Tag Archives: #moviereview

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 


 

Sushant Singh Rajput in Kai Po Che.

One Year Since Sushant…

As the first death anniversary of Sushant Singh Rajput approaches, we relive the moments that made his memorable debut in the 2013 movie Kai Po Che.

At the start of director Abhishek Kapoor’s film, a bunch of athletes is introduced to us, one after the other, with a voice-over in the background telling us about their names and their achievements. The screen slowly pans out and we realize the voice is actually that of Govind (Rajkummar Rao), and this is a pitch for his Sports academy (Sabarmati Sports Club). He ends the presentation with a quick mention of a potential international debutant in cricket, named Ali, albeit without any visuals.

As the story rewinds to 10 years earlier, we, and Ishaan, (the second protagonist of the three lead characters, played by Sushant Singh) first notice Ali from his back after the latter “catches” a ball whacked by Ali beyond the imaginary boundary in the crowded playgrounds. Ishaan asks a boy who the batsman is; the boy mentions he is someone from “outside their territory”. A few moments later, Ali throws a challenge to Ishaan, still a stranger to him. It is a win-all, lose-all challenge with a container of marbles at stake.

The scene quickly shifts the focus to the relationship between Ishaan and Ali, who are now tutor and disciple at the Sabarmati Sports Academy, still at its nascent stage. It takes a while for either of them to earn the other’s trust, and these scenes are nicely staged. Ali, still a boy, has his loyalty divided between the game of bat and ball and the one with marbles. Ishaan fumes at his commitment and chases him away from a practice session. In another scene, he storms into a Math class being instructed by Govind and teaches Ali the importance of stroking on the off-side. Ali scratches his head. Why? He is a natural, no? He doesn’t think too much when batting and gives the ball a thump the only way he knows. But Ishaan looks beyond this love-hate relationship with Ali and sees a future in him that no one else does.

Ishaan, the fearless warrior that he is, doesn’t bat an eyelid before breaking the headlight of an SUV, as a reprimand for a driver honking during the viewing of a cricket match; he likes to hold a gun that scares people nearby; and towards the end, he does not fear heading to Ali’s den for a cricket match the next day. But even the boldest have a weak moment, and Kapoor captures this beautifully in a short conversation on the phone between Govind and Ishaan, when the latter requests him to come over while expressing a “strange feeling of fear”.

The movie itself isn’t only about this tutor-disciple relationship. There is another delicious teacher-student relationship featuring Govind and Ishaan’s sister Vidya (played by Amrita Puri). Vidya woos him during Govind’s math tuition classes as he tries his best to wiggle out. 

The bigger problem for Govind though is the sports club he has set up with Ishaan and Omi (Amit Sadh). They are struggling to break even but are already dreaming of another facility in the city inside a mall. In the hope of making it big someday, they double-loan themselves while moving to the new mall. But their dreams are crushed when a natural calamity strikes one day. With everyone rushing for shelter, Govind instead runs barefoot to the mall to find what remains of the devastation. With such a feverish build-up to the interval, we look forward to how the story would shape up in the second half.

But from a fictional account this far, Kapoor shifts focus entirely to real-life happenings in 2001-2002. The principal characters take a back seat, while the supporting characters suddenly hog the limelight. There is generous screen space for Omi’s uncle, Bittu, the banker for the trio’s sports club in the first half, who unleashes his darker side. Omi himself, shown as a man of fewer words than others, is reduced to becoming a caricature towards the end.

All the subtleties and nuances that made the first half memorable are replaced by in-your-face moments that make you squirm in your seat towards the end. Even the 2001 India-Australia series, of which the second test match is covered with sufficient detail, appears to be shoe-horned into the plot without any major reason. They do create a feeling of nostalgia in the cricket lovers inside us, but what business does it have in a movie about the dreams and aspirations of three young men?

I wondered why Kapoor didn’t switch off the distractions to the plot with the material in his hand.


Anuj Chakrapani loves cinema and believes movies, like other forms of art, is 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.


