Tag Archives: streaming

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.

IC Interviews Abhishek Bachchan on New Prime Show

As a prelease to Breathe: Into the Shadows on Amazon Prime, India Currents’ writer, Monita Soni, had the privilege of exclusively interviewing Abhishek Bachchan via Media House. The actor shared his personal insights about the series:

Monita Soni: Hi Abhishek, we are all eagerly awaiting your digital debut in Breathe: Into the Shadows. The trailer looks stunning and very edgy! Please tell us a little about this series?

Abhishek Bachchan: Thank you! Well, we are about to release an Amazon Prime original series which drops later tonight in India! It is the story of my character, Avinash Sabharwal, his wife Abha, and their young six-year-old daughter who sadly gets kidnapped. And the kidnapper, instead of money for ransom, asks and makes Avinash commit murder in order to save his daughter. So the basic theme is how far are you willing to go for your family and for your loved ones. It’s a wonderful, emotional story. Although it has been built as a psychological thriller, I like to think of it as a family drama. I really enjoyed playing this fantastic complex and nuanced role. I’m very anxious to know what people are going to think about it. 

MK: Tell me one thing, how did you prepare for this particular role, it is a very challenging role. You have to commit a murder to save your daughter’s life. How did you get into the skin of your character?

AB: Well, there was an extensive prep that went into this role. Because, what was really nice, Monitaji, is that as compared to film, in which we get 2-3 hours to tell our story and justify it, over here we get almost 12 hours (because there are 12 episodes). So you get that much more material that you get to work on and that is very exciting for me. This is the first time you have been given the liberty of time (as an actor).

MK: Did you have to change your physical look for the role?

AB: No, thankfully I didn’t. I had to get rid of my famous beard look that I have had. 

MK: Well that suits you! Do you think playing this role has changed you emotionally, or do you look at life a little differently now?

AB: Well, you know, like I told you, the basic theme of the show is such that it does beg you to ask certain questions of yourself. For example, how far would you go for your loved ones? It’s a very nice question to ask on face value, but it is very difficult to put in practice, that’s when the problem starts seeping in.

MK: I think the kind of bonds we share in India with our family/children are special and (this role) would put a lot of emphasis on that aspect when we see this streaming. I think it’s our roots and love which make us think in a particular manner.

AB: Yes. Very possible! And I will agree with you on that.

We have admired his talent in numerous Bollywood hits for the last 20 years and we get to see him once more in a very different role. I am partial to his light-hearted roles with his own unique, heart-warming, comedic timing. But after talking to him, I could not wait to binge-watch this series and see him perform in this distinctive genre.

The trailer of Breathe: Into the Shadows, has a Quentin Tarantino like feel and the series delivers cyclic, edgy, cinematography. There is a fragile backstory about family bonds and the meaning of love and nurture is emphasized. After binging, I have replayed the interview in my mind, and now am even more impressed by Abhishek’s deep interpretation of a complex and flawed character. I can see why having more time in filming this series helped with character development which can be seen through his facial expressions and mannerisms. Abhishek admitted to reading a lot of plays at a young age and this series pulls from theater as a nod to Hamlet’s revenge.

The script tackles a myriad of awkward human behaviors linked to developmental psychology. And as a physician, I like the interplay between characters and their unscripted awkwardness. Nithya Menen’s performance as a young mother whose child has been kidnapped for several months is heart-wrenching and Amit Sadh’s performance as a poker-faced police officer, Kabir Sawant, is noteworthy. I also liked Hrishikesh Joshi’s character, as Kamble with a ”b”! 

The last episode promises that the story is to be continued…To take slight liberty as a fan, I misquote: “Breathe is like money and I can’t wait to spend it!

Wishing Abhishek Bachchan a quick recovery from COVID and the entire team of Breathe: Into the Shadows a resounding success.

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.

