Review: Simmba, A Misplaced Effort

Let me begin by saying that I enjoyed many aspects and bits of this movie. It made me laugh out loud and feel a bit emotional and, for me, Ranveer Singh only almost overdid it. In fact, the first third of the movie was downright good. The opening number, “Aala Re Aala” was the standard masala fare, but delightfully so. My favorite part was the female back up dancers who looked nothing short of badass in their suits and aviators. In the second half, where the film becomes something else entirely, there are admirably given performances and exciting moments of derring-do. However the last acts of the film can best be described as problematic. If you’re a fan of Rohit Shetty and cop movies in particular you will probably want to see this one as well. But be warned that the second half takes on a very serious topic, often clumsily. From here on out SPOILER ALERT.

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Ranveer Singh plays a corrupt but somewhat lovable police officer Simmba, whose childhood ambition was to wear a uniform so he could have a power he lacked as a poor orphan. For the first forty minutes or so there were no surprises, but the execution was well done. The introduction of the female lead Shagun (played by Bollywood royalty Sara Ali Khan in her debut) was the usual lust at first sight. But her character was no wilting maid and if anything she pushed forward the romance. Then she proceeds to disappear for the rest of the film to make way for what the movie is actually about. And that, ladies and gentleman, is rape.

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The young teacher of orphans and Simmba’s honorary sister, Akruti, is discovered investigating a goon’s drug house and is assaulted, raped, tortured, and murdered by the brothers of our main villain, Durva Ranade (Sonu Sood). The movie pulls no punches. While the attack is entirely offscreen, a doctor explains emotionally that Akruti was raped over and over again before being further brutalized in such a way as to destroy her intestines, even her DNA. The description of the crime is meant to remind viewers of the infamous and utterly tragic 2012 Nirbhaya case in Delhi. (This case is later explicitly mentioned). She dies before she can identify her attackers. Her final word, “brother.”

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Simmba, at last, has found his line, the line that cannot be crossed. It is unclear if an attack on any woman would have elicited this in him, or only this particular woman. Would Simmba be this rage filled over the rape and murder of a beggar? A sex worker? A woman he does not know and has not promised to be like a brother to? Again and again the movie invokes the women of India, but the only women shown are the respectable, middle-class ladies inside the male character’s circle. I digress.

The police manage to gather evidence, the primary piece being a video on Akruti’s phone of the moments before she was dragged away. Lo and behold, when they go to court this data has been erased and the primary witness has been disappeared. Given two days to try again, Simmba and his men confront a politician protecting the goons. The politician unsurprisingly is a cad, stating that Akruti’s family should take the money offered by Durva. After all, it’s far more than she could have earned in life. Simmba proceeds to beat the man while his wife records. The recording of the beating spreads quickly and dooms the investigation. Simmba decides they must take matters into their own hands. We are used to seeing police in these films take matters into their own hands, slapping, punching, breaking bones. But what follows is, for me, unprecedented. Simmba, with the help of his officers and local women, decide to kill the rapists in an “encounter.” Shagun’s father was himself an officer and was famous for these extralegal attempts at justice.

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To be sure, the legal system is too overloaded, too slow, to prone to impotence. But police vigilantism will not fix this or deliver justice. Criminals must be found guilty in a court of law. The two rapists in this film deserved to rot in prison, no doubt, but this brand of police vigilantism does not make women more safe. It does not prevent crime. There is also the fact that the rapists aren’t totally unenviable, from a certain point of view. The movie says frequently that they are bad men, but they are also portrayed as fit, powerful, wealthy, and masculine. They strut into rooms and intimidate policemen and locals. They get what they want how they want. Though they lose in the end, this ending is the fantasy, not the crimes. Young people, and may I say men especially, have decided from time immemorial to risk censure and punishment to gain power, especially power over women. Many men believe that rape can prove their masculinity. That these men died later is beside the point for misogynists.

What’s worse, is that the killings are made totally irrelevant by the men’s confessions before they are drawn out into the fight that kills them. At least one admits to the crime, describes it, and says he will do it again. An audio of this could very well have been evidence enough for the courts. Yet, they are killed, and now Simmba is on trial instead.

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Not content to wait for the results of an impartial inquiry, Durva seeks his own revenge and this is where Simmba and his nemesis agree. They both have no faith in or respect for the legal system and want to bypass it completely. Durva’s lawyer attempts anyway and we find ourselves in the ridiculous position of having the odious lawyer of a disgusting criminal deliver the most ethically and legally sound statements of the film while pleading his client’s case before the judge.