 

Koozhangal film poster

Koozhangal Streams in the US: A Film On the Unknown Village of Arittapatti

It’s no mean achievement for a school dropout and one with no degree in filmmaking to win an international award on debut. Indian director P.S. Vinothraj won the Tiger award at Rotterdam, this February, for his Tamil film, Koozhangal (Pebbles) – the only Indian film selected for the competition. It marked the culmination of several years of struggle and hardship – a journey of grit and determination driven by a passion for cinema. The jury at the Rotterdam festival described it ‘as a lesson in pure cinema.’

Koozhangal placed the plight of the people of Arittapatti, a barely known village of the Madurai district in Tamil Nadu, on the global stage.

The film follows a little boy, Velu, and his alcoholic father, Ganapathy, forced to trek home across 14 kms of desert terrain, exposing the relationship they share. Riding on the shoulders of a team of newcomers, Koozhangal is making waves everywhere it goes. Although it deals with grueling poverty in the searing drought-ridden landscapes of southern India, it succeeded in captivating the jury with its beauty and humor.

Director P.S. Vinothraj (Image provided by Author)
Director P.S. Vinothraj

The idea for this film originated from Vinothraj’s life after his sister was sent home by her alcoholic husband.

“She walked for 14 kms to reach our home with a baby in her hands,” remembers Vinothraj, “Pebbles grow as a revenge tale – ‘What if my brother-in-law walked the same distance through the difficult terrain?'”

While researching for the story, he realized that many women had gone through something similar to what his sister experienced. Yet, they endured their husband and the poverty for the sake of the children. 

Though Vinothraj managed to find a producer for his script, he could only complete 75% of the film. A meeting with national award-winning director, Ram, at the NFDC film bazaar turned the film’s destiny. And, before Vinothraj knew it, actress, Nayanthara, and director, Vignesh Shivan, came on board as producers. Their star power gave the film a wider reach.  

Koozhangal capture’s a day in a child’s life. Its strength lies in the terrific performances by the lead pair – Karuththadaiyan as Ganapathy and child actor, Chella Pandi as Velu. Spectacular visuals by cinematographers, Vignesh Kumulai and Parthib, enhance further this story told from the heart.  Yuvan Shankar Raja has scored the background music. Karuththadaiyan, a stage actor, was initially not keen and had to be convinced to take on the role. Ultimately, training fresh actors who had never faced the camera was not easy but the efforts paid off.

Film still from Koozhangal.
Film still from Koozhangal.

Vinothraj believes that it is Nature that paved way for his film’s success. As for the title, it is a practice to carry a pebble in the mouth to ward off thirst during a long journey. On theme with this, Velu keeps a pebble in his mouth during the long trek. 

Selected in the 50th-anniversary edition of New Directors New Films presented by Film at Lincoln Center, Koozhangal now streams virtually in the USA through May 8. This edition includes filmmakers who represent the present and anticipate the future of cinema, and whose daring work pushes the envelope in unexpected ways. 

For tickets, log on to http://newdirectors.org.

Noted American film critic from the New Yorker, Richard Brody calls Koozhangal the best dramatic feature film of this year’s New Directors New Films.

Koozhangal will, also, participate next at the 19th edition of the Indian Film Festival in Los Angeles this year. This will be held virtually between May 20-27 featuring forty films including shorts. 

It’s been a long haul for Vinothraj whose cinema dreams are rooted in his growing years on film sets. He was fascinated by the cinematographers riding on the trolleys and aspired to become one. Moving to Chennai he learned the ropes of filmmaking while assisting short film directors.    

Today, Koozhangal is taking him places with its Asian premiere at the Jeonju International Film festival. The Shanghai International film festival scheduled in June beckons next. And, the road ahead is long for this native of Arittapatti.


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/ 


 

'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.


 

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.


 

Does the Great Indian Kitchen Lead to the Great Indian Marriage?

While I ran about in the sprawling open courtyard of my mother’s house in a somewhat sleepy little village in rural North Bengal, I remember my granny sitting on a low stool cooking in the dimly-lit kitchen. It was already dusk and a few hours later, a tasty dinner was served. My parents had gone down to spend a few days during the Durga Puja holidays. 

After my mother’s family moved to Kolkata, I often used to visit my maternal uncle’s place. Here, the kitchen was big and bright, but granny still continued to cook. Her specialty was a chicken dish which no one ever in my family has been able to replicate. Maybe it was the spices she used or her loving and caring hands that were behind the deliciousness. 