Bollywood Blockbusters Straight to Your Screen

Although social distancing has brought our daily lives to a grinding halt, the latest update from Amazon Prime Video proves that the show must truly go on. It is heartening to know that amid the chilling outbreak of the coronavirus, Bollywood has persevered in its attempts to amuse and bring us together. These latest releases are a reminder of how critical online entertainment truly is during this pandemic. Hopefully, Shakuntala Devi and Gulaabo Sitabo will bring a necessary slice of positivity into your lives.  

To satiate your appetite for some B-town, Amazon Prime announced the premiere of Gulabo Sitabo, an Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana collaboration. The two leads amuse audiences in an intricate game of cat-and-mouse, offset by the conflicting agendas of the supporting cast. 

Regarding the film, Mr. Bachchan said, “I was excited about my role since the first time Shoojit showed me the character’s look. It took me almost 3 hours each day to get into character with its different look. I had a wonderful time working with my very talented co-star Ayushmann Khurrana. Even though we are constantly bantering in the film, it has been a pleasure working with him for the first time. This family entertainer has the power to cut across geographic boundaries and we are pleased to bring Gulabo Sitabo to audiences.”

Amazon Prime also recently announced the premiere of the highly publicized Shakuntala Devi. The film will be available to audiences across the globe and is available on the Amazon Prime app on nearly every device. With the formidable Vidya Balan at the forefront, Anu Menon’s latest film certainly cannot go wrong. Vidya Balan intrigues audiences in her retelling of the life of Shakuntala Devi, India’s “human computer.”

Devi is one of the world’s most celebrated geniuses, bringing her talents to India, Hong Kong, and all over the globe. Not only was she recognized for her inexplicable mathematical prowess, but also because she was India’s first woman to publish a paper on homosexuality

When asked about her role, Balan said, “She was truly someone who embraced her individuality, had a strong feminist voice, and braved many a naysayer to reach the pinnacle of success. But what truly fascinates me is that you wouldn’t normally associate a fun person with math…and she completely turns that perception on its head.” Balan later added that Ms. Devi was  “one of the most inspiring women of this country,” and that she was “extremely excited” to bring such an extraordinary woman’s tale to life. 

Other Amazon Prime Movies direct-to-service slate:

Ponmagal Vandhal (Tamil) – May 29th

Gulabo Sitabo (Hindi) – June 12th

Penguin (Tamil and Telugu) – June 19th

Law (Kannada) – June 26th

French Biryani (Kannada) – July 24th

Shakuntala Devi (Hindi) – TBD

Sufiyum Sujatayum (Malayalam) – TBD

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the youth editor of India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

Isolation Therapy: Top Five New Shows on Streaming

As the isolation period extends, feast on these delightful new shows on streaming which range from small-town slicks to big city woes.

Panchayat, Amazon Prime Video

In Prime drama Panchayat, director Deepak Kumar Mishra and writer Chandan Kumar create the perfect isolation watch, transporting us to the rural Indian world of Phulera in Uttar Pradesh. Produced by TVF, the comedy-drama follows an average engineering graduate Abhishek (Jitendra Kumar) through his reluctant journey as secretary of a Panchayat office after he misses the popular CAT exam bus. On arrival, he encounters Vikas (Chandan Roy), an office boy, Upapradhan Prahlad Pandey (Faisal Malik) and long-serving Pradhan Brij Bhushan Dubey (Raghuvir Yadav). Although he is currently fronting the office for wife Manju Devi (Neena Gupta), elected on paper (under nari quota), so he could still perform his duties. The quirky innocence of small-town characters wrapped up in simple dilemmas shine through all eight episodes even as the seemingly slick city boy tries to make his presence felt. With some fine performances, heartwarming situations and slow-cooked old charm, you cannot go wrong choosing to binge on this one.

