Tag Archives: Comedy

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.


 

Coolie No. 1, Another 2020 Disappointment

I interviewed the poised and reticent Shikha Talsania in mid-December for Coolie No 1, starring Varun Dhawan and Sara Ali Khan in the lead. Normally I would have posted the review based on her comments but she did not reveal anything about the movie other than quoting  “it’s a refreshed version” and “ a family movie”.

So, I watched the movie on Christmas Day with my family. Although I had forgotten the scene by scene roll out of the 1995 blockbuster, the raving zest of Govinda, his side-splitting interactions with Kader Khan as Hoshiarchand. The credulous “Barbie-like’ mannerisms of Karisma Kapoor had left a mental imprint. Twenty-five years ago, I remember borrowing the VCD tape from a street vendor in Manhattan over a long holiday weekend, watching it with my friends and being flabbergasted by the song “Main to ladki ghuma raha tha...Tujhe mirchi lagi toh main kya karoon?” At the same time marveling as to how the lyrics-tune beat combo “Husn hai suhana ishq hai deewana had created a cult-like appeal.

As I watched the 2020 David Dhavan remake, I was catapulted back into the frenzied hip-hop of the roaring 90s! Apart from that, the new movie was unable to cast a spell. Varun Dhavan is a handsome and talented actor who has cast a spell in Badri Ki Dulhaniya and other films. Sara Ali Khan is glammed up (though costumes are not tasteful) but her acting skills are untapped. I wish David Dhavan would have reimagined the storyline after a quarter of a century! If he is thinking of vesting money and energy in remaking other Govinda movies with Varun, he must rethink it. 

There are a myriad of stories and current real-life issues to be explored and presented to the audience in commercially successful cinema. I hope to see Varun, Sara, Shikha, and other stars cast in original socio-economic-political narratives to entertain and enlighten the audiences. If the lure of “rags to riches” theme is too hypnotic to ignore then there are stories like that of Ambani, a son of a village school teacher, and Narendra Modi selling tea at Vadnagar railway station. Although the remake has a backstory, it could have been more creative! Bollywood must come to grips with the fact that the 2020 filmgoer finds it ludicrous to believe that a change of costume can conjure a completely different identity, whether that be of twin or not.

The story is as follows: Humiliated by a mercenary hotelier, Jeffrey Rozario (Paresh Rawal), matchmaker Jai Kishan (Jaaved Jaaferi) avenges himself by introducing a railway coolie Raju (Varun Dhawan) as Kunwar Raj Pratap. Raju is smitten by the photograph of Jeffrey’s daughter Sarah (Sara Ali Khan). Sarah gullibly believes Raju’s tall tales. It might have been more interesting to see the daughter Anju (Shikha Talsania) marry Raju’s friend Deepak (Sahil Vaid) rather than team up with a fictional twin of Raju. 

If the movie was made as an homage to the original, it falls short. If it was made to erase the original from our memory, it fails hopelessly. Govinda’s unexpected words, irrational antics, and outlandish costumes are unforgettable, as are his bona fide dance moves in those loose trousers! Govinda pulled off a con in Coolie No 1 by holding the audience spellbound but Varun Dhawan’s over-rehearsed expressions and mimicry failed to tickle the funny bone. Paresh Rawal’s limericks, or Rajpal Yadav and Javed Jaffrey’s pranks did not do the trick either. I feel that the entire cast was so much in awe of Govinda’s comedic high jinks and they lacked the oomph to overshadow the original Coolie No 1. It’s like comparing an original Indian soda to the same soda in a fancier bottle but with more sugar and less fizz! Although the songs will be good for zoom zumba the movie fails to dazzle! Coolie No 1(2020) is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and Hotstar.

 


Monita Soni has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, and the other in her birth home India. Writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. 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.

Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?

A slim envelope arrived in the mail. It didn’t look like junk mail and its heft was light.  I turned it over a couple of times and slit it open. Inside, on a single sheet of ruled paper was a crisply-penciled note from my grandniece.  “Dear Mukund Thatha,” it read. “Thank you for coming to my show. I enjoyed dozing off during class with Ms. Quipster. Taarini”

When was the last time you received a personal letter in the mail?

Taarini was referring to Sounds of Laughter 2019, an annual show by The Music School in Sunnyvale featuring more than a hundred of its students ranging in age from kindergarteners to high schoolers.

A buzz filled the Spartan Theater as people entered, greeted friends, found seats of their choice and settled in. The diverse crowd was representative of the Bay Area, with a good mix of young and old. Proud parents and grandparents, many armed with cameras, video recorders and smartphones were ready to capture the young ones in action.  Many parents were accompanied by their children – some looking somewhat bored, uninspired perhaps by the prospect of having to watch their siblings perform; a few others were armed with books. Friends of the family looked happy in their role as morale boosters. A few among the audience just had to check out that latest WhatsApp message, respond to a work email or check on the Warriors score in a key playoff game.  

The lights dimmed promptly at seven and the audience settled in.  Rustling and movement could be heard behind the stage curtain. A spotlight turned on to illuminate a corner of the stage. “Why did the chicken cross the road?” asked a disembodied young voice. Two young artistes stepped into the spotlight and trotted onto the stage in full chicken regalia, fluffing their feathers.

