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 | Leave a comment

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 | Leave a comment

Movie Review : Simran (2017)

Rating : 3.7/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2017
Running time : 2 hours
Director : Hansal Mehta
Cast : Kangana Ranaut, Sohum Shah, Kishori Shahane, Hiten Kumar, Rupinder Nagra
Kid rating: PG-15

Kangana Ranaut is “Simran” – an alias she gives herself after watching Amrish Puri’s dialog “Jaa Simran Jaa, jeele apni zindgai” (Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge). Really, she is Praful Patel, a Gujarati woman in the US. She is a divorcee, lives with her parents, and works in hotel housekeeping. Her days are humdrum, but Praful herself is a vivacious spitfire, looking forward to buying her dream home and getting away from her forever carping father. She even has an apartment and mortgage papers all lined up, but a self-made catastrophe takes it all away. Her problems grow from there even as she tries to find creative “solutions”.

From the above description you might think that this is a downer of a film, but it’s not really. Kangana is quite marvelous as peculiar Praful; her eccentricities mingle with what we might kindly call “character flaws” to make Praful an interesting protagonist. Good-hearted Praful is always full of bright ideas, harebrained schemes, and acts impulsively. This film then is a compendium of her journey, her bumbling antics, so it unfolds like a tv sitcom (I could see it as a series) rather than a full-fledged Hindi movie.

The film’s point of view is unique, for when have we had a single divorced US woman as a lead, all by herself in a mainstream Bollywood movie? Simran’s parents want to see her married and “settled” into respectability, while all Simran wants to do is live her life – respectability be damned!  She speaks her mind, and disregards all the “good Indian girl” rules. She has had multiple boyfriends, and approaches men in bars with the sole idea of sleeping with them. There is a scene in the film, where Simran having had access to a little spare cash, goes about buying $400 dresses and eating out in a fancy restaurant. The sight of her happily relishing her food all by herself, surrounded by various dishes brought a lump to my throat – such is the character’s likability; you feel for her despite her numerous missteps.

The film’s supporting cast also does a good job. Hiten Kumar is especially effective as her severely critical father. Kishori Shahne as Simran’s pacifist mom is lovely too. Sohum Shah plays Sameer, Simran’s golden-hearted fiance, and manages to tug at your heartstrings in the limited screen time he has. The film has good music – my favorite was the lovely romantic ballad “Meet”. And the tongue-in-cheek “Single Rehne De” (plays during end credits) made me smile .

Simran has its moments of comedy, although the storyline goes down some very dire paths. Lead actress Kangana manages to keep this film interesting, despite being the sole big name here. Director Hansal Mehta, who’s also directed gems like Aligarh and Shahid, deserves praise for walking the fine line between humor and poignancy so well.

Kidwise: Nothing too scary/vulgar. Some scenes have guns, one scene with talk about safe/unsafe sex.

Posted in 2017, bollywood, dark, directors, drama, humor, passes Bechdel Test, rating-PG15, women | 1 Comment

Movie Preview : Tumhari Sulu (releases 1st December, 2017)

Vidya Balan is Sulu or Sulochana, a jolly looking, middle class housewife, whose life changes when she becomes a radio jockey in Mumbai.

In the trailer, we see Sulu doing husky voiceovers and bursting into paroxysms of mirth. So, Sulu is having fun, but will we? Remains to be seen. For all her acting chops, Vidya’s films haven’t done that well, low in the entertainment factor etc. Here’s hoping “Tumhari Sulu” will right those wrongs.

P.S. : While reading the Wikipedia page on this film I came across this sentence:

The team started the shoot by performing a ‘puja’ which was attended and blessed by the mothers of the producers and director on 21 April 2017.

Desi people, I see you nodding.

Posted in 2017, bollywood, comedy, humor, New Films, Previews | Leave a comment

Movie Review : Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (2017)

Rating : 3.8/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2017
Running time : 2 hours
Director : R. S. Prasanna
Cast : Ayushmann Khurana, Bhumi Pednekar, Seema Bhargava-Pahwa, Brijendra Kala
Kid rating: PG-15

It’s raining movies. It always has. But this time there’s a deluge of the small-town-storyline film which more often than not features the very same actors in similar sounding roles. It all started with “Dum Laga Ke Haisha”, which was a fantastic movie by the way. Then this year we’ve just gotten through “Toilet, Ek Prem Katha”, “Bareilly ki Barfi” and now there’s Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, which isn’t technically small-town. 2 of the three films have the same leading actors : Ayushmann Khurana and Bhumi Pednekar.

