There are the ones whom we expect to shine in everything they do. And they still managed to stun us this year. Then there are those who struck us out of the blue . A look at the Mr & Ms Marvels who went beyond expectations. During the 2021.
- Konkona Sen Sharma In Geeli Puchchi : This is a miniature masterpiece with a central performance that is hard to put aside. Playing a Dalit lesbian Konkona’s performance adroitly avoids over-burdening the character’s personality. Among this segment from Netflix’s Ajeeb Daastans many prominent virtues try this: Abha’s husband is no cad providing an alibi for her meandering heart. He is a caring man who even cooks for her. As she confides guiltily in her new friend Bharti Mandal, “Shiv bachche ki soch raha hai aur main ussey pyar bhi nahin karti.” Having someone love you is not reason enough to love that person back. Geeli Puchchi is filled with an aching passion and a bridled wisdom. Director Neeraj Ghaywan has the ever-reliable Konkona Sen Sharma giving a magnificently layered performance as a Dalit, working woman in a factory whose job and respectability are threatened when a prettier,upper-caste fair skinned all-feminine woman Abha(Aditi Rao) joins in. The unlikely friendship between the two women never reaches where we think it would. Ghaywan and his writers are constantly ahead of the audience , creating a kind of playful yet sinister and tragic dynamic between the two women from completely diverse backgrounds. Just when we think we have their relationship figured out , the narrative does a somersault which refuses to make the Dalit woman Bharati Mandal a martyr .Why should the underdog always remain buried under the heap of broken dreams? Geeli Puchchi(wet kisses) is so heads and shoulders above the other three segments that it seems like the centerpiece of the anthology(which it is) with the rest as serving as space fillers. Neeraj Ghaywan whose only feature film Masaan so far is a class act on socio-economic discrimination, goes deep into the theme in just over 30 minutes of playing time.
- Entire Unrehearsed Cast Of Amazon Prime’s Cinema Bandi: After I finished smiling and sobbing over this amazing work of pure genius, I wanted to ask debutante director Praveen Kandregula.. Tumne filmmaking kahan se ‘Sica’? Indeed there is the artless charm of Vittorio de Sica’s Bicycle Thieves in the way the characters seem unaware of the world outside their modest means. Look at Cinema Bandi as a long (really loooong) delayed sequel to Bicycle Thieves, as far away from it original habitat as humanly possible, from Italy to idlee, so to speak.This is debutant director Praveen Kandregula’s ‘Camera Thieves’ , the quasi-sequel to Bicycle Thieves.As far as simple, lucid, warm,funny, tender and gentle as screenplays go, this one is just what the Covid doctors prescribed. It will induce all the aforementioned feelings in you, and then some more. More than Vittorio de Sica, this is the world of R K Narayan’s Malgudi Days where every one of every age is inured am frozen in infinite innocence. There is not a mean bone in any inhabitant of the soporific village of Gollopalli, not even that tall long-haired guy who tries initially to be mean and scheming with our camera-stealing heroes who want to make their own film. But meanness is not in the DNA of this wonderful ode of innocence. So let me introduce you to Veera and Gana, honest righteous hardworking auto-driver and a photographer in a village where the most interesting meeting point is a run-down kerchief-sized barbar’s shop run by a pasty-faced young man who wants to be Mahesh Babu(played by Rag Mayur) . He has already christened himself Maridesh Babu. And he is Veera and Gana’s leading man.Heroine is a bit problematic. Veera and Gana first settle on a young school girl Divya(Trishara) . But she lets them down our burgeoning filmmakers in ways that I don’t want to reveal. She is replaced midway by a feisty vegetable-seller Manga played by Uma Yaluvalli Gopalappa in a role that any right-thinking actress(that eliminates nearly everyone in Bollywood) would give her left arm to play.Manga is so entertaining there could be a film just about her.Or about the auto-driver Veera’s quietly supportive wife(played by Sirivennela Yanamandhala), At first she baulks at her husband’s wild scheme to use a sophisticated camera left behind in his auto , to make a film. Gradually she supports him, unconditionally, wordlessly.Nearly every character, big or small, changes by the end of the film. So do we the audience. When was the time we saw a film so stripped of artifice and posturing, so simple heartfelt and disarming? The writing is sharp and clear, the direction by the debut Praveen Kandregula makes no detours into humbug .The narrative cares deeply for these unassuming diligent characters.Stripped of fakery Cinema Bandi is a back-to-basics film that will steal your heart and then melt it. It is a unique experience so charming and personable, you want these people to come back in your lives again. A word about the performances—every newcomer from the two leads(Vikas Vasishta and Sandeep Varanasi) to the little curly haired boy Basha(Ram Charan) who teaches our amateur filmmaker a thing or two about continuity, is a superstar. Take a bow, team Cinema Bandi. Hope to see you very soon again.
- Guru Somasunderam in Minnal Murali : A star is virtually born in front of our eyes. Rightaway let’s salute the super-acting powers of the two humble super-heroes who helm this engaging fable of the caped scaled-down crusaders. Tovino Thomas is the rising star of Malayalam cinema. See him as the confused reluctant endearing super-hero, and you’ll know why. However it is Guru Somasundaram whose emotional responses to his character’s newly-acquired powers that anchor the plot, and irrigate its irrational hurl into an odd and uncharted orbit. Somasundaram’s look of gratitude and vindication when the woman he has loved all his life accepts his love, is a textbook illustration of emotive empowerment. It’s a joyride from the first to the last, powered by a sense of logistic fantasy—if that makes any sense—whereby the obvious absurdities of a flying crusader are melted down to a ground-level intrepidity born more of necessity than vanity.
- Sundeep Kishan in Kasada Thapara : You have seen him play the archetypal hero in Telugu potboilers. Now see him act. Sundeep Kishan,the only star in the actors’ ensemble giving a measured powerful performance as a low-caste(probably Dalit) man who has risen to the ranks of a police officer and must now pay a heavy price to his benefactor. Kishan’s is by far the most complex character of the anthology. Some stories in Kasada Thapara,like the one featuring Sundeep Kishan, seem to deserve a full-length feature treatment.
- Vaisshnav Tej in Konda Polam: This is one of the most accomplished Man versus Nature films I’ve seen in recent times with a stand-out performance by Vaisshnav Tej.After seeing him in Uppena I suspected that this is an actor whose eyes speak louder than words. Now I am sure. Vaisshnav Tej occupies centrestage in this Telugu film as a young man torn between his traditional heritage and worldly ambitions. Vaisshnav Tej belongs to an illustrious family of actors. Pawan Kalyan and Chiranjeevi are his Mama(maternal uncle).And his elder brother Sai Dharam Tej is also a popular actor in Telugu cinema.But that doesn’t mean he automatically wanted to be an actor. Far from it. During his younger days he toyed with many career options , but never acting. After the success of Uppena he had to make sure people didn’t think of him as a fluke . They don’t. Not after Konda Polam.