Tag Archives: Bollywood

Film poster for 'Sherni'

A Sherni Herself, Vidya Balan Tells IC of Muted Feminism in Her Newest Release

After watching the movie, when I come across overt/surreptitious sexist remarks in my interactions, Vidya Vincent’s face flashes upon my mind’s eye. Vidya Balan eloquently describes her connections to the universality of her character in our exclusive interview. Find the video below!

The title means “tigress” in Hindi. The -ni appendage highlights the female-centric theme of the film.

Vidya Balan was delighted that the name Sherni was selected after she signed the script. She is amazingly authentic as Vidya Vincent, a forest officer trying to navigate the cantankerous machinery of government jobs in the wilderness of Madhya Pradesh.

Amit V Masurkar of the Newton fame (India’s submission to the Oscars in 2017 ) takes his camera to a tiger preserve and focuses on the struggle for existence between wildlife in their natural habitat and humans. It’s a satirical bare-bones exposure to the lethargy of the Indian government’s Forest Department. The film Sherni is not about the female tigress who has attacked two people. It’s not about forest conservation. It’s also not about the livelihood and safety of the people who rely on the forest. The filmmaker’s purpose is to expose the indifferent government officials, the power struggle between opposing political parties, and corrupt contractors who blatantly pocket taxpayer rupees.

Vidya Vincent and the tigress are caught as unexpected but tenacious bystanders in the flawed patriarchal system. Male characters in the movie indulge in overt and covert actions to save face by ignoring, talking over, and finally transferring the resilient officer, Vidya Vincent, out of their midst. The hungry tigress who cannot hunt deer and other small herbivores to feed her hungry cubs becomes prey to a macho gunslinging Pintoo Bhaiya (Sharat Saxena). He is eager to kill any “tiger” he can lay his eyes on without properly identifying the wild animal. The nauseating mediocrity and male bravado percolate the fabric of the film like pug-marks. 

It was funny to watch Brijendra Kala as the weaselly Bansal who is totally disconnected by the responsibilities of his seat, serendipitously placed in front of a humongous tiger portrait. He is just going through the motions. He would much rather be a snake oil salesman or a poet.

Vijay Raaz is refreshing as a zoologist and educator. His professorial duties run the gamut of collecting a rustic “punch and tiger” show for the villagers, collecting DNA samples, and making biryani. The camera exposes the gut-wrenchingly meager subsistence of local sharecroppers and their disillusion with the local elected officials. Frustrations climax with the burning of government vehicles. Vidya Vincent wants to resolve the problem by capturing the tigress alive. She rebels against her superiors and politicians.

As an actor, Vidya Balan is famous for playing strong female roles and is very expressive. In an interview for India Currents, the actor said It was challenging for me to portray the identity of Vidya Vincent in a quiet way.” She said, “I have a very expressive face even in real life.” I think that her deliberately obtuse performance is commendable on multiple levels.  

Film stills from the movie Sherni.
Film stills from the movie Sherni.

Dressed in muted earthy tones, she sets a precedent that she wants to blend with the environment. She knows what her job demands but after spending nine weary years, we get the impression that she knows that she cannot change the system. Then an inciting event of a tiger sighting, followed by the death of a villager, pulls her attention. Vidya is overwhelmed by a sense of doom and wants to resign. But her husband who is nicely tucked away in their apartment in Mumbai advises her to keep her recession-proof job: “Apne kam se kam rakho aur ghar chalo”. It’s easy for him to say.

She is not confrontational but is also not intimidated by men trying to outmaneuver her. Her impudence in pocketing the oil bottle to thwart the clownistic shenanigans of Bansal (Brijendra Kala) is funny. Vidya Balan laughed in merriment when I mentioned that sneaky move to her. She said, “I have received so many texts, phone calls, and accolades from all over the world. Siddarth Roy Kapoor loved it. How so many people found out my number and texted me, was amazing!”

Vincent’s anger at a failing system, deep concern for the villagers, grief while handing the compensation check to a bereaved widow are apparent in the strained look in her eyes and her tightened lips. When Vincent pulls the jewelry off when she is called to duty in the middle of dinner, it shows her attitude towards feminine trappings and the subtle oppression of domestication. Balan mentions, “Her character did not want to be confrontational. If it was easy for her to wear the jewels, she just wore them.”

It would have been more appealing to watch the movie in the jungle outdoors but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the film was released through Amazon Prime Video on June 18, 2021, and reached viewers in over 200 countries. As a woman in the professional arena, I was proud that Vidya Vincent tried to save the tiger cubs. I felt as though I was punched in my guts by the alarming visuals of the decrepit state of our government offices. I applaud Masurkar and his team on meaningful cinematography. Masurkar has cleverly exploited Vidya Balan’s acting potential by building her character with nuanced yet realistic complexity.

Vidya Balan has dazzled us with her kaleidoscopic performances as the innocent Parineeta, vivacious Jhanvi in Lage Raho Munna Bhai, a determined pregnant woman in Kahaani, and now as Vidya Vincent in Sherni. She left us with a parting message for young girls. She said: You are unique. There’s no one like you. Be the best version of yourself.” Commendable!


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.


 

Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu

Dilip Kumar Rejected Hollywood to Revolutionize Indian Cinema

The legend Dilip Kumar passed away in Mumbai on July 7, 2021, at the grand old age of 98. The news not only shocked fans across the country and abroad, but left its indelible mark on the countless people who have seen him as the epitome of romance and an innate character actor, from around the world.

Septuagenarian Smita, who lives with her family in New York, still cannot believe that the veritable legend, who acted in more than 65 films over nearly five decades, is no more. Fellow Indian from her neighborhood, Balvinder too was shocked by the news. For them, Dilip Kumar was a large part of their formative years. And now, he is long gone.

Dilip Kumar

Born in 1922 Peshawar (now in Pakistan) under the name Muhammad Yusuf Khan, Dilip Kumar made his acting debut in 1944 in the film Jwar Bhata. However, it was the 1949 hit Andaz that catapulted him to fame.

