Anupama Chopra is a film critic, television anchor and book author. She has been writing about Bollywood since 1993. Her work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Hindustan Times, The Los Angeles Times and Vogue (India). Here you can find all of her reviews for Hollywood and Bollywood movies.
Kalank is a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film, not directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Abhishek creates an operatic fantasy filled with staggering sets, swirling fabric and heartache. Let me warn you - this film is not for everyone.
One of the many movies that release this Friday is 'Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai?' inspired by Saeed Mirza’s 1980 film 'Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai'. This film has been written and directed by Soumitra Ranade, and features Manav Kaul, Nandita Das and Saurabh Shukla.
RAW stands for Romeo Akbar Walter – three names of the same man, played by John Abraham. John’s most successful films put to good use his overpowering physicality – shoulders that stretch for miles and biceps that seem to burst out of sleeves. The opening sequence landed a solid punch and my hopes were raised. This material had the potential to be a suspenseful espionage drama.
Hair might mostly be made up of dead cells but it is such an essential part of our vanity that this is a horror we can’t imagine. Which is why hair loss is a multi-billion dollar industry around the globe. And why the story of Enakshi, a young bald girl in Siliguri, instantly grabs you.
Junglee is an eco-message film that begins with the famous quote by Thomas Schmidt – No one in the world needs an elephant tusk but an elephant. The intentions and sentiments are admirable.
The narrative is mostly designed to serve Vidyut. The actor has an impressive physique and Chuck creates ample scenes to showcase it. Undoubtedly, Vidyut carries off the action sequences, which he also helped create, with conviction.
Kesari is a story so astounding that if it wasn’t true, you would never believe it. In September 1897, 21 soldiers of the 36th Sikh regiment of the British army fought valiantly against more than 10,000 Afghans. Using single-loading rifles, they kept the enemy at bay for hours ensuring that they didn’t succeed in their plan to take over two key British forts in the North West Frontier Province. The Battle of Saragarhi is known as one of the greatest last stands in military history.
Kesari’s main mission is to valorize the Sikh regiment. Right at the start, it is established that their leader Havildar Ishar Singh is a man of integrity and limitless courage. He isn’t afraid to risk his life to do the right thing.
Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota is a fanboy’s ode to the movies. Writer and director Vasan Bala goes back to his childhood and summons up the films he grew up loving - from Hong Kong martial arts movies to Manmohan Desai. And from this colourful, delightfully nutty source material, Vasan conjures up an action-comedy, which looks and feels like a comic book, about an unlikely superhero.
Vasan’s rich imagination gives us a roster of memorably kooky characters. Mard ko Dard Nahin Hota is self-aware.
Photograph is a meditative movie on a relationship that I hesitate to call love. It took me back to Gulzar Saab’s beautiful lyrics in a song in the 1970 film Khamoshi. To savor the gossamer emotions of Photograph, you first have to buy into the scenario that a girl like Miloni would agree to participate in Rafi’s charade. It is hard to believe but if you can suspend disbelief, you will be rewarded.
Photograph is Ritesh’s second film set in Mumbai and once again, the director captures the grimy beauty of the city.
Captain Marvel is the 21st film in the Marvel universe but it’s the first female-led film in the MCU. Her alter ego, Carol Danvers, first appeared in 1968 and was a regular supporting character in the Captain Marvel series alongside a character named Mar-Vell. Carol further came into her own in 2012 when she evolved from Ms. Marvel to Captain Marvel.
Badla is an official adaptation of the 2016 Spanish movie 'The Invisible Guest'. The good thing is that director Sujoy Ghosh, who also adapted the screenplay, wastes no time in getting started. We are immediately thrust into the cat-and-mouse-game with the murder-accused Naina meeting her potential lawyer, Badal Gupta. He obviously wants nothing but the truth but Naina is an unreliable narrator.
What keeps Badla going are the many turns of the screw. Nothing is what it seems. And the battle of truth between lawyer and client keeps you gripped.
Sonchiriya begins with the sound of flies buzzing and then we get a close-up of the carcass they are hovering on. The close-up holds for much too long, but from the first frame, director Abhishek Chaubey establishes two things – that we are in a lawless land and that he isn’t interested in making the ride comfortable for us.
