Review: ‘Bhaje Vaayu Vegam,’ starring Kartikeya Gummakonda, Tanikella Bharani, Ravi Shankar, Rahul Tyson and Iswarya Menon

June 5, 2024

by Carla Hay

Kartikeya Gummakonda and Rahul Tyson in “Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” (Photo courtesy of UV Creations)

“Bhaje Vaayu Vegam”

Directed by Prashanth Reddy

Telugu with subtitles

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

Culture Clash: Two young adult brothers move to Hyderabad, where they have conflicts with two brothers from an older generation who are corrupt leaders.  

Culture Audience: “Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching bloated action movies that are weak imitations of other action films with the same themes.

Sharath Lohitashwa in “Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” (Photo courtesy of UV Creations)

“Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” is just another long-winded and bombastic action film with the same over-used story themes of family revenge and violent murders. It’s a mostly forgettable tale of two pairs of brothers who are on a collision course of conflicts. This 136-minute bloated fiasco of a movie gets especially sloppy in the last third of the film, when it tries to cram in too many plot twists, most of which never look believable.

Written and directed by Prashanth Reddy, “Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” is Reddy’s feature-film directorial debut. “Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” could have been much better, but it just relies too heavily on storylines cobbled from many other similar actions films. The beginning of the movie, which takes place in India, shows a compassionate man named Rajaram (played by Tanikella Bharani) bringing home an orphan named Venkat, whose parents have been killed. Venkat is about 10 or 11 years old and one or two years younger than Raju, the biological son Rajaram and his wife Yashoda, who live in an unnamed village

Rajaram and Yashoda raise Venkat and Raju as brothers. Rajaram is fairly affluent and pays off the the debts that Venkat’s parents owed. At an early age, Venkat had a personality of beng rebellious and a bit of a troublemaker, while Raju was usually the responsible and obedient brother.

When Venkat (played by Kartikeya Gummakonda) and Raju (playe by Rahul Tyson) are adults, they move from their small village to Hyderabad to fulfill their dreams, thngs don’t go quite in the way that they expect. Venkat wants to become a professional cricket player, but he can’t afford the bribes needed to pay officials to be get n the fast track to be on India’s national cricket team. Venkat also has a gambling addiction. Raju gets fired from his computer technology job after assaulting a co-worker who accused Raju of lying about Raju’s qualifications.

Raju and Venkat both have a secret that they’ve been hiding from their father Rajaram: They sold the land they inherited from him, in order to pay off their debts. Raju and Venkat both plan to buy back the land when they can afford it.

Meanwhile, a story is told about another pair of brothers who also traveled from a small village to Hyderbad to make their dreams come true. George (played by Sharath Lohitashwa) and David (played by Ravi Shankar) both worked in a steel mill and were treated like outside. The two brothers got caught up in union politics at the steel mill.

George killed a union leader and ended up in prison, but he got out of prison by a corrupt politician who didn’t like the union leader. This corrupt politician became George’s mentor and eventually helped George become the mayor of Hyderabad. David has been living in George’s shadow and has become jealous and resentful.

The rest of “Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” is a messy story about how Venkat, Raju, George and Davd cross paths and get into conflicts wth each other. There are the expected shootouts, chase scenes and bloody battles. There’s also a race against time when Rajaram needs an operation for pulmonary hypertension disease, and Venkat and Raju desperately scramble to get the money for the operation.

The acting performances range from mediocre to terrible. Iswarya Menon has a “token female” role as Venkat’s love interest in a relationship that goes nowhere. “Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” has a story that’s ultimately time-wasting for people who’ve seen many of these types of movies already.

UV Creations released “Bhaje Vaayu Vegam” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on May 31, 2024.

Review: ‘Love Me If You Dare’ (2024), starring Ashish Reddy and Vaishnavi Chaitanya

June 1, 2024

by Carla Hay

Ashish Reddy and Vaishnavi Chaitanya in “Love Me If You Dare” (Photo courtesy of Dil Raju Productions)

“Love Me If You Dare”

Directed by Arun Bhimavarapu

Telugu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India, the dramatic film “Love Me If You Dare” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A YouTuber believes he has been talking to the ghost of a woman with a scandalous past, and he tries to solve the mystery with the help of two of his close friends.  

Culture Audience: “Love Me If You Dare” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching overly long, nonsensical movies about supernatural love stories.

Ashish Reddy in “Love Me If You Dare” (Photo courtesy of Dil Raju Productions)

The title of “Love Me If You Dare” should be “Watch This Garbage If You Dare to Kill Some of Your Brain Cells.” This is a bloated, incoherent drama about a man who falls in love with a ghost woman who hides behind a veil. The acting is also terrible. During the course of this 128-minute mess of a movie, he tries to find out more about who this ghost really is and documents his investigation on his YouTube channel. When the answer to the mystery is revealed, it’s an insult to viewers’ intelligence and still doesn’t explain all the story’s plot holes and unanswered questions.

Written and directed by Arun Bhimavarapu, “Love Me If You Dare” (which is also titled “Love Me” in some countries) takes place in an unnamed city in India. The movie begins with an unseen woman asking in a voiceover, “Have you ever heard of a man who fell in love with a ghost?” The narrator soon claims that she is the daughter of a woman named Divyavathi, who had a tragic death an unnamed number of years ago. People in the community still talk about this death years later amid stories that the ghost of Divyavathi could still be haunting the area.

Divyavathi (played by Samyuktha Menon) lived in a small unnamed village with her husband of six years and their daughter, who was about 4 or 5 years old when Divyavathi died. The strange thing about Divyavathi was that she was never seen outside of the house. And if she was ever seen by anyone who didn’t live in the house, Divyavathi would always hide her face by wearing a veil. Another bizarre thing about their household was that an alarm clock could be heard ringing in the house every night at 8 o’clock.

One night, the alarm didn’t ring, and Divyavathi walked out of the house. It was the first time she was seen outside the house in six years. But when Divyavathi walked out of the house that night, her entire body was engulfed in flames. She collapsed and died in the town square. What happened to Divyavathi’s daughter? That answer is eventually revealed in the movie, although at one point it becomes pretty obvious what the reveal is going to be.

Years later, a popular YouTuber named Arjun (played by Ashish Reddy), who has at least 1 million subscribers, tells his best friends Prathap (played by Ravi Krishna) and Priya (played by Vaishnavi Chaitanya) that he is starting to fall in love with a woman he has been talking to for an unspecified period of time. Prathap and Priya are dating each other and have been together for an unspecified period of time. Arjun only sees this woman in an abandoned building that’s near a graveyard.

