Raazi Review

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I will not try to say very much about this movie, for I am sure you have already heard all that is to be said about it. I have only two important points that I want to bring up.

First is Alia Bhatt. Alia has had my heart since I saw her in Highway. I don’t quite know how to put this– perhaps the best way that I can explain the impact of Alia Bhatt’s acting is this: I forget how little others can act, until I watch Alia on screen. Her acting is so effortless, that I am reminded of what it’s meant to be like, how it is supposed to feel watching actors on screen– just effortless. It’s only when I watch Alia that I realize how unnatural, how challenging it often feels to watch other actors and actresses. Often times with others, I get a sense of a struggle – an uncomfortable tension between who they are and who they are trying to be on screen. This tension does not exist in Alia’s performances. It almost feels as though she is not acting, but being that character. I don’t need to go through an internal process to convince myself of who she is supposed to be in a movie, she already is that on screen. It’s quite amazing – this ability and skill – is surely not endowed to many people.

As for the story, what was most striking to me was how objectively and realistically it was presented. Often cinema tends to idealize and romanticize the work of intelligence agents with intense patriotic sentiments that borders on emotional manipulation. But the truth of the matter is that intelligence agencies, regardless of the country, have never had any qualms about using and discarding people for their purposes. It has always been that way. Their agents – the people who sacrifice their lives and yes, also their conscience – with the noble intention of serving their country, will be used and then discarded without even a blink of an eye. I respect Raazi for having the courage to demonstrate the reality of this. This sad truth does not minimize the sacrifices of those who take it upon themselves with good intentions. But it is something to consider: what we think we are fighting for, and what we are actually doing– may not be the same. And there is always some price, being paid by someone. It is never black and white. Right and wrong is not so obvious and clear when it comes to politics, defense, and intelligence, no matter how patriotic one feels about their country.

The only criticism I have about the movie is that the level of expertise and knowledge that Sehmat demonstrated was really not equivalent to a month’s worth of training in my opinion. Even though the movie made effort to show that she had natural skills and abilities that aided her in spy work – such as great memorization skills with numbers, etc., I don’t think that such a young girl with one month of training could have pulled off so much so strategically. I think in reality, her actions would have been more haphazard than it was presented. This is not a major issue however, for overall, the movie is quite excellent. I especially loved the rate in which the incidents developed, it allowed for the excitement and anticipation to remain high throughout the film.

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Haraamkhor Review

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I think I avoided watching Haraamkhor for a long time because I knew how uncomfortable it was going to be. But what was so surprising was that Haraamkhor presented a truly realistic picture of what sexual abuse and exploitation looks like when it involves abuse of power — that it’s in fact not so easy to identify and name it. In fact, in many ways, the sexual relationship between a student and an older, married teacher in this movie, appears more like a love affair. In fact, that’s what everyone else believes too. Haraamkhor is praiseworthy for precisely this point– that it makes us consider and understand the meaning of sexual abuse, what defines it, and what it may look like.

Just take a look at the way that two separate film sites describe this movie:

 “An unlikely love triangle unfolds when married professor, Shyam, has an illicit affair with his student, Sandhya.”

“A selfish, manipulative schoolteacher takes advantage of a schoolgirl’s vulnerability to gratify his dark, narcissistic desires.”

So which is it? Is this the story of a love triangle, an illicit love affair where one just happens to be the teacher of the other? Or is it a case of an adult with a certain responsibility and level of power taking advantage of the one whom he has power over?

Haraamkhor is brilliant in that it delivers this message– this explanation of what sexual abuse and abuse of power looks like– without any overt or preachy attitude. If Sandhya had not been his student, and had not been below the age of 18, this could have been a story of an illicit love affair. But the fact that she is a minor, and under the influence of a teacher — who both has power over her as an authority guiding her education, but also a responsibility for her welfare and safety during the time in which she is under his supervision, is abusing this power and taking advantage of her vulnerability.

The strange part is that these things happen around us all the time, but just like the characters in this movie– we remain unaware or unwilling to acknowledge them. We interpret them as love affairs, as unfaithfulness, as immorality. But if you watched carefully and saw that when Mintu killed teacher Shyam– Sandhya hugged him. You will understand that this wasn’t a story of a girl who voluntarily had sex with her teacher. Even though it appears that way in all regards– even though she flirted with him, met alone with him, succumbed to his wishes and desires– it does not naturally follow that she did these voluntarily, uninfluenced, of her free will or with an awareness of their consequences. That’s where manipulation comes in.