Granny is now no more. She passed away a few years ago, but I still remember her chicken curry. Today, after watching The Great Indian Kitchen, a Malayalam movie earning rave reviews from critics, I realize how I never knew my real granny: what was she like, her likes, dislikes, desires, and aspirations. Maybe none of these things ever mattered to anyone in the family.

And this is what makes the ‘great Indian marriage’ such a fearsome thing to enter into, especially in an arranged marriage set up, where women are mostly expected to cook and clean and act submissive. Exceptions are always there. In my family, I have seen my father making tea, cooking rice, and even doing household work. An aunt of mine who lives in Delhi was horrified when she learned that I had praised her husband’s culinary skills in front of my other relatives. It was a most shameful thing for her and she reproached me for making the hush, hush fact “public”. 

I can understand her consternation, the great dilemma she felt because women are expected to cook for their families. Little do they realize that in doing so, they become fettered and chained forever. 

A scene from the Great Indian Kitchen.

I am no great cook, but I can make basic meals for myself and during the lockdown prepared a few dishes, among them egg biryani twice. My friend Neeraj, who is a great cook himself, keeps on sending me recipes and colorful snaps from his kitchen from time to time. He once taught me to cook the perfect rice over the phone. 

Cooking is art no doubt, but as the movie shows it can become a tedious routine. The movie’s female protagonist, Nimisha Sajayan who plays the docile wife and later leaves her husband to follow her dreams, is expected to cook rice on the firewood, besides making a variety of tasty dishes and serving food to the men. In almost all the scenes featuring her, she is shown cutting, chopping, and dicing vegetables, besides making hurried meals, attending to the faulty kitchen sink in need of urgent repair, cleaning up the kitchen, dusting, and washing her hands frequently.

I entered into a brief marriage only to regret it to this day. My in-laws expected me to shift to a small town where they lived, take up a part-time job or better still become a housewife and cook for the family whereas I wanted to pursue my dreams. So, I packed my bags and came to Delhi when I was offered a transfer. 

Cooking is not an issue. I prepare food for myself every day and quite enjoy doing it. But slaving away in the kitchen is quite another matter. In the movie, the men are shown relaxing, doing yoga, and reading newspapers whereas the women are portrayed tirelessly working in the kitchen. The most evocative scene in the film is the one where the women eat food at the table made dirty by the men with spilled over and chewed food. When the wife confronts her husband about it later at a restaurant over his bad table manners at home, he gets angry.

For most women, cooking and doing housework is a routine and they are not supposed to complain. It is for us to decide whether to follow our dreams or please the men. If you want the first, just let it go like I did eight years ago, or else give up on your desires and aspirations. 

My next-door neighbor back in Kolkata could not fry papad properly and they always used to get burnt. She was always the subject of criticism in the neighborhood, but nobody praised her ever for being an excellent teacher, her love for Bengali literature, and intelligent conversations. 

Women in our kitchens have become such a regular fixture that we never pause and question their narrowed existence. All my childhood memories are centered around the great Indian kitchen: my granny on her low stool, my father’s mother stirring the milk tea, my aunt chopping vegetables, my mother making sweet delicacies in winter, the neighborhood aunty (she was called Ronny’s mom after her son’s name as if her identity never mattered) making parathas so that we children could enjoy it on Sundays.

Welcome to the great Indian kitchen. If you don’t like it, you are free to leave like Nimisha’s character or me. After so many years, a remark by my erstwhile husband came back to me. He had remarked once, “You never served me tea (in Bengali of course).” But you see I was born to rule and not to serve. I served him coffee, of course, but he conveniently forgot all about it. But what I remember is that he never made either tea or coffee for me and that’s what made all the difference.


Deepanwita Gita Niyogi is a Delhi-based freelance journalist.

Slick Malayalam Language Thriller “C U Soon”

The real deal

Having read the disclaimer about COVID-compliant measures during the making of C U Soon and with all the social media and dating app screen grabs at the start, I wondered if this was just a creative attempt at making a movie during these unprecedented times. But as it progressed, I found myself captivated by the movie and its memorable characters, told to us through the lens of computers and smartphones. While conventional cinema titillates us with manipulative slow-motion shots, C U Soon does it with long takes captured in real-time on static camera angles. When a gut-wrenching backstory needs to be told, conventional cinema would do it with flash cuts. Here, you see events organically unfold in front of our eyes through audio-video recordings on a social networking site. A few more movies like this one and I’ll find myself alien to big-screen cinema.

