Review: ‘Ayalaan,’ starring Sivakarthikeyan, Rakul Preet Singh, Sharad Kelkar and Isha Koppikar

February 3, 2024

by Carla Hay

Tattoo and Sivakarthikeyan in “Ayalaan” (Photo courtesy of KJR Studios)


Directed by R. Ravikumar

Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India’s Tamil Nadu state, the sci-fi film “Fighter” features a predominantly Indian cast of characters (with a few white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A villager and his two friends discover and protect an outer-space alien that a corrupt scientist wants to capture because of the alien’s access to deadly mineral that the scientist want to use to make weapons of mass destruction.

Culture Audience: “Ayalaan” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stories about aliens from outer space, no matter how stupid and long-winded the stories are.

Karunakaran, Kothandam, Tattoo, Yogi Babu and Sivakarthikeyan in “Ayalaan” (Photo courtesy of KJR Studios)

“Ayalaan” is a sloppy ripoff of the 1982 classic sci-fi film E.T., but with the outer-space alien befriending adults instead of children, as the movie’s ‘heroes’ try to prevent the alien from being captured. This misguided film is just time-wasting idiocy. “Ayalaan” has a very thin and flimsy plot that is dragged and stretched out to extremely irritating levels during the movie’s 155 minutes.

Written and directed by R. Ravikumar, “Ayalaan” (which means “alien” in Tamil) exposes itself very early in the movie to be a cinematic abomination of horrible dialogue, tacky visual effects, and bad acting. It would be slightly inaccurate to say that “Ayalaan” wears out its welcome because this type of torturous drivel isn’t welcome in the first place, if viewers are expecting anything that’s reasonably entertaining. There is almost no imagination in this extremely derivative and annoying movie.

The main protagonist in “Ayalaan” (which takes place in the India’s Tamil Nadu state) is a cheerful but dimwitted man in his late 30s named Tamizh (played by Sivakarthikeyan), who lives in a rural village, where he loves and respects the environment. Tamizh sells mineral water to people in the village. Tamizh’s social circle includes his two best friends—buffoonish Tyson (played by Yogi Babu) and neurotic Sugirtharaja (played by Karunakaran)—as well as Tamizh’s middle-aged, mute roommate (played by Kothandam), who doesn’t have a name in the movie.

A corrupt scientist/business mogul named Aryan (played by Sharad Kelkar), who is based in the city of Chennai, owns Aryan Industries, which looks like a combination of a corporation and a scientific research center. Aryan is obsessed with finding a rare mineral called Sparc (which looks like a glowing blue rock), which Aryan believes has the most powerful energy source in the world. Predictably, Aryan wants to get possession of Sparc to extract the energy source so that he can use it to make weapons of mass destruction. Aryan’s most loyal and most ruthless cohort is Eliza (played by Isha Koppikara), who’s supposed to be a scientist but who acts more like a combat criminal.

Meanwhile, a child-sized green alien, who has the voice of adult male human (voiced by Siddharth), arrives by spaceship from outer space to put a stop to Aryan’s plan. Before he left, the alien was warned by his look-alike girlfriend not to eat the the junk food on Earth. “Ayalaan” mentions that this is the alien’s 324th secret visit to Earth. The alien has the ability to make itself invisible whenever it wants.

The alien is captured by Aryan’s accomplices and is brought to a secret lab at Ayran Industries. The alien is kept in a giant glass cylinder. Why does Ayran want to keep this alien imprisoned? Somehow, Aryan finds out that this alien knows where to find Sparc, so Aryan want to force the alien to tell him where Sparc is.

But that doesn’t happen in this scene. Instead, when Aryan puts his hands on the cylinder, his hands get stuck. The alien uses it as an opportunity to emit a green gas that fills the cylinder before breaking the glass and escaping. The green gas floats out of the cylinder. Whatever is in the gas causes Aryan, Eliza and the others to lose consciousnesses.

Meanwhile, Tamizh finds himself at a science expo for middle schoolers. He has a crush on a science teacher named Tara (played by Rakul Preet Singh), so he is thrilled to see her there. One of the first exhibts that catches Tamizh’s attention is called “Alien World,” from a boy who’s dressed as a green alien. Tamizh starts a casual conversation with the boy, who says his name is Tattoo.

A certain mishap at the expo causes a big fire, where the alien shows up and catches Tara before she falls to the ground. (Don’t ask. It won’t be the last you’ll see of Tara, because she’s the obvious love interest of Tamizh.) Most of the people in the building evacuate in time, but Tamizh is stuck in the building. He sees the alien trapped underneath a fallen display case and rescues it. Tamizh and the alien manage to escape before the fire can kill them.

