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‘Simran’ film review: A tribute to Kangana Ranaut’s awesomeness (and little else)

Kangana Ranaut plays Praful Patel, who becomes a bank robber to pay off gambling debts, in Hansal Mehta’s underwhelming movie.

In a revealing sequence from Hansal Mehta’s new movie, Praful (Kangana Ranaut), after a successful night at baccarat in Las Vegas, raises a toast to herself, fully convinced of her brilliance.

Mehta’s Simran is brimming with tributes to its female lead, giving her scene after scene to prove her comic timing (not always spot on), her ability to evoke pathos (not always convincing) and her skill at switching registers in a matter of seconds (not always successful). Despite the presence of other actors, the 125-minute movie is a one-hander, with Ranaut present in nearly every frame from start to finish. Some parts of Simran play out like improvisational scenes from an acting workshop in which Ranaut is trying out various emotions to see which one fits.

The film is named after the nom de guerre Praful adopts as she begins to rob banks to pay off debts incurred from gambling. The bubbly goes flat very fast for Simran, as does the movie for Mehta and Ranaut.

The actor has also played a controversial behind-the-scenes role in the shaping of the movie. She has been given credit for the additional dialogue and story, leaving the original writer Apurva Asrani fuming. It’s hard to tell which bits were from the original and which were a result of Ranaut’s intervention, as a result of which Simran careens between an American indie-style portrait of a middle-class woman’s descent into crime and a screwball comedy involving a bank robber who has one of the most unusual stick-up routines in recent memory: a piece of paper in which a bomb threat has been written with lipstick.

Simran (2017).

Praful is loosely based on the “Bombshell Bandit”, the title given to Sandeep Kaur, who held up various banks in and around Los Angeles over a two-month period in 2014 to pay off gambling debts. Sandeep Kaur was eventually arrested. Her experiences, if they had been properly filmed, would have lent themselves to a gripping cautionary tale about an immigrant who loses her way after aspiring to a lifestyle she clearly could not afford. Simran, however, doesn’t have the complexity or the rigour needed to bring this character to the screen.

The movie exists as a testament to Ranaut’s awesomeness. Praful is an extension both of Ranaut’s character Rani from Queen (2014) as well as her public persona. Like Rani and the headline-courting Ranaut, the Atlanta resident is a sunny-natured woman with a large and golden heart, a commonsensical approach to life’s big problems, flexible morality and a fearless honesty to see through hypocrisy and make-believe. The star and the character merge into one, and the movie suffers as a result.

Praful’s hapless parents (played by Kishori Shahane and Hiten Kumar) and her possible fiance (Sohum Shah) struggle to make sense of her, as will viewers. Praful’s devotion to her needs and happiness makes it hard to empathise with her actions, even though the movie goes to great lengths to justify her journey from happily divorced housekeeping department staffer at a hotel to gambler and then bank robber.

Bank robbery, which has assumed the quality of a cultural artefact in American lore, is treated as one big joke, as Praful gleefully holds up various awkward-looking American extras with the Atlanta police none the wiser. Two other extras play caricature loan sharks; one of them behaves as though he is in a Michael Mann movie rather than a Bollywood attempt to tackle Americana.

In her sense of hurt at being denied the breaks she thinks she deserves and the perilous journey she undertakes to overcome her debts, Praful is always alone. As she lives a double life, removing the creases from hotel beds after having divested a bank of its deposits, her universe never expands to include other experiences or, at the very least, a bigger picture of other Americans struggling with their bank balances. In David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water (2016), for instance, a pair of brothers starts robbing banks to save their family ranch from foreclosure, and their actions are always placed against the larger economic distress that has affected rural America over the past few years.

Praful’s parents are mere witnesses to her dubious decisions, while Sohum Shah’s Sameer, who is attracted to Praful’s forthright manner, is an excuse to introduce some songs into a narrative that could have existed without them.

The monomania that characterises Simran – the furtherance of the assertion that Kangana Ranaut can carry off just about anything – dooms the movie to repetition and facetiousness. Ranaut gives the role her all, but her relentless optimism and self-belief in the face of trying circumstances are barely convincing. The charm is laid on thick, even when not required. Praful is famed for her cheesy humour, but she is often the only one laughing at her jokes. Since the movie does not require viewers to be a part of this private conversation between a movie star and her character, a staggering sense of disengagement is par for the course.

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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

Watch Big Little Lies Now

4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

Watch The Night Of Now

5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

Watch Empire Now

7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

Watch Modern Family Now

8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

Watch The Deuce Now

9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.