The movie seems to suggest not only that all Indians should and do stand firmly behind the death penalty, but they require no due process for it at all. There is no evidence in the real world that the death penalty deters rapists, much less random, Duterte-style slayings in police stations. At one point a character says, “rape is worse than murder,” opening up a whole host of ethical and moral questions.

All that said, and this may seem to contradict all that preceded it, Simmba offers one of the better and more sincere attempts in a masala movie to address the rape epidemic.(Keep in mind, I still have limited experience and am comparing it to travesties like R….Rajkumar). The judge in the case is a woman, the victim is given a semblance of a backstory, the other female characters are not treated like objects. But Simmba still ends up creating only more questions and continuing harmful tropes: the perfect victim, the perfect criminals, the ideal hero. As the goons dragged our darling Akruti into the back room I could only feel profound disappointment that, yet again, a young side character had to be sacrificed to the development of the male hero. Despite its best efforts to stick up for women, this fact cannot be escaped: Simmba is not about the victim or victims. It is about police officers who decide to become vigilantes. They succeed and are praised for their efforts. And the women of India sleep no easier.

Review: Sanju


Finally, a movie that made me feel something! This is not a perfect film, but it is thought-provoking, sincere, and effectively topical. So it is a good film. Last week with Aiyaary, I felt I needed to pad the review with more information but with this one, I’m wondering if I will be able to condense it all!


Directed by Rajkumar Hirani, Sanju follows the life and career of Bollywood scion and actor Sanjay Dutt, son of the legendary B-town stars Sunil Dutt and Nargis. It begins like Sanju’s acting career, in the 1980s. Sanju is a struggling actor, pushed into the industry by his father. Despite his parentage, he is not a natural in front of the camera and is already a bit of a rebel, smoking cigarettes with Zubin Mistry (Jim Sarbh) between takes (more on Mistry later). Just as Sanju is starting to find his screen presence the twin tragedies of the introduction of drugs and alcohol into his life and the revelation of his mother’s terminal illness act to throw him into years of addiction and grief. The first quarter of this film follows these wild and occasionally truly unbelievable years in Sanju’s life, in which he loses his mother, his first love, and a good chunk of his youth spent in rehab and homelessness. Somewhere in there his first film premieres, just days after the death of Nargis.

After a long stint in rehab, Sanju does manage to get clean with the support of his father and best friend that he met in New York, Kamlesh Kapasi (Vicky Kaushal). He embarks on a personal and professional re-birth. That is, until the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the Mumbai attacks of 1993. Long story short, Sunil Dutt is by this time an influential politician in addition to a celebrity and his efforts on behalf of the Muslim community make his family a target of extremists themselves. To protect the family, Sanju acquires a gun from men who would later be implicated in the infamous bombings of Mumbai. The discovery of this illegal firearm lands Sanju with a charge of terrorism and the most significant portion of the film follows his stints in and out of prison and his effort to clear his name by being tried on an arms charge rather than a terror one.

This film has a stellar cast. Ranbir Kapoor obviously put incredible effort into embodying Dutt. My concerns after seeing the promotions for the film that Kapoor would merely undertake a good mimicry did not come to fruition. Meanwhile, Paresh Rawal owns every scene he is in as the head of the Dutt family. One would be forgiven for thinking this film is more a paean to Sunil Dutt than a biography of his son. Dia Mirza and Sonam Kapoor have smaller roles (in terms of screen time) as Sanju’s two primary loves (although his extensive romantic exploits are noted many times). Mirza’s character in particular feels like a well-rounded person despite her minimal screen time.

Unlike most Indian movies, Sanju has no love song to speak of. We do not see Sanju falling in love with Sonam’s Ruby or Dia’s Manyata. The most important woman in this movie is undoubtedly Nargis, Sanju’s mother, played by Manisha Koirala with incredible grace and liveliness. Unfortunately, all the women in this film are there either to dance on a pole or play the role of perfect woman. And the perfect woman sacrifices everything for Sanju, whether that means swallowing humiliation, hiding a debilitating illness, or smiling wryly at his inability not to flirt, though married.  Even Anushka Sharma’s author is just the vehicle for Sanju to rehabilitate his image. The nuanced and two-sided relationships in Sanju’s life, as depicted in this film, are with his father and Kamlesh Kapasi. And poor Kamlesh takes the most abuse of all. He continually drops everything for a friend who, the first night they met, attempted to snort cocaine with him in a topless bar and got them chased by security guards. This is the extent of their friendship’s exposition. Kamlesh helps Sanju through his addiction, prevents him from committing suicide, and with minimal bitterness forgives his friend for bedding his girlfriend while he slept. This was the most irritating scene for me and the one where I really began to question whether I like Sanju, the person, at all. But we don’t have to like all our protagonists and Sanju really couldn’t care less what anyone thinks.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Sunil and Sanjay Dutt is what could have made or broken this film. Thanks to the performances, especially  the incredible work of Pawal, this portrayal worked. (SPOILER ALERT). When Sunil ji passes, the movie is nothing short of heartbreaking. I will be thinking about the scenes that Kapoor and Rawal shared for a while.

