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Middle-Class Melodies: Feel the regular humdrum of life

Middle Class Melodies (Telugu film with subtitles, on Amazon Prime); Cast: Anand Deverakonda, Varsha Bollamma, Goparaju Ramana, Prabhavathi Varma, Chaitanya Garikipati, Divya Sripada; Direction: Vinod Ananthoju; Rating: * * * (three stars)
At first you would think Vijay Deverakonda dubbed for him. Anand Deverakonda does sound a lot like his superstar brother, blame it on genetics more than anything else. For all other practical purposes, going by what you see here, Anand seems focussed on carving a very different space from the Vijay Deverakonda trademark.
Middle Class Melodies — don’t go by the title — is not a musical, nor does it have any reference to melody. The title is used to convey a feel of the regular humdrum of life. For a more direct impact, perhaps, Middle Class Chutney (or Middle Class Flavours?) might have seemed more apt, considering the film is a comedy drama about a young man’s obsession to whip up the perfect Bombay Chutney, and his dream to set up an eatery.

Anand Deverakonda plays Raghava, a hothead who takes pride in whipping up the perfect Bombay Chutney. While his temper seems to be a legacy of his father (Goparaju Ramana), Raghava picked up the nuances of preparing his special dish from his mother (Surabhi Prabhavathi). He dreams of opening a tiffin centre from where he can sell his Chutney, and he hopes his Bombay Chutney will make him famous one day and be the pride of Guntur, his hometown.

Vinod Ananthoju’s film is narrated simply and with adequate humour, throwing in the obvious message about the importance of chasing one’s dreams. Writer Janardhan Pasumarthi’s focus seems primarily on setting up a feel-good experience for the audience, and little else.

For that reason, the film never really had much of a story to tell and tends to drag in portions. Ananthoju, Pasumarthi and company come up with interesting characters and situations that maintain a feel-good mood all through.

In turn, interesting characters translate to good performances. Anand Deverakonda is clearly not cut out for larger-than-life outings, but he does impress as the guy next door with a big dream.

With roles increasingly being written around realism and authentic mannerisms, this is a great time for Anand to be labelled a promising young actor. Varsha Bollamma looks apt for her role of Sandhya, while most others in the cast are adequate. Goparaju Ramana as Raghava’s father is truly impressive.

Middle Class Melodies leaves you in a happy space, never mind the film’s shortcoming.

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Neither Scary Nor Funny: Laxmi On A Mission Of Vengeance

Twist in the tale comes when Asif is possessed by the spirit of a transgender woman named Laxmi (Sharad Kelkar) who is out on a mission of vengeance…writes ….VINAYAK CHAKRAVORTY

Laxmii; Cast: Akshay Kumar, Kiara Advani, Sharad Kelkar, Rajesh Sharma, Ayesha Raza Mishra, Manu Rishi Chadha; Direction: Raghava Lawrence; Rating: ** (Two stars)

Every now and then, it seems, Akshay Kumar cannot resist giving in to the urge to churn out boring humour. The last time he did it was in Diwali last year, with Housefull 4. He is back this Diwali with a film that would make Housefull 4 seem like a classic.

The problem with Laxmii is not that it is mindless. The problem is the film is just not funny enough, despite playing to the gallery. Director Raghava Lawrence, who makes his Bollywood debut with this film, collaborates with Farhad Samji (incidentally, the man who helmed Housefull 4) in a bid to recreate his 2011 Tamil hit Muni 2: Kanchana. What may have seemed funny nine years ago clearly fails to make the cut today.

Uh, yes — there’s the social message part. Laxmii tries being a satire of sorts against obsolete customs and rituals, but the effort defeats itself owing to the sheer plasticity of the narrative. The film also tries making the politically correct noises about the transgender community, as well as Hindu-Muslim harmony.

That last bit is specially highlighted through the film’s lead duo of Asif (Akshay Kumar) and Rashmi (Kiara Advani). He is Muslim, she is Hindu and so her parents (Ayesha Raza Mishra and Rajesh Sharma) won’t accept Asif. Twist in the tale comes when Asif is possessed by the spirit of a transgender woman named Laxmi (Sharad Kelkar) who is out on a mission of vengeance.

Although promoted as a horror comedy, Laxmii is neither scary nor funny. The film is too haphazard in its storytelling to leave any sort of an impact. It reminds you of the brainless Bollywood efforts of the eighties and the nineties where ‘script’ was something that seemed to be written on an ad hoc basis, even as the film was being shot. You get that feeling often while watching Laxmii — as if they didn’t have a bound script to start off with.

