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Looking Back At The Best  Of  The OTT & Theatre Content During The Month Gone By

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October  brought us a far more  eclectic  and  mind-stimulating mélange of  content  than recent months. Shoojit Sircar’s Sardar Udham, Hagai Levi’s Scenes  From A  Marriage , Ajit Pal Singh’s  Tabbar and  Leena Yadav-Anubhav Chopra’s  House Of Secrets were experiences that  gave  the home viewing medium a reputable image. But hang on. There was  more which you might have  missed  because  the  reviews sucked,or maybe they  didn’t catch your attention.

A look at  the best  content  on OTT in  October(in no particular  order of merit)

  1. Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam(SonyLIV): During the last  two years I have seen enough masterpieces in  Malayalam  to believe  that the  best films in India are being made in India. Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam is  not quite the  topnotch cream-of-the-crop  product  on a par with  the Fahadh Faasil films this  year Jijo  and  the overrated Malik, or that Jayasurya lockdown gem Sunny which came  out  on September. But it is  a  sparkling vivacious robust and bitingly funny  look at a village  wedding where  everything that  could possibly  go wrong, can  and does.Yet the film never loses its blithe spirits. The actors are  so  natural  you will  never catch them  ‘acting’.And the interweavement  of  family  relationships into a wider  socio-political  perspective is bang-on. This is  the serio-comic  family film that Sooraj Barjatya could  never dream of making.
  2. Scenes  From  A  Marriage(HBO):  For my  money and time, Jessica Chastain is  one of  the finest dramatic actresses of contemporary cinema, right  up there  with  Liv Ullman, Meryl Streep ,Juliette Binoche and Shabana Azmi. So is  Ms Chastain  as  good as Ms Ullman was  in  Ingmar Bergman’s original series in 1972? She smashes the screen  and jumps out at  you with  a feral ferocity that we witness on screen  only once in a while. Of course  Oscar Isaac(one of contemporary  American cinema’s rising  phenomenon) is  also a revelation.  But somehow  this version  of Scenes  From A Marriage is owned by Chastain. As  Mira she is  a volcano about to  erupt. Tempestuous, tactile ,volatile.When she is on the screen(which is 90 percent  of  the playing time) we can’t take our eyes  off her. The series is not instantly likable.  Neither Chastain nor Isaac play their parts for empathy. I have yet to come across a  more disagreeable  couple on screen. Barring perhaps Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. Unlike Dick and  Liz, there is  minimal physical violence between this couple. This  is a couple that can’t live together  , but can’t live apart either. The  love one another. But they don’t like each  other any more.What do we do with  Mira  and Jonathan?  48 years  ago. Bergman’s Scenes  From A Marriage had triggered off  a divorce spree in Sweden. I don’t see the  remake  making any  difference  to modern marriages.  Contemporary couples need no  impetus to separate.
  3. Sardar Udham(Amazon  Prime Video): So much  dust has been  raised  over Sardar Udham  not getting to go  to the Oscars. Thanks to a  jury member who  thinks  this  bio-pic  propagates hatred, people  have  loved  Shoojit Sircar’s  film even more.Here’s a  film that’s at once  a comprehensive bio-pic and a sharp thriller about  an assassination  of  a dubious political figure  ,a  la  The day  Of  The Jackal.Indeed Frederick Forsyth  meets  Richard Attenborough in this  astute, if over-long  cinematic replication of an assassination that shook the world.  The  film is  punctuated  by bouts  of  indefinable pathos  and  yet Sircar, a master when it comes to  temperate  storytelling, exercises an  incredible  restrain over his  potentially unwieldy narration that takes its protagonist  here  there  and everywhere.From Sunam, a village in  Punjab to Russia, to finally London where General O’Dwyer(Shaun  Scott, well played) is   now busy giving lectures  on  the glorious days  of  the British  Raj and what a brave and noble  deed he  performed by  ordering the  Massacre… “to teach  them a  lesson.” These Gora Log, I tell  you.
  4. The House  Of Secrets(Netflix):  Leena  Yadav and her co-director Anubhav Chopra have constructed what can  be called  a whydunnit. Because we  all know whodunit. That leaves us  with the question  of  why the family chose  to  end its  life so  suddenly. What  was the  impetus for this  self-inflicted  brutality? To the  docu-series’ credit,  it  attempts  to cut through  the hysteria  hype  and bullshit to  try and get close  to the  doomed family by talking to neighbours relatives and  friends. What ever get to know  of  the snuffed-out family when they were alive is frightening in how “normal”  they were  in their everyday  conduct.What this  illuminating if  necessarily  fragmented  3-part docu-series tells us is this: the enemy is not  the neighbour. It’s in  our homes. This is the ultimate horror show.
