Large Short Films

Ever think we need well-made Hindi films with great story-lines and less of the frivolous dramebaazi and naach-gaana? And yes, wish they were shorter? Well, your prayers have been answered. Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films gives a platform for aspiring film-makers to make and showcase their short films (generally 20 minutes or less), and also have them be featured in film festivals like the Mumbai MAMI.

I’m not sure why whisky-makers would get into the film-space, but am very glad nonetheless. Can other corporations take a hint from these guys, please? These films are superb in quality and easy to access. I know because I’ve been sick recently and spent my time at home very wisely 🙂 watching a ton of these. Here are three of my favorites:

1. Chutney:

This stars Tisca Chopra, Adil Hussain (also seen in English-Vinglish) and Rasika Duggal. Chopra is a fine, fine actress and she has also produced and co-written Chutney. Her character here is a de-glammed, UP-ite housewife Anita who knows more than she lets on.

2. That Day After Everyday:

Directed by Anurag Kashyap, this short featuring Radhika Aapte (also seen in “Shor In The City”), Geetanjali Thapa, Sandhya Mridul and Arannya Kaur is about street sexual molestation, or how we term it prettily “eve-teasing”. It is an uncomfortable film to watch, but brings home the daily, ever-present persistent onslaught of “eve-teasing” and the daily, ever-present persistent onslaught of the social message that women somehow ask for it by not being careful or subservient or simply by walking on a public street.

3. Juice

Neeraj Ghaywan’s Juice stars Shefali Chaya (remember her in “Dil Dhadakne Do” or “Monsoon Wedding”?) as a middle-class housewife cooking in a hot kitchen with other housewives while their husbands eat and drink in the living room, and exhort the women to get the noisy children out of the way, so they can dawdle in peace. Everyday “traditionalized” misogyny, if you please.

As I said there are a ton of these featured under the “Royal Stag” banner, and many more featured under “Pocket Films”, “Shining Films” etc. (Youtube helpfully suggested these), so I ended up watching quite a few.

Here are a few other shorts that were pretty good:

– Churi (stars Tisca Chopra, Anurag Kashyap)
– MAD (Mother and Daughter)
– Ahalya (stars Radhika Apte)
– Anukul (stars Saurabh Shukla)
– The Thought of You (stars Kalki Koechlin, Gulshan Devaiah)
– Nayantara’s Necklace (stars Konkona Sen Sharma)
– White Shirt (stars Kunal Kapoor)
– Ouch (stars Manoj Bajpai – yes, he of “Gangs of Wasseypur” fame)

Posted in 2017, 2018, directors, drama, film festival, lists, mini-reviews, outstanding, recommended, shorts, Top 10 | Leave a comment

Movie Preview : Hichki (releases Feb 23rd, 2018)

Rani Mukherjee is Naina Mathur, an aspiring teacher who has Tourette Syndrome. The film is about her overcoming challenges to make a difference in the life of the kids she teaches.

Posted in 2018, bollywood, drama, New Films, Previews, social issues | Leave a comment

Movie Review : Mukkabaaz (2018)

Rating : Excellent (5/5)
Genre : Drama
Year : 2018
Running time : 2 hours 35 minutes
Director : Anurag Kashyap
Cast : Vineet Kumar Singh, Jimmy Shergill, Zoya Hussain, Ravi Kishan, Sadhana Singh
Kid rating : PG-15

Shravan Singh (Singh) is an up and coming young boxer from Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh. Things take a turn for the worse, when he picks a fight with Bhagwan Das Mishra (Shergill), local goon and state boxing federation head honcho. Further complications arise when Shravan falls in love with Sunaina (Hussain), Mishra’s mute niece, and Sunaina reciprocates, much to her uncle’s chagrin. Besides the professional enmity, there is also the caste divide; Sunaina is Brahmin, while Shravan Rajput, and Mishra, the fervent casteist, will never abide the match.

Mukkabaaz is Kashyap’s film-making at its finest, a rough, grubby, of-the-heartland story told with modern sensibilities and finesse. Kashyap’s world view is raw and searing, the violence graphic and detailed, the emotions strong. No sugar-coating here. The film thus is fast-moving and pretty intense, right from the beginning, as we become privy to Shravan’s first altercation with Mishra. Shravan is soundly beaten up by Mishra’s chelas, as Sunaina looks on from the rooftop of her uncle’s home.

The movie develops into a classic underdog-vs-the-world story, as Shravan, a lowly newbie boxer, fights against Mishra, the systemic corruption, and the bureaucracy. Kashyap takes broad aim at a number of societal ills like casteism, corruption, crime, political meddling in state-funded sports, and the subjugation of women. The wonderful thing here is that all this is beautifully blended into the story, and allows for a realistic look at it all. Mishra can not only make it impossible for Shraven to compete as a boxer, he can also use his political clout and the dysfunctional Indian bureacracy to cut off water and electricity to his home. Thus, Shravan has not one enemy, but many, and battles on multiple fronts.