All things to all people

Steeped in realism, the movie itself works at many levels and has something for everyone.

For the drama purists, the movie is not just about a relationship between two youngsters who meet on a dating app, but also about a poignant one between a mother and a daughter that surfaces towards the end. Of course, there’s also the “supposed” father-daughter relationship that leads to the shocking twist in the end.

For the connoisseurs of Independent cinema, the movie resembles flawed everyday characters we encounter in our real lives. These characters talk over each other and argue endlessly; they type texts in their native tongue, in shorthand, and with typos. For the activists in us, the movie shines a light on the organized multi-national crimes that happen even in today’s day and age. C U Soon also carries a subtle message about class issues, what a cruel thing financial debt is, and how it can wreck innocent lives.

And for the thrill-seekers, this is a nail-biter from start to finish. When a soulmate doesn’t answer the phone, we start getting worried. When a character vanishes from the scene, our minds wander in a million directions searching for clues. And heck, never have I found myself fibrillating so much, glancing at the bouncing dots on a chat screen!

Fastest finger first

The movie is also a tribute to the gadget-happy generations of today. While it was heartening to see a movie centered around social media using emojis and emoticons so sparingly, its characters use creative ways to communicate instead. I was impressed by how often they use voice notes to reply. I guess it makes sense; it’s easier to hit a button once and speak your heart out rather than type scores of characters. The characters also never forget that their phones have a camera. A software engineer asks his mate if she is still at work, who responds with a stylish selfie.

The movie also tells us about the fast lives we live in, and how quick our reaction times need to be. Between watching a character speaking with a stranger on the phone about an invoice that needs correction, and the simultaneous texts to his beloved, alongside the confusing backdrop of the desktop screen, I was struggling to keep pace myself. Spare a thought for the man in the center of this 100-meter dash called life!

The missed experiment

It would be boorish to complement C U Soon merely as a brave experiment. It has the potential to redefine how Indian cinema is made, watched, and perceived. It’s also a universal example of how an effort with the highest level of conviction can find its way to fruition regardless of the circumstances. However, I wondered if director Mahesh Narayanan may have missed a trick with the use of the background score. Make no mistake, the background music supplements the scenes very well, but the movie may have been even more ambitious if he had eschewed the temptation to use background music. It may have just added an extra layer of authenticity to the experience. Maybe Mahesh can go the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi-way next time and go sans a background score. Until such time, we’ll savor this gem.


Anuj Chakrapani loves cinema and believes movies, like other forms of art, is 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.

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.

Top 10 Hindi Movies That Got Me Through 2020

When we moved to Bombay from Amritsar in the seventies, my mother had her heart set on a bungalow on the Juhu beach but my dad did not agree. He wanted us to be far from the “Bollywood types”. We settled in the suburb of Chembur but as luck would have it we were in Atur Park, a stone’s throw away from the legendary RK studios.

We had a handcrafted childhood: A good school. A beautiful home. The good company of friends. Bushels of books. Television was noticeably absent. My dad knew some Bollywood families. We visited Prem Chopra’s home and Anil Kapoor’s grandpa came to our apartment but we were not star-struck! We watched a few films at the Regal, the Art Deco cinema hall at Colaba causeway. My first movie and all-time favorite was The Sound of Music

I enjoyed a few Hindi movies too like Bobby, Guddi, Amar Akbar Anthony, and Parichay.  We memorized the songs and dialogues and emulated hairstyles and dresses. Much to the surprise of my friends and family, I managed without a TV in my home for over ten years but when COVID-19 forced us to remain indoors, I had to turn the TV on. I have couch-watched more movies than ever before. Some movies were entertaining more than others. A few raised important social issues. My list is not exhaustive but includes the movies I watched. There are one or two that will be committed to long-term memory. Enjoy!

1. Thappad: A resounding slap on Indian male-dominated society that believes: It’s acceptable for a husband to slap his wife. But is it? Not everyone agrees if the wife (Taapsee Pannu) should leave her marriage because of the thappad.  It’s about time the women say NO to any form of abuse!

