Movie Review : Parched (2016)

 photo parched_zpsgnrzxisf.jpg Rating : 3/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2016
Running time : 2 hours 27 minutes
Director : Leena Yadav
Cast : Tannishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte, Surveen Chawla, Riddhi Sen, Mahesh Balraj, Lehar Khan, Sumeet Vyas
Kid rating: R

Parched is about three female friends living in a rural, dusty, desert village, presumably in Rajasthan. Rani (Chatterjee), a young widow of 32 is arranging the marriage of her son Gulaab to Janaki (Khan), a beautiful 15 year old from the neighboring village. Lajjo (Apte) is a childless woman constantly taunted and beaten up by her husband Manoj (Balraj) for being barren. Bijli (Chawla) is a dancer/prostitute who with her touring troupe sets up temporary residence outside the village at regular intervals.

The film focuses on events in these 3 lives, and we gain a sense of the repressive, misogynistic society it is. The men of the village (save one) are all narrow-minded, boozing, womanizing wife-beaters. The women (and this includes our three protagonists) have lived abusive lives and are resigned to their daughters living the same way. There is one scene in which the village panchayat sends back a woman (played by Sayani Gupta) to her husband’s home even when she reports that her husband keeps a mistress, and that she (the woman) is being sexually abused by the other men of the household (father/brother-in-law).

Parched has a feminist theme because the three protagonists, despite all the misogynistic brain-washing, begin to question the status quo. There is natural sympathy for them, but I, for all my trying, don’t feel connected enough to feel empathetic. Chatterjee and Apte are very good actors, and their roles are decently fleshed out. Chawla has the difficult job of portraying a female wise-ass, who seems outwardly independent but is abjectly powerless. She doesn’t quite succeed.

Another curious thing about this film is the juxtaposition of crude reality with somewhat fantastical scenery. On one hand, we see Manoj mercilessly batter Lajjo, and on the other there is this surreal love-scene in a golden, glow-lit cave. I imagine a cave in a remote village as being dark, uncomfortable, rife with twittering mice and bats, not quite this golden love-nest. Very unrealistic, and it does take the hard-hitting edge off of the film.

There is a natural progression to this feminist tale, but it didn’t quite flow. At first we see the women subjected to patriarchal horrors. They murmur in subdued tones, mostly amongst themselves, about the injustice of it all but they don’t see a way out. Towards the end of the film, there is flat out liberation, but I’ve missed the self-reflection which brings about the liberation. Showing the anger, the urgency, the driving need for justice (because it must be urgent and driving to bring about the liberation) is essential to connecting the cause and the action – and this is where Parched stumbles. I’m glad that Rani, Lajjo and Bijli reach the point of no return, but am a little sad that I couldn’t be more involved in their journey. I so wanted to be.

Kidwise: This is adults only because of the nudity and sexual imagery.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, drama, feminism, Hindi movies on Netflix | Leave a comment

Movie Review : Pink (2016)

 photo pink_zps9rwnhcxx.jpg Rating : 4.5/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2016
Running time : 2 hours 16 minutes
Director : Aniruddha Roy Chaudhary
Cast : Kirti Kulhari, Taapsee Pannu, Andrea Tariang, Amitabh Bachchan, Piyush Mishra, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Angad Bedi
Kid rating: PG 13

Minal Arora (Pannu), Falak Ali (Kulhari) and Andrea (Tariang) are flatmates living and working in Delhi. On an evening out, the three meet a few friends for dinner and drinks. The evening ends in a violent altercation, and the three rush home in panic. Each day after that day is leaden, and clouded with fearful repercussions from that unpleasant evening. Things come to a head when Minal is arrested. Falak and Andrea at their wits end, sans family and support, seek help from a neighborhood lawyer.

The film starts off with the three girls rushing home from an incident. We, the viewers, have no knowledge of the event that has caused the stir, we only hear references to it. Then we witness the threats and the intimidation the girls face. The film, post-intermission, becomes a courtroom drama as the lawyers from both parties (Bachchan as the girls’ lawyer) battle it out.

Pink is a film that tells it like it is. And this telling has long been overdue. It questions society’s hypocritical morality and double standards, the “boys-will-be-boys” notion that makes Delhi (and India) so unsafe for women. It exposes the blood-curling hypocrisy that resides behind suave, moneyed exteriors. They might talk nice, but scratch the surface and a regressive patriarchal mindset comes oozing out. Pink underscores a woman’s right to her own sexuality, her right to say no and have everyone respect it, regardless of what she is wearing/drinking, or where she is. This goes hand-in-hand with the need for empowerment, the need for law and order and uniform justice for all, unimpeded by the police-politics nexus.

