was 10 years old. Anand says that his son has been missing ever since.

It doesn’t take long for Varun and Venky to come up with a plan to impersonate the son. But these two dimwits end up impersonating the son at the same time, along with Harika (who’s disguised as man) and a few other people who show up at Anand’s palace pretending to be the long-lost son. It gets worse. Anand apparently can’t decide which of these very different-looking people could be his son, so he decides these people claiming to be his long-lost son will enter a toy-making contest for JK Industries. Whoever sells the most toys will be all the proof he needs of who is his son.

And what about the mistaken identity of Honey? What about the cash that Nagaraju found and has now gone missing? These subplots get tangled up with others until everything because a giant mess that’s made worse by the entire cast mugging and over-acting for the cameras in desperate attempts to be funny. Absolutely no one in the cast does a performance that can save this train wreck of a movie.

It would be an understatement to say that the overly long “F3: Fun and Frustration” has atrocious editing. This horrific movie seems to go on and on with more idiocy piled on top of more idiocy, until all hope is buried that this movie will find some way of being coherent and engaging. It’s as if the filmmakers think that distracting viewers with more plot twists that insult viewers’ intelligence somehow will make the movie funnier. After trying and failing to be a hilarious screwball comedy for most of the movie, “F3: Fun and Frustration” has a sappy and maudlin ending that’s as phony as the personas used in the movie’s pathetic con games.

Sri Venkateswara Creations released “F3: Fun and Frustration” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on May 27, 2022.

Review: ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2,’ starring Tabu, Kartik Aaryan and Kiara Advani

May 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kiara Advani and Kartik Aaryan in “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

“Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2”

Directed by Anees Bazmee

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Indian cities of Bhawanigarh and Chandigarh, the horror comedy film “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” has an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: In order to get out of marrying a man she doesn’t love, a young woman and her new love interest pretend that she died in a bus accident, while he pretends to her family that he’s a psychic who can communicate with her spirit, and the woman hides in the family palace that is believed to be haunted by an evil female ghost.

Culture Audience: “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the stars Tabu, Kartik Aaryan and Kiara Advani; the 2007 movie Bhool Bhulaiyaa; and engaging movies that skillfully blend horror, comedy and musical numbers.

Tabu in “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

A horror comedy is a difficult subgenre to make entertaining because there could be problems with blending tones of being scary and funny, but “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” succeeds on almost every level. The movie’s plot twists and musical numbers are intriguing. Unlike a lot of horror comedies that hold back on being terrifying, “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” doesn’t skimp on ghoulish footage (which has impressive visual effects), while still maintaining a comedic edge in the story for several laugh-out-loud moments.

Directed by Anees Bazmee and co-directed by Pankaj Kumar, “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” is a sequel to 2007’s “Bhool Bhulaiyaa” but viewers don’t need to see “Bhool Bhulaiyaa” to understand “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2.” (The words “bhool bhulaiyaa” translate to “labyrinth” in English.) That’s because both movies have entirely different stars, with the only thing both movies having in common is a female ghost named Manjulika Chatterjee, who is haunting a family palace.

“Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” (which was written by Aakash Kaushik and Farhad Samji) begins with an evil female ghost raging through a palace in Bhawanigarh, India. The palace is owned by the well-to-do Thakur family, and priests eventually capture this malevolent spirit, trap the ghoul in a room, which is sealed. Because the ghost is a direct threat to the Thakur family, they abandon the palace and find another place to live. At the time this haunting incident occurred, one of the members of the Thakur family is a girl, who’s about 7 or 8 years old, named Reet Thakur.

“Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” the fast-forwards about 15 years later. Reet is a recent college graduate who is engaged to be married to a man named Sagar (played by Sparsh Walla), whom she does not love. However, it’s an arranged marriage, and Reet is being pressured by her father Vijender Singh Thakur (played by Milind Gunaji) to go through with the wedding. She is traveling by bus from Chandigarh back to her hometown of Bhawanigarh to reluctantly prepare for the wedding.

During this bus trip, Reet meets a handsome and flirtatious bachelor in his 20s named Ruhaan Randhawa (played by Kartik Aaryan), who almost immediately asks for Reet’s phone number. Even though Reet tells him that she’s engaged to be married, and her wedding is in a matter of days, Ruhaan is undeterred in showing a romantic interest in Reet, especially since she says she doesn’t love her fiancé Sagar. Reet is obviously attracted to Ruhaan too because she gives her phone number to him.

However, Reet plays hard-to-get during much of the time that she and Ruhaan spend together. Ruhaan (whose family is never seen in the movie) can sense that Reet is independent-minded and doesn’t want to be forced by her family to do things that she doesn’t want to do. And so, Ruhaan tells her that she should just abandon this trip to Bhawanigarh and go with him to a music festival instead. Reet quickly agrees.