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Lastly, Sanju is a strongly anti-press movie. If somehow you missed that throughout the film, the credits song, “Baba Bolta Hai Bas Ho Gaya,” featuring Kapoor and the real Sanjay Dutt will leave you in no doubt that this movie hates reporters. Given the experience of the Dutt family, this is understandable and there are real issues with the modern 24-hour news cycle. But for me, the attacks on the press in general throughout this movie went so far as to be dangerous. In a political climate where any news that politicians don’t like is labelled as “fake” and journalists are under threat not to undermine the status quo of the powerful, we can not afford to have an industry in the dream business giving us all our information either. And let’s not forget that the Dutt family is privileged. Any negative attention that Sanju recieved did, on some level. result from his own recklessness and disregard for the law.  At moments in the film, the effort to rehabilitate Sanjay Dutt in the public eye veered into hagiography. The Bollywood elite have a vested interest in defending one of their own and no qualms about using their own power over the public to influence opinion. Sanju inadvertently exhibits this when it shows the Indian public shifting from hate to love for the Dutt family overnight, simply because they liked Sanju’s film, Munna Bhai, MBBS. 

Taken altogether, I did like what Hirani and Kapoor did with this movie. It has its issues for me but it is very, very far from the kind of superficially topical, ineffective, and juvenile movies that I have been inundated with lately. While watching Sanju, I laughed, teared up, shook my head, rolled my eyes, and even felt a bit like clapping. I would definitely recommend seeing it, because I want more people involved in the conversation that this movie could inspire.

Little Weird Things

• WHY did they put those strange, navy blue contacts on Anushka Sharma. They were distracting and just utterly unnecessary.

• I thought we would escape this movie without pointless, white backup dancers but, alas, ’twas not to be.

• There were a few moments that toed the line between dramatic and unintentionally funny. Like the time Sanju puts a toilet seat over Sonam Kapoor’s head.

• The filmmakers try and fail to pass off Australia as Southern California.

• Sanju’s prison allows him to have a radio show where he just muses on his personal life and the evils of the press over the prison loudspeakers for minutes on end. For a non-prisoner to hear this broadcast, they have to park their car close to the prison walls and tune into the right frequency rather than, you know, listen to the loudspeakers.

  • The way Sanju kept saying “you owe me a blonde” made my skin crawl.

Good stuff

• JIM SARBH. This man proves yet again that he is a treasure of Hindi cinema as the drug peddler and the-devil-on-Sanju’s-shoulder. More Sarbh. Sarbh forever.

• This movie is long, but I didn’t feel like it dragged or should have ended sooner.

• The foreign (non-Indian) actors and extras were actually passably decent! Dancers aside.

• Thankfully, the movie didn’t spend much time doing insanely detailed re-creations of Dutt’s most famous scenes, as advertised.

  • The song “Main Bhadiya Tu Bhi Bhadiya” reminded me why I love Bollywood

Review: Aiyaary, “Brothers at odds…or something”


I made a point to see as many new releases as I could when I was in Delhi, but failed to see Aiyaary. I took a weekend trip to Jaipur instead, so no regrets there. But when I saw that Aiyaary was on Netflix it seemed like the perfect time to see what I missed. The answer? Not a whole lot.

Here’s a summary for the movie I found online, because I could not be bothered:

Major Jai Bakshi (Sidharth Malhotra), part of a secret seven-member team called Design and System Diagnostics, helmed by Colonel Abhay Singh (Bajpai), has defected. Once an integral part of the group, sanctioned by the Chief of the Army Staff (Vikram Gokhale), Jai, disillusioned by the corruption in the army, is about to reveal the details of his team, which has been kept secret from the public.

This movie is not terrible. There’s plenty more outright trash out there. But it is uneven and definitely more drama than action based (read, boring). My biggest complaint, though, is that it fails utterly to resonate. Lately, Bollywood films have tried more to be topical, to address real issues facing the country. However, this falls flat when the writing is thin and when every other plot point is so disconnected from reality. The rest of the film must keep pace with the topical story line. This means no love story that can be told in a song, showing technology that looks like something the Indian Armed Forces would actually use (even aspirationally) and a lot less speed walking through the empty streets of Delhi. If the rest of the story floats too far off the ground you risk only sensationalizing and not personalizing the very issues you are trying to address. This movie puts Siddharth Malhotra in full drag and wants to be taken utterly seriously.