The thing that baffles you the most is the random stereotyping in the name of creating ‘quirky’ characters. Everything about the film is a caricature, owing to the blind cliches that plot points as well as characters bank upon. Crafting a comedy out of the story of a transgender who is gunning for revenge would always seem like a tall order in formula-obsessed Bollywood. The makers of Laxmii never show the inclination to overcome that challenge.

There is very little that a cast can do if the writing of a film is poor. In the case of Laxmii, the film wholly rests on Akshay Kumar’s duality as the rationalist Asif who turns into Laxmi on becoming possessed. Akshay cuts an impressive picture as Asif, but then that’s the easier deal of his role. When it comes to being Laxmi, he resorts to sheer hamming and little else. Most of the balance cast are props in the overall scenario, although Sharad Kelkar hits a few interesting notes when he is not giving in to the temptation to overdo his act as the original Laxmi.

As a final product, Laxmii was always fated to bomb — irrespective to what tweak they have given to the film’s title.

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Halal Love Story: Crafting Humour With Simple Twist

Halal Love Story (Malayalam film streaming on Amazon Prime); Cast: Indrajith Sukumaran, Joju George, Grace Antony, Sharaf U. Dheen, Nazar Karutheny; Direction: Zakariya Mohammed; Rating: * * * and 1/2 (three and a half stars)…writes Vinayak Chakravorty

Halal Love Story crafts humour out of the sensitive issue of Islamic belief without being trivial about it. If that balancing act seems accomplishment enough, director Zakariya Mohammed and his co-writer Muhsin Parari reveal plenty of other cinematic qualities along the way.

The story is set against the backdrop of a village in Kerala. A local Muslim group believes in the power of art to reach out to people, and they use street theatre as their medium. Zakariya uses the folk art only briefly in his screenplay, to underline the fact that despite staunch religious diktats ruling the community there is a dormant aesthetic sensibility embedded somewhere in their minds.

The street theatre artistes use their craft to talk of the essence of Islam, as well as denounce George Bush’s decision to attack Iraq and the capitalism that American cola brands represent. The group looks for a wider reach, and reckon a telefilm could be an ideal vehicle.

The committee running the group, however, feels that cinema can be prone to showings things that are deemed ‘haram’ (forbidden) in Islam. The challenge of creating a ‘halal’ film falls on the elderly committee head Rahim (Nazar Karutheny), and the school teacher Taufeeq (Sharaf U. Dheen). The duo approaches an assistant director named Siraj (Joju George), though Taufeeq decides to write the film to ensure the end product stays ‘halal’. For the sake of chemistry and to maintain sanctity of relationships, Siraj and Taufeeq decide to cast a real-life couple, Shereef (Indrajith Sukumaran) and Suhra (Grace Anthony), as their film’s lead pair.

Halal Love Story is a satire, but only just. The film does not dig deep while commenting on either Islam or cinema, the two props that uphold the plot — or the conversation on marital gender politics it interestingly raises, only to forsake. The initial portions of the story are laced with subtle humour on expected lines, as Siraj and crew struggle to can the perfect shot with a bunch of bumbling artistes.

The ‘film within a film’ plot finds parallel subtexts in the individual stories of a few among its cast and crew. These stories are used to depict how similar as well as different life and art can be. But rather than talk of too many characters, the narrative focusses on the married life of Shereef and Suhra primarily, and how working in the film disrupts their emotional equation. For the first time, Suhra sees many reasons why their marriage, perceived all along by both as a perfectly happy one, is not necessarily so. Zakariya also gives Siraj a story unto himself, as the director struggles to find an escape in his work, from his personal pangs. These sub plots are finely woven into the narrative, and never unduly stand out.

The film is simplistic in its storytelling, technical execution as well as the comments it leaves. Early in the film, two characters discuss good cinema that can reach out to children and one of them suggests Iranian films, particularly Children Of Heaven. You spot a lot of the Iranian idiom in Zakariya’s cinematic style — in the way he conveys deep emotions effectively, without losing grip of a feel-good storytelling style.

Halal Love Story elicits effective performances from actors who have been perfectly cast. The film might be a tad predictable, but it makes up for the fact with storytelling that holds your attention all along.