Reet and Ruhaan have a lot of fun at the music festival, as their attraction to each other begins to grow. But then, they find out some tragic news: The bus that they were supposed to be on crashed, and there were no survivors. Reet’s family members are devastated, because they think she died in this bus crash. Viewers will have to suspend disbelief for this part of the movie, because Reet’s body would have to be found, in order for her to be declared dead. Perhaps another woman’s unidentified body could have been mistaken for Reet’s, but even that is a stretch of the imagination, since DNA tests and/or dental records would realistically determine a dead body’s identity.

Reet decides to use this bus crash as an opportunity to hide from her family and start a new life with Ruhaan. In the meantime, Reet and Ruhaan decide to hide in the Thakur family’s abandoned palace in Bhawanigarh. While they are in hiding, Reet overhears in a phone call that her fiancé Sagar and her cousin Trisha (played by Mahek Manwani) have been secretly in love with each other. Because the family thinks that Reet is dead, Sagar and Trisha decide to go public with their love affair and get married to each other. Reet is surprised by this news, but ultimately, she’s happy for Sagar and Trisha, because Reet never wanted to marry Sagar.

The Thakur family decides to have Sagar and Trisha’s wedding celebration at the palace, which has been in a state of neglect for years. And so, preparations are made to clean up the palace to prepare for the wedding. Members of the family also believe that there’s a chance that Reet’s spirit has returned to the palace. Reet and Ruhaan don’t know yet that their hiding place is about to be visited by members of Reet’s family and people who work for them. But this “fugitive” would-be couple will soon find out that they won’t be left alone in this hiding place.

Ruhaan is discovered on the palace property, but he is able to avoid getting in trouble as an intruder, by convincing the Thakur family and he is a psychic friend of Reet’s who can communicate with her from the dead. It’s a lie that Ruhaan makes up on the spot, and the rest of the movie is about him going through with a charade that he’s a psychic who can talk to Reet and other spirits. While Ruhaan is able to talk his way out of being kicked off of the property, Reet has been hiding in the palace, but she’s able to see much of what’s going on from where she hides. Ruhaan also fills her in on the details.

Meanwhile, Reet supplies Ruhaan with personal information about herself and her family so that he can appear to be a convincing psychic. There are many comedic scenes where Ruhaan makes over-the-top statements and gestures, in the movie’s obvious parody of psychics. Ruhaan even says, “I can see dead people,” in an obvious spoof of the famous line from the 1999 movie “The Sixth Sense.” News of Ruhaan being a psychic eventually spreads through the community. He becomes a local celebrity and is given the nickname Rooh Baba.

Of course, Ruhaan and Reet desperately keep the lie going and go to great lengths to keep Reet hidden in the palace. However, some people begin to suspect that Reet is still alive, or at least that her spirit is haunting the palace. Ruhaan finds out the story of Manjulika, so he tries to blame any suspicious activity on Manjulika. Other family members who are involved in the story include a cousin named Uday Thakur (played by Amar Upadhyay); his wife Anjulika (played by Tabu); and a boy named Potlu (played by Samarth Chauhan), who’s about 9 to 11 years old.

The village’s senior priest (played by Sanjay Mishra), his wife (played by Ashwini Kalsekar) and the village’s junior priest (played by Rajpal Naurang Yadav) all become skeptical about Ruhaan’s psychic abilities. They also think that Reet might still be alive. And so, the three skeptics hatch a plan to “expose” Ruhaan.

All of the cast members rise to the occasion by playing their roles well. Aaryan has to do a lot of comedic lifting in the movie, since his con game is frequently the focus of the movie’s jokes and shenanigans. Tabu is also very good in the movie, where her acting gets more prominent as the movie progresses. Yadav’s performance as the buffoonish junior priest is strictly for comic relief.

Most of the twists and turns “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” are in the last third of the movie, which has a much darker tone than the previous two-thirds. It’s no surprise that Reet and Ruhaan fall in love with each other. What might surprise people is how the movie ends. “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” has some moments that are more predictable than others. The unpredictable moments are where the movie shines the most.

T-Series Films released “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” in select U.S. cinemas on May 20, 2022, the same date that the movie was released in India.

Review: ’21mu Tiffin,’ starring Niilam Paanchal, Raunaq Kamdar and Netri Trivedi

May 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Niilam Paanchal and Raunaq Kamdar in “21mu Tiffin” (Photo courtesy of Vijaygiri FilmOs)

“21mu Tiffin”

Directed by Vijaygiri Bava

Gujarati with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place somewhere in Gujarat, India, the dramatic film “21mu Tiffin” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A middle-aged woman in an unhappy marriage gets a boost of confidence when a much-younger bachelor starts paying attention to her because of her tiffin-making skills. 

Culture Audience: “21mu Tiffin” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching dull stories about women going through a midlife crisis.

Niilam Paanchal and Netri Trivedi in “21mu Tiffin” (Photo courtesy of Vijaygiri FilmOs)

The lackluster drama “21mu Tiffin” is intended as a female empowerment story, but in the end, it’s really a disjointed tale about a middle-aged woman seeking approval from a younger man. Directed by Vijaygiri Bava and written by Raam Mori, “21mu Tiffin” (which means “21st Tiffin” in English) has a very underwhelming and abruptly odd ending that ruins whatever uplifting messages that this movie was trying to convey. The movie has some charming moments, but they are fleeting and mostly overshadowed by repetitive scenes that don’t do much to further the story. “21Mu Tiffin” is based on a short story from Mori’s 2017 anthology book “Mahotu.”