Malhotra at his thinking spot
Goodness only knows what time you have to visit India Gate to see it this deserted.

The run time  is typical for Bollywood but, in this case, is far too long. At the hour and forty five minute mark, I texted someone who had seen the movie to find out how it ends. (He couldn’t remember.) To fill out this time it splices in a flashback to a border operation (featuring yet another pointlessly over the top disguise), ostensibly to raise the stakes, to show that Singh’s preferred punishment for treachery is summary execution. Most strangely of all, Jai recalls this story fondly over chai on a sunny day. He smiles at the memory of the time he saw his mentor shoot a man in the back of the head and then took two bullets for him in a revenge attack. In a grittier movie, maybe this would work. But Jai never surpasses being the handsome top-student to become the threat the story needs him to be.

By the end I was so stupefied, I couldn’t keep up with the plot. Apparently this whole thing was about a housing scam? The essential idea for Aiyaary is very good but the follow through whimpers more than bangs.

Little weird things

  1. Apparently MI6 has a landline and if you call it you’ll reach a woman sitting at an empty desk in an empty penthouse.
  2. British people with American accents (???)
  3. Bajpayee holds a stranger’s baby on a train in England for…a disguise??
  4. In one frame Siddharth Malhotra walks past a guy wearing a University of Texas hoodie. What are the odds.

Review: Sonu ke Titu ki Sweety

Dear Luv Ranjan,

Who hurt you?

This is the thought I had while leaving the theatre after watching “Sonu ke Titu ki Seeety.” It’s writer and director, the aforementioned Ranjan, also wrote and directed the successful “Pyaar ka Punchnaama” and “Pyaar ka Punchnama 2”, movies which are also about the ways in which women can change a man’s life. But the same discomfort I had watching those films crept in to “Sonu.”

“Sonu ke Titu ki Sweety” centres on the story of a man (Sonu) who is convinced that his best friend (Titu) is being tricked into marriage by the too-good-to-be-true Sweety. During the first half of the movie I often enjoyed the antics of the obviously immature Sonu has he plotted ways to out his friend’s fiancee. I thought that surely he would see that the root of his insecurity lay in himself and that he and his friend needed to work out how their relationship would change in the future.

But no.

It turns out that Sweety really is a conniving witch and, what’s worse, she’s given no motive to be so. She is just simply bad, which to me paints a picture in which all women are merely foils and villains in the lives of men. Even other women in the movie serve primarily to destroy their husbands fun by insisting that they give up smoking or eat nutritiously. How cruel.

I don’t mind seeing a film with a female villain, but it seems out female villains must suffer from the same total lack of individuality and personality that our heroines do. And this villain goes a step too far for a movie that is meant to be a rowdy comedy, with Sweety even using sex to manipulate the pitiful Titu (another character with no distinct personality whatsoever). And it’s hard to cheer for Sonu when one of his big victories in the film is abusing and humiliating his household help (hired by Sweety), a man who literally sleeps on his kitchen floor.

It seems obvious that Luv Ranjan has no love for women or the men who allow themselves to be beholden to them.

My conflicted feelings come from the fact that I did find much humour in this movie and the completely packed theatre I was in seemed to feel the same way. But by the time of the wedding, I wasn’t cheering for any of these characters, except perhaps Titu. He needs to jilt his bride and his best friend.

Review: Hindi Medium

Anyone who lives in a competitive school system will find much to laught at ans commiserate in this sweet and well-acted story of affluent Delhi parents (Irffan Khan and Saba Qamar) and who will do just about anything to get their daughter into a top primary school.

Hindi Medium has a few themes, including corruption and bureaucracy. But the most important is the cupidity of the private school system and the absurd lengths to which some people go to make sure their child speaks good English. Parents hire coaches ans advisors to get through the application process, but this is the least of it. Raj and Meeta pretend to be underprivileged to make it into a lottery for poor citizens, going so far as to live in a slum for weeks. They later come to regret this, especially when the son of their poor friends is not chosen and their daughter is. However, to soothe their consciences they do not consider owning up to the fraud (and risking their daughter’s expulsion) but donate to a local school instead. This says a lot about the pressure that parents face.

And in the middle of it all is Piya, a completely normal child who presumably just wants friends and adequate education. Piya plays a very small role in the film, but that’s the point isn’t it? This movie is about the parents and they ways they end up sabotaging their children’s collective education with their shenanigans.

Hindi Medium is funny, poignant, and timely. You can catch it on Amazon Prime.

