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: ‘Hi Nanna,’ starring Nani, Mrunal Thakur and Kiara Khanna

December 31, 2023

by Carla Hay

Kiara Khanna and Nani in “Hi Nanna” (Photo courtesy of Vyra Entertainments)

“Hi Nanna”

Directed by Shouryuv

Telugu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Indian cities of Mumbai and Coonoor, the dramatic film “Hi Nanan” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A single father tells his 6-year-old daughter the story of what happened to her mother, after the daughter’s life is saved by a woman who insists that he tell the story.

Culture Audience: “Hi Nanna” will appeal primarily to people who are fans the movie’s headliners and are interested in watching intriguing movies about how family members cope with separations.

Mrunal Thakur and Shilpa Tulaskar in “Hi Nanna” (Photo courtesy of Vyra Entertainments)

“Hi Nanna” requires some suspension of disbelief in this frequently melodramatic story about the mystery of a mother separated from her family. However, at the center of the film is what makes it shine: a sweet and compelling tale of long-lasting love. It’s by no means a groundbreaking film but it’s an enjoyable movie for viewers who like movies about people who could be reunited with family members.

“Hi Nanna” (which means “Hi Dad” in Telugu) is the feature-film debut of director Shouryuv, who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Bhanu Dheeraj Rayudu, Vasanth Sameer and Pinnamaraju. In the city of Mumbai, India, a successful fashion photographer named Viraj (played by Nani) is a single father who has a very close bond with his intelligent and adorable 6-year-old daughter Mahi (played by Kiara Khanna), who says that Viraj is her best friend. Viraj is a kind and patient parent, but there’s one thing that gets him upset: when Mahi asks him to tell her the story about what happened to her mother.

For as a long as possible, Viraj has been postponed telling Mahi (who has cystic fibrosis) the story of what happened to her mother. But now that Mahi is 6, she is old enough to keep asking questions and wanting answers. At school, she is the subject of gossip because of her absentee mother. Viraj promised Mahi that he would tell her the entire story if her grades at school are good enough for Mahi to be at the top of her class in academics.

Mahi achieves that goal, but when she tells Viraj and shows him her academic grades, he once again delays telling her the whole story, by saying that he’s too tired and will tell her later. Mahi and Viraj have an argument. The next morning, Viraj sees that Mahi is missing with their Golden Retriever dog Pluto. Viraj correctly assumes that Mahi has run away from home, so he frantically goes looking for her.

That morning, Mahi is walking with Pluto on a street. The dog breaks free of its leash and runs into traffic. Mahi runs after the dog and is nearly hit by a truck. But just at that moment, a woman in her late 20s or early 30s saves Mahi’s life. The dog has avoided getting hit and also safe.

The woman introduces herself as Varsha (played by Mrunal Thakur), who asks Mai where her parents are. Mahi tells Varsha why she ran away from home. Varsha is sympathetic but says that Mahi’s father has to be contacted to take Mahi home. Mahi gives Varsha the name and phone number of Viraj. Varsha takes Mahi to a nearby restaurant while they wait for him.

When Viraj shows up, he is relieved to see Mahi but seems a little caught off-guard and annoyed when he sees Varsha and finds out that Mahi has told Varsha about their family issues. Varsha insists that Mahi cannot leave with Viraj until Viraj tells Mahi the entire story of Mahi’s mother. Mahi thinks this woman is being very annoying and intrusive, but he complies with her demand because he doesn’t want to upset Mahi any more.

The rest of “Hi Nanna” alternates between showing flashbacks of Viraj’s volatile romance with Mahi’s mother and the present day. Varsha and Mahi have an instant connection, so tey start to become friends. The more time that Varsha spends with Mahi and Viraj, the more she starts to love them and they begin to feel like a family.

Viraj finds himself falling in love with Varsha, but there’s a big problem: She’s already engaged to marry a physician named Dr. Aravind (played by Angad Bedi), with the wedding happening in the near future. Varsha’s overbearing parents (played by Shilpa Tulaskar and Jayaram) approve of this arranged marriage. They think Dr. Avarind would make a more suitable husband for Varsha than Viraj.

The mystery of who and where Mahi’s mother is becomes very easy to solve when this mother is seen in flashbacks. However, the answers to why she is not in Mahi’s life happen much later in the film. It’s enough to say that there’s a very soap-opera-like explanation that is very far-fetched but not beyond the realm of possibility to happen in real life.

