Review: ‘Vadh’ (2022), starring Sanjay Mishra and Neena Gupta

January 17, 2023

by Carla Hay

Neena Gupta and Sanjay Mishra in “Vadh” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Vadh”

Directed by Jaspal Singh Sandhu and Rajiv Barnwal

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Gwalior, India, the dramatic film “Vadh” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A retired schoolteacher and his wife, who are in heavy financial debt to a loan-shark thug threatening to kill them, become in involved in the murder of the thug. 

Culture Audience: “Vadh” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in crime dramas about murder cover-ups and don’t mind if the story is long-winded and disjointed.

Manav Vij in “Vadh” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Vadh” has moments that can appeal to viewers interested in crime dramas, but the editing and storytellng for this overly long and tedious movie don’t quite come together in a cohesive way. The movie’s total running time is 170 minutes, when the story could have been told in a movie that is less than 120 minutes. Too many things about “Vadh” are repetitive. It’s also fairly easy to predict how the movie is going to end.

Written and directed by Jaspal Singh Sandhu and Rajiv Barnwal, “Vadh” (which means “slaughter” in Hindi) takes place in Gwalior, India, where retired schoolteacher Shambhunath Mishra (played by Sanjay Mishra) and his wife Manju Mishra (played by Neena Gupta) live quietly and modestly. Shambhunath and Manju have been married for 40 years, but trouble is brewing in this couple’s seemingly peaceful existence. Years ago, Shambhunath and Mishra borrowed a lot of money from a ruthless loan-shark thug named Prajapati Pandey (played by Saurabh Sachdeva), in order to send their only child Guddu (played by Diwakar Kumar) to college in the United States.

After graduating from college, Guddu decided to permanently reside in the U.S., where he lives with his wife and their baby daughter Erica. Guddu has a unnamed job where he earns enough money to easily pay back his parents for the college expenses, but Guddu doesn’t think of offering to repay his parents. Instead of being grateful to his parents, Guddu is arrogant and unappreciative.

Shambhunath and Manju are heartbroken that Guddu has a dismissive attitude toward them. Guddu also refuses to got to India visit his parents. In a video chat with Guddu (which Shambhunath and Manju have to do at an Internet cafe because they can’t afford Internet service at home), Guddu has this excuse for why he won’t visit his parents: “Do you know how expensive flights to India are?”

Meanwhile, Prajapati has gotten impatient with Shambhunath and Manju for taking years to pay off their debt to him. He starts making violent threats to the couple to demand payment in full, or else he says they will be tortured and killed. Fearing for their lives and desperate for money, Shambhunath and Manju beg Guddu to pay them back for some of the money that they spent on his college expenses. Guddu coldly refuses.

As already revealed in the “Vadh” trailer, after Prajapati assaults Shambhunath and does some other terrible things, Shambhunath brutally kills Prajapati. It’s a crime that Shambhunath and Manju cover up by dismembering the body and hiding everything. Shambhunath goes to the local police department and confesses to the crime, but the police deputy on duty—a buffoon named Sitaram Gadariya (played by Nadeem Khan)—doesn’t believe Shambhunath (who looks like a harmless old man) and doesn’t record the confession. Shambhunath goes home and thinks he’s gotten away with murder.

When chief police inspector Shakti Singh (played by Manav Vij) finds out about this confession, he’s infuriated and slaps Sitaram hard in the face. Inspector Singh then orders Sitaram to get Shambhunath back to the police station to record the confession. This time, Shambhunath denies knowing anything about Prajapat’s disappearance. And so begins a “cat and mouse” game between the police and the Mishra spouses.

One of the problems with “Vadh” is that the tone is so obvious in wanting the audience to root for Shambhunath and Manju. Therefore, every plot development seems too calculated to lead to a predictable conclusion. The acting in the movie also ranges from very good (Mishra gives a fairly credible performance) to mediocre (most of the cast) to downright awful (some of the cast members in supporting roles). The movie also tries to have some darkly comedic moments that just seem out of place with the rest of this grim story.

The scenes just drag on and on, with a lot of repetition. Inspector Singh is the type of generic police investigator that has been seen in countless other movies. Shambhunath and Manju made their problems worse, but they have a self-pitying attitude that gets very irritating after a while. “Vadh” tries to be a suspenseful film, but when the protagonists are presented from the beginning as elderly people who deserve sympathy just because they’re elderly and regardless of how many horrible things they do, there’s no suspense at all in how the movie is going to end.

