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Amazon’s Modern Love Is Well Worth Investing  In

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Modern Love :Mumbai  (Amazon Prime  Video,  6 films directed  by  Alankrita Shrivastava, Hansal Mehta,Nupur Asthana, Vishal  Bharadwaj, Dhruv Sehgal, Shonali Bose)

Rating: ****

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Three  of the  six films—we can’t call them episodes as they are all self contained independent narratives—are  absolute winners. The stand-out  films here are clearly  Hansal Mehta’s Baai, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Mumbai Dragon and Shonali Bose’s Raat Rani, the last being especial for Fatima Sana  Shaikh’s rousing  performance,but more on that later.

Hansal Mehta’s Baai features  Pratik Gandhi as the scion of a conservative  Muslim  family struggling in the closet. Rich in  ambience, and brimming with  romance music and  elegance Baai is a  classic representation of what can be done in the OTT space if  a filmmaker  has his heart set  on it.While Pratik and debutant Ranveer Brar are splendidly  paired as  lovers, Baai brims over  with wonderful actors in even the smallest  part; for example look out for young Dhaval Thakur in one sequence  where  he steals  a kiss with Pratik on the  stairs.And such a delight to see the great Tanuja as the family patriarch saying a line like, “Main toh paydayashi  khubsoorat hoon,” with such casual elan.

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Vishal Bharadwaj’s Mumbai Dragon is the director’s best work in ages.Warm and witty, wise and  thoughtprovoking, it takes  the age-old struggle  between Mother and Beloved over the man in their  life into the North  East and turns the  conflict into  tragic-comic comment on racial segregation and cultural assimilation. The beautifully shot short-film with  long legs, boasts  of  a  fabulous central performance by Chinese actress Yeo Yann Yann as the ferociously possessive mother smothering her son with food food and more food.Naseeruddin Shah puts in a  gamely cameo as the family’s Sikh friend.

As  for Shonali  Bose’s  Raat Rani , what do I say about Fatima Sana Shaikh’s performance as a  super-spirited  Kashmiri woman  suddenly deserted  by her husband? We can see Fatima’s  layered character Lalzari  picking up the pieces of her broken life and stringing together an  all-new narrative for herself, as she  learns  to  control her  peddling  on the rickety  bicycle  negotiating her  way through the no-entry zones of life. Fatima’s  efforts to get into the skin of the character, and that  includes  a lot of physical  labour, pays rich dividends. Shonali Bose’s beautiful film on  starting again comes to vivid life.

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The other three stories are  not quite  in the same  league as  the  triumphant  triumvirate. Dhruv Sehgal’s I Love Thane  is  the best  of the inferior threesome. Masaba Gupta is  impressively  in character as  a not-so-young woman trying to find companionship in a staid  decent boy from Thane.Segal’s film  would have benefited from better pacing. The storytelling is sluggish at times.

Alankrita Shrivastava’s  I Love My Wrinkles is a disappointment  , coming as  it does  from the  director of  Bombay Begums and Lipstick On The Burqa. Sarika  plays  a widowed  60-plus woman who  invites a young jogger(Danesh Razvi)  from the street below into  her home for  coffee. One things leads  to another….there is  nothing  here to grab our attention beyond the done-to-death  ‘Mrs Robinson’ syndrome.The Kitty party sequences look familiar as though we’ve been there…

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Finally the weakest  film of the anthology is  Nupur Asthana’s Cutting Chai. Chitrangda Singh plays a  woman who has neglected her  career  long enough for husband Arshad Warsi who says trite  things like, ‘Life is as simple  or complicated as you make it’. Now the wife wants to  bounce back. The storytelling is  selfconsciously  fey, with  commuters at  the railway station suddenly  turning  into  chorus dancers. Quite suddenly , the wonderful Mita Vashisht  shows  up whispering to Chitrangada, “You  have it in you.”

Wish we  could say  the same about Nupur Asthana’s film. On  the whole, Modern Love is light to the touch,and lovely to watch. The image of Fatima  Sana Shaikh cycling on a flyover with  not a care in the world, lingers.

