Tag Archives: Movie

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.


 

'June' Film poster

June: A Marathi Film On Hope and Healing

The first and only exclusive Marathi OTT player, Planet Marathi Cinema, recently went live with the release of its first film June. The first-ever Marathi film to be launched on a Transactional Video On Demand basis, the film has been the talk of the town due to its star cast. Helmed by Suhrud Godbole and Vaibhav Khisti, its story is penned by critically acclaimed director Nikhil Mahajan who has previously proved his mettle with the Netflix Original horror web series Betaal

Directors – Suhrud and Vaibhav

Having been showcased at a number of film festivals, such as the International Film Festival of India 2021, the New York Indian Film Festival 2021 (Winner – Best Actor & Nomination – Best Film), and the Pune International Film Festival 2021, the film puts a spotlight on several trending real-world themes of our times, such as mental health, peer pressure, bullying, self-harm, and suicide. The makers hope that the film helps people struggling with these issues to step out and start a conversation about them, reach out to family and friends, and seek professional help. 

A young woman, Neha (played by Nehha Pendse-Bayas), leaves her husband and goes from their home in Pune to Aurangabad, where she moves into a new house in a colony. Here, she meets Neel (played by Siddharth Menon), an engineering student who has failed his exams and is in his native town with nothing to do for a year. Neel struggles to meet his parents’ expectations and longs to flee his boring hometown where “who’s related to who is more important than how a person really is.” 

As Neel begins to show Neha around the city on his bike, the two bond about their lives and anxieties. Neel confesses that he feels responsible for the suicide of his hostel roommate who was routinely teased and bullied by their classmates. Neha too shares with him the trauma of her miscarriage, which possibly became the reason for her separation from her spouse. As the two begin to sort out each other’s problems, they end up resolving their own dilemmas too. 

Through the protagonists’ stories, the film throws up many emotionally layered moments and highlights various inner frustrations of young people, their doubts, insecurities, and confusions. Along the way, it also offers several subtle messages, such as the fact that we often tend to overrate failure—whether at work or in our relationships—giving it too much importance in our lives, and that people can heal if they open their hearts to each other. At one point in the film, Neha also reminds Neel that “what you are isn’t where you are in person, it’s where you are in your mind.”

Film still from 'June'
Film still from ‘June’

Aesthetically shot, the film also captures the city of Aurangabad extremely well—its landscape, ancient monuments, sights, and sounds. Interestingly, the dialogues are not just in Marathi, but in English as well. Further, the film’s gentle background score masterminded by Shalmali Kholgade consists of some soothing guitar strums and soulful tunes, with heart-touching lyrics by Jitendra Joshi and Nikhil Mahajan. 

To watch the film, one can buy a ticket from the Planet Marathi Cinema app.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. 


 

Family Man 2 Poster

The Family Man Returns: A Must-Watch Macabre Drama

Manoj Bajpayee returned as Srikant Tiwari, an undercover intelligence officer, in the much-awaited The Family Man (Season 2) on 4 June 2021. If you are still unfamiliar with the series, this is an Indian action thriller streaming on Amazon Prime Video and is written and produced by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K. The riveting screenplay and quick-witted dialogues were compiled by Sumit Arora and Suman Kumar. The series exposes the national security dangers faced by India because of her rough and complex geopolitical terrain. Security is made more challenging with disparate attitudes, language, lifestyles, tensions, cuisine, economy, bureaucracy, foreign threats, and fatalistic humor. How the seemingly ordinary hero Manoj Bajpayee navigates danger with an extraordinary sixth sense makes The Family Man special

