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Movie Review: Hellaro

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Film: Hellaro

Date: 08.11.2019

Director: Abhishek Shah

Writers: Abhishek Shah/ story, Abhishek, Prateek Gupta / screenplay, Saumya Joshi/ dialogues and lyrics

Ratings: 4 stars


In 1980 Ketan Mehta directed Gujarati film Bhaav Ni Bhavai that won the Best Film for National Integration. Now 39 years later, Gujarati cinema has once again come into focus with debut director Abhishek Shah’s Hellaro  being awarded as Best Feature Film at National Award 2019. In addition, 13 actresses from the film have been mentioned for Special Jury Award. This is the first Gujarati film to win both, the Golden as well as the Silver Lotus awards and is the opening film at the 50th International Film Festival of India to be held in Goa in November.


An entire village was created in the middle of the vast desert in the Kutch region of Gujarat and costumes prepared for everyone to retain a sense of continuity. Shot in the scorching summer of Kutch desert the film was completed in 32 days.


Hellaro tells the story of a sleepy village that has not seen rain in three years. The villagers believe it is the curse of the Goddess to punish them for all their wrong doings and are forever doing penance to meet her approval. Come Navratri and the men decide to dance all night to evoke the Goddess and seek her blessings. The women are instructed to fast all nine days and are abstained from celebrations of the festival. The discriminations are not restricted to just to the festival but are a part of their life. They work all day but aare forbidden to dream, desire or even to express themselves.

I recommend four reasons for watching Hellaro:

 One, the subject is novel and the idea of combining fact, fiction with folklore is intriguing because you are left wondering if this really happens and where? Set against the backdrop of emergency it uses the village as a metaphor for oppression, only in this case it focuses on the subjugation of women. Two, for the important issues addressed, without really beating the drums the film condemns the caste system, the patriarchal society and alters the female gaze through an engaging, involving and emotional narrative.

Three, never has dance been used as a means of change and the credit for this goes to the choreographer for presenting 8 imaginative garbas.  It is a visual delight to see the women move in swirling skirts in harmony. For the first time dance is not just used for entertainment but as a mode of self-expression, a reason for liberation and celebration. Four, the message, that oppression beyond limits is dangerous. One woman Kesar depicts courage to defy the system and the entire village is motivated.


So is there nothing wrong with Hellaro of course there is, the music could have been more melodious, the background score more dramatic, some scenes could have been more emotional, the desert could have looked more parched and the villagers more unkempt because of the heat, the day to night transitions could have been smoother but all this can be overlooked because the merits outweigh the demerits.


Hellaro excels in every department -editing/ production design/ cinematography/ writing/ choreography/ costume/ sets and there is both passion and detailing in everything.


Gujarati film Hellaro is released with English subtitles and language, in any case, has never been a barrier to appreciate good cinema. I applaud director Abhishek Shah and his team for a path-breaking film and rate Hellaro with 4 stars.


Bhawana Somaaya
























Movie Review: Bala

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Appearance obsessed

DirectorAmar Kaushik

WriterNiren Bhatt

Music: Sachin–Jigar

Cast: Ayushman Khurana, Bhumi Pednekar, Yami Gautam


There are all kinds of people in the world and Bala is a story of three such families, rather three distinctive characters, two residing in Kanpur and one based in Lucknow.  Bala/ Ayushman Khurana works as a sales executive with a beauty brand during the day and in the evening operates as a stand- up comedian. He never the house without a cap on his head because he has a receding hairline and is hyper sensitive about the way the looks.

Latika/ Bhumi Pednekar is Bala’s neighbor and classmate. She is sharp tongued and dark skinned and Bala often pokes fun about her appearance but she never allows him to get away with it. Parri/ Yami Gautam is a super model and spends all her time shooting or in between uploading music videos on Tik Tok.

Parri’s mother played by Deepika/ Sita of Sagar’s Ramayan gives maximum importance to good looks. Lakitik’s aunt is focused on finding a liaison for her niece and has no qualms of misleading the prospective groom with photo shopped pictures of Latika.

