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December 2020

Movie Review: Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi – Day 1929

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Film: Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi

Release: 01.01.2021

Writer-Director: Seema Pahwa

Starring: Naseerudin Shah, Supriya Pathak, Konkana Sen, Manoj Pahwa, Vinay Pathak, Vikrant Massey.

Ratings: 5 stars

Writer- director Seema Pahwa began her career as a television actor and later she moved base from Delhi to Mumbai. She did innumerable films and was always acknowledged for her sparkling performances in all genre of films, be it the offbeat Aankhon Dekhi or the mainstream Bareilli Ki Barffi. Her first love remained theatre however where she continued to experiment with all kinds of roles and genres be it Aadhe Adhure or Aurat Aurt Aurat, one of her famous experiments on stage is about her cooking a meal as part of performance on her terrace and serving dinner to her audience.

A few years ago, when Seema sensed she was getting stereotyped by the mainstream makers, she diverted her creativity to stage and wrote/ directed/ performed a praiseworthy play called Peend Daan. She was keen to make the script into a film and asked many of her director friends to wield the megaphone but all of them refused, said she was the best woman for the job, and so reluctantly, Seema assumed the responsibility of her debut film, Ram Prasad Ki Teharvi.

This is a story of a funeral and what happens for thirteen consecutive days at a home that has lost a member. You will be surprised but it is not very different from a wedding preparation. Every time there is a wedding, the family members come together and participate in the celebrations. It is the same when there is a death in the family and nobody leaves until all formalities are completed.

Ram Prasad Ki Teharvi captures the arrival of various family members, their discussions and decisions relating to the last rites, intimation in newspapers, condolence protocol, allocation of rooms, beddings, blankets, duties in the kitchen, daily menus, and not to forget there are many shocks and surprises.

In my opinion, there are five good reasons to watch Ram Prasad Ki Teharvi. One, the plot: We have seen too many movies celebrating weddings, participated in the mehandis and the sangits, this is the first time that a director engages you in a tragedy that is entertaining. The film makes you happy, sad but most important, makes you look inward and introspect.

Two, the detailing in writing, set, costume, colours, design is remarkable. Ram Prasad/ Naseerudin Shah’s sprawling mansion, the courtyard, the multiple staircases, the corridors, the many rooms on many floors, the beddings, the quilts, the different paintings and the suitcases all have a story to tell.  The family is divided into groups where children play Ludo in the room, the women gossip in the kitchen and the men share a cigarette and drink on the terrace, so many layers, so many secrets.

Three, the characters: There are more than thirty characters and all of them are real. Ram Prasad and Savitri/ Supriya Pathak, their six children (four brothers two sisters) their spouses and children round up to about eighteen, add to it close relatives, close friends, some neighbors, some facilitators, some visitors and all of them have interesting back stories.

Four, performances: Supriya Pathak has the best tole in the film but every performance in the film is special. Featuring some of the best actors of theatre and of the big screen like Konkana Sen, Vikrant Massey, every character contributes to the narrative and more important, is presented with love and dignity.

Five, the message: It is important to show gratitude tant to our loved ones and say thank you and sorry. To assume responsibility, it is important to first delegate responsibility and it is important to appreciate music because if you understand symphony you understand life. Naseerudin Shah, who plays a musician says in a scene “Suron ko kabhi besura nahi chodna chahiye, iss se suron ka apman hota hai”.

Writer-director Seema Pahwa does not leave anything incomplete, does strike a single false not., It is very rare that critics are fully satisfied with a film and with my hand on my heart, I admit that Ram Prasad ki Teharvi  is an enriching experience. Thank you, Seema Pahwa, for this wonderful New Year gift.

Bhawana Somaaya

Movie Review – Ak vs Ak – Day 1928

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Reality or fiction?

Film: Ak v/s AK

Director: Vikramaditya Motwane

Writer: Avinash Sampath

Cast: Anil Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap

Ratings: 2 stars

AK v/s AK as the title suggests is about a conflict between actor Anil Kapoor and director Anurag Kashyap. Kashyap provokes Anil Kapoor at a public event resulting in a bitterspat between the two, after which Kapoor blocks Kashyap on his phone. Still angry, a scorned Kashyap lands up at Kapoor’s shooting unannounced bad news for the actor that his daughter Sonam Kapoor is kidnapped and he has only 12 hours to find her.