This time they’re Mudit and Sugandha of Gurgaon, about to get hitched via the arranged-cum-love route. Calamity strikes in an unexpected fashion :), but Sugandha will have none of it. Tempers flare, the groom wants to call off the wedding, but Sugu is steadfast. Will the matter come to a satisfactory conclusion (bad pun notwithstanding)?

Director Prasanna, who put together the Tamil original of this film, is also at the helm of “Shubh Mangal Saavdhan”. And while he does a fine job – gorgeous attention to detail, real thinking-feeling characters whom we can root for, and pleasant music – the real heroes are the actors. Khurana and Pednekar need no introduction – they can probably play middle-class young folk in love in their sleep by now. So too Seema Pahwa, who’s still fabulous, regardless. Her role as Sugu’s mother is an almost exact reprise of Kriti Sanon’s mother in “Bareilly ki Barfi”.

There’s this scene in the film where Sugandha’s concerned mom attempts to teach her not-so-virginal daughter about the birds and the bees. In true Indian maa-wala fashion, she names no names but does the explaining by analogy – the Ali Baba and 40 Thieves analogy – the whole scene had me in splits. There are other metaphors and analogies in this film (some involving tea and biscuits) but “Shubh Mangal Saavdhan” keeps it at that – there is no vulgarity; with the subject matter it could have easily gone in another direction.

I’d even say that “Shubh Mangal Saavdhan” is semi-feminist because it takes up for women where many films just bow down and succumb in the name of “traditional values”. The film questions the practice of assigning various “dosh” (faults) to the woman by default. Both the bride and groom have strong opinions and personalities; Sugu is no shrinking violet. Also her dad is pretty concerned about her happiness in the in-law home, even in the face of great family “dishonor”.

Shubh Mangal has heart. And it’s cute. I liked it – not a bad way to spend your time. Go see!

Posted in 2017, bollywood, drama, humor, quirky, rating-PG15, romance | Comments Off on Movie Review : Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (2017)

Movie Preview : Qarib Qarib Single (releases 10th November, 2017)

Who would’ve thunk it? Irrfan Khan as mainstream hero? In a romance?

Well, it has happened not once but twice. You have doubtlessly watched the lovely Piku in which he romances the lively architect portrayed by Deepika Padukone. In “Qarib Qarib Single” he plays a similarly quirky character. Starring opposite him is Malayalam-film actress Parvathy.

The film looks like fun. Fingers crossed.

Posted in 2017, bollywood, New Films, Previews, romance | Comments Off on Movie Preview : Qarib Qarib Single (releases 10th November, 2017)

Movie Review : Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016)

Rating : 4.2/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2016
Running time : 2 hours
Director : Ashwin Das
Cast : Ratna Pathak-Shah, Konkona Sen-Sharma, Aahana Kumra, Plabita Borthakur, Vikrant Massey, Sushant Singh, Shashank Arora
Kid rating: PG-15

Bollywood digs bromances. Films which feature women and pass the Bechdel test are few and far between in Hindi cinema. There was the much touted “Parched” which I didn’t like and “Angry Indian Goddesses” which was just poorly made (I finished it but oh, it was hard). And then there is “Lipstick Under My Burkha” which is both well made and intelligently told.

The film is about 4 women, remotely connected to each other because they live in the same locality. Each one faces gender inequality. Usha Buaji (Pathak Shah), who is the narrator of sorts, is the 55-year old widowed matriarch of a family in Bhopal. Shirin (Sen Sharma) is a young Muslim mother who, unbeknownst to her conservative husband Rahim (Singh), works as a top-performing saleswoman. Leela (Kumra) is a beautician who is engaged to be married into middle-class domesticity, but has her heart set on another man and a life of excitement. Rehana (Borthakur) is a young college-going student, slowly suffocating under the weight of the burkha and social mores forced upon her by orthodox family and friends.

