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 a 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 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.

Review: ‘Badhaai Do,’ starring Rajkummar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar

April 25, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rajkummar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar in “Badhaai Do” (Photo courtesy of Zee Studios)

“Badhaai Do”

Directed by Harshavardhan Kulkarni

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in India, the comedy/drama film “Badhaai Do” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A gay man and a lesbian, who are both in the closet about their sexualities, decide to get married to each other to throw off suspicion from their families, but complications ensue when they both meet real love partners. 

Culture Audience: “Badhaai Do” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in stories of how LGBTQ people live in India, where homophobia is encouraged and practiced by much of society.

Chum Darang, Bhumi Pednekar and Rajkummar Rao in “Badhaai Do” (Photo courtesy of Zee Studios)

“Badhaai Do” is a rare LGBTQ Bollywood film that achieves a balancing act of comedy and drama. It’s about the damage caused by homophobia and the courage it takes to live authentically. The main cast members’ charismatic performances make this movie a winner. It’s a story that’s both sobering and heartwarming.

Directed by Harshavardhan Kulkarnia, “Badhaai Do” (which translates to “Felicitations Due” in English) is a witty, often-sarcastic and engaging film that has a brisk pace that doesn’t make it seem like the movie is really two hours and 27 minutes long, even though it is. Kulkarnia co-wrote the “Badhaai Do” screenplay with Suman Adhikary and Akshat Ghildial. There are some parts of the movie that have a heightened tone of a screwball comedy, but the movie does not veer too far off from reality, except for the expected Bollywood musical interludes where the characters begin singing and dancing to their dialogue.

In “Badhaai Do” (which takes place in an unnamed city in India), a gay man and a lesbian get married to each other, because they’re hiding their true sexualities from almost everyone they know, including their families who have been pressuring them to have heterosexual marriages. The two people in this closeted couple are police officer Shardul Thakur (played by Rajkummar Rao) and physical education teacher Suman “Sumi” Singh (played by Bhumi Pednekar), who are both in their early 30s.

Shardul comes from a large family of women, including his unnamed widowed mother (played by Sheeba Chaddha), who are all pressuring him to get married to a woman. As expected, Shardul’s female relatives have also been playing matchmaker by trying to set him up with women whom they think could be a suitable wife for Shardul. He pretends that he’s interested, even though he knows that he’s not sexually attracted to women.

Sumi was once engaged to a man, who died six years ago in a tragic accident. She hasn’t had a serious boyfriend since then, but her conservative parents Prem Singh (played by Nitesh Pandey) and his wife Mrs. Singh (played by Loveleen Mishra) are expressing concerns to Sumi that she hasn’t moved on and found someone else to marry. Sumi and her brother Naman Singh (played by Vyom Yadav), who is 10 years younger than she is, still live with their parents. Naman has a bratty and sexist attitude about Sumi being an unmarried woman at her age, and he often makes snide comments to her about her marital status.

Even though Sumi can’t bring home any women she dates, Sumi still tries to find a love partner. She has been talking to someone on a lesbian dating app. But when she meets this possible love interest in person, she finds out that it’s really a young man, who tries to get Sumi to date him.

Sumi refuses to date him, so he starts harassing her and threatens to tell her family and friends that she’s a lesbian. Sumi is a feisty person who’s not afraid to stand up for herself, so she goes to the police to report this harassment. It’s how Sumi ends up meeting Shardul, who takes the report. It’s also how he finds out that Sumi is a lesbian. Shardul gets rid of the harasser by smacking him around—not bad enough where medical treatment is needed, but enough to scare away the harasser.

At work, Shardul is so fearful about revealing that he’s gay, he overcompensates by saying homophobic things. For example, early in the movie, Shardul and a police co-worker are in a local park when they catch two men who are about to be in a compromising sexual situation. Shardul and his colleague interrupt this tryst before things go further and tell the men to leave. Shardul makes a big show of expressing disgust with gay people, as if to say, “I’m not one of them!”

