Aurangzeb should not work. The premise is silly: a long-lost twin impersonates his brother to take down their father’s criminal empire. Yet writer-director Atul Sabharwal executes his vision with such sincerity that the movie succeeds. I unapologetically love this action soap opera.
Sabharwal worked in television before this, his feature film debut, and it shows. There are so many twists and turns in the plot that it feels like a full season of a TV series condensed into one 140-minute movie. Aurangzeb: The Series would fit right in alongside The Vampire Diaries on The CW.
Arya (Pritviraj Sukumaran) — the film’s narrator — has a troubled relationship with his father, a disgraced police officer played by Anupam Kher in a moving cameo. Because of his father’s emotional distance, Arya was primarily raised by his uncle, Ravi (Rishi Kapoor), a crooked cop.
On his deathbed, Arya’s father confesses that he has a secret wife and son that Arya is now obligated to take care of. Arya resentfully breaks the news to the woman, Veera (Tanvi Azmi), only to realize that her son looks exactly like the son of the criminal mastermind, Yashwardhan (Jackie Shroff).
Uncle Ravi realizes that Veera and her son, Vishal (Arjun Kapoor), are Yashwardhan’s wife and son, presumed dead for the last 25 years after a “botched” police shootout that cost Arya’s father his job. In order to clear his father’s name, Arya and Ravi conspire to kidnap Yashwardhan’s son Ajay (also played by Arjun Kapoor) so that Vishal can impersonate his identical twin brother while acting as a police informant. Ravi explains that Vishal must act like Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor who gained his throne by defeating the brothers ahead of him in the line of succession.
The soapiness of the story is enhanced by an amazing soundtrack. Heartrending musical themes accompany Veera’s confessions to her sons. Bombastic rock blares when Ajay (or Vishal) strides into a room, ready to bust some heads. Thankfully, the soundtrack album includes several of the great instrumental songs by Amartya Rahut and Vipin Mishra.
As with any good soap opera, the film is really about family conflicts: brothers turned against one another, children resentful of their parents’ favoritism, and parents who feel they can’t express their feelings to their hot-headed sons. Arya hates Vishal because of the love his own father showed the gangster’s son. Vishal hates his mother for robbing him of a relationship with his biological father. Ajay hates everybody.
As in his debut, Ishaqzaade, Arjun Kapoor plays a scumbag, and he’s great at it. Ajay is loathsome almost beyond the point of sympathy, yet the hurt behind his lashing out is always obvious. Vishal undergoes some real character growth as he, too, as his timidity gives way to aggression.
Pritviraj puts Arya in a similarly precarious position to Ajay’s. One of Arya’s early scenes has him belittling his dying father, so it’s hard to love him. However, it does give him room to grow when he’s forced to choose between his father’s “family first” approach to morality or his uncle’s belief in success at any cost.
Rishi Kapoor is compelling as the head of a family of corrupt cops. Ravi’s son, Dev (Sikander Kher), is involved in the family business, too, and gets to do some sleazy stuff.
Jackie Shroff plays the most sympathetic of the movie’s flawed father figures. Yashwardhan is old enough that he’s not the fearsome thug he once was, making it hard for Vishal to reconcile the man before him with the villainous image he was sold.
The movie isn’t all emotional turmoil. There are plenty of cool fight scenes to keep things entertaining, and it’s impressive how well they integrate with the melodrama. This kind of action-soap opera can’t succeed if it’s done halfway, and Sabharwal goes all out. Aurangzeb is exciting, touching, and totally engrossing.
The crime thriller Aurangzeb — the latest offering from Yash Raj Films — opens in Chicago area theaters on May 17, 2013.
Aurangzeb opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 20 min.
The zombie comedy Go Goa Gone — which earned $170,044 in its first weekend in U.S. theaters — carries over for a second week at all of the above theaters. Having earned $338,433 in the U.S. so far, Shootout at Wadala gets a third weekend at the South Barrington 30.
Friday also marks the release of The Reluctant Fundamentalist in India. I recommend it.
