Thursday, December 14, 2017

How I fell in love with Bollywood movies … via a little movie called Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham

It’s a question I have to answer on an almost monthly and sometimes weekly basis: How did you fall in love with Bollywood movies?

Since this week is the 16th anniversary of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, which was my first Bollywood movie, it seemed time to finally write a blog post about it. The story has a little flair of the dramatic -- as it probably should when it relates to Bollywood and especially a Karan Johar movie -- but at its heart is really quite simple.
In college, I had a roommate who loved all things Asian, and I had the apartment’s only Netflix subscription back when they mostly did DVDs. She guilt tripped me into ordering her favorite Indian movie, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, which I kept pushing down my queue because I didn’t want to read subtitles and hell I couldn’t even pronounce the title. But finally the time came to sit down for a three and a half hour (!!!!) marathon.

Spoiler alert: I laughed, I cried, I maybe even fell in love.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

New: Dishoom is a fun action-comedy, with some weird moments

I have had it up to here with serious movies this year. Yeah, okay, not all of them have been bad (I enjoyed Sultan, and Neerja was a real tear-jerker!) but there have just been too many serious movies, not enough hilarious action-comedies to keep me satisfied.

So finally in with a dishoom comes Dishoom, with a zingy trailer to catch the eye.

Thankfully, Dishoom is mostly fun if not the perfect buddy cop comedy, with a handful of head-scratching moments and plot holes. Plot holes are often to be expected in a comedy and especially a Bollywood comedy. When the audience can come up with one more normal solution to a plot problem than the movie, it’s no big deal; it's almost funny. When the audience can come up with four or five while watching it, well, then you really have yourself a problem. That happens a few times in Dishoom, particularly in tense moments like escaping a den full of baddies or dealing with a good guy in a bomb-strapped straightjacket.

And sometimes Dishoom makes minor problems glaringly obvious. Take, for example, the fact that most of the action takes place “somewhere in the Middle East” as the first screen after the musical opening says. Well, then, if you weren’t going to tell us where — even though it was filmed in Abu Dhabi — why draw attention to the fact? (And also, what up with almost everyone speaking Hindi except the most random smattering of Arabic? But I digress.)

In this mysterious Middle Eastern country, a cricket tourney is going on wherein India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are naturally the final three. After dislocating his shoulder and relocating it by slamming it against a brick wall (…seriously, why?), star cricketer Viraj Sharma (Saqib Saleem) beats Sri Lanka to take them to the final and gets himself kidnapped. In flies India’s Special Task Force man Kabir Shergill (John Abraham) to take on the search in secret before word gets out and ruins the final. Kabir is a rules-schmules kind of guy (and his girl just cheated on him back home, so he’s in no mood) so he picks the dopiest guy in the department, Junaid “J” Ansari (Varun Dhawan), to be his guide.

K and J, get it? If you don’t, I have a GIF for you.

From here on out, mostly John Abraham does the macho while Varun Dhawan dopily hams it up. It’s mostly fun and effective, but they are missing some jokey rapport for the true buddy cop feel. I am a well-documented fan of goofy!John, and would like to have seen him make something of an appearance.

Speaking of appearances, Akshay Kumar zooms in on a jet ski for a hilarious if occasionally awkward cameo as a gay playboy with a terrible wig man-bun and a kilt who makes Kabir and J strip down to their matching chaddis. And he snaps this hilar photo.

On the other hand, Nargis Fakhri has a cameo that is 100 percent annoying and pointless. She simply flounces around, speaking with her American accent despite the fact that we’re told a scene earlier that she’s “a local girl.” Her character basically unwittingly served to transport Viraj to the kidnappers, but that’s all. It seems like a wonderful opportunity to make her complicit, but she just shows up a few times more for no good reason. It’s really these kinds of half-planned detours that detract from the movie.

Jacqueline Fernandez as the movie’s main female character — small time con artist Ishika/whatever her real name is who happens to have pilfered the kidnapped cricketer’s phone from the kidnapper — is almost equally annoying, but at least she has some hint of a role to play. Even if it’s just helping the heroes snatch phones and cars and whatever else they might need. (Though how she gets from being deserted by said heroes to dancing for the kidnappers is one of the more annoying plot holes.)

Highly welcome, however, is Akshaye Khanna as the primary villain, though it takes him a while to appear. He’s got the swagger, the sassy eyebrows and the menacing voice down pat. I’d gladly welcome this villain back if he ditches some of his cronies.

And I might even welcome back K and J along with him, so long as they can jump over a few plot holes and stop taking weird detours.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

NEW: Review: 'Prem Ratan Dhan Payo' is watchable but not very relatable

Prem says welcome to a new blog post.
Hello, blogosphere. Long time no see! I'm still seeing movies, but sadly not writing about them like I used to. I ought to fix that. (But probably not when I'm in the middle of National Novel Writing Month.)

This weekend, I saw Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, the touted return of Salman Khan as Prem in a Rajshri movie after ... a very long time. It was like the Rajshri that brought Maine Pyar Kiya and Hum Aapke Hain Koun in some ways good (family relationships, songs feel timeless) and bad (several very retro elements, themes feel unoriginal), but there’s an important difference: It doesn’t feel nearly as relatable.

The family is royal, its relationship tensions primarily rooted in who controls the family wealth. Can you relate to a brother that wants to kill you because you didn't pay his bills? Doubtful. The four siblings also belong to one father but three mothers, none of whom are in the picture. No parents in a Rajshri family movie? What's up with that?

But then again, Salman plays up the humor and beats up some guys but not too many, keeping it watchable when the movie doesn't get too deep into the family problems.