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The Romantics Adi Chopra’s Show All The Way

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The Romantics 

Netflix’s The Romantics profiling the legend Yash Chopra in four episodes , happened only because Netflix  gave complete creative control to  Yash Chopra’s son Aditya Chopra,  the scion of the Yash  Raj family.

A  source very close to  the project reveals, “If it wasn’t for Adi’s nod, the project  wouldn’t have happened. He not only greenlighted the project, he also personally supervised every aspect of the project. Smriti Mundhra is  on board as the director of The Romantics.  But it is  Adi who decided what  goes, and what  not.”

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Apparently  the  thirty-five interviewees speaking on  Yash Chopra in The  Romantics  were all  personally approved  by Adi Chopra who  also agreed to do his  first video interview ever for the docu-pic on his distinguished dad.

Adi Chopra’s one  and  only print interview was with  film critic/editor  Khalid Mohamed.

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The Romantics starts streaming on Netflix on Valentine’s Day  February 14.

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Chhatriwali So Earnest Yet So Awful

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Chhatriwali 

Chhatriwali(Zee5)

Rating: **

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There  are  some films which one can’t wait to see the  end  of. Chhatriwali is  a prime contender  for the most dreary dreadful  and dull  film of  the year. I know,  the year  has just begun and I am  sure there  are several more slumberous celluloid  atrocities  waiting to  inveigle   our senses  before we can say, ‘Akhanda’.

But seriously, Chhatriwala is  a pill hard to swallow. Or  perhaps  considering the theme, a  protection hard to trust . Like one of those leaky condoms that Rakul Preet Singh and Satish  kaushik giggle over, Chhatriwala  is  like  an umbrella with so many holes that  you stop counting  after a while  and  just run for  protection  from  the pouring rain.

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 There are some good actors here, like  poor Rakesh Bedi. I can’t remember when was the last time  he played something better than a  buffoon. In this film he comes and goes  as  a matchmaking Chacha and  pharmacist who frowns at anyone who asks for  condoms. It’s like the  Bihar  police arresting a Russian citizen for an ampoule  of vodka.

Satish Kaushik as  condom-factory owner is given  a hideous wig , probably as protection against the people  of Karnal attacking him  for…a) selling something as evil as  condoms , b) being in a film so  terrible that one forgives Raza Murad  for doing Kanti Shah’s films.

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The  very talented Rajesh Tailang  is the eldest son in a conservative family who refuses to wear protection although  his wife has had multiple  miscarriages  and abortions.

“You must  persuade your  husband to  practise safe sex.”  The  gynaecologist  counsels  Prachee Shah Pandya who ties a cloth around her forehead  throughout the film to control a perpetual headache.

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 I tried the same while watching the  film. It didn’t work.

What  exactly is the purpose of this  film? Beyond telling the public that condoms are  not evil.Surely there could  be a more entertaining, less painful  way of putting the message across. The  film is  also about dignity of  a labour. Even a woman can  work in a condom  factory without blushing.

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Sanya  Dhingra takes a long  time to reveal her  job profile to her husband  played by  Sumeet Vyas who looks so  lost he  could be a potential  patron for Pathaan who  strayed  into  a shooting location while searching for a tout selling tickets.

The film seems to have been  written to highlight  for Rakul Preet Singh’s  cosmetic collection. Even when she  is in the kitchen pretending to fry pakodas she  looks drip-dried and dewy. She throws her lines  about safe sex at the  other characters as though rehearsing for a  school  play  on sex education.

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There  is  a  standing joke about Sanya riding pillion  daily into the factory  next to her workplace  so that  her husband  doesn’t get to know what she does for a living. She  befriends a watchman who becomes her ally in  a situation  that he  doesn’t understand.It is the only time  we get to smile in this  tedious humourless comedy .

 I don’t see the sale  of condoms  going up  after  this film. But I  do see the tourism in  Karnal going down.Who would want to  spend his holiday  in a  town filled with such boring  people?

