Tag Archives: streaming

Hiraeth Succeeds at Showcasing Home-Grown Immigrant Stories

Hiraeth, a six-episode show on Amazon Prime, follows multiple immigrant stories in America and is a great watch. The series is directed by Bay Area filmmaker Amir Jaffer explores major issues in the immigrant community today, such as racism, discrimination, and homophobia. In each episode, one or two new stories are introduced, and stories from previous episodes are continued. 

Hiraeth is not an anthology: most storylines are one to two episodes, with each story having a loose connection to other stories. For example, the viewers are introduced to Ajay, an immigrant who has a sick sister in India and wants to go back to visit her, in the first episode. This storyline was later continued through four episodes.  

The best aspect of Hiraeth is its realism: the characters feel like people that I could meet on the street. All of the struggles that they face are so painfully real, whether it be homophobia from their family or casual racism. I enjoyed that the stories are diverse and engaging, spanning from the transphobia a woman faces to immigration troubles. Multiple ethnic groups and races are represented, but not in a tokenizing way. 

Hiraeth’s setting, which is mainly nondescript apartment buildings coupled with a few nature shots, contributed to how realistic the show felt. It’s a refreshing change from the glossy sets of bigger budget shows—the places Hiraeth shows feel lived in. I could actually see the characters depicted living in the apartments shown. 

The cast made Hiraeth an interesting watch. I particularly enjoyed watching Rebecca Fiola, who played a racist woman who alienated her family, and BeBe Sweetbrair as Jazz, a woman worried about her adult son and his troubles. 

The commitment to showcasing different perspectives in one series can have a downside: some characters appear in multiple episodes, but the sheer amount of characters introduced in Hiraeth make it hard to connect to all of them. However, I appreciate that Hiraeth is aiming to be more of a brief look into peoples’ lives rather than a story focusing on a few central characters. 

Because there are so many different storylines shown, each viewer will connect to a different story. For me, one of the standouts was Avi, an Israeli taxi-driving immigrant introduced in the first episode who struggles with his father’s request for him to come back home — his struggle of whether to stay or go is one that I’ve seen many times. Another favorite was Rahul and Andy, a gay couple who has to navigate a complex relationship with Rahul’s homophobic brother, Rajiv. The tension and the worrying shown during a confrontation between Rahul and Rajiv was gripping. If another person watched this, they might not pick these two narratives as their standouts—perhaps they’d pick Sara, who is waiting for her permanent residency, or Melissa, who is making a documentary. 

Too often, immigrant and minority stories in the media are reduced to a few stereotypes. Hiraeth does exactly the opposite. Not only does Hiraeth succeed at its goal of narrating a group of diverse stories, it also makes them heartfelt and touching. 


Pavana Upadhyaya is a junior at Leland High School and an intern at India Currents. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and playing the piano.  


 

Film poster for Netflix Series 'Ray'

Ray? Not Really!

Another anthology after Ajeeb Dastaans from the Netflix stable is Ray – a supposed tribute to Satyajit Ray on his birth centenary. The offering, four of Satyajit Ray’s short stories, interpreted by three directors, is a mixed bag – one is superlative, one passes muster, and it’s a tie between the last two about which one strays farther from the writer’s intent — both are wince-worthy adaptations.

While most of us are familiar with Ray, it was filmmaker Akira Kurosawa who said it best: “Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon. I can never forget the excitement in my mind after seeing it (Pather Panchali).”

A few things which make one return repeatedly to his stories are his deft touch, his innate humanity, wonder, and the unique taste each story leaves you with. The least one expects from cinematic adaptations of his stories is to stay faithful to that aesthetic. ‘Ray’ attempts to translate four of his beloved stories on screen and except for ‘Hungama…’ all fall woefully short of this expectation. 

Most of Ray’s heroes are loners with some quirk and mostly belonged to the middle-class, the typical Bengali bhadralok, grounded in the milieu of 60s-80s Bengal. Sayantan Mukherjee, whose brainchild the anthology is,  contemporizes the hero in three out of the four anthologies and they seem to veer too far from Ray’s protagonists. 