Luka Chuppi is a tiresome tale of a couple from Mathura, Guddu and Rashmi, who decide to experiment with a live-in relationship. They do this by pretending to be married. And all that can go wrong does.
Gully Boy is loosely based on the lives of real life rappers Naezy and DIVINE, who rose from slums to stardom. Hip hop, modern day protest music, which came out of the streets of New York, has inspired a flourishing music scene in Mumbai. But the beauty of Gully Boy is that even if you are entirely unfamiliar with this world, like I was, the film will still stir your soul.
The Wife has been adapted by Swedish director Björn Runge from Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 novel. The plot itself is a tad contrived and not always convincing but the performances power the film, giving it an emotional grip that doesn’t let up. Joan, played masterfully by Glenn Close, resembles a calm sea that has tectonic plates shifting and a tsunami brewing beneath the surface.
Mary Queen of Scots is a sumptuous tale of two cousins. Both are queens – one of England and one of Scotland. Elizabeth and Mary are kindred spirits but their relationship is strained by the power struggle between their two countries, between their two religions – Catholic and Protestant, and between the various ambassadors, emissaries and noblemen who flit in between their worlds.
How do you convert myth into movie? Manikarnika or the Rani of Jhansi is the stuff of legend. The warrior queen led an army against the British Empire. In 1858, she died on the battlefield at the age of 29. The first requirement to translate this to screen is to get an actor who can convince us of this incredible courage. And on that count, Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi gets it absolutely right – Kangana Ranaut is on fire as the iconic Rani Lakshmibai. Her spine is erect, her eyes are unblinking and she seems propelled by some other-worldly power. She’s riding horses, wielding swords, leaping on elephants and making it all look plausible. When she looks into camera and insists on dying for the country, you want to follow her into battle.
Why Cheat India, the makers tell us, is a hybrid of fact and fiction. This blend – maybe we should call it faction – seems to have become Bollywood’s favourite genre. Think of Uri, Padman, Sanju, Raazi, Raid and so many others. These films want both – the authenticity and heft of fact with the dramatic possibilities of fiction. It’s tough to do and many directors topple. In Why Cheat India, Soumik Sen manages to stay standing for some time. Subtlety is not his strength but in his own, heavy-handed way, Soumik creates a reasonably engaging first hour. Ultimately however, he can’t resist the lure of full-blown, blaring background music, suspense via split screens and giving his star Emraan Hashmi a speech from the pulpit about how the system forces him to be corrupt.
The Accidental Prime Minister is propaganda. Strategically, it’s a smart move. In election year, the film takes us into the corridors of power and doesn’t shy away from taking names.
The Accidental Prime Minister, based on Baru’s book The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making And Unmaking of Manmohan Singh, gives us Baru’s version of events. He’s not a politician but he’s a Congress insider so the unmasking comes from within the party.
Uri: The Surgical Strike is an unabashed love letter to the Indian army. If you want nuance or insight into the hearts and minds of brave men and women who willingly put themselves in the line of fire, you won’t find it here. Writer-director Aditya Dhar positions soldiers as superheroes who might grieve but they never doubt or question their place in an increasingly complicated and polarized world.
Mary Poppins Returns doesn’t quite achieve lift-off. The sequel, which comes 54 years after the original film, is set in 1930s London. The backdrop is the Great Depression but here it is labeled the Great Slump – maybe the word depression is too depressing for Disney.
It’s 25 years after the events of the original so the Banks children, Michael and Jane, who were the focus of the first film, have grown up.
The truth is that I’m still trying to understand Zero. The story begins in Meerut and somehow moves to Mars. It’s so bizarre and implausible and incoherent that I kept wondering if pages in the script went missing or too many scenes were slashed or if I’m just missing the point.
Zero strains for sweep and scale. The visual language suggests a glamorous fairy tale. The VFX is convincing and I loved the Ajay-Atul ballad Mere Naam Tu. But the rest of this film left me stumped and eventually, sad.
Kedarnath is a film about the power of faith – faith in God, in love, in the goodness of human beings. The lead characters demanded commitment – physical and emotional – and both actors step up to the plate.
Their romance reminded me of all those films in which rich girls fall hard for boys who are beneath their status. It’s old school and so is this film, which eventually becomes a hurdle. Kedarnath feels like it belongs to an earlier decade.