Yash Raj Films released “Vadh” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on December 9, 2022.

Review: ‘Cirkus’ (2022), starring Ranveer Singh, Varun Sharma, Pooja Hegde and Jacqueline Fernandez

December 28, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jacqueline Fernandez, Sanjay Mishra, Ranveer Singh and Varun Sharma in “Cirkus” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

“Cirkus”

Directed by Rohit Shetty

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the India, in the 1960s and briefly in the 1930s, the comedy film “Cirkus” features an Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Two sets of identical twin brothers are separated and switched at birth by a scientist who wants to test the “nature versus nurture” debate, in order to prove his theory that someone’s upbringing has more influence on their personality than biological genetics.

Culture Audience: “Cirkus” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching an aggressively hyperactive and annoying movie with a horrible story about twins and mistaken identities.

Siddhartha Jadhav, Umakant Patil and Ashish Warang in “Cirkus” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

The vibrant cinematography and eye-catching production design of “Cirkus” are all wasted on a silly plot, bad acting and an unjustifiably atrocious ending that ignores ethical and legal issues of deliberately switching babies at birth. It’s a so-called comedy that will bring very few or no laughs to people who care about quality entertainment. The only thing that’s worth laughing at is how the “Cirkus” filmmakers spent a great deal of the movie’s budget on elaborate set designs and visual effects but then made the cheap-looking decision to have obvious toy dolls instead of real babies in the brief time that infants are shown on screen.

Directed by Rohit Shetty and written by Yunus Sajawal, “Cirkus” is loosely based on the William Shakespeare play “The Comedy of Errors,” which has hijinks that ensue when identical twin brothers have been separated at birth. It feels almost like blasphemy to mention Shakespeare and “Cirkus” in the same sentence, because it’s like comparing priceless art to worthless garbage. “Cirkus” is just too repetitive and too stupid to justify its total running time of 140 minutes. About 30 minutes into this abomination of a movie, viewers will feel like it’s less painful to have a circus elephant sit on them than to sit through watching all of “Cirkus.”

“Cirkus” begins by showing the two brothers who cause the chaos that later happens in the story. Sometime in the 1930s, Dr. Roy Jamnadas (played by Murali Sharma) and his younger brother Joy Jamnadas (played by Uday Tikekar) are operating Jamnadas Orphanage in Bangalore, India. One day, Roy and Joy find two pairs of newborn, identical twin brothers abandoned on the doorstep of the orphanage. The two pairs of twins are around the same age.

Roy decides that he wants to do an experiment to test the “nature versus nurture” debate, in order to prove his theory that someone’s personality is influenced more by that person’s upbringing than biological genetics. Roy wants to switch the identical twins, so that each twin will grow up with a brother he thinks is biologically related but actually is not biologically related. Joy vehemently objects to this very unethical and illegal decision, but Roy is determined to go through with it, and nothing can stop him.

The identical twins are switched so that one of the twin brothers is placed with a twin from the other pair who is biologically unrelated. When all four twin brothers are put up for adoption, they are presented as fraternal twins, not identical twins. Roy promises Joy that he will reveal the truth to all four brothers when the brothers are 30 years old. When Joy asks Roy what will happen if Roy isn’t alive in 30 years, Roy gives a vague response that maybe someone else can tell the twins the truth. Of course, in a predictable movie like “Cirkus,” Roy and Joy live for the next 30 years and show up again in the movie.

And what a coincidence: Both pairs of twins are adopted into families who want to name the twins after the Jamnadas brothers. One pair of the fake fraternal twins named Roy and Joy go to the Indian city of Ooty, where they have been adopted by a circus owner (played by Nikitin Dheer) and his wife (played by Supriya Roy). The other set of the fake fraternal twins named Roy and Joy stay in Bangalore, where they have been adopted by an affluent industrial engineer (played by Arjun Nagar) and his wife Shakuntala Devi (played by Ashwini Kalsekar).

After the babies quickly getting adopted, “Cirkus” briefly shows the two Roys and the two Joys as pre-teen children and teenagers. In these roles are Pratyaksh Panwar as pre-teen Roy, Hridansh Gokani as pre-teen Joy, Arya Mahajan as teenage Roy, and Krishna Panchal as teenage Joy. The movie then fast-forwards to showing the brothers at 30 years old.