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Taish: A Non-Linear Visual Treat

Taish (streaming of Zee5); Cast: Pulkit Samrat, Jim Sarbh, Harshvardhan Rane, Kriti Kharbanda, Ankur Rathee, Zoa Morani, Sanjeeda Sheikh, Saurabh Sachdeva, Abhimanyu Singh, Armaan Khera, Saloni Batra, Kunika; Direction: Bejoy Nambiar; Rating: * * and 1/2 (two and a half stars)…writes VINAYAK CHAKRAVORTY

Taish banks on a very basic formula of honour and revenge that even the most commercial of Bollywood makers stopped peddling a while back, though Bejoy Nambiar serves it with polish. The story unfolds against the backdrop of good-looking London and nearby locales, using a cast that fits the characters well. For some novelty, you get a choice in formats — you could watch Taish as a six-episode series, or as a feature film.

The option in format isn’t the only experimentation about Taish. Nambiar and co-screenwriters (Anjali Nair, Kartik R. Iyer and Nicola Louise Taylor) adopt a non-linear approach in storytelling, which — by mainstream Bollywood standards at least — is not something commonplace. It makes the narrative seem more interesting than it actually is.

That the operative mood is of murderous rage is established in the opening sequence, with a bloody showdown that unfolds in the washroom of a posh pub in London between young Sunny (Pulkit Samrat) and the gangster Kuljinder (Abhimanyu Singh). The encounter leaves Kuljinder in a vegetative state, and soon the gangster’s younger brother Paali (Harshvardhan Rane) and gang are baying for Sunny’s blood.

Things get complicated because Sunny is in town to attend a wedding. Krish (Ankur Rathee), the younger scion of the affluent Kalra family, is getting married to Mahi (Zoa Morani), and Sunny is like family. All hell breaks loose when Pali and gang arrive at the venue and declare they will find and nail the assailant, or ensure no wedding takes place.

The narrative moves into flashbacks to trace the reason for Sunny’s violence, and also sums up the plot. Nambiar is subtle in the way he introduces important characters — Krish’s elder brother Rohan (Jim Sarbh) or Rohan’s Pakistani finacee Aarfa (Kriti Kharbanda), for instance — as well as vital plot spins. The idea is meant to render a slowburn treatment to the episodes.

Yet, for all its visual and cinematic treatment, Taish lacks an innate ability to connect. There is a fiery idea, there are the characters that struggle with demons of the past even as they wage a tooth-and-nail fight to finish — yet these protagonists fail to reach out and connect. You don’t feel for them or their misery, for the simple reason their emotional dilemmas are not altogether original, or convincing.

As the story moves into its last episode, several situations that unfold surprisingly seem forced. It’s almost as if Nambiar and team were in a rush to wrap up their tale with a sleekly executed chase sequence and some filmi melodrama.

A major hitch for many will be the elaborate use of Punjabi dialogues. Pali and the gangsters’ family and friends hail from a Punjabi background and, for the sake of authenticity, Nambiar lets them converse in Punjabi. The resultant long stretches of conversation could make you feel like you have logged into a Punjabi gangster movie without subtitles.

The show hinges on Pulkit Samrat, Harshvardhan Rane and Jim Sarbh, and the male leads make most of interesting characters that the big screen hardly accords. Kriti Kharbanda as Aarfa and Sanjeeda Shaikh as Jahaan are primarily in the story as romantic interests, but the script does offer them the stray moments where they play a part in moving the story forward.

Along with the lead cast, the writers of Taish are adequate in the way they imagine even the minor players in the story. Saurabh Sachdeva as Pali’s sidekick Sukhi and Zoa Morani as Mahi deserve mention. Nineties starlet Kunika makes a pleasant appearance in a small role.

Taish hawks familiar vibes of vengeance. It has a strong idea overshadowed by storytelling that fails to connect. The cast is brilliant in the way it brings alive the characters, and yet the characters have to often go through contrived situations to simply carry the story forward. You have some superb songs, yet strangely these only serve to slow down the storytelling pace. Taish is a labour of ironies.

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Mirzapur 2 Hits The Right Note

Lots of guns and lots of blood, high drama and hint of sleaze, cuss and explosive dialogues, and a cast in good form with a few exciting new additions. Mirzapur 2 ticks the familiar boxes. So, does the show live up to the hype?

Yes and no, depending on what you were expecting.

If you are happy to see a lot more of what we already sampled in season one, then Mirzapur 2 works just fine. The series faithfully caters what hardcore fans will log in and look for. But if you wanted this boondocks saga to scale a next level of any kind, it doesn’t quite happen over 10 episodes.

Mirzapur 2.

Season two had been promoted all along as a revenge story and, going by where the first season ended, it was obvious that gunning for vengeance would be Guddu (Ali Fazal) and Golu’s (Shweta Tripathi) sole motive, after they lost their loved ones to the brutality of Munna Tripathi (Divyendu Sharma). The storyline, however, incorporates several other subtexts of retribution.