It just so happens that Sumi is nearby in the park at the same time. Shardul sees her sitting on a park bench by herself and strikes up a conversation with her. They end up talking about how their families are pressuring them to get married. And so, Shardul then confesses to Sumi that he’s gay and in the closet.

Shardul suggests to Sumi that they pretend to date each other and then get married, in order to “get our families off of our backs.” Shardul also says that he and Sumi can live like roommates. And because Shardul is a police officer, he tells Sumi that he can probably protect her better than most other people could.

Sumi is skeptical about this idea at first, but she eventually agrees. Shardul and Sumi’s short “courtship” soon turns to marriage. The movie’s wedding predictably has the most elaborate musical scenes in “Badhaai Do.”

But there are some big problems to living this lie of a phony marriage. Around the time that Sumi and Shardul concoct their fake romance, Sumi meets and begins dating Rimjhim Jongkey (played by Chum Darang), a confident woman who works as a hospital employee who processes lab samples. (The movie has some scatalogical comedy because Rimjhim deals with stool samples. Sumi meets Rimjihm because Sumi dropped of her own stool sample at the hospital.)

Sumi and Rimjhim have an instant mutual attraction, they begin dating, and they end up falling in love with each other. Rimjhim knows almost from the beginning that Sumi is pretending to be in a romance with Shardul. Rimjhim doesn’t really approve of this deception, but she goes along with it because she understands what’s at stake: Sumi’s family could disown Sumi if they found out that she’s a lesbian. (None of this spoiler information, because it’s in the movie’s trailer.)

Rimjhim lives openly as a lesbian/queer woman because she says that she doesn’t have any family members living in India. If she did, Rimjhim says that she would probably have to hide her true sexuality too. After Shardul and Sumi get married and move in together, Rimjhim spends so much time in their apartment, she essentially starts living there too.

If anyone notices that Rimjhim has spent the night at the apartment, Shardul tells people he knows that Rimjhim is Sumi’s cousin, while Sumi tells people she knows that Rimjhim is Shardul’s cousin. It’s a flimsy lie that’s bound to unravel if people who know Shardul and Sumi start talking to each other about Rimjhim.

As for Shardul’s real love life, his is more complicated than Sumi’s. When Shardul and Sumi met, he was already in a long-distance romance with a man who’s about 10 years younger: a graduate business student named Kabir (played by Deepak Aurora), who might not have the same feelings for Shardul that Shardul has for him. Kabir meets up with Shardul (at Shardul’s invitation) at the resort where Shardul and Sumi are having their “honeymoon.”

Soap-opera-styled drama ensues, as well as some hilarity when Shardul and Sumi desperately try to fool their family through staged photos that Shardul and Sumi are on a romantic vacation together. More backstory about Shardul’s love life is revealed which somewhat explains the patterns of mistakes he makes in his relationships. And then, things get more complicated when Shardul meets and has a mutual attraction to an attorney named Guru Narayan (played by Gulshan Devaiah), who is an obvious better match for Shardul than Kabir.

During this fake marriage, Shardul and Sumi sometimes clash with each other over certain issues. One of those issues is about parenting. Sumi says she has always wanted to be a mother, and she’s thinking about adopting a child. Shardul is adamant that he’s not ready to become a parent. Sumi accuses Shardul of being selfish and immature. Shardul accuses Sumi of being demanding and unreasonable.

They also bring some emotional baggage to the relationship. Although Sumi wasn’t romantically in love with her fiancé who died, she loved him as a friend. And so, Sumi is still dealing with grief over his death. Shardul has some unresolved issues with how his first big love affair ended and why it’s affected his fear to live openly as a gay man.

The movie’s plot has a few twists and turns, some of which are more expected than others. Rao and Pednekar give admirable performances that will make audiences root for Sumi and Shardul in the highs and lows of their unconventional relationship. (The realistic homophobia shown in the movie is heartbreaking, but it’s balanced out with moments of LGBTQ pride and self-confidence.) “Badhaai Do” shows in exemplary ways that no matter what people’s sexualities are, everyone deserves a chance to be happy, wherever they can find their personal joy that doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Zee Studios released “Badhaai Do” in select U.S. cinemas on February 11, 2022, the same date that the movie was released in several other countries, including India, Australia, Singapore, France and Ireland. “Badhaai Do” is also available on Netflix.