The kind of abuse demonstrated in this movie is abuse perpetrated by some in positions of power. They may use the influence they hold over another to manipulate them into doing things that they want. In this case, Sandhya, a child, experiences additional vulnerability due to her solitude, the lack of affection in her life due to her family situation — the absence of her mother and the neglect of her father. And you see that when her new step-mother joins the household and starts paying attention to Sandyha and giving her affection, when her household situation attains a greater level of normalcy is Sandhya able to recognize that she has been manipulated and taken advantage of by her teacher.

Haraamkhor puts forward the important and essential principle in protecting members of our society and community, and especially the most vulnerable ones. The principle is that the individual who is experiencing these risks and vulnerabilities, and the abuse — they themselves may not be aware of them. Sandhya may not be (and is not for the most part) aware of the way she is being manipulated and taken advantage of. The role of society is not to blame her or to cover an incident of abuse as an “affair.” The role of society is to recognize when someone is being abused, and take some sort of action for their protection.

What’s more is that we also witness what women empowerment looks like in this movie– through the role of Sandhya’s step mother. She is in a position where she could take several different types of action about Sandhya’s situation. She could inform her father, scold her, reprimand the teacher and do many more things. But what she does is that she helps Sandhya deal with the situation in a way that will cause the least amount of humiliation and shame for her. She understands what’s happening and what the ideal outcome should be, but she chooses to empower Sandhya to deal with the situation in her own way while also guiding her and supporting her through the process. She not only protects Sandhya’s identity and self-respect, but she also supports her in a way that strengthens her character, makes her more capable of dealing with difficult and dangerous situations in the future. It is possibly one of the most ideal examples of how those with loved ones who survived abuse ought to approach the situation.

For delivering such strong and important messages, in such underplayed and simple ways, I think that Haraamkhor deserves accolades.

Love Per Square Foot Review

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Love Per Square Foot (Netflix original) (2018) is a romantic comedy starring Vicky Kaushal and Angira Dhar in lead roles, and supported by a splendid mature cast like Ratna Pathak, Supriya Pathak and a very special appearance ( I won’t say who). The story is about Sanjay and Karina who work for the same firm and have the same dream. They were both raised middle class, spent their lives in small, crowded rental homes and dream of owning their own home one day. Their dream brings them together when they spot a government home owning scheme. But only married couples can apply, and thus begins a romance with a mission.

The movie was a delightful watch. The story-line is intriguing and different, but there is no doubt that what makes it work so well is the excellent acting by Vicky and Angira. Even though technically, it can be predictable at times, one doesn’t really notice that because the acting is truly engrossing. Particularly Vicky hits it out of the ballpark with this one. His facial expressions and the way he reacts to his co-actor in every single scene is literally perfectly done. He isn’t role playing, he is truly acting and it enriches the entire experience. I also loved Angira’s performance and felt that the two had great chemistry that is very vital for romantic movies.

I think what I loved the best however was Ratna Pathak. She brought some splendid well-timed and perfectly played out comedy to the movie. Oh she cracked me up seriously! “What’s a Chaturvedi?” “Mario’s blessings” and “They are from UP but they are not doodhwala okay?” were just splendid!

I recommend this movie, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Read the review for Vicky Kaushal’s film Raman Raghav 2.0 here.

Newton Review

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Quite silly to review such an acclaimed and already loved film, I know. People are sulking that it didn’t make the cut to the Oscars after all. I just couldn’t resist.

Newton has no qualms about presenting its subject. It dives directly into topic– the premise of elections and Naxals, and where the main character is in relation to them. The community is holding elections, and the Naxals are terrorizing the system. Or we’re made to believe. Newton, a government clerk, is a reserve volunteer for the election committee, and may be overseeing the voting booths with other volunteers on election day.

It’s quite difficult to know where to start praising Rajkummar Rao for his acting abilities. He, truly knows how to get into the skin of the character. The very first thing I realized as I watched Rajkummar Rao as Newton was how often he blinked. Perhaps, you’d consider this irrelevant or a minute detail. But it isn’t. The frequency in which he blinked, his glances and demeanor created the Newton character for me: a naive, good-willed, yet driven, simpleton. Isn’t it amazing that an actor can take on a character, using such small, minuscule details. There must be some underlying scientific truth behind this, in the way our brain interprets persons, as a total sum of their gestures, behaviors, words. Our Newton, who has named himself so gloriously, suffers from common man’s ailments, of familial pressures. He doesn’t value money or status like others. In his own words, he wants to make a difference.

I think I enjoyed Sanjay Mishra’s character the most. His role as an advisor, his honest and direct responses to Newton. I loved how he told Newton of his arrogance about being honest. I found it interesting how we even find ways to feel in-admirably about our admirable qualities. How the honest boasts of his honesty, the good of his goodness. And as Sanjay Mishra says, we are not doing the world a favor by being this way, it’s expected of us. The coincidental rarity of these qualities in our immediate world, do not make them praiseworthy.