The plan is that while Kapoor searches for his daughter, Kashyap follows the actor with a rolling camera, it is his opportunity to feature the actor in his home-made film. Sounds bizarre but well that’s the director’s idea of a black comedy thriller.

A few weeks before the release of the film, the Indian Airforce has accused Anil Kapoor of disrespecting the uniform in the trailer of the film and Kapoor had to apologize and make amends for Netflix but the controversy mysteriously settled down a few days before the release of the film and detractors allege that the defamation was a publicity stunt for the film.

There’s a possibility that the allegations are true, after all we are living in artificial times where artistes are willing to become part of marketing gimmicks. 

In times like these is relevant to revisit intimate story telling in its purest forms, for instance like bio-pics which is a life-scape of a celebrity and a format we are familiar with or even a docudrama which is a recap of real events taking some creative liberties. In AK v/s AK however, director Vikramaditya Motwane introduces us to a new format which dissolves the lines between reality and fiction.  He would like us to believe that everything that occurs on screen is spontaneous and impromptu while the fact is, everything that happens is scripted!

So, let me segregate what is real and what is fiction – the characters- both Anil and Anurag are obviously real, their respective families, their homes, their careers, their career histories, their association, interpersonal relationship also to an extent is real. What is fiction is the narrative, where Anurag blackmails Anil Kapoor and why Anil Kapoor allows himself to be manipulated is a mystery that will only resolve after you have watched the film.

The positives are the challenges of the new experiment and Anil Kapoor’s super natural performance. The negatives arethat the film is unconvincing, unengaging and terribly self-indulgent. There is no way you can watch this film with your family because every dialogue is laced with choiciest abuses in English and Hindi and the duo don’t let off an opportunity to break each other’s bones. So, must you watch AK v/s AKwell, only if you are a fan of either or both the AKs.

Bhawana Somaaya

Movie Review – Coolie No. 1 / Day 1928

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No logic just masti

Film: Coolie No 1

Date: 25.12.2020

Producer: Vashu Bhagnani

Director: David Dhawan

Cast: Varun Dhawan, Saara Ali Khan, Paresh Rawal, Javed Jaffery, Johnny Lever

Ratings: 2.5 stars

David Dhawan directed Coolie No 1 is a remake of his 1995 film by the same title which was a remake of Tamil film Chinna Mapillai released in the year 1993. Usually, it is the younger directors who remake old hits of veterans, but this is a rare instance of a director venturing into a remake of his own film.

The film tells the story of Rozario/ Paresh Rawal, a well-known businessman in Goa who in his pursuit to find grooms for his daughters is high handed with Pt. Jai Kishen/ Javed Jaffery, who does not take the affront kindly and resolves to take revenge with Rozario. Jaikishen is mounting the station bridge, talking to Sara Ali Khan’s picture in hand when the picture falls on Raju Cooli/ Varun Dhawan sleeping on the railway platform and it is love on first sight for Raju.

So, Kishen and Raju make a plan to woo Rozario and Raju’s friend Deepak joins the plan. Within a few scenes, Raju is married to Saara and the story moves from Goa to Mumbai. The genre s you have gathered by now is sort of revenge and the treatment is super cool.  There are crazy twists and turns to the story because Raju is cooking up a new lie every day – about his father, his twin brother and more, while the director single-mindedly focused on showcasing one song after another irrespective of whether the situation demands it or not, until all six songs (two remixed and recreated) are out of the way.

Nothing makes sense and nothing is supposed to make sense because cars drive up on the railway platform here, a mechanic turns into a gynaecologist, a manager into a doctor and the uncle of the heroine transforms into a local waiter. The coolie bunks his railway duties as and when he is in a mood for song and dance and nobody complains. Raju’s colleagues share a unique telepathy with the hero collectively show up in his moment of crisis. The climax with all the acrobatics is hilarious.