Arjun confesses that he has never seen this woman’s face because she always wears a red veil during their meet-ups. She won’t let Arjun see her face when he asks her to lift the veil. Arjun starts to wonder if he’s talking to the ghost of Divyavathi, based on some things that this woman has said to him. No one in the story really questions how stupid Arjun looks for not even trying to get this woman’s name. Arjun becomes obsessed with this mystery woman and wants to spend as much of his free time with her as possible.

The rest of the movie (which has very choppy editing) is just a jumbled hodgepodge of Arjun investigating this mystery, making videos about it on his YouTube channel, and getting some help in the “investigation” from Prathap and Priya. Arjun also has visions that this ghost woman could be dangerous. There are multiple scenes of Arjun digging up graves and holding skulls from these graves to inspect the skulls.

A forensic artist later does face reconstructions of these skulls. Don’t expect the movie to explain why, except for some plot nonsense about four missing women: 19-year-old Pallavi, 22-year-old Noor, 24-year-old Charishma and 19-year-old Vennela. The unseen female narrator says that she’s one of these missing women.

As time goes on, Priya and Arjun spend more and more time together. Priya looks like she’s becoming very fond of Arjun, as Prathap starts to fade in and out of the story. Is this going to turn into a love triangle? “Love Me If You Dare” has a weird and clumsy mix of wanting to be like a soap opera romance but also a Gothic-inspired horror story. By the time this abysmal movie reveals the story’s “big secret” near the end, most viewers just won’t care anymore—assuming that they watched this junk until the very unsatisfying ending.

Dil Raju Productions released “Love Me If You Dare” in select U.S. cinemas on May 24, 2024. The movie was released in India on May 25, 2024.

Review: ‘Rathnam’ (2024), starring Vishal and Priya Bhavani Shankar

May 5, 2024

by Carla Hay

Vishal and Priya Bhavani Shankar in “Rathnam” (Photo courtesy of Ayngaran International)

“Rathnam” (2024)

Directed by Hari

Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Vellore, India, the action film “Rathnam” features an Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An enforcer for a Member of the Legislative Assembly gets caught up in a violent feud with corrupt businessmen who want to steal land ownership from a group of villagers. 

Culture Audience: “Rathnam” will appeal primarily who are fans of the movie’s headliners and don’t mind watching idiotic action movies that are too long.

Murali Sharma in “Rathnam” (Photo courtesy of Ayngaran International)

“Rathnam” is just another long-winded, repetitive and idiotic action flick with no surprises and no soul. The movie has an unappealing subplot about the shallow “hero” falling in love with a woman who looks exactly like his dead mother. Other than that bizarre part of the story, “Rathnam” has the typical barrage of unrealistic fight scenes and murderous revenge schemes. It’s all becomes so dull and tiresome after a while. And it’s made worse by the movie’s too-long runtime of 155 minutes.

Written and directed by Hari, “Rathnam” (which takes place in Vellore, India) is the fourth movie collaboration for Hari and star Vishal. They previously worked together on 2007’s “Thaamirabharani,” 2014’s “Poojai” and 2022’s “Yaanai.” Vishal portrays the title character in “Rathnam,” which means “gem” in Tamil. This movie is far from being a gem-like treasure. It’s trash.

“Rathnam” begins with a flashback to 1994, by showing how a group of three bandits commit robberies on the road. The three thieves throw eggs at the windshields of passing vehicles on isolated roads, to get the drivers to lose control of the vehicles and crash. The thieves then swoop in and rob the people in the crashed vehicles, regardless if the people are dead or alive.

The thieves use this heinous robbery tactic on a bus, which crashes and kills a total of 26 people. The thieves rob the dead and dying people before escaping. Later, when police try to catch the robbers on a cliff road, eggs are thrown on the police car’s windshield, and the police car falls over the cliff.

The movie then fast-forwards to 2024. Vellore is plagued by corruption from several politicians and business owners. Rathnam works as an enforcer for a Member the Legislative Assembly named Panneer Selvam (played by Samuthirakani), who sends Rathnam to do a lot of Panneer’s dirty work.

One of these criminal politcians is a council member named Babu Reddy (played by Pondy Ravi), who is seen trying to sexually assault a kidnapped teenage schoolgirl while he’s driving her in his Jeep. She jumps out of the vehicle to escape and ends up in a hospital, where police have been called to interview her. Babu Reddy denies anything to do with the crimes he committed against this victim.

The next thing you know, Rathnam and three of his cronies hunt down Babu. Rathnam then kills Babu with a chainsaw. Rathnam’s weapons of choice tend to be anything with blades, because he likes to behead many of his victims. Expect to see many scenes of Rathnam slashing his way through fights by using large knives and machetes.

Fairly early on in the story, Rathnam talks about his past to explain why he turned out to be the person he is. When he was 5 years old, Rathnam and his mother Loganayagi (played by Priya Bhavani Shankar) were kidnapped. The kidnappers forced Rathnam’s mother to become a sex slave. She became an outcast in their community and committed suicide (by hanging herself) out of shame. “Rathnam” has some other flashbacks to his family’s past, with the flashbacks showing relatives such as Rathnam’s father (played by Ganesh Venkatraman) and Rathnam’s grandfather (played by Y. Gee. Mahendra).

Meanwhile, in the present day, three ruthless brothers have been bullying the villagers to sign over land to them. This dastardly trio of brothers are Beema Rayudu (played by Murali Sharma), Subba Rayudu (played by Hareesh Peradi) and Raghava Rayudu (played by Vettai Muthukumar), who have a connection to Rathnam’s past that won’t be revealed in this review. The villagers who don’t comply are at risk of being murdered by the Rayudu brothers, who have a large group of thugs working for them.

Rathnam’s love interest is a medical student named Malliga (also played by Shankar), whose father Vedha Nayagam (played by Jayaprakash) and unnamed grandfather (played by Vijayakumar) are among the outspoken villagers who are resisting the threats and attacks from the Rayudu brothers. Rathnam is immediately smitten with Malliga the first time that he sees her because she looks identical to his dead mother. When Malliga finds out about this uncanny resemblance, she doesn’t think it’s creepy at all that Rathnam is attracted to her in part because she looks like his mother.

Rathnam and Malliga have a volatile relationship where they break up and get back together multiple times. Rathnam is very jealous and possessive and can fly into a rage if he thinks Malliga is having “impure” thoughts about another man. The movie tries to make this relationship look romantic when it’s actually an emotionally abusive and dysfunctional relationship.

