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6 Recent Underrated Love Stories



Dear Evan Hansen

  1. Dear Evan Hansen(Amazon  Prime):  This is the most  underrated  film of  the year. A  musical with heart soul  and  guts which resinstates one’s fate in  the power of love and music to heal broken hearts.Unless  you are not informed about happenings in the  world of cinema  or  you live under a  rock, you must be aware that the Broadway -styled  musical has made a comeback in American cinema.We recently had the stunning Annette.We will soon  have Steven  Spielberg’s West Side Story In  the meanwhile there is  this dear dear movie, so brimming with emotions  songs wit and  vivacity I  wanted to watch it  all  over again after  its 2 hours and  12  minutes of playing-time Based  on  the blockbuster Broadway play of  the same name in  2015, the film version is a  lyrical  love letter to the  original . The  very talented  Ben Platt at age 28, pulls  off the role of  a 17-year  old  misfit with an endearing ease. Platt plays  Evan Hansen,a social misfit who  is mistaken to be the best friend of a  student  Connor who commits  suicide.  Rather than nip the  lie in the bud, Evan Hansen  allows it to grow  and  spread , causing  progressive  and illimitable  hurt to the  dead boy’s family.It’s a story oozing emotions, conveying both hurt and healing sometimes simultaneously.The  director with a screenplay that doesn’t shy of exhibiting emotions, milks the melodrama for  all its worth. The songs are  superbly knitted  into the narrative and  used not as charming diversions but to  carry  the  plot ahead. For instance when Evan finally confesses his  subterfuge   to Connor’s  parents( the gifted Amy Adams and the  relatively  average Danny Pino) he does  it in song form, choking and sputtering over  the words and  yet staying in  tune. It’s an  astounding  performance  catching the curves and dips of the  character’s fragile mind with  strong sturdy hands.Yup, Oliver Platt may  be  7 years  too old to play Hansen. But who cares! He owns the  character with a silent sublimity.The  rest  of  the cast is  also remarkably well-tuned to  the  mood of melancholic musicality fusing the  feelings of  frugality and fragility.The  plot is carpeted with musical tropes:  a life-changing  tragedy, a romance between the  dead boy’s sister and  the hero pretending to be  the  suicide  victim’s best friend. I also loved  the mother-son relationship that Platt and the  wonderful Julianne Moore created between them, almost like  a universe  isolated from the main event.Don’t go by the scathing reviews of the film. They are  missing the point. The transition from the Broadway  play to  cinema  could not have been smoother. The  film  secretes an  aching sweetness at  its heart.Only  good  people can create something so  noble. No point in being cynical about it.We  sometimes get  the movies we don’t deserve. This is  one   of them.
  2. Shiddat(Disney+Hotstar): This is  well-intended  if flawed saga   about true love and the walls and hurdles of cynicism  and  moral policing that people in love  have to face even today where  caste community and  bank balance determine  marital alliances.The heart can  go  fly a kite.Jaggi as played  by  the sincere Sunny Kaushal is all heart. Sunny, true to his name, is that  spot of sunshine in our godforsaken  grim grimy  world ,  that epicenter of  optimism which  would  like to us  believe  that true love  still exists. So when he falls in  love with the  spirited swimmer Kartika(a typecast Radhika Madan) while training her to be a better sport(and also sharing a one-night with her) Sunny thinks it’s for keeps.When Kartika  takes off to London to  get married to  the man of her  wealthy parents’ choice, Sunny follows his dream to the wedding mandap.Almost.In a parallel  sub-plot, an  immigration officer Gautam ,played with  contagious empathy by Mohit Raina  struggles to keep his marriage with his  rapidly disenchanted wife(Diana Penty in an underwritten  role) alive.Raina’s Gautam  and  Kaushik’s Sunny are the heart of the  plot. They  play against each other with such energetic  conviction, it becomes easy to forgive the  narrative its  quota of  lapses:  for example,the  unnecessary DDLJ reference.  It serves  no purpose. If the  truth be told then Shiddat ventures  much further  into the dynamics  of  a  love relationship than the largely-overrated, sanitized and syrupy   DDLJ.Shiddat is    a  terrific idea for a rom-com  .Writers Shreedhar Raghavan , Dheeraj Rattan and  Pooja Surti have packaged what seems to   be the first true  Bollywood rom-com in years. The  characters sparkle with  an  ingrained vivacity.Even the  supporting  characters, like  Kartika’s best friend(the Aruna Irani slot)  will strike you as  roles re-defining the  equations and regulations of  mainstream  Hindi cinema .Shiddat shakes up the  status quo, rearranges  the tropes  of  a rom-com and comes up trumps. It is  a zingy loopy sometimes crazy sometimes moving  look at that thing called  love as seen  through different prisms and  perspectives. The  editing(A Sreekar  Prasad) goes a long way in amplifying the  plot’s  mischievous manoeuvrings through a labyrinth  of  enticing ideas.There are  some  incisive comments on  illegal  migration and  stowaways smartly  written  into the  plot. No,  love  doesn’t conquer. But it  sure as  hell lives up the philosophy  of  the film’s theme song Yamma yamma kya khubsoorat samaa, bass aaj ki raat hai zindagi kal hum kahan tum kahan.Sing  along  that song, Shaan se.  Ignore the  vicious attacks  on the film for  glorifying  a  ‘stalker’. To not see  the difference between  stalking and  true love is  to be blind to the very  essence of  love.Shiddat is a watchable moving  film with Sunny Kaushal  and Mohit Raina steering the  saga through  its choppy waters(in swimming  pools  and  mid-ocean). Radhika Madan  is  spunky. She would  do  better  if she were to improve  her diction. “I am sorry” sounds like  “I am soggy” which acquires an unintentionally ironic  lilt  considering she says  it when has just emerged from the pool.Soggy, Shiddat, is  not.