  5. Tabbar(SonyLIV):    Set in  the  curiously vivacious  bustle of Jalandhar   this  October-released  webseries has the extraordinary Pawan Malhotra as Omkar  a petty  entrepreneur and  patriarch with a wife and two sons. Once we accept the deep flaw  in Omkar Singh’s skewed  morality and messy   modus operandi  , it all makes a  kind of blindsided sense. The writing(Harman Wadala and Sandeep Jain) grows  exponentially  hazy, as  the relationships  so  lovingly  adumbrated  in  the  initial  episodes begins to crumble under  pressure.Director Ajit Pal Singh exercises  a  tight control over the  proceedings that prod the drama from the  poignant  to the  perverse(the  murder of an old  family friend  is  particularly unfortunate). There are  no loose ends  in  the  narrative.Although  bits of it may seem  oddly  incongruous  to  the outsider it’s  finally  about plotting ways to keep the family from falling apart.Given the growing absurdity  of  the  crime-leaden family’s predicament Tabbar carries the weight of overstatement well on its  shoulders. Pawan Malhotra and Supriya Pathak bring nuances  to their  stereotypical  roles(strong obdurate  father, frail  devoted mother) that are hard  to pinpoint. Sahil Mehta  and  Gagan Arora as their two sons, frequently look lost in the maze of  crime. But  Paramvir  Singh Cheema as their Sikh cousin-cop  positions his character’s dilemma well into a storm of strongly  handled crises.  Cheema is  a find.
  6. Rathnam Prapanchna(Amazon Prime):  The archetypal  Cine Ma , the  oft-abused  mother figure gets  a startling makeover in this  warm, intimate, well meaning but rambling meandering tale in Kannada, of  a harried but unmarried  son Rathnakar(Dhananjay)who first finds his  domineering mother(a delightfully over-the-top Umashree)   a big  turn-off, only to  discover after 2 and a half hours(yes, that’s how long it takes  to  journey from annoyance  to obeisance) that there is  no   place on earth  as  peaceful as  the mother’s lap.Rathnakar’s  journey into selfrealization is not without interest. There  are  some passages in this  jalopy  travelogue that are actually quite  brilliant. Things could have  gone downhill for  Rathnan Prapancha  as  it  sinks deeper and deeper into its own concept  of  social ties and  family obligations. But  the  film has its heart in the right place, and never minds if it tends to derail more often than once.
  7. Call My Agent(Netflix):  You  don’t have to know  Bollywood inside-out to love this  show. You just have to know a bit about human nature. The  series takes care  of the rest. This  adorable adaptation of  the 2015 French series is  the picture-perfect post-pandemic  panacea with  a heart that beats and  loins that throb . It is everything that an adaptation should be:  respectful to the original but not slavishly so. The  series is littered with  luscious  inhouse  jokes  about Bollywood’s tantrums  whims  and tragedies. Playing professionals in a on-the-skids talent-management  agency, theactors  are  so good at their  jobs, they make their  onscreen jobs look real. You don’t have to be  film PR person to recognize them and their constant coping with star-tantrums. Specially cogent are Rajat Kapoor as  the quietly manipulative Monty, a senior  at the agency who must accept his illegitimate  daughter Nia (played by social influencer Radhika Seth) before  the show  is done, and Aahana Kumra,  the fearless feisty firefighter  of an actress who  doesn’t mind looking  ridiculous if the need arises. Aahana plays  Amaal, a kamaal  ki lesbian with temper tantrums  problems  who more than  meets her match  in Jasleen(Anuschka Sawhney) , a tax  assessor with  has the hots  for  Amaal. Their romance plays  out like  a rippling riff in a buxom musical refrain that is warm intimate relatable and  sometimes sad.I loved almost every character specially the Agency’s North-eastern receptionist Nancy(Merenla Imsong) who nurses a secret desire to be an actress.  There are some exceptional actors at work here.The discovery  of the series is Ayush Mehra  as  Meher a Parsi boy who is ambitious  but not  heartless ,who  walks around at home in his traditional  night outfit and is quite  a ladies’ man at work.Come to think of it, every actor  gets  to play  a real fleshed-out characters with  desires  so  tangible they seem desirable even in their worst  moments.
  8. No Time  To Die(Released In Movie Theatres):  No Time To Die gives us  no time to breathe. The action, as is the won’t  in the James Bond series,  is relentless.And  very very captivating. In fact  the  stunts in  the Bond films have always reminded me  of carefully choreographed dance  performances. If you  don’t die  because you  are in  it, you die because you  are  privy to such unfathomable  creative violence. While the testosterone  level remains high from first to last  it is  as lucid as  the living daylights that  James is  no  longer the same. I’d say he  seems  fatigued. Even if the very talented  director  Cary Joji Fukunaga(he is bound to bring Bond back)  must have instructed  Craig to “act tired” there is  a certain agility  underlining the exhaustion that makes Bond, this time, more human and yet more heroic that ever before. I was deeply sorrowed  by  Daniel Craig’s departure. Bond will never be the same  again.  But isn’t that what life and art is about it? And not even James Bond is exempt from the  exigencies  of  existence.No Time To Die is a great  watch. But  not  a  great film. It stumbles  at some  crucial plot points. It is the end of 007 as we know him. For many  of us, it is the  end  of an era.RIP,James. We drink to your  unvanquished heroism.