“Rathnam” is filled with ridiculous fight scenes where Rathnam has unexplained superhuman strength and abilities. When he is outnumbered by opponents, the opponents just stand around and watch while Rathnam takes on one man at a time. It’s all such idiotic and lazy filmmaking. There’s nothing about “Rathnam” that can be described as “great” or “very good.” It’s all just a parade of mediocre-to-bad everything that is not worth the time of anyone who wants to see an entertaining action movie.

Ayngaran International released “Rathnam” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on April 26, 2024.

Review: ‘Ameena’ (2024), starring Rekha Rana, Anant Mahadevan and Utkarsh Kohli

April 24, 2024

by Carla Hay

Rekha Rana in “Ameena” (Photo courtesy of Kumar Raj Productions)

“Ameena” (2024)

Directed by Kumar Raj

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India, Dubai, France, Africa, and the United States, the dramatic film “Ameena” (based on the 2016 movie “Yahan Ameena Bikti Hai”) features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some black people and white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An actress, who is starring in a play as a real-life teenager who committed suicide after being raped, goes on a revenge killing spree after she is also raped. 

Culture Audience: “Ameena” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching terrible movies that are based on real-life tragedies.

Rekha Rana in “Ameena” (Photo courtesy of Kumar Raj Productions)

“Ameena” tries to look like a female empowerment film, but it’s sloppily made exploitation of a real-life tragedy. This horrible drama’s jumbled plot is about a play based on rape injustice and the play’s star actress going on a vigilante killing spree. The movie jets around to some glamorous-looking international locations, but all this jet-setting is really just putting a glossy sheen on some very unappealing and horrendous filmmaking.

Directed by Kumar Raj, “Ameena” is based on Raj’s 2016 feature film “Yahan Ameena Bikti Hai,” a movie that was Cameroon’s official entry for the Academy Awards category that was then known as Best Foreign Language Film. There’s nothing Oscar-worthy about “Ameena,” which is jaw-droppingly terrible and tone-deaf. “Ameena” mishandles two storylines (one based on real life, one completely fiction) in such a clumsy way, the real-life story didn’t need to be part of the plot at all.

“Yahan Ameena Bikti Hai” (based on a true story) is about a teenage girl named Ameena in Hyderabad, India. Ameena’s parents sold her into marriage to a Saudi Arabian man who was old enough to be her grandfather. Ameena was raped by three teenage boys in India and committed suicide after the rapists were acquitted because they were underage.

In “Ameena,” a teenage actress named Meena (played Rekha Rana) is starring as Ameena in a dramatic play titled “Yahan Ameena Bikti Hai” at the Prithi Theatre in India. (Meena is never convincining as teenager in her everyday life. She always looks and acts like she’s in her 20s.) The play is happening 32 years after Ameena’s suicide, but the play changes the timeline and describes the present year as 15 years after the tragic events. The play is nothing but some awkward-looking, incoherent and melodramatic stage scenes.

Meena is portraying Ameena at 15 years old. Ameena is distressed about being sold by her parents to marry a 65-year-old Saudi Araban man. Anant Mahadevan, who has the role of the unnamed playwright of “Yahan Ameena Bikti Hai,” just sits on stage and makes nonsensical comments as this playwright. Ameena’s ghost (also played by Rana) appears to the playwright to give him commentary and advice. All the scenes with Ameena’s ghost scenes are among the worst things about this very tacky film.

Near the begninning of the movie, Meena is shown in a police interrogation room, which is an obvious reveal that she’s going to be arrested for something later in the story. Meena defiantly says in voiceover narration that she is a criminal, and her crime is being female. Most of “Ameena” then has flashbacks to show how Meena ended up in this interrogation room.

One night, after leaving the Prithi Theatre to go home, Meena is kidnapped by three men, who rape her and viciously assault her. She is thrown into an open shallow grave and left for dead. Meena is found and brought to a hospital, where she is in a coma, but she eventually recovers.

During her recovery, Meena has a lot of time to think about the crimes that happened to her. And she decides she’s going to get revenge by killing her rapists and their gang boss Raghu Verma (played by Abeer Goel), who had ordered his thugs to kill Meena. Meena spews some nonsense about not only avenging herself but also teenage rape victim Ameena. It’s an illogical and lousy excuse to become a murderer.

Meena says her killing spree is a way to bring awareness of the injustice of Ameena’s rapist not being punished. (Conveniently, Meena seems to forget that her rapists are adults and wouldn’t be held to the same legal standards as the underage teenagers who weren’t held accountable for Ameena’s rape.) And how is she really helping herself if she gets arrested for murder?

Before she goes on her killing spree, there’s a silly-looking montage of Meena training as if she’s training to be become a mixed-martial arts fighter: She lifts weights, learns how to box, takes martial artist classes, and she goes on outdoor obstacle courses. The movie makes a point of showing that Meena is doing much of this training in a Los Angeles gym, with no explanation for why she’s in Los Angeles.

Meena gets some help and encouragement in her training from her love interest Ashish Shrivastav (played by Utkarsh Kohli), who occasionally shows up in the story. Ashish, who is very religious, is seen praying a lot by himself, almost as much as he is seen with Meena. Ashish is not seen for large chunks of the story, but then he shows up at the end of the movie for a very corny scene.

Meena’s travels also take her to Senegal, Togo, Dubai, and France. She stays at upscale hotels and hires some local men to help her hunt down her targets. Who is paying for all of these vigilante activities and trips? That answer is rushed into the end of the movie. While Meena is in France, she goes to the Cannes Film Festival, where she obtains a fraudulent festival pass, which she then exchanges for a gun. Yes, this movie really is that stupid.

After she murders certain people (in very cringeworthy and unrealistic action scenes), Meena feeds the corpses to wild animals, such as lions and alligators. While she’s in Africa, there’s a very upbeat hip-hop video-styled musical interlude that looks extremely out-of-place in this movie that is supposed to be about such a serious subject. The movie gets worse as it goes along.

And what exactly is law enforcement doing about these unhinged vigilante murders? Police Commissioner Bhupan Joshi (played by Kumar Raj) is leading the investigation into the murders that happen in India. The very unrealistic outcome of Meena’s arrest is also shown in the movie.

The acting performances in “Ameena” are downright awful and at times hard to watch. The overall technical aspects of the filmmaking are very amateurish, including shoddy film editing and an ill-suited film score. “Ameena” director Raj is also a producer of this garbage. It’s such a waste of money, not just for anyone who made this film but also for anyone who has the misfortune of paying to see this junk. The real-life story deserves better than the tawdry and pointless version that’s in “Ameena,” which is an abomination to cinema.

Kumar Raj Productions released “Ameena” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on April 19, 2024.