Beena (Rasika Dugal), wife of Mirzapur’s towering Bahubali Akhandanand Tripathi, or Kaleen Bhaiya (Pankaj TripathI), emerges as one of the most intriguing characters in the new season, with her personal revenge agenda. Bahubali Rati Shankar Shukla of Jaunpur was gunned down last season, and his son Sharad (Anjum Sharma) has his little payback plan. Various other minor characters we met in season one, including Kaleen Bhaiya’s right hand man Maqbool (Shaji Chaudhary) and the politician’s moll Zarina (Anangsha Biswas) find reasons to seek vengeance as the episodes rolls.

Revenge, it seems, is the favourite pastime of Mirzapurians when they are not selling ‘kattas’ or carpets.

Series creator Puneet Krishna weaves volatile subtexts as these into the main story to set up the entire narrative. Essentially, storytelling in Mirzapur 2 is mostly about outlining what course the individual lives of the protagonists take, as well as introducing a few new characters.

The season opens with Guddu, Golu and Guddu’s sister Dimpy (Harshita Gaur) on the run after the shootout at the wedding of Lala’s daughter Shabnam, which closed season one. Guddu is still gravely injured. Golu, toughened by circumstances, is learning to live by the gun.

As the episodes roll, Dimpy will eventually fall for the smooth-talking Robin (Priyanshu Painyuli), a fixer who can get anything done. Golu is torn between her emotional angst and hunger for revenge, while Guddu is attracted to Shabnam (Shernavas Jijina).

All this, even as Kaleen Bhaiya’s reign continues. Munna Tripathi (Divyendu Sharma), Baauji (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), Guddu’s father Ramakant Pandit (Rajesh Tailang) and SSP Ram Sharan Maurya (Amit Sial) get character arcs that hold promise in the initial episodes.

Among the new additions, Vijay Varma enters the series as Bharat Tyagi, scion of a family of Bihari strongmen, and very much here to stay. Isha Talvar as chief minister Yadav’s daughter Madhuri seems interestingly positioned in the plot. She accounts for a major plot spin.

Mirzapur 2

Unfortunately for the season, these characters struggle to live up to the potential they initially promise. A big problem with many web series is that the cumulative runtime is far more than what the story deserves. Mirzapur 2 suffers from that problem. The show could have been wrapped up within seven or eight episodes. Instead, unnecessary minutes are wasted on melodrama, item dances and random shots at romance and violence alike.

The season is essentially about reiterating certain cliches we already knew, about the heartland underbelly. It rehashes the idea that smalltown dons are invincible unless they kill each other, that cops merely act as stooges and ministers are self-seeking monsters, and all of the above are soaked in amorality and a lust to gain supremacy in a never-ending bloody war for turf.

These are thematic stereotypes we have seen many times before, including in season one of this show, and on Mirzapur 2 gets the boost of impressive production value. The pace and storytelling is efficient till the point where the story builds up, but tends to ebb in some of the latter episodes.

The show is redeemed by its cast. To make the battle for Mirzapur more intense this time, the plot spreads beyond that small town. From Siwan to Balia to Jaunpur to Lucknow, many more bigwigs enter the fray to wrest the throne of criminally lucrative Mirzapur. Every actor, perfectly handpicked, does a fabulous job, especially the primary female cast. Rasika Dugal, Isha Talvar and Shweta Tripathi are flawless.

The series ends on a similar note as season one, with a big shooutout scene, though the impact is not half as exciting. For those who love post-credits scenes, hang around till the end. The post-credits shot of Mirzapur 2 leaves an important character with an interesting twist. Also, it reassures fans that season three is on way.

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A Suitable Boy Gets Mixed Response

One of two things happen when Mira Nair tries making an Indian film in India. She crafts a story that is beautifully authentic and inspired by India that is (think Salaam Bombay! or Monsoon Wedding). Or, she tries recreating an India that was, in which case the outcome is beautifully plastic (think Kama Sutra)…writes Vinayak Chakravorty .

Nair’s new web series talks of an India that was. The show diligently tries to belong to the former lot, but tends to gravitate to the second category.

Maybe it was the challenge of adapting Vikram Seth’s book of the same name. A massive work of fiction comprising nearly six lakh words would seem difficult to capture in six episodes.

Or maybe, just as it was blatant in the case of Kama Sutra, Nair was out making an Indian film in India for the West (you could say that idea defines all her India-centric works, but at least Salaam Bombay! or Monsoon Wedding managed to fall into an engaging storytelling rhythm).

