Review: ‘Akelli,’ starring Nushrratt Bharuccha, Amir Boutrous, Rajesh Jais and Tsahi Halevi

August 31, 2023

by Carla Hay

Nushrratt Bharuccha in “Akelli” (Photo courtesy of Reliance Entertainment/Zee Studios)


Directed by Pranay Meshram

Hindi and Arabic with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Iraq and in India in 2014, the action film “Akelli” has an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An Indian woman is kidnapped by ISIS terrorists in Iraq and must fight to survive.

Culture Audience: “Akelli” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and tacky “women in peril” movies.

Tsahi Halevi in “Akelli” (Photo courtesy of Reliance Entertainment/Zee Studios)

“Akelli” is such a relentlessly moronic film, it almost seems like a parody of bad movies, except this awful action flick takes itself way too seriously. The airplane scene toward the end is one of the worst. “Akelli” is just a pile-on of bad dialogue and one unrealistic scenario after another.

Directed by Pranay Meshram, “Akelli” was written by Meshram, Gunjan Saxena and Ayush Tiwari. The movie takes place in 2014 and begins by showing garment factory worker Jyoti Arora (played by Nushrratt Bharuccha), who is a native of India, with other women from the factory being herded like cattle in Mosul, Iraq. The women are being kidnapped by ISIS terrorists, who want to abuse the women and force them to take part in terrorist activities.

How did Jyoti end up in this awful situation? “Akelli” (which means “alone” in Hindi) has flashbacks to show the events that led up to this kidnapping. Six months before the kidnapping, Jyoti (a bachelorette with no children) living in Punjab India, and working an airport employee whose job was to direct planes on the tarmac. However, Jyoti gets fired when she interferes in a fight between an elderly co-worker named Devendra Suri (played by Nand Chopra) and an aggressive passenger.

Jyoti goes to an employment agency and asks supervisor Ranjit Chawla (played by Rajesh Jais) for help in finding a job. Ranjit tells her about a “temporary” job working in a garment factory for one month. The pay is ₹80,000 for the month, which would be about $1,296 in U.S. dollars in 2014. The catch is that the job is in Mosul, Iraq.

Ranjit says the employer will pay for all the travel expenses. Jyoti is desperate for money, so she accepts this job offer. Jyoti’s mother thinks it’s a bad idea. Jyoti’s young niece Mahi (played by Mannat Duggal) also doesn’t want Jyoti to go, because it would mean that Jyoti would miss Mahi’s birthday.

Jyoti goes to Iraq and finds out that the garment factory job is a “sweatshop” situation with long hours. The workers who have arrived from India have their passports confiscated by factory supervisor Noor Bano (played by Shivani Sopori), who turns out to be a hellish boss. Shortly after arriving in Iraq, there’s word that the Oman capital of Muscat will soon be invaded, and all Indian citizens must evacuate territories where there is active ISIS terrorism.

Jyoti hears from employment agency supervisor Ranjit that a plane ticket has been sent for her to go back to India. She asks Noor about it, but Noor says she hasn’t heard anything about a plane ticket for Jyoti. (Noor is lying, or course.) With no money and with her passport confiscated, Jyoti is stuck in Iran. And then the kidnapping happens.

The rest of “Akelli” shows many melodramatic and increasingly silly ways that Jyoti fights to survive. There’s also some sexual violence depicted in the film. Jyoti is told that she has to be the “wife” of a terrorist soldier named Afra (played by Munisa Halmanova), who rapes her. Afra’s cruel ISIS commander is Wahab (played by Amir Boutrous), who has an even more ruthless ISIS commander named Assad (played by Tsahi Halevi), who notices that Jyoti is more courageous than the average kidnapping victim.

“Akelli” is almost offensive to real-life kidnapping victims in how it presents this survival story, especially a scene near the end when Akelli takes a big risk on a plane that would surely get her killed in real life. The acting performances in the movie aren’t very good. There’s also a lot of manufactured suspense, while many of the fight scenes look too phony. “Akelli” seems to have no self-awareness of how horrible it is. This lack of self-awareness makes a bad movie look worse.

Reliance Entertainment/Zee Studios released “Akelli” in U.S. cinemas and in India on August 25, 2023.