Review: ‘Bade Miyan Chote Miyan’ (2024), starring Akshay Kumar, Tiger Shroff, Prithviraj Sukumaran, Manushi Chhillar, Alaya F, Sonakshi Sinha and Ronit Bose Roy

April 13, 2024

by Carla Hay

Akshay Kumar, Alaya F, Manushi Chhillar and Tiger Shroff in “Bade Miyan Chote Miyan” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Bade Miyan Chote Miyan” (2024)

Directed by Suraj Gianani

Culture Representation: Taking place in India, China, and Pakistan, the action film “Bade Miyan Chote Miyan” (a reboot of the 1998 film of the same name) features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some black people and white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Two former Indian Armed Forces fighters and their allies are recruited by the Indian Amed Forces to defeat a mysterious terrorist. 

Culture Audience: “Bade Miyan Chote Miyan” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and action movies that have nothing to offer but loudness and silly fight scenes.

Prithviraj Sukumaran in “Bade Miyan Chote Miyan” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Bade Miyan Chote Miyan” is obnoxiously loud and mindless schlock that drags on for too long with terrible acting and idiotic scenes. There’s no suspense in this formulaic garbage about military agents fighting a terrorist. If you dare to watch this abomination, you might need to wear earplugs to protect the assault on your eardrums from the movie’s aggressively noisy and deafening score soundtrack.

Directed by Suraj Gianani, “Bade Miyan Chote Miyan” (which means “big master little master” in Hindi) was written by Gianani and Ali Abbas Zafar. “Bade Miyan Chote Miyan” is a reboot of the 1998 film of the same name, with this reboot keeping a few of the story elements from the original film. This bloated 164-minute reboot movie has a ridiculously simple plot that could have been told in a movie with half the runtime. There’s a lot of time-wasting filler scenes that add nothing to the story. The cast members give mostly lousy performances.

In the beginning of “Bade Miyan Chote Miyan,” a military convoy on a northern Himalayan road gets hijacked in a shootout where a “powerful weapon” has been stolen. The movie then shows a scene in a Shanghai cafe, where Captain Misha (played by Manushi Chhillar) from the Indian Armed Forces meets an informant named Chang (played by Kinnar Boruah), who tells her that India has a new friend. Chang adds, “He’s not part of any organization. He desires to change the regime.” Chang then gets shot to death in the cafe, while Captain Misha escapes and returns to India.

It’s soon revealed that this so-called “friend” of India is a mysterious, mask-wearing terrorist named Eklavya (played by Prithviraj Sukumaran), who has been leading a group of other mask-wearing terrorists to wreak havoc in different places in India, China, and Pakistan. Why these three nations? Eklavya’s true identity and motives are later revealed in the movie. Eklavya likes to send taunting video messages before and after he commits acts of terrorism.

Meanwhile, the Indian Armed Forces have recruited two former Indian Armed Forces soldiers to help defeat Eklavya. Captain Firoz, also known as Freddy (played by Akshay Kumar), has a relationship like an older brother to Captain Rakesh, also known as Rocky (played by Tiger Shroff), who were both dishonorably discharged from the Indian Armed Forces for insubordination. Flashback scenes show that Freddy (the smooth-talking “big master”) and Rocky (the cocky “little master”) both got in trouble for a mission where they accomplished their goals, but they didn’t follow orders, and more people were killed than necessary. After being dismissed from the Indian Armed Forces, Freddy worked at an oil mine, while Rocky worked as a firefighter.

Now that Freddy and Rocky have returned to working for the Indian Armed Forces, they set their sights on capturing Eklavya, who seems to know these two wisecracking pals and has a personal grudge. Colonel Adil Shekhar Azad (played by Ronit Bose Roy) is the commanding officer for Freddy and Rocky. Also on the mission are Captain Misha, an information technology specialist named Dr. Parminder “Pam” Bawa (played by Alaya F) and Captain Priya Dixit (played by Sonakshi Sinha), who used to be Freddy’s lover.

“Bade Miyan Chote Miyan” is the worst type of action movie because it takes a potentially interesting plot twist in the story and just turns it into predictable mush. The movie’s dialogue is excruciatingly horrible—especially for Pam, who is supposed to be a technology whiz, but she is made to look like a shallow and immature ditz. Things that are supposed to be funny are cringeworthy. You know the rest: Gun shootouts, bomb explosions, stupid unrealistic stunts. The heroes might survive by the end of the story, but some of your brain cells won’t.

Yash Raj Films released “Bade Miyan Chote Miyan” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on April 10, 2024.

Review: ‘Maidaan,’ starring Ajay Devgn

April 12, 2024

by Carla Hay

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

“Maidaan”

Directed by Amit Sharma

Hindi with subtitles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: ‘The Family Star,’ starring Vijay Deverakonda and Mrunal Thakur

April 7, 2024

by Carla Hay

Vijay Deverakonda and Mrunal Thakur in “The Family Star” (Photo courtesy of Sarigama Cinemas)

“The Family Star”

Directed by Parasuram

Telugu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Hyderabad, India, and in New York City, the comedy/drama film “The Family Star” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A workaholic architect, who is the main financial caretaker for his large family, physically beats people up in various circumstances and has a volatile relationship with a woman who becomes his tenant. 

Culture Audience: “The Family Star” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and stupid movies with egotistical main characters.

Vijay Deverakonda and Vennela Kishore in “The Family Star” (Photo courtesy of Sarigama Cinemas)

“The Family Star” is a disgusting glorification of toxic masculinity. This horrible movie excuses the arrogant protagonist’s physical abuse of his love interest. The film’s messy tone goes from melodrama in the first half to wretched comedy in the second half. “The Family Star” is a shameful and shoddy waste of time and has the putrid gall to literally describe the abusive main character as a “superhero” multiple times in the movie. It shows an appalling and warped attitude about what it means to be a decent and respectful human being.

Written and directed by Parasuram, “The Family Star” has a total runtime (about 159 minutes) that is as bloated as the protagonist’s ego. “The Family Star” has an unrelenting materialistic message that a man is a “hero” if he provides gifts and financial security to his loved ones. The problem is that the movie’s protagonist does a lot of things to show that he’s definitely not a hero: He physically beats up people in business deals. He cruelly slaps his love interest very hard in the face because she described him as financially struggling. He is obsessively controlling over who can spend money on his family. The movie’s fight scenes are over-the-top idiotic because the central character has superhuman strength with no explanation.

In “The Family Star,” the jerk who is grossly elevated to “superhero” status is Govardhan (played by Vijay Deverakonda), a 25-year-old bachelor architect who financially supports several family members who live with him in Hyderabad, India. The family members are his grandmother, his two older brothers, his brothers’ wives, his two nephews and three nieces. The children’s ages range from about 5 to 11 years old. Almost all of these relatives of Govardhan do not have names in the movie, which is the movie’s way of saying that Govardhan is the only family member who matters the most in this trashy story.