Sri, as his family and friends call him, a middle-aged man with a small-town air (born in Belwa village) is sharp as a whip. He gets under one’s skin with his sensitive, emotive face, deep smoldering eyes, and sinewy body language. He is the arch-nemesis of terrorists but under his tough-guy persona, he is only a family man. His interactions with his kids, especially his provocative precocious little boy Atharva (Vedant Sinha), are authentic.  Sohaila Kapur, the School Principal is constantly summoning Srikant for meetings. His attempts to understand what his wife, the conflicted psychology professor, Suchi (Priyamani) is thinking, expose his vulnerability. He is worried like any man in his shoes that his wife is having an affair with her co-worker Arvind (Sharad Kelkar). Despite all this, the family man that he is, keeps reassuring the family that better days are ahead of them to compensate for his low-paying job. They don’t give him the time of the day because they are not privy to the workings of his day job. At the end of season 2, when he is being celebrated by PM Basu (Seema Biswas), the only favor he can think of is asking for a “no interest” home loan. Which is, of course, denied. 

The Family Man still (Image from Amazon Prime Video)

When I think of men on the silver screen, there’s nothing more attractive than their ability to engage, unless it’s also coupled with dazzling looks. Can he look smart in an old T-shirt, shirt sleeves, and can he clean up in a suit and tie? And Bajpayee does all that as Srikant Tiwari. One can’t deny that guys fighting crime with beautiful eyes, high cheekbones, and a dazzling smile are easy on the eyes. The name of  Benedict Cumberbatch comes to mind as the star of the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes. I cannot look away from the glittering eyes of Dame Christie’s Hercule Poirot, played superbly by David Suchet. Although the performances in the Family Man are not as sophisticated as BBC and don’t display exotic locales as the Bond movies, the raw appeal with Indian accents, and absurd humor feels closer to home (Muthu ko hindi aati hai).

The first episode, of the second season, exposes Sri’s discomfort with his IT job. His manager is an insufferable mealy-mouthed man, who incessantly reprimands Srikant for not performing. In a melodramatic showdown with the manager Sri quits and returns back to Threat Analysis and Surveillance Cell. This time to investigate another potential terrorist attack in the southern tip of India by the Tamil rebels in Chennai. He comes face to face with a Srilankan guerilla fighter pilot Rajalakshmi Chandran (Samatha Akkineni). Her dark, utterly fearless character development and backstory is intense, sad, and unsettling. Also disturbing but ominous are the shenanigans of Dhriti Tiwari, daughter of Srikant Tiwari, with a young boy she met online. A possible romantic spark may develop between Devadarshini, as Umayal, Chennai Police, and Srikant’s apparently indestructible colleagues Jayavant Kasinath Talpade or “JK”. The inscrutable, paranoid but surreptitiously reachable old intelligence officer Bhaskaran Palanivel comes to Srikant’s rescue when he is unable to unravel the cryptic clues.

Season 1 was the most-viewed web series on Amazon Prime Video and won five critic awards. I am sure if the macabre violence can be overlooked as necessary for the sake of drama. Samantha Akkineni, is masterful in her first digital debut. She outshines the others hands down!! This season ends with Sri asking his wife what is actually bothering her… which will be uncovered in Season 3.  


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 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.


 

Still from the short film, Bobby.

Bay Area Filmmakers Attempt to Help South Asians Contextualize Autism

Fact: Suicide rates are THREE times higher for people with Autism than the general public

Fact: 40% of Autistic adults experience depression

Fact: Fewer than half of autistic adults are employed, many of whom only do part-time jobs or are doing work for which they are overqualified

I am ashamed to admit that for the longest time I did not know much about these things – not until they became sort of personal. That happened when I became close to a family that has an individual on the spectrum. 

When I first met this young man, I was fortunate enough to have been given some guidance on how to engage by an expert. It was still somewhat difficult for me to try and connect with him because, like with many who are Autistic, there was some social awkwardness in our initial interaction. Over time I realized that patience, genuine empathy, and a willingness to adapt were key to a meaningful relationship. 

I realized that his purity of thought was unsullied by the trappings of what we often mistake for etiquette and expected social behavior – a refreshing outlook and gave me a reason for introspection. 