Abhishek Chaubey’s ‘Hangama Hai Kyon Barpa’ based on Barin Bhowmick er Bairam (Barin Bhowmick’s Ailment) is the only one where the hero is out of Ray’s stories. The director has enough faith in his art to stick as closely as possible to the original story and he has a superb set of actors to translate his vision on the screen. We come across the ghazal singer Musafir Ali (Bajpayee) a debonair ladies’-man and the stolid wrestler Aslam Baig (Rao) in an almost forgotten splendor of a train’s first-class coach. Just being ‘inside’ a luxuriously appointed coach, complete with a liveried attendant is like a breath of fresh air to our lockdown weary souls. 

Ali has the uncomfortable feeling that he has met his co-passenger in the past, but is initially unable to place him. But when he does, all he can do is to pray that the other does not do so. The sense of mystery is sustained till the twist at the end which is different from the original but makes for an organic, more satisfying finale to a great story well-retold. Bajapyee and Rao bring alive the laidback genteel flavors from the bygone era. Cinematically, the seamless segue of the past and present via the magic-realism like the washroom mirror or the coach transforming into Ali’s audience is something Ray, the finicky director, would have applauded. Another point in its favor is the colloquial (saying ‘Agre’ instead of ‘Agra’) lingo, complete with the lyricism of the Lucknowi tehzeeb (culture, sophistication) is in stark contrast to the expletive-laden language of the other three stories and this general, unfortunate trend on OTT these days.

Satyajit Ray's Short Stories Book Cover
Satyajit Ray’s Short Stories Book Cover

The first and the second stories of the anthology, ‘Forget-Me-Not’ based on Bipin Chowdhary’s Smritibhrom (Bipin Chowdhary’s Memory Loss) and ‘Bahurupiya’ based on Bahuroopi, both directed by Mukherji, may have passed muster for slick direction had they not proclaimed themselves to be interpretations of Ray’s stories.

In ‘Forget-Me-Not’ Fazal as Ipsit Nair is the typical brash, over-achieving CEO, nick-named ‘human computer’ for his eidetic memory till he runs across this girl at a bar, who seems surprised that he cannot remember their tryst in Khajurao. From the anxiety of losing his most prized possession, his memory, a downward spiral brings the proud CEO to his knees.  How and why his mammoth pride is struck the blow is what keeps the viewer hooked but the loopholes loom up after the film ends. As far as the performances go, Fazal nails the brash and the bemused, and Prasad does complete justice to her wide-eyed Maggie. However, the villainy of the protagonist is more Black Mirror than Ray.

 The same is true for ‘Bahurupia’, which makes it everything that Ray’s story is emphatically not.  What the maker has done is to take the kernel of the idea, shorn it of its aesthetic created another Joker. ‘Bahurupia’ is also about pride, about Indrashish (Menon), who for all his general nincompoop-ness, excels in the art of disguise. Soon this hobby turns into obsession and he uses it to get back at everyone who crosses him. An encounter with talents beyond human pitches the story into macabre. Menon slips into this role with ease and brings to life the twisted character of Indrashish.

The weakest and perhaps the most tedious is Bala’s ‘Spotlight’, the story by the same title. It is marred further by the lackluster Kapoor and mostly behind a veil, Didi (Madan), who had delivered stellar performances in Bala’s earlier venture ‘Mard ko Dard Nahi Hota’. Here, Kapoor is hampered by his single expression character, and Madan is made to hide her vibrancy under the veil for the larger part of the film. A delightful Sanyal, stands out in his role as the star’s manager.

The story deviates completely from the original story, and is unable to stand on its feet despite the fantastic premise of devious women-empowerment; despite the possibilities of a scintillating story of a star scrabbling to hang on to his stardom; despite the deliciousness of the battle-of-wits between the wildly successful religious leader ‘didi’ and the fading star. The plot fizzles into cheap gimmickry of props imitating Game-of-Thrones and weird supposed-to-be-funny scenes of supernatural power. Like the hero’s oft-referred ‘one look’ acting, the story remains steadfastly mired in one repetitive groove. 