Govardhan’s grandmother (played by Rohini Hattangadi) tells Govardhan that he needs to get married so that he doesn’t have to carry the burden of taking care of his brothers’ families. One of Govardhan’s brothers (played by Ravi Prakash) is an unemployed alcoholic. The other brother (played by Raja Chembolu) has a struggling business and is heavily in debt. The brothers’ wives (played by Vasuki Anand and Abhinaya) are passive and mainly react to whatever Govardhan does.

It’s mentioned several times in the movie that whenever something needs fixing in the household, Govardhan takes care of everything. He also helps with grocery shopping and cooking. “The Family Star” keeps trying to make Govardhan look like he’s caring and responsible. And there are times he can be affectionate to his family members. But the reality is that he uses his “head of household” status as a way to manipulate and control his family and other people in his life. He also has a nasty temper and often verbally lashes out at people, including his family members.

Govardhan is obsessed with social class status and being upwardly mobile. He is middle-class, but he wants to be thought of as “upper middle-class.” Throughout “The Family Star,” it’s pretty clear that Govardhan is on an ego trip about being the family “breadwinner,” and he likes feeling superior to everyone in the household. Govardhan also likes to make his family members feel guilty that he’s their main source of financial support. He takes advantage of that guilt by acting like a dictator to his family. He also likes using his “breadwinner” position as a way to boost his public image, so that people can admire him for being such a “great” family man.

At Govardhan’s office job, an attractive female co-worker (played by Divyansha Kaushik), who’s about the same age as Govardhan, seems to be in love with Govardhan. She has proposed marriage to him several times, but he has rejected her proposals every time. (These marriage proposals are not shown in the movie, but they are mentioned in conversations.) Govardhan smugly tells her that he’s too caught up in his family’s problems and responsibilities to get married.

“The Family Star” is so stupid, there’s a scene early in the movie where Govardhan does a business pitch in a meeting for one of his ridiculous architectural designs. His design is a three-bedroom household that is only 600 square feet. Govardhan says that people who are psychologically happy with this small living space won’t complain. However, it’s obvious that the real size problem is Govardhan’s small mind.

Govardhan has a penthouse that he barely uses. This penthouse is next to the place where Govardhan lives with his family. The penthouse is being rented by a wealthy young woman named Indu (played by Mrunal Thakur), who is a graduate student at Central University. A flashback shows that before Indu rented the place, she was warned that Govardhan is very protective of his family and doesn’t want his family’s privacy to be disturbed. She decided to rent the place anyway.

Govardhan doesn’t really like a stranger living on his property. He has told his grandmother that he’s going to tell Indu to leave. However, Govardhan has been postponing this eviction conversation with Indu for two reasons: First, he doesn’t really want give up the rent money he’s getting from Indu, who makes sure that Govardhan sees that she carries large wads of cash. Second, Govardhan is infatuated with Indu, but he doesn’t want to admit it to anyone yet.

Govardhan is such a control freak, he tells Indu that she can’t buy delivery meals because the kids in the household will want the same meals when they see the meals being delivered. Govardhan orders Indu to only have meals that she can cook in her own home, or else she can go out somewhere else to eat instead. Indu tells Govardhan that if the kids request certain things to eat, there’s nothing wrong with agreeing to their requests. Govardhan strongly disagrees.

The real issue for Govardhan is that Indu has been trying to befriend the women and children in the household. She is kind to them and often gives them gifts. Govardhan is insecure and feels threatened that Indu (who has a lot more money than he does) will be more respected than he is by his family members.

One day, Indu treats the women and children to a party dinner at a shopping mall’s food court. They all have a good time. But when Govardhan finds out, he has a temper tantrum and orders his family members to stay away from Indu. Meanwhile, Indu sees and hears Govardhan go on this rant, and she feels insulted, but she eventually forgives Govardhan, and they start dating each other.

“The Family Star” is an annoying, tedious mishmash showing the ups and downs of the relationship between Govardhan and Indu. It’s a repetitive loop of Govardhan doing something wrong, Indu getting upset and distancing herself from him, and then she eventually goes back to him. It’s the movie’s terrible attempt to make a co-dependent, abusive relationship look romantic.

The scene where Govardhan slaps Indu on the face happens in front of several of her university colleagues. This slap was not done in self-defense. Govardhan slapped Indu because he was angry that Indu did an academic report where she truthfully described Govardhan as having financial problems. What makes the scene even more heinous is that no one says or does anything about this physical assault, which is a crime where the attacker should be held accountable. However, “The Family Star” makes this physical abuse look acceptable and eventually acts like the slap never even happened.

The movie’s not-funny-at all attempts at comedy, especially in the second half of the film, have no imagination and just regurgitate things that have been seen and done in so many other romantic comedies where a rich woman is being courted by a man who is not wealthy. In this part of the movie, Indu’s student lifestyle completely disappears and turns into something else that involves Indu’s business mogul father (played by Jagapathi Babu) and one of his hapless employees named Samarth (played by Vennela Kishore), who is ordered to spend time with Govardhan, for reasons that are explained in this garbage movie.

“Family Star” has a pathetic “battles of the sexes” storyline that’s phony and unappealing. All of the acting performances in “The Family Star” are mediocre or substandard. The musical numbers are unimpressive. Everything about “The Family Star” is creatively bankrupt, so it deserves to be the flop that it is.

Review: ‘Monkey Man’ (2024), starring Dev Patel

April 5, 2024

by Carla Hay

Dev Patel in “Monkey Man” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Monkey Man” (2024)

Directed by Dev Patel

Some language in Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India, the action film “Monkey Man” (inspired by the legend of monkey deity Hanuman) features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An anonymous man goes undercover at a social club catering to corrupt leaders, in order to get revenge on the people responsible for massacring his village (including his mother) when he was a child. 

Culture Audience: “Monkey Man” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker/star Dev Patel and high-octane, stylish action movies with good acting.

Dev Patel in “Monkey Man” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Monkey Man” proudly shows influences from the “John Wick” movie series and classic Asian action flicks. As a star and filmmaker, Dev Patel gives the stylish “Monkey Man” the type of soul that sets it apart from most other violent revenge movies. “Monkey Man” doesn’t do anything particularly groundbreaking with its story, but the movie has a passion and a socioeconomic consciousness that make it a film that has a lot to say about vigilante justice.

