Review: ‘Bheed,’ starring Rajkummar Rao, Bhumi Pednekar, Dia Mirza, Ashutosh Rana, Pankaj Kapur, Kritika Kamra and Aditya Shrivastav

April 5, 2023

by Carla Hay

Rajkummar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar in “Bheed” (Photo courtesy of Reliance Entertainment)


Directed by Anubhav Sinha

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Tejpura, India, in March 2020, the dramatic film “Bheed” (inspired by real events) features an all-South Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After the Indian government shuts down its state borders during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, several working-class migrants try to go home, but caste systems play a role in who will get to cross those borders. 

Culture Audience: “Bheed” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching realistic dramas about how the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns affected people in India.

Kritika Kamra in “Bheed” (Photo courtesy of Reliance Entertainment)

“Bheed” offers a realistic and sometimes alarming look at how social class structures and prejudices can affect people in a crisis. It’s a rare COVID-19 pandemic drama that isn’t crassly exploitative of this deadly pandemic. In fact, it can be argued that the movie is fairly restrained in showing all the true horrors that occurred when thousands of people in India were stranded, abused and/or killed when the Indian government ordered a 21-day shutdown of state borders within India, beginning on March 24, 2020.

Directed by Anubhav Sinha (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with (Saumya Tiwari and Sonali Jain), “Bheed” has fictional characters, but the scenarios in the movie are very accurate to what was shown and reported in the news media. “Bheed” means “divided crowd” in Hindi. And the divisions are mostly cast divisions. The movie was artfully filmed in black and white, as if to give this story a more timeless look and to put an emphasis on how bleak these conditions were.

“Bheed” has a central protagonist who is supposed to be the “hero” of the story, but the movie is told from various perspectives. All of the principal cast members in “Bheed” give very good performances in telling this story that can resonate among many different cultures. It’s a stark reminder of how a pandemic can bring out the best and the worst in people.

In “Bheed,” police inspector Surya Kumar Singh Tikas (played by Rajkummar Rao) has recently been promoted. And his first day in his new position just happens to be the day he is put in charge of a police checkpoint in Tejpura, India, on March 24, 2020. That was the day that the Indian government sealed state borders within, in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It was a controversial decision because it left thousands of people stranded, with those who weren’t able to afford food, shelter and transportation suffering the most.

The pandemic lockdowns shut down several business that left working-class migrants out of a job. With no work available, many tried to go back home but were prevented from doing so at the border. These sealed borders caused traffic jams, chaos and an increase in criminal activities. Many of these migrants walked hundreds of miles foot. Nearly 9,000 people were reported killed by sleeping or passing out from exhaustion on train tracks and getting run over by trains. An untold number of people died from police brutality and other crimes.

Surya is someone who knows all too well how people from lower castes are often mistreated. His family is from a lower caste, and he admits to a few of his co-workers that his father changed the family’s last name to Singh to hide this lower-caste status. Surya is in a loving relationship with Dr. Renu Sharma (played by Bhumi Pednekar), who works at a local hospital. They are engaged to be married, but Surya knows that Renu’s father doesn’t approve of their relationship because of Surya’s lower caste. Renu’s father is pressuring her to wed someone else in an arranged marriage.

“Bheed” shows several people who come into contact with Surya in some way during the ordeals that are shown in the movie. Ramadeen “Ram” Singh (played by Aditya Shrivastav) is a nasty-tempered subordinate of Surya. Ram doesn’t even try to hide his prejudice against people who are very poor. His bad temper comes out in horrific ways through unwarranted police brutality. Surya is disgusted by Ram and his brutal tactics and stops him as often as he can. but Surya can’t be everywhere at once.

An unnamed girl who’s about 14 or 15 years old (played by Aditi Subedi) is one of the migrants who has been prevented from crossing the border. She works as a maid and sometimes sell jewelry. She is traveling with her alcoholic father (played by Omkar Das Manikpuri), who frequently steals her money to by alcohol.

This father and daughter were traveling with several other migrants who were killed when they fell asleep on train tracks. The only transportation that this father and daughter can afford is by bicycle. But in an act of desperation, the two of them make the dangerous decision to be smuggled with other migrants inside a concrete mixer.

Balram Trivedi (played by Pankaj Kapur) comes from an upper caste, and he works as a security employee who is transporting several adults and children by bus. Because of his upper caste, Balram is very arrogant and thinks the border rules should not apply to him. He tries in vain to talk the border officials to let him pass through the border. Later, when his passengers are desperate for food and water, he rejects food offered by some Muslim strangers because he erroneously blames Muslims for spreading COVID-19.