For the purposes of this review, the Roy and Joy who grew up in Ooty will be called Ooty Roy and Ooty Joy. The Roy and Joy who grew up in Bangalore will be called Bangalore Roy and Bangalore Joy. Just like the brothers they were named after, Roy is the “alpha male” brother, while Joy is the “beta male” brother. Ooty Roy and Bangalore Roy are both played by Ranveer Singh. Ooty Joy and Bangalore Joy are both played by Varun Sharma.

Ooty Roy and Ooty Joy have taken over running their adoptive family’s circus, which is called Jubilee Cirkus, since their adoptive parents have retired. Ooty Roy has become a famous circus attraction known as Electric Man, for being physically immune when holding objects that conduct large wattages of electricity. Meanwhile, Bangalore Roy feels the effects of these electric jolts every time Ooty Roy does these electrical stunts. It’s a bizarre condition that Ooty Roy and Bangalore Roy have had since their childhoods. (No explanation is given in the movie for why they have this condition.)

The jolts are so big, Bangalore Roy can give people electrical shocks that can be harmful if they touch him. Bangalore Roy doesn’t know why he randomly gets these electrical jolts that run through his body and sometimes cause him to convulse wildly. Expect to see “Cirkus” show a lot of over-exaggerated slapstick comedy (that gets stale very quickly) of people getting electrical shocks and sometimes having seizures from these shocks.

Ooty Roy is happily married to a novelist named Mala (played by Pooja Hegde), who can’t get her work published under her real name for sexist reasons, so she uses the alias Col. Vikrant. And what a coincidence: Col. Vikrant’s biggest fan is Bangalore Roy. Ooty Joy has a girlfriend named Lily (played by Radhika Bangia). Bangalore Joy does not have a love interest in the movie.

The only discontent in the marriage between Mala and Ooty Roy is that they haven’t been able to conceive a child because Mala is infertile. Ooty Roy and Mala are seriously thinking about adopting a child. Mala wants to adopt a child from Jamnadas Orphanage, but Ooty Roy doesn’t like that idea. (You know where this is going, of course.)

Meanwhile, Bangalore Roy has a girlfriend named Bindu (played by Jacqueline Fernandez), whose arrogant and wealthy father Rai Sahab (played by Sanjay Mishra) does not approve of Bangalore Roy dating Bindu, because Rai thinks Bangalore Roy doesn’t come from a rich-enough family. By contrast, Bindu’s kind and open-minded mother Chachi (played by Sulabha Arya) accepts the relationship and treats Bangalore Roy with respect. Bangalore Roy has conflicts with Rai because Bangalore Roy wants to marry Bindu, but Rai refuses to give his blessing.

Rai is a blustering buffoon with a sidekick named Prem (played by Anil Charanjeett), whom Rai describes as his “manager,” but Prem is really just a “yes man” lackey and a completely useless character in a mindless story. The scenes with Rai are among the most cringeworthy in “Cirkus” because Mishra’s acting is so terrible. Rai, like almost everyone else in “Cirkus,” is a one-dimensional caricature.

Bangalore Roy and Bangalore Joy travel by train to Ooty, where they want to buy a tea-making farm. At the train station, three idiotic robbers, who have stolen ₹50,000 in cash, are being chased by police. The travel bag containing the money is accidentally dropped at the train station before the robbers make their getaway on a train that also happens to be the same train that has Bangalore Roy and Bangalore Joy as passengers.

The three robbers are nitwit leader Momo (played by Siddhartha Jadhav), who has a ridiculously large pompadour, and his two, less-talkative sidekicks Mango (played by Ashish Warang) and Chikki (played by Umakant Patil), who have utterly blank personalities. Momo is not only one of the most annoying characters in “Cirkus” (a movie filled with annoying characters), but he’s also perhaps the most annoying character that movie viewers will see in any given year.

Nothing that Momo says is funny, as he shouts his lines and makes dopey facial expressions for the camera. It doesn’t help that Jadhav gives one of the worst performances in the “Cirkus” cast. A recurring “joke” in the movie is that after Momo sees an incident of electrical shocks, he hollers, “Shock you!,” in the way that people curse, “Fuck you!”

These simple-minded robbers have lost their cash, but when they see Bangalore Roy and Bangalore Joy in a train car with a travel bag full of ₹50,000 in cash, the robbers decide to steal the cash from Bangalore Roy and Bangalore Joy. Later, viewers find out that Momo wants the cash to give as a birthday gift to a powerful crime boss named Polson Dada (played by Johnny Lever), who dresses like he’s stepped out of a 1970s pimp den, even though this part of the movie takes place in the 1960s.