Superstar Amitabh Bachchan in his tribute wrote, “An institution has gone… Whenever the history of Indian Cinema will be written, it shall always be ‘before Dilip Kumar, and after Dilip Kumar’… My duas (prayers) for peace of his soul and the strength to the family to bear this loss. Deeply saddened.”

The First Khan of Bollywood, Dilip Kumar has been described as one of the most successful film stars in the industry and is credited with bringing a distinct form of method acting to the cinema.

Dilip Kumar was a find of Devika Rani, who rechristened a young Muhammad Yusuf Khan his new name, echoing the mood of contemporary times. She took him under her wings and the method actor, who entered the industry with no formal training, rose to the heights of glory in Indian cinema. In fact, in an interview in 1970, he said that he adopted this name out of fear of his father, who never approved of his acting career.

Dilip Kumar in Ganga Jumna.

Dilip Kumar’s method-acting is perhaps best exemplified in the film Gunga-Jumna. The 1961 Nitin Bose directorial is believed to have seen Dilip Kumar run all around the studio premise, to the point of collapsing, in order to get the right look and feel for his death scene in the film.

If method acting is what defines Dilip Kumar, the actor himself tried to elaborate upon it in his autobiography Dilip Kumar: The Substance And The Shadow, released in 2015, where he wrote, “I am an actor who evolved a method, which stood me in good stead.”

In films like Shakti, Dilip Kumar used silence and stillness in a manner where he brought alive to perfection the portrayal of a tortured father unable to express love for his son. Dilip Kumar, as an actor, would seldom raise his voice. He would speak up whenever a moment in the film needed it, invariably mellowing down his voice to ooze a gamut of expressions in cinema, leaving behind his indelible mark in Indian films.

Smita recalls an incident as a teenager when she went to see Mughal-e-Azam at the theatre, where his on-screen clash with another legendary actor Prithviraj Kapoor has created a timeless classic. The two titans on the screen, where Kapoor’s thunderous oration was perfectly foiled by Kumar’s pauses, silences, and nuanced brooding glances are something that Smita says still gives her goosebumps.

Perhaps the legend that Dilip Kumar was, best finds voice in a rare clip that became viral on social media. The recording starts with Dilip Kumar reciting a shayeri during an interview. In the recording, the legend can be heard saying, “Humare baad iss mehfil mein afsane bayaan honge, bahare humko dhoondengi, Na jaane hum kahaan honge…”

In fact, such was the influence of the veritable legend that in 1962, Dilip Kumar was given the chance to star in the British film Lawrence of Arabia, which would go on to win an Oscar. The film would have been his Hollywood debut, but Dilip Kumar declined it saying that he didn’t need to act in films abroad to prove his worth.

In Dilip Kumar, Indian cinema found an actor who not only simply enacted characters on screen, but lived them. For him, it was a state of being rather than just a part, to be enacted between the ‘action’ and ‘cut’ in cinema.


Umang Sharma is a media professional, avid reader, and film buff. His interests lie in making the world a better place through the power of the written word.


 

Film still from 'India Sweets and Spices'.

Geeta Malik’s ‘India Sweets And Spices’ Stirs Up A Delicious Cinematic Recipe

I had been waiting to watch Geeta Malik’s India Sweets and Spices ever since it buzzed in the news that the film was being shot in my hometown of Atlanta. It premiered at the Tribeca Festival in New York on June 12, and I had the opportunity to watch a film I had been eagerly waiting for.

The Story Of India Sweets And Spices

Alia Kapur, played by Sophia Ali, finishes her freshman year at UCLA and is back home in the wealthy suburbs of New Jersey to spend her summer. Her parents Sheila and Ranjit are an integral part of the lavish weekend parties hosted within their circle of friends. For one such party at her house, Alia visits the local Indian grocery store to get biscuits. She takes an instant liking to Varun (Rish Shah), the son of the shopkeeper.  Alia invites him and his family to the party, much to the consternation of her mother who is class-conscious.

Surprises are in store for Alia as one secret after another is unraveled, and she realizes that her parents have all along been putting up a facade. A plethora of emotions engulf her as she is angry, amazed, perplexed, and hurt at the same time. 

Alia abhors the pretentious lifestyle of her parents. She wants to lead a life of authenticity and discard the superficiality which she says would make all of them so fake that they would not recognize themselves anymore. Will Alia succeed in confronting her parents with the truth and be able to carve her own identity?  

Film still from India Sweets and Spices.
Film still from India Sweets and Spices.

A beautifully penned story addresses multiple themes

From feminism and patriarchy to class difference and infidelity, Malik ventures to fit in all. The character of Alia is crafted with incredible dexterity and towers high. 

Alia is undoubtedly the mascot for feminism and equality. Right from the moment when she first appears wearing a t-shirt with the logo “Paratha rolls, not gender roles” (an echo of the 2018 Aurat March), she strikes you as the independent, free-minded youngster. While having a beer with her friend Rahul, she voices that the good thing about their generation is that they believe men and women are equal. That, she says, is progress. She beams with joy when she later learns about her mother’s leaning towards issues of women’s rights.

Is it not time for the shackles of patriarchy to be broken? Does a woman need to sacrifice her dreams in order to be a devoted wife and mother? Does any marriage that is on the rocks need to continue simply to create a good impression in front of society? These questions surface in the film.

 Although the story is set on a serious premise, the film is tension-free. The witty dialogues that come in occasionally and the tongue-in-cheek humor temper it all. 

The gossiping aunties, for instance, are referred to as “saree-wearing zombies”.  When Alia expresses her concern that her mom might have to end up in a rehab center, her friend Neha calms her by saying, “Rehab is like a spa.” Then again, there is a scene in which Alia’s mother sarcastically asks her if she was doing charity by inviting Varun’s family, who do not belong to their class. Pat comes the reply from Alia, “Aunties without borders!” These lines sure ease the seriousness.

A brilliant choice of actors keeps the narrative alive

The film primarily belongs to Sophia Ali, and she charms with her amazing performance. She fits in perfectly in her role of a hip and casual youngster who’s impatient, restless, and full of vibrant energy. 