Pink makes all these points well, and movingly. Great acting helps. Versatile actress Kirti Kulhari (you might remember her from Anurag Kashyap’s Shaitaan) is fantastic as Falak, the lovely Pannu veers away from masala films here and does well as the brave and outspoken Minal, and Tariang depicts a Meghalayan bearing the brunt of the “loose, North-Eastern” girl stereotype. Each of them elicit, from us, sympathy for their characters, as they bravely stand their ground inspite of character-besmirching campaigns and threats. Bachchan turns in a decent performance; he is a fine orator and makes his (and Pink’s) point in his booming voice.

The film is well-directed, and keeps up the momentum, sans fripperies. There are 4 songs, and all aptly fit the film in mood and lyrics. I loved the poem in Bachchan’s voice, which is heard as the credits roll (here is a translation).

I highly recommend Pink – this is the must-see Hindi film of 2016.

Kidwise: There is some language here. Violence is referenced and implied but not shown front and center. Courtroom dialog features words like virginity, sex, rape, molestation etc.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, drama, feminism, outstanding, rating-PG13, recommended, social issues, women | 2 Comments

Movie Preview : Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (releases 28th Oct 2016)

Quite a smoldering trailer, that one! Karan Johar gets deeper with each movie :-)

Posted in 2016, bollywood, directors, Previews, romance | 2 Comments

Movie Preview : M. S. Dhoni (releases September 30, 2016)

Neeraj Pandey (of Special 26, A Wednesday fame) directs this bio-pic of Mahindra Singh Dhoni. Sushant Singh Rajput plays the lead role.

Posted in 2016, bio-pic, bollywood, directors, Previews, sports | 2 Comments

Movie Review : Baar Baar Dekho (2016)

 photo baar_baar_dekho_zpserafqedh.jpg
Rating : 3.5/5
Genre : Romance
Year : 2016
Running time : 2 hours 27 minutes
Director : Nitya Mehra
Cast : Katrina Kaif, Siddharth Malhotra, Sarika, Rajit Kapoor, Ram Kapoor, Sayani Gupta
Kid rating: PG

I heard someone say that this was like The Time Traveller’s Wife, but know that it is not. Yes, there is time-travel in this Bollywood film – the mind boggles – but it is inserted in here in a very desi fashion; there is a moral to the story.

Jai Verma (Malhotra) and Diya Kapoor (Kaif) are childhood friends turned sweethearts. They do the expected thing and get hitched, more on her insistence than on his. When he, overwhelmed with the wedding festivities and the ultra-protective Punjabi Papa, threatens a break-up pre-wedding ceremony, she storms off in a huff. Is this the start to a rocky relationship, husband-wifely though it may be?

Post-tiff, we hop, skip and jump through time with Jai, who has an uncanny, uncontrollable knack for time-travel. Along the way, he relates actions to consequences – the question is: will he be able to fix the life problems he can now foresee?

Director Mehra does a pretty decent job with this ambitious project, because this film does move around quite a bit, timewise – so keeping it straight and all tied together and flowing smoothly is an accomplishment in itself. There are a few hiccups, like the long, stretchy, overdone scenes pre-interval where the film almost stood still. But then there were also some beautiful, heart-string-pulling scenes like the one where Jai, in the midst of a chaotic morning, finally gives in to his little daughter who’s tugging at his pant-leg wanting to be picked up. The camera lingers over the happy father-daughter smiling beatifically at each other as the morning sun streams in. Very nicely done; I teared up bigtime.

The big flaw in the film is the acting, or lack thereof. Kaif and Malhotra are probably the most attractive specimens in the Hindi film industry, but they can’t act, she more than he. While Kaif’s performance in this film is probably one of her best, she is still atrocious at actually emoting. Plus, even when apparently in the thick of it, she gives off this Ice-Maidenly, detached vibe. Malhotra has gotten better, and while passable here, can’t get us to care about him as much as we should. Since the film is really about the romance, the unbreakable bond between the two, it was imperative that we feel their chemistry. Sadly, we don’t.

Mehra has tried to compensate with a strong supporting cast – Sarika, Rajit and Ram Kapoor, but it doesn’t quite suffice; they are called “supporting” for a reason. The songs are pretty nice – loved “Kho Gaye Hum Kahan”.

Baar Baar Dekho started off with such a whiff of freshness that I had high hopes. It is a pleasant watch, but with a Anushka or Deepika instead this film would have been a class apart.