The trouble with A Suitable Boy is despite so much story to tell, the narrative tends to flag. It is a script drawn from one of the most eventful phases of Indian history — early fifties when a newly independent nation was discovering sovereignty — and yet it struggles to capture that essence. The screenwriting is by Welsh veteran Andrew Davies, who seemed so much in comfort zone adapting Pride And Prejudice, Vanity Fair, Bleak House or Sense And Sensibility and, not to forget, co-writing House Of Cards. Yet, an element of laziness seems to take over the storytelling as Davies attempts to craft an Indian story.

‘A Suitable Boy’ (Photo Courtesy: Netflix)

A major problem is also the language. Based on an English novel and adapted by British writer Davies, the primary language of the dialogues is English. It seems okay watching upper crust Indians speak in the language at home and outside — even Tabu’s exquisitely executed courtesan Saeeda Bai looks passable mouthing English dialogues. The trouble with opting for English audio to watch the show is it really seems awkward when Vijay Varma’s Urdu teacher converses in the language with his ward, or when the ‘kattar’ Hinduvaadi politician (played by Vinay Pathak) vehemently makes a point in English.

On the other hand, watching the show in Hindi throws up a different glitch. Since it has been shot in English, there is naturally no coherence between lip movement and the uttered words. Seen with Hindi dialogues, the ironically Indian story looks like a product of messed-up sound engineering, to the point of being ludicrous.

Davies’ story based on Seth’s novel starts off on a bright note. We meet Lata (Tanya Maniktala), a student of literature who is strong-willed, intelligent and free-spirited. Her mother insists it’s time for her to get married, though she can’t help falling in love with the Muslim boy Kabir Durrani (Danesh Razvi), a history student in the University. Lata’s problems in life are quite removed from those of Maan (Ishaan Khatter), youngest son of revenue minister Mahesh Kapoor (Ram Kapoor). Maan sees the statuesque Saeeda Bai (Tabu) perform at a family function, and falls head over heels for her.

These stories of love run in tandem with a socio-political portrait of India the narrative tries drawing up. Mahesh Kapoor canvasses for a law that will render the Zamindari system obsolete. The year when the story begins is 1951, and the embers of Hindu-Muslim tension that started during Partition are still very much alive.

The episodes unfold rolling out these subplots and many more, as sundry characters join the plot. Despite so many characters and narrative threads, you soon begin to realise the storytelling lacks life. There is very little that happens in Lata’s and Maan’s lives that can be deemed surprising.

The series works because of its production merits and acting. Besides, for all flaws you may spot in the script, Mira Nair delivers the minimum quality you may expect from a cinematic product tagged with her name. This is a good-looking show all through, and Nair’s eye for detail while setting up the specifics of a specific societal milieu is always commendable — right from her days of Salaam Bombay! and Mississippi Masala. She reveals the nuances here, too.

Nair has assorted an interesting cast, and her ensemble of actors do brilliantly to bring the characters alive, toplined by a majestic performance by Tabu as Saeeda and Ishaan Khatter’s spirited rendering of Maan Kapoor.

The fact is established long before the first episode ends that Tanya Maniktala has a dazzling smile. Only, she needn’t have flashed it at every half a chance — her screen presence looks promising enough. The advantage of having a talented cast reprising roles is almost every frame has some nuanced turn of acting on display. Actors like Ram Kapoor, Rasika Dugal, Namit Das, Mahira Kakkar, Shahana Goswami, Aamir Bashir or Manoj Pahwa don’t have to try too hard to convince in any role. The show hugely benefits from that fact. Then there are the likes of Randeep Hooda, Ranveer Shorey, Vinay Pathak, Vijay Varma, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Vivaan Shah, adding appeal with limited but soundly effective footage.

Despite these stellar performances, you realise the evident truth as the episodes roll. A Suitable Boy struggles to be a story that holds your attention. The series seems overwhelmed by the odds it might have scaled, and merely manages to showcase India as a culture and country in a way numerous western filmmakers have already done before.

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Putham Pudhu Kaalai: An Anthology Of Emotions

Tamil superstar Suriya unveils title track video of ‘Putham Pudhu Kaalai’

If OTT has directly benefitted in terms of viewership owing to lockdown, the outcome of the situation has also served digital content well. A bunch of films and web series drawing plot ideas from lockdown have flooded OTT platforms. You have a new instance in the Tamil anthology, Putham Pudhu Kaalai (translates to A New Dawn).