Those who have suffered because society is not ready to accept them as they are, know that we must change minds and win hearts, one at a time. This young man could have become a statistic like the ones mentioned above. Fortunately, he didn’t. What’s more, he and his family want to share his story – a story of pain and patience, a story of struggle and reconciliation, a story of love, and ultimately of success. This is special for me because I have witnessed some of this journey myself. 

To underscore the narratives of families with individuals on the Autism spectrum during this Autism Awareness Month, I helped curate a short film, Bobby.

Still from the short film, Bobby.
Still from the short film, Bobby.

Bobby is a fictional story based on key real-life events and experiences. The young man in the film, Bobby, is played by actor, Amogh Karwar. His mother’s role is essayed by Bay Area stage and screen actor, Sareeka Malhotra, and the father is played by yours truly. Produced by Prana Pictures, this short film has assembled a diverse cast and was bravely filmed facing the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic by observing strict safety protocols. Leading the efforts of an immensely dedicated team of cast and crew was Amir Jaffer, a prolific filmmaker in the Bay Area. The film is expected to be released later this year.

My personal journey with Bobby and the process of bringing this short film to life has helped me be more appreciative of the abundance of talent that so many on the spectrum have to offer. If we all took the time to understand Autism a little better, we are certain to create the conditions conducive for so many more success stories.

For the STEM-obsessed Indian American community, especially in the Bay Area, I’d like to remind folks that Albert Einstein is believed to have been Autistic…


Puneet is an actor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has performed in several theatre productions as well as in a number of films and series. He is currently excited about bringing forth a film about autism. You can find his work on Amazon Prime, Disney+ Hotstar, and YouTube. You may connect with him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – @thespianpuneet.


 

'Looking For A Lady With Fangs and A Moustache' Film Poster.

Searching For a Dakini on a Motorcycle in the Himalayas 

Looking For a Lady With Fangs and a Moustache, released on April 9, 2021, was directed & written by Khyentse Norbu and produced by Max Dipesh Khatri and Olivia Harrison.  

This is the story of Tenzin (Tsering Tashi Gyalthang), a forward-thinking Tibetan young man who has a dream of creating Kathmandu’s best coffee shop. It would be lovely to sip a chai and bite into a croissant on the mall road overlooking the Himalayas.

But there’s a proverbial fly in the ointment. Tenzin is afflicted by a recurring prescient nightmare. He has a modern mindset and is not superstitious like some of his townsfolk. However, the recurrent dream of his incumbent death drives him to seek out ancient Buddhist monks for guidance. The monk gives him a black thread with six knots and a cryptic message to seek out a dakini and ask her for a life-saving boon. Now starts an incomprehensible and somewhat shady trek of the protagonist. Armed with a red ladies slipper, he follows many young women down the hills, on busy streets, in long skirts, ankle bells, and kohled eyes. On his own personal quest, Tenzin also tries to help his friend in his romantic aspirations to woo a Tibetan singer. His journey takes the viewer on a motorcycle ride from dawn to dusk, through winding roads, misty mountains, elaborately carved ancient temples, and waterfalls. This part is quite picturesque and effortlessly crafted by the executive cinematographer, Mark Lee Ping-bing.

 The film has English subtitles, and snippets of Hindi prayers, chants, and also lines of a popular Bollywood song…Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein. But most of the conversations are in the local dialect.

The end was a bit jarring considering that the narrative was about mystical feminine spirits – dakinis. We were in search of these mythical tantric beings possessing supernatural powers on the human destiny that are rooted in the Himalayan Buddhist tradition but I failed to experience a climactic moment where the protagonist comes face to face with the mysterious feminine energy. And yet, everyone seems content in the parting celebration.

The initial angst is replaced by warmth and camaraderie. Perhaps pigeons randomly crossing paths or a flock of flying birds in the sky are symbolic of resolution. This film explores the esoteric belief of Tibetans in mystical life forms in a sort of “ show” and not “tell” genre and I was somewhat underwhelmed. I was intrigued and left with more questions. Perhaps that was intended? Regardless, I made a mental note to go and check out the cafes in Kathmandu! 