Kai Po Che! is now available on Netflix streaming. With the recent addition of ABCD to the catalog, two of my three favorite Bollywood films of 2013 are currently available on the service. If they add Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, I’ll be all set.
Timing is everything in horror movies. Getting it right keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. Get it wrong, and the audience feels like they’re ticking boxes on a horror cliché checklist. The zombie flick Go Goa Gone gets its timing all wrong.
The premise is actually good. Dumped by his girlfriend, dope-smoking loser Luv (Vir Das) wants to forget about his romantic troubles. His horny roommate, Hardik (Kunal Khemu), sees this as a perfect excuse for a weekend of partying. They tag along with their straight-laced pal, Bunny (Anand Tiwari), on a business trip to the beach paradise Goa. The guys find themselves in trouble when a new party drug turns a bunch of ravers into the living dead.
Instead of getting right to the action, there’s a bunch of needless setup scenes. Hardik gets in trouble with his boss. Luv tosses out all his booze and drugs in order to impress his girlfriend, only to have her ditch him when he proposes to her. This is all stuff that could’ve happened offscreen beforehand, and the guys could cover it while they sit on the couch getting high. We don’t need to see it.
It takes about twenty minutes for the guys to get to Goa, and another twenty minutes for the zombies to show up. In a movie with a runtime of 110 minutes, that’s way too long.
Go Goa Gone has a lot in common with Delhi Belly (which also starred Das), another raunchy comedy made for an adult audience. Unfortunately, directors Raj & D.K. missed one of the crucial elements that made Delhi Belly so effective: no intermission.
With a runtime of only 90 minutes and no intermission, Delhi Belly maintains a cracking pace. It’s efficient, with no wasted scenes and no extraneous dialog. Go Goa Gone‘s additional twenty minutes of time to kill and the need for a break at a sensible point in the middle makes it bloated and slow by comparison.
This is most noticeable in the dialog, which is very funny at times — but which, like the undead, goes on longer than it should. For example, when Luv realizes that he and Hardik are being pursued by a bunch of flesh-eating zombies, he asks, “We only have ghosts and spirits in India. Where’d they come from?” “Globalization,” answers Hardik.
Rather than ending on that clever line, the scene continues on with further speculation as to the origin of the zombies. Watching the film, I kept thinking about the Seinfeld episode where George realizes that he’s dragging out his jokes too long and resolves to “end on a high note.” (A clip from the episode is embedded below.) Raj & D.K. don’t know when to end a funny scene, and the jokes get lost.
Even the scenes with the zombies feel boring. The creatures most often appear in large, slow-moving hordes, which the main characters easily outrun. Characters open doors with impunity, since there never seems to be a zombie hiding behind them. I usually hate jump scares, but even I was disappointed by the film’s lack of them.
The only advantage to the big groups of zombies is that it allows the Russian mobster Boris (Saif Ali Khan) to use them for target practice. Khan’s dyed-blond hair and exaggerated Russian accent are funny, but not for long. The fact that he’s always there to save the guys takes the agency away from our heroes.
Das and Khemu have a great rapport and do their best to carry the film. Tiwari’s character seems shoehorned in to make self-aware jokes about being the friend who always gets killed first in horror films. Pooja Gupta fits in better as Luv’s new love interest, Luna. Her presence sparks some amusing conflict between Luv and Hardik, as they compete over her in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.
There’s a lot of funny stuff in Go Goa Gone, but this kind of movie doesn’t work in the traditional Indian tale-of-two-halves format. The intermission break is the biggest thing keeping horror from becoming a popular genre in Bollywood. Without quick-hitting jokes and surprising scares at the right intervals, this kind of horror-comedy just doesn’t work.
Bollywood’s first zombie comedy hits Chicago area theaters on May 10, 2013. Go Goa Gone stars a blond Saif Ali Khan.
Go Goa Gone opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 51 min.
Also starting on Friday, Bollywood fans can watch the legendary Amitabh Bachchan in his first Hollywood role as Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby.
The gangster thriller Shootout at Wadala carries over for a second week at all of the above theaters.