Geetanjali (played by Dia Mirza) is an affluent woman is insists on crossing the border because she wants to be with her underage daughter. Geetanjali is in a custody battle for this child with her estranged husband. And she wants to get to the daughter before her husband does. It’s not exactly a “life or death” reason, but Geetanjali feels entitled to cross the border because she’s used to getting her way. She treats her compassionate driver Kanhaiya (played by Sushil Pandey) like a lowly servant.

Vidhi Prabhakar (played by Kritika Kamra) is a TV journalist who is reporting on the scene with two camera operators: Nasir (played by Dhawal Pandey) and Raghu (played by Karan Pandit), who have very different personalities. Nasir is more likely to affected by the suffering that he sees around him, while Raghu is fascinated by it and sees it as an opportunity to get exclusive news footage. Vidhi tries to remain calm and professional, but she eventually gets angry at Raghu’s flippant attitude and scolds him about how they shouldn’t let their privileged lives be an excuse to treat the people they are reporting about as less than human.

“Bheed” shows how some of the upper-caste people try to bribe or make threats to the border patrol officer. An appropriately named pushy upper-caste man named Pushpesh (played Yogesh Pandey) tries to use the name of a family member, whom he says is a high-placed government official, as a way for the border officials to make an exception for Pushpesh. That tactic doesn’t work either. Under the command of Surya, the police officers stand their ground in not letting people through, but things inevitably get violent, as tempers flare and people get even more desperate to cross the border.

Renu is working as an emergency doctor nearby, but she occasionally sees Surya on duty when she has to arrives in an ambulance to respond to people who need emergency care. Of course, adding to the tension is the paranoia that anyone in this crowded area could be infected with COVID-19. People who cough or sneeze are treated like potential killers. “Bheed” also shows how false information quickly spreads on social media. (Facebook is given the name Fakebook in the movie.)

“Bheed” ramps up the tension in very effective ways to show how people from different backgrounds and with different agendas can react to the same crisis. And no one is really safe—not even the police officers in charge. The movie could have taken a very fake-looking turn at one point in a climactic scene. However, “Bheed” shows in no uncertain terms that that what’s in this unforgettable movie only represents a small fraction of the untold numbers of people in real life who experienced this nightmare of being stranded at the border during a deadly pandemic.

Reliance Entertainment released “Bheed” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on March 24, 2023.

Review: ‘HIT: The First Case’ (2022), starring Rajkummar Rao, Sanya Malhotra and Akhil Iyer

December 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rajkummar Rao and Akhil Iyer in “HIT: The First Case” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

“HIT: The First Case” (2022)

Directed by Sailesh Kolanu

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed area of India, the Hindi-language action film “HIT: The First Case” (a remake of the Telugu-language movie of the same name) features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 32-year-old police detective, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, investigates the disappearances of two young women, one of whom is his girlfriend/colleague. 

Culture Audience: “HIT: The First Case” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of suspenseful and action-filled mystery thrillers that have unexpected plot twists.

Rajkummar Rao and Sanya Malhotra in “HIT: The First Case” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

“HIT: The First Case” sometimes gets distracted by sappy romantic scenes shown in slow-motion, but it’s an otherwise thrilling, action-packed mystery that will keep viewers guessing. The intriguing plot twists make up for some of the movie’s flaws. This movie isn’t going to win any major awards, but it should satisfy people who like stories about realistically imperfect detectives and challenging crime cases. “HIT: The First Case” handles the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder in a way that’s sometimes overly dramatic but it’s never disrespectful or pitying.

Written and directed by Sailesh Kolanu, “HIT: The First Case” is a Hindi-language remake of Kolanu’s 2020 Telugu-language movie of the same name. The remake stays faithful to the same story, but the Hindi-language version of “Hit: The First Case” has action that’s a little more intense and brutal than the Telugu-language version. The action is staged in a fairly standard way. What makes the movie worth watching is getting the bottom of the mystery, which has some intriguing twists and turns.

In “HIT: The First Case,” Vikram “Vicky” Jaisingh (played by Rajkummar Rao) is a 32-year-old police inspector in unnamed part of India. Vikram works in the department called Homicide Intervention Team (HIT), where he has earned a reputation as an excellent detective who has an ability to solve cases quicker than the average investigator. However, Vikram has recently been diagnosed with having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stemming from an incident where he couldn’t prevent a woman from being tortured.

The movie opens with Vikram having a nightmare about this incident. He is in therapy for his PTSD, but he doesn’t follow his psychiatrist’s advice to take medication for PTSD. His psychiatrist also says that because Vikram is having panic attacks, Vikra should quit his job. He also chooses not to heed this advice.

Vikram has a kind and loving girlfriend named Dr. Neha Mehta (played by Sanya Malhotra), who just happens to be a work colleague. Neha is a scientist who works in forensics lab that the police department uses. Vikram’s closest friend at work is his cop partner Rohit Shukla (played by Akhil Iyer), who is happily married to his wife Sapna (played by Nuveksha). Rohit, who is about the same age as Vikram, has no kids with Sapna.