Bangalore Roy and Bangalore Joy immediately notice upon arriving in Ooty that strangers already know their names and seem to know who they are. Meanwhile, it should come as no surprise that Ooty Roy and Ooty Joy end up in Bangalore and they get, and they also get mistaken for the other Roy and Joy. Along the way, a taxi driver named Naagmani (played by Vrajesh Hirjee), a jeweler named Veljibhai (played by Tiku Talsania) and a bandit-turned-hotel owner named Daaku Bagheera (played by Mukesh Tiwari) get involved in the ludicrous antics.

From a visual standpoint, “Cirkus” has a lot of eye candy, but the movie’s foolish and grossly unfunny story is like overloading on bad junk food. The title of the movie is also misleading, because only a few scenes actually take place in a circus. But even those circus scenes are nothing but hollow spectacles with very little substance. “Cirkus” completely missed a potentially great story opportunity to have the circus lifestyle as a big part of the movie’s plot.

The movie’s song-and-dance musical numbers are adequate, when it comes to the choreography, but the song lyrics are so witless and boring, they ruin whatever impact the musical numbers were supposed to have. The ending of “Cirkus” hints that there will be a sequel with other characters who have a connection to Jamnadas Orphanage. “Cirkus” is an utter failure at being amusing entertainment. It’s more like an overblown, nonsensical and deceptively flashy carnival act that cheats people out of their time and money.

T-Series Films released “Cirkus” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on December 23, 2022.

Review: ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2,’ starring Tabu, Kartik Aaryan and Kiara Advani

May 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kiara Advani and Kartik Aaryan in “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

“Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2”

Directed by Anees Bazmee

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Indian cities of Bhawanigarh and Chandigarh, the horror comedy film “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” has an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: In order to get out of marrying a man she doesn’t love, a young woman and her new love interest pretend that she died in a bus accident, while he pretends to her family that he’s a psychic who can communicate with her spirit, and the woman hides in the family palace that is believed to be haunted by an evil female ghost.

Culture Audience: “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the stars Tabu, Kartik Aaryan and Kiara Advani; the 2007 movie Bhool Bhulaiyaa; and engaging movies that skillfully blend horror, comedy and musical numbers.

Tabu in “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” (Photo courtesy of T-Series Films)

A horror comedy is a difficult subgenre to make entertaining because there could be problems with blending tones of being scary and funny, but “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” succeeds on almost every level. The movie’s plot twists and musical numbers are intriguing. Unlike a lot of horror comedies that hold back on being terrifying, “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” doesn’t skimp on ghoulish footage (which has impressive visual effects), while still maintaining a comedic edge in the story for several laugh-out-loud moments.

Directed by Anees Bazmee and co-directed by Pankaj Kumar, “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” is a sequel to 2007’s “Bhool Bhulaiyaa” but viewers don’t need to see “Bhool Bhulaiyaa” to understand “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2.” (The words “bhool bhulaiyaa” translate to “labyrinth” in English.) That’s because both movies have entirely different stars, with the only thing both movies having in common is a female ghost named Manjulika Chatterjee, who is haunting a family palace.

“Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” (which was written by Aakash Kaushik and Farhad Samji) begins with an evil female ghost raging through a palace in Bhawanigarh, India. The palace is owned by the well-to-do Thakur family, and priests eventually capture this malevolent spirit, trap the ghoul in a room, which is sealed. Because the ghost is a direct threat to the Thakur family, they abandon the palace and find another place to live. At the time this haunting incident occurred, one of the members of the Thakur family is a girl, who’s about 7 or 8 years old, named Reet Thakur.

“Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” the fast-forwards about 15 years later. Reet is a recent college graduate who is engaged to be married to a man named Sagar (played by Sparsh Walla), whom she does not love. However, it’s an arranged marriage, and Reet is being pressured by her father Vijender Singh Thakur (played by Milind Gunaji) to go through with the wedding. She is traveling by bus from Chandigarh back to her hometown of Bhawanigarh to reluctantly prepare for the wedding.

During this bus trip, Reet meets a handsome and flirtatious bachelor in his 20s named Ruhaan Randhawa (played by Kartik Aaryan), who almost immediately asks for Reet’s phone number. Even though Reet tells him that she’s engaged to be married, and her wedding is in a matter of days, Ruhaan is undeterred in showing a romantic interest in Reet, especially since she says she doesn’t love her fiancé Sagar. Reet is obviously attracted to Ruhaan too because she gives her phone number to him.

