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OTT March 2022 Roundup!

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March  2022 will be remembered as  the year when the OTT platform gave us  one of Ryan Reynolds’ worst film. The Adam Project was as silly as Reynold’s last film  Red Notice  and the one before that  Free Guy, all released on Netflix and all competing  with  Green Lantern for being Ryan Reynolds’  career-worst. On the plus side , this month Ajay Devgan and Madhuri Dixit made their  impressive  digital  debut  .We also  discovered  bright new writing-directing  talent in Rahul Nair.Read  on for the  best on OTT in March.

  1. Jalsa(Amazon Prime Video):  What are the  chances of  you knocking down a  child in a random  hit-and-miss incident and the victim turning out to be  your own househelp’s  child ?  I would say 1 out  a zillion. Having gotten over  this Gulshan Nanda  brand of coincidence, Jalsa is a knock-out drama with  Shefali Shah and  Vidya Balan, particularly  the former delivering  performances of  a lifetime. Director Suresh Triveni also get an admirable performance out of  newcomer Vidhatri Bandi. Easily one of the best made-for-OTT feature  films to date.
  2. Rudra: The Edge  Of Darkness(Disney+Hotstar): Applause  for Applause Entertainment  for  bringing to us this  praiseworthy adaptation of Luther where Idris Elba had played  a cop in  a dark edgy thriller. Ajay Devgan stepped  into  Idris’ shoes  with impressive results. Rudra was  a fetchingly mounted  séance in sinisterism  . Every actor seemed  to get the point. The  narrative  trotted along at a pacy speed with  elements  of  psychopathic   conduct creeping  in  gradually as  the plot came  to a  boil. Devgan held  the narrative together, succeeding in making Rudra’s failures as  a husband and an investigative  cop look convincingly  gutsy.
  3. The  Fame Game(Netflix): If Ajay Devgan  navigated Rudra through its  complicated course it was Madhuri Dixit, giving  the  Fame Game its  hospitable  allure. She was every bit the  sparkling star Anamika Anand  whose public face was unpeeled by her unsavoury family’s sordid deeds. Madhuri was  brilliantly serene and graceful, so much so that it was easy to  overlook another sterling performance  , by Rajshri Deshpande  as a  doughty cop on the  kidnapper’s prowl. Just why  the  cop’s sexual orientation was  pushed into the  plot remains a mystery to be  solved in Season 2 ,perhaps?Manav Kaul got to  play out two of  the  most favourite fantasies of all  actors.He got to play a  heart-throb superstar adored by  all women from Madhuri Dixit to Muskaan Jaferi(the latter  very  effective in a  tough role).He  also got to beat up a journalist at  press conference  for asking  an impudent  personal  question. The Fame  Game  had its flaws. But Sri Rao  is  a writer  to watch out for.
  4. Eternally  confused & Eager For  Love(Netflix): And the  award  for the  best voice  performance since Aamir Khan gave voice to the dog in  Zoya  Akhtar’s Dil Dadhakne Do,  goes to Jim Sarbh. He  plays the protagonist Ray’s alter-ego. Sarbh voices all of Ray’s naughtiest vices and  unplumbed virtues Sarabh proves  a third dimension to this delectably  young and vibrant series written and  directed  by Rahul Nair. Hard  to  believe  this is Rahul’s first. No  virginal awkwardness  in this  virgin’s  coming(ahem) of  age story.