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.


 

Agni Whips You Into the Environmental Crisis Overtaking Bay Area Landscapes

The world premiere of Bay Area Based Chitresh Das Institute’s (CDI) short Kathak film, “Agni” is on Earth Day, April 22, 2021, at 7:30 pm PDT. The video premiere will be followed by a Q&A panel discussion moderated by India Currents.

The short film is directed and voiced by Filmmaker – Alka Raghuram, choreographed by CDI’s Artistic Director – Charlotte Moraga, composed by musician – Alam Khan, and shot by cinematographer – Anjali Sundaram.

To purchase tickets for the event, head on over to ODC Dance website:

Tickets are $10 before the day of the event

https://t.co/Yw2IfPqjYH?amp=1

Be sure not to miss the event this Thursday!

Here are some sneak peeks about the film when we spoke to the director and producer, Alka Raghuram. 

What was the inspiration to make this film?

Before getting into that, I want to give some context of my association with Chitresh Das Institute. I had worked with Pandit Chitresh Das for his last performance for a live Kathak Flamenco production named “Yatra,” where I was doing the audiovisual element part of it. Initially, Charlotte wanted to create a live show called “Mantram” based on Panchabhoota, five basic elements of cosmic creation. Due to pandemics, live performances are not happening.

We tried to bring out a collaborative effort for “Agni,” the element that brings out the fire’s force or ferocity. Fire is a destructive force but also creates fertile ground for rejuvenation. This film was very much a response to the wildfire burning in California and the social and political wildfires of social injustice in the spring and summer of 2020. Earth’s perspective on fire and what our role is to play in it. It is a collaborative effort to tell the story through different mediums. Charlotte tells the story through dance, and me through film, poem, paintings, and Alam through music. It is the plant’s seed, i.e., the actual live show coming up in the near future. We are going to do a series of short films like this in each of the elements. 

How is watching this film different from a live dance show (watching from the front)?

Projecting a painting is usually static. Watching a show as an audience is a different experience altogether but watching a movie is dynamic. I filmed the dancers from various angles so that they are dancing in other ways. That helps viewers to witness as an insider. Even the side wings of the auditorium stage have the same three-dimensional visual effects. We took a creative decision to make this film distinct that way from watching a show from the front. 

Can you tell us about the poem used in the film?

I wrote the poem to highlight the environmental aspect of the story. The artistic process is iterative by nature. Your vision evolves and gets refined as the work progresses. The first cut of the film was eye-catching and beautiful but we were missing the allusion to the wildfires of the last couple of years. Which led us to experiment with text that would complement the visuals and bring out that dimension without sensationalizing it in any way. We wanted the whole piece to be cut from the same cloth

The poem in the film is complimenting what is already there rather than underlying it. The poem is also another culpable way here to ask whose fault it is. Dance and visuals say whose fault is this, and the verse is also saying that through words. It is giving a hint to the audience about what is going to come. I recited it as well. 

Music is one of the critical elements of this production. We noticed no particular raaga or taala associated with it, like traditional Indian Classical performances. Can you give some background about the creation of this unique music?

Alam Khan created the music piece, and Charlotte made the bols and rhythmic composition. The taal is a complex five and half-beat taal. Charlotte Moraga notes that it’s like fire, it is quick, exciting, and unpredictable! Alam adds that the music is not based on any particular raga. The music is a continuation of Alam’s contemporary approach in blending Indian classical instruments with other instrument types. He has been doing this for many years now and feels his style in this vein continues to grow. We wanted to do something musically out of the box for Kathak and push the limits of what we are accustomed to. 

Can you tell us about the artwork and paintings used in the film? it is an integral part of this film. Is it digital? Can you tell us a little more background of it?