We have been discussing the relevance of logic in cinema for decades but the fact is films are eventually made out of conviction and in this case, conviction of two people, director David Dhawan who has been convinced of his brand of cinema for 20 years and actor Varun Dhawan who adds life in every meaningless scene.

Supporting cast Paresh Rawal, Javed Jaffery, Johnny Lever do their best and Sara Ali Khan is natural as always. Must you watch Coolie No 1? Not if you are the kind who looks for logic in everything, then my advice is stay miles away but if you are the kind who wants to have s fun in festival, then get on to Prime Video with family and friends and chill out. It has been a long time you have been served to this kind of a movie, so enjoy and merry Christmas to all.

Bhawana Somaaya

Day 1926

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It is said that legendary music composer OP Nayyar, one day, walked out of his palatial home in Churchgate, promising to never come back and he didn’t. For the first five years, Nayyar lived in obscurity, shifting from one poor suburb of Mumbai to another. He had stopped composing music in films and the film fraternity had also forgotten him. Then one day, an ardent fan recognized him and took him to his home in Thane. He stayed there for a few weeks or months but slowly, the neighbours began recognizing him and he shifted to Virar.

Nayyar regularly visited a retail shop and made his phone calls from an adjoining phone booth and it was at this booth, that he met his future soul mate, Rani Nakhwa. The two got talking and Nayyar requested Rani to put an advertisement for him in the newspaper for a paying-guest accommodation. Rani obliged unaware that the distinguished stranger was a superstar.

Back home, Rani shared the encounter with the stranger to her mother. Her mother, asked the daughter to invite the stranger home for a meal and the classic Indian hospitality played a part in defining destiny because the guest who came for dinner, stayed back to become the Babuji of the Nakhwa family forever.

OP Nayyar kept his word and never returned to his biological family and the family kept its promise and never searched for him. Nayyar’s last rites, as per his will, were performed by the Nakhwa family.

Show business isn’t all glamour – Day 1925

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But life goes on and Mubarak’s destiny was marked with multiple tragedies, deserted by her husband and without a career, she had no source of livelihood and was forever dependent on the mercy of her well-wishers. What made it worse was that her only daughter Shafaq Banu, was bedridden with advanced stage of Parkinson. She had contacted me and pleaded me to visit her. When I did, breathed her last, she confessed that survival was difficult.

I had come home extremely depressed that evening and thought how ironical is life. She was the same singer, who in her better days sang ‘Kabhi tanhaiyon mein yun hamari yaad aayegi…’ Today, she waits for somebody, somewhere to remember her!  

Showbusiness is full of stories where veteran artistes have withered away, either unable to cope with their failure or out of neglect from families. It makes one wonder what is it about the dream merchants that they often fail to evoke empathy from their loved ones. Is it that they are self-obsessed or does it say something about the family not wanting to support in bad times?

To be continued

Cinema unites strangers – Day 1924

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A few days ago, was International Human Solidarity Day and it is observed globally to highlight the importance of unity in diversity. The film industry, in my opinion, is a perfect example of both secularism and unity in art that often includes strangers in life-long bonds. My mind wanders to a voice that mesmerised an entire generation of music lovers, ‘Mujhko apne gale lagaa lo, o mere humrahi…’ from Humrahi and and ‘Bemurrawwat bewafa begana dil…’ from Susheela are songs that are going to haunt us forever.

Yesteryear singer, Mubarak Begum with her trademark style left an indelible mark on her audience, who in her last years lived in penury in a small by-lane of Mumbai’s Western suburbs.

Though widely appreciated in the ’50s and the ’60s, the songstress never made it as a frontrunner because her voice did not suit the image of a leading lady, the way Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bhosle did and as a result she got very few opportunities to showcase her talent. The non-acceptance hurt and with time, Mubarak Begum faded out of public memory.

To be continued

Movie Review – Unpaused – Day 1923

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Chaand Mubarak steals the show

Film: Un-paused

Date: 18.12.2020

Amazon Original Film Un-paused is an anthology of five Hindi short movies filmed during the pandemic and featuring stories about New Beginnings. The five short films include Glitch, Apartment, Rat-A-Tat, Vishaanu, Chand Mubarak. All these films are about the pandemic and more important, shot during the pandemic, which explains why all the stories are about two or maximum three characters. 

