Review: ‘Sam Bahadur,’ starring Vicky Kaushal, Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra

December 27, 2023

by Carla Hay

Vicky Kaushal in “Sam Bahadur” (Photo courtesy of RSVP Movies)

“Sam Bahadur”

Directed by Meghna Gulzar

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in various countries in Asia, from 1933 to 1973, the dramatic film “Sam Bahadur” (based on real events) features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Sam Manekshaw rises through the ranks of the Indian Army while being involved in several political conflicts and international wars.

Culture Audience: “Sam Bahadur” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and are interested in seeing a biopic about a famous military leader, but the movie’s storytelling approach is stiff and overly sterile.

Fatima Sana Shaikh in “Sam Bahadur” (Photo courtesy of RSVP Movies)

“Sam Bahadur” is nothing but a “checklist” biopic that ultimately does a disservice to Sam Manekshaw. By making him look too good to be true, this erratically edited movie robs him of his humanity and depicts him as an unrealistically perfect hero. His relationships that were deep and meaningful in real life are rushed through in the movie and ultimately portrayed in a shallow manner.

Directed by Meghna Gulzar (who co-wrote the lackluster “Sam Bahadur” screenplay with Shantanu Shrivastava), “Sam Bahadur” (which means “Sam the Brave” in Hindi) takes place from 1933 to 1973, the years that Manekshaw was in the Indian Army. Born in 1914, in Amritsar, India, he began as one of the first cadets in the Indian Military Academy and rose through the ranks and eventually reached the highest level of the Indian Army, by being promoted to field marshal. He was the first person in India to achieve this military ranking of field marshal.

Vicky Kaushal gives a fairly competent performance as Manekshaw, but he’s not entirely convincing as an elder Manekshaw. (For the purposes of this review, the real Sam Manekshaw will be referred to as Manekshaw, while the character of Sam Manekshaw in the movie will be referred to as Sam.) Except for an early scene where cadet Sam is punished for being late after partying the night before at a pub with some friends , Sam is portrayed in the movie as someone who doesn’t do anything wrong and doesn’t make mistakes. It’s all very hokey and not believable.

The movie shows various political conflicts that Sam was involved with in his military career, such as India’s participation in certain wars. They include fighting in Burma during World War II (while India was under British rule); battling with Pakistan over control of Kashmir; and being in conflict against China in the Sino-Indian War. The combat scenes are very generic. And so are the conversations and performances in the movie.

Sam also experiences clashes with Indian government colleagues who view him as a threat to the power that they want. The movie gives half-hearted portrayals of the lingering effects of British colonialism in India. The story’s main throughline of showing India before and after British colonialism is Sam’s interaction through the years with David Cowan (played by Paul O’Neill), a British military official who knew Sam from when Sam was a somewhat rebellious cadet at Indian Military Academy to after Sam became a high-ranking military official. (India became independent from the United Kingdom in 1947.)

“Sam Badahur” has a very superficial depiction of Sam being severely wounded in Burma. After getting shot in the chest by a Japanese soldier, Sam is taken to an emergency medical tent, where a doctor asks him what happened. Sam jokes, “I got kicked by a mule.” His painful and difficult recovery from his near-fatal wounds is glossed over in the film. The movie makes it look like his recovery is quick and he had no real long-term effects from this trauma, which wasn’t the case in real life.

Sam’s courtship of his wife Silloo (played by Sanya Malhotra) is also rushed through the movie. Sam tells Silloo soon after meeting her that he’s going to marry her. A few minutes later in the movie, they’re married, with no real context of how their relationship developed.

Sam and Silloo become parents to two daughters, but hardly anything is shown in the movie about how these spouses are as parents. There a few scenes where Sam tells Silloo that he’s been ordered to be stationed at a military base where families aren’t allowed. However, the movie barely explores the strain that these separations put on their marriage.

Instead, “Sam Bahadur” is mostly a series of scenes where Sam is either on a battleground, a military base or in a conference room, with the occasional home visit. Various government officials and other colleagues are shuffled through Sam’s life, including Indian prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru (played by Neeraj Kabi) and Indira Gandhi (played by Fatima Sana Shaikh), who makes Sam her trusted ally. Sam is depicted as someone who always emerges triumphant whenever he encounters a jealous rival. The movie erases any personality flaws that he might have had in real life.

With a total running time of 148 minutes, “Sam Bahadur” certainly had the time to be a more insightful look into who the real Manekshaw was in his career and in his personal life. However, the movie’s uneven editing (some scenes are too short, while other scenes meander for too long) brings down the quality of “Sam Bahadur,” which is filled with uninteresting dialogue and bland depictions of fascinating, history-making people. Ultimately, “Sam Bahadur” gives Manekshaw and the people around him the “encyclopedia” treatment instead of the substantially engaging story that they deserved.

RSVP Movies released “Sam Bahadur” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on December 1, 2023.

Review: ‘Neeyat’ (2023), starring Vidya Balan, Ram Kapoor, Rahul Bose, Dipannita Sharma, Shashank Arora, Shahana Goswami, Neeraj Kabi and Amrita Puri

July 14, 2023

by Carla Hay

Pictured from left to right: Neeraj Kabi, Dipannita Sharma, Ishika Mehra, Niki Walia, Madhav Deval, Shahana Goswami, Rahul Bose, Shashank Arora and Prajakta Koli in “Neeyat” (Photo courtesy of FunAsia Films)

“Neeyat” (2023)

Directed by Anu Menon

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in Scotland and briefly in India, the dramatic film “Neeyat” features a mostly Indian cast of characters (with a few white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A billionaire gathers family members and friends for a lavish birthday celebration at his remote Scottish castle, but not everyone makes it out of this reunion alive, and a tough CBI agent from India is on the scene to investigate the murders.

