Contemporary Hindi cinema is not the most hospitable place for women’s stories. Bollywood largely casts them as doting mothers or arm candy for buff heroes. Angry Indian Goddesses begins with an actress (Amrit Maghera) being told by a director to make sure her hips and butt are shaking while she’s struggling against her captors. She blows up at him, declares Bollywood to be fake, and storms off. So, the film explicitly positions itself as a realistic alternative to this brand of escapist cinema which sees women only as sex objects, and a society that mistreats them at every turn. The other opening vignettes show the other main characters lashing out at their oppressors as well.
Billed as India’s first all-out female buddy film, Angry Indian Goddesses concerns the relationship between a group of friends gathering at a bungalow in Goa in order to celebrate the wedding of Freida (Sarah-Jane Dias) to a mystery suitor. This allows for director Pan Nalin to let a host of personalities bounce off each other and let things flow from there. Indeed, it is a pleasure to see these talented actresses inhabit the screen together, free of the pressures of the roles they might have in a normal Bollywood production. It’s a shame that this is such a rare sight.
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One of the interesting things about actors who have worked for a long time (and have a recognizable on-screen persona) is that when they get older, they begin to interrogate those personae, and what they mean. Clint Eastwood has been doing this since the 70s. In Fan, the latest film by director Maneesh Sharma, the subject is Shah Rukh Khan, arguably the most famous Indian actor of the last 25 years.
Shah Rukh Khan is a great ham. He’s a shameless entertainer, doing anything to ensure that the films he’s in work. SRK is great because you can see the effort behind his work, the flop sweat. It’s been that way since the beginning. SRK began acting in films in the early 90s in a series of villainous roles (Baazigar, Aanjam) before becoming more of a romantic hero. His iconic role in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge paved the way for a new type of hero (and film) that directly addressed the Indian diaspora. The films in this period with SRK in the Swiss alps, his arms outstretched waiting for his love, often fell into cliched territory, but SRK always gave everything to the role. He’s branched out from these roles to become an action hero, a comedian, all while finding time to work with prestigious directors (Mani Ratnam, Kamal Hasaan). While the last few films have seen him make a few lazy choices (his work with Rohit Shetty is pretty uninspired), Fan acts as something of a rejuvenation for him. He hasn’t been this engaged in quite a while.
Fan stars Shah Rukh Khan in a dual role. He plays Aryan Khanna, the biggest Bollywood star in the world, as essentially himself. He also plays Gaurav Chandna, Aryan’s biggest fan, in a performance aided by visual effects that transforms him into a slightly askew version of his younger self. Gaurav moonlights as an Aryan impersonator, and it’s his dream to one day meet him. So, one day he sets out to the big city in order to accomplish this. Things get complicated from there.
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The opening stretch of Imtiaz Ali’s latest film, Tamasha, takes some of the biggest risks of any film I’ve seen all year. Opening with a metaphorical gambit that’s downright bizarre (Ranbir Kapoor as a tin man on a treadmill?!) that announces the film’s “all the world’s a stage” conceit, Tamasha then segues into an extended stay in Corsica where the film introduces its two main characters.
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