  3. Anandi Gopal, Marathi(Zee5):  On 11 March 1886 Anandibai Gopal Joshi held  her  degree as India’s first female doctor as her proud husband whistled  with  joy. I have no  words to thank director Sameer  Vidhwans  for bringing this  story to  us. And that  too in such  a  beautifully told  love story between a  child bride and her  widower-husband, 20 years  her  senior, determined  to educate  her.Anandi Gopal  is a  charming, irresistible instant classic with a  huge takeaway value. It tells  us that  gender equality is possible only when the feeling of social progress is  mutual. It’s not enough for  a husband to want his  wife to break the glass ceiling.  The lady has to have it within her too.Initially Anandi(an absolutely charming natural-born Bhagyashree Milind) just wants to keep her sullen obstinate  husband happy.She takes his bullying in her stride .And  goes along with his  obstinacy  to  educate her. The scenes between the underage  wife and  the  reformist somewhat  pompous husband are done with tremendous  empathy. Given the charming writing, natural  performances  and  sun-kissed  cinematography (by Akash Aggarwal) it didn’t take me  long to  fall in step with  Anandi’s husband Gopalrao’s  ambition to see his  wife become  a doctor.And  let’s  get one  thing clear. This is the late 19th century British India where  the only fire that  burns in a woman’s heart is  the one  in the pyre. So  then who is this Marathi self-styled avatar  of Raja Ram Mohan Roy  who tells the smirking panchayat,  “Why only educate my wife? If my (widowed) mother-in-law wants  to  wear a  coloured saree I will personally buy it for her.”That “mother-in-law” angle is  another brilliant plot point. The lady Gopal is talking abot is not Anandi’s mother. She was his first wife’s mother and now she has taken charge of  Anandi, Gopal, and his son  from his first marriage. It is the  good fortune  of  this  powerful  mother-in-law’s character  that she  is  played by  the  ever-dependable Geetanjali Kulkarani. Does she  ever disappoint?! Watch her in that sequence where she hands  over her dead daughter’s jewelry to her  son-in-law for his second wife’s medical education abroad.“My first daughter is helping my second daughter,” she says tearfully.I have to confess I  wept through several moments of what I’d call Pure Cinema in this artless all-heart-no-gimmicks bio-pic. By the time Anandi gets her doctor’s degree  in Pennsylvania and her  husband proudly  shouts, “She is  from India” at the convocation  I  was out of  my seat  clapping and sobbing.This is a simply warmly  told story of a historic woman that had  to be told specially at time when bio-pics are  being made on scumbags gangsters and scamsters. A  lot of  the credit for  the film’s  captivating credibility  goes to the lead pair. Both  Lalit Prabhakar and  Bhagyashree Milind are  first-rate. Lalit specially as the bullying obdurate  husband who  swears he will make a doctor out of his  wife even if its kills him,  is outstanding. His  determination is so well-mapped on his resolute face, it is like watching a movement rather than an individual’s battle against  bigotry.