Five well-known filmmakers down South have collaborated to direct a story each in this episodic film. These films do not have any link with each other except the fact that all five are set against the backdrop of lockdown. Overall, the idea obviously was to make a feel-good commercial film that reaches out to the largest possible audience, drawing advantage of OTT’s burgeoning global reach, so none of the five stories probe any facet of human relation too deeply.

Sudha Kongara Prasad at Irudhi Suttru Thanks Giving Meet

The first of five stories, Sudha Kongara’s Ilamai Idho Idho (Youth, Here We Come), sets a light mood. Francis Thomas and Shruti Ramachandran’s writing is evenly paced as the widower Rajeev (Jayaram) invites girlfriend Lakshmi (Urvashi) to stay with him for a few days. Twist in the tale comes when lockdown is suddenly announced even as Lakshmi is still at Rajeev’s place, and his daughter and son-in-law arrive. A not-too-heavy narrative scores primarily due to Kongara’s simplistic storytelling. The director uses a younger set of actors (Kalidas Jayaram and Kalyani Priyadarshan) to enact Rajeev and Lakshmi every time they feel young and romantic in each other’s company. The charming little rom-com is enriched by good acting and interesting use of music (GV Prakash).

Gautham Vasudev Menon directs Avarum Naanum (Him And Me), a story about a young girl (Ritu Varma) who comes to stay with her grandfather (MS Bhaskar) amid lockdown. The two have been estranged for years, and the story (Reshma Ghatala) moves along predictable lines to narrate how the girl discover her ‘thaata’ all over again, and misconceptions are cleared. Strictly, it is not a story that demanded the backdrop of lockdown, but the film is well shot (PC Sreeram) and the two protagonists share a few remarkable moments.

Anthology films have a dead giveaway. The placement of your film often becomes an indication of how appealing it is, compared to the others in the collection. In a film comprising five stories, for instance, it doesn’t take much to realise the placed bang in the middle could be the weakest link.

Suhasini Maniratnam’s Coffee, Anyone? would seem to face that disadvantage, although the film has been co-written by Suhasini along with her husband, the masterly Mani Ratnam. You find the odd Mani Ratnam trademark moment as two sisters (Anu Hasan and Suhasini) visit their mother, who lies in a coma. Much to the disapproval of the two women, their father (Kathadi Ramamurthy) has brought their mother home when hospital care would perhaps seem practical. The film tries to make a point about the power of love and familial bonds to heal, but ends on a rather contrived note. Also, you don’t spot any reason why this story should be set in the time of lockdown.

Andrea Jeremiah brings alive the fourth story, Reunion, directed by Rajiv Menon, who also co-writes along with Adhithya KR and Krishnaswamy Ramkumar, and functions as cinematographer. Vikram, an affluent surgeon (Gurucharan), lives with his mother (Leela Samson) and their life is about to be thrown in a turmoil when Sadhana (Andrea), a bar singer and an old friend of Vikram turns up. The young doctor returns from hospital to discover he has come in contact with a Covid patient, so he isolates himself in the house. With lockdown announced, Vikram’s mother suggests Sadhana stay with them, and the girl agrees. Of course, there is a twist about Sadhana that pushes the plot. Menon uses music (Nivas K. Prasanna) to subtly define Sadhana’s past bond with Vikram, as well as take the story forward. Watching Reunion, it would seem like the story needed a longer runtime to come alive. Menon does adequately while narrating his tale in the short format, though he fails to add an impressive punch in the end.

Anthology films often reserve the best for the last, and this surely happens here. Writer-director Kartik Subbaraj’s Miracle is a winner all the way, a brilliant parting shot. A couple of smalltime goons (Bobby Simha and K. Muthu Kumar) are in dire need of money. Amidst lockdown chaos they figure out a crooked way to get their hand on a big stash. Of course, there is a catch in what happens next. Miracle is the sort of story you don’t want to reveal much, except that it is smart, funny and ironic. Shreyaas Krishna’s camera makes interesting use of bright hues and darkness to bring alive various phases of the tale, and the film is deftly cut by Vivek Harshan.

No matter how you react to the rest of the stories, Miracle is guaranteed to leave you in a merry mood.

Putham Pudhu Kaalai manages to entertain within the limitation and challenges of the short film format. Although not an outstanding effort, the film overall is an entertaining, and certainly worth one watch.

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Bunty Aur Babli 2 Reunites For Saif and Rani

‘Bunty Aur Babli 2’ wraps up with fun song shoot.