Buaji is perceived as “old”, everyone deems it fit that she attend Satsang (prayer sessions) because at the ripe old age of 55, what must a woman do but vegetate 🙁 . Men of her age, by comparison, are shown shopping for new wives, preferably in the 35-40 year range! Similarly it is socially acceptable for Shirin’s husband to boss over her, rape her, hit her, traumatize her, and offer her no leeway to pursue her own desires. So also with Rehana and Leela. Their subjugation is built into the social fabric. Women who rebel and think differently are considered uppity for one, and have very little support and choices.

I loved this film because it told it like it is. Inspite of the constraints, the women find ways to let loose – Rehana ditches the burkha en route to college, Buaji reads Hindi Mills-and-Boons (do those even exist in Hindi?) and joins swimming classes, Shirin goes to work while her husband is in Saudi Arabia, and Leela plans to elope. But in all their plans – and here’s the heart-breaking rub – the women have to be stealthy and so very careful, watching over their shoulders, lest society at large suspect them of impropriety.

The male characters seemed to be reasonably well-fleshed out – they are negative characters of course, but face challenges of their own. Rahim loses his job, Arhad (Massey), Leela’s lover realizes that Leela only thinks of him as a way out of her dreary life. Still their plight pales in comparison to the desperate situations the women face.

This film is not bombastic. It is layered and told very carefully with great character development – the women are flawed too. It helps to have a fabulous star cast, and a skilled director. Kudos!

Kidwise: Some adult situations, including one of rape.

Posted in 2017, bollywood, drama, feminism, rating-PG15, recommended, social issues, women | Comments Off on Movie Review : Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016)

Movie Preview : Chef (releases Oct 6th, 2017)

This one is based upon the American original. That, I thought, was just about average. Hopefully this will be better.

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What To Watch On Netflix Instant – Edition #30

Suburra (Italy, 2015)

This engrossing film stars Pierfrancesco Favino, among a huge star cast. Set around a plot involving Ostia, a real estate development of a Las Vegas style town, this stylish neo-noir thriller has local mafia bosses, corrupt politicians and trigger-happy crazies running around.

Director Stefano Sollima (who also directed the series Gomorrah) helms this intense, fast-paced, gritty and pretty violent film.

Loins of Punjab (India, 2007)

A quirky, satirical comedy from late director Manish Acharya, this movie is about a desi singing competition sponsored by meat company “Loins of Punjab” in New Jersey. It stars the lovely Shabana Azmi, Darshan Jariwalla, Loveleen Mishra, Ayesha Dharker and a host of other Indian American actors.

The characters and their backstories are pretty decently and snarkily sketched. Relies heavily on stereotypes, but enjoyably so.

Anaarkali of Aarah (India, 2017)

This Hindi film stars Swara Bhaskar as nautch girl Anaarkali. When Anaarkali doesn’t quite kowtow to the local politician or patriarchal social mores, she’s in trouble. She almost escapes the corrupt law, but decides to come back and even out the score.

Great acting, and nice attention to detail make this a film worth watching.

Leap Year (USA, 2010)

This cute romance stars Amy Adams as impetuous Anna Brady who decides to take matters in her own hands and propose to boyfriend Jeremy on Leap Day. Since Jeremy is in Dublin Anna must make her way to Ireland, a plan which doesn’t quite work.

En route Anna meets local, lazy-eyed Irishman Declan (Matthew Goode – who also plays Henry Talbot in Downton Abbey), and . . .

In Your Eyes (USA, 2014)

From write Joss Whedon and director Brin Hill comes this low-budget sci-fi-ish romance about two people who are connected telepathically. Rebecca Porter and Dylan Kershaw are thousands of miles apart, live very different lives, but are mysteriously “connected” to each other so much so that they can feel what the other is feeling.

I’m skeptical of films which go out on sci-fi limbs, but this film was unexpectedly good.

Posted in 2017, All Netflix, bollywood, book to film, hollywood, italian, Netflix Recommendations, quirky, recommended, romance, satire, sci-fi, thriller | Comments Off on What To Watch On Netflix Instant – Edition #30

Movie Preview : Secret Superstar (releases Oct 19th 2017)

Among the depressingly bombastic films upcoming in the later part of the year, comes this little gem – or what looks like it. Zaira Wasim (of Dangal fame) stars as a wannabe singer who sings undercover because of familial strictures. There’s also Amir Khan doing his best impression of . . . Akshay Kumar?

Posted in 2017, bollywood, family-friendly, New Films, Previews | 1 Comment