Mukkabaaz is the film it is also because of its wonderful actors. You might have seen Vineet Kumar Singh in films like Shorts and Bombay Talkies. This is his big break as hero, and does he make it work! He also trained really hard for the role, and it shows in his fighting fitness and 6-pack abs. The female lead, Zoya Hussain, who debuts here, is also very good. She has not a single line of dialog, but more than makes up for it with her acting prowess. Jimmy Shergill plays villain Mishra, and does surprisingly well, considering he’s got a suave-nice-guy-face which doesn’t quite lend itself to the portrayal of the rustic crudeness of Mishra’s character. Yesteryear actress Sadhana Singh (Nadiya Ke Paar) plays Sunaina’s mother with great aplomb. Ravi Kisshen, as always (Welcome to Sajjanpur, Tanu Weds Manu), is marvelous.

A large part of the film is shot in the boxing ring, but tight editing and a masterful screenplay ensure that we remain engrossed. Mukkabaaz also features vernacular-sounds songs, which add to the rustic charm of the film. Ultimately though, it is Kashyap’s ability to create realistic characters who exude drama, emotion and outrage, unabashed, and whom we can root for, that make Mukkabaaz one of the best films of the year.

If you see one Hindi film this year, let it be this one.

Kidwise: Several adult situations, graphic violence and some hairy language make Mukkabaaz unsuitable for a younger audience.

Posted in 2018, action, based on true events, bollywood, crime, directors, drama, outstanding, rating-PG15, recommended, romance, social issues, women | 1 Comment

Movie Review : Toilet – Ek Prem Katha (2017)

Rating : Good (3.7/5)
Genre : Drama
Year : 2017
Running time : 2 hours 35 minutes
Director : Shree Narayan Singh
Cast : Akshay Kumar, Bhumi Pednekar, Anupam Kher, Divyendu Sharma, Sudhir Pandey, Rajesh Sharma
Kid rating : PG

Toilet – Ek Prem Katha is a film about social values, and changing traditional mores and customs, however deep-rooted in “sanskriti” they might be. I quite liked it for the very novel effort it is, even though it had some rough edges.

Keshav is a not-very-well-read businessman, who at 36 is unmarried, because of his “Manglik” dosh, and because his religious, overly conservative “Pandit” father will only allow as his “bahu” a girl with 2 left thumbs (an extra thumb to negate said “Manglik” dosh). Keshav has almost all hope when he meets the lovely and well-read Jaya. Alas, she only has 1 left thumb! Not to be deterred, Keshav and Jaya soon “arrange” for a fake thumb and the nuptials take place.

Marital bliss is short-lived because Jaya soon discovers that her new husband’s home is sans toilet facilities. The people of the home (and most of the village) defecate in the open, and she as the new “bahuriya” is required to join the crack-of-dawn “lota-party” (“lota” is the Hindi word for the traditional steel vessel used to hold water).

Jaya sulks and fumes by turns, but her desire for an in-house lavatory are countered by her orthodox father-in-law’s strong objections, objections which consider it against culture to have the holy Tulsi plant and a lavatory in the same home. Things come to a head when Jaya leaves to go to her parent’s home, and once there, demands a divorce.

The rest of the film is about resolving this impasse. There is Jaya and her family on one hand, who are educated and supportive of the need for a hygenic toilet. On the other is Keshav’s dad, his family and almost the entire village, which pooh-poohs away Jaya’s demand as frivolous and the new-fangled “needs” of educated and (therefore) spoiled bratty young girls. The role of the village women is underscored here, as Jaya exhorts them to demand the same sanitation facilities, telling them that it is always the women who have to “adjust”, while the men twist and interpret “culture” to suit them (the men) and their needs.

On the surface this film seems to be about a basic need: the need for toilets. The film though goes deeper and questions the double standards that allow such a basic hygenic need to be ignored, and that brings in the question of women’s right and empowerment, as well as the questioning of the hypocritical “culture”. Our “sanskriti” or culture, as Keshav puts it ever so elegantly via filmi dialog, “requires that women’s faces remain covered (in ghoongat) but their backsides exposed“.

Toilet – Ek Prem Katha thus has a feminist message too, and it is all intertwined with the overall theme: cleanliness or swacchata in mind and body. Kudos to the filmmaker for taking this on (this also aligns nicely with Indian Prime Minister Modi’s swachchata campaign). The film pre-interval is a run-of-the-mill romance, and really gains steam in the second half. There is enough drama and humor here to keep things entertaining. Kumar and Pednekar have great chemistry, and the film is nicely paced everywhere but at the end, where, I imagine, the director ran out of ideas, and resorted to clichéd personality changes, with everyone seeing the light and turning up in their best behavior for a happy ending.

