Thursday, 13 August 2020


Over the years one thing has become painfully clear; Indian filmmakers struggle to successfully pull off biopics. Take the most recent case, Shakuntala Devi, for example. It felt more like an episodic portrayal of Shakuntala's life rather than getting a sense of the flesh and blood human behind the superhero status bestowed upon her by the filmmakers. Either this or the writers adopt a loud, melodramatic tone to convey the backstory of living legends like Milkha Singh in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. I know I well may have caused many eyebrows to raise by this opinion, but I honestly feel that's a highly overrated film. Of course, there are exceptions to this list. Irrfan Khan's rendition of an athlete turned dacoit in Paan Singh Tomar is probably one of his most memorable performances on-screen.

Anyway, coming back to Gunjan Saxena - The Kargil Girl. Fortunately, it doesn't fall into the usual traps of the genre because it's an extremely self-aware film. It doesn't try to push any boundaries in terms of the filmmaking craft but instead tries to make the most of what it is best at doing; wrap a shrewdly manipulative story around an emotional core that is the relationship between a daughter and her father who never once questions her ability to fulfill her dreams even when she herself wonders if she has chosen the right path or not.

I use the word shrewd because writers Nikhil Mehrotra and Sharan Sharma (also the director) create an engaging story out of something very mediocre and familiar by pressing all the right buttons at the right time. Weirdly, for the most part you feel happy being emotionally manipulated by the simplicity of the characters and their worlds throughout the roughly two-hour duration. After all, once you've got the heart in the right place, all it takes is a little conviction, some solid performances and inspiring music to woo your audiences. 

Which brings me to the three pillars of the film. As the main protagonist, Jahnvi Kapoor is in superb form. Frankly, I had my reservations against her acting abilities following Dhadak, but her assured glamour-free performance as the stubborn pilot refusing to conform to conventional societal norms took me by complete surprise. Next is Pankaj Tripathi. Here's an actor who conveys volumes of emotions with minimal fuss or effort. His scenes with Jahnvi lend some of the best bits in the film that may leave you fighting back your tears. Finally, the film strongly benefits from Amit Trivedi's rousing soundtrack that perfectly complements the inherently optimistic script.

I am going with 3/5 for Gunjan Saxena. It doesn't claim to be an excessively jingoistic war film but instead is content with telling the inspiring story of an aspiring pilot who makes it big despite the deep rooted sexism in her profession. "Streaming on Netflix" may well be changed to "Soaring on Netflix".

Friday, 1 May 2020


Cut from the same cloth of his previous two films Mulk and Article 15, director Anubhav Sinha conducts yet another postmortem examination of the Indian society and its archaic, misguided & repressive value-system. In Thappad he takes a seemingly trivial issue and designs a thought-provoking drama around it that will leave you constantly battling your conscience arising out of your inability to take sides of its insightful characters and their decisions. Is she overreacting by escalating the matter to court just because of a slap? Can her husband be categorically blamed for the incident given it happened in the heat of the moment? The truth is that as much as your heart believes that Taapsee is right, these are questions which cannot be easily brushed under the carpet. If you have gone through this turmoil while watching the film, I guess Sinha's intentions have borne fruitful results.

The film is populated with flesh and blood characters, each played utterly convincingly by the actors who inhabit their space. Of the ensemble, Pavail Gulati as the husband is the surprise package as he turns his Vikram into a very believable everyman of sorts. He conveys his frustration of not being able to comprehend the reason for Taapsee reacting to the incident the way she does with such sincerity that I found myself sympathizing even with him on a few occasions. Needless to say, other established actors like Taapsee Pannu, Ratna Pathak Shah, Kumud Mishra (an Anubhav Sinha favorite), Tanvi Azmi hit all the right notes and make a meal of their parts. Even actors in smaller roles like Dia Mirza and Geetika Vidya Ohlyan (of Soni fame) leave a lasting impression.

Not everything comes together seamlessly though. It's interesting how the makers use the incident as a backdrop to draw attention to deeper rooted problems of gender inequality in other households, but some of these subplots receive more screen time than required which ultimately dampen the pace of the film occasionally. Also, towards the end, it appears as though Sinha and his writers ran out of important stuff to say as a result of which the film feels bloated by at least half an hour.

I'm still going with 4/5 stars. It may not be a perfect film, but it is brimming with originality and made with unmistakable conviction. At a time when a major chunk of filmmakers are pre-occupied with the westernization of Bollywood, Anubhav Sinha holds a mirror to the Indian society urging us to take a moment and introspect. In that sense, Thappad is a slap on the face of all those perpetrators who commit these crimes, knowingly or unknowingly.