It is a pleasure to see Manisha Koirala make her Hollywood debut with this film. As the sophisticated Sheila, she carries herself with true finesse. Adil Hussain, as always, is remarkable as Ranjit Kapur. Given the actor’s excellent track record, this comes as no surprise.

Deepti Gupta as Varun’s mother Bhairavi has a minor, yet, important role that contributes to the development of the plot. She does justice to her part and impresses.

Film still from India Sweets and Spices.
Film still from India Sweets and Spices.

The film incorporates tidbits from the director’s first-hand observations.

India Sweets and Spices is based on Geeta Malik’s own script “Dinner With Friends” which brought her the accolade of the Academy Nicholl Fellowship in screenwriting in 2016. At the core of the film are those extravagant parties where the action unfolds. There are ladies decked in fine jewelry and gorgeous sarees, men talking in loud voices, children in ethnic attire, gossip points, Bollywood music, and, of course, the wide display of mouth-watering delicacies. 

Malik brings in these elements from her own experience as she narrates in an interview: “I did grow up going to these Indian dinner parties, being dragged to them”.

The film brings the lives of Indian Americans to the fore. Geeta Malik does not show any cultural clashes that the characters face. Rather, she intelligently portrays them as identifying strongly with both Indian and American traditions and not having to choose between them. Therein lies the uniqueness of the film.

On the downside, I’d like to bring up an act without giving too many spoilers. There is a party scene towards the end which I feel is a little too stretched out and exaggerated with guests drying their dirty laundry. But I’d cut some slack and deduce that director Malik has perhaps incorporated the scene for comic relief and to hint at the immaturity adults are capable of.

Blending in with its name, India Sweets And Spices is great to watch with a treat of savory snacks. I sure did that by pairing up spicy samosas and gulab jamuns with a cup of masala chai. Or rather, I should make it sound hip and trendy by saying in the language of the new generation: I enjoyed the film with spiced tea, spicy sams, and g-jams!

 Watch the film when you get a chance!


Rashmi Bora Das is settled in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA. She has written for various platforms including Women’s Web to which she regularly contributes. You may visit her at www.rashmiwrites.com 


 

Sardar Kaur Is the Irascible Dadi That I Might Be

I saw the title Sardar Ka Grandson pop up on Netflix. I kept on scrolling, assuming that this may be a Punjabi movie with a macho flair. Perhaps it was a remake or sequel of Son of Sardaar (a 2012 movie directed by Ashwni Dhir). After an arduous workday, I was not keen to watch Ajay Devgn and Sanjay Dutt engage in dishoom dishoom or explosions in sugarcane fields.

I was surprised when my daughter recommended it to me. She said: You would like this movie, it’s a story about a dadi and her not-so-savvy grandson.

Sardar, a masculine name for princes, noblemen, chiefs, leaders, and turbaned North Indian men of Sikh faith, but I had forgotten Sikhs have a tradition of transporting masculine names like Jaspreet, Harpreet, Kamaljit to feminine by just adding a suffix kaur, a synonym for miss in English or kumari in Hindi.

I fixed myself a large katori of kheer and sat down to watch this dramedy c0-written and directed by Kaashvie Nair and co-written by Anuja Chauhan.

I became a grandma ten years back, and ever since that day, I have come into my mettle. I have realized that I was born to gain notoriety in this role.  My temperament is amiable but I confess that I am a tad bit stubborn (God help those who get on my wrong side). It’s but natural that I have admired irascible grandmas on and off-screen.

My most favorite is the crusty dowager of Downton Abbey played by Countess Violet Crawley (the one and only dame Maggie Smith). Her candid aphorisms, withering looks, and haute couture sweep me off my feet: A woman of my age can face reality better than most men.”

The other hilarious character is Sophia Petrillo played perfectly to the last cheeky wisecrack by Estelle Getty. She is the scrawny, unglamorous, and yet most unforgettable of the Golden Girls TV series. Sophia Petrillo’s dry sense of humor reminds me of my great grandmother and raconteur Madame Hukam Devi Mehra, aka Maaji, whose tales of wit were famous in the orchards along the banks of the mighty river Ravi.

But I am certain that the credit of my headstrong gene goes to my paternal grandmother, Madame Krishna Kumari Kapur of Lahore, British India. She was willful and quite “the talk of the town” with her beguiling pink rose and pearlish complexion. Her Lahori friends grew accustomed to her and often turned a blind eye to her shenanigans!

Now our own Neena Gupta as Sardar Kaur has added her name to the legion of unforgettable grandmas of the silver screen.

Neena Gupta is one of the most versatile actors. When I saw that she was the dadi,  Sardar Kaur, I could not wipe the grin off my face.

My heartbeat quickened to learn that the movie was filmed in the two historic border towns, Amritsar and Lahore, straddling the line of partition drawn arbitrarily by Sir Cyril Radcliffe. My ancestors migrated from Lahore to Amritsar and settled in Shimla after the partition. They had similar double-story row homes with Persian-style balconies, ideal for observing street processions and engage in chit-chats, gossip sessions, or full-blown street fights with their neighbors. My grandparents talked with great nostalgia about the homes and hearths they left behind in Lahore. My dad always wanted to go to Lahore but he never did. He used to recite a poem with so much love in his voice. 

Daal dus khan shehar Lahore ander

Kinne boohey tay kinnian barian nein

Naley das khaan aothon dian ittaan

Kinnian tuttian tay kinnian saarian nein…

(There is no place as beautiful as Lahore,

 with millions of doors and millions of windows, 

sweet wells for water and beautiful maidens…)

The high spirits portrayed by Sardar Kaur are very characteristic of the hardy women of Punjab. My daughter said that she rewound the final scene when Sardar Kaur enters the home of her dreams. She flows like water into the reverberating memories of her youthful days with her beloved husband. She relives her youth by touching the rose-painted window panes. There is laughter and tears. It’s authentic. It gives her closure. It’s a true homecoming!  