Tamizh thinks the alien is the boy Tattoo whom Tamizh met earlier. While he is driving the alien to a hospital, Tamizh keeps thinking that a human boy named Tattoo is in his truck with him, even though the alien is obviously not a human. This foolishness goes on for several minutes until Tamizh sees the alien become invisible. It’s only then that Tamizh understands that he has a non-human creature with him in the truck. He continues to call this creature Tattoo after he brings it home and introduces the alien to his friends.

The rest of “Ayalaan” has an increasingly ridiculous series of events. Just when the movie looks like it could have ended one way, there are insipid plot twists that prolong this appallingly jumbled and vapid movie. The alien is neither fun nor interesting, while all the human characters are either generic or very irritating, with performances from the cast members to match. Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” composer A.R. Rahman wrote the music for this junkpile movie, which just goes to show that having an Oscar does not make someone immune to working on low-quality dreck.

As an example of the shoddy filmmaking, there’s a subplot about an American named Dexter Williams (played by David Broughton-Davies), a UFO enthusiast who saw the alien during one of the alien’s previous visits to Earth. Dexter speaks Tamil in the film, but it’s obviously an overdubbed voice because the actor spoke English while filming his scenes. (People who can read lips while someone is talking can easily spot this discrepancy.)

Dexter has a hard time convincing people that his alien sightings are real. He’s determined to find the alien again and then track it down. Somehow, Aryan finds out that Dexter knows that alien has landed on Earth again. And so, Aryan summons Dexter to India, where Dexter is enlisted to help find the alien. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds.

And did we mention that Tattoo has the ability to heal human injuries and diseases, just by placing his hands on the affected areas? The movie takes a detour into a vapid subplot about how Tattoo becomes invisible and does these healings when he’s with Tamizh. And it isn’t long before Tamizh gets credit for these healings and people think he has superpowers.

During all of these messy subplots, there are chase scenes, emotional meltdowns, and the usual mindless shenanigans that you would expect to find in a substandard “alien on the loose on Earth” movie, where the “heroes” try to help the alien find its way back to its home planet. There are also some out-of-place musical numbers that act as filler for this already bloated movie. In “Ayalaan,” everything is so dialed up to the most asinine levels, if any outer-space aliens saw this garbage film, then they’d want to fly far away on a spaceship and go home too.

KJR Studios released “Ayalaan” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on January 12, 2024.

Review: ‘Doctor G,’ starring Ayushmann Khurrana, Rakul Preet Singh and Shefali Shah

November 1, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ayushmann Khurrana and Rakul Preet Singh in “Doctor G” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

“Doctor G”

Directed by Anubhuti Kashyap

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Bhopal, India, the comedy/drama film “Doctor G” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A doctor wants his specialty to be orthopedics, but instead finds himself as the only man in an obstestrics/gynecology (OB/GYN) program, much to his dismay, because he thinks OB/GYN doctors should be mostly women.

Culture Audience: “Doctor G” will appeal primarily to people who like watching sufficiently entertaining movies about how men and women handle “the battle of the sexes,” even if some of the scenarios in these movies are a little far-fetched.

Shefali Shah in “Doctor G” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

The mildly amusing film “Doctor G” pokes fun at the sexist idea that certain medical practices should be handled primarily by one gender. It’s a breezy comedy/drama that handles issues of gender equality in a somewhat predictable but entertaining way. The last third of the movie rushes in a lot of overly contrived plot developments, but the movie’s would-be romance doesn’t necessarily play into viewers’ expectations.

Directed by Anubhuti Kashyap, “Doctor G” is a combination of slapstick comedy, musical numbers and emotional drama. The mixture doesn’t always flow smoothly, but when it works, it works well enough to keep viewers engaged in the characters and the story. The “Doctor G” screenplay was co-written by Kashyap, Saurabh Bharat, Sumit Saxena and Vishal Wagh.

The title character of “Doctor G” (and the movie’s protagonist) is Dr. Uday “Gudda” Gupta (played by Ayushmann Khurrana), a medical school graduate, who is about to continue his medical training at the Bhopal Institute of Medical Sciences in Bhopal, India. Uday has had a longtime goal of being an orthopedic doctor. However, he finds out that the Bhopal Institute has rejected his application in the orthopedic program because his entrance exam’s test scores weren’t high enough.

Instead, he is offered a spot in the Bhopal Institute’s gynecology program—and he’s not happy about it at all. “I can’t treat body parts I don’t have,” Uday whines. (In India, the OB/GYN medical practice is often generally referred to as gynecology.) Uday finds out that another medical school graduate named Priyanka Singh (played by Sharvari Deshpande) got accepted into the Bhopal Institute’s orthopedic program.