  4. Loev(Netflix): Quite often in this luscious and luminous love story as I journeyed with Jai and Sahil through a rocky terrain on a pilgrimage of passion and heartbreak that reminded me of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, I forgot the gender of the two protagonists.This, I soon gathered, is why this striking study of repression, guilt, passion and self-articulation has been rejected at many LGBT film festivals as being  not “gay” enough.Thank God, at least one filmmaker has shown  himself to be courageous enough to stand up and say, “Hey guys, it doesn’t matter if the lovers are both of the same sex. What matters is the love, not the sex.”Loev is a tender yet brutal , slender yet sturdy  road film strewn with clues to the heartbreak that eventually awaits those who dare not love  beyond  the prescribed boundaries.Writer-director Sudhanshu Saria doesn’t waste time in constructing back –stories  or deconstructing the  complex relationship of his two characters to make their passion more accessible to us.The narrative unfolds with a disquieting naturalness. The flow of emotions is never outsourced. It is insinuated organically into every scene, so that we are never required to stare with stupefaction or, God forbid, embarrassment  at the same-gender relationship.Nature in all its rocky-mountain glory , stands a silent  witness .We may be awed by the visual majesty. Nature is never in awe of  itself. The influence of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain , specially in the way the rocky terrain is used to define the theme of forbidden love , is palpable .Saria uses the rugged outdoors of Mahableshwar to spotlight the repressed emotions. The aerial shot show deep ravines and chasms in the rocky mountains.Significantly Sahil jumps effortlessly over them. Jai stops.The intimate  moments never creep up on the two men apologetically. When they  kiss, boy, they really kiss. Passion is never unwelcome in the film, even in one sequence, it turns unbearably ugly. In one sequence Shiv Pandit is required to hold his co-star the late and mourned Druv Ganesh  in what is a theme-defying moment  of tenderness and lust.It is a moment of epic sadness and comfort.There is a disarming lack of artifice and ostentation in the way the two protagonists’ characters are written and played.And thank God, Saria found the perfect actors to play the two parts. Shiv Pandit, one of our most underused young actors whom ‘Bollywood’ hasn’t been able to slot(quite like this film which mercifully doesn’t look towards “Bollywood” for approval) as the Manhattan’s desi hotshot on a weekend in Mahabaleshwar with a charming young uncloseted gay man, is unassuming and credible .Dhruv Ganesh’s eloquent eyes and effortless body-language are unforgettable.The two protagonists evidently have a shared history which comes undone in  unexpected ways as the film unfolds.Charming,disturbing and sometimes haunting Loev is that same-sex love story that finally defines homosexuality on screen without resorting to titillating tropes and semi-apologetic back stories. Nor is there any self-congratulations in the way Pandit and Ganesh play the two main parts. They are friends and possibly lovers, full-blooded and restless, impelled  by a sense of reckless yet reined-in self-exploration. The two actors look exceptionally comfortable together projecting their characters’  uncomfortable predicament with persuasion and integrity. There is a third actor Siddharth Menon who plays Alex, a bit of an attention-seeker in a film where tranqullity is preferred over ostentation.There is  a provocative ambivalence to their relationship.And a key rape sequence(echoing Heath Ledger’s assault of the half-heartedly protesting Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain)  raises some very disturbing questions on consent, passion and guilt.Shiv Pandit and Dhruv Ganesh have surrendered to their roles with a lack of bravado that this film constantly demands from its  actors.The fact that Dhruv passed away soon after shooting the film gives to the on-screen theme of incomplete passion an added layer of unfulfilment and longing.We cineastes are always searching probing and looking for relevances that perhaps do not always exist in the cinematic experience. Here is a film that tells us, it’s okay to look beyond the obvious because that’s what the characters are doing all the time.This film not only re-defines love and passion in the context of the Indian reality, it is  a  new beginning for cinema on unconstitutional  love in India.