I suggest that you watch the movie. The movie has a smattering of Hindi, Punjabi, and English dialogue written by Amitosh Nagpal. Neena Gupta on and off the frames carries the movie “gently gently” with the swig of Lahori whiskey and in her hand-knit pink mittens like a true sardarni! Her faithful black rottweiler guard dog would definitely agree! The music score has a catchy folksy feel. I enjoyed the lyrics and beat of “Mein Teri Ho Gayi” and “Bandeya“!


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.


 

Film poster for 99 Songs.

99 Songs: An Oscar & Grammy-Winner Launches His Latest Bollywood Endeavor

Is it an ode to the global music community or the life story of the Mozart of Madras: Allarakha Rahman?

A.R. Rahman is an Indian film composer, record producer, singer, and songwriter who works predominantly in Tamil and Hindi films. In 2010, he was awarded the  Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian award. He has won an Oscar, six National Film Awards, two Academy Awards, two Grammy Awards, a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe Award, fifteen Filmfare Awards, and seventeen Filmfare Awards South. His first soundtrack, for Roja, was listed on Time’s all-time “10 Best Soundtracks” in 2005.  He is hailed as one of the world’s great living composers in any medium.

I can understand that such a musical genius with a wide global network would like to share his story with his fans and other actors. When I hear his songs: Jai Ho, Chhaiya Chhaiya, Dil hai Chhota Sa, Tu Hi Rai, Ae Ajnabi, O Ri Chhori, and more…my heart skips a beat.

Vande Mataram, an album of original compositions released for India’s 50th anniversary of its independence in 1997 brings me back to our motherland. A.R. Rahman’s amazing repertoire of Carnatic Music, Western, Folk, Hindustani Classical Music, and Qawwali is incomparable. He is very cosmic in his outreach, incorporating birdsongs, a gurgling brook, a child’s laughter and fusing them with traditional instruments with new electronic sounds and technology. Rahman has worked as a pianist in Ilaiyaraaja‘s troupe for hundreds of movies, which may be seen in 99 songs. The soundtrack is awe-inspiring and holds a torch to Rahman’s love of experimentation with orchestra and Indian pop music.

In August 2013, A.R. Rahman announced that he will be producing a one-of-a-kind musical love story. He originally wanted to launch it under EROS  but it became his maiden stint as a scriptwriter, producer apart from composing the original score and songs. This film is Co-Produced by Ideal Entertainment, Directed by Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy, who is best known for the Mumbai band Scribe, and distributed by Jio Studios. The movie, 99 Songs, was finally released on April 16, 2021.

I think I perceive it to be the magnum opus of a young prodigy who has a burning desire to be a successful music composer.  The hero (Ehan Bhat) has a wager to make 99 songs before he can marry his beloved debutante played by Edilsy Vargas. Veteran actors Aditya Seal, Lisa Ray, and Manisha Koirala add depth to the narrative. 

 The film features 14 tracks including the musical talents Shaswat Singh and Bela Shende. Each song creates a different mood. Every frame has a different meaning. The film is in three languages – Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu.

A.R. Rahman said, “If I knew earlier that we’d do three languages, I would have only made five songs and not 14!” But I don’t believe him. He has unstoppable energy beyond human comprehension!

Songs ‘Teri Nazar and The Oracle and “Jwalamukhihave received an incredible amount of love and support. The music is the soul of the film. It is a musical but not in the genre of Broadway which supports the narrative. Here the music overpowers the story! 

One song can change the world! These words are prophetic. The maestro wants us to experience the film with high aspirations.

Rahman on the film: “At a period where we are all unaware of the future, I think this movie will definitely bring hope into your lives. It talks about dreams;  It talks about the internal struggles of a creative person. Music is the last magic left in the world.”

He goes on to talk about his experiences leading up to the film: “I’ve been working since ‘81. I worked with so many different composers doing almost two sessions a day. Though I wasn’t intending to continue as a film composer at that time, love is a magnetic force. The more you get from people, the more you want their love.”

His journey has been magical and let’s just revel in his magic. I have added the soundtrack to my playlist and I can’t wait to watch it. I am completely in awe of his extraordinary musical gift. Wishing 99 songs a grand success!


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.


 

Pagglait Approaches the Insular Hindu Family With Humor and Heart

Pagglait is a Hindi dramedy film that released this past March on Netflix. The narrative follows the emotional reaction and circumstance of a young widow, Sandhya (Sanya Malhotra), after the death of her husband. The film is set in a small town near Delhi and chronicles the aftermath of the death of a breadwinner in a middle-class joint family.

This film, written and directed by Umesh Bist, is a winner! The producers Shobha Kapoor, Ekta Kapoor, Guneet Monga under the banners Balaji Motion Pictures and Sikhya Entertainment deserve praise.

The film plunges us into the middle of a drama. Astik has passed away. Sandhya is alone in her room, amidst a house full of grieving relatives, sifting through “routine” condolence posts on social media about her dead husband, Astik. Sandhya is very natural in her confusion and state of shock.

When asked, “If she wants some tea?” She says she would prefer a cola

Ghanashyam, a relative, suggests she has PTSD and Sandhya’s mother tries to ward off evil spirits by burning chilies. Sandhya’s attitude leaves the others puzzled but the viewer gains more insight into Sandhya’s character after her friend Nazia (Shruti Sharma) arrives. This vegetarian “chips” craving, Muslim school friend helps Sandhya process her grief. Sandhya admits that she is not feeling sad and sneaks away with Nazia for spicy street food while Astik’s brother is performing rituals for Astik on the river bank.

Ashutosh Rana looks sufficiently tired and hapless as a grieving father of a young son. Raghubir Yadav as the interfering orthodox uncle who orchestrates the funeral arrangements and thirteen-day right of passage of the deceased soul is natural. Another easy feather in Sheeba Chaddha’s professional cap as a traditional middle-aged mother who has no time to grieve. She just carries on cooking bland food for visiting relatives, massaging her mother-in-law’s ankles, giving her enema, offering support to her husband, and seeking guidance from her “guru”.