Review: Padmaavat

Well, after many delays both political and personal, it finally happened. I watched Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat (formerly, Padmavati). The whole ordeal is too tiresome to repeat here, but after an order from no less than the Supreme Court of India, the film was finally shown around the world. And the verdict is…

This movie is visually lush and features some really outstanding acting. Much praise has been heaped on Raṇveer Singh’s portrayal of Alauddin Khilji and I feel that it is deserved. Alauddin is fierce and brutal, but he is also desperate and one wonders what goes on in his internal world or what happened in his past to make him so obsessive.

Shahid Kapoor and Deepika Padukone also perform well, but frankly their characters are given much less to do. Despite making her the center of the story, Deepika’s only real role in advancing the plot is to be beautiful. (SPOILER ALERT) Her shining moment comes quite literally at the last second as she leads a mass suicide (more on that in a bit.) Shahid’s character is meant to be the moral opposite of Alauddin’s but largely ends up reacting to what is going on rather than influencing it. I admired Shahid and Deepika’s performances because they were able to make so much out of so little more than anything else.

A special acting recognition goes to Jim Sarbh as Khilji’s servant Malik Kafur. Malik is just as obsessive as Khilji, but his attention revolves around his master. He more than holds his own in every scene, which is not easy when Raṇveer is bringing such overwhelming intensity to his own performance.

I have an issue with feeling inspired or admiring of a story that ends with hundreds of women self-immolating, including expectant mothers, girls, and old women. I understand that the cultural and situational context were different but these things must be addressed very sensitively in a world where many women are still pressured or forced to end their lives for reasons of “honor.” I marvel at the sacrifice these men and women undertook, but the film’s thin storyline does little to make it’s unbelievably tragic end feel warranted. Because this movie is based on a certain amount of actual history, the ending could not be changed. But the preceding two and a half hours could have been better spent.

Anyone who is in the least curious should watch Padmaavat. The incredible visuals, musical numbers, and immense effort on the part of the actors (particularly Sarbh) make it worth the price of admission. (The sultry song Binte Dil, sung by Arijit Singh, still sticks in my head.) I for one would like another Raṇveer-Deepika pairing in the future but maybe next time give Deepika more to do.

REVIEW: “Tiger Zinda Hai” A Bhai movie with lots of girl power

Let me start by saying that Tiger Zinda Hai is not a movie that knows much about the military or intelligence services. Scenes involving strategic operations are not believable, even borderline silly (like when US special forces follow the instructions of an unofficial Pakistani ISI agent).

However, this movie does know how to entertain. It follows Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif’s characters from Ek Tha Tiger as they come out of their self imposed exile to rescue nurses trapped by a terrorist organization (a clear reference to ISIS)in Iraq. Each assemble their crack teams from their respective countries and work together for the common cause of “humanity”, a theme that is reiterated throughout the film.

Salman gets his usual action sequences, including the obligatory shirtless one, but for me it was Katrina Kaif as Zoya who stole the show. In one sequence she rescues a dozen women trapped as sex slaves. It was amazing to see a woman singlehandedly take down dozens of these terrorists and rapists, especially in light of the atrocities women have faced in the region.

Fans of war movies who like to see a lot of accuracy will find a lot to criticize, but fans of action and Salman Khan should enjoy this very patriotic, fun film.

2017 Bollywood movies you can watch on Netflix

As 2017 draws to a close, we like to think about the year just past, including all the movies we meant to see. If you live outside of India, it can sometimes be hard to catch screenings of the big Hindi movies, but never fear! Netflix already has some of the most anticipated movies from 2017 streaming online. They range from period piece to drama to (of course) masala and they make a welcome addition to Netflix’s growing library of Hindi hits. I didn’t love all of them but I did like most of them. Peruse the list below and see what movies you’d like to watch from 2017 before they’re a year old.

(Films are listed in the order of release)


In this crime drama, Shah Rukh Khan plays an aspiring family man who finds wealth in the illegal sale of alcohol in the dry state of Gujarat. Raees sees no issue with his trade as long as he is not hurting anyone and he even uses the proceeds of his business to build a safe community and provide for local people. But how long can that last? This movie highlights political corruption and communal violence, but at times halfheartedly. Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays the policeman who pursues Raees with his usual excellence and Mahira Khan plays the (forgettable) love interest Aasiya.



Kaabil is the story of a blind man (Hrithik Roshan) who must track down and punish the men who repeatedly raped and threatened his  blind wife who committed suicide to escape the violence (Yami Gautam). With the only witness to their crimes blind and dead, it would seem that these men can not be caught. This movie suffers more than the usual Bollywood flick from confusing and sloppy changes in tone. In one scene you have a light and cheerful love song and in the next you see a woman hanging from a ceiling fan. This is also one of the more egregious examples of a film using violence against a woman to give the male character a mission. Neither character is terribly convincing as a flesh and blood person, much less one living with blindness.