Once again, it seems, the written word has won – the films are not a patch on the stories. The exception that proves the rule is ‘Hungama…’. The rest would appear more blasphemies than odes. The unnecessary sleaze and smut that the director resorts to indicates that he does not have faith in the strength of the writing or his own talent. Go ahead with these ambitious extensions but why piggyback on Ray’s name?

Sincere advice, watch Doordarshan’s ‘Satyajit Ray Presents’ by his son Sandip Ray instead.


Madhumita Gupta is a freelance writer based in India. A dreamer by nature, a teacher by default, and crazy about all things books, movies, dogs, oceans, mountains, and flowers.


 

Never Have I Ever Season 2 Poster

Never Have I Ever’s Second Season Had a Few Redeeming Moments

The controversial Netflix series Never Have I Ever, produced by comedian and actress Mindy Kaling, released Season 2 on July 15, 2020. The series is based on a high-school-aged Indian American girl named Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and addresses the experience of an Indian teen living in America. Season 1 brought an uproar of reviews and opinions, good and bad. To me, however, season 1 was nothing short of a disappointment. Finally, someone with an identity like Kaling had been given a platform to create a show which would dispel the hurtful stereotypes of the Indian-American experience. Instead, Kaling approved a Season 1 which further played into those harmful tropes. Despite my outrage at this wasted platform, I decided to give Season 2 a chance hoping that the negative reviews from Season 1 would help the creators rethink their plotline. While Kaling continued to propel some awfully stereotypical ideas, Season 2 brought to light a lot more progressive lessons and experiences. 

The positives: 

The introduction of Aneesa Qureshi 

Megan Suri as Aneesa in 'Never Have I Ever' episode still.
Megan Suri as Aneesa in ‘Never Have I Ever’ episode still.

Season 2 brings the arrival of a new South Indian to Sherman Oaks. Aneesa (Megan Suri) is Muslim and transfers from a snobby private school following the diagnosis of her eating disorder. Not only does the recognition of eating disorders dispel the traditional Desi ignorance of body dysmorphia and mental health, but Aneesa’s parents deal with her trauma in healthy ways – a way in which Indian parents aren’t traditionally portrayed. She mentions her intense rehab program and ongoing support from, both, professionals and her parents. In fact, when Devi accidentally shares Aneesa’s disorder with the school, Aneesa’s mom insists on moving her to a new school once again. It makes me hopeful to see immigrant parents, that too, South Asian parents, finally being portrayed as progressive and aware of the importance of mental health and wellness. As someone from a family where mental health is prioritized and checked in on often, I am thankful to Kaling for including this storyline to show others that not all South Asian parents are ignorant and the same. 

Though Aneesa is Muslim, it is nice to see that she feels empowered to have a boyfriend. Though she feels like she cannot tell her parents, her religion is not a constant conversation topic when she is dating Ben. Sure, if Mindy wanted to be even more progressive, Aneesa could have told her parents about her boyfriend, but maybe that’s pushing it! However, my point is that Ben doesn’t once make a negative comment or have a doubtful thought about Aneesa’s religion. Some may see this lack of recognition as a bad thing, however, I like that Aneesa’s whole storyline isn’t about her being a Muslim woman. She wears modest clothing and talks about eating Halal, but she still gets to act like a teenage girl who sneaks out and has sleepovers. 

Lastly, Aneesa is introduced as the second Desi in Devi’s year, but as the “cool” one in comparison to Devi. In the beginning, I was wary of this competition because even women producers tend to pit the lead female characters against each other, but as the show progressed, the audience sees Devi warming up to Aneesa, and at the end even being friends. I appreciated that Aneesa was portrayed as trendy and relevant because one of my biggest issues with Devi’s character was the way she was seen as the typical nerdy, uncool South Asian. While I could have done without the typical “two confident women fighting over a mediocre boy” drama, I appreciated that they were able to maturely work through their differences. I could have used some more “women supporting women” scenes at the beginning.