However, Reet plays hard-to-get during much of the time that she and Ruhaan spend together. Ruhaan (whose family is never seen in the movie) can sense that Reet is independent-minded and doesn’t want to be forced by her family to do things that she doesn’t want to do. And so, Ruhaan tells her that she should just abandon this trip to Bhawanigarh and go with him to a music festival instead. Reet quickly agrees.

Reet and Ruhaan have a lot of fun at the music festival, as their attraction to each other begins to grow. But then, they find out some tragic news: The bus that they were supposed to be on crashed, and there were no survivors. Reet’s family members are devastated, because they think she died in this bus crash. Viewers will have to suspend disbelief for this part of the movie, because Reet’s body would have to be found, in order for her to be declared dead. Perhaps another woman’s unidentified body could have been mistaken for Reet’s, but even that is a stretch of the imagination, since DNA tests and/or dental records would realistically determine a dead body’s identity.

Reet decides to use this bus crash as an opportunity to hide from her family and start a new life with Ruhaan. In the meantime, Reet and Ruhaan decide to hide in the Thakur family’s abandoned palace in Bhawanigarh. While they are in hiding, Reet overhears in a phone call that her fiancé Sagar and her cousin Trisha (played by Mahek Manwani) have been secretly in love with each other. Because the family thinks that Reet is dead, Sagar and Trisha decide to go public with their love affair and get married to each other. Reet is surprised by this news, but ultimately, she’s happy for Sagar and Trisha, because Reet never wanted to marry Sagar.

The Thakur family decides to have Sagar and Trisha’s wedding celebration at the palace, which has been in a state of neglect for years. And so, preparations are made to clean up the palace to prepare for the wedding. Members of the family also believe that there’s a chance that Reet’s spirit has returned to the palace. Reet and Ruhaan don’t know yet that their hiding place is about to be visited by members of Reet’s family and people who work for them. But this “fugitive” would-be couple will soon find out that they won’t be left alone in this hiding place.

Ruhaan is discovered on the palace property, but he is able to avoid getting in trouble as an intruder, by convincing the Thakur family and he is a psychic friend of Reet’s who can communicate with her from the dead. It’s a lie that Ruhaan makes up on the spot, and the rest of the movie is about him going through with a charade that he’s a psychic who can talk to Reet and other spirits. While Ruhaan is able to talk his way out of being kicked off of the property, Reet has been hiding in the palace, but she’s able to see much of what’s going on from where she hides. Ruhaan also fills her in on the details.

Meanwhile, Reet supplies Ruhaan with personal information about herself and her family so that he can appear to be a convincing psychic. There are many comedic scenes where Ruhaan makes over-the-top statements and gestures, in the movie’s obvious parody of psychics. Ruhaan even says, “I can see dead people,” in an obvious spoof of the famous line from the 1999 movie “The Sixth Sense.” News of Ruhaan being a psychic eventually spreads through the community. He becomes a local celebrity and is given the nickname Rooh Baba.

Of course, Ruhaan and Reet desperately keep the lie going and go to great lengths to keep Reet hidden in the palace. However, some people begin to suspect that Reet is still alive, or at least that her spirit is haunting the palace. Ruhaan finds out the story of Manjulika, so he tries to blame any suspicious activity on Manjulika. Other family members who are involved in the story include a cousin named Uday Thakur (played by Amar Upadhyay); his wife Anjulika (played by Tabu); and a boy named Potlu (played by Samarth Chauhan), who’s about 9 to 11 years old.

The village’s senior priest (played by Sanjay Mishra), his wife (played by Ashwini Kalsekar) and the village’s junior priest (played by Rajpal Naurang Yadav) all become skeptical about Ruhaan’s psychic abilities. They also think that Reet might still be alive. And so, the three skeptics hatch a plan to “expose” Ruhaan.

All of the cast members rise to the occasion by playing their roles well. Aaryan has to do a lot of comedic lifting in the movie, since his con game is frequently the focus of the movie’s jokes and shenanigans. Tabu is also very good in the movie, where her acting gets more prominent as the movie progresses. Yadav’s performance as the buffoonish junior priest is strictly for comic relief.

Most of the twists and turns “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” are in the last third of the movie, which has a much darker tone than the previous two-thirds. It’s no surprise that Reet and Ruhaan fall in love with each other. What might surprise people is how the movie ends. “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” has some moments that are more predictable than others. The unpredictable moments are where the movie shines the most.

T-Series Films released “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2” in select U.S. cinemas on May 20, 2022, the same date that the movie was released in India.

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