Coffee with D


Review coming soon.



Rangoon tackles the complex and grossly neglected history of India in the Second World War through the romantic triangle of an abusive, Raj supporting movie producer (Khan), his ingenue (Kangana) and a double agent in the Indian forces serving under the British (Shahid Kapoor). This film has some interesting stylistic and cinematographic choices as well as a lush setting. I like what it tries to do in crafting an epic that is sweeping, patriotic, high-stakes, and romantic. This would have been better achieved if not for the lack of chemistry between the three leads. I can’t discern if this comes down to the acting or the short shrift given them by the movie’s script, overburdened with themes and morals. The actors all perform very well, but sometimes it feels like their scenes were shot separately. The movie also seeks to be historical but has some truly absurd moments, including (spoiler alert) Kangana running the length of a train’s roof in boots and mask and Khan tight rope walking a sword to the leaders of the Indian National Army. Rangoon tries to walk its own tightrope of credibility, and doesn’t quite make it.

Honorable mention goes to Richard McCabe. The grotesque British general is a villain that audiences find easy to hate. The way he speaks Hindi, an otherwise beautiful language, makes the skin crawl. He’s pedantic and sycophantic and just plain gross. In short, an effective villain.

Anaarkali of Aarah

anaarkali of aarah 2

Anaarkali of Aarah is one of the most thoughtful and thought provoking films to be released this year. The following is excerpted from my post, “Bollywood Movies About Women”: A woman who sings ribald songs for a living is harassed in public by a state politician. The local police cover the incident up but Anaarkali (played by Swara Bhaskar) refuses to simply move on. She is threatened, loses her livelihood, and has to flee to Delhi. Even there she is found out. But at no point does she give up on being herself. At the center of this movie is a woman who sings dirty songs for a living. At the center there is also a question. Does this mean that people have rights to her body? Does questionable content mean that its performer has no personal autonomy? Anaarkali refuses at any point to lie and admit that she was wrong and allow herself to be owned and used. Although this movie deals with serious themes, its star is undeniably small-town glamorous and brings a lot of color the world she inhabits.”

Half Girlfriend


A village boy  (Madhav, played by Arjun Kapoor)  falls hard for a wealthy girl (Riya, Shraddha Kapoor) with a troubled family. Riya seems to return Madhav’s feelings, but is afraid to commit so she tells him that she can be his “half girlfriend.” Neither Madhav nor the audience ever gets a clear idea of what this means but maybe that’s the point. Subplots to the love story include Madhav’s struggle to learn English, spousal abuse, girls’ education, and a last minute addition of terminal illness. There are some missteps, but overall Half Girlfriend tries very hard to portray a modern romance, in which even dating, much less marriage, can seem overwhelming. My biggest issue is that the character of Riya doesn’t feel fully fleshed out. Her father is a wife beater, she has a terminal illness, she wants to be a singer, she’s good at basketball. Despite this, nothing ever seems to happen to her. Everything is off-camera, while the focus stays on Madhav and his despair. Half Girlfriend is neither bad nor great. Much like Riya, it just can’t seem to commit.





This is the silly story of how some identical twins and their bachelor uncle conspire to get the pair married to the girls they love… if they can decide whom that is. Mubarakan is big and colorful and goofy but it is at least an honest movie. Unlike other films which are unintentionally silly, this movie sets out from the beginning to be a colorful farce and it succeeds when it stays away from too much drama. Everyone’s beautiful, crazy wealthy, and happy in the end, which makes this a good recommendation for your friends that are looking for stereotypical Bollywood fare.

Jab Harry Met Sejal

jab haary met sejal

When a lawyer from Mumbai loses her engagement ring on a European tour, she enlists the help of her emotionally unstable, perpetually adolescent tour guide to help her find it. Jab Harry Met Sejal looks and sounds very good but the story doesn’t make a lick of sense. My biggest complaint is that Sejal’s only characterization comes at the expense and humiliation of other women and, indeed an entire continent. Europe is a spotless tourist destination by day and a teeming hive of neo-nazis, strippers, and would-be rapists at night. Harry has been sleeping his way around the continent for years, but when Sejal asks him why he does not find her attractive he replies that she is “not a girl to be ogled at” implying that most other women are. The pair continue to traipse through Europe with little urgency and muddled intentions. The most relatable part for me was Sejal’s joy at receiving five WhatsApp messages from her boyfriend (after a night spent running from goons). This inane plot had to really try to stretch itself over nearly two and a half hours and there’s not enough payoff. Jab Harry Met Sejal tries to be a fun and thoughtful romance but the viewer ends up feeling like a tour guide at the end of a month-long European tour, cursing his clients under his breath.