Nalini Vishwakumar’s romantic progression

Nalini's kiss with her romantic love interest in 'Never Have I Ever'
Nalini’s kiss with her romantic love interest in ‘Never Have I Ever’.

Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) and Devi lost their husband and father, respectively, right before Season 1. In Season 1, Nalini was strongly against Devi dating, even slapping and lecturing her about it in the stereotypical Indian parent way. It was another stigma I worried the show would play into. In Season 2, however, Chris Jackson was introduced. Dr. Jackson was Nalini’s upstairs neighbor at her dermatology clinic. As two dermatologists in the same building, Dr. Jackson and Dr. Vishwakumar had a dramatic competition over things as trivial as parking spots. Somehow, though, their shared loss of partners, as well as constant bickering, made them fall in love. While Nalini ultimately ends the relationship for Devi’s sake, it was so refreshing to see Kaling give this uptight, stereotypical Indian mother a relationship of her own. I particularly enjoyed that Chris Jackson is a Black man, erasing the idea that Indian immigrants like Nalini are racist. Nalini’s feelings were shown in such a raw way — they even showed Chris and Nalini kiss! Nalini’s character initially felt like a slight to all Indian mothers for being so overprotective and antiquated in their beliefs, so this addition to the storyline was much appreciated. 

A progressive mother & mother-in-law! 

Narmila (Nalini's mother-in-law) played by Ranjita Chakravarty in 'Never Have I Ever'.
Narmila (Nalini’s mother-in-law) played by Ranjita Chakravarty in ‘Never Have I Ever’.

Season 2 also introduced Devi’s two grandmothers. When Nalini goes to India to make arrangements for a move which never happens, we are introduced to Mohan (Nailini’s deceased husband) and Nalini’s mothers. Nalini’s mother has less airtime but is portrayed as an independent woman. While I didn’t agree with some of her rude comments to Nalini and her poking fun at feminism, her personality dispels certain stereotypes of Indian mothering. Nalini asks her mom to come along to help her make arrangements for the move and her mother denies her, saying that she has a party to attend. It is a quick interaction, but often Indian mothers, especially when they become grandmothers, are expected to drop everything to help their children. Instead, Nalini’s mother leaves Nalini, telling her maid to cook something as she leaves for a social event. It may seem like a negative interaction to some, however, I was ready to overlook the grandmother’s rudeness as she broke a stereotype with only a few words. 

Devi’s paternal grandmother, Narmila (Ranjita Chakravarty), has a larger role as she moves to LA to live with Nalini and Devi. Often, Indian mother-in-laws are seen to have bad relationships with their daughter-in-laws, but Mohan’s mother is nothing but kind to Nalini. This sentiment struck me when Patti (what Devi calls her) yelled at Devi for speaking to Nalini terribly. The comment Devi made was about how Nalini was moving on too fast from Mohan. Patti could have easily taken Devi’s side since Nalini was moving on from her own son, but she stood by her late son’s wife. Additionally, Patti never gave Devi any of the typical Indian grandmother talks. Not once do I remember Patti telling Devi she couldn’t date Paxton because he wasn’t Indian or that she should start looking for a nice Indian boy soon. Actually, Patti often commented on Paxton’s looks and probably wanted him for herself! I appreciated Patti’s role — she added humor and was the second grandmother to dispel a stigma. 

Kamala’s Professional Reckoning

Kamala working at a lab in ‘Never Have I Ever’.

In Season 2, Devi’s cousin, Kamala (Richa Moorjani), gets a job at a lab where she makes an important discovery leading to publication in a renowned journal. Her peers — the white men at the lab — don’t take her seriously, leaving her out of their activities and out of the paper. Prashant (Rushi Kota), Kamala’s boyfriend, helps her through it. Prashant’s support was a great way to show how men should act.