Uday thinks that women, not men, should be OB/GYN doctors, so he approaches Priyanka and asks her to switch her orthopedic program enrollment with his at the OB/GYN enrollment program. Priyanka adamantly refuses, because she says she earned her place in the orthopedic program, and she’s not going to give up this opportunity for anyone. Around the same time that Uday gets this news, his girlfriend Ruchi (played by Karishma Singh), who was in the same graduating class at the medical school, breaks up with him.

Needless to say, bitter and rejected Uday doesn’t have the highest opinion of women at this point in his life. In the movie’s opening scene, he is shown talking with his best friend Abhishek “Chaddi” Chandel (played by Abhay Chintamani Mishr) about what he thinks should be the social constructs of dating. Uday firmly believes that men and women who only platonically date each other are just wasting their time. Uday thinks that people who date each other for a certain period of time might has well eventually have sex with each other.

Throughout most of the movie, Uday shows that he doesn’t hate women but that he has a very sexist mindset, where he believes in strict gender roles on what men and women can and cannot do with their careers. The movie doesn’t really explain where he got this attitude. Uday’s widowed mother Shobha Gupta (played by Sheeba Chaddha) is sassy and independent-minded. She does cooking videos on social media, with the hope that she will become a social media star for her cooking. Uday sometimes gets embarrassed when his mother hints that she wants to spice up her love life by getting back into the dating scene.

Uday has a distant cousin named Dr. Ashok Gupta (played by Indraneil Sengupta), who is an orthopedic surgeon. Uday admires Ashok and thinks of him as a brotherly mentor. And so, Uday asks Ashok for advice on what to do about enrolling in Bhopal Institute of Medical Sciences as an OB/GYN trainee. Ashok suggests that Uday enroll in the program and apply to transfer to the orthopedic program when the time is right.

Ashok is a married father in his 40s, but he has a creepy fascination with a 17-year-old girl named Kavya Sharma (played by Ayesha Kaduskar), whom Ashok introduces to Uday as a “friend.” Considering how much Ashok and Kavya hang out with each other and flirt with each other, it would make any person with common sense start to wonder if Ashok and Kavya are really “just friends.” A few plot developments in the movie eventually address this inappropriate relationship.

Uday’s enrollment in the OB/GYN program doesn’t get off to a great start. He begins the program 10 days after classes have started for the semester. And so, he’s already not made a good impression on Dr. Nandini Srivastav (played by the Shefali Shah), the no-nonsense head of the institute’s gynecology department. Uday, who is already insecure about women, is in for a shock when he finds out that he’s the only man in the gynecology program.

This huge gender imbalance is the most unrealistic part of the movie, because men (especially in patriarchal countries such as India) typically have had more access and resources to go to medical school and become doctors. Therefore, in most countries, most OB/GYN doctors are men. As more women become doctors, there are some places that are closing the gender gap, but men in a lot of cultures typically get more encouragement and privileges than women to become doctors.

The contrivance of Uday being the only man in his gynecology training is used for numerous comedic scenarios that are intended to humble Uday and make him see the error of his sexist ways. Many of the women haze him and pull pranks on him, since he’s the late newcomer to the program. He’s forced to do things so that he can understand a female point of view, such as wear a skirt or pretend that he’s a woman about to give birth.

Meanwhile, one of the program’s brightest students is Dr. Fatima Siddiqui (played by Rakul Preet Singh), who is a year or two ahead of Uday in the program. Fatima is a confident extrovert. Fatima’s best friend at the institute is Dr. Kumudlatha Pamulparthi Diwakaran (played by Shraddha Jain), who likes people to call her KLPD as a nickname. Fatima and KLPD, who like to tease Uday about his discomfort in being the institute’s gynecology program, have their own nickname for him: Dr. Nipples.

As Uday spends more time with Fatima, he becomes more attracted to her, and the feeling might be mutual. However, there’s a big obstacle to this possible romance: Fatima is engaged to marry another man named Arif Qureshi (played by Paresh Pahuja) in a love match, not an arranged marriage. Meanwhile, Uday experiences some highs and lows on the job as an OB/GYN trainee. He predictably clashes with Dr. Srivastav, who tells Uday at one point to “lose his male touch”—in other words, stop being a male chauvinist.

“Doctor G” can at times be melodramatic but then clumsily transition to a lighthearted musical number or a comedic scene to lighten the mood. All of the actors handle their roles with skill, but there’s nothing particularly outstanding about their performances. The movie falls into some “love triangle” stereotypes in some ways, while in other ways, there some expected surprises.