Bala’s family wants Bala to be happy and inspire him to be transparent in all his relationships.  He does most of the time and when he does not he has a good reason for it.

When an individual goes through a drastic appearance transformation and it is permanent it has adverse effect on his personal life, relationship, work place and most important, his family. There is a scene where Bala’s younger brother Rihaan has a long pent up outburst that unsettles the family. In another equally effective scene Bala lashes out at his father Saurabh Shukla holding him responsible for his present plight, a very bitter moment between the father and son. Both these scenes are superbly written and superbly performed.

The thing about satirical comedies is that they make you laugh and worked up all at the same time. Amar Kaushik directed Bala packages wholesome entertainment combined with serious social issues. For instance, Bala views himself as a victim while Latika who has faced discrimination since childhood has no complaints against life and is therefore a successful lawyer today.  Parri is accustomed to a lot of attention only because she is attractive and is unapologetic about it.

All the three characters advocate diverse arguments and that is the intention of the film to make you think and to accept our own follies as well as follies of those around you.

In the year 1964 in a film called Main Bhi Ladki Hoon mein, starring Meena Kumari’s family is disapproving of her only because she is dark skinned and she complains of her plight in a song to Lord Krishna. Forty-five years later, we are still obsessed with colour of the skin and physical appearances, the only difference being that while Meena Kumari cried her woes to Krishna, Bhumi Pednekar of Bala confronts the deity of the purpose behind transforming the hunchbacked Kubja into a pretty woman because she was fine as she was.  I agree, we are all fine as we are and what is important is that we must accept and love ourselves.

Bala is about self-confidence, about identity and must be watched for the treatment, humour, emotion and courage of all the actors particularly Ayushman Khurana.

I rate Bala with 3.5 stars.

Bhawana Somaaya



Hellaro Effects

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Ever since the National Awards have been announced the mainstream movies is curious about a Gujarati film called Hellaro that won Best Feature Film and is the opening film at 50th International Film Festival India this year. In addition, 13 actresses who have acted in the film have received Special Jury Award at National Film Awards. This is the first Gujarati film to win both, Golden Lotus and Silver Lotus awards.


Based on Gujarat’s folk dance form, Garba, Hellaro focuses on female gaze in a predominated male society. Shot in the mid-summer heat of Gujarat in the desert of Kutch more than 450 costumes were prepared for the villagers residing there to make it look authentic and film completed within 35 days. Directed by Abhishek Shah who has been active on stage for 17 years as a writer/ director/casting director and actor and written by Abhishek Shah and Prateek Gupta. Saumya Joshi who is a well-known poet-writer-playwright and writer of the Hindi film 102 Not Out and is also famous in the Gujarati theatre and poetry world, is the lyricist and dialogue writer of the film The music of the film is composed by Mehul Surti and choreographed by Samir and Arsh Tanna of Dholi taaro dhol/Lahu muh lag gaya and Nagada sang dhol fame.


Bhawana Somaaya/

Contemporary Culture

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The Indie Music scene today is extremely vibrant and innovative and so G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture will be dedicating one day every month that will feature a strong line-up of acts both Indian and International.


G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture providing an opportunity to experience the immersive voyage that artists traverse when creating a work of art. The theme is Space and the artistes will debate the presence, absence of creative space in their work. The session brings together an eclectic mix of artistes – Sajid Shaikh/ experimental visual artist, Namaha Mazoomda/ dancer, choreographer, and Amrita Mahale /writer, aerospace engineer.

In a world increasingly geared towards instant gratification and quantitative results, we invite you to take a pause and become a part of the transformational journey of rigour, riyaaz and relentless passion that is bound to bring hope, inspiration and rekindle curiosity about the artistic process! The speakers include Sajid Wajid Shaikh, an experimental artiste, Namaha Mazoomdar, a professional dancer, choreographer and Amrita Mahale, an author.