2.Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl: A biopic on the life of a female fighter pilot’s personal war against a male chauvinist mindset and sexist discrimination. Pankaj Tripathi shines as a supportive father and Janhvi Kapoor is believable as a girl next door who has higher aspirations. 

3.Panga: A film about a kabaddi champion who accepts the challenge of following her dream to participate in the national championship. Kangana Ranaut breaks all stereotypes supported by her cute husband Jassi Gill and her son. Neena Gupta is delightful as always!

4.Gulabo Sitabo, Is an unexpected quick-witted “Punch and Judy” satire directed by Shoojit Sircar. Amitabh Bachchan‘s character as the greedy miser Mirza is one of my all-time favorite roles. Pitted against him is Ayushmann Khurrana who delivers sharp and quixotic dialogue! But the show-stealer hands down is Farukh Jaffar, who is the insouciant begum of Lucknow.

5. Shakuntala Devi: Vidya Balan flawlessly enters the titular character and the titular role scintillates!  An award-winning performance about a larger than life “math” genius and her fascinating “rags to riches” story. Amit Sadh adds an interesting facet as the one man she marries.

6. Dil Bechara: This was released a few days after the world was shocked by the most tragic death of a sensitive actor, Sushant Singh Rajput. I could not bring myself to watch this remake of “The Fault in Our Stars”. The score and soundtrack composed by Amitabh Bhattacharya and A. R. Rahman are haunting.

7. Ludo: This was released on the Diwali weekend. I watched parts of it because I love Ludo, the board game, and play it often with my grandson. Although the story is ruggedly whimsical, I had a difficult time trying to get into it. It seemed like a chaotic chimera of four wildly disparate themes!  Abhishek Bachchan, Rajkumar Rao, Aditya Rao Kapur, Pankaj Tripathi, and Sanya Malhotra had the advantage of not playing Ludo together! 

8. Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan: A parody with a twist that encourages parents (Neena Gupta, Gajraj Rao – a terrific onscreen pair) to shrug off their judgemental saris and lungis and accept their children in new gender roles and life choices. Ayushmann Khurrana is brilliantly flamboyant. Jitendra Kumar’s tentative performance is endearing. Maanvi Gagroo as the irrepressible “Goggle” adds to the fun!

9. Chhapaak: A heartrending film exposing another heinous crime against women. Why the deplorable perpetrators get away scot-free is an expose about the Indian justice system. A must watch! A bit of a Cracker Jack performance by the glamorous actress Deepika Padukone. Vikrant Massey and Madhurjeet Sarghi don’t fail to inspire,

10. Raat Akeli Hai: An unexpected dark family secret is uncovered by the misfit cop played by the suave Nawazuddin Siddiqui who is determined to solve the murder of a landlord on his wedding night! The intense Radhika Apte, Ila Arun, and Shweta Tripathi rock it!


Monita Soni has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, 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.

Chhalaang: On the Unusual Topic of Physical Education

Amazon Prime Video released Chhalaang, starring Nushrat Bharucha & Rajkummar Rao, on Diwali as a part of the festive line up for the festival of lights. 

Nushrat Barucha told me that the movie is about taking a “leap of faith” and making choices that will change the physicality and trajectory of a Physical Training Instructor (PTI), played by Rajkummar Rao. What ensues is a light-hearted comedy with an unexpected love story…

Nushrat Barucha and Rajkummar Rao in movie, Chhalaang.Chhalang Movie Still with Nushrat Barucha and Rajkummar Rao
Nushrat Barucha and Rajkummar Rao in the movie, Chhalaang.

The music of this light-hearted comedy is enthralling! The inspiring title track “Le Chhalaang” written by Luv Ranjan and sung by Daler Mehndi is truly transformational and will be sung around the world! There are other rap numbers created by celebrity rappers like Yo Yo Honey Singh and Guru Randhawa, that have Punjabi folksy rhymes that are going viral! Barucha is a fan of “rapping” and quite adept at this genre herself. The petite actress did not hesitate for a split second before rapping the song for me (find it on the zoom interview below). The songs are catchy, and I am sure that they will become very popular with the millennials, boomers, generations x, z, and alpha! 