Those surprises are what make “Doctor G” slightly better than the average movie of this type. It’s expected that Uday will have a personal transformation. But the challenge of the movie is to make that transformation look authentic. In that respect, “Doctor G” succeeds enough for it to be an enjoyable diversion for viewers who want to watch a relatively lightweight movie about how men and women can respectfully learn from each other.

Viacom18 Studios released “Doctor G” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on October 14, 2022.

Review: ‘Thank God’ (2022), starring Ajay Devgn and Sidharth Malhotra

October 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sid Malhotra in “Thank God” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

“Thank God” (2022)

Directed by Indra Kumar

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2018, in India and in heaven, the comedy/drama/fantasy film “Thank God” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After getting into a car accident that leaves him unconscious and near death, a selfish real-estate agent’s spirit is transported to heaven, where he must pass a series of tests to determine if he will go to heaven or hell after he dies.

Culture Audience: “Thank God” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Ajay Devgn and Sidharth Malhotra and stories about the afterlife, but this movie is neither clever nor interesting.

Ajay Devgn (center) and Sid Malhotra (far right) in “Thank God” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

“Thank God” is a fantasy film about the afterlife that puts schmaltz over substance. Much of the movie is set in heaven, but there’s nothing heavenly about the cloying manipulation and gimmicks in this feeble and clumsily constructed story. The movie crams in some very silly plot twists that further ruin what could have been an intriguing story about life after death and redemption.

Directed by Indra Kumar, “Thank God” is a remake of the 2009 Danish comedy film “Sorte Kugler” (which means “what goes around” in Danish) and follows the same basic concept, but “Thank God” changes the deity characters to those from the Hindu religion. Aakash Kaushik and Madhur Sharma co-wrote the unimaginative “Thank God” adapted screenplay. The movie has scenes that take place in India and a location described in the movie as heaven.

In the beginning of “Thank God,” which takes place in 2018, Ayaan Kapoor (played by Sid Malhotra) is a 33-year-old real-estate agent who has fallen on hard times. He used to be a hotshot, successful agent. But he lost his fortune due to the Indian government’s demonetization of currency. Ayaan is now in debt to 16 crores, which is about $140,000 U.S. dollars in 2018.

Ayaan wants to sell his house, which has not yet found a buyer. In the meantime, Ayaan and his wife Ruhi Kapoor (played by Rakul Preet Singh) and their daughter Pihu Kapoor (played by Kiara Khanna), who’s about 4 or 5 years old, have moved into the house owned by Ruhi’s family until Ayaan can get back to the financial status that he used to have. Ayaan and Ruhi (who is a police officer) had a whirlwind, romantic courtship. But lately, the marriage has been strained because of Ayaan’s financial problems and because of his arrogant and workaholic ways.

Ayaan’s money problems have not humbled him or made him re-evaluate his life. He is still the same conceited real-estate agent who makes his work a higher priority than his family. In some ways, Ayaan has become even more ruthless, self-centered and ill-tempered than before his financial crisis, since he’s determined to never lose his fortune again. As an example of how cold-hearted Ayaan is, when he walks by a poor, elderly woman begging for money on the street, he doesn’t just ignore her. He’s very rude to her when refusing to give her any money.

During a real-estate deal that Ayaan hopes to close, a married couple is close to buying a house that Ayaan is selling. The spouses tell Ayaan that they are buying the house for their adopted son Chiku (who’s about 5 or 6 years old), so that the Chiku can inherit it when he becomes an adult. Chiku is waiting outside the house when Ayaan congratulates him on having wonderful adoptive parents.

Chiku begins crying because he tells Ayaan that he didn’t know that he was adopted. A panicked Ayaan doesn’t want Chiku to tell the parents that Ayaan disclosed this secret to Chiku, so he locks Chicku in the house’s bathroom and plans to keep Chiku in there until the parents sign the paperwork to close the deal. However, the parents notice that Chiku is missing, and they start to look for him. Ayaan acts like he doesn’t know anything about the child’s disappearance.

Meanwhile, Chiku has snuck out of the bathroom window and goes in the room where his parents and Ayaan are talking. Chiku starts wailing again and tells his parents everything that happened. Needless to say, the parents get angry and don’t do the deal with Ayaan. This is the type of comedic scene that could have been funny, but the substandard acting in the movie just makes everything seem so silly and trite.