Kamala is highly intelligent and not once does Prashant feel intimidated by her. In fact, he is vital in helping Kamala realize her value. Ultimately, after Devi gives her the courage to, Kamala stands up to her boss and gets what she wants. I appreciated this storyline on Kamala because it not only diverted from Season 1’s dragged-out story on Kamala’s relationship, but it showcased the struggles of women of color who are trying to make it in the professional world. While Kalama’s solution of sneaking onto her boss’s computer was simply theatrical, her speech at the end about equal treatment as well as her own realization of self-worth was unexpected and inspirational. Kamala’s job struggles were helpful in two ways: One, they eliminated the idea that South Asian men should be and are intimidated by their highly functioning. Two, that all women of color should be aware of their self-worth and advocate for equality.

The negatives:  

The Kamala & Prashant saga continues 

While I appreciated the decrease in the Prashant and Kamala romantic scenes, the ending of the season repeated a mistake of Season 1. Prashant’s parents come to visit, seemingly, because Prashant is going to propose to Kamala. The pressure of Kamala having to decide if she wants to marry Prashant in front of his parents is unfair. Furthermore, Kamala is clearly uncomfortable with the idea, but no one sees that, causing her to panic and hide at Devi’s winter dance for the night. I was shocked that Nalini, who knows Kamala well and is quite progressive, couldn’t tell that Kamala wasn’t all in with the idea of Prashant proposing. It seemed as though everyone was so excited for the proposal that they forgot that Kamala’s feelings mattered too. It’s a typical portrayal of Indian culture where a woman is pressured by her ignorant family, both directly and indirectly, into marrying a man they have picked for her. I just thought that Kaling would at least allow Kamala to stand up for herself after her growth this season.

Side note, let’s get rid of Kamala’s FAKE Indian accent!

Nalini’s continued disapproval of her daughter’s romantic endeavors 

I appreciate Nalini’s way of dealing with Devi’s various bad decisions. However, what I don’t get is why Devi’s mother is STILL being portrayed as the typical South Asian parent who won’t let Devi and Paxton study in a room with the door closed. I get it, ok. I get that many parents, no matter their race, have different feelings about dating, especially when it comes to their high-school-aged children. But why does Kaling have to go along with the stereotype that Nalini doesn’t want her daughter to have a boyfriend because it means she won’t get into Princeton. The constant lecturing about boys and kicking doors open to platonic studying is overdone and one-dimensional; if Kaling wants to comment on anti-dating, make it more than just about academics.  

Devi is still that nerdy, unathletic Indian kid

Aneesa’s appearance was pivotal in showing that not all South Asian kids are boring and nerdy, but Aneesa’s presence doesn’t mean that Devi still has to be shown as the typical Indian kid. I understand that different characters have different personalities and that Aneesa and Devi are meant to contrast each other. Some of Devi’s scenes are so dramatic that they are there to almost intentionally play into the stereotype. She is seen at the 24-hour relay, not being able to run a mile without a cramp and getting made fun of for it. She is seen being called an “academic beast” and being called on by the counselor to tutor a C-grade average student. The list goes on. Sure, Devi can be unathletic and intelligent, but Kaling has played into the dramatics of TV so much that she has forgotten that the goal of the show and Devi’s character is actually to uplift Indian-Americans. It always feels as though Devi’s actions are negative, and isn’t the main character supposed to inspire?

In conclusion, there is much to work on both with this show when it comes to the way Indian-Americans are perceived and portrayed — even by other Indian-Americans! But, growth is happening and that’s refreshing to see. Never Have I Ever has the potential to be a symbol of pride for the Indian American community. 


Ayanna Gandhi is a rising senior at Castilleja School in Palo Alto, California. She has a deep interest in writing and reading but also enjoys politics, singing, and sports of all kinds. 


 

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.


 

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/ 

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.

Indian Couples Plan Their Own Big Fat Indian Wedding

Indians all over the globe are binge-watching the new Netflix series, The Big Day. The series focuses on big fat Indian weddings in exotic locales and I could not get enough! The Valentine‘s day launch was on point to woo the romantic notions of thousands of couples who put their own wedding plans on hold because of the pandemic.

Traditionally, marriage entailed matching horoscopes, a pinch of haldi, kumkum, chandan, coconut, dates, seven steps in front of the fire, a mangal sutra, and good luck. Over time and much thanks to Bollywood, weddings are a $50 billion industry in India. Indians love big weddings. Even some Americans desire to be married in the Indian way because Indian weddings are colorful, extravagant, and over the top.