In “21mu Tiffin” (which takes place somewhere in place somewhere in Gujarat, India), Neeta mi Mummy (played by Niilam Paanchal), a homemaker in her 40s, is trapped in an existence where she feels unappreciated by the people who live with her. She’s in a longtime marriage with a husband named Mane Mari Javabdari (played by Deepan Shah), who treats her like a roommate whom he can barely tolerate. He acts like he never wants to remember anything romantic about their marriage.

Neeta and her husband have a 20-year-old daughter named Nital (played by Netri Trivedi), who is living in the same household while on a break from college. Nital is a whiny brat who sulks a lot and has disagreements with Neeta. Nital doesn’t want to do minor tasks that her mother asks her to do, such as doing basic chores around the house or helping her mother make tiffins. Nital just wants to hang out with her friends. Nital tries to be close to her father Mane Mari Javabdari, but he’s emotionally distant with her too.

Neeta’s biggest joy in life comes from cooking tiffins in her kitchen. She has been selling tiffins as a side business, which could be rapidly growing since everyone tells her how delicious her tiffins are. One day, Neeta gets her 21st tiffin customer: a bachelor named Dhruv (played by Raunaq Kamdar), who’s in his early-to-mid 20s. Dhruv eagerly shares these tiffins with his three male roommates, who are all in the same age group. It just so happens that Dhruv’s uncle Bhanudada (played by Hitesh Thakar) sells tiffins too—Neeta was one of Bhanudada’s tiffin customers—but Dhruv thinks Neeta’s tiffins are much better than his uncle’s.

Dhruv becomes such a fan of Neeta’s tiffins, he makes a point of visiting her at her home and giving her profuse compliments about her tiffin making. Neeta feels very flattered, and there are hints that she’s becoming attracted to Dhruv. He seems to know it, and he flirts with her. The movie then becomes a series of repetitive scenes where Dhruv and Neeta spend time together and don’t talk about the sexual tension between them.

When Dhruv comes over to visit, he shows no interest in talking to Nital, who is closer to his own age. In fact, he mostly ignores Nital, even when she’s in the same room. It’s a good thing that Nital doesn’t seem attracted to Dhruv, or else that would be yet another thing for Nital to pout about when it comes to her mother. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t go down a tacky route where mother and daughter compete for Dhruv’s attention.

Later in the movie, Neeta and Nital’s relationship does improve. But other subplots about Neeta’s family members end up being very inconsequential. Neeta’s mother suddenly becomes mute and shows signs of dementia. But surprise! She was only pretending because she wanted attention. When Neeta’s mother does talk, it’s mostly to praise Neeta for her tiffin making. Neeta’s mother seems to think that Neeta inherited these tiffin-making skills from Neeta’s maternal grandmother.

Neeta’s mild-mannered brother and his shrewish wife are not-very-important supporting characters who were put in the movie to recite their forgettable dialogue, with no real insight into who these characters really are. Neeta has a talkative best friend named Purvi (played by Jahanvi Patel), whose only purpose in the movie is to brag about how attentive and loving Purvi’s husband is, with no sensitivity over how Neeta must feel being stuck in a bad marriage. Needless to say, Purvi’s bragging makes Neeta feel worse about her life.

Neeta also has some health problems that aren’t dealt with in a meaningful way and are just used as plot devices that are left to dangle in the movie. She has low blood pressure. And all the work she puts into her tiffin making has given her a stress-related illness that almost leaves her bedridden or on the verge of a collapse, at different points in the movie. These health issues ultimately go nowhere in the story, because they end up being sidelined by the narrative that Dhruv is giving Neeta a new zest for life.

The problem with “21mu Tuffin” is that the movie is just a series of conversations and contrivances that don’t do much for character development. There’s nothing too impressive about the cast members’ acting, which is often hindered by the movie’s bland direction and uninspired screenplay. It seems contradictory that the movie tries so hard to make it look like Neeta is being “liberated” and feeling like an “independent woman” by her tiffin making, and yet she heavily relies on male approval to make her happy.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with wanting male approval all the time, if you’re honest about it. But it’s very off-putting when you pretend that you don’t, by putting up a fake feminist front, and then being hypocritical by having your self-worth wrapped up in getting constant praise from men—and that’s essentially what “21mu Tiffin” does with protagonist Neeta. Regardless of issues related to gender or feminism, the movie seems to miss the point that real self-esteem comes from within yourself and shouldn’t be defined by how many people seem to like you for your cooking skills.

Vijaygiri FilmOs released “21mu Tiffin” in select U.S. cinemas on April 8, 2022. The movie was released in India on December 10, 2021.

Copyright 2017-2022 Culture Mix