  5. Salute(SonyLiv): The  Write  Brothers Bobby  & Sanjay are the real  heroes of this   clenched  tale  of  the teacher and the taut. Interestingly two  brothers in the police force,  ideologically far removed from one another ,are at the crux of a  film that prods at the  audiences’ collective  conscience while creating an edge-of-the-seat thriller about  guilt and  redemption.I have been closely watching Bobby-Sanjay’s climb to the top of the ladder in Malayalam  cinema. From  Ente Veedu Appuvinteyum (2003) to Traffic  to  Notebook to How Old Are You  and One,  these  two  brothers have  succeeded  in infusing  the  already-robust destiny of Malayalam cinema with   an added luster.Is Salute the best screenplay that Bobby and Sanjay have written to date? The answer would have been  a resounding    yes, were  it not for a relatively  lame endgame which left me  feeling  a wee cheated  thought  not betrayed.The narrative  has  too much going for itself to  suffer from a post-climactic  depression. I  would say Salute survives the  end-blow  most gracefully, thank you.The pacing is  consciously  languorous , as  though the pressures to come on the drama of ideological  warfare need  ample breathing space to grow. Grow,  the narrative does with astute velocity.A  sense of gathering  foreboding is constructed  in the way  young cop Aravind(Dulquer Salman)  revisits  an old  procedural   miscarriage  in his  police station, needling his  brother  senior cop Ajith Karunkaran(Manoj K Jayan) and risking a jeopardized  career.But as  Aravind tells his  live-in  girlfriend(Diana Penty,  trying  hard to make  some space for  herself), he would rather suffer the  consequences of his past transgression than  go on as though  nothing happened ,  while an innocent man rots in jail. It is a fabulously  nuanced  character with a glorious  moral graph. I am afraid Dulquer Salman for all his stardom  is not up to it.No doubt he has a likeable screen  presence. But there is  more needed to make Aravind a living trobbing character. The  man suffers immense pressures  for his  ideological stance. But  what we see is a placid  policeman barely registering the surface of his anxieties.As  Aravind is pressurized from both  family and colleagues to drop the efforts  to  bring belated  justice  to the wrongly accused, the narrative swerves away from its meditative thoughtful  study of  crime innocence and reparation .It now converts  itself   to a cops-and-robbers chase  film with the culprit  , a selfappointed  godman and sex healer,   proving himself  as  slippery as a compelling closure for cat-and-mouse game that  promised an  end with a  resounding bang but  woefully whittles into a weak whimper.While the  last-half hour is compromised,  the  narrative remains  partly breathless  but    pertly pacy  all through.Sreekar Prasad’s editing is firstrate  with the  plot  moving  in tandem with the stressful  tension that the protagonist  creates when he prefers  to be  a  pebble in the stagnant pond.Salute has  a lot to say about mending broken promises. It is  a  coiling seething  angry  film  about  injustice and corruption set  to  a  normalized tone which doesn’t pick on  any character for  poor discharge  of duty.
  6. Gamanam(Telugu, Amazon Prime  Video):What happens when the  full fury of Nature  hits  a metropolitan  city catching  its  unprepared citizens in a crisis that they have no idea  how to deal with? In Gamanam writer-director Sujana  Rao threads  three  stories involving several  lives into a pastiche  of  pain  endurance and  final  redemption as  torrential rains hits Hyderabad swamping the  city in a splashy storm before the eerie calm.Gamanam could actually have been a far better  film than  it  finally  ends  up being. It has the seeds  of a redemptive masterpiece planted  at its core,  but it  remains content   being just a mildly moving survival –and  supremely soggy– saga  edified and titivated by at least one  truly  charming performance  by Sriya Saran.Haven’t you, like  me, wondered  why this  lovely actress has  not been  given her due recognition? In  this  faintly ambrosial anthology Sriya plays Kamala a deaf  abandoned  wife struggling to  keep her baby and herself afloat—both literally and metaphorically—as  the torrential deluge strikes the city . Sriya’s Kamala’s   fight against Nature’s fury reminded me of Shabana Azmi  in Goutam Ghose’s Paar and Aparna Sen’s Sati. It is a physically and emotionally exhausting part, and Sriya is