Sandhya admits that in the few months of marriage like any other arranged married couple, she was not very close to her husband. The loss of her pet cat affected her more than her husband. It takes time to develop feelings for someone…

The other family members are distressed but I think they are more concerned about the repercussions of the loss in their lives rather than genuine grief for the departed soul. Meanwhile, Sandhya discovers a photograph of Astik’s crush in his book. Sandhya is angry at her dead husband and is curious about Aakanksha, played flawlessly by the lovely and well-groomed, Sayani Gupta.  Aakanksha, who worked with Astik, came to offer her condolences with others from Astik’s office. Sandhya confides in Aakanksha and tries to gain more information about Astik from Aakanksha. She meets her a few times and tries to dress, act, and live vicariously through Aakanksha. Sandhya finds it hard to believe that Aakanksha and Astik were not involved after marriage and broods over it. 

The plot presents a twist when the family finds out who is the sole beneficiary of Astik’s life insurance. Questions arise. Will Sandhya remain in the joint family home or return to her parents’ home? Will she accept another proposal of an arranged loveless marriage? She has been craving soda and “gol gappas”, is she expecting? Can she find a job with her Master’s in English literature?

There are so many questions for Sandhya who is caught unawares at a crossroad.

But if you look closely, this ludicrous state is not Sandhya’s alone! This is the state of so many female denizens of a repressive society in which all decisions are made for them. From birth. Whether they have a right to be born to upbringing, education, toys, books, clothes, career choice, marriage, emotional and financial stability. Their ability to choose food, love, happiness is nullified by others. All decisions are made for them.

I highly recommend this film to everyone who supports gender equality. To quote the beautiful Sanya Malhotra, “Pagglait is a person who listens to their heart!”

A round of applause to Bist for hitting a home run with his flashlight on an insular Hindu family, the predictable characters with their hypocrisy (coming late to the funeral and drinking while making others abstain), warmth (treating the old dadi with respect and cuddling up in her comforter), jibes (at the in-laws), stress (of one bathroom), prolonged rituals (despite poor financials), every attempt to draw a line between a high caste Hindu and a Muslim, and the rather odd raunchy doorbell!

Death opens doors for self-realization in unexpected places.


Monita Soni, MD has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India, and a heart steeped in humanity. Monita has published many poems, essays, and two books, My Light Reflections and Flow Through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.


 

Reliving Scam 1992 Successfully: Hansal Mehta and Pratik Gandhi

As Abhishek Bachhan-starrer The Big Bull got released in April 2021, viewers were compelled to compare its content with the enthralling Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story (2020). Armed with the copyrights of using the real names and places, backed with intricate details of how one of the world’s biggest financial market functions, the latter clearly wins over. India Currents connected with Scam’s lead actor and director to know what went behind making it so.  

Mumbai is known as much for its local trains as its Jaguars, Lamborghinis, and Porsches. Finding cars like Premiere Padmini, Maruti 1000, Lexus Starlet, and Toyota Sera of the early-90s was a challenge here in the making of the hit web series, Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story

Pratik Gandhi in film, Scam 1992.

“In one particular scene, a fleet of 15 of these high-end beauties of the 1990s are being flaunted by Harshad Mehta to his guests. It took the research team 2.5 years to get to those facts and bring them to life for the series,” shares actor Pratik Gandhi, who plays the role of Mehta in Scam

Within days of premiering on October 9, Scam rose to be the highest ever rated web series in the world on IMDB. “What matters is, in the absence of a benchmark to measure the success of a show, these tell you that your show is doing well. It is heartening. But one should not get carried away,” says soft-spoken Scam Director, Hansal Mehta about the unprecedented ratings ever received by a show/movie – Indian or otherwise. 

Scam is based on Sucheta Dala and Debashis Basu’s book The Scam: Who Won, Who Lost, and Who Got Away (1993). Mehta describes it as a deeply investigative and technical non-fiction book which he had wanted to make into a feature film when he read it somewhere around 2004-05.

Hansal Mehta, Director of the movie Scam 1992.

“A web series, and especially stories like that of Harshad Mehta, require a certain magnitude of storytelling. It’s more challenging and satisfying for me,” Mehta explains. Thus, the script of Scam runs 550 pages and is shot in 85 days spread over 6 months. “This size of the on-floor script is huge. It’s a thesis. If it’s anything to go by, the size of an average movie script is 70-90 pages and is shot in 20-30 days for regional cinema,” says Gandhi. Interestingly, the Scam shoot got over in March of last year, days before the country went into complete lockdown of two months.  

Though Gandhi put on 18kgs of weight for the role, he was instructed by the Director to imbibe Harshad’s traits more deeply than the looks. Apart from extensive reading sessions of the book, he watched available online videos of Harshad and met people from the share market and outside to know how he treated people and behaved. 

“For example, Harshad was a restless man who wanted to make it big and grow fast. So there was a constant movement in his body. If you watch the frames closely, either his thumb or hand or foot is moving; his smirk appears ever so swiftly portraying his arrogance, ego, and competence all at once – there is energy in the character,” shares Gandhi on how he got into the skin of the protagonist.    

The 10-part series takes you on the journey of how a poor Harshad from Gujarat, India, made his way through the Bombay Stock Exchange and got glorified as ‘The Big Bull’ and ‘Bachchan of the stock market’ through the late 1980s and early 1990s until he was exposed by Dalal of committing frauds against banks and BSE that ran into millions of dollars. 

“The visual detailing was a challenge – recreating old Bombay, finding the luxury cars, explaining how the stock exchange worked before it was computerized, meeting jobbers to understand how they worked then, to create the offices of those times complete with landline phones…The research team used a book that has the entire history of BSE. We used some hand gestures mentioned in there,” speaks Mehta of ways in which they delved beyond the book.

It was the “big life” of Harshad that intrigues the director the most. “My decision to tell a story or a character is guided by how much it impacts the world we live in. Scam is a story of India at the cusp of liberalization, a story of greed, of a system in rot.” 

Scam endears its viewers with simplified jargon of the trade market. Hansal says he guided his writers while they worked on creating engaging dialogue. “Scripting is an interesting process. And this series required a lot of it to be done. With an eye on facts and a book to follow, one can easily lose the emotional connect,” feels Gandhi.