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Trial By Fire: It  Makes You Think Hard About Your Priorities

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Trial By Fire

Trial By Fire(Netflix,7 Episodes)

Directed by Prashant Nair, Randeep Jha, Avani Nair

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Rating: ****

This is  not a series. It is  a piece  of history regurgitated  into  a meticulously  re-designed  eyewitness account of  what happened on  13 June 1997 when Delhi’s  Uphaar cinema went up in flames extinguishing the joy and wellbeing of several families who lost their near and dear ones  in the  tragedy.

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This series recreates  the  long and endless legal battle of  a couple  Shekhar and Neelam  Krishnamoorthy who lost both  children in  the  Uphaar cinema fire  while watching  J P Dutta’s Border.

The battle is  long . But the couple’s patience, especially Neelam’s , is  unlimited. This is  the story  of resilience determination and obstinacy , so real  so tangible  you can feel the  pain of the couple every step along their painful battle.It won’t be wrong to say the couple fought their own war as fiercely as  the soldiers seen  in  Border.

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Rajshri Deshpande and  Abhay Deol are  pitch-perfect. The series creates  a credible ambience around the  couple. The time  leaps for eighteen years(yes, that’s how long the Krishnamoorthy’s legal battle has gone on) are achieved with the least  amount of fuss. Blessedly we don’t hear songs from every  phase in the couple’s legal battle  playing in the background.

  But yes, the anthemic song from J P Dutta’s Border does play a vital part in the  articulate  sound design…Or maybe  ‘design’ is not the  word I am looking for. Nothing in this  series seems designed. There is   flow of inevitability  about  the proceedings. Of course  this is all preordained since it is a scrupulous recreation  of   actual facts. But the series  never feels it is indebted to facts. Rather, facts  flow freely and fluently into storytelling.

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 Even the fictional moments(like the electrician Veer Singh played Rajesh Tailang and his  wife Sarla, played  by Kiran  Sharma,  having frantic sex  after he  returns  home from prison, or a  gay couple holding hands at the  catastrophic  first-day screening  of Border) seem to be intimately interwoven  into the  plot.

 On the  minus  side: too many characters which are either  ill-formed  or  dangerously sidestepped . Neelam and  Shekhar’s neighbour played  by  Shilpa  Shukla is  around for no particular reason. Anupam Kher and Ratna  Pathak Shah as a  retired army officer  and his  wife struggle to make their presence felt.

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Many capable actors like Ashish Vidyarthi, Nimisha  Nair, Shardul Bhardwaj,  and Siddharth Bhardwaj  try hard to justify their presence  in the plot. But this is really not  about them. It is  about  the Krishnamoorthys , and  Rajshri Deshpande and Abhay Deol are as credible  as any two capable actors can get given the  tragic  circumstances.

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Something  Not To Be Missed On Zee5

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The Final call Webseries

The Final Call(Zee5) :Arjun Rampal has an inscrutable face. It is the face of man who doesn’t reveal much. In “The Final Call”, he plays Karan Sachdeva, a pilot with many secrets all ruinous and devastating. As all of them come undone layer by layer in the cockpit of an airborne flight to Australia, we know the passengers on board are doomed.

And yet, here lies the formula to a whacking screen saga. You know. Yet you hold your breath. The writing in this 4-part series is clearly of that caliber. We know. Yet we sit riveted. Right at the start we meet an astrologer-scholar Krishnamurthy, played with wonderfully whittled wisdom by Neeraj Kabi who takes that ill-fated flight because his kundali says that’s where his end is destined. Krishnamurthy’s family rightly advises him to just stay away from the destined.

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But Krishnamurthy “how I love his transcendental wisdom” has other ideas. Kabi gives a fatalistic spin to the proceedings, wrapping his character’s prophecies in a surge of immediacy. His interaction on board the doomed flight with a jaded tycoon (Javed Jaffrey, who plays it cool, as only he can) has us reading between the lines, looking for valuable clues to something beyond what is happening in the plot.