Three other members of HIT are prominent parts of the story: Ajit Singh Shekhawat (played by Dalip Tahil) is the no-nonsense supervisor of Vikram and Rohit. Ibrahim Sheikh (played by Milind Gunaji) is a sub inspector whose quick temper sometimes gets him in trouble. Akshay (played by Jatin Goswami) is an inspector who is a jealous rival of Vikram’s and who seizes any opportunity to try to look better than Vikram.

Vikram and Neha have hit a rough patch in their relationship. Neha believes that because of his PTSD, Vikram should quit police work. She even goes as far to say that she will go to the police department and declare him unfit for his job. They bitterly argue about it. Vikram shouts during their argument: “You’re trying to blackmail me!” Rohit and Sapna are in the room during this argument, and Vikram get angry at them too because he thinks these two spouses are siding with Neha.

Vikram will soon be consumed by an investigation that tests everything he is as a police detective and as a human being. An 18-year-old woman named Preeti Mathur (played by Rose Khan) has been reported missing by her worried parents Mohan Mathur (played by Hemraj Tiwari) and Laxmi Mathur (played by Shikha Pareek), who are adamant that Preeti did not disappear voluntarily. All her parents know is that Preeti was stranded on a highway becaue her car was stalled, and she called Mohan to pick her up.

When Mohan arrived where Preeti said she was, Preeti’s car was there, but she was not. At the beginning of the investigation, the last known person to see Preeti alive was Ibrahim, who was on duty when he saw that Preeti was having car trouble, and he stopped to help. Ibrahim offered to give her a ride, but Preeti declined and instead asked to use Ibrahim’s phone to call her father, since she sad she left her own phone at home.

Ibrahim says that he saw Preeti call her father, and the last time he saw her, she got into a blue car that picked her up on the freeway, but he was too far away to see who the driver was. Ibrahim assumed at the time that Preeti’s father Mohan was the driver of the car and didn’t think anything more of it until Preeti was reported missing. Mohan says that he doesn’t have a blue car and that Preeti was nowhere to be found on the highway or anywhere else that her parents searched for her.

Because Ibrahim was the last known person to see Preeti alive, he falls under suspicion, but he vehmently declares that he does not know anything about what happened to Preeti. Mohan is quick to accuse Ibrahim of knowing more about Preeti’s disappearance than Ibrahim is saying. Mohan also blames Ibrahim for not giving a ride to Preeti, but Ibrahim says that Preeti refused this offer and said she wanted to wait for Mohan instead.

Ibrahim loses his temper and insults Mohan. His boss Agit orders Ibrahim to make an apology to Mohan. When Ibrahim refuses, Agit suspends Ibrahim. Vikram and Rohit have been assigned to investigate the disappearance of Preeti, but they also have to wonder if Ibrahim is somehow involved. It’s a tricky situation for them to investigate a colleague who is a “person of interest.”

And then, things get more complicated: Neha, who was working as a forensics analyst on Preeti’s case, disappears and is believed to be kidnapped. Vikram wants to be the lead investigator on Neha’s disappearance, but his boss Ajit says that Vikram is too emotionally involved. Instead, Vikram’s rival Akshay is assigned to the case. Vikram is furious about this decision.

And you can easily guess what happens next: Vikram decides to secretly investigate Neha’s disappearance on his own, with some help from Rohit, who is worried about getting in trouble for helping Vikram. What about the case of Preeti’s disappearance? And does it have anything to do with Neha’s disappearance? Those questions are answered in the movie.

“HIT: The First Case” could have easily gone down a predictable path of having Vikram being a superhero-like cop who can overcome any obstacles that come his way. The movie doesn’t do that. Instead, Vikram is depicted as a realistically flawed human being who is in denial about how much PTSD affects his everyday life.

And with the added stress of investigating these two apparent disappearances, one of whom is the woman he loves, it brings an extra layer of tension to the story. Rao gives a solid and believable performance as the emotionally tortured Vikram. Where the movie falters the most is in hokey scenes that make Vikram and Neha’s relationship look like a commercial for a romance novel, such as having slow-motion montages of the couple going on dates. These idealistic and schmaltzy scenes don’t fit the gritty tone of the rest of the movie.

“HIT: The First Case” might get some criticism for having the adding the complication of Neha disappearing. However, Neha’s disappearance raises the personal stakes for Vikram. It also compromises his ethics, when he previously had a good reputation, because he investigates her disappearance on his own, defying his supervisor’s strict orders not to do so. Some viewers might not like the answer to the story’s mystery. However, it’s a plot twist that most viewers won’t see coming and is very plausible if people know about some of the bizarre and unexpected things that happen in real-life true crime cases.

T-Series Films released “HIT: The First Case” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on July 15, 2022.

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.

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