Patel (who is best known as an actor) wrote and directed “Monkey Man,” which is his feature-film directorial debut. He is also one of the producers “Monkey Man,” which takes place primarily in the fictional city of Yatana, India. (“Monkey Man” was filmed mostly in Batam, Indonesia.) The movie takes a bleak view of society as a dangerous place where police and other law enforcement can’t be trusted to give justice because too many of them are corrupt.

“Monkey Man” is a simple story of an unnamed man (played by Patel), listed as Kid in the film’s end credits, who is out to get revenge on the people responsible for the massacre of his village when Kid was about 8 or 9 years old. (Jatin Malik has the role of Kid as a child.) Kid’s compassionate single mother Neela (played by Adithi Kalkunte) was one of the people murdered. As shown in flashback, Neela was raped and killed by a ruthless police chief named Rana Singh (played by Sikandar Kher) while Kid was hiding in their home and witnessed this brutal murder.

Throughout “Monkey Man,” there are flashbacks to the anonymous vigilante’s past that show snippets of information until this full picture emerges. One of his treasured childhood memories is his mother telling him the story of Hanuman, a heroic and powerful monkey deity. Viewers find out that he has the alias Bobby when he goes undercover as adult, because he uses a product called Bobby’s Powdered Bleach as a way to get revenge in a particular scene in the movie.

Kid makes money as an underpaid underground mixed-martial arts fighter who wears a monkey mask. However, he also gets a job as a dishwasher and then as a waiter at a secretive and elite social club called Kings Club, where powerful and corrupt leaders gather to indulge in a lot of decadence involving sex and drugs. Kings Club is essentially a brothel, where many of the sex workers are models or former beauty contestants.

Kid knows Rana is a regular customer at Kings Club, because of a Kings Club matchbook that Kid saw in Rana possession when Rana murdered his mother. Kid cons his way into getting a job at Kings Club by arranging for a pickpocket to steal the purse of Kings Club manager Queenie Kapoor (played by Ashwini Kalsekar), so that Kid can pretend to be do-gooder returning the purse to her. Instead of accepting Queenie’s gift of a cash reward, Kid tells her that he wants a “job that no one wants to do” at the club instead.

Queenie is a foul-mouthed, nasty-tempered boss who verbally abuses people, including her lackey gofer Alphonso (played by Pitobash), who is weasely, talkative and most of the movie’s comic relief. Alphonso has a black auto rickshaw (also known as a tuk-tuk) that he has nicknamed Nicki (after hop-hop star Nicki Minaj), because, as Alphonso describes the tuk-tuk: “Big bumper. Nice headlights.” Alphonso ends up being the closest person to get Kid’s trust at Kings Club.

Kid and a Kings Club sex worker named Sita (played by Sobhita Dhulipala) have a mutual attraction to each other, but Kid is too consumed by his vendetta to have time for any romance. Still, Kid and Sita exchange “what if” glances at each other to indicate that they are both thinking what would happen if they had met under different circumstances. Sita’s background information remains a mystery in the movie.

Other characters who are prominently featured in “Monkey Man” represent different aspects of the socioeconomic and class systems and how they are exploited to gain power. Baba Shakti (played Makarand Deshpande) is a world-famous spiritual guru who grew up in poverty but whose close association with many wealthy and powerful celebrities have made him wealthy and powerful too. Although he pretends to be about enlightenment and tolerance, Baba Shakti has endorsed the fictional Sovereign Party, which supports discrimination and persecution of minorities such as transgender people.

Someone who is a close ally of Baba Shakti is a Sovereign Party politician named Adesh Joshi (played by Vijay Kumar), who is currently running for an election. On a lesser level, Kid has conflicts with a sleazebag named Tiger (played by Sharlto Copley), the emcee at the underground fight club where Kid often takes a beating. Tiger takes pleasure in seeing Kid lose matches. Tiger also doesn’t pay Kid enough money if Tiger thinks Kid didn’t bleed enough in a match.

During the course of the story, Kid encounters a mystical guru named Alpha (played by Vipin Sharma), the leader of an androgynous “third-gender” tribe knows as the hijra. (A few of the scenes in “Monkey Man” are quite psychedelic.) The hijra people live in a cave, with the implication being that they feel safer in a cave than they do living amongst regular society because of the persecution they would experience as transgender or gender-fluid people.

“Monkey Man” fully acknowledges how much it’s inspired by the “John Wick” movies in a scene where Kid goes to an illegal gun dealer to buy a gun. The gun dealer offers to sell a TTI gun “just like in the first ‘John Wick’ movie,” he tells Kid. Kid declines this offer and says he wants a gun that is “small but effective,” so he ends up buying a small pistol. There’s also a cute dog that the hero takes care of briefly, just like there’s a cute dog briefly taken care of by the hero in the first “John Wick” movie. (The dog in “Monkey Man” is a stray and fortunately is not killed in the movie.)

The cinematography in “Monkey Man” is often frenetic and lit in various shades of neon. The movie also has montages that are edited almost like music videos. This style will be enjoyed by most viewers but disliked by others. “Monkey Man” has a lot of high-octane action and well-choreographed fight scenes that get very bloody and often require suspension of disbelief. But it’s in the hero’s quieter moments that viewers get more authenticity and a deeper understanding of him that will linger with viewers after the movie ends.

Universal Pictures released “Monkey Man” in U.S. cinemas on April 5, 2024. The movie will be released on VOD on April 23, 2024; on digital on June 11, 2024; and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD on June 25, 2024.

Review: ‘Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life),’ starring Prithviraj Sukumaran

April 1, 2024

by Carla Hay

Prithviraj Sukumaran in “Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life)” (Photo courtesy of Prithviraj Productions)

“Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life)”

Directed by Blessy

Malayalam, Hindi and Arabic with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India and in Saudi Arabia, from 1993 to 1995, the dramatic film “Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life)” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with one black person) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A working-class man travels from India to Saudia Arabia, with the promise of finding temporary work, but he is instead kidnapped and forced to be an enslaved goat herder.

Culture Audience: “Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life)” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Prithviraj Sukumaran and well-acted survival dramas and don’t mind watching three-hour movies that could have told the same story in two hours or less.

A scene from “Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life)” (Photo courtesy of Prithviraj Productions)

“Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life)”—an intense drama about an enslaved goat herder trapped in the Saudi Arabian desert—shows a lot of cruelty, desperation and hope. However, at nearly three hours, the movie is too long in telling this survival story. Some crucial details are missing, but the cinematography is stunning, and Prithviraj Sukumaran’s acting is above-average. Watching this movie is an endurance test that mostly succeeds in its intentions to be an inspirational story of human resilience.