When I was getting married, weddings used to be a family affair and the festivities revolved around setting a budget. The bride’s trousseau (sarees, jewelry, home goods) was collected from the day she was born. Once the wedding date was set, the house buzzed with decisions about the invitation card, venue, light display, music, marching band, caterers, and gifts for the groom and his family. No wedding planner was hired. Friends and relatives chipped in to prepare for the wedding. The bride and groom were not involved in deciding anything once they said yes. Everything was decided for them. They spent their days floating on clouds and fantasizing about their lives together.

I got married in the Pink City of Jaipur. Rajasthan’s havelis and mahals added to the charm. Colorful attires, music, and delicious cuisine set the mood. I wore a red and gold tissue saree I bought from Kala Niketan. I did my own makeup. My mother’s Navaratana necklace adorned my neck for good luck. My dad blew his budget because the groom’s family invited about three hundred people last minute. But he dealt with it, without flinching an eye. 

The Big Day, produced by Conde Nast India, is about avant-garde millennial Indian couples and displays the megabucks put into the Indian wedding industry. This gives us an escape out of our surreal, locked-down Zoom reality and into an extravagant social engagement. Six lavish, pre-COVID Indian weddings in exotic locales, with “breaking barriers” bridal looks, decor, food, and flamboyance!

One of the couples from the Netflix show, The Big Day.

The weddings are different because, in a rather unconventional twist, the millennial couples are in charge. They seem to have choreographed the entire ceremony to meet their style and personal flair. The couples tell us their back story. Their meet-cute, their courtship, their choice in engagement rings, their proposals, their challenges, their families’ reaction, and most importantly, the wedding preparation.

Some broke tradition by snubbing certain subversive traditions which seem to denigrate women like kanya dan and mangal sutra. Others embraced tradition by effortlessly accepting to live with extended families. There was a lot of emphasis on cross-cultural unions including a poignant gay marriage.

Some dialogues and vignettes pull at heartstrings: The Hindu priest who married two men dressed in lungis to recreate a Chennai custom said: “Hinduism is a way of life”. That sentiment brought so much solace to the newlyweds that they danced together.

I was floored with the destination of a Kishangarh fort and loved the incorporation of Sarson (Mustard) flowers and sprigs of Bajra. The use of floating sanganer block printed fabrics was a very creative idea. Everything was locally sourced and repurposed. The couples planned their wedding with such a great eye for detail, working tirelessly with vendors and creatives. The Baby boomer parents were there to offer support, happily or grudgingly, as they watched them choreograph their own wedding. 

I hope these newlyweds live happily ever after. I am hooked and will definitely watch the next episodes! My only question is – did the savvy millennials foot the bill of The Big Day?! 


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.

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.

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.

Mirzapur Returns to Prime

Under the dark cloud of COVID, watching comedy has been my panacea. Bollywood veteran villains of our childhood in India: Pran, Prem Nath, Prem Chopra, Amjad Khan, and Amrish Puri ruled the silver screen. We disliked their wicked characters but we repeated their “catchphrases”: Prem nam hai mera, Prem Chopra! or Kitne aadmi the? I almost jumped out of my skin when someone yelled, Mogambo hush hua”! outside a roadside restaurant in Jacksonville, Florida!  That’s when I realized the ubiquitous appeal and life of good scripts and dialogues.

Divyenndu Sharma, in an interview with India Currents about Mirzapur Season 2, introduced the storyline with a banal hook: A story about a cute family in a sleepy little town. The seemingly informal players with colloquial names like Kaleen bhaiya, Munna bhaiya, and Babuji are a gangster family embroiled in drugs, guns, murders, and lawlessness. 