Creed II also firmly establishes Michael B. Jordan as a major movie star. He combines charisma with formidable acting chops. His body resembles granite but the narrative is about Adonis’ vulnerabilities and when Jordan cries, you feel his pain.
Of course, Creed II is familiar ground. But it honours the genre and still has enough vitality to make us feel the thrill again.
Yamla Pagla Deewana Phir Se, the third film in the franchise, is an ode to Ayurveda. Yes, you heard that right. Sunny Deol plays vaid Puran Singh who can cure any ailment with an ancient herbal concoction called the 'Vajra Kavach'. Among the three of them, the Deols have over 100 years of making movies. I think it's time to reinvent.
A girl in a village with a guitar – that one image captures the spirit and originality of this charming and audacious Assamese film. Village Rockstars has been directed, produced, written, shot and edited by Rima Das. The film went on to do a stellar run at international film festivals including Toronto and Mumbai. It is India’s official entry to the Oscars. I’m telling you this because the film’s journey is one of those impossible showbiz fairy tales. And this unlikely success comes from Rima’s ability to tell a moving story with clarity and precision.
Tumbbad is a mysterious and magical movie. The story spans generations and decades - we begin in 1918 and end a little after Independence. The overarching theme is greed but we also witness corruption and betrayal, decadence and death. And what is it? There is horror and fantasy. But the film also works as a grim morality tale. You know how marketing folks entice you with the promise – you’ve never seen anything like this before. Well, you’ve truly never seen anything like this before – at least in Hindi cinema.
Sui Dhaaga: Made In India is earnest, simplistic and not entirely convincing. Writer and director Sharat Katariya immerses us into a beautifully detailed world with flesh and blood characters but halfway through, he goes into Bollywood fairy tale mode. Some scenes made me teary and others made me tear my hair out in frustration.
Stree is a Trojan horse. Director Amar Kaushik and writers Krishna D.K. and Raj Nidimoru create a horror-comedy, which turns out to be subversive commentary on the position and treatment of women in India. It’s clever and very funny. With laughs and scares, Stree delivers an important message.
Through the film, John Abraham inflicts various types of punishment on corrupt cops. His biceps do the emoting for him. His towering physicality is impressively showcased – there are even close-ups of his bulging muscles as he metes out justice. Which might be why Manoj decides to act for both of them – he grimaces and glowers and works hard to make this ludicrous material convincing. It’s impossible. Satyameva Jayate is the sort of film that bludgeons you and leaves you drained and entirely cheerless.
Pataakha is based on a short story called Do Behnein by Charan Singh Pathik. Vishal, aided well by his actors and crew, creates a colorful, textured world. Sanya Malhotra and Radhika Madan, who makes her film debut, work ferociously hard to become Badki and Chhutki. Both are fine actors who nail the difficult dialect but this is also a physically demanding role – the sisters are constantly punching each other, rolling in mud or screaming. With blackened teeth and strong body language, they become the characters.
For more than two decades, J. P. Dutta has served as Hindi cinema’s lone poet of war. He finds a profound passion and pride in stories of men in combat. In Dutta’s worldview, the battleground is where real heroes are forged. It is the ultimate showcase for pride, patriotism and an overarching masculinity. With Paltan, Dutta completes his war trilogy, which started with Border in 1997 and was followed by the interminable LOC Kargil in 2003. Paltan is leaden and one-dimensional. Incidentally, the word Paltan is repeated dozens of times, just in case you forget which movie you are watching.
Love, it is often said, is a many splendored thing. In Manmarziyaan, director Anurag Kashyap and writer and creative producer Kanika Dhillon offer us a deep-dive into this splendor. For years, I’ve exited Anurag’s films raging with frustration and wondering why he inevitably becomes indulgent. Manmarizyaan is no different. He’s so damn talented but he doesn’t know when to stop.
Loveyatri is a 1990s film being released in 2018. Twenty years ago, Hindi cinema specialized in NRIs, Hindu festivals, Indian values, large families and strict fathers who would invariably let go of their daughter’s hand and say, "Ja beta, jee le apni zindagi." Loveyatri is all about Aayush. He gets the traditional Bollywood hero entry. And debutant director Abhiraj Minawala ensures that Aayush gets to do it all – dance, romance, shed a tear, face-off with the father and of course drop the shirt, so we can all appreciate his gym-toned body.