The cast members in “Hi Nanna” give very good (but not outstanding) performances. Khanna is a talented actress who can convey convincing emotions without the forced phoniness that makes many child performances very irritating. “Hi Nanna” also has admirable portrayals of a single father taking care of an underage daughter that aren’t often seen in most family-oriented movies. “Hi Nanna” has some heartbreak, but it’s overshadowed by the movie’s heartwarming qualities.

Vyra Entertainments released “Hi Nanna” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on December 7, 2023. Netflix will premiere the movie on January 4, 2023.

Review: ‘Gumraah,’ starring Aditya Roy Kapur, Mrunal Thakur and Ronit Roy

April 15, 2023

by Carla Hay

Aditya Roy Kapur in “Gumraah” (Photo courtesy of Pen Marudhar Entertainment)


Directed by Vardhan Ketkar

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Delhi, India, the drama film “Gumraah” (a remake of the 2019 movie “Thadam”) features a predominantly Indian cast of characters (with a few white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Police have to figure out which one of two identical-looking suspects has committed a murder. 

Culture Audience: “Gumraah” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of “Thadam” and murder mysteries with plot twists.

Mrunal Thakur in “Gumraah” (Photo courtesy of Pen Marudhar Entertainment)

Once the first big “plot twist” is revealed in “Gumraah” about halfway through the movie, it’s a murder mystery that’s very easy to solve. However, there’s plenty of suspense and good acting to keep most viewers interested and invested in the outcome. “Gumraah” (which means “astray” in Hindi) is a worthy but not exceptional remake of the 2019 Telugu-language film “Thadam.”

Directed by Vardhan Ketkar, “Gumraah” was written by Aseem Arora and “Thadam” screenwriter Magizh Thirumeni. The movie (which takes place in Delhi, India) begins by showing the murder that is the center of the police investigation. A man in a hooded yello raincoat breaks into the high-rise apartment building home of another man and stabs him to death. This killer was caught on a phone camera by someone who happened to be taking a selfie photo on a balcony opposite of the room where the murder took place.

The murder victim was Aakash Sardana (played by Aditya Lal), who wanted to launch his own tech start-up company. After going through a divorce, Aakash had recently moved back to India from the United States. Police find out that 20 lakhs (or $2 million, in U.S. dollars) is missing from Aakash’s safe.

The main police investigators for this murder case are assistant commissioner of police Dhiren Yadav (played by Ronit Roy) and sub inspector Shivani Mathur (played by Mrunal Thakur), who has been newly appointed to the position. Shivani ends up doing most of the investigating and deductions. The diligent sub inspector in “Thadam” was also a woman.

Police soon identify the man in the video as 28-year-old Arjun Sehgal (played by Aditya Roy Kapur), who is an unlikely suspect. Arjun is a civil engineer with no history of violence or arrests. He also doesn’t appear to have a motive or any connection to the murder victim. Arjun is arrested anyway because he looks exactly like the suspect, and Arjun doesn’t have an alibi that can be verified. Arjun vehemently denies committing the murder.

Not long ater Arjun’s arrest, police apprehend a hooligan named Sooraj Rana (also played by Roy), a thief who currently works with some cronies to steal ATMs. Sooraj has been arrested for drunkenly assaulting a police officer. Sooraj has a history of arrests in other cities. After he is arrested, Sooraj is brought to the sam police station as Arjun.

It doesn’t take long for police notice that Sooraj and Arjun look exactly alike, even though they say that they don’t know each other. Sooraj doesn’t have an abili for the time that Aakash was killed. Now, there are two suspects for the murder. All the evidence indicates that only one person committed the murder. Who did it? And where exactly is the stolen 20 lakhs?

There comes a point when it’s explained why Sooraj and Arjun, who look identical, have led completely opposite lives. It’s the most obvious reason. Much of “Gumraah” shows Arjun and Sooraj, in separate interrogation rooms, telling their life stories.

And once Sooraj and Arjun find out that a look-alike suspect is also custody, Sooraj and Arjun are quick to blame the other for the murder. There will be times when one suspect looks guiltier than the other, but then the other suspect will look just as guilty. Arjun’s fiancée Jahnvi (played by Vedika Pinto) insists that Arjun isn’t capable of murder.

“Gumraah” has solid direction and capable acting, with Kapur being the obvious standout. Kapur is riveting in the two look-alike roles of Arjun and Sooraj. His acting is made easier because Sooraj and Arjun have different personalities. What’s a bigger challenge, which Kapur and the “Gumraah” screenplay admirably accomplish, is keeping viewers guessing about who is the real murderer and why the murder was committed. “Gumraah” doesn’t let up on the plot twists until the last five minutes of the movie.

Pen Marudhar Entertainment released “Gumraah” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on April 7, 2023.

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