White Guy Watches Bollywood

A random white guy engages with contemporary Indian cinema... one movie at a time

Month: August 2023

Tamil Movie Review: Jailer succeeds on star power, despite underwhelming twists

White Guy Watches Bollywood reviews the new Tamil movie "Jailer," starring Rajinikanth and Vinayakan. Written and directed by Nelson.

Before Jailer, I had never seen a single movie starring Rajinikanth before, but one need not have even heard of any of the Tamil movie industry legend’s 150+ previous credits to know that he is a superstar. The film makes it aggressively clear just what a force this man is, nearing self-parody in the sheer number of slow-motion shots it features of the hero arriving in each scene. It also seeks to afford his thick-rimmed glasses the same iconic motif status as Indiana Jones’ bullwhip or Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum; apparently, Rajinikanth only needs corrective lenses to be able to kick ass. Through such explicit stylistic pronouncements, it feels like writer/director Nelson is introducing Rajinikanth to the entire world at the ripe age of 72, with Kollywood films like Jailer receiving broader distribution than ever before, just as much as he is engaging in fan service for the actor’s loyal following. In other words, he’s welcomely catching the rest of us up.

With an even slightly lesser star, this strategy easily could have backfired, coming across as cheesy and over-the-top. But much like Liam Neeson in the first Taken and Keanu Reeves in John Wick, Rajinikanth has the sheer level of magnetism required to sell the filmmaker’s balls-to-the-walls vision with a surprising level of internal credibility. We don’t bat an eyelash as this 72-year-old takes down hordes of men half his age – somehow, it feels positively logical. And what a sight it is to watch him do it; in much the same way that Top Gun Maverick did in the U.S. last year, Jailer reminds audiences what a true movie star looks like. Even as the film’s plot descends into complete nonsense – and boy does it ever – you’re completely transfixed by Rajinikanth as Muthuvel Pandian, the police pensioner who comes out of retirement to avenge his dead son.

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Hindi Movie Review: Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani soars on infectious characters, sputters on sloppy politics

Alia Bhatt and Ranveer Singh star in Karan Johar's "Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani."

There is such an intoxicating energy to the first half – and especially the first third – of Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani (in English, “Rocky and Rani’s Love Story”) that it’s damn near impossible to resist in the early going. Telling an age-old story of opposites attracting with goofy aplomb, this latest directorial effort from megaproducer Karan Johar feels like a Bollywood-infused throwback to the golden era of early-2000s Hollywood rom-coms. With a seemingly effortless, high-energy style and two irresistibly charismatic lead performances by Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt, the film flies by until the intermission point.

Only at the movies are we willing to suspend disbelief to the extent that we buy into a romance between characters as seemingly mismatched as Singh’s Rocky and Bhatt’s Rani, but there’s something distinctly pleasurable about believing that such a pairing could actually happen. Or really, that these leads – so endearing but also so fabricated – could exist in the natural world. We meet the two characters in introductions so cheesy-delicious, they could sell them at Little Caesars. Rocky, an intellectually vacant but well-meaning Punjabi heir to a packaged laddoo fortune, romps around a club with a shirt that seemingly won’t button, while women of all ages drool at his feet. Rani, a bohemian-raised Bengali television journalist, takes down a chauvinist politician in an on-air interview that would have never been consented to in reality.

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White Guy Watches Bollywood: An Introduction

White Guy Watches Bollywood: Seeing "Pathaan" at the Cinemark 18 at Howard Hughes Promenade in Los Angeles
White Guy Watches Bollywood: Seeing “Pathaan” at the Cinemark 18 at Howard Hughes Promenade in Los Angeles.

By nearly anyone’s definition, I’m a highly avid moviegoer. I see around 150-200 movies in theaters over the course of an average year; occasionally, I make it north of 250. This pales in comparison to my totals during college and graduate school, but my 34-year-old body can’t handle more than three theatrical viewings in a row, which used to be somewhat commonplace for me on the weekends. I subscribe to AMC A-List, Regal Unlimited, and MoviePass, because my moviegoing can’t be contained to just one chain or another. I see movies of all budget levels, genres, and languages. But even I have a big, notable blind spot at the multiplex, shared by many other frequent moviegoers: Indian cinema.

Two events last year really convinced me that I needed to be paying a lot more attention to all of the Indian films being released theatrically in the U.S. (and across other formats, but theaters are a good, reasonably contained starting point).

The first event was the smashing success of S.S. Rajamouli’s RRR among American cinephiles. Here was a Tollywood movie that made countless year-end Top 10 lists among critics and fanatical moviegoers alike (mine included), thanks in no small part to the enterprising support of Dylan Marchetti and Variance Films. And yet, a little more than a year after its initial release, RRR already seems like more of a one-off phenomenon than an attention-generator for future Indian cinema among American audiences. Surely, there must be more for us to savor.

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