Written and directed by Blessy, “Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life)” is based on Benyamin’s 2008 novel “Aadujeevitham,” which is inspired by the real-life story of Najeeb Muhammad, an Indian man who was enslaved in Saudia Arabia for three years as a goat herder. It’s the same story presented in the movie, but with some exaggerations for dramatic purposes. For example, there’s a massive sandstorm scene that requires a suspension of disbelief when it’s shown that the survivors who were caught in the thick of the sandstorm ended up having no serious injuries.

“Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life)” is told in non-chronological order, from 1993 to 1995. There are several flashbacks showing Najeeb (played by Sukumaran) remembering how happy his life was before he was kidnapped and enslaved. These memories help preserve his sanity and give him the motivation to escape any way that he can so that he can get back to his home in Kerala, India. Because the outcome of this story is so well-known, there’s not much suspense over whether or not Najeeb will survive. People familiar or unfamiliar with the story might still be curious to see how Najeeb makes it through his brutal ordeal in the movie.

A series of flashbacks and present-day scenes in “Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life)” show that before he was kidnapped and enslaved, Najeeb (who is in his late 30s) was living a lower-income but mostly contented personal life. He and his pregnant wife Sainu (played by Amala Paul) were living in the same household as Najeeb’s mother Ummah (played by Shobha Mohan), in peaceful and loving harmony. Sainu was far-enough along in her pregnancy for Sainu and her family to know that the unborn child is a boy.

A flashback shows that Najeeb’s personal life is going well, but he is struggling to find work. An acquaintance tells Najeeb that Najeeb that a laborer job in Saudi Arabia is recruiting Indians, who have to pay their own way to relocate to Saudi Arabia. (In real life, Muhammad was enticed to go to Saudia Arabia with the promise of being a salesperson at a grocery store.) Najeeb is initially skeptical because he doesn’t speak Arabic and he has only a fifth-grade education, which could affect his eligibility to get a work visa.

However, Najeeb is trusting and desperate for the salary that is supposedly being offered, so he takes out a mortgage on house to get the money to travel to Saudia Arabia. He plans to stay in Saudi Arabia only long enough to earn the money he needs and then return to India. His wife and mother are concerned about this risk, but they ultimately don’t ask a lot of questions, and they support Najeeb’s decision. A young man named Hakim (played by K. R. Gokul), who lives in the same area as Najeeb, travels with Najeeb for this same job opportunity.

What begins as an optimistic trip turns into a nightmarish trap. At the airport in Saudi Arabia, Najeeb and Hakim are approached by a man named Kafeel (played by Talib Al Balushi, also known as Talib), who says that he is their new employer. Najeeb and Hakim are ordered into the back of truck driven by Kafeel, who refuses to tell them where they are going and won’t let Najeeb and Hakim call their families. Najeeb and Hakim are assaulted and then separated from each other.

Najeeb soon finds out that Kafeel has kidnapped him and is forcing Najeeb to work as an unpaid goat herder in horrible conditions in the Saudi Arabian desert. Najeeb is frequently physically assaulted and starved during his enslavement. Najeeb is always being watched by Kafeel or one of Kafeel’s underlings, including Kafeel Jr. (played by Rik Aby), but Najeeb tries to escape a few times anyway. Najeeb is severely beaten when he is caught.

Most of “Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life)” shows Najeeb’s suffering. And many times, it becomes very repetitive. There is no voiceover narration that tells viewers what Najeeb’s inner thoughts are throughout the movie. It’s the correct creative decision for this film. By not hearing his inner thoughts, the movie puts an emphasis on the loneliness and isolation that Najeeb feels. This absence of inner-thought narration also leaves it open for viewers to speculate what Najeeb might be thinking.

However, because there isn’t much talking in the film, it leads to monotonous stretches where there are too many scenes of Najeeb trudging pathetically through the desert with not much happening to further the story along. Thanks to the impressive cinematography of Sunil K.S. and the emotion-stirring musical score of A.R. Rahman (the Oscar-winning composer of 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire”), these filler scenes can maintain enough viewer interest, depending on how alert a viewer is when watching the movie. Some of the scenes are quite boring and can induce drowsiness.

Najeeb is compassionate to the goats he has to herd. And he gets somewhat emotionally attached to them as their caretaker. But he also knows that his freedom and going back home are his biggest concerns. Najeeb often feels helpless and trapped, because there is no one nearby who can help him. Najeeb’s family also doesn’t know where he is, since Kafeel has made sure that Najeeb does not have access to any outside communication.

A well-known part of this story (which isn’t spoiler information) is that after about two years in captivity, Najeeb gets a chance to escape when Kafeel leaves Najeeb alone and unsupervised because Kafeel will be out of the area for a few days to attend the wedding of Kafeel’s daughter. Najeeb is not only left alone, but he’s also left alone without being locked up anywhere. Considering how much Najeeb was under strict supervision and how Najeeb tried to escape before, it’s a lucky turn of events that would be hard to believe if it didn’t happen in real life.

However, “Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life)” bungles this suspenseful part of the movie by showing Najeeb leaving in a way that doesn’t look very believable. He takes time to say goodbye to the nearby goats, but he doesn’t think about taking any of the goats with him in case he needs food or liquids. In fact, all he does before he leaves is bathe himself with some water, change his clothes, and say goodbye to the goats. He’s not shown taking any food or water with him.

Considering that Najeeb has had plenty of time to think about what he would do if he had a chance to escape, the way it’s depicted in the movie looks fabricated for drama, just so Najeeb’s escape will be harder than it needed to be. During this part of the movie, Najeeb gets help from an African immigrant named Ibrahim Khadiri (played by Jimmy Jean-Louis), who experiences starvation and dehydration with Najeeb. The movie makes it look like Najeeb and Ibrahim did not have any liquids for at least four days and not only survived but were also able to still walk through the desert in blistering heat.

There’s a huge gap in logic, because anyone with basic knowledge of human biology knows that people can survive for several days without food but not without liquids. “Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life)” is not the movie to watch to get realistic information about how to survive in a desert for weeks with little to no food and water. At least the movie’s makeup and hairstyling are much more convincing in showing Najeeb’s physical transformation the longer he spends time trapped in the desert.

The ending of the film is somewhat abrupt and doesn’t quite have the payoff that many viewers might expect. And there’s almost nothing meaningful shown about the lives of people whom Najeeb meets in Saudi Arabia. Despite these very noticeable flaws in the movie, Sukumaran gives an emotionally credible performance that will keep viewers riveted for most of the story.