more than  up to it.Elsewhere there are two street urchins(how I hate calling them that,but I find myself  unable to articulate a  better term  for children who grow up on the streets) trying to sell Ganesha idols in the  torrential rain. It’s  a heartbreaking image  and  one that  could be  assumed  to be potentially  manipulative. Cinematographer  Gnana  Shekar  V S  captures the bleak  bathos of a city under  siege with a painter’s  penetrating  but  pre-arranged  vision. Regrettably, the script gets progressively mawkish and  melodramatic. By the time  we  come to  Nithya Menen’s angelic rendition of Vaishnav jann at a kiddies’ school function   the plot’s  gone South in more ways  than one.The quest for a  dramatic  climax kills  much  of  the  impact  of  the  earlier  parts  of  the  narration.In a clumsily staged  climactic crisis there is a young cricketer saving little children in a schoolbus . This  crisis is so  artificially manufactured  it feels like a sorry compromise to a well-intended idea.The romance  between the  aspiring cricketer Ali(Siva  Kandukari) and  Zara(Priyanka  Jawalkar) is  powered by Ilaiayaraja’s  robust love songs, presumably  the  highlights  of the  show. I am  not too sure that  the  over-punctuation  provided  by the   songs and background music work in the context  of the film’s neo-realistic aspiration.Caught between the  urge to be authentic and  to   reach  out to  a mass audience  Gamanam  falls  short of the glory which would have rightfully been its if only it didn’t  strive to straddle the two worlds  at  the same  time.
  7. Bloody Brothers(Zee5): This crime thriller was quirky and fun . But the characters are constantly surprising themselves, as  much us. This is  what  powers  the   plot.It’s simple, really. Two brothers who haven’t met  for a  long time, meet at a wedding attended by the who’s-hoot , get drunk.While  driving back one of them knocks down an old man. The  feeling of remorse  and redress  that follows  carries the characters and  the  story forward .While the  original  BBC series  relied on wry humour, director Shaad Ali and his  writers(Siddharth  Hirwe,  Riya Poojary, Anuj Rajoria and  Navnit Singh Raju)  gather the  goofy impulse  into the circle of suspense so that  nothing appears as serious or unsolvable as  it seems.Jaideep Ahlawat and Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub are two of the  most  celebrated  products of the streaming revolution. Playing the Grover brothers,  neither  is  able to  induce  any  extra   vigour  to the proceedings. Yeah,  they are both  adequate –that’s the least we  expect  from them—but  nothing more than that.
  8. Sharmaji Namkeen(Amazon Prime):  Rishi Kapoor comes alive one  more time  for this endearing  culinary concoction about a retired  man cooking his way  out of boredom. That Paresh Rawal  supplements Rishi Kapoor’s unfinished  performance is  a  quirk of fate that miraculously  doesn’t bring down the film’s  charming  aura. A befitting farewell  to one of  Indian cinema’s greats. RIP, Mr Kapoor.
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9.Undekhi 2(SonyLIV): Fast-paced and breathless Season 2 may seem to some  like just a repeat  performance of Season 1. That  , Undekhi  2 is. And yet the core issue  of  a police inspector Ghosh(Dibyendu  Bhattacharya) trying to save  a tribal girl from a filthy rich family  has a kind of  contextual  resonance that doesn’t get worn  in  repetition.And the way Muskaan participates in  shootouts with her violent husband gives a completely unexpected  twist to the  till-death-do-us-part  theory of marital togetherness.The women are , in fact, exceptionally aggressive in Undekhi. There is one on the run, a  dancer who  has  tremendous survival instincts in the jungles. Then there is Teji(Aanchal Singh) married  to the the  most  peaceful  heir of  the violent Atwal family , Teji is rapidly learning the ropes of the illicit business. And  then  there is Saloni(Ayn Zoya)  a television journalist not  averse to  blackmailing and extortion.For a  series about toxic masculinity  the women in  Undekhi have a  lot to do, and not much of it is legal or legit. Writer Sumeet  Bishnoi plunges us  into this dangerous sleazy world  with no hope for any redemptive thrusts. Nobody changes, there are no  character reformations in   Undekhi at least not in Season 2.Perhaps the  characters will begin to shed their plumes in Season 3.

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