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Grahan OTT Webseries: It Is A Stunning Reminder Of 1984’s Genocide!

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Grahan (Disney-Hotstar, 8 episodes)

Starring: Pawan  Malhotra, Zoya Hussain, Anshuman Pushkar, Wamiqua Gabbi

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Directed by: Ranjan Chandel

Rating: ****

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 Grahan Review: I was a shocked  teenager when the  1984  genocide wiped away thousands of  Sikhs. Well- known  politicians  and  even politically motivated  celebrities  from  the entertainment  world provoked and  incited  the mobs to go out and  take  revenge against an  entire community for their beloved  prime  minister’s assassination.

 I haven’t forgotten the dance of death that started  on the  night  of  October 31 and continued  till my birthday on  November  2. Quality conscious  producer  Ajay Rai(who has  invested in  many a significant  cinematic project from  the Marathi  masterpiece Kill  in 2014 to the  most recent  achievement  Fire In The Mountains)  opens  up the wounds of the 1984  genocide, wounds  that never healed, wrongs  that were never righted.

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Directed  by  Ranjan Chandel, the Grahan  8 episodes  have a  certain consistent  momentum in the storytelling, and though  it moves through two time zones, actually  three, the  plot never  becomes  a jumble of  unnerving frisky  jumpcuts , as serials  about multi -time passages tend to.

 Grahan‘s story  is pronouncedly dramatic. And that’s how  it should be, considering the improbable  brutality  of what transpired  on those  3  fateful nights when Sikhs were  pulled  out of their  homes and burnt alive. Bokaro was  one  of the cities that was most harshly affected  by the genocide. This is  where   Grahan is set. Shot on location, Kamaljeet Negi’s cinematography  captures that  frozen-in-time quality of  those small North  Indian towns which have  never  grown up.

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The opening of Grahan in the 1990s , when an investigative  journalist with incriminating  evidence on the  1984 carange   against a prominent politician of  the  town is  hunted down by two goons, will immediately  capture  your attention. The audience  is made privy  to  an intense  probe to  bring the culprits  of  the  1984  riots to  book(if only wishes were horses…) wherein a young plucky female  police officer Amrita Singh(Zoya Hussain) discovers  that  the father she hero-worships was present at the looting and arson in Bokaro in 1984.

If the truth be  told, Grahan is not Amrita’s story. Sure, she is  omnipresent  and  Zoya Hussain plays  her with a  grit that provides  an inner strength to the  story. But this is not Amrita’s story. It is her father  Gurusevak Singh’s  story. His  past  and how deeply  it colours his  daughter’s present  and future is  the raw material on which the series  builds its  emotionally  simmering edifice.

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 In  the role  of  the  troubled turbaned  time traveler, Pawan Malhotra  again reminds us he is one of Indian cinema’s most brilliant , underrated  and underused actors. Watch him  in  the courtroom finale  where he speaks up finally, but mostly through his eyes which convey an eternity of  pain.Standing frail  but tall, this  aging man  becomes  the living embodiment   of and abiding testimony  to  all the  wrongs that the  whole community  suffered.  This is an actor on a par with the world’s finest acting talent.I wonder what Grahan would have been without Malhotra!

 Anshuman  Pushkar who plays  the young version of Pawan Malhotra’s  character is  a talent to watch. To the  role  of   the ardent  suitor and timeless lover,Pushkar  imparts  a sense of classic Gabriel Garcia   Marques vibes during the  time of  riots and  barbarism. This young actor has  arguably  the  best cinematic  voice since Amitabh Bachchan.Wamiqa  Gabbi as  Pushkar/Malhotra’s object  of adoration  fails to  strike the  right notes, though she  does convey a  lot of the required  alharpan.Her embrace with Anshuman Pushkar on an eerily empty railway platform is  a  classic moment of love not equaled by  the rest of the series.

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The  rest of  the  actors  do not  really have fleshed our roles. Or  maybe their impact  is  diminished by Malhotra’s  towering performance.

 Tall and  emotional, the story  moves into  fitful flashbacks  before travelling back to land in the present with a comfortable thud. I am not  surprised  to know that Grahan is based on  a literary work—Satya Vyas’ novel Chaurasi. There is  such a rich  literary heritage in  our country, now being  discovered for  the digital domain by enterprising producers like Ajay Rai and Sameer Nair.

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Where to watch Grahan webseries?

Grahan webseries (8 episode) can be watched on HOTSTAR or can also be watched on Mobile app of Disney+Hotstar which can be downloaded from Google Playstore

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Trailer of Grahan webseries

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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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CAT is The Finest Webseries On The Punjab’s Predicament

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CAT

CAT(Netflix, in Punjabi, 8 Episodes)

Starring:  Randeep Hooda, Suvinder Vicky, Hasleen Kaur, Geeta Aggarwal, Dakssh Ajit Singh, Jaipreet Singh, Sukhwinder Chahal, KP Singh, Kavya Thapar, Danish Sood

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Directed by  Balwinder Singh Janjua, Rupinder Chahal, Jimmy Singh

Rating: *** ½

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He is neither  a  Sikh nor  a Punjabi. But  Randeep Hooda is  firstrate  as  Gurnaam  Singh  a member  of  a former anti-terrorist organization named  CAT  which is back in business as  a new menace, drugs, takes over Punjab.

Remarkably, Hooda’s presence in this arresting series  is  not about heroism. It is  only about survival and selfpreservation, and   that  includes Gurnaam’s silly  immature  sibling  who gets sucked into the  drugs business even as  Hooda’s  brotherly act  tries to shield  the  boy from selfdestruction.

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This is a powerful series, better than any that I’ve seen on Punjab in  recent times. Its authenticity  level is exceptionally high,primarily because the spoken language  in  the series is Punjabi, and  I suggest you watch  the series in Punjabi with subtitles,  although a  competent  dubbed  Hindi version is also available.

    CAT casts a gallery of authentic Punjabi actors who bring a blizzard of believability  into the  goings-on.Geeta Aggarwal and  Hasleen Kaur are especially  compelling in their complex roles. Geeta  as  a criminal politician brings  the right  tone of gender-scoffing menace  to her role.Her  daughter’s crush on a   local Punjabi singer has an unexpected  closure ,  a  closure that  would have  been funny if only it were not so tragic.

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Hasleen Kaur plays  Babita, a starry-eyed  idealistic  cop who is  repeatedly manipulated  into compromises by her (male)  seniors. Gurnaam, himself heavily compromised  by his brother’s misdemeanours, becomes Babita’s  bad-time buddy.There is  mutual attraction  here, unexplored as  the series in spite of its vast  runningtime has  no patience with getting  into  relationships.

 Not everything adds up. Some  of the plot points do their damndest to drag down the  intensity level of the  narrative, for example, a debauched patriarch  with a  limp who is  so awful  he  seems to have been  planted into the plot purely to project poison .

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 CAT  is  revved up with detailed  production design (Prerna Kathuria, Ranjit Singh) which is  credible without  making  a song and dance of it. I wish the  series was edited down by  at least three episodes. It  runs on  for way too long. But it is  a journey well  worth making. Don’t miss it.

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