Monday, 3 February 2020


Given my restricted appetite for Oscar favorite films, when I heard rave reviews of the South Korean film Parasite, I was a tad hesitant to give it a chance. Eventually having watched it in the cinema hall today, I must admit I was handsomely rewarded.

It appears that many of the critics' reviews out there are casually giving away the basic plot of the film. The real joy, though, lies in slowly unraveling the veneers of this deliciously layered narrative yourself and anyone depriving you of that pleasure is committing nothing short of a sin.

Keeping that aside, the beauty of Parasite is that it takes on the garb of many genres at once. On the face of it, it appears to be a black comedy. As the story progresses, you slowly start moving towards the edge of your seat as it shifts gears into thriller mode with an impending sense of danger looming large. Then, it acts as a smart socio-political commentary on the economic divide and class rage between the rich and the poor. There are also elements of horror running through its veins, though not the "paranormal" kind but just due to the misactions of its painfully "normal" people. Ultimately, how I see it, the film is crafted with the sole intention to shock the hell out of you and blow your mind out of proportion. And boy does it succeed so well! In fact, the writing in this blazingly original piece of work is so sharp that there are moments where you judge yourself on moral grounds as you giggle at the exceedingly vicious actions of its twisted characters.

I'm going with 4.5/5 for Parasite. It feeds on your imagination, fear and insecurities unlike anything you've seen of late. This is a parasite you wouldn't mind hosting.

Saturday, 29 June 2019


The events that take place in Article 15 are shocking and unsettling. Equally astonishing is the metamorphosis of director Anubhav Sinha from the maker of mindless action films like Cash, Ra One and soulless love stories of the Tum Bin series (Yes, apparently there are two of them) to a bold storyteller unafraid of exposing the flaws of our legal system (as he did quite commendably in Mulk) and now taking a jab at the regressive caste system in the superbly made Article 15.

Article 15 is essentially a police procedural to track down the murderer of 2 girls and find the other missing one. Taking up his first posting in the hinterland of Laalgaon, IPS officer Ayan Ranjan, played by Ayushman Khurana, has his task cut out. On the face of it, he is made to believe it is a case of honor killing. However, stung by the bee of conscience, he digs deeper into the case only to discover the dirty political nexus involving disturbing casteism at play which is so rampant in northern India. Sinha and co-writer Gaurav Solanki create characters that feel one hundred percent authentic and they all seamlessly fit in this dark world colluding to maintain the balance of the system.

Barring a few inconsistencies involving Ayushman's constant texting with his girlfriend or the involvement of CBI towards the latter half of the film, the filmmaking on display is pretty solid. The background score underscores an atmosphere of impending doom which ensures film even works as a tense thriller and not merely a preachy commentary on the social fabric of the country.

Expectedly, Sinha has the backing of a terrific cast. Ayushman Khurana is at the top of his game. Even with a limited stock of expressions, he manages to essay every role very convincingly. Given the film choices he makes, there's no taking away from the fact that Ayushman is a remarkably instinctive actor. The rest of the cast as well, including the gifted Manoj Pahwa, Kumud Mishra, Zeeshan Ayub (who deserves a spin off film of own) and others, put their best foot forward and deliver memorable performances.

I'm going with 4/5 for Article 15. In the end, the film doesn't offer easy answers except for the fact that after 17 years of churning crappy films, Anubhav Sinha has finally recognized his true filmmaking prowess. Better late than never!

Saturday, 2 March 2019


Sonchiriya opens with the buzzing sounds of flies hovering around a dead snake. Having encountered a dead snake in their path, a bunch of dacoits suggest taking another path since it is considered a bad omen. But their leader urges them to continue walking claiming that changing their direction will not help wash away their sins of the past.

Director Abhishek Chaubey wastes no time in setting up his riveting premise and makes it conspicuous from this very first frame that we are in for an unsettling ride. He, along with co-writer Sudip Sharma (writer of NH-10 and Udta Punjab), whip up a tense thriller of dacoits in Chambal who seek to escape not only the system but also their inner conscience and guilt.

Fashioned as a minefield of emotional outbursts, traumatic visuals of the ghosts of the past, gang rivalry, internal feuds, dark humor and much more, the script offers a fresh spin on the regular dacoit-drama by throwing in twist after twist to sustain an atmosphere of impending doom throughout its running time.