Ayaan has a real-estate deal in his not-too-distant past that also brought unhappiness, for different reasons. A couple named Mr. and Mrs. Gaikwad bought a bungalow for 150 million rupees (about $1.8 million U.S. dollars in 2018), but the spouses are now been forced to sell the home because of financial problems. Ayaan wants to buy the bungalow for himself and his family, knowing that Mr. and Mrs. Gaiwad will be losing their home to him. Ayaan’s decision on how to deal with the couple’s problem comes back to haunt him.

In the meantime, Ayaan is upset that he lost out on this most recent real-estate deal because of his extreme way of trying to silence an innocent child. Aayan calls Ruhi on hs phone while he’s driving to complain about losing the deal and to let her know that he won’t be able to attend the Parent Teachers Association meeting for their daughter Pihu. Aayan is holding his phone in one hand while he’s driving. And you know what that means: He gets into a car accident when he takes his eyes off the road and crashes into another car.

The next thing that Ayaan knows, he’s been transported to a mystical-looking place that can best be described as a floating amphitheater, with spectators who are dressed all in white. Ayaan is escorted to a stage in the middle of this amphiteater. Ayaan’s guide to this stage is someone calling himself YD (played by Mahesh Balraj), also known as Yamdhoot, who is a Yamaduta, a Hindu messenger of death. YD introduces a confused Ayaan to someone named CG (played by Ajay Devgn), who is supposed to be the Hindu deity Chitragupta.

CG explains to Ayaan that Ayaan is in heaven, and Ayaan’s unconscious body is currently on Earth, where Ayaan is in a hospital undergoing an operation for the next five hours because of his car accident. CG shows Ayaan a vision of Ayaan in the operating room. In the meantime, CG says that Ayaan will have to play the Game of Life to determine if Ayaan will go to heaven or go to hell if he dies in the hospital.

Ayaan refuses to play this game at first, but CG shows Ayaan a preview of what life in hell looks like. (The movie has very outdated-looking and unconvincing visual effects.) Ayaan quickly changes his mind when he sees the terrifying existence he would have in hell. At the same time, Ayaan’s hubris makes him think that whatever game he plays, he’s going to win.

In this game, Ayaan has to take several challenges based on each of his biggest flaws. Two see-through cylinders (each about 10 feet tall) are placed on the stage. If Ayaan loses a challenge, the spectators throw black balls into the cylinders. If Ayaan wins a challenge, the spectators throw white balls into the cylinders. Ayaan will lose the game if both cylinders overflow with black balls.

The six challenges based on Ayaan’s personality flaws are essentially variations of Christianity’s seven deadly sins, except for the sin of sloth, which doesn’t apply to workaholic Ayaan. The six rounds that Ayaan goes through to complete the game have to do with his anger, greed, jealousy, pride, lust and deception. In each round, Ayaan is put in a simulated reality scenario, and he has to decide what to do when a particular personality flaw is tested.

For example, in the round where his anger is tested, Ayaan is stuck in an elevator with an irritating, talkative man who keeps doing things to delay the elevator from moving. In the round where Ayaan’s jealousy is tested, CG reveals to the crowd that Ayaan wanted to become a police officer when Ayaan was a child, so Ayaan is secretly jealous that his wife Ruhi is a police officer who recently got a job promotion. In this challenge, Ayaan is given a chance to be a police officer during an armed robbery of bank, where the bank robber is holding hostages.

“Thank God” aims to impart serious messages about ethics and morality, but the comedy is awkwardly placed and cheapens all of the movie’s moralistic preaching. The slapstick comedy just isn’t very clever. And all of the cast members turn in performances that range from mediocre to embarrassingly exaggerated. Nora Fatehi has a supporting role as Reema, a gold-digging temptress who sets out to seduce Ayaan in his “lust” challenge round, which is just an excuse to have the movie’s most extravagant song-and-dance sequence.

The movie becomes more and more ridiculous with sudden plot twists that look like the filmmakers didn’t really know how to end the movie and just threw in lot of ideas to try to make the conclusion look impactful. It all just looks like a jumbled heap of mushy stereotypes instead of a cohesive story. The last 15 minutes of the film are particularly sloppy.

Several movies have already covered existential topics of humanity that ask these questions: “What happens to people after they die?” and “Do the actions of people when they’re alive affect what happens to people after death?” Most religious teachings have some basis in trying to answer these questions.

Because many films have covered these well-worn topics, “Thank God” had an opportunity to present a unique and intriguing angle to these topics. Instead, “Thank God” took the laziest route, by serving up a stale story that doesn’t really entertain audiences but just insults audiences by pandering to over-used and predictable clichés. If any viewers who believe in a god decide to watch the horrific “Thank God” until the very end, they might be thinking at the end of the movie: “Thank God this mess is finally over.”

T-Series Films released “Thank God” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on October 25, 2022.

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