White Guy Watches Bollywood

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

Amitabh Bachchan

Telugu Movie Review: Kalki 2898 AD impresses visually, but struggles to develop storytelling momentum

Prabhas stars in "Kalki 2898 AD," here reviewed by White Guy Watches Bollywood.

Hollywood industry observers have widely noted the significant absence of a traditional sci-fi/fantasy spectacle to kick off this year’s strike-depleted summer movie season; Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes and Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga are the closest you’ll get, and a far cry from Marvel-style escapism. It seems only fitting that the increasingly competitive-minded Indian film industry would have an answer for this drought in Kalki 2898 AD. The film, one of the biggest in Tollywood history, is not only a lore-packed fantasy of epic proportions, but one on track to set numerous box office records both in India and abroad this coming weekend. Now, don’t expect non-Indian audiences in the West to flock to this in droves – its mythology is perhaps a bit too culturally-specific for real crossover potential – but the diaspora alone may propel Kalki 2898 AD into the Top 5 at this weekend’s North American box office.

The above may read like an excessive amount of money talk and industry analysis for a piece intending to be a movie review, but I think it’s important to establish upfront the kind of tentpole that Kalki 2898 AD is aspiring to be. During the first 45 minutes of the film especially, it’s very clear that writer/director Nag Ashwin is aiming for a Marvel-type universe, no matter how steeped in Indian texts like the Mahabharata the story is. The style and construction of the movie feel very Hollywood, which makes its commercial ambitions inextricable from its artistic aims. I will be curious if one of the main criticisms among Indian viewers is that it all feels a bit too Hollywood, even if they’re enthralled by the extreme lengths the film goes for fan service (including more star cameos in a single film than I’ve seen since the third Austin Powers). All of this is to say, the way Ashwin goes about world-building suggests he’d like the picture to be viewed on the same plane as any of the biggest international blockbusters out there.

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Hindi Movie Review: Ganapath is an epic sci-fi failure that defies human logic

Tiger Shroff stars in "Ganapath," here reviewed by White Guy Watches Bollywood.

In a year that has seen the use of A.I. in film productions – at least those in Hollywood – consistently remain a hot topic in industry trade publications and union strike negotiations, it comes as something of a shock that actual living humans were responsible for writing and assembling Ganapath, even if it was made half a world away. The film represents perhaps the most haphazard cobbling-together of every science-fiction movie cliché to ever exist that one could have possibly imagined. Dystopian setting? Check. Epic strife between rich and poor? Check. “Chosen one” protagonist who is initially oblivious to his prophesized role? Check. Antagonist who speaks through a creepy voice-box for no apparent reason? Check. I could go on, but you could probably come up with the list yourself without even having seen the movie.

Putting aside writer/director Vikas Bahl’s insatiable appetite to rehash the familiar – so shameless it really feels like something a computer spit out – the actual execution of the script is so inept, it verges on unbelievable. This includes CGI effects so rudimentary, it appears as though the filmmakers looked at the VFX vendors’ previz renderings and told them, “This looks good enough and we’re short on cash, so we’ll consider it final.” But terrible visual effects are hardly the movie’s worst offense; from cinematography to editing to sound design, the production seems to lack any sense of proper “film language.” Which is to say, Ganapath doesn’t even feel like a real movie so much as a lot of shots that happen to be strung together – and this isn’t a case of filmmakers intentionally breaking the rules, it’s just pure incompetence.

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