Though Hansal has explored diverse biographical characters with actor Rajkummar Rao in his five critically acclaimed previous works, and his next Chalaang is again with him, why did he chose Gandhi to play Harshad Mehta? 

“Pratik Gandhi was an instinctive choice to play the role. I had seen his work in theatre and two of his Gujrati films – Bey Yaar (2014) and Wrong Side Raju (2016). Both Mukesh Chhabra and I zeroed in on him,” says Mehta. On the sets, Hansal told Gandhi that he didn’t even go through the audition given by the actor for this role.

Scam’s tagline ‘Risk hai toh ishq hai’ has struck a chord with many. Did this series take any risks?

“I think the biggest risk the makers of this series took was an unusual cast, to take me as the lead protagonist instead of a well-known face. This is my biggest ever and first mainstream project though I have done a lot of work in the film and theatre industry for over 15 years now,” says Gandhi, who holds an entry in the Limca Book of Records for his 90-minute monologue on Mahatma Gandhi. 

“He (Hansal Mehta) is a very calm and composed person. On the first day of the shoot, he told me that all he wanted from me was to create this character with honesty. ‘When you say it’s not feeling right, I would stop.’ You don’t find this kind of faith and freedom,” says Gandhi. 

And evidently, the faith is reaping its fruits. “Before this series, I had only heard about the stock exchange. Now I have got intrigued about it and learning it. But I haven’t ever invested!” says Gandhi. Any level at which he could relate himself to Harshad? “Of a lot of things, one thing is, I am a complete family man like him.”


Suruchi Tulsyan, a freelance journalist based in Kolkata, spends most of her time tending to her children and her plants.


 

New York to Kerala, American Actress India Jarvis Makes a Malayalam Film Debut

The first time Director, Jeo Baby mentioned her name, I thought I had heard him wrong. It was prior to the release of his film, Kilometers and Kilometers. Requesting him to repeat the actress’s name, I heard him say India Jarvis again. Now I was convinced of my hearing. 

Actress, India Jarvis

India Jarvis might be an unusual name for this New York-raised American actress. And, clearly, her mother had no inkling while christening her daughter India, that one day her little girl would cross the shores to work in the eponymous country. 

Jarvis traveled in 2019 to India on her first visit for the filming of the Malayalam film, ‘Kilometers and Kilometers.’

“My mother named me after one of the characters in ‘Gone With the Wind,’ says Jarvis over email. “She found the name beautiful.”

Jarvis’s love for acting goes back to her childhood when as a 9-year-old, she joined a community theater. And, with a BFA from the Academy of Art University (San Francisco), she moved to New York. She worked there in Off-Broadway shows and short films.

Kilometers and Kilometers is her first Indian feature film where she essays the lead role of Cathy- an American tourist in India. Cathy after winning at a casino is keen on touring the country, but not in chauffeured cars. She is eager on exploring India while riding pillion on a motorcycle.

When the offer to do this Malayalam film came her way, Jarvis despite being unaware of the industry, took it up.

“I have watched Indian films,” she says. “My favorite is ‘Black’ – the Amitabh Bachchan starrer. As an actor, you’re always looking for scripts with interesting stories and characters.”

Like her character, it was her first experience traveling to India. 

“I’ve never worked on anything like this before. I knew it would be a challenge from an acting perspective.”

Talking about her director, Jarvis says, “Jeo had a great vision for this film. I knew it was in great hands.”

In Kilometers and Kilometers, she is paired opposite Kerala’s heartthrob –Tovino Thomas. Thomas plays Josemo, a motorbike mechanic who takes on the work opportunity to drive Cathy around on his motorbike. Being the only son, he supports his widowed mother and younger sister and hopes to clear his family debts with the money thus earned. 

Jarvis was at ease working with Tovino Thomas. 

“While shooting, I found myself lost at times due to the language barrier. Tovino was always helpful,” she recalls.  “There’s one scene where Josemon and Cathy are sitting on the edge of a cliff. We were secured by a rope around our waists. It was terrifying, but I put on a brave face to get through the scene. Pillion riding on a motorcycle was a blast. Despite a hectic schedule, it was almost therapeutic.”

Kilometers and Kilometers is a feel-good film now streaming on Netflix.

Following its release, Jarvis has been flooded with messages on social media. Though she has received offers to work in India, she is unable to travel in the existing pandemic times.


Mythily Ramachandran is an independent journalist based in Chennai, India with over twenty years of reporting experience. Besides contributing to leading Indian and international publications including Gulf News (UAE), South China Morning Post, and Another Gaze (UK), she is a Rotten Tomatoes critic. Check out her blog – http://romancing-cinema.blogspot.com/ 


 

Tom and Jerry Incorporates Indian Culture But Does It Do It Well?

Recently Tom and Jerry: The Movie was released in theaters and HBO!

In this movie, Hollywood gets Bollywood glam! The beloved co-stars of Tom and Jerry attend an Indian wedding and wear Sabyasachi and Anushree Reddy couture.  

A UK-based fashion house, Aashni + Co assisted Warner Bros. crew in sourcing bespoke costumes at an Indian wedding extravaganza. Each outfit was beautifully designed, and had a light, airy feel to it – the color palette had hints of peonies, lavender, and rose bowers.

Aashni + Co Co-Founder, Aashni Anshul Doshi.

Aashni + Co Co-Founder, Aashni Anshul Doshi told India Currents that she borrows inspiration from what she sees around her – from the incredible to the little mundane things. She said, “Even a short but meaningful current affairs conversation gets me going. Believing in the greatness of any idea can be a real inspiration for me.” 

The surreal juxtaposition of Bollywood in a cartoon movie accompanied by unexpected pop-ups of elephants, peacocks, and tigers in the grand ballroom did not compete with the slippery antics of Tom and Jerry. The effect was reminiscent of Aladdin’s entry into Jasmine’s palace! 

Aashni comments, “Being part of Hollywood gave me an opportunity to up the ante. Having dressed up Indian brides, grooms, and families from across the globe, we went with our instincts about grand Indian weddings to curate every look.” And it worked!