Imprisonment is a recurring motif in Love Sonia – a film about sex trafficking. Women live and work in cage-like rooms. Films like this are a tightrope act. The material is inherently ugly. And the narrative needs to convey the horror and tragedy without making the viewer turn away. Thankfully Tabrez conceals as much has he reveals. He has spent more than a decade nurturing the project and working with NGOs. Which gives Love Sonia an authenticity – the brothel is a labyrinth of corridors, rooms and narrow spaces covered by saris where sex is traded.
Pihu is Trapped meets Home Alone without the anguish or the humour. A toddler, Pihu, wakes up next to her inert mother. Her father is not at home. Pihu shoves and calls and cries but her mom won’t open her eyes. It is now up to the two-year-old to survive the horrors of a modern high-rise apartment.
Green Book is inspired by a true story. The title refers to a travel book for African-Americans – it advised them on places where they could stay and eat in the Southern States. The Green Book is an awful artefact of a not-so-distant past but the film barely touches upon it. The film plays like a feel-good, lightweight treatise on racism and healing, which also makes it a crowd-pleaser.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a frantic movie – visually and narratively. So much happens to so many characters and the film is stuffed with so many marvels that by the end, I was both confused and exhausted. But I will admit that the sight of Hogwarts made me jump with delight. I love the Harry Potter universe and I wish I could recommend this film with greater enthusiasm. It’s competent but not enchanting enough.
The film, adapted from Garrard Conley’s memoir, is both efficient and effective. What I liked best about Boy Erased is that the film is driven by empathy. There are no outsized villains here – even Victor Sykes, played nicely by Edgerton himself, the bulldozer who runs the therapy program, has texture.
At one point in Bhaiaji Superhit, we arrive at a flashback in which Sunny Deol, as the uneducated Banaras don named Bhaiaji is serenading his wife, Sapna played by Preity Zinta, by reciting Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. He’s wearing a shiny, black velvet coat and stumbling over the English. It was at this precise moment that I started to feel more pain for Sunny than I was feeling for myself. Of course Bhaiaji Superhit isn’t his tragedy alone though he does do the heavy-lifting. Preity returns as leading lady after five years. As Sapna, she gets to speak mangled English and have temper tantrums each time she sees her husband talking to a woman. Ameesha plays a Bollywood diva who gets Bhaiaji into trouble.
A Star is Born is a thing of beauty. It’s gorgeously romantic but also authentic and emotionally searing. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are both brilliant and heartbreaking. The film is of course a love story but it’s also a portrait of creativity and commerce and the difficulty of protecting the former from the latter. Through the film, Cooper’s character Jackson Maine talks about the importance of having something to say. But how do you get the world to listen without selling your soul and becoming a cog in the star-making machinery?
Eela, as the title tells us, is a nightmarish helicopter parent. She hovers over every aspect of her son’s life. Just like in the Melissa McCarthy film Life of the Party, Eela ends up going to college with her child. Which of course pushes her suffocating ways to the next level. The film is based on the Gujarati play Beta Kaagdo by Anand Gandhi who has co-written the screenplay with Mitesh Shah. The writers and director Pradeep Sarkar want to create a portrait of a middle-aged, middle-class woman who must rediscover herself and find a life outside of her son.
Gold is a fictional account of a real incident. I’m not sure how many people are aware of this victory so applause to Reema for bringing it to light. The film is handsomely produced. The period details are in place and despite some dull stretches, the narrative has hold. In the second half though, the wobbling becomes more precarious. The tonality alternates between dramatic and comic.
Gali Guleiyan is a film about a maze - both mental and physical. Khuddoos lives in one of the narrow lanes in old Delhi. It’s a vast and bewildering network of homes scrunched up against each other. A lesser actor would have asked more blatantly for our sympathy or given us some comfort to clutch on to. But Manoj Bajpayee understands that Khuddoos is broken irreparably. His mind is a fog of memories and punishments.
Sriram Raghavan is Hindi cinema’s thriller master. His films are filled with dark and dirty people – criminals and gamblers, murderers and conmen. His films are also filled with references to older Hindi films. But in Andhadhun, Sriram takes the homage further. Anil Dhawan, star of 70s pulp classics like Chetna and Darwaza, plays a version of himself – a yesteryear star who spends too much time revisiting his past glory.