Review: ‘Never Forget Tibet,’ starring the Dalai Lama, also known as Tenzin Gyatso

April 1, 2022

by Carla Hay

The Dalai Lama (also known as Tenzin Gyatso) in “Never Forget Tibet” (Photo courtesy of Fathom Events)

“Never Forget Tibet”

Directed by Jean-Paul Mertinez

Some language in Mandarin and Hindu

Culture Representation: Taking place in India and other parts of the world, the documentary film “Never Forget Tibet” features a racially group of Asian and white people representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy, who all discuss the life and legacy of the 14th Dalai Lama, also known as Tenzin Gyatso.

Culture Clash: The 14th Dalai Lama (also known as Tenzin Gyatso), who is a spiritual leader and the former head of state of Tibet, has been refugee in India, since 1959, when he escaped to India after China’s invasion of Tibet.

Culture Audience: “Never Forget Tibet” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in the Dalai Lama, Chinese history, spiritual leaders, human rights activists and refugees.

The Dalai Lama (also known as Tenzin Gyatso) and Har Mander Singh in “Never Forget Tibet” (Photo courtesy of Fathom Events)

The documentary “Never Forget Tibet” is subtitled “The Dalai Lama’s Untold Story,” which isn’t an entirely accurate description. Much of the documentary is essentially biographical information that can be found on the Wikipedia page of the 14th Dalai Lama, who is also known as Tenzin Gyatso. It’s not exactly “an untold story,” but the documentary is a good history lesson for anyone who knows next to nothing about this extraordinary person. For people who already know a lot about the Dalai Lama, the main reason to see the documentary is for the exclusive footage of him talking about his refugee journey and reuniting with Har Mander Singh, the former politician/diplomat who helped guide the Dalai Lama when the Dalai Lama escaped as a refugee from Tibet to India in 1959.

Directed Jean-Paul Mertinez and narrated by actor Hugh Bonneville, “Never Forget Tibet” shows a brief, exclusive interview that journalist Rani Singh did with the Dalai Lama, who rarely gives one-on-one interviews. Rani Singh had an inside track to get the interview because her father happened to be Har Mander Singh, who died in 2020, at the age of 94. Rani Singh doesn’t do much questioning in the interview (she seems more than a little star-struck), but she is content to just let the Dalai Lama share his memories while she nods in agreement. Fathom Events released “Never Forget” as a one-night-only event in U.S. cinemas on March 31, 2022, the 63rd anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s 1959 escape from China-occupied Tibet.

Born as Lhamo Thondup in Tibet on July 6, 1935, his name became Tenzin Gyatso, and he became the 14th Dalai Lama in 1940. He was Tibet’s head of state from 1963 to 1991. This Dalai Lama has become world-renowned as an advocate of peace and spirituality, but China still officially considers him to be an enemy of the state. Environmental journalist Nithin Cocoa, who is one of the people interviewed in the documentary, comments on the Dalai Lama’s status as a political refugee from China: “No matter what the Chinese government tries to do, they can’t take down his moral standing.”

Cocoa goes into details about how people in China are still targeted and under surveillance if they show any interest in the Dalai Lama. He also mentions that droughts in Tibet and parts of India could be attributed in part to the Chinese government’s role in controlling the Great Wall’s cutting off of bodies of water. The Dalai Lama says in the documentary that although technology has made the world a better place, damage to the environment is the biggest threat to humanity.

Har Mander Singh shares his memories of the first time he met the Dalai Lama and what it was like to get to know him when Har Mander Singh had the responsibility of helping the Dalai Lama navigate through India as a refugee. A highlight of the documentary is when the Dalai Lama and Har Mander Singh reunite for the first time in years. It might bring tears to some viewers’ eyes.

In his interview, Dalai Lama says that when he was living in Tibet, he became “close friends” with Mao Zedong, also known as Chairman Mao, the founder of the People’s Republic of China. The Dalai Lama mentions that at one point, he wanted to join the Communist Party. When the Dalai Lama told a friend about it, the friend advised him to wait. It wasn’t long before China invaded Tibet.