When a volunteer backs off from a booth in a community close to Naxal area, Newton takes his place. A community that was under the control of Maoists / Naxals just six months ago, and rigged with man mines. They wake up at 4 a.m. to set up the voting booth. When the police officer warns about the security situation and the pointlessness of their efforts, Newton refuses to accept and insists on carrying out his duty. And off they go for votes, like an army going into war! With bullet-proof vests and helmets. Proceeding through the jungle, on-guard, pausing and checking for danger along the way. With frequent bathroom breaks, taking dumps on mine-scanned spots!

A very interesting perspective shown through this movie is also the different perspectives of civilian and military/police. Every government has a unit on civil-military (CivMil) relations, and that’s because the perspective of each is so different, that they have a hard time agreeing on much. The dynamic between Atma Singh and Newton exemplified that well I think.

Newton tells them not to force anyone to come, but the police rile up old villagers like criminals, for voting. Taking their food, frightening and traumatizing them meanwhile. But these people have never voted before, they don’t even know what voting is. Newton has to explain to them its importance, and why they should vote. How can they vote when they don’t know any of the candidates and what they have to offer? The candidates have never come to these lands, to understand them, to ask for their votes, to make promises to them. The people feel torn between the government authorities and the Maoists who both claim rights over them. Furthermore, these villages, communities have never assimilated into the national governance structure. They continue to be governed through their traditional tribal structures. When Atma Singh and Newton get into a heated argument, the elderly village head steps forward to fulfill his duty and resolve the dispute between them. I thought this scene is possibly the best and most insightful scene of the entire movie, highlighting the polarization and isolation of communities that national governments are unable to reach, unable to serve, and who often get caught amidst violent extremist movements, who seek to take advantage of this polarization for their personal gain.

To the world outside, the West, who is always keen on the implementation of democracy, and its foremost indicator, elections, without really understanding the local dynamics and implications of its case studies, THIS election is a triumph. An example they will show the world, of how democracy is applicable EVERYWHERE and all you need to do in the path of progress, freedom and representation, is hold elections. Who cares if it makes any difference in the lives of the voters? In conflict situations, as soon as the violence reduces to a bearable minimum, the freedom fighters of the world, with their Western ideas of liberation, will fly in, and hold elections, to tell the world that, look, all is well again. ALL problems are solved. There was EVEN an election. That’s what they did in the Balkans after the war, the genocide, the destruction. And now, people speak of how the conflict dynamics, the underlying problems and frictions that caused hatred and death in that region in the first place, remain unresolved as ever. But wasn’t elections and a democratically elected government, the solution to everything?

Ah the funding. Now you get to the real point! The funding is NEVER enough. There is always a need for MORE. All that stands between people and freedom is MONEY. If there was more money, they could progress further and faster, into being liberated, into becoming the obedient patriotic servants of the national government/foreign government, that every democratic citizen ought to be.

And yet, despite all this, a man who believes in the idea of social justice, representation and voting so much, and who refuses to give up on his principles and sense of duty to the extent that he LITERALLY runs to keep a voting booth open… is just… brilliant!

I can see, how certain critics and viewers may be unimpressed with the cinematography– the very linear, direct storytelling, the conventional camera shots, the minimum use of sounds and music. But that to me, is a plus, something that allows me to focus on the subject, and the little delightful nuances of the great actors before me. This is one of the best films I have seen in 2017.

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Simran Review: Marketing Misdirection

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Simran wasn’t quite what I expected. The film was marketed like a sequel to Queen, promising witty, funny, entertaining frolic of an empowered, independent women. Praful is certainly that. Independent, opinionated, fun-loving, confident. But this movie is not about that.

It pretends to be so in the beginning, luring us in with an image that is not too different than Kangana’s real-life personality. But then it suddenly turns into a drama of coincidences, a domino-effect of ill-fortune in which the character’s life quickly spirals downward into desperation and crime.

The admiration we briefly develop for Praful soon turns into pity because her single mistake has quickly turned into many, and we watch her sad, desperate attempts to crawl out of the hole she has dug, only to sink in deeper. This empowered woman is irresponsible to the core. And at the end of the movie, we realize she is not empowered at all, getting slapped around by criminals, and fearing her own father more than the police.

In hindsight, the scenes presented to us in the beginning of the film to establish this “empowered woman” character just appears like a gimmick to write into the script what they thought would sell the film. Add to it a poorly developed, poorly fitted romantic angle, and we just have one big mess of a movie.

I try not to focus on logic and technical aspects of a movie too much, but I couldn’t help but get irritated by how unrealistic law enforcement and criminal investigation is portrayed in the movie. Anyone who has any remote idea of how surveillance works would know that someone parking their own car, with a visible license plate at a bank parking lot before robbing it, would get caught in about five minutes. Not to mention that she watches youtube videos about how to rob banks.