Review: ‘Selfiee,’ starring Akshay Kumar and Emraan Hashmi

March 1, 2023

by Carla Hay

Emraan Hashmi and Neev Ahuja (pictured in front) and Akshay Kumar and Adah Sharma (pictured in background) in “Selfiee” (Photo courtesy of Star Studios)


Directed by Raj Mehta

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Bhopal, India, the comedy film “Selfiee” (a remake of the 2019 Malayalam-language movie “Driving Licence”) features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A motor vehicle inspector and his 10-year-old son are avid fans of a movie star, but the inspector’s admiration for this celebrity turns to disillusionment and hatred after the two men end up in a bitter public feud. 

Culture Audience: “Selfiee” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and the “Driving Licence” movie, but this remake is a long-winded letdown that lacks the charm of the original movie.

Pictured in front, from left to right: Mahesh Thakur, Akshay Kumar and Meghna Malik in “Selfiee” (Photo courtesy of Star Studios)

For a comedy that’s nearly two-and-a-half hours, “Selfiee” takes way too long to have nothing interesting to say. Emraan Hashmi puts in a good effort to make his character believable. The other cast members just exist in a dull movie with silly gimmicks. “Selfiee” is a remake of the 2019 Malayalam-language movie “Driving Licence,” which is far superior to “Selfiee” in every way.

Directed by Raj Mehta and written by Rishabh Sharma, “Selfiee” takes place primarily in Bhopal, India. It’s where motor vehicle inspector Om Prakash Aggarwal (played by Hashmi), who is called Prakash, lives and works. Prakash and his 10-year-old son Gabbu (played by Neev Ahuja) are avid fans of movie star Vijay Kumar (played by Akshay Kumar), a swaggering celebrity who has millions of admirers. Prakash’s wife Minty Aggarwal (played by Nushrratt Bharuccha) thinks that the fan worship that Prakash and Gabbu have for Vijay is foolish and a waste of time. Minty prefers another movie star named Suraj Diwan (played by Abhimanyu Singh), who started out in the movie business around the same time as Vijay.

Vijay and Suraj used to be roommates before they were famous. However, after becoming celebrities, the careers of Vijay and Suraj went in completely opposite directions. Vijay’s career has soared to the greatest of heights, while Suraj’s career has declined to the point where he is now a has-been who’s doing low-quality movies because he needs the money. Suraj, who is very jealous of his rival Vijay, consults with a psychic named Tara (played by Kusha Kapila) for a tarot card reading to see if his luck or Vijay’s luck will change. Tara tells Suraj that the tarot cards predict that Vijay will have bad luck soon.

It just so happens that Vijay has arrived in Bhopal with great fanfare, because he’s filming scenes for his next movie in Bhopal. These are the final scenes to be filmed for his movie. When Prakash and Gabbu find out that Vijay will be in Bhopal, they rush to the area where Vijay’s helicopter is landing. Several members of the media are also there.

Among a crowd of thousands of cheering and excited fans, Prakash and Gabbu desperately try to get Vijay’s attention as Vijay’s car drives by them. The dream of this father and son is to meet Vijay and get a selfie photo taken with this movie star. Of course, Prakash and Gabbu are just one of numerous fans in the crowd who want the same thing. Vijay is too far away for him to notice Prakash and Gabbu.

When Vijay arrives in Bhopal, he is warmly greeted by Vimla Tiwari (played by Meghna Malik), a somewhat flaky employee who has been hired to be Vijay’s assistant during his stay in Bhopal. Her job is to get Vijay whatever he wants and make sure that his life runs as smoothly as possible while he’s in the city. Vijay is an automobile enthusiast who makes several action movies where he has to race cars and do a lot of other driving.

Vijay has recently found out that his driver’s license has been expired for months, and he’s annoyed that the license renewal wasn’t taken care of by someone who works for him. Vimla has been tasked to quietly get the license renewed in Bhopal without Vijay having to take the required license renewal tests. Vimla goes to the regional transport office where Prakash works, and he happens to be the inspector on duty who takes this request.

Normally, Prakash is an ethical inspector who wouldn’t break the rules. But when he finds out that this special treatment would be a personal favor to Vijay, Prakash agrees to “bend the rules” for Vijay, on the condition that Vijay personally visit the office so that Prakash and Gabbu can meet Vijay and get a selfie photo with him. Vimla says she’ll see what she can do about this request, but she won’t make any guarantees.

Vimla goes to Vijay with this request. Vijay and his sycophantic personal assistant Naveen (played by Mahesh Thakur) look up Prakash on social media and see that he is a die-hard fan of Vijay. When Vijay sees that Prakash is a loyal admirer, Vijay figures that this trip to the regional transport office will go smoothly, because he’ll be easily able to convince Prakash to do what Vijay wants Prakash to do in getting the driver’s license renewed.