Also interviewed in “Never Forget Tibet” is Ahimsa publisher/president Leslie Di Russo, who shows some rare Dalai Lamai archives in the Heinrich Harrer Limited Edition Portfolio; Bon Tibetan religious teacher Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche; Rinchen Khandro Choegyal, founding director/special advisor of the Tibetan Nuns Project, who talks about how educations has improved for nuns over the decades; and Ngari Rinpoche (also known as Tenzin Choegyal), the Dalai Lama’s youngest brother and the partner of Rinchen Khandro Choegyal; Richard West, also known as music artist Mr. C; and Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay, president of Central Tibetan Administration.

“Never Forget Tibet” isn’t a very well-edited movie. Parts of the documentary jump around in a somewhat incoherent storytelling manner, while other sections of the movie have pacing that is a bit tedious. However, it’s hard not to be riveted by the Dalai Lama’s story, regardless of any prior knowledge that a viewer might have about him before seeing this documentary.

At the Fathom Events screening, the documentary was followed by a pre-recorded videoconference Q&A that the Dalai Lama did with various young people around the world, in a session hosted by PeaceJam. He said the usual things about how compassion and spirituality are important for humanity, and he gave a lot of rambling answers. The Dalai Lama also mentioned that modern people are “wiser” than previous generations because of education and technology. “Never Forget Tibet” is not a groundbreaking chronicle of the Dalai Lama, but it’s an interesting peek inside the mind and memories of a historical figure whose impact transcends borders and political beliefs.

Fathom Events released “Never Forget Tibet” in U.S. cinemas as a one-night-only event on March 31, 2022.

2019 DOC NYC movie review: ‘Ganden: A Joyful Land’

November 18, 2019

by Carla Hay

Jampa Legshe in “Ganden: A Joyful Land” (Photo by Ngawang Choephel)

“Ganden: A Joyful Land”

Directed by Ngawang Choephel

Tibetan with subtitles

World premiere at DOC NYC in New York City on November 12, 2019.

If you ever wondered about how influential Tibetan Buddhist monestary Ganden survived China’s invasion of Tibet, by relocating to India in 1959, and rebuilding in 1966, this thoughtful documentary explains it all. Ganden is where a young Dalai Lama had his religious origins and his awakening as an activist for world peace. Although the Dalai Lama is not interviewed in the documentary, several Ganden monks who were part of the relocation share their memories of what it was like to be refugees from their native Tibet and to rebuild the monastery in India, a country that welcomed them, with the help of the Dalai Lama.

For the documentary, director Ngawang Choephel (who also narrates the film in a soothing tone) has kept the pacing very deliberate and historically oriented. It’s the kind of film that would be right at home in a museum, a school class on Tibetan Buddhism, or on PBS. In other words, “Ganden: A Joyful Land” might be too slow-paced for those who prefer their documentaries with more flash or quick-cutting editing styles, but just like the monks in the film, tranquility is valued over adrenaline. (Choephel says he began filming Ganden in India in 2011, and about half of the monks interviewed in the movie have since passed away, which adds a certain historical weight as archival footage.)

One of the strongest qualities of the film is the cinematography, which is simply gorgeous. Some of the most compelling and colorful imagery is of monks creating mandala paintings for the Tagtse Dumshoe festival, using sand-like paint. Because the movie has first-person accounts of the monks who founded Ganden in India, their stories are the heart and soul of the film. Many of the monks consistently say that even if they didn’t have enough to eat in the early years of the monastery, life at Ganden was extremely fulfilling for them. One of the monks said that when he went home to visit with his family, he couldn’t wait to get back to the monastery.

Of course, the hardships and suffering they endured are not ignored in the film, and neither is a mention of the high number suicides of the refugee monks and the monks who were still in Tibet, because of their despair over China’s invasion and religious persecution. Despite these depressing but necessary aspects of the film, “Ganden: A Joyful Land” is ultimately an inspiring story of faith, hope, and the will to survive in a world where a peaceful existence is always at risk.

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