I have not shopped at Aashni +Co but I love their glossy website that offers an exclusive shopping experience. They were approached by Tom and Jerry stylists in the summer of 2019.

“The bridal ensembles had to be elegant, rich, and traditional. We worked around this pitch and shortlisted suitable outfits to present for selections. It was great that where typically across the globe, an Indian bride is usually dressed in red, the choice to go with ivory with understated elegance was zeroed in on.”

Choosing something so unconventional and expensive, I wonder about the process and challenge of acclimatizing Hollywood stars and their audience to Indian attire and cultural norms. When India Currents’ asked Aashni + Co to comment on this, we did not receive a response. 

In old Bollywood films, the bride was always dressed in a classic red saree and heavy gold jewelry. In my day, bridal attire was sourced from popular saree stores that carried few versions of bridalwear. Simple and elegant, a look recreated in Mira Nair’s rendition of A Suitable Boy. My mother stitched outfits for us in taffeta, satin, and silk with handspun gold lace. She did not consult a design book. The ideas stemmed from her imagination. My wedding saree was a shimmering red-gold tissue trimmed in broad gold brocade.

In India, people always asked me, where I bought my clothes? My elegant mother was an understated designer! Now, when I pick up a chic garment from an Avante Garde boutique-like Aashni + Co. that reminds me of my mother’s, it always has a $$$$ price tag.

In the last ten years, there has been an explosion of bridal couture in India! Indian diaspora is hypnotized by the glitz and glamor – each outfit is more ornate and ostentatious. Tom and Jerry and other films like it can perpetuate global misconceptions about Indian wedding culture. 

My other issue was that while the human actors wore their glad rags to the hilt, they seemed a bit confused about their own spatial and dialogue relationships with the cartoon protagonist.

If the screenplay and direction were intended to draw parallels between the lives of Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz) and the cat and mouse duo, it did not. The underhanded gesture at the outset employed by Kayla to nab a position at the prestigious establishment conjured up the gestalt of Jerry but then it frittered away. Ben( Colin Jost) and Preeta (Pallavi Sharda) as a tense interracial couple before their wedding gala did not capitalize on the conflict. My heart warmed up to Michael Pena because he has a great sense of timing but even his humor was stymied. My eyes scanned to glean memorable unexpected moments in the fight sequences between the sworn adversaries, but mayhem and destruction failed to impress! 

There was nothing to make me scream in sheer delight. It was nothing like the ”zombie-high” I felt by watching reruns of short cartoon films created in 1940 by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. This live-action/computer-animated slapstick comedy would not be my “go-to” movie when I want to share the family couch for some popcorn and laughter.


Monita Soni, MD has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India, and a heart steeped in humanity. Monita has published many poems, essays, and two books, My Light Reflections and Flow Through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.


 

Fremont-Based Choreographer’s BollyHeels is Challenging Heteronormativity in Dance

South Asian Americans are redefining traditionally heteronormative notions of gender and sexuality. Although the culture is still well on its way towards acceptance of LGBTQ+ identities, Fremont choreographer Amit Patel is bringing Desis — and the dance community as a whole — in the direction of progress. 

Patel, who began learning Bollywood dance when was just 10 years old, is a professional choreographer for the Bliss Dance and Mona Khan companies. From performing at national events like the Indiaspora Inaugural Ball in Washington D.C to bagging a spot among the top 48 of America’s Got Talent out of 70,000 acts, Patel has played a major role in the representation of Desi dance on global platforms. His Youtube channel, where he regularly uploads choreography videos for both English and Hindi songs, boasts a whopping 184,000 subscribers. He was a part of Lilly Singh’s historic A Little Late With Lilly Singh’s premiere and a pioneer of Eastern Contemporary, a genre of Patel’s own making where he fuses South Asian and Western styles of dance. He has been featured in KQED’s series If Cities Could Dance.

Patel has been opening doors and bridging barriers for what seems like his whole career, and his latest “Bollywood Heels” projects, where he dances in heels to challenge heteronormative stereotypes, are opening up the dance space for LGBTQ+ community. In an interview with India Currents, Patel chronicles both his journey as a dancer and as a gay Indian American man. 

Image from If Cities Could Dance (Courtesy of KQED)

“There are so many different ways to create social change, from working in politics to working in media,” Patel says. “So for me, when I finally decided to pursue [dance] full-time, what interested me the most was artwork..that helped push the conversation.”  

A Fremont native, he reflected on his upbringing in a ‘tech’ family — one of the many South Asians attempting to reach their version of the American Dream in the Silicon Valley. Bollywood gave Patel the freedom to both connect with his culture as well as a liberating, cathartic mode of self-expression. His love for dance began with the Mona Khan Dance Company, when he joined Khan’s classes held in Milpitas’s India Community Center at eleven years old. 

“Everyone has a different origin story,” says Patel. “There is a huge conversation about identity and what makes “you” you, and what Mona provided [in] her dance company was this opportunity to explore our roots without having to give up the daily things that made us American.” 

It was with Khan’s dance company that Patel learned to fuse Indian music with contemporary techniques, creating the medleys that lie at the heart of the Eastern Contemporary genre. With Eastern Contemporary, Patel helped create that ‘happy’, welcoming space for cultural diffusion in dance. With “Bollywood Heels”, his blend of Kathak and Jazz, he aspires to do the same — this time, for dancers of all genders and sexualities. Patel was inspired to initiate change after coming to terms with Bollywood’s internalized heteronormativity. 

“As a kid watching Bollywood, I didn’t necessarily question Bollywood,” Patel told KQED Arts, reflecting on his childhood experiences. “All those traditional gender roles and expectations of a male dancer, that I would also be placed in. I didn’t necessarily resonate with that.” 

Bollywood Heels seeks to remove these expectations in dance, allowing artists to unabashedly express who they are. 

“I just intended to create a space where any queer person that wants to come can explore this movement without judgement,” Patel mentions in the same interview with KQED Arts. “And, also tie that in with culture, because in our South Asian community, that never existed.”