Prithvi Festival Opening

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Heavy downpour in the city did not dampen the spirit of theatre fraternity and lovers who made it to Prithvi Theatre for the opening night of the Prithvi Festival. Before leaving home I called the PR if the event was called off but the girl on the phone was upbeat, “Kunal Kapoor has said that even if there is one person in the auditorium, the artistes will perform.”


At the venue the Prithvi team was all prepared with umbrellas to receive the guests. The café lights were all turned off but the foyer was sparkling with conversation and laughter. Kunal Kapoor looked at me and said “Can anybody stop the rains please?” I smiled at him and said, “Only one man can, if we all pray to Shashi Kapoor he will work a miracle!


Inside it was full house and Punjabi singer Gurdas Maan rocked the stage with his music, poetry and stories. From time to time, as he spotted celebrities in the auditorium and paid his tributes to Naseerudin Shah, Sharmila Tagore and to Rishi Kapoor. When he spotted his co-star Divya Dutta in the audience he held her hand and greeted her.


It was a wonderful night and nobody cared that the sky was thundering outside. The cameramen waited for the performance to end and went home only after they got the pictures they wanted.




Movie Review: Ujda Chaman

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Well Meaning


Film: Ujda Chaman

Release: 01.11.2019

Director: Abhishek Pathak

Writer: Danish J Siungh

Cast: Sunny Singh, Manavi Gagroo, Saurabh Shukla, Atul Kumar, Grusha Kapoor

Ratings: 2 stars


There are films which have no content but have you excited with their dramatic presentation and there are films that have a pertinent message but are so unattractively packaged that they leave you unengaged.  Director Abhishek Pathak’s Ujda Chaman falls into the latter.

Kohli family residing in a lower middle class colony of North Delhi is extremely worried because their older son Chaman is not yet married so every weekend the family agenda is to visit a prospective suitor and somehow get them engaged.

The last time they met a prospective family, a little boy on the pretext of getting friendly to Chaman sat close to him and threw the cap off his head, a eureka moment for everyone to see that Chaman is bald.

Ujda Chaman inspired from 2017 Kannada film Ondu Motteya Kathe quite literally addresses receding hairline and raises a debate between physical appearance versus inner beauty. It is a film about ageing and 30 is a frightening figure in a traditional marriage market where time is running out and choices are restricted.

Chaman/ Sunny Singh, 31is a Hindi professor, often ridiculed by his students because of his appearance as a result Chaman is awkward and under confident.  The family pundit has predicted that if Chaman is not married before his 32nd birthday there is a possibility that he will remain single.

Apsara/ Manavi Gagaroo, 29 is a makeup artiste in the fashion world, she is outgoing, compassionate but self-conscious because she is overweight.

Both are looking for appropriate partners on Tinder but their first date ends in a freak accident and the desperate parents are convinced that they are serious about each other. The families are super excited and cannot wait to announce the engagement when there is a twist in the story and Chaman and Apsara are back to being single!

The minus of the film is an unusually slow pace; the writer takes more than two hours to drive a single point home. Often the humour is out of place particularly about celibacy and testosterone, who talks like this in present times? It is unconvincing that the students ridicule their professor just because he is bald.

The plus is the message of the film that one must not be judgemental on the basis of appearances. To be bald is not a crime – there’s a sensitive sequence in the film where the hero on his way to work views characters from a hair perspective. To be overweight is not a crime and to age is natural so why make these into a topic of gossip? Staying single is a matter of choice and not a reason for social debate.

The best performances comes not from the lead cast but from the hero’s parents Atul Kumar and the delightful Grussha Kapoor – another Badhai Ho team in the making, take a bow.

I rate Ujda Chaman with 2 stars.