Also, Irina+Mayank > Sejal+Harry



This movie opens with a scene in which Rajiv Gandhi ( an actual historical figure) makes an inappropriate and threatening advance to a wealthy woman. She rejects him, so he takes advantage of his political power and the chaos of his mother’s “Emergency” to steal her family’s fortune. So her bodyguard and soon to be lover, Ajay Devgn, sets out to help her get it back. I need to be honest. I didn’t get through this one. Baadshaaho takes itself very seriously, but it just feels like something we’ve seen before, only this time it’s set in the seventies. Perhaps I could be persuaded to give it another chance but first I want to get through all the amazing Hindi movies the internet has to offer.

Poster Boys


Review coming soon.


Lucknow Central

lucknow central
Honorable Mention: Dangal:


This movie came out just before Christmas in 2016 and played well into 2017. It follows the (mostly true) story of a man from a conservative village who raises his daughters Geeta and Daya to be ….wait for it… professional wrestlers. The girls even train by fighting and beating boys! When Geeta reaches all the way to world championships, she seems set to break all barriers for women in sport. However, she risks losing her values in the bargain.This movie, especially in the context of what we usually see, feels like a breath of fresh air for depictions of women and rural India. I felt uncomfortable, though, when Geeta was shamed for adopting more of an urban lifestyle and attempting to have some of the youth that was denied he by her father’s punishing training schedule. Ultimately this is not a movie about Geeta or Daya but about their father. Still, you’ll feel like cheering at the end and even non-Indians are tempted to stand when they hear the triumphal anthem being played.

Check out all of these on Netflix!

UPDATE: The Controversy Around Padmavati

Update: Today it was announced that Padmaavat, formerly Padmavati will e released on January 25. The announcement came online and aa the front page of the Delhi Times. Along with the date, the producers included several disclaimers, chief among them that the film does not and never did insult the Rani or show her on screen with Raṇveer Singh’s Khilji. Let’s hope ṭhag after all this drama, the film’s quality makes the risk of seeing it worthwhile.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati may be one of the most controversial movies of the year and it has not even come out yet. Viacom has pushed back the release date indefinitely and Deepika Padukone has been threatened with mutilation! To many people in India, this furor is confusing and absurd, but for those of us outside the know it can be downright impossible to understand. Here, I humbly present my layman’s understanding of the issues based on what I have read online and heard from my Indian friends.

Many believe that Padukone is meant to portray the pseudo-historical Queen Padmini and they believe that her portrayal is a grave disrespect both to this queen and her culture. 

Padmavati is based on legends about the Rajput royalty, the people that ruled Rajasthan for centuries. According to the stories, the Muslim sultan of Delhi comes to Rajasthan because he has heard about their beautiful queen and wishes to see her. In the legend, the sultan’s armies and the Rajputs clash, killing the Rajput king. Rather than have her honor besmirched, Queen Padmini joins her husband on his funeral pyre.

There’s no telling if this is the direction that the movie will take, since it is not technically based on an actual historical figure or event. I for one hope it does not. However, that technicality does not matter to those who are outraged. Their main complaint is that the movie seems to imply a romantic, or even sexual, relationship between the Sultan and Padmini. The production company has stated that this is not the case and confirmed that Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone share no screen time in Padmavati. Protesters are not convinced.

They are also offended that the song “Ghoomar” (the video for which was released last week) shows the Queen dancing to a song that would typically be performed by poor, nomadic minstrels. In fact, it’s an affront to show her dancing at all. The honor of wealthy, powerful women means that they are above such indecent exposure and even having a fictional woman that resembles Padmini dance is supposedly a grave offense to her memory.

Meanwhile, there are more potentially problematic issues that need attention. 


Padmavati is in far more danger of stoking anti-Islamic sentiment than it is soiling the honor of a centuries old queen. Ranveer Singh’s portrayal of Khilji in the trailer seems to depict a wild, lustful, self-absorbed, carnivorous, madman. His main goal is the tainting of a great Hindu dynasty.

Also, if this film follows the legend, it will end with Deepika Padukone burning alongside Shahid Kapoor on his funeral pyre. The practice of sati is extremely contextual and one that many Indians in the past have worked hard to end. I am hoping that the actors, writers, producers, and others found a more appropriate ending for the queen. Especially if they want to defend the idea that she is not at all historical.

Padmavati seems to be on track for a December 1 release in the US and I will be anxious to see how these characters are, in fact, portrayed.