Most of the movie’s visual effects serve the story capably, but some of the visual effects are obviously fake. Although there’s a disclaimer saying that no humans or animals were harmed during the making of the movie, sensitive viewers should be warned that the movie has scenes of abuse and pain that might be too intense for some people to watch. At the very least, “Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life)” could result in more viewers reading the book on which the movie is based to get more of the story that might not be in the film.

Prithviraj Productions released “Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life)” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on March 28, 2024.

Review: ‘Crew’ (2024), starring Tabu, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Kriti Sanon, Diljit Dosanjh and Kapil Sharma

March 31, 2024

by Carla Hay

Kriti Sanon, Tabu and Kareena Kapoor Khan in “Crew” (Photo courtesy of FunAsia Films)

“Crew” (2024)

Directed by Rajesh Krishnan

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India and in the Cayman Islands, the comedy film “Crew” features an all-South Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Three flight attendants, who are tired of being underpaid and overworked, become involved in gold smuggling, which leads to various shenanigans and mishaps.

Culture Audience: “Crew” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and high-energy slapstick comedies revolving around misadventures and female friendships.

Rajesh Sharma in “Crew” (Photo courtesy of FunAsia Films)

Entertaining and breezy, “Crew” is a unique crime caper about three flight attendants caught up in gold smuggling and getting ahead in a system that wants to hold them back. The cast members’ chemistry and comedic timing are fantastic in this lively story. This is a slapstick comedy that isn’t meant to be entirely realistic, but the movie has realistic themes about worker exploitation and corporate greed.

Directed by Rajesh Krishnan, “Crew” was written by Nidhi Mehra and Mehul Suri. The movie’s three central characters are flight attendants who work for a fictional Mumbai-based company called Kohinoor Airlines, which is the largest airline company in India. All three of the flight attendants also happen to be best friends of different age groups. And all three of them have become frustrated with their flight attendant jobs because they think they are being underpaid and overworked. Kohinoor Airlines has been steadily reducing the salaries of flight attendants and other lower-level workers while expecting them to work the same number of hours.

The three central “Crew” characters are:

  • Geeta “Geetu” Sethi (played by Tabu), a married woman in her 50s, is a former beauty queen, who has been a flight attendant for the past 20 years. Geeta is happily married to a supportive husband named Arun Sethi (played by Kapil Sharma), but she’s gotten a little bit bored with her life. She worries that she is “past her prime.” Geeta’s dream is to open a restaurant in Goa with Arun. Geeta has anxiety issues and frequently pops pills to calm her nerves. Despite being neurotic, Geeta often likes to act like a wise, older sister to her two best friends.
  • Jasmine Kohli (played by Kareena Kapoor Khan), a bachelorette in her 40s, has a complicated history with money and is the most materialistic of the three friends. After her parents divorced when she was a child, Jasmine went to live with her mother’s father Nanu (played by Kulbhushan Kharbanda) and developed a close bond with him, but Jasmine has lingering insecurities because of feeling abandoned by her parents. Jasmine’s parents sent her to an elite private school, but she felt that her parents’ financial support could not substitute for the emotional support that she wanted from them. She’s had a rebellious streak since her teenage years. Jasmine’s dream is to be the CEO of her own marketing company.
  • Divya Rana (played by Kriti Sanon), a bachelorette in her 30s, is the “golden child” of her family. She has always excelled in everything that she’s done, except for one thing: fulfilling her dream of becoming an airline pilot. Divya graduated from a well-known airline pilot program, but she couldn’t get a job as an airline pilot, mostly because of sexism. Divya’s father is an airline pilot, but somehow Divya has been able to fool her family into thinking that she has a become pilot for Kohinoor Airlines. Divya can be hot-tempered and is the one most likely of the three friends to get into physical fights in self-defense. (For example, she strong-arms a rude passenger who slaps her on her rear end.) Divya is very close to her gay brother Chintu (played by Mohit Gupta), who used to be a computer hacker.

The beginning of the movie shows that a Kohinoor flight has returned to a terminal because of “technical difficulties.” The real reason for this emergency turnaround is that Geeta, Jasmine and Divya are suspects in a conspiracy to illegally smuggle gold bars out of India. The three pals have been detained and escorted to a room for questioning. The interrogation is led by a sub-inspector named Mala (played by Trupti Khamkar), who is eager to have these three women arrested.

Much of “Crew” consists of flashback scenes showing how Geeta, Jasmine and Divya ended up at this point. The trailers for “Crew” already reveal that it all started two years ago, during a flight where an elederly male passenger named Rajvanshi (played by Ramakant Daayama) dropped dead of an apparent heart attack near the flight attendant station. Geeta, Jasmine and Divya discovered that he had gold bars strapped underneath his clothes.

At the time they found these gold bars, all three of the women were having financial issues where they wanted extra money that they didn’t have. Geeta wanted money to open a restaurant. Jasmine was several months past due on her rent. Divya had a student loan debt that she had to pay back in two days. And so, the three friends decided to steal the gold bars without telling anyone else. Of course, this small fortune in gold that gets stolen eventually has people who go looking for it.

The three flight attendants are also feeling financially insecure because there have been news media reports that Kohinoor Airlines is on the verge of bankruptcy. Kohinoor Airlines chairman Vijay Walia (played by Saswata Chatterjee) is vehemently denying the reports and is still living a lavish lifestyle, as if everything is going well with the company. Kohinoor Airlines has a pension program for staffers called the Provident Fund that has been getting a significant portion of employee salaries who want to invest in the fund.

Geeta’s husband Arun has a sister named Sudha Mittal (played by Charu Shankar), a former flight attendant, who is married to Kohinoor Airlines’ human resources chief Pruthviraj “Minoj” Mittal (played by Rajesh Sharma), who is a talkative and corrupt buffoon. Pruthviraj reveals some information to Geeta that changes the trajectory of the story. It leads to some very amusing twists and turns—some more unpredictable than others. Diljit Dosanjh has a standout supporting role as a customs officer named Jaiveer Singh, who had a fling with Divya when she was in college, and he wants to start dating her again after not seeing her for years.

The madcap misadventures and snappy dialogue in “Crew” are consistently funny. Although many of the scenarios are intentionally exaggerated, the friendship of Geeta, Jasmine and Diya is believable—which is essential in order for this movie to be entertaining. Tabu, Khan and Sanon are in top comedic form in “Crew,” which also has hilarious performances by many of the supporting cast members. (There are some emotionally serious moments too.) Even though it’s very easy to predict how “Crew” will end, the unexpected turns in certain parts of the story create enough suspense that will keep viewers interested in seeing what will happen next.

FunAsia Films released “Crew” in select U.S. cinemas on March 29, 2024, the same date that the movie was released in India.

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