Frankly, I would have been more entertained watching a Kangana interview.

Read the review of Queen here.

Jab Harry Met Sejal Review

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The premise of Jab Harry Met Sejal, although it appears quite ridiculous for the most part, is one of great potential. Where Imtiaz went wrong, was that he should have told the entire story from Sejal’s point of view. While Sejal’s character and life leads this story, it’s still the man who needs to be “completed” at the end and the woman who needs to prove herself as “worthy” of his love. It should have been the opposite. Because this is not a story of a man looking for himself, it’s actually a story of a woman looking for love. Is that not obvious?

A woman looking for a ring while she has it all along, and finding something else entirely, one that she didn’t even realize she had been looking for. She’s the one who is engaged, but not satisfied with that relationship. She is the one who gets off a plane at the last minute and pressures Harry to guide her back through the places she had visited. She is the one who crosses limits with him, encouraging him all through the journey, to be closer to her, to open up to her. She never hesitates with him. She never doubts him, despite the womanizer image he pushes in her face. She trusts him, and reaches out to him repeatedly to return the affection she offers.

And yet it’s Harry who has the void? One that she must fill in order to be completed herself? And it’s Harry who proves her worth to her?

Imtiaz created a vivacious, strong-willed, charming Sejal, and then “killed” her in the conclusion, right in front of our eyes. This was not meant to be a story of a lost middle-aged man finding himself, but a story of a woman finding a companion. A woman who had the void, and who was being completed. A woman who doesn’t need others to tell her her worth, but who needs to remember it, and believe in it herself.

This is not the first time that Imtiaz has subdued a female character to the inner-search of a male one. It happened too in Rockstar, and in Tamasha, where the female character– who was the inspiration and soul of the story– was sacrificed for the other to complete his journey.

This was not the case however, in the best known and most adored film of Imtiaz– Jab We Met. In that story, both the characters had a journey to complete, voids to fill. And they filled it for each other, helped each other reach their destinations, and united along the way to a mutual destination. When Imtiaz remembers to focus on his female’s characters’ hopes and desires as much as he does on his male characters’, that day, he will produce another Jab We Met. Or just forget about that, and let the woman find herself for once!

Read review of Tamasha, Rockstar Part I and Rockstar Part II.

A Death in the Gunj Review

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You have no idea how much I had been looking forward to A Death in the Gunj, written and directed by Konkona Sensharma and starring some great actors like Kalki Koechlin. I saw some wonderful reviews of the film online before it even released in mainstream cinemas, as some people had the chance to see the film in screenings at film festivals early on. This further increased my anticipation of what I expected to be an impactful film at the least. If you are just as excited about the film, haven’t seen it yet and would like to form your own opinion of it, I suggest you stop reading the remaining part of the review.

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The matter of fact is, A Death in the Gunj was disappointing. It was shockingly underwhelming and predictable, and not the least thrilling if you ask me. There is only one point of mystery in the film, which I admit was delivered effectively and connected the very first scene with the very last one. But the middle of that story, was nothing special.

A Death in the Gunj is about a young man struggling with life after the death of his father, and how his depression and emotional struggle reaches a sad climax amidst indifferent and selfish relatives with whom he is spending the holidays.

While I enjoy slow-paced  but meaningful films that create a sense of comfort and ease, like Piku for example, I believe it only works when we are able to establish a genuine and positive connection with the characters early on in the story. I was unfortunately not able to connect with any of the characters in this film. In fact, I felt the film did an excellent job of making the characters repugnant, not just to the lead character Shyamal, but to me, the audience. Maybe that was the point. But the issue is that, I also did not feel any connection to Shyamal.

I think the struggle of Shyamal remained as much of a mystery to the audience as it did to his relatives. Shyamal as a character is such an unbearing personality, that it is easy to dismiss him although he is the eyes through which we experience the story. He is much like an object in the film, represented by his father’s old sweater, his notebook, a moth… but the meanings and emotions that he attaches to those objects were never quite explained to us. So as I watched his turmoil intensify and grow on screen, I did not understand him and his reasons, and after a while, it was just watching a man who has lost his mental stability and getting ever yet closer to the edge without anyone else noticing.

When I read my own words describing the film, I wonder if this was Konkona’s intention all along? –Making the Shyamal character so unimpressive that even we would nearly forget his presence… Could it be that the film  has been implemented so utterly realistically that I’ve failed to get the point? Perhaps… I’m not sure.

I AM sure that knowing the excellence of Konkona’s art may have increased expectations a little too far for this film, but it doesn’t change the fact that the above mentioned drawbacks disappointed me. When the film ended, I just felt so underwhelmed.