What do you think? Will you go see Padmavati when it comes out?

Bollywood Movies About Women

When most people think of Bollywood films a particular image comes to mind and that image rarely features an empowered woman. While Bollywood certainly has a complicated relationship with complicated women, there are many women working in Hindi cinema who play three-dimensional roles, primarily by refusing to be two dimensional. What follows is a list of some of my favorites, in no particular order.


queen 2

On a list that is chock full of some of the best movies in Bollywood, this one might be number one. This is one of my favorite movies, period. I related so much to this character and the magic of her is that so many other women did too.

Kangana Ranaut plays Rani (Hindi for “queen”), a shy, well-mannered, and obedient girl who is jilted by her fiancee Vijay just as her wedding festivities begin. After wallowing for a few days, she decides to go on her “dream honeymoon” to Paris (her favorite city) and Amsterdam (his favorite city) alone. This is not a usual step for anyone in her family. She only speaks broken English and arrives in Paris wan and clearly frightened. She meets the gorgeous, liberated half-French, half-Indian Vijaylaxmi (goes by Vijay) who helps her appreciate the city and definitely puts her in siutations that she would not have got in otherwise. Then, though, it’s on to Amsterdam and Rani won’t have Vijay(laxmi) to guide her. There, she is truly on her own (except for the men that share her hostel). And there she really comes into her own. In India, she relied on her fiancee Vijay to feel brave. In Paris, she had Vijay(laxmi). But in Amsterdam it’s all Rani.

queen 3

One of my favorite details of this movie is that you can see her bridal mehendi fading from her hands throughout at the same time that you can see her face brightening and she becomes more lively and cheerful. Yet, she never ceases to be Rani. And that is the best part. This is not a story about a nerdy girl that the world turns into a glamazon, who suddenly becomes beautiful and daring because we collectively decide that she looks the part. This is a woman who the world would not allow to blossom, who found a way to do it anyway. You see the real Rani when she refuses to let her ex take her dream trip from her, but you really see her in the girl who had to leave the nest to find herself and appreciate home. And “Queen” does all of this so gracefully that it does not come across as cloyingly sweet or overdone.

Kangana plays the part so beautifully. She is herself a very outspoken woman so it’s fascinating to see her transform into the terrified Rani on the streets of Paris. You want to cry for her when the police ask to see her passport. But that’s how we are! A woman in a movie does not have to be fearless or flawless to be a heroine, she just needs to be herself and to appreciate that she is capable of accomplishing whatever she likes. Guys, this one is on Netflix and you would be crazy not to watch it.

Anaarkali of Aarah

anaarkali of aarah 2

A woman who sings ribald songs for a living is harassed in public by a state politician. The local police cover the incident up but Anaarkali (played by Swara Bhaskar) refuses to simply move on. She is threatened, loses her livelihood, and has to flee to Delhi. Even there she is found out. But at no point does she give up on being herself. At the center of this movie is a woman who sings dirty songs for a living. At the center there is also a question. Does this mean that people have rights to her body? Does questionable content mean that its performer has no personal autonomy? Anaarkali refuses at any point to lie and admit that she was wrong and allow herself to be owned and used. Although this movie deals with serious themes, its star is undeniably small-town glamorous and brings a lot of color the world she inhabits.

The Dirty Picture 

the dirty picture

It is easy for us to condemn the women behind the racy photos, but it is much harder to admit that we create them. Like Annarkali of Aarah, “The Dirty Picture” centers on a woman who dares to have a sexuality. Based loosely on the life of South Indian actress Silk Smitha, “The Dirty Picture” stars Vidya Balan as a girl who rockets to fame on the back of her willingness to display her sexuality in films. She is the most popular actress in the industry but also the most demonized. She calls this hypocrisy out blatantly while accepting an award for her movies. How is it that the same people who pay to see her movies and give her awards also refuse to socialize with her and shame her? As she points out, if she deserves shame, they are just as culpable. Vidya Balan plays her role very well. As Silk, she is a woman who feels most empowered when she dominates the screen. She is proud of her looks and her appeal. But the story around her suffers from some uneven tone. The 1970s setting comes across a bit cartoonish and the noughts style love song is as out of place as the couple in it. Finally, Vidya is almost the only woman in the whole movie, apart from a mother figure and the wife of Silk’s co-star. However, this could serve to reflect the isolation and entrapment that Silk felt in a male dominated industry.

More Bollywood movies about women you should check out.


Three women living in New Delhi take on rape culture in this pitch perfect courtroom drama.


A career-minded young woman has to take care of her ailing father. For once, a movie explores a familial relationship between a man and a woman.




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