Tu taan saddi care ni karda

Time spare ni karda

Tu taan saddi care ni karda

Time spare ni karda

 

Ve main hi tere pichhe pichhe aauni aa

Main hi tainu phone milauni aan

Ve main hi tere pichhe pichhe aauni aa

The beat is catchy but I wonder why the song is still about a girl chasing a boy who pretends to be disinterested in her and not the other way around? Nushrat acknowledging my observation asked me to enjoy the song and promised me that my request would also be honored with another rap song!

Meanwhile, I can’t wait to see the movie and indulge in the onscreen chemistry between Baruchha and Rajkumar Rao. I hope Nushrat’s role is striking because I want to see strong female characters that motivate young girls to be optimistic and brave.

The actress reminisced about her school life and said that had she taken physical training seriously, she could have become an athlete. Childhood memories are the sweetest and time spent in the playground is wrapped in buttery light. While talking to her I remembered my PT teacher, a strict matron by the name of Mrs. Mani, whom we called “Money” while using a comical gesture of counting currency with her fingers.

This is an important topic for Indian education. Sports build motor skills, improve focus that in turn enhances academic life. Regular exercise relieves anxiety and develops confidence. PT improves body image and is vital for relationship and future goals. I am sure this engaging common thread will keep the dialogue alive once watching the movie. I see many couch conversations happening about narrow escapes from PT using doctor’s notes but most teachers had a trick up their sleeve for slackers. A welcome change for all of us as we enter the holiday season.


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur 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.

Gulabo Sitabo: So Good, I Watched It Twice

Before the movie was released my friends were curious about the name. But that curiosity is divulged in the opening scene with a street “Kathputli” show or an Indian Punch and Judy performance in the streets of Lucknow. This is a victorious performance by the veteran actor, Amitabh Bachchan, as a 78-year-old Mirza in his ragged teal colored cotton Kurta, a red satchel to carry things to sell, betel stained headcloth, a bent frame, and a limping gait. His myopic eyes bulge from a broken spectacle frame constantly in search of household items to swap for money. He sells all and sundry items from light bulbs, tin cans, furniture to antique chandeliers. His energy is vested in inheriting and selling the historic mansion for money. 

Ayushmann Khurrana is believable as Baankey Rastogi who runs a flour mill to sustain his family and pays no rent. His performance is fearless with a lisp and his ease of acting in front of Amitabh Bachchan is nothing minor! It’s sad to see him lose his girlfriend though…

There are wonderful dialogues between Bachchan and Khurrana that become even more comical if you understand a bit of Avadhi”

“Ghar mein nahi dane amma chali bhunane! Ab khao biryani garma garam.”

His response to any monetary transaction is “ Itna hi hai hamre pas…”

When he goes to buy a cheap shroud for his wife’s anticipated death he says. “ Koi sasta walla dikhana, Itne phool kya karne hain ghar thode hi sajana hai…Marne ke bad bhi haveli mein ghuse rahna…”

There are so many characters in the movie: renters, archeologists, paralegals, and builders who are in it for their own share of the proceeds from this dilapidated property! It makes you feel really worried about getting old. Amitabh has played an unforgettable character as Mirza! No one will be able to forget the scene when he sits down on the suitcase full of currency! That scene declares his true love! Money! 

But one look at Fatima Begum and her feisty demeanor portrayed effortlessly as in: “Arre bulb na chori hua nigodi jaidad chori ho gai ho…” This is certainly the most memorable performance by Farrukh Jafar who steals the Punch and Judy show without giving any inkling of her plan. I was so impressed by her natural acting in this film, I went back and watched her poignant scene in “Umrao Jaan” with Rekha and as Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s prescient grandmother in the movie “Photograph”. The fact that her husband encouraged her to study after marriage and act in films at a time when most women were home bound, is commendable.

Best movie during this COVID pandemic by far. I watched it twice back to back. Hats off to the cast and crew of Gulabo Sitabo! Well done Shoojit Sircar!

Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur 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.

Thappad: The Slap That Confronts Patriarchy

Zero, one, two, three, four, five… how many slaps justify the end of a marriage? Whichever numerical digit you picked or didn’t pick after watching Thappad, if introspection is your thing, you will feel guilty for being a part of a system that feeds patriarchy, enabling men and women to diminish a woman’s status.