Those are hand-painted, and I used ink. I am a painter too, and the idea was to use those paintings projected in the auditorium during the performance. In the film, the backdrop is not so much focused. I painted blue woods and redwoods and took pictures of tree barks and fire. I needed to rearrange, superimpose, and layered all of these during editing in such a three-dimensional way, telling a dynamic cinematic story altogether. Paintings are also done in a way to interpret it globally, not so region-specific. I used a blue color tone in paintings overall. Blue represents the hottest and the most intense part of the fire’s flames. Blue is also the calm part of it before the fire starts. 

What is the concluding message of this production from the environmental aspect? Can you tell our audience about it a little more? 

The film communicates from the perspective of the Earth and speaks about who is culpable for it. It asks the question and includes everyone. Towards the end, the dancers stare at viewers and say whose fault it is. Then there is smoke, and the Earth’s mouth is filled with ash. Earth speaks with grief. Then there is ash in the landscape, and birds are disappearing. It is like Earth’s lament through the poem, dancer’s expressions, and visuals – Why is this happening? Who is to blame? Our deeds are recorded in the time ledger how we acted so far caused us to come to this point. Agni is raging and destroying. It brought us to think brink for our deeds. This film visually takes us on the journey from sparks to the raging fire. 


Piyali Biswas De is an accomplished Bharatnatyam and Non-classical dance exponent, guru, and well-known choreographer in the Greater Seattle region. When she is not dancing, Piyali works as an IT professional in Seattle and spends time with two beautiful daughters who seem eager to follow in her footsteps. 


 

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/ 


 

Bhageera Premieres at Poppy Jasper International Film Festival

The Poppy Jasper International Film Festival (PJIFF ) brings local flavor to the South Bay, broadcasting more than 170 films from 38 countries. From feature-length to short films, the festival will be virtually streamed from April 7-April 22. One of the unique aspects about Poppy Jasper is that it has remained a strongly community-based festival since it was founded in 2003, connecting movie buffs to filmmakers and directors. 

Mattie Scariot, the director of the PJIFF explains, “Our mission as a film festival is to change the way people see each other through film and to bridge that gap in Hollywood with women and minorities,” as various panels at this year’s festival discuss how to empower women filmmakers and herald diversity of gender and cultures into the process of filmmaking. “When we show films from around the world, that changes the dynamic and the way we see each other,” adds Scariot.

The complete PJIFF line-up includes features from across the globe including Bagheera from India, a film that draws on true events, interpreted with intense film noir style. Shot in Hindi this impactful, 20-minute short film, LOGLINE Bagheera, tells the story of a bright young leader of a Girl Scout troop in India, who is abducted by a brutal assailant. The skills that have earned her many achievement badges provide the key to her escape and scorching retribution.

Director Christopher R. Watson wanted to tell a powerful story about a modern woman which would uplift audiences. The plot centers on the sexual abuse of women, which is the most common unreported and unpunished crime in the world. So, he decided to celebrate the human spirit, by demonstrating the value of common sense, resourcefulness, and courage in the face of danger. Preeti Choudhury, the star of the movie, brought a girl-next-door naturalism to the character. When she turns out to be tough and capable, it’s not only a magnificent surprise, it’s believable. Nailing the visuals was vital and the locale–a disused shipyard on the outskirts of Mumbai and a tract of vacant land nearby—adds a deeper dimension, instrumental in expanding the script with a magnificent myriad of detail.

A wonderful way to spend the advent of spring check out The Poppy Jasper International Film Festival, as they highlight original content with different points of view, a wonderful outlet for artistic and cultural expression.