Jamtara – Sabka Number Ayega, Netflix

Jamtara – Sabka Number Ayega sucks you right in with poor young-bloods determined to find their power spot in the world. Writers Trishant Srivastava, Nishank Verma, and director Soumendra Padhi keep it raw, real and intense throughout with some thrilling and chilling moments to keep you hooked. School dropouts, reckless and cut-throat, the unemployed youth of Jamtara (Jharkhand) want to make quick cash which will lead them to a successful future. Leading the pack is Sunny Mondal (Sparsh Shrivastav) who runs a money-spinning phishing scam with older cousin Rocky (Anshuman Pushkar) aided by school friends. Sunny’s partner in crime is Gudiya (Monika Panwar), ambitious with her own agenda. They are the wannabe power couple and run coaching classes together. Standing in the way of their dream and the whole racket, for different reasons, are local corrupt politician Brajesh Bhan (Amit Sial) and Dolly Sahu (Aksha Pardasany), Superintendent of Police. If you can swallow the liberally sprinkled but necessary cuss words, the show is a winner. It depicts a world very much rooted in power and its layered dynamics, depending on which side you are on.

Afsos, Amazon Prime Video

“My life story is so poorly written that I feel like I’ve written it myself.” Failed writer, lover, sibling and son Nakul (Gulshan Devaiah) has only one goal in life – he wants to end it in Afsos. After failing to go through with the act 11 times, he hires a committed assassin Upadhyay (Heeba Shah) to finish the job. After assigning the task, his luck changes dramatically, and Nakul changes his mind. The only hurdle is Upadhyay, who doesn’t like unfinished business. A dark comedy that is wicked and funny. The show’s characters are superbly enacted, irrespective of their length, even though they find themselves in some irreverent and unbelievable situations finely crafted by writers Anirban Dasgupta and Dibya Chatterjee. The only discomforting scene was when his therapist, Shloka (Anjali Patil) hands Nakul a razor knife and provokes him to kill himself. Nevertheless, director Anubhuti Kashyap balances the bustling plot with slick direction and solid attention to detail, keeping it sane, grounded and palatable. 

Mentalhood, ZEE5

If you are a Karishma Kapoor fan, you will be delighted by her foray into the digital TV world with Mentalhood, a TV show which explores the vagaries of motherhood, female solidarity and modern issues such as bullying, domestic violence, infidelity, homosexuality, and a mother’s guilt. ALTBalaji attempts to woo the family audience with a cleverly adapted Indian version of HBO show Big Little Lies which connects five mothers, Meira (Karisma), Anuja (Sandhya Mridul), Namrata (Shilpa Shukla), Diksha (Shruti Seth) and Priti (Tillotama Shome), who share lives as their children attend the same school. Director Karishma Kohli keeps the tone light, sensitive, and feminine. As a show, it doesn’t reach the high level one would expect despite the taboo topics it explores but nevertheless entertains and conveys some important messages in the process. With its troop of crackling actors and Kapoor’s fine presence, it’s definitely worth a watch.

She Netflix

She suffers from an age old problem: He. A bunch of men write and direct a female story about sexual awakening and do a huge disservice to an important topic. Producer Imtiaz Ali leads this venture, co-writing with screenwriter Divya Johri, jointly directed by Arif Ali and Avinash Das of Anarkali of Arrah fame. Bhumi Pardesi (Aaditi Pohankar), a junior police officer is chosen by Narcotics Bureau officer Jason Fernandez (Vishwas Kini) to play a prostitute in a bid to bring down a drug cartel, fronted by Sasya (Vijay Varma). The protagonist is viewed throughout from an external perspective, which is not the worst part, she rarely takes a solo decision and the little voice she has is mostly muffled by the male energy. Perhaps it is her surroundings or the fact that she is not aware of her own sexuality. She is initially embarrassed by her body, then recognizes its influence and eventually finds her power through it. This is where it becomes problematic because she starts seeing her body as a tool and the only way to get her share of power. Despite the obvious flaws, Aaditi Pohankar lends dignity to Bhumi with a layered, masterful performance. She maps the journey from timid female to an aggressive temptress effectively and smoothly. Vijay Varma is always a surprise package, with many twists to offer. It’s definitely worth a watch for the actors, some of its sparkling moments and the bold territories it travels to.

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