Actors Saif Ali Khan, Rani Mukerji, Siddhant Chaturvedi and debutante Sharvari have completed dubbing for the upcoming film, Bunty Aur Babli 2.

Director Varun V. Sharma said: “All actors have wrapped up dubbing for the film. ‘Bunty Aur Babli 2’ is a hilarious big-screen entertainer and we can’t wait to show our film to the audience.”

“Bunty Aur Babli 2” reunites Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukerji and will present them as the original Bunty Aur Babli in the film. They have starred together in films like “Hum Tum” and “Ta Ra Rum Pum”.

Siddhant had earlier told that he is very excited to be a part of “Bunty Aur Babli 2”.

“I am excited for people to watch it. I think after this pandemic everything will be all right with this film, which is a family entertainer. It”s a great film. I had great fun shooting it, and after such tough and dark times people need something very light and fun. I am really excited for this film,” he said.

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Khaali Peeli: Masala Stuffed Romantic Action

The shooting for first-time director Maqbool Khan’s “Khaali Peeli” starring Ishaan Khatter and Ananya Panday has begun.

The functional dose of Bollywood ‘entertainment’ you get is, not surprisingly, the sort that would seem fresh about four decades back. …writes Vinayak Chakravorty

Khaali Peeli; Cast: Ishaan Khatter, Ananya Panday, Jaideep Ahlawat, Zakir Hussain; Direction: Maqbool Khan; Rating: * * (two stars) xxx

Okay, we get the point. This is supposed to be brainless fun. What was that hackneyed line our filmwallahs love to parrot — about leaving your brains out and all that blah. But Bollywood often forgets even the brainless needs some amount of brains to create, in order to qualify as fun.

To say the film has a wafer-thin storyline would be an insult to the fact that wafers do have texture and taste. These days, when packaging and marketing has become all-important in the world of Bollywood commercialism (more so for star kids), perhaps a cohesive plot was never the priority.

Ishaan Khatter.

Perhaps the priority was to set up a ‘showcase’ and little else, to underline the fact that Ishaan Khatter and Ananya Panday can dance and romance, and do the comedy-melodrama-action drill, and look pretty while they are at it, too. Khaali Peeli does well to display that these two budding stars can be what Bollywood loves calling the ‘complete package’.

The functional dose of Bollywood ‘entertainment’ you get is, not surprisingly, the sort that would seem fresh about four decades back. Sample the boxes the film checks: There is no script. There is no logic. The casting of the hero and the heroine is hardly about whether they match their street smart characters. Rather, they have obviously been signed because they look like hero and heroine going by the old-school Bollywood book. They share a lot of the dishoom dose and some random naach-gaana between them. The bad guys think being bad is about swagger and snarl and, cut to basics, you know all along the hero is too smart for the villains.

Oh, there is a Mumbaiyya taxi in all this. A ‘kaali peeli’, as the yellow tops are known as in the city. The vehicle is integral to the action that goes on. So, as Ishaan Khatter and Ananya Panday get going with their khaali peeli antics kaali peeli in tow, the film gets a title!

Sima Agarwal and Yash Keswani’s script casts Ishaan as Blackie the cabbie. One night, he is out with his ‘kaali peeli’ even though there is a taxi strike in town. A chain of events sees Blackie get embroiled in a stabbing incident, so he decides to leave town for a while. Enter Pooja (Ananya Panday). She is on the run from Yusuf Chikna’s (Jaideep Ahlawat) brothel, and she has escaped with a fat load of cash and jewellery. Blackie realises the girl is loaded and quietly devises his get-rich-quick scheme at her expense.

Ananya Panday shares first look test pics of ‘Khaali Peeli’.

Of course there will be a catch, and it is about a back story involving them that is far from exciting.

The plot, or whatever you may call it, is about letting Ishaan and Ananya play the field through the duration of the narrative, which is one night. After a point, as one chase sequence follows another, the films starts getting tiresome. To make matters worse, there are the song-and-dance gigs thrown in between that only act to impede the flow of a story that is already weak.

Ishaan and Ananya clearly enjoy their all-out masala outing, almost oblivious to the cinematic mess they are thrown into. Despite the utterly formulaic spread, they look good as a ‘jodi’ — never mind that they struggle getting the Mumbaiyya lingo right. The film should help Ishaan particularly, to prove his worth as a complete Bollywood package, if that was the intention. Watch this one for the lead pair if you must, for there is little else to recommend.

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Serious Man: A Satirical Reminder Of Hard Realities

Sudhir Mishra: ‘Serious Men’ is specific in articulation, yet universal.

Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Indira Tiwari, Aakshath Das, Nassar, Sanjay Narvekar, Shweta Basu Prasad; Direction: Sudhir Mishra; Rating: * * * and 1/2 (three and a half stars)

Just when you thought you had seen all that sums up the brilliance of Nawazuddin Siddiqui, he springs a new surprise reminding there is much more to come. He does it every time. He just did it again…writes Vinayak Chakravorty.

In Serious Men, Sudhir Mishra casts Siddiqui as Ayyan Mani, a Dalit migrant from Tamil Nadu in Mumbai. He lives in a one-room chawl with wife and little son, and works as a personal assistant to an important man in an important organisation.

Ayyan could be summed up by the cliches of socio-cultural constraint that such a backdrop normally brings in its wake, except that there is a quirk about the protagonist that lets Siddiqui revel in his role. Far from being one among the countless hordes that suffer silently in the dank underbelly of Maximum City, self-made Ayyan has learnt to use everything and everybody at his disposal, in a bid to woo stature and wealth — and that includes his 10-year-old boy.

It is a trait that renders a deeper shade of grey to Ayyan Mani, as imagined by script writer Bhavesh Mandalia, for Siddiqui to play out. The actor does so with relish, taking the antihero to a space rarely sampled in Hindi films. In Serious Men he is a father who would exploit his son if he has to, because his paternal instinct goads him to secure the boy’s future.

Bringing alive Siddiqui’s exciting performance, the narrative is a mix of the funny and the sad, the caustic and the sublime as a Sudhir Mishra film can be. Ayyan works as personal assistant to the top boss (Nassar) at an extremely important hub of scientific research called the National Institute of Fundamental Research. It is a position that gives Ayyan access to an altogether different world from the pigeonhole existence that he calls home. He understands he must not let his son Adi (Aakshath Das) grow into the same societal disadvantages he did.

For Ayyan, the claustrophobic existence he is frantically trying to escape is also a reminder of the persecutions his ancestors — a clan of scavengers — had suffered for ages. He spots an escape plan from his current deplorable existence in his son Adi. His brainwave is risky, and nowhere ethical, but Ayyan realises it could be his only road to a new life for his family.

Serious Men is based on Manu Joseph’s 2010 novel of the same name, though the screenplay (Abhijeet Khuman and Bhavesh Mandalia) is tweaked to incorporate certain changes that let the storytelling be more cinematic. Credible writing allows Mishra to render a satirical edge, as the director relishes a few jibes at casteism (Ayyan defines himself as “100 per cent shudh Dalit”) as well as the often senseless reservation it ushers. The film also accommodates a comment or two on issues as sexism and conversion.

Despite impressive intent and execution, Mishra’s film is not without its warts. The storytelling tends to get weighed down by melodrama as Ayyan’s avarice grows and Adi becomes a helpless scapegoat. Sketches of the media, land mafia/ self-seeking politicos, the opportunistic educated class (‘serious men’, as Ayyan cheekily dubs them), don’t escape stereotypes.

But Mishra’s focus on discrimination is not restricted to caste-class divide concerning Ayyan and his ilk. The three notable female protagonists in the script, balanced poignantly at three ends of a narrative triangle, are also used effectively.

Actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui. (File Photo: IANS)

Ayyan’s wife Oja is impressively essayed by Indira Tiwari as a woman who is submissive to her dominant husband’s ways, but who ultimately comes on her own. At work, Ayyan finds the self-seeking Oparna (Vidhi Chitalia), who is carrying on an affair with an older male boss.

The most interesting among the women in the story has to be Anuja (Shweta Basu Prasad), daughter of the opportunist Dalit leader Keshav Dhawre (Sanjay Narvekar). Anuja won’t stop at blending the management smarts she has honed at a foreign business school with the streetsmart political legacy she imbibes by birth. Shweta Basu Prasad’s Anuja is simply flawlessly rendered — a ruthless antagonist who will break every code of ethics to move ahead, and yet draw the line at garnering sympathy vote using her troubled personal past riddled with domestic violence.

Coalesced with the shocking back story of Ayyan’s mother, Mishra uses these three women to highlight a simple fact — gender exploitation is a reality no matter which end of the caste equation you stand in, and what amount of power you may hold as a woman. Things have not changed over the decades.

The film benefits from good acting by every cast member. Seasoned names as Nassar and Sanjay Narvekar act as perfect props, as the narrative puts across unpleasant truths with Mishra’s irreverent storytelling edge.

Serious Men regales, and it also reminds you of certain realities that never seem to change in the huge caste cauldron that is India.

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