Vijay show up at the regional transport office, but he’s surprised and outraged to see that this visit won’t be private after all. His arrival was leaked in advance to the media, which quickly spread the news. By the time that Vijay gets to the office, it’s a chaotic scene with thousands of fans, as well as members of the media, gathered in the hope of seeing Vijay.

To make matters worse, Prakash had put up a banner in the office corridor to welcome Vijay, who sees this banner and automatically assumes it was Prakash who leaked the information about Vijay’s visit. Prakash, Gabbu and several of the office employees are eagerly waiting in a room for Vijay to arrive. But instead of it being a positive experience for everyone, the situation quickly turns into an ugly mess.

Vijay storms into the office and yells at Prakash for telling the media about Vijay’s visit. Vijay calls Prakash an “opportunist” who just wants to use this meeting to become famous. Prakash wanted to give Vijay a wrapped gift, but Vijay takes the gift and throws it angrily on the floor. It’s a humiliating experience for Prakash, who is visibily embarrassed, emotionally hurt and shocked. The rejection makes Prakash and Gabbu tearful and upset.

Meanwhile, the media and other people find out that Vijay had gone to the office to try to renew his driver’s license without taking the required tests. Several people in the media express outrage that Vijay was expecting special treatment. Prakash sees all the negative publicity that Vijay is getting and uses it as an opportunity to get revenge on Vijay. Prakash begins giving media interviews saying that Vijay tried to get Prakash to break the rules for Vijay, but Prakash lies to the media and says that he refused.

Prakash is made to look like the hero in the media’s coverage of this story, while Vijay is made to look like the villain. Several people in the media and the general public also call Vijay a hypocrite because he had been starring in a public service campaign about road safety while he had secretly been driving for months without a valid driver’s license. An incensed Vijay decides to get revenge on Prakash. And so begins a feud between the two men that escalates to ridiculous proportions.

There are some complications to Vijay’s revenge plot. First, he’s under a lot of pressure to finish this movie on time and without going over the movie’s budget. The movie’s producer Sunil Awasthi (played by Sushil Bonthiyal) begs Vijay to get his driver’s license renewed so that the movie can be finished. The final scenes to be filmed for the movie require that Vijay do a lot of driving. Sunil tells Vijay that if the movie isn’t finished on time, the movie will miss its target release date, and Sunil will lose his entire investment in the film.

Second, Vijay and his glamorous wife Naina (played by Diana Penty), who frequently travels with him, are expecting a baby (their first child) via a surrogate, who is in New York City. Vijay and Naina have kept this information very private. Only a few people in their inner circle know. The baby was due the following month. However, certain things happen that cause Vijay and Naina to want to go to New York City during the dates that Vijay is supposed to finish filming his movie.

Third, some hoodlums attack Prakash and his family by throwing rocks through the windows of the family’s house. Gabbu gets a head injury in the attack and is rushed to a hospital for treatment. (This violent incident is shown in the movie’s trailer.) The crime occurred shortly after Vijay and Prakash had an argument over the phone. Prakash assumes that Vijay ordered the attack, so Prakash holds a press conference to publicly accuse Vijay of being the mastermind.

“Selfiee” could have had many clever things to say about the roles that the media and celebrity worship play in people’s perceptions of public figures. However, the movie just dumbs everything down to make it into a bombastic and not-very-believable dispute between two very stubborn and immature people. Vijay comes across a smug and egotistical bully who is much worse than Prakash, but Prakash was the one who made this feud public by lying to the media about the circumstances over Vijay’s driver license renewal.

“Selfiee” has some references to how the media, for better or worse, can shape a celebrity’s public image. However, the movie would have had more substance and been more insightful if it also included some awareness of how Prakash and Vijay were both being used by the media, which fanned the flames of this feud. “Selfiee” ignores the bigger picture of the co-dependent relationship between celebrity worship and media coverage. Instead, “Selfiee” over-relies on a lot of lazy and unimaginative slapstick comedy.

The performances in “Selfiee” are on par with the movie’s uneven screenplay and direction, which are frequently very maudlin and sometimes downright terrible. Kumar doesn’t do anything in the movie that’s very special in playing movie star Vijay, while Hashmi gives a more nuanced performance in depicting Prakash as a “regular guy” who gets caught up in something that he did not expect. The last 15 minutes of the film are the absolute worst, turning what could have been a memorable satire into a mush of cloying garbage.

Star Studios released “Selfiee” in select U.S. cinemas on February 24, 2023.

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.

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