Culture Audience: “Neeyat” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching idiotic and poorly acted “whodunit” mysteries.

Amrita Puri and Vidya Balan in “Neeyat” (Photo courtesy of FunAsia Films)

“Neeyat” is a very inferior imitation of movies based on Agatha Christie novels. Most of the acting performances are cringeworthy and not credible. It’s also fairly easy to figure out the killer’s motive, even with all the plot distractions. There are enough plot holes to sink this already weak “whodunit” mystery.

Directed by Anu Menon, “Neeyat” (which means “motive” in Hindi) takes place mostly in Scotland, but almost all of the characters in the movie are from India. Menon co-wrote the filmsy “Neeyat” screenplay with Girvani Dhyani, Advaita Kala and Priya Venkataraman. Everything about “Neeyat” tries desperately to be suspenseful when the movie is actually quite dull and silly in too many scenes.

“Neeyat” begins in Scotland, where a pompous, middle-aged billionaire Ashish “AK” Kapoor (played by Ram Kapoor) has invited several family members and friends to his large, cliffside estate called Highgraves Castle. The occasion is to celebrate AK’s birthday. The event planner is a recently hired young man named Tanveer (played by Danesh Razvi), who is efficient and eager to please his new boss. Tanveer is the one who greets most of the guests when they arrive.

AK owns a company in India called AK Aeronautics, which he wants to be the number one outer-space program in the world. AK inherited his fortune from his deceased wife Tahira. And he’s recenly been embroiled in a scandal of misappropriation of funds. He is wanted by the Indian government for owing about ₹200 billion in taxes and fines. In 2023, that’s approximately $243.7 million in U.S. dollars.

Before AK’s birthday party ends, his body will be found at the bottom of a cliff. And all of the guests will become persons on interest in this investigation, which is led by a stern CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) agent named Mira Rao (played by Vidya Balan) who arrives on the scene from India. Mira shows up unannounced because she was there to extradite AK back to India to face charges of financial fraud and corruption. And now, she might have to file a homicide report. Some of the witnesses give contradicting statements about whether AK accidentally fell or if he was pushed over the cliff.

These are the guests and employees who are investigated for AK’s death:

  • Lisa Kapoor (played by Shahana Goswami), AK’s sweet-natured and sultry younger sister, is a bachelerette who has been living off of his money.
  • Sasha Mistry (played by Ishika Mehra) is an orphaned teenage distant relative of AK’s late wife. Lisa has been Sasha’s guardian since Sasha became an orphan.
  • Ryan Cooper (played by Shashank Arora), AK’s only child, is in his 30s. He’s arrogant, irresponsible and addicted to cocaine.
  • Gigi (played by Prajakta Koli) is Ryan’s “mysterious new girlfriend.” She doesn’t approve of Ryan’s drug taking and doesn’t partake in it.
  • Jamhad “Jimmy” Mistry (played by Rahul Bose) is the openly gay and flamboyant brother of AK’s late wife Tahira. Jimmy and Tahira ran the family business before she died. Jimmy is resentful that AK, not Jimmy, inherited the family fortune and family business.
  • Zara (played by Niki Walia, also known as Niki Aneja Walia) is AK’s “spiritual healer” whose best friend is her Jack Russell terrier dog named Rumi.
  • Kay Patel (played by Amrita Puri) is AK’s loyal personal assistant, who has accompanied AK from India.
  • Sanjay Suri (played by Neeraj Kabi) is a prominent and wealthy plastic surgeon who has known AK for years.
  • Noor Suri (played by Dipannita Sharma), Sanjay’s wife, is a famous actress and a glamorous London socialite.
  • Ishaan Suri (played by Madhav Deval), the son of Sanjay and Noor, is a nerdy film school student.

AK is a controversial public figure not only because of his financial misdeeds but also because it’s well known that he decided to lay off numerous employees of AK Aeronautics without taking a pay cut himself and continuing to have a lavish lifestyle. It’s been reported in the news that some of these former employees were so distraught about losing their jobs, they committed suicide. One of those suicidal employees was a 30-year-old named Devika Chellam, who was a rising star at the company.

Of course, a murder mystery with several characters will have the expected “bombshell” secrets that are eventually revealed. In “Neeyat,” all of the secrets are quite unimaginative and not very surprising. One of the most ludicrous aspects of this story is that CBI agent Mira Rao doesn’t call for backup right away when there might be a killer on the loose. She wants to solve everything on her own.

The mediocre-to-bad performances in “Neeyat” sometimes make it very difficult to watch this moronic movie, as it lumbers along from one “reveal” to the next. The final reveal is foreshadowed too soon, because a certain person’s name is mentioned enough times in the story that you can figure out that this character will be connected to the killer’s motive. An end-credits scene in “Neeyat” hints that CBI agent Rao is not as morally upstanding as she appears to be. With any luck, viewers will be spared from any more Mira Rao movies if these sequels are going to be as misguided as “Neeyat.”

FunAsia Films released “Neeyat” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on July 7, 2023.

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