Despite the missteps, Toilet – Ek Prem Katha is a very nice film and well worth your time.

Kidwise: No overt vulgarity; some grown-up themes; fairly kid-safe.

Posted in 2017, bollywood, directors, drama, humor, rating-PG, romance, social issues, watchable, women | Comments Off on Movie Review : Toilet – Ek Prem Katha (2017)

Movie Preview : Pad Man (releases Jan 26th, 2018)

Based on Tamil activist Arunachalam Muruganantham, who developed the low-cost sanitary napkin to combat unhygienic practices by rural women during menstruation, Pad Man is helmed by director R. Balki and stars Akshay Kumar, Sonam Kapoor and Radhika Apte.

Posted in 2018, bollywood, drama, New Films, Previews, real-life-based, social issues, women | Comments Off on Movie Preview : Pad Man (releases Jan 26th, 2018)

Movie Review : Tiger Zinda Hai (2017)

Rating : 2/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2012
Running time : 2 hours 12 minutes
Director : Ali Abbas Zafar
Cast : Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Girish Karnad, Paresh Rawal, Kumud Mishra, Angad Bedi, Sajjad Delafrooz
Kid ratingfollow : PG-13

This film turned out pretty much as expected. Mindless violence, check. Blustery action, check. Inane dialogbaazi, check. Salman Khan at his chunkiest best (there is a shirtless scene, to our detriment), check. Tiger Zinda Hai is truly a movie for Salman fans.

Lest you have forgotten, like I did (and then I was forced to jog my memory – ah! The pain, the mind-numbing pain of it all), let me remind you that this is a sequel and there was a “Ek Tha Tiger”, in which we were introduced to intrepid RAW Agent Avinash Singh Rathod, aka Tiger. In that not-so-lovely film (you can read the review here), brave Tiger falls in love with arch enemy Pakistani Agent Zoya (Kaif). In Tiger Zinda Hai, Tiger has set up house with Zoya in scenic, snow-covered Innsbruck, Austria. While Tiger goes camping, snow-sledding and chasing wolves, and even takes smug, Bollywood dialog spouting son Junior to accompany him, Zoya has domesticated herself, but retains the ability to kick and body-slam the unwary shop-thief that dares to be stealing while she does her produce-shopping.

An emergency situation requiring the services of Tiger himself arises. When he is located (apparently being the smart guy that he says he is, he was sending coded location messages all the time, and all RAW had to do was to read them – duh!) the RAW head honcho (Girish Karnad) and his right-hand man land up to taste Tiger ki haath ki lajawaab kaali dal. Repast all done, the subject is broached but Tiger begs of the mission, citing lovely family etc. When Zoya exhorts him to stand up for what he believes, he goes off to help those in need.

Mayhem ensues. Just when we think Tiger has met his match, the Missus lands up to help (Junior has been conveniently shipped to the motherland with touristy Austrian friends). More mayhem, car chases, incessant action, well-choreographed hand-to-hand battle scenes. If you like that sort of stuff, you are in for a good time. Also, Tiger goes one step ahead of films like “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” in preaching the hum-sab-bhai-bhai message and having RAW agents team up with ISI agents in defeating the common enemy. True bravura that!

Long story short (and don’t tell me you didn’t know this already), Tiger and the Missus return to sublime anonymity once job has finished successfully. Rest assured that there will be part Trois; old adage about milking a cash cow comes to mind here.

To summarize: TZH is exactly what it seems – a fantastical tale about a one-of-a kind Indian Agent. It makes no attempt at realism; the screenplay is redolent with drama, and the scenes are just setups to show the machismo of the lead character. The movie makes no attempt at eliciting emotions. The characters are flat and card-board-ish; I do not imagine them anything more than the fiction they purport to be. The film is a sequence of scenes placed after one another – very methodical, very mechanical, very perfunctory; there are no appeals to our finer sensibilities. I imagine that the makers of this film succeeded fantastically in what they attempted to do; they will laugh all the way to the bank.

Kidwise: This film is almost 100% violence – lots of flying bullets, guns etc. There isn’t much else, so am not quite recommending it for younger audiences.

Posted in 2017, action, bollywood, drama, rating-PG13 | Comments Off on Movie Review : Tiger Zinda Hai (2017)

Movie Preview : Vodka Diaries (releases 19th Jan 2018)

A who-dun-it for the new year. Me thinks Kaykay Menon, whom we haven’t seen for a while will make a fine desi detective:

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Movie Review : Dhanak (2016)

Rating : Good (3.5/5)
Genre : Drama
Year : 2014
Running time : 1 hour 46 minutes
Director : Nagesh Kukunoor
Cast : Hetal Gada, Kkrish Chhabria, Vipin Sharma, Rajiv Laxman
Kid rating : G

Dhanak (Rainbow) is about Chhotu (Chhabria) and Pari (Gada), a brother-sister pair, who journey across Rajasthan to help Chotu regain back his sight. The two live with their aunt and uncle in a village. When Pari, the protective older sister, sees a poster in which film-star Shahrukh Khan promotes eye-donation, and giving sight to the sightless, she’s determined to get Chotu the ability to see again.