Read my full review at

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Baahubali: An aspiring epic held back by conventional problems

Hey, folks. Long time no see. But a  movie as big as Baahubali called me to return to the blogosphere that I have sadly been neglecting.

My introduction to South Indian films on the big screen was a grand one this weekend (also an expensive one; not sure I can keep up with a $20 per ticket habit). Before I was sitting in a sparsely filled theater Sunday, my watched list included three Tamil films (including Madrasapattinam, which I have been trying to watch again ever since) and one Telugu film that had been dubbed from Tamil. But boy-o, the most expensive movie in Indian filmmaking history (last seen here: Ra.-freaking-One) and an epic was certainly a way to go.

I have some very mixed feels about it, but all could probably be summed up by this:

It’s an entertaining aspiring epic held back by some more conventional entrapments.

It’s hard to provide a short plot synopsis, so here goes a long one: It opens with a woman struggling out of a tunnel carrying a baby. She wards off attackers, gets injured and slips into the river. She holds the baby up, says a prayer, and dies but holds him up until he’s rescued. A village woman raises him; the villagers discover the tunnel but seal it because why not! Boy Shivudu grows up wanting to climb to the top of the Waterfalls That Never End and always falling down, miraculously not injuring himself despite hundreds of feet drops. Grown Shivudu (Prabhas) is proven to be insanely strong and good-hearted if rebellious — he carries a Shiva lingam under the flow of water to ease work for his adoptive mother — and then climbs the waterfall chasing a phantom woman. At the top, he discovers a whole new worlddddd (cue Disney music) and that the phantom woman is, duh, real… real bad-ass Avanthika (Tamannaah) from a tribe of people hellbent on rescuing some princess from The Evil Kingdom. He, ahem, romances the woman, takes on her quest and sets off to battle the kingdom’s forces of evil, epitomized by this king dude named Bhallala Deva who likes to kill mythological-sized bulls for sport. After lots of hullabaloo, good Shivudu who obvs is not just Shivudu kills evil prince, then prince’s bodyguard shows up and realizes THIS GUY IS JUST LIKE ‘BAAHUBALI’! Gather ’round kids while we rewind 50 years to tell the story of said Baahubali: He was one of two princes vying for the throne of Mahishmati, having to fight against evil cousin-brother Bhallala Deva for the right from iron-fisted maa Sivagami (Ramya Krishnan as a total badass) who is currently ruling with no probs but has to give away her throne to a male descendant for some reason. But I digress. Baahubali is obvs the thinking man here, the compassionate one, so on, and also, if you needed more convincing, he does a dance number with some dancing girls while on a mission; obvs this is king material, guyz. Bhallala Deva is just pure evil always. You can see how this is going to end already, so the movie throws in a giant epic, awesome battle sequence that takes forever and distracts you from the obvious while further proving Baahubali is also savvy on the battlefield. YAY KING BAAHUBALI! But as you have already guessed, newly crowned Baahubali got killed by somebody, who actually confesses to everybody as the big twist. NO MORE KING.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

New: The non-mysterious (Bihari) Detective Byomkesh Bakshy

Wow, has it been a long time since the Bollywood Queens have blogged or what?! (Also, has this blog post taken forever or what! I saw this movie more than a week ago. Oooops.)

Yeah, so there are a million excuses and reasons why, but I’m just gonna say it’s good to be back, however long this lasts! And that I wish I’d sat down and written a blog post after I saw the WTFery that was Shamitabh.

There was far less WTFery to be had here with Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, though there were, of course, the moments. (The ending. Oh, the ending. But just wait; we’ll get there.)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Hollywood intrudes: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, gone wrong

NOTE: I wrote this a few days after seeing the 2014 TMNT in early August. I then forgot about its existence, but stumbled upon it again and decided to post.

When I heard that the heroes on the half shell were coming back, I rejoiced.

It was the rebirth of one of those rare things that my siblings and I have all cherished, from big bro down the line to the 23-years-younger baby bro. Cowabunga!

When I heard that they were being rebooted by Michael Bay, featuring Megan Fox, I all but cried. And yet within me, I found a little hope.

For everything that has been wrong with its sequels, I quite enjoyed the first Transformers movie (the first two times I watched, anyway), a reimagining of something that was a blip on my childhood memory. Maybe the reason that I so thoroughly hated this TMNT by comparison lies in that the franchise, from the worn-out videos and then DVDs of the movies to the old cartoon series and then the new, was more than a blip: My three closest-in-age siblings and I each have our own turtle; I have Leonardo, sister Lexi has Mikey, brother Kendall has Raphael and brother Daniel has Donatello (fittingly, the leader, the goof, the hothead and the geek).

Saturday, July 12, 2014

NEW: Bobby Jasoos could've done with a bit more plotting

I had high expectations, especially after Vidya Balan herself talked it up to me in May and Dia Mirza was buzzing about it in front of me in April, and it’s obvious that Bobby Jasoos is high on many production values, most notably characters and their development.

What it’s low on: cohesion and continuity. For real.

It starts off with wonderful premise, 30-year-old Bilkis (Bilkis!) “Bobby” wants to be a detective in Hyderabad’s old city, but nobody will give her a job or even the time of day. (Unless you count TV news hunk Tassawur [Ali Fazal], who pays her regularly to foil his dad’s attempts at marrying him off.) And her family is certainly less than understanding as well, worrying about marrying her off or at least reining her in enough to get her sister married off.

But then it devolves into continuity errors, seriously uneven pacing and desperate attempts to wind all of the threads together. (Case in point: Mysteriously Threatening Bad Guy A, a gangster in love with Bobby’s childhood friend [whose name is not even consistent] whom Bobby sort of blackmails, turns out to be the son of Mysteriously Threatening Bad Guy B, who is paying Bobby to find girls in the city who then quietly disappear.)