The young and energetic production team of Karan Anshuman, Puneet Krishna, and Gurmeet Singh have packed so much sensational masala in the first nine episodes of Mirzapur that the fans are raring to go at the second season. The theme of the first series is “greed” where Kaleen bhai the carpet king and his drug-dazed son Munna Bhaiya try to establish dominance in Mirzapur! It’s a modern-day take of the power struggle between “good versus evil”!  It’s a window into Indian hamlets and far-flung places where mayhem, rape, and murders are not punished because of the corrupt regional government. The poor people serve as a means of money for goons and vote banks in elections. The web series unfolds malevolent characters in mucky boroughs with the idea to entertain and open our eyes towards covert and overt misogyny. Bad elements are increasing in society. In democracies like India and America awareness and involvement in the selection of governments and a robust set of checks and balances is a must. 

Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Pankaj Tripathi flow like water into their roles as mafia men! I prefer Tripathi in his roles as a doting father (Bareilly ki Barfi and Gunjan Saxena) but he is versatile and violence sells! Divyenndu who has been waiting for a role like this is animated as Munna Bhaiya! In the first part, he is a bully. In Mirzapur 2 his agenda shifts from arrogance to revenge! Women actors portray layered persona with learning to acquire survival skills on the run! Mrs. Pandit (Sheeba Chaddha) in her long house-dresses and dupattas is convincingly intrepid. She can garner her husband’s affection with “mutter paneer” and put the “ kiranawalla” in his place with aplomb! Ramakant Pandit (Rajesh Tailang) as a righteous country lawyer is pitched against the gangster inferno. I am waiting for the plot twist for him to gain dominance but will he do it with the help of his “brawny” son Guddu Bhaiya (Ali Fazal)?

The female actors are not paragons of virtue. Beena as Kaleen bhai’s wife (Rasika Duggal) is a terrific understudy for Lady Macbeth. She talks with her eyes! Gajgamini Gupta(Shweta Tripathi) as Golu is a lady to watch juxtaposed against toxic men.

I enjoy the pure Hindi names in Mirzapur and the local dialect, it provides for comic relief to me. Research has shown that people watch gory cinema if the violence gives meaning to confront real life and I wonder about censorship in the Amazon series. Euphemistic pseudonyms of guns, opium, and bribes as Katta, barfi, and pan spin these characters into caricatures of themselves. I confess that I had to fast forward through Quentin Tarrantino like “trigger-happy” sequences but I was vested in the story because of cerebral interpretations. I can’t wrap my mind around it but nonetheless, it’s been an education, so I will watch Mirzapur Season 2. 


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.

Shakuntala Devi: A Curious Woman

Shakuntala Devi is a biopic dramedy produced by Sony Pictures Network India and Vìkram Malhotra’s Abhyudaya Entertainment.  Directed by Anu Menon, the film is a curious tale of a mathematical genius whose ability for mental mathematics is discovered when she is a toddler.

From then onwards she makes her mark performing for general and erudite audiences in India and abroad. Vidya Balan is remarkably tuned into the spontaneity, spunk, and sense of humor that the character requires; she is engaging as Shakuntala Devi in her beautiful sarees and long dangling earrings.

Over her lifetime Devi earns money and fame, pitting her wit against computers. She achieves accolades independently without the help of a man. It’s true that men are afraid of a girl who laughs wholeheartedly and follows her heart.

Subconsciously distraught by childhood trauma of an “apparently unloving father and a subservient mother” she struggles to settle down in a traditional home.” Later in life, Devi does have a daughter whose childhood is also equally unusual.

Vidya Balan with Anupama Banerji (Shakuntala’s daughter) on the set of Shakuntala Devi

Some of the questions this film raises are: Is Devi’s daughter a math genius or does she have her own innate ability? Does she want to follow in her mother’s in her enterprising footsteps? Does she want to stay home with her father and choose a life more grounded to the terra firma? Is Devi able to find the companionship of a lost sister in her daughter?

To get answers to these poignant questions about the emotions of a woman as an individual, a daughter, and a mother, I recommend Shakuntala Devi. Vidya Balan is a joy! If I had witnessed Shakuntala Devi in my childhood, the magic of numbers would have inspired me to comprehend equations better. But I stayed home to eat and read my stories and inscribe patterns of snowflakes on my books…

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.