  5. Maara(Tamil, Amazon Prime Video) It’s not easy to  love  somebody unconditionally.  It is even more difficult to make a  film  about unconditional love in a day and age  when every relationship is need-based.  Maara is the work of what we call a hopeless romantic….at least that’s how it feels when  Vellaiya(the  wonderful veteran  Mouli) lives for  50 years  with the  idea  of  love. How hopeful can you be in your twilight years  about  finding your  true love when she has eluded you  all your life?Maara, God bless its optimistic  idealistic heart, says  it’s never too late or far-fetched to find  true love.And it says it with the gently persuasive warm-heartedness  of a diehard romantic. This  is a rare  film that  isn’t cynical about romance  and love  even in these jaded decadent times. It’s  a film brimming over with affection and compassion that invites you  into  its wonderful  Utopian embrace  unconditionally.It took me a  while , about  20 minutes,to get  into the  film’s rhythm. Once in, I was completely hooked, almost mesmerized  by  the  graceful yet completely unpredictable movement  of  the  plot.  Though this is an official remake of the Malayalam superhit Charlie  it  is Charlie only at the basic plot-level.Debutant director Dhilip Kumar  introduces  notable new characters and sub-plots. They all  merge finally into a  beautifully designed pastiche of  unalloyed love.The  film begins with an animation  fairytale  about a warrior and his quest  for a  fish whom he holds responsible for all his success in life. Finding one  fish in the ocean is like finding true  love in the  universe. This idea is built into a  narrative that risks several leaps  of faith and lands safely and gracefully on its feet.Maara is  constructed into an episodic excursion , the traveler being Paru(played by the lovely and  talented Shraddha  Srinath) , a serious-minded  romantic  restorationist who keeps running into experiences  about a  mysterious pureheart named  Maara(spoiler alert: actual name Manimaran, revealed only at  the end). Maara is the  sort of idealistic nobleman that  exists only in fairytales. He befriends a mischievous thief (delightfully played by Alexander Babu), rescues a suicidal pediatrician(SShivada), protects  a  prostitute Selvi(Abhirami)’s daughter from being pushed  into the flesh trade, and wins over a  hill resort  filled with elder citizens who  resemble the  cackling  Irish-Italian  octogenarians  in the  film Return To Me.All this overload  of goodness would be too much  for any actor to bear. Madhavan carries off the title role effortlessly. His  face and  his attitude suggest a restorative urgency in the moral fabric on contemporary society.The debutante director tells Paru’s story of her search for  ‘Maara’ in bouts of  temperamental  storytelling.Episodes come in no particular order and  yet reveal their relevance  at the end much in the same way as in  the Orson Welles classic  Citizen  Kane.Oh yes, there is a mysterious symbolical  ‘rosebud’ reference in Maara too. It is ‘Meenakshi’.  For more on this  mysterious woman,please  refer to the  film.It provides an unlimited source of joyful revelations.It is no coincidence  that the film is  about restoration of heritage homes and  faded  undecipherable letters. Maara restores our faith in the power  of love to heal the world.And that is a  tall order indeed.
  6. Silvat(Zee5):  If you  haven’t seen  this 2018  digital  film  which you can easily  locate on  Zee5, you haven’t seen  what Kartik Aaryan  is   capable  of. We can safely  say it  is a tailormade role for the  young actor,. Playing a Muslim darzi in the crowded gully  of  what looks like Mumbai’s  Haji Ali locality, Kartik is  every bit Anwar,  the shy sensitive  tailor who develops  a secret passion for his  favourite  client: a  lonely abandoned wife  Noor(Meher Mistry) whose husband has  migrated to  Riyadh for  a job with nary  a glance back for the woman he has left behind.The  focus of  the passionate  plot, pulsating with unspoken ardour, is Noor. But it’s Kartik’s Anwar  who silently steals   the show.There is  no exhibition of outward passion here.And yet  so much is said through Anwar’s eyes. Every stolen glance is  laden with longing. When she asks if he would like  a cup of tea, Anwar knows  it’s just a  ruse to make him stay longer than his job allows.His reply to the  kind  offer, ‘Maine  kabhi  chai ke liya naa bola hai?’ says  everything without saying anything.There is a  humorous  sequence between Noor  and Anwar where he brings  a goat to her  house for a visit.  Noor comments on how good the goat smells. ‘Liril  se  nahaya hai kya?’This is Kartik’s only film with  a female  director.  It is evident that he blossoms  as  an actor  under  the female gaze.I  have always been fond of Tanuja Chandra’s work. She understands women , men  and the dynamics that govern human relationships. In the  40 minutes  of  playing time in Silvat there are  lot of unstated emotions. It as if the writers  chose to leave  the words out  because  they knew there  was little time to waste  here.Tanuja Chandra  whips up a muted urgency between the  couple. They know  their love can never be .That  there can never be  a silvat(crease) on the bed as long as the husband is away. Tanuja’s eye  for detail is astute and  comprehensive. The interiors of Noor’s  tiny home  where most  of  the plot unfolds,is  every bit what  it should be, Functional, neat, desolate….The  film is shot on location in a Muslim locality  with  streetside  vendors frying parathas and  malpuas,  hawkers selling bangles . The bustle of  the street is  weighed against those  heavy loaded silences between Noor and Anwar.They know they cannot cross the wall that divides them.A married  young woman dutifully waiting for her  absconding husband  to return home cannot give in to her emotional and physical desires.This  is 1997. And  riots  don’t  happen  only on the streets. Sometimes they  also occur  in a woman’s  lonely heart.
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