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6 Recent Underrated Love Stories
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.