Thappad does a fine job of meticulously and neatly unpacking layers of permissiveness, hypocrisy and privilege which runs through Indian society and its people. How all of us casually, unknowingly, knowingly chip away a woman’s respect with words, sentences, action, inaction, behaviours, interactions and deathly silence. How the tolerance level for failing men is way higher than women and why they get away with worse and beyond, without many murmurs.

Marie Shear defined feminism as the radical notion that women are people. The writers don’t let this window of opportunity slip even for a nanosecond to prove it right. They even place the blame for the one slap where it belongs, which by itself is a monumental step, with the man. Yes, you heard that right! Not his work, not his mood, not his whim, not his fancy, not his mental illness, not the woman. Him. We live and perpetrate inequities to such an extent that even questioning bad behaviour or inhumane treatment becomes an extreme act or rebellion, when really it’s a justified fight for a little space, voice, breath, expression of emotion, and most importantly, respect.

The movie starts simply, Amrita (Taapsee Pannu) frantically stretches herself to manage the home front while her husband Vikram (Pawail Gulati) races up the corporate ladder, losing her own identity and desires in the process. At a party meant to celebrate his success, Vikram involuntarily slaps Amrita in front of guests forcing her to introspect and examine her place in the marriage. Is she happy, is she respected? The answer seems to be painfully obvious even though Vikram himself fails to comprehend the real issue. As in real life, not one person questions the man on the slap but some of them do expect that Amrita should let that pass. 

Breaking the mould of the Hindi cinema heroine with gusto is Amrita, who refuses to play the sacrificial lamb or be bullied into a happy ending. She takes her time and space to question the routine of her marriage. She rightly asks: why did he feel comfortable enough to deliver that slap in the first place? Such a relief to see a determined woman in the face of opposition by people around her, starting from her mother Sandhya (Ratna Pathak Shah), mother-in-law (Tanvi Azmi), brother Karan (Ankur Rathi), even her own lawyer Nethra (Maya Sarao) before she takes up her case. Supports include her father Sachin (Kumud Mishra), maid Sunita (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan), sister-in-law Swati (Naina Grewal) and neighbours Sania (Gracy Goswami) and Shivani (Dia Mirza).

I loved the subtle ways in which the writers bring out the vagaries of everyday existence and our own blind spots. That moment when the progressive father realises he has been an ignorant husband is a hallmark scene. The dilemma of the lawyer who benefits from her in-laws repute, lives within an abusive relationship even as she fights for women’s rights. The maid who has no one fighting for her, the way she battles her own violent husband with spirit. The moves in the legal chess game, as the story progresses, with a delightful cameo by Ram Kapoor who plays Vikram’s lawyer Pramad. Many, many such satisfying moments to cherish in a balanced, exceptional movie.

It is a must-watch not only for its message but for some stellar, well-rounded performances from an ensemble cast. Taapsee Pannu delivers her career best performance, supported strongly by Geetika Vidya Ohlyan (the Soni actress, outstanding, once more), Maya Sarao (effective), Pavail Gulati (excellent, he dishes his final scene sincerely), Dia Mirza (graceful), Ratna Pathak Shah (layered), Tanvi Azmi (natural), Kumud Mishra (superb) and Ram Kapoor (entertaining).

Hat tip to Anubhav Sinha (co-writer, director) and Mrunmayee Lagoo (co-writer) who deliver a living, breathing master stroke, conveying a crucial message with the balance, love and dignity it deserves. Every character is layered, living a dichotomous existence, highlighting our systemic and collective responsibility effectively.

Thappad is subtle yet strong in its message, devoid of unnecessary drama, yet sends the message loud and clear that we jointly tolerate, contribute and benefit from patriarchy. The spunky female fights the good fight and no justification is offered for privileged male behaviour. This slap is designed to fight patriarchy and it does.

rating: 5 out 5

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women and social equity.


Thappad (2020). Director: Anubhav Sinha. Writers: Mrunmayee Lagoo, Anubhav Sinha. Players: Taapsee Pannu, Pavail Gulati, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Maya Sarao, Dia Mirza, Ratna Pathak Shah, Tanvi Azmi, Kumud Mishra and Ram Kapoor.  Music: Anurag Saikia, Mangesh Dhakde. Theatrical release: Benaras Media Works, T-Series.