Thus started an endearing, fun-filled and joyous evening of songs, dance and skits interspersed with more chicken and Knock-Knock jokes than I’d heard in the last ten years combined. It was inspiring to see and hear these high-energy performers – young and younger – giving their best, teaming in coordination and harmony and entertaining the audience while having great fun themselves.

The song and dance numbers included well-known hits such as Monster Mash, and That’s Amore.  A dramatic rendition of Carole King’s musical version of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s story Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue left a strong impression.

There was once a boy named Pierre
Who only would say, “I don’t care!”
Read his story, my friend, for you’ll find
At the end that a suitable
Moral lies there

One day his mother said
When Pierre climbed out of bed
“Good morning, darling boy, you are my only joy”
Pierre said, “I don’t care!

***********

In a skit titled School Daze, the aforementioned Ms. Quipster tried gamely to deal with students who one-upped her with their attitudes and replies to her questions. The Song That Goes Like This was followed by Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow, previously rendered by the Beach Boys and other bands.  In my opinion the true essence of the evening was captured by the finale Happiness:

Happiness is two kinds of ice cream
Finding your skate key, telling the time
Happiness is learning to whistle
Tying your shoe for the very first time
Happiness is playing the drum in your own school band
And happiness is walking hand in hand

Happiness is five different crayons
Knowing a secret, climbing a tree
Happiness is finding a nickel
Catching a firefly, setting him free
Happiness is being alone every now and then
And happiness is coming home again

Happiness is morning and evening
Daytime and nighttime, too
For happiness is anyone and anything at all
That’s loved by you

Happiness is having a sister
Sharing a sandwich
Getting along
Happiness is singing together when day is through
And happiness is those who sing with you

Happiness is morning and evening
Daytime and nighttime, too
For happiness is anyone and anything at all
That’s loved by you

So, why did the chicken cross the road?

To remind us of all the important little things in life.  To assure us that it’s okay to act silly and have fun. To remind us to be happy with what we have. To feel justifiably proud of the generation that will be our future. To demonstrate what a group of people, young or old, can accomplish when they give of themselves and work together. To reinforce the adage that when you help others you help yourself. To bless us with an enjoyable, fun-filled evening.  And having done all that, to get to the other side!

No, Taarini, it is I who should thank you!

Mukund Acharya spent 40 years on three continents as a professor, scientist, manager and technologist in aerospace. He currently promotes healthy aging and wellness, advocates for patients and their families, and is exploring the use of short stories, photopoetry and blogs to spread the message on the importance of living substantive, impactful, fulfilling and contented lives while giving back to the community.

Happiness lyrics © Johnny Bienstock Music LLC, Songwriters: Bill Anderson

 

Saratoga Resident Recognized with Daily Point of Light Award

Nishka Ayyar was named Daily Point of Light Award Number 6213 by Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service. Nishka Ayyar received this recognition for her ongoing commitment to working with elderly seniors and promoting inter-generational connections between youth and seniors in her community.

Music Buddies is a student run volunteer initiative founded by Nishka Ayyar of Saratoga, CA. Inspired by the relationship she shared with her own grandparents and their positive influence in her life, Nishka started Music Buddies to bring companionship and joy in the lives of elderly people who live alone or in senior communities, separated from their families. Her organization enlists student performers from middle and high schools across the Bay Area and puts together fun weekend entertainment programs for the senior citizens. The program typically runs for about an hour and includes music, dance, stand- up comedy etc.

“I am delighted to receive this award and honor. I feel very fortunate to live in a community where volunteerism and service are highly valued and many parents and kids participate enthusiastically. The Music Buddies experience reinforces my belief that by bringing our oldest and youngest citizens together, we can mitigate many social isolation issues of both the seniors and the youth alike, and build healthy and happy communities everywhere.”

Daily Point of Light Awards are given five days a week in the United States and the United Kingdom to honor individuals and groups creating meaningful change to meet community needs; efforts which often lead to long-term solutions and impact social problems in their local communities. President George H. W. Bush was the first president in American history to institute a daily presidential recognition program from the White House, conferring 1,020 Daily Point of Light Awards on citizens and organizations making a big difference in other people’s lives and solving community problems. Points of Light continues the recognition and honorees receive a signed certificate from President Bush. The 5000th award was presented at a special ceremony at the White House with President Barack Obama and President George H. W. Bush co-presenting. The nonpartisan award was adopted by former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron in 2014, and the tradition has continued with his successor Theresa May. More than 6,500 Daily Point of Light Award recipients have been recognized in the United States and the United Kingdom.

“The Daily Point of Light Award recognizes exceptional individuals who are using their time, talent, voice and treasure to improve the lives of others,” said Jaqueline Innocent, Vice President, Recognition Programs of Points of Light. “These points of light, like Nishka Ayyar, make an impact on individuals while also helping build resilient communities.”

“We have a lot of requests from senior centers all over the San Francisco Bay Area and we are constantly looking for student performers to join us. We invite student performers from all over the Bay Area who are interested in participating, to join and help us celebrate our senior citizens and bring joy in their lives through these interactions and performances. Interested performers can join by submitting the student performers form on the website.”

To learn more about Nishka Ayyar’s work, visit www.musicbuddies.org or write to contact@musicbuddies.org.

About Points of Light

Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service, mobilizes millions of people to take action that is changing the world. Through affiliates in 250 cities and partnerships with thousands of nonprofits and corporations, Points of Light engages four million volunteers in 30 million hours of service each year. We bring the power of people where it’s needed most. For more information, visit www.pointsoflight.org