To learn more about Amit Patel, follow his Instagram and subscribe to his Youtube channel


Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as well as the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar. Her work appears in the Apprentice Writer, Polyphony Lit, Brown Girl Magazine, Parallax Literary Magazine, among many others. 

Toofan Will Premiere On Amazon Prime Video In May

The year’s most-awaited summer blockbuster – the upcoming inspirational sports drama Toofaan, produced by Excel Entertainment in association with ROMP Pictures, will globally premiere on Amazon Prime Video. 

Toofaan stars Farhan Akhtar in the role of a boxer, alongside Mrunal Thakur, Paresh Rawal, Supriya Pathak Kapur, and Hussain Dalal. The highly-anticipated sports drama directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra will premiere directly on Amazon Prime Video on the 21st of May, 2021 across 240 countries and territories.

Vijay Subramaniam, Director, and Head, Content, Amazon Prime Video said, “Excel Entertainment has been an integral part of our India journey and we treasure a long-standing relationship with them. Toofaan marks another exciting chapter for us together. Toofaan is one more step in our continuous commitment to bringing quality entertainment to our customers and another excellent addition to our direct-to-service film selection.”

“The film is an engaging and inspiring tale of the power of perseverance and following ones’ passion against all odds. With Rakeysh’s flair for narrating stories with a unique appeal and Farhan’s ability to make every character he plays appear relatable and endearing, we are sure that Toofaan has all the makings of the perfect summer blockbuster and will be loved by our consumers across the globe. A story that is as intriguing as ever, we are looking forward to bringing this sports drama to Prime members this May,” he added. 

Ritesh Sidhwani, Producer, Excel Entertainment shared his excitement. “At Excel Entertainment, we always try to tell stories that touch the heart and soul of the audience,” he said. “We consistently strive to develop new concepts which can entertain and enlighten the viewers. With Toofaan, we are presenting an inspirational sports drama that presents the story of a goon from the streets of Dongri set against the backdrop of boxing, his fall, and triumphant comeback against all odds in life. Excel Entertainment in association with ROMP Pictures is very thrilled to announce this special film. Our long-standing partnership with Amazon Prime Video has been brilliant and Toofaan is yet another exciting chapter and association for us at a global level.”

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, who once again is collaborating with Farhan Akhtar after the grand success of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, stated that, “After working with Farhan in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, I was certain that he would be the perfect protagonist for Toofaan. The best thing about him is that he does not act the part, but lives it completely. Toofaan is a story that will motivate and inspire all of us to get out of our comfort zones and fight towards achieving our dreams. We cannot wait to present our film to viewers across the globe.”


Vindhya PV is a passion-driven journalist who hails from Calicut, Kerala.

Drishyam 2: George Kutty and Family Are Back

(Featured Image: Actor, Mohanlal with Director, Jeethu Joseph)

George Kutty with his wife Rani and their two daughters, Anju and Anumol, bring in a new saga of fortitude as the sequel of the critically acclaimed Malayalam film, Drishyam started streaming worldwide on Amazon Prime Video from February 19th. 

Remade in other south Indian languages as well in Hindi, Sinhalese, and Chinese, Drishyam was a game-changer not only for Director, Jeethu Joseph, but for the entire cast led by Mohanlal and Meena and supported by Ansiba Hassan, Esther Anil, Asha Sharath, Kalabhavan Shajohn, and Siddique. Jeethu Joseph had no inkling while scripting Drishyam – the first part – that it would lead him to a sequel. Post Drishyam’s release and with people discussing and creating their stories for a sequel, the production house asked him to consider its sequel in 2015. Although Drishyam was a closed plot, Joseph decided to explore it.  

“It took me four years to write Drishyam 2,” Joseph tells me over phone from Kerala. 

Drishyam 2 trailer hints at a police investigation probing again into the case of the missing Varun. The question in our minds is – How will George Kutty protect his family again?

“My challenge lay in the characterization and to ensure a continuity of the story. I met Lal ettan (elder brother) with my final draft. He wanted some clarifications. We ironed out few issues. The idea was to write a good story and to make good cinema. We were not thinking of its business prospects.”

Drishyam 2 examines how life has changed for George Kutty and his family over the past ten years. How did the trauma of Drishyam affect them? How does society view them? 

Drishyam 2 was shot last year during Covid times with social restrictions in place. New characters have been introduced in the sequel. The multi-faceted actor-director Murali Gopi is playing a police officer.

Is it ok for George Kutty to continue lying to protect his family?

Joseph tells me, “We can talk about that after the release of Drishyam 2.”

Meet George Kutty’s Daughters

Actress, Ansiba Hassan

Ansiba Hassan: “I am excited since I have not been in cinema for the last four years. Drishyam 2 is a comeback for me. In the first part, Esther (who played Anumol) had a significant role and the story was pivoted around Anju. Seven years have elapsed since then. Today, Anju is in college. She is a mature young woman but she is torn by guilt for having committed a crime. She always dreads being caught and is battling depression. She avoids people and prefers to be with her family at home. Much as she wishes to laugh and enjoy life, the ghosts of the past restrain her from living in the present. She is unable to laugh to her heart’s content and is very sad. My challenge lay in bringing to the fore Anju’s remorse while appearing happy on the outside.” 

Actress, Esther Anil

Esther Anil: “Getting back to the sets was a good feeling after being indoors during the lockdown. It gave us hope in the industry. Anumol in Drishyam 2 is studying in class 12. And, this teenager is often in an argument with her mother. In part one, Anumol had much significance but not so in the sequel. Drishyam 2 is about the family and their bonding. Anju was affected by a situation in Drishyam and the family is living with past trauma. My role cannot be compared with that of Ansiba chechi (elder sister). I have as much space as in part one. In the sequel, the emotional connection of the family has been retained well.” 


Mythily Ramachandran is an independent journalist based in Chennai, India with over twenty years of reporting experience. Besides contributing to leading Indian and international publications including Gulf News (UAE), South China Morning Post, and Another Gaze (UK), she is a Rotten Tomatoes critic. Check out her blog – http://romancing-cinema.blogspot.com/