The truth about The Final Call is that it does things which we normally don’t see happening on the big screen. It opens up the characters’ inner world to reveal the dark interiors. The view is frightening and funny, as only a story told in leisure can be.I came away deeply riveted by this impressive adaptation of Priya Kumar’s bestseller I Will Go With You: The Flight Of Lifetime. The characters, whether it was the Australian girl rushing back home to surprise her cheating boyfriend, or her co-passenger in the next seat, a cocky 18-year old trying to hit on her. Everyone left a lingering impression. There are no cardboard characters on board this flight. Rest assured. And don’t forget to fasten your seatbelt.

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But my favourite in the series besides Arjun Rampal, is Sakshi Tanwar playing a pregnant terror negotiator. There is a sequence where she leaves home for work promising her worried husband that she won’t do anything dangerous, then returns in the evening fatigued while he watches her on television dealing with a dreaded terrorist in a hostage situation. Sakshi builds a case for women taking on patriarchal jobs and beating the hell out of the cynical competition.

The plot is relentlessly robust unveiling unfurling thoughts and looping action faster than we can process their relevance. With performances that solidly anchor the action, the first four episodes have me waiting for the next season.

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Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal  Padi(Zee5):  While watching Bela Sehgal’s sweet tender story of Shrin and Farhad passed the age of marriage, determined to find love and companionship in each other’s unexciting company one immediately thought of Basu Chatterjee’s Khatta Meetha and Vijaya Mehta’s Pestonjee. The first, because it was a film about a widow and a widower from the Parsi community overcoming their children’s opposition for an autumnal marriage.

Vijaya Mehta’s Pestonjee was remarkably accurate in portraying the benign quirks of the Parsi community. So is Bela Bhansali Sehgal. Though not a Parsi herself she plunges into the centre of the dwindling community’s eccentricities without trying to give the characters any kind of a novel existence beyond what they are stereotypically known for.

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The love story of Shirin (Farah Khan) and Farhad (Boman Irani, as natural as ever) holds no surprises. They meet, they smirk, they walk hand-in-hand… he mistakes her invitation for coffee in her home for suggestion for sex. While she makes he coffee, he waits for her undressed, and… you know the rest.The portrayal of Farhad’s mother (Daisy Irani) and grandmother (Shammi) reveals the film’s writer Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s penchant for loud extroverted singing, dancing, chortling aging woman characters, e.g Helen in Bhansali’s Khamoshi: The Musical and Kirron Kher in Devdas.

Beneath all the feminine giggles (bras and panties, hee hee) and male guffaws (“tera rocket kab phutega”?) that surround the theme of courtship between a middle-aged couple for whom life is neither a picnic nor a funeral, director Bela Bhansali Sehgal seeks out silent passages of undulating sensitivity.Listen carefully. The film makes terrific use of silent moments that are becoming progressively rare in our cinema.

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Sehgal has cast true-blue Parsi actors in all the roles, big and small. In fact I could hardly spot any non-Parsi in the cast!

The comic vein tends to get unwieldy at times, as if the attempt to be funny has taken a toll on the characters’ sense of self-identity. We get a Parsi wacko (Kurush Deboo) who runs amok with an antique gun threatening to kill anyone who comes in his way. He does’t make much sense in the scheme of the plot. But then, what makes sense in life other than the senselessness that we see see all around us?

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Bela Bhansali doesn’t try to make sense of the chaos. She flows with the chaos seeking laughter in the eccentricity. Hence when an old Parsi gentleman constantly writes love notes to Indira Gandhi you know he has lost it. And you smile, because eccentricity is a pre-condition in a rom-com about two over-the-hill Parsis, one of whom sells lingerie and meets the woman of his dreams when she comes to buy a brassiere.

Laughter designed on inner-wear can never fail.Luckily the film goes beyond inner-wear and seeks a place in heart. The director emerges with some truly heartwarming moments between Boman and Farah. Unki love story to nikal padi. The debutante director has carved an endearing relationship between the unlikely couple. The romance is embellished with charming little incidents that add beautifully to the pacy perky pastiche of Parsi proceedings.

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