Monday, September 01, 2014

Raja Natwarlal

If you asked me what the biggest eventual side effect of having MoviePass would be when I first signed up, "seeing a couple Bollywood movies a month" probably would not have been on my top ten list. I don't think Fenway was even getting them occasionally then, though, and they were tough to find on Fresh Pond's schedule under previous ownership. Still, as much as I try to see all kinds of movies, I never saw this becoming a habit.

Of course, not only going when it's something that would be more in my wheelhouse - sci-fi/superhero/martial arts type things - means I'm seeing a few more conventional (by masala standards) movies. This one, for example, has a lot of The Sting in its DNA, and although it's not as though The Sting is unique, this version doesn't seem to have the Indian equivalent of Robert Redford and Paul Newman in the starring roles or George Roy Hill's precise execution. It's a reminder that quite often, the thing you think is cooler than the standard Hollywood that you're used to - whether it be Bollywood, independent film, foreign film, etc. - is often the result of how you (or the folks curating/booking such things) select what you see.

Raja Natwarlal

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 31 August 2014 in Regal Fenway #6 (first-run, DCP)

If you're inclined to see Indian movies as "a Bollywood take on X", then Raja Natwarlal is starting in a pretty good place, because "a Bollywood take on The Sting" sounds like a lot of fun. Of course, The Sting doesn't exactly have a monopoly on this basic storyline, and this is still a serviceable enough take.

Raja (Emraan Hashmi) and Raghav (Deepak Tijori) are small time con artists, though Raghav is a family man and fairly responsible with the money he "earns". Raja, though, runs through it quickly at the dance hall where his girlfriend Zia (Humaima Malik) performs, and that's why when he hears about a big score, he convinces Raghav to join him. It turns out that you don't steal that kind of money from just anyone, and when Raghav is killed, Raja flees Mumbai to seek out "Victor Singh Khan" (Paresh Rawal) - real name Yogi - in Dharamshala to help him plan a con that will get him revenge on the man responsible: Varda Yadav (Kay Kay Menon), a cricket-obsessed expatriate in South Africa who built his fortune on swindling the poor.

Con-game movies are tricky beasts - they require heroes who are diabolically clever liars but not, from a certain point of view, bad people, and villains monstrous enough that the audience wants to see them get taken for a ride, but not so capable that they can't be conned (although not so blind that it's hard to see why they deserve to be targets). And, of course, it's traditional to try and con the audience as well, so anybody watching these movies now pays close attention to just what is not being show, and for whom the characters might be putting on a show. Raja Natwarlal does all right by this; when the inevitable flashbacks-with-blanks-filled-in happen at the end, it seems fairly reasonable and fairly satisfying, story-wise.

Full review at EFC

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