Other Indian movies playing in the area this weekend include Greeku Veerudu (Telugu) at the Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge and the Golf Glen 5, which is will also carry Sound Thoma (Malayalam).
Two men reminisce about the circumstances that led them to abandon their idealistic principles for a more practical, cynical approach to morality. One man is a gangster, the other the police officer who has mortally wounded the former. Such is the opening of Shootout at Wadala, a thrilling action film that raises moral questions with no easy answers.
The film is based the real-life extrajudicial killing of mobster Manya Surve in 1982. It was the first officially documented “encounter killing” by the Mumbai police, setting the stage for decades of unofficially sanctioned police murders of known gangsters. As at-odds as the practice is with the rule of law, the film makes the case that both the police and Surve felt that circumstances left them with no good choices.
As Manya (John Abraham) slowly bleeds to death in the back of a police van, he tells Officer Baaghran (Anil Kapoor) how his promising college career gave way to a life of crime. In 1970, Manya was unfairly jailed for life as an accessory to a murder committed by his step-brother. Manya quickly learns that an ability to instill fear is his best defense in jail.
Eight years later, Manya and his crony, Munir (Tusshar Kapoor), escape prison. Rather than settling for being underlings in someone else’s gang, they recruit members and form their own.
The action periodically returns to the present day so that Baaghran can recall events from his own perspective. Just before Manya’s prison break, Mumbai was run by a ruthless gang of murderers and rapists lead by a man named Mastan. The police watch in frustration as the gang members they arrest bribe their way back onto the streets.
An enterprising newspaperman suggests that the police employ sibling thugs the Haskar brothers — Zubair (Manoj Bajpai) and Dilawar (Sonu Sood) — to clean up Mastan’s gang. It puts the police in the uncomfortable position of choosing which underground syndicate will control the city. When Manya’s gang runs afoul of the Haskar brothers, leading to even more violence, Officer Baaghran and the rest of the police force decide to deal with the problem without waiting for the judicial system’s approval.
Writer-director Sanjay Gupta makes the case that, regardless of the morality of their decisions, both Manya and Baaghran felt forced into their choices by a broken system. The cops are outgunned by the criminals and have no support from judges or politicians. As a result, the public doesn’t trust the police to keep them safe. Locking up innocent bystanders and low-level crooks like Manya and his step-brother temporarily soothes the cops’ sense of futility, even if it creates bigger problems later.
Even while acknowledging the moral conundrum, Gupta manages to make his movie very cool. The background score is atmospheric, and everyone looks awesome in their early-’80s get-ups, especially Bajpai and Sood (as seen on the poster above). Mustaches and aviator sunglasses abound.
Manya’s plotline also includes a complicated love story. His college sweetheart, Vidya (Kangna Ranaut), encourages Manya to rescue his step-brother, who then stabs his attacker while Manya restrains him, to Manya’s shock and horror. Manya resents Vidya’s role in his imprisonment and her seeking his permission to move on with her life; she blames him for robbing them of their future together. When they reunite after Manya’s escape, both the love and resentment remain. Abraham and Ranaut portray this tension expertly.
After an information-packed first hour, the film starts to drag. A couple of song montages are clumped together in the middle of the film, and there are three ridiculous item numbers. (Sunny Leone’s abundant cleavage in the song “Laila” will prompt easily scandalized audience members to run screaming from the theater.)
There’s also a funny training montage early in the film. In an effort to disguise Abraham’s Hulk-ish physique, Manya’s college student avatar is forced to don absurdly oversized shirts. In prison, Manya enlists a mentor to transform him into a fighting machine in the span of a month. Cue the training montage in which Manya is suddenly transformed into a Mr. Universe competitor!
A couple of silly problems aside, Shootout at Wadala distills a complicated true story into a stylish and entertaining action flick that also engages the brain.
Three Bollywood movies make their Netflix streaming debuts today. One of the true must-see Hindi films — Lagaan — is one of them. Not only was Lagaan an Oscar nominee in 2002, but it’s a great cricket tutorial for those of us who didn’t grow up with the game.
For the latest news on what’s new at Netflix, check out Instant Watcher.