Amidst all the gory and brilliantly staged shootout sequences, at the core of Sonchiriya is the tender bond that develops between a young girl and the dacoits, who consider her as their last chance to seek redemption. This track is what sets apart Sonchiriya from other films of the same genre.

Be warned though, the film isn't an easy watch. There are portions in the second half where your patience may begin to wear thin most likely because many scenes are shot with minimal lighting and the language spoken is bundelkhandi (constantly having to look at the subtitles might distract you a little). This is a minor price the makers were willing to pay to retain the authenticity of the film.

The film, ultimately, is brought alive by its assorted bunch of talented actors, whose conviction to get under the skin of each character is thoroughly satisfying and praiseworthy.

So that's 4/5 for Sonchiriya. Abhishek Chaubey yet again cements his position as one of India's most interesting filmmakers. Watch it because it has the pluck to be uncompromising and yet remain well within the boundaries of mainstream cinema.

Saturday, 26 January 2019


This is my first review of a Netflix original film. I watched Soni 2 days ago and still can’t seem to get it out of my head for many reasons. The fact that it stayed with me for so long after watching merits a detailed review.

Putting aside the superior craft of storytelling, Soni is an important and personal film. It holds a mirror to the society we live in, its patriarchal and orthodox beliefs, the biases enjoyed by the more privileged, the helpless police department which we generally take so much pride in and unmistakable misogyny that runs deep in the veins of our system. Sure, all of the above have been discussed at length innumerable times in Bollywood but we are always given a more dramatized version of the incidents. In Soni, however, debutante director Ivan Ayr very well understands that the inherent nature of the system is so exaggerated that all he needs to do is present Delhi in its raw, vulnerable form. The film has a beautiful understated tone that doesn’t require any showy dialogues or reactions to underline the gravity of the moment in a scene. It has no plot to speak of as such, but is more of a stripped down character study that was reminiscent of Asghar Farhadi’s (who I think is one of the best filmmakers in the world) films except that the characters here aren’t as grey as the ones in his films.

Ivan skillfully taps into the energy of silence and the pauses in a scene to transport the viewer right in the middle of the action. Rarely does a film invite its audience to enter the head space of its characters and witness who they actually are and what their thought process is. Also, technically speaking, every scene is shot in a single take which enhances the viewing experience manifold. Since I’m a sucker for long, single takes, I just admired the efforts gone into conceiving each scene so seamlessly, even if there is pretty much nothing significant happening in it. The film remains grounded for most part thanks to the actors who inhabit this space. Here, you’ll find  acting of the highest order even by characters who literally appear in just one scene.

In the end, Soni is an unflinching and an ultimately disturbing film which doesn’t offer any easy answers but sure makes an effort to change the way we perceive the rampant corruption and chauvinism around us. Don’t miss it!

Friday, 5 October 2018


Welcome to the world of Sriram Raghavan. It's a dark, cynical world where everything appears normal on the surface, but when the layers begin to unravel you realise this is a place where none of the characters can be taken for granted or you can be rest assured each of them is holding ulterior motives. One minute you are fed with a certain kind of information only to receive a shocker the next minute. This, my friend, is all you need to know before you walk in to watch this delicious crime drama which reinforces the fact that there's nothing more enjoyable in the world than watching an intelligent, well executed thriller.

The exceptional quality of Sriram Raghavan's films are that in order to build the suspense they do not rely as much on the whodunit aspect of the murder as they do on the whydunit or howdunit aspects and all the mayhem that ensues. Johnny Gaddar or Ek Hasina Thi may
help prove my point. But Andhadhun takes this to the next level altogether, literally playing with the minds of the audience with its twisted screenplay.

It's really hard to get into the details of the plot without revealing too much. So let's just say the makers set up a fantastic premise which takes a while to reach there, but once the main plot kicks in Raghavan, the flamboyant deceiver, milks enough thrill, shock value and wry humor out of it to keep you on the edge of your seat almost throughout the film. If I had to draw an analogy, the film is like a ticking time bomb or a race where Raghavan, aided by Amit Trivedi's original score that intensifies the sense of urgency, is always one step ahead of the audience.

It also helps that each of the actors are in terrific form. Stepping out of his comfort zone, Ayushmaan delivers a mature performance that's both vulnerable and suspenseful at the same time. Continuing the trend of outperforming herself, Tabu is pitch perfect as the sly and manipulative woman, a character I would never want to meet in person.

I'm going with 4/5 for Andhadhun, another gem added to Raghavan's handsome repertoire of films. Watch it because rarely do you come across a Bollywood film that doesn't insult your intelligence. The sound of a piano playing in the background has never been more intriguing!