This film is carefully wrought. Pari and Chhotu are an endearing pair, and we are with them every step of the way. The characters seem real and are nicely built up. Yes, at some points you do have to throw cynicism out of the window and believe in the milk of human kindness, but you are happy to do so. Like a lot of other films by director Nagesh Kukunoor (Dor, Iqbal), Dhanak is strong on storyline and low on the star power. Most of the actors are unknowns (I only recognized Vipin Sharma), but the believable portrayals and the charm of the lead child actors carries this film through.

The music, like the music of many other Kukunoor films, is nothing to write home about, but does the job. It’s peppy and calm and fits the film – very of the ranbhoomi. The most interesting of them all was the fusion-y rendition of Dum-a-dum Mast Qalandar.

Dhanak is a simple tale pleasantly and engagingly told. Kukunoor definitely is a worthy addition to the Hindi film landscape – may he live long and prosper and continue to bring us more of such heart-warming tales 🙂 !

P.S. : Rajiv Laxman (of Roadies fame) makes an appearance here – and as a country bumpkin, no less!

Kidwise: Clean and made for kids. Family-friendly.

Posted in 2016, 2017, bollywood, directors, drama, family-friendly, rating-G | Comments Off on Movie Review : Dhanak (2016)

What To Watch On Netflix Instant – Edition #31

Caramel (Lebanon, 2007)

This graceful Cannes-nominated film is about five women in Beirut, Lebanon, who work in or around a beauty parlor.

There is Layale(Nadine Labaki), a single woman, who is having an affair with a married-with-children man. We never see this man, we only hear his car horn honking as he comes to pick up Layale for their assignations. Another character Nisrine is to be married soon to her ultra-traditionalist beau, who has no idea that Nisrine isn’t a virgin.

Rima, quiet, stolid and tomboyish (we rarely see her in dresses) has feelings for a salon customer, a woman who comes often to get her long black hair washed and styled. Jamale, an aging actress, is a frequent visitor to the beauty salon, coming in to get made-up as she goes to her auditions, where she competes with younger beauties for roles. The fifth character Rose, is an elderly seamstress with a shop in the neighborhood. She also takes care of her senile sister Lily, and her care-taking duties somewhat impede her late-blooming love-life.

Caramel is a woman’s point of view; the director is the beautiful Nadine Labaki, who also essays the main role in the film. Each woman’s story gives us a little look-see into the trials and tribulations brought about by societal or gendered expectation of women and their “roles” in traditional society.

Sand Storm (“Sufat Chol”, Israel, 2016)

Set amid a Bedoin community in Israel, this Sundance-Award-winner starts with what appears to be a happy occasion. A glowering Jalila is hosting the wedding celebration for her husband Suliman’s second marriage to a younger woman. Jalila and Suliman’s college-going daughter Layla is pulled willy-nilly into the wedding preparations. Besides the simmering tensions, and angry accusations that fly between Jalila and Suliman during and after the wedding, there is also a new wrinkle – Layla’s affair with college-mate Anwar comes to light. Her mother is outraged and attempts to quash it. Vivacious Layla, quite a darling of her dad’s, thinks he will at least see her point of view, but what he offers her is anathema to her.

Sand Storm was quite moving; it showed the cruelty built-into social fabric, where the very customs and “traditions” are designed to pit woman-against-woman, fighting each other for power. Men like Suliman, indulge in the laxities that such customs allow men, and declare themselves powerless when it comes to perturbing the social order in a woman’s favor. We see Jalila struggle – should she stick to the safe and the known and threaten impetuous Layla into submission, even as she realizes that the deck is stacked against a female, ardent rule-follower though she may be? Educated Layla too is caught between concern for her mother and following her heart.

This film is not a fairytale, but the ending still surprised me.

Posted in 2017, All Netflix, drama, feminism, film festival, Israeli, Lebanese, Netflix Recommendations, social issues, WhaTWON, women | Comments Off on What To Watch On Netflix Instant – Edition #31

Movie Preview : Padmavati (releases 1st December, 2017)

Another historical from Sanjay Leela Bhansali. We are assured lavish sets, lush locales, and larger than life characters. Deepika Padukone plays Rani Padmavati, Shahid Kapoor is her husband Raja Ratan Sen, and Aladdin Khiji’s character is played by Ranveer Singh.

Posted in 2017, bollywood, directors, historical, New Films, Previews | Comments Off on Movie Preview : Padmavati (releases 1st December, 2017)