Kidwise: Almost family-friendly. A few (lame) lip-locks here and there, but nothing to scar the kids with.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, directors, rating-PG, romance, sci-fi, watchable | Leave a comment

Movie Preview : Baar Baar Dekho

From Nitya Mehra, the director of 24: India (television series) comes Bollywood’s foray into time-travel: Baar Baar Dekho.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, Previews, romance, sci-fi | Leave a comment

Movie Review : Margarita with a Straw (2014)

 photo mwas_zpsalvuzmoh.jpgRating : 3.5/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2014
Running time : 1 hour 40 minutes
Director : Shonali Bose
Cast : Kalki Koechlin, Revathy, Kuljeet Singh, Sayani Gupta, Hussain Dalal, Tenzing Dalha, William Moseley, Malhar Khushu
Kid rating: R, A

This is Shonali Bose’s second directorial venture after Amu, which I wan’t a raving fan of. I’d heard so much about Margerita With A Straw that I had to watch once it became available to watch here, courtesy Netflix. Post-watch, I have to conclude that MWAS suffers from some of the same problems that Amu had; it is an important tale to tell, but dithers its way towards the end.

The lead character of this film is agile-minded Laila. Laila suffers from cerebral palsy, so while her mind runs free, her body doesn’t quite cooperate. Laila, luckily, has her supportive family around her. Her mother (Revathy), who is only referred to as “Aai” in the film is a tower of strength. We see her immersed in the care-taking, driving Laila around in a van fitted with a wheelchair ramp.

Laila is an intelligent, curious, plucky girl who enjoys her Delhi college experience despite the peculiar vagaries brought about by the disability-unfriendly environment. We see a prime example of this 10 minutes into the film, as Laila is physically carried up the stairs of her college, wheelchair and all, by 3-4 out-of-breath men, when the elevator is out of service. The camera focuses only on her face as she is hoisted into the air, and it is a study in embarrassment and stoicism.

When Laila gains admission into NYU, she comes to New York with her mother. By the time Aai settles her in and leaves, Laila has gained new friends and even a lover. A new phase of her life has begun.

MWAS is a coming of age story, and addresses 3 issues. One deals with physical disability, and the problems one encounters when living in a city/country where the law does not enforce any conveniences for the differently abled – no ramps, no ramp-equipped public transport etc. The second questions the popular perception that the disabled lead mundane, sexless, desire-less lives. The third touches upon homosexuality. The fact that all three issues are entwined with Laila’s already complicated life, makes this a one-of-kind film, atleast in the Indian context.

Given all that, Kalki is a fabulous choice for Laila. She is tremendous. Then there’s Revathy as Aai – also fantastic. In fact, I can’t fault any actors in the film, they were all so believable.

The film, though, had rough edges. It began pretty well, but as it progressed, the waters got muddier. Bose tries to portray Laila as a young adult finding her footing in the world. And Laila makes mistakes, dithers. Which is natural and realistic, but it does take away from the emphatic impact of the denouement.

Also, at the beginning I could keep up with events in Laila’s life. Towards the second half, events and happenings pile up, and the impact of each on Laila gets blurred. The flow is choppy. Laila is working up to being a free, independent adult in NYC, and she gets there. To a viewer like me, her journey (what is she really thinking?) is not transparent, and that is a problem.

Still, a decent watch.

Kidwise: This is rated R, because of the sex and nudity.

Posted in 2014, All Netflix, bollywood, drama, Hindi movies on Netflix, Netflix Recommendations, rating-A, rating-R, social issues, watchable, WhaTWON, women | Leave a comment

Movie Review : Nil Battey Sannata (2015)

 photo nilbatteysannatta_zpscx5o8u3o.jpg
Rating : 4.5/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2015
Running time : 1 hour 40 minutes
Director : Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari
Cast : Swara Bhaskara, Ratna Pathak Shah, Riya Shukla, Pankaj Tripathi, Sanjay Suri
Kid rating: G

Chanda Sahay (Bhaskara) is a housemaid who works multiple jobs so that she can pay for her daughter Apeksha’s (Shukla) studies and Apeksha can have a better life that she, Chanda, has had. Apeksha is in school but takes little interest in schoolwork, and this has Chanda worried. When Apeksha sneers at her mother’s concern telling her that her ambition is to become a housemaid just like her, Chanda decides that something must be done. Thus she takes a drastic step. Will her gameplan succeed?

Nil Battey Sannata is a lovely film, simple yet earnest. You can’t help liking it. The title comes from the Hindi slang “Nil Battey Sannata” which roughly means “being incompetent”. Here it is used to denote Chanda and her daughter’s difficulty with Math, a subject semi-literate Chanda cannot help Apeksha with because she herself fears it.