Bhawana Somaaya/ @bhawanasomaaya



Movie Review: Housefull 4

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Film: Housefull 4

Release: 25.10.2019

Director: Farhad Samji

Writers:  Sajid Nadiadwala/ story, Fahad Samji/ dilogues

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Bobby Deol, Reitesh Deshmukh, Kriti Sanon, Pooja Heghde, Kriti Kharbanda


Pehle panchi tha, ab Twitter hai…

Pehle book thi, ab Facebook hai…

Pehle telegram tha, ab Instagram hai…

This is not information this is lyrics of Housefull 4…There’s more…

The hero stands in the middle of the street and asks the heroine what comes after number 20. The heroine trifle flustered responds ‘ekees’. The hero smiles and says ‘Ek kiss please’.

Bad joke, well that’s the level of dialogues in the film.

Three important characters in the film are the three pigeons and who are named believe it or not – Neil Nitin and Mukesh.  Another bad joke, and there are several more coming up soon.

Producer Sajid Nadiadwala is credited for the story of reincarnation in a comedy set up and you don’t know whether to cry or laugh when the heroes go into a flashback mode of what happened 6000 years ago…

When Akshay Kumar was the crown prince of Sitamghadh, Bobby Deol the bodyguard of a princess and Ritesh Deshmukh a court dancer and the three heroines – Kriti Sanon, Pooja Hegde aur Kriti Kharbanda were princesses of a neighboring kingdom.

Cut to present times, the heroes work in a salon in London and are hounded by a slum lord. The girls are daughters of an affluent father and spend their time roaming aimlessly or just singing and romancing.

Call it a coincidence but all the six characters – rather the entire cast is reborn at the same time in the same place and wonder of wonders remember what happened to them 600 births ago, absolutely amazing!.

While the heroes on the screen travel into 1419 I sit in the auditorium and recall what we have been subjected to in the last nine years…

Housefull / 2010 served us song and dance, beach and bikins, also chimpanzee and tiger.

Housefull 2 / 2012 served us brides – grooms –big mansions and fancy cars.

Houseful 3 / 2016 served more slapstick humour with superstars’and super remixes.

The fourth presentation of the Housefull franchise is apparently the biggest budget comedy genre has ever produced and packages more glamour- grandeur – also more madness combined with pigeons, horses, snakes and scorpions.

There cannot be a serious review or rating of a film like this, so take a chill pill and stay at home to celebrate your Diwali.


Bhawana Somaaya.



Movie Review – Saand Ki Aankh

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Celebrates female gaze and female bonding

Film: Saand Ki Aankh

Release: 25.10.2019 

Director: Tushar Hiranandani

Writers:  Balwinder Singh Janjua/ screenplay, Jagdeep Siddhu/ dialogues

Cast: Bhumi Pednekar, Tapasee Pannu, Prakash Jha

Ratings: 3.5 stars

Biographies rule Bollywood at the moment and this week’s release Saand Ki Aankh/ Bulls Eye is based on the lives of sharpshooters Chandro and Prakashi Tomar. The film opens into a sleepy village Baghpat on the border of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh where a large family comprising several men, women and children co-exist in a sprawling home.

The morning begins with the women of the house in long veils serving tea and hookahs to the men in the verandah and that’s where they are parked all day while the women toil in the fields.  The children leave for school but while the boys have no responsibilities the girls have to assist their mothers in domestic chores before they can pick up their school bags.

The men sleep on cots in the courtyard and the women on thin mattresses in one large room together. When the husband is in a mood the wife is summoned to an isolated room and so that the men don’t get confused about who is behind the veil the women have cleverly worked out colour codes so it is red for the eldest jiji blue for the middle one Chandro/ Bhumi Pednekar and yellow for the youngest Prakashi/ Taapasee Pannu.

They are divided by colors, defined by the number of children they bear the men are oblivious of their dreams or desires. When Prakashi expresses to begin tailoring at home, her sewing machine is flung and broken into pieces only because she erred to stitch trousers for the girl child. The younger girls dream of higher education, government jobs but is anybody listening??

Their daadis are, they enroll their young ones into training for sharpshooting with an expert who they address as ‘doctor’. On the expert’s advice, all four of them undertake training and while the younger ones need practice the daadis we discover are naturals. Encouraged by the tutor the daadis start participating in tournaments all over India. They tell the men they are on a pilgrimage but the women of the house know the truth and are all united in the secret.