One has always debated if cinema reflects society or the other way round and never arrived at a conclusion, probably because both reflect each other. In my opinion however, it is always cinema that reflects society and which is why our films before independence were so revolutionary. Post-independence, our cinema addressed recession and unemployment and our writers conceived the angry young hero who was anti-establishment.

Every time we have been hit by a tragedy, be it the Mumbai bomb blast or the terrorist attack on Taj Mahal Hotel, a series of films have been made on the subject. Today, we are all struggling with the pandemic and Un-paused is a reflection of our fears, anxieties and the loneliness associated with the lockdown.

Glitch directed by Raj & DK with Gulshan Deviah and Saiyami Kher is about a blind date where the couple even though they have nothing in common, get attached to each other because both are extremely lonely. Apartment directed by Nikkhil Advani delves on the rising social pressures and the diminishing moral fabric, where in the protagonist Richa Chaddha, a working wife has to make a crucial decision.

Rat-A- Tat featuring  directed by Tannishtha Chatterji  is about loneliness, for Rinku Rajguru  of Sairat fame, staying away from family is a choice while  for Lillete Dubey, it is a compulsion, a way of life. Vishaanu directed by Avinash Arun is about the migrant workers, not those who walked miles to reach home but those who stayed back in search of shelter. And finally,  the best of the five series, Chaand Mubarak directed by Nitya Mehra  of Made in Heaven  fame  and featuring the ever dependable Ratna Pathak Shah, resident of an affluent building and her unusual bond with a rickshaw driver, Shardul Bharadwaj.

All the stories address isolation and depression and yet all the characters reflect a glimmer of courage and adaption, of positivity and trust. So, must you watch Un-paused, my answer is yes, not because all the stories and the performances are engaging, they are not but so that we realize that when the world was falling apart, we were not the only ones crying into our pillows, so were many others and they were battling worse demons.

Bhawana Somaaya

Life goes on – Day 1922

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Meghna Gulzar had arrived, her friends and family were euphoric with her success. I remember a picture where Mahesh Bhatt and Gulzar embraced each other for a long time after the screening of Raazi, both proud fathers of proud daughters.  While in Goa for the international film festival Meghna told me that Raazi almost didn’t happen and when it was about to happen, two producers she had approached at different times were fighting for the rights. But when something wonderful has to happen everything falls into place. It did this time too and smoothly.

Showbusiness is a slippery place where nobody, even those on the top are never secure, ask the superstars who go through recurrent pressures of delivering superhits.  Everyone is seeking a mirage here and and the strongest are threatened by the smallest pebble that can damage a dream and ravage the efforts of a long time. In 2018 just as Meghna Gulzar was gearing for the release of Chhapaak based on the acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal, the JNU controversy erupted and like a sudden eclipse overshadowed everything.

The incident is a learning experience for every artiste and filmmaker and it took a lot of effort for Meghna Gulzar to distract her mind to her next script, on the life of Field Marshal F J Manekshaw.

Writing, directing and more – Day 1921

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Post college Meghna Gulzar was freelancing for leading publications and her poems were published as part of anthologies in the Poetry Societyof India.She began in her career in films by Saeed Akhtar Mirza on Naseem and her father Gulzar onMaachis and Hu Tu Tu, simultaneouslyscripting her own films, both feature and documentaries. Taking her father’s advice, she juggled with everything- music albums, corporate ads, even anchoring.

Come year 2002 and Meghna was ready to debut as director, Filhaal on the subject of surrogacy was a sensitive film with marvellous performances from Sushmita Sen and Tabu but mysteriously went unsung. Her second feature Just Married in 2007 addressed arranged marriage but did not appeal to the audience. It was her short film Pooranmaashi part of Dus Kahaaniyaan in the same year that got her eyeballs, however it was the Noida Double-Murder case Talvar in 2015 that the critics noticed her and it was Raazi in 2018 that the box-office celebrated her.

To be continued