This simple story is made appealing by its wonderful direction and marvelous actors. Swara Bhaskar needs no accolades from me; the lady brightens up every film she appears in. Here she portrays Chanda’s hopes and dreams and struggles with such nuance! I really felt for Chanda’s predicament. Lively Ratna Pathak Shah plays Chanda’s sympathetic employer, Dr. Diwan, who encourages Chanda when she loses hope. The fabulous Pankaj Tripathi is Prinicipal Srivastava – he is quite taken aback by Chanda’s plans. Then there is Ria Shukla who plays 15 year old Apeksha with such aplomb – she sure does carry her weight!

Nil Battey Sannata is an extraordinary film. It doesn’t toe the Bollywood line. It isn’t bold or brash or happening even. It doesn’t have a heady star-cast. What it does have is the promise of a heart-tugging tale, told with elegance and dignity.

This one is classiness itself. A must-see!

Kidwise: This is clean and kid-friendly.

Posted in 2015, directors, drama, family-friendly, feel-good, rating-G | Leave a comment

Movie Preview : Mohenjo Daro (releases August 12, 2016)

Director Ashutosh Gowariker (of Jodha Akbar) presents another historical. This one stars Hrithik Roshan and Pooja Hegde, who is a beauty queen and has done several Southie films.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, directors, drama, historical, Previews | 1 Comment

Movie Review : Sultan

 photo sultan_zpsrm87gyyz.jpg
Rating : 3.9/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2016
Running time : 2 hours 50 minutes
Director : Ali Abbas Zafar
Cast : Salman Khan, Anushka Sharma, Randeep Hooda, Amit Sadh, Kumud Mishra, Anant Vidhaat
Kid rating: PG-13

I’m not a big fan of Salman Khan’s films because the lead character has set mannerisms which identify him as Salman Khan first and the protagonist after; i.e.; very Salman Khan-y (Shahrukh has the same problem). So I wasn’t exactly rushing to the theater the moment Sultan released. But post-watch I have to say that it was an enjoyable watch, a little stretched out, milking-it-for-all-its-worth watch, but entertaining anyway.

Khan in this film is the titular character – Sultan Ali Khan, a small-town good-natured idle do-nothing who’s spent his father’s savings in setting up a tv-cable business which he’s not too serious about. When he falls in love with ambitious wrestler Aarfa (Sharma), she challenges him to be goal-oriented, rather than the aimless busybody he is. Apparently the country bumpkin can focus because Sultan soon morphs into a medal-winning pehlwaan. Then, it all comes crashing down. Now Sultan is offered one last chance at redemption. Will he make good?

Sultan exploits 2 tropes very successfully: the underdog trope, and the country-bumpkin-with-a-heart-of-gold one. And we lap it up. Probably because it is done so well and with some very good actors. The magnificent Kumud Mishra plays Aarfa’s dad, wrestling trainer Barkat. Amit Sadh, whom you saw in Kai Po Che, is the big city magnate who offers Sultan his big chance, and here delivers a nice, nuanced performance. Hooda appears in a small role as Mixed Martial Arts trainer Fateh Singh and does a marvelous job. But the big revelation here is Anant Vidhaat as Sultan’s friend Govind. He was in Mardaani and Gunday too, but here he really comes into his own.

And of course the lead characters have to carry their weight. Anushka is always very good. I really liked Salman in this role – he appears strong yet fallible, and an all-around nice guy. Also mad props to him; it takes courage to appear in that little langot :-). The only problematic thing here was the Haryanvi accent, which wasn’t very believable and dropped sometimes.

Sultan is melodramatic – milking above said tropes requires melodrama. And yes, I was rolling my eyes at the logic behind the turn of events that cause Sultan’s world to collapse. But there are also scenes which left me moist-eyed. The characters, even the presumably nasty ones, have hidden goodness, which ordinarily would make me barf, but seems kinda natural here. The great music helps move this predictable story along. At almost 3 hours this is still too long and feels stretched out, but hey, I’ll take it.

Sultan has earnestness and a gentleness of spirit which comes as a surprise given that its director is Ali Abbas Zafar, the director of Gunday, a film best left unseen. Sultan has got to be a humongous feather in his cap. We all want to believe that the world is one big happy place, and this film brings that illusion almost believable. Sultan succeeds because even though it is predictable (like an Indian Rocky) and we know the end, we are willing to go the journey.

Kidwise: Amazingly – no vulgarity. In fact it even had some PSAs for saving the girl-child thrown in, apt given Haryana’s abysmal track record on female foeticide.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, drama, rating-PG13, romance, sports | Leave a comment