Years pass by and one day the pot filled with gold and silver medals are flung out of the trunk and trampled on the floor as fear, outrage, tears, and outburst follow. In a heart-rending scene Chandro Daadi compares their plight to animals that slog all day but never get a penny in hand.

They’ve heard that the Taj Mahal is beautiful but they’ve never seen it, they’ve been told that the ocean makes a lot of sounds but they’ve never visited it, they’ve have seen that the aircraft flies high but never experienced it. There’s something called nail polish that paints the nails but the only color and odor they know is the bricks and the cow dung and the bricks. The scene breaks your heart!

Nearing climax when the men fall from grace the women say to hell with dignity. It is the first time we see the eldest jiji lift her veil to spit venom at her chauvinistic husband, applause-worthy scene.

The downside of the film is the chalky makeup and the inconsistent grey strands. The pace fluctuates and the message gets overemphasized. Sometimes the Khadiboli dialect becomes overbearing and one has to concentrate too hard to comprehend the dialogues but the merits outweigh the demerits. This is a remarkable story about India living in multiple centuries simultaneously detailed insets, location, costume, writing, music, lyrics and convincing performances from Nikhat Khan as the maharani and lead actors Bhumi Pednekar, Tapasee Pannu and Praksh Jha as the antagonist.

Saand ki Aankh is about empowering women and also senior citizens, it celebrates female gaze, female bonding.

After one of their victories, a reporter asks the daadis how old they are. Prakashi takes a while to respond so the reporter jokes that they are as coy about age as other women. The hesitation, clarifies Chandro Tommar was in calculating how many out of these long 60 years did they live for themselves.


Bhawana Somaaya





Remembering Homeland – Day 1663

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The main purpose of this section is to focus on films that look back on homeland, as well as films by international directors that connect with India, either in theme, locale, or by featuring the country’s film talent.

Sun is directed by Jonathan Desoindre and Ella Kowalska, both graduates from Sorbonne, Paris, the directorial pair has been collaborating for over a decade and follow the eponymous Mr Sun/ French actor Tewfik Jallab, a delivery boy in his 30s, who lives a frantic yet unrestrained life in modern Paris. This precarious but pleasant balance is jeopardized when his Indian cousin, Ash, suddenly arrives in Paris to fulfill his dream of playing the sitar at the Olympia.

Sun is the tumultuous journey of the two brothers as they navigate daily struggles. Ash is played by Indian stand-up comedian, singer, and actor Aadar Malik.



Of Immigrants and Superstitions – Day 1662

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The Illegal directed by Danish Renzu is a gritty, realistic portrayal of the social underclass of immigrants in the US, The Illegal follows a middle-class Indian student who comes to America to join a film school and fulfill his dream of becoming a filmmaker. An unfortunate turn of events forces him to choose between his family and his ambition. Renzu’s deft handling of the story is bolstered by a cast that includes Suraj Sharma, Adil Hussain, Iqbal Theba, and Shweta Tripathi.


Aadhaar is set in a part of Bharat that can only aspire to be part of the new India but has no idea how to go about it. A social satire revolving around a Jharkhand resident who becomes the first in the state to issue an Aadhaar card, while everyone else is reluctant, grants him instant stardom but when a local priest predicts that his unique 12-digit ID number will prove ominous, it spells despair in his life. The impoverished man now struggles to change his id number against bureaucratic red tape and religious superstitions.


Starring Vineet Kumar Singh, Saurabh Shukla, Raghuvir Yadav, and Sanjay Mishra and directed by Suman Ghosh of national award winning films like Nobel Chor and Podokkhep this marks Ghosh’s debut in the Hindi language. Backed by the powerhouse Drishyam Films known for international award-winning titles Masaan, Newton Umrika, the film shows promise of similar acclaim following its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival.


To be continued