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Review: ‘Draupadi Unleashed’ is a mystery, unintentionally

In the film "Draupadi Unleashed," Indira (Salena Qureshi) is promised to suave Amar (Dominic Rains). That's not a good thing.
An inconvenient arrangement: In “Draupadi Unleashed,” Indira (Salena Qureshi) is promised to suave Amar (Dominic Rains). That’s not a good thing.
(Passion River)

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Sometimes a movie baffles you.

Based on co-director Nisha Sabharwal’s recently published novel, the American feature “Draupadi Unleashed” is set in pre-Partition, aristocratic India in the ’30s. Young Indira (Salena Qureshi) struggles with an arranged marriage to Amar (Dominic Rains); she has suddenly fallen for Gautam (Taaha Shah), the cousin she hasn’t seen since she was 2. As well-off Indira is torn between two extremely handsome suitors, relatives scheme and a powerful guru has plans of his own.

You forgive much due to obvious budgetary constraints. But the excruciatingly slow, soapy storytelling stifles emotional energy. It’s not easy to follow, hampered by severe logical lapses. Character threads abruptly drop. How anyone feels about anyone is unclear at any given moment.

The characters often don’t read as culturally Indian (the largely American and Canadian cast has few Indian nationals), or of the period. Iranian-born Rains is a standout; his complex portrait swings from charming to reprehensible to pathetic. In a good way.

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The film opens with a kind of family portrait to identify the players, but the many characters will test your memory. Who’s not supposed to be making out with whom? (You can assume if two people are together, they’re not supposed to be.) The adaptation is probably a factor: Sabharwal has expressed dissatisfaction with it. This reviewer watched “Draupadi” twice to understand this much.

In the Mahabharata, Draupadi is the daughter of a king; she marries five brothers, is saved from humiliation by Krishna and becomes empress. Any comparison to Indira’s story is strained.

As is my brain, trying to understand this movie.

‘Draupadi Unleashed’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Playing: AMC Tustin 14, Tustin; AMC Orange 30, Orange; also in limited release where theaters are open.

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Trailer for “Draupadi Unleashed.”


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