Tickets for Bagheera: https://pjiff.eventive.org/films/60132175a9fa880069fdce01

Tickets for the festival and entire line up at Poppy Jasper International Film Festival: https://pjiff.org


Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at mona@indiacurrents.com


 

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/ 

Paava Kadhaigal: Of Love, Lies, and Betrayal

Even if the four-part anthology, Paava Kadhaigal, was made up of just one segment, Sudha Kongara’s Thangam may just have been sufficient to capture its all-encompassing theme. There’s the unlikely love triangle involving a sibling and a best friend, there’s unrequited love that forms the emotional core of the film, and the forbidden inter-faith relationship between its two principal characters. But despite having a heavy agenda, Kongara doesn’t appear to bite off more than she can chew. The movie effortlessly chugs along like a Malgudi Days’ tale, and tugs soulfully at our heartstrings. Along the way, the movie brings to the fore a heartbreaking reality that while families may eventually reconcile and accept their children, when it comes to letting a human being choose their gender, the world remains a massively one-sided place

The Confirmation Bias

If Kongara’s film touched multiple themes, Vignesh Shivan’s segment Love Panna Utranum handles several genres in one slick segment. There’s horror when we see a loved one electrocuted, drama when we witness the evil machinations of a leader and his crooks, and finally, delightful humor when the man’s lieutenant struggles to say the L-word (I fell off my chair watching him mouth ESPN repeatedly; Jaffer Sadiq as Narikutty is fantastic). But while Shivan deserves credit for his creativity, I found the transition from mournful moments to comic situations a little too jarring for a short film. Shivan redeems himself with a clever trick in the end though when Penelope (Kalki Koechlin) calls and talks to Narikutty looking at her phone while driving. I wondered if she was staring at the camera and calling the bluff on the viewers and their confirmation bias; early on in the movie, we see two characters lying on a bed, and begin to assume the nature of their relationship. “How dare we?” Shivan appears to ask. I’d like to think that the friendly cuss word is for Narikutty though.

The Judgment

If there’s one thing about Gautham Menon and his movies, it is that he makes them with his heart. While they are rough at the edges, one cannot help but note they have a soul. Ditto with Vaanmagal, a segment that most viewers would relate to considering today’s life and times. It deals with a middle-class family’s worst nightmare, one in which a girl whose hormones haven’t kicked in yet is mercilessly attacked. While most filmmakers would deal with the event itself and the trauma that the victim would undergo, Menon chooses to focus on the reaction of her family instead. There’s the father (Menon himself), who personifies guilt and cannot bring himself to look at his daughter in the eye, hanging his head in shame as a man. There’s the mother (Simran) whose character is used as a pivot to deliver a message to all parents (the use of the shot atop a hill may be manipulative in the trailer, but bears significance in the movie). And the brother, the instrument responsible for restoring parity in the film’s most defining moment. No lives are lost, and yet, Menon’s segment remains the only one in the film that delivers closure for a victim.

The Great Betrayal

The final act of Paava Kathaigal fittingly falls in the hands of Vetrimaaran, one of the finest filmmakers in India today. Narrating the story of a father-daughter relationship gone sour in Oor Iravu, Vetrimaran cuts back and forth between the past and the present, culminating in the baby shower that the father (the seasoned Prakash Raj) arranges for his daughter (a fine Sai Pallavi) as a way to make amends. Vetrimaaran shows us his finesse in dramatic thrillers, by bringing every frame to life and letting every scene breathe. Take, for instance, the scene when a character heads from the courtyard to the kitchen for a jug of water. The camera follows them and stops just at the doorstep. The character takes a fractional moment longer to return, in what seems like an eternity to us. It’s a bone-chilling finish, one that involves a murder without a weapon, but punctuated by the cries of two women locked in different rooms. Cries that echo in our ears long after the credits roll by. Chilling indeed…take a bow, Scorsese of Tamil Cinema!


Anuj Chakrapani loves cinema and believes movies, like other forms of art, are open to interpretation. And when you begin to interpret, you realize that the parts are more than the sum. Adopting a deconstructionist approach, he tries not to rate movies as “good” or “bad”, instead choosing to capture what he carries away from watching them. Anuj lives in the SF Bay Area and works for a large technology company.