Mirror Shots: In Dhamaka, director Ram Madhvani has tried to ride the entire film on the young shoulders of a good-looking actor Kartik Aaryan. As a result, Kartik Aaryan looks over-used and over-exposed in the film relegating everything else into the background, even the storyline. The other actors in the film namely Mrunal Thakur, Amruta Subhash, Vikas Kumar, Vishwajeet Pradhan and Soham Majumdar fail to offer any counter balancing act in this visually single-track studio centric story. Partly, I think, it is due to the undernourished script, which has not fleshed out the other characters adequately and partly because of the director’s belief that Kartik Aaryan alone can carry the entire film on his shoulders.The result is that a high-voltage drama, which could have driven the audience to a nail biting finish, leaves them high and dry hanging by the edges of a collapsing bridge, created graphically.The raison d ‘etre of the entire film (which is an adaptation of a Korean film The Terror Live) is the reason behind the angst of Anand/Ragubir Mhata, the aggrieved construction worker. But in the last phase of the film when the so-called terrorist comes on screen and spells out the reasons for his terror plan, it fails to create any ‘Dhamaka’. To my mind, the story of the so-called terrorist could have been supplemented with a more credible backstory to make the audience empathize with him and his cause. The narrative of the film also seems to be studio-centric asking for some visual relief aka breathing space in terms of visuals of non-studio locations. Other visuals of the collapsing bridge look computer generated and fall inadequately short of creating the required impact about the enormity of the tragedy the film has set out to communicate to the viewers. Overall, it seems budget constraints have played a role in rather compressing the production parameters of the film, taking away the ‘shock and awe’ factors from the film. In short, the film struggles to live up to the reputation of the director built on the track record of films like Neerja and the web series Aarya etc.

Pillars of Parallel Cinema

(a book to be released in January 2022)

Ek Ruka Hua Faisala(A Pending Decision)

‘Sara Akash’ (1969) by Basu Chatterjee along with Mani Kaul’s ‘Uski Roti’ (1969) and Mrinal Sen’s ‘Bhuvan Shome’ (1969) are recognized as the harbinger of Parallel Cinema in Hindi.

Basu Chatterjee was born in Ajmer, Rajasthan in a Bengali family. His middle class upbringing reflected in his movies, which explored areas, which are far removed, from the glitz and glamour of the mainstream cinema. In 1950’s Chatterjee arrived in Bombay (now Mumbai) and started his career as an illustrator and cartoonist for the weekly tabloid ‘Blitz’ published by Rusi Karanjia. He worked for 18 years before changing his career to filmmaking, when he assisted Basu Bhattacharya in the film ‘Teesri Kasam’ (1966) produced by lyricist Shailendra. Sara Akash (1969) was his debut film. Later on he went of to make films that are called middle –of –the road or the middle class cinema.

‘Ek Ruka Hua Faisala’ (A Pending decision) is a 1986 Hindi language serious courtroom drama film directed by Basu Chatterjee. It is a remake of Golden Bear awarded American motion picture ‘12 Angry Men’ (1957) directed by Sidney Lumet that was an adaptation from a 1954 teleplay of the same name written by Reginald Rose.

The film tells the story of a jury of 12 men as they deliberate the conviction or acquittal of 18-year-old defendant on the basis of reasonable doubt, forcing jurors to question their morals, values and perceptions.  The discussions begin with 11 for guilty and only 1 for not guilty. The film explores many techniques of consensus- building and the difficulties encountered in the process among this ‘group of men’, whose shades of personalities color their conclusions adding complications to process of conflict resolution, which requires final verdict to be arrived unanimously. The film is also notable for its entire drama happening within the confines one single room.

 The movie demonstrates how a logical process of patient questioning can elicit change in the perception of the people. The film forces the audience to evaluate their own perceptions by observing the distinct personalities of jurors, their assumptions, their prejudices, their interpretations and their conclusions.

The story is about how a ‘person’ can change the mind of a group of people by sticking to his convictions backed by logical thinking. The protagonist (Jury no 8, played by KK Raina) approaches the subject of capital punishment with caution and wants other members of jury to convince him that convicted person is guilty beyond any doubt. In this whole process of discussion, arguments and counter arguments we see so many facets of human behavior. A few in the room have ‘don’t care’ type of attitude. Then there are a few, who are overloaded with the belief – ‘ I am always right’. Some of these men have some fundamental beliefs and assumptions and they want to stick to it. There are also a few, who have good analytical skills and have conjured up lots of facts and data and they want to justify their conclusion based on facts and figures. What differentiates all these men from the protagonist is the way he draws his inferences using various analytical ways and proves that if something is generally believed to be correct, it does not have to be always correct. Hence he makes these twelve people introspect and distill their own set of beliefs and thought processes as they try to unravel the truth about the accused. Each one tries hard to stick to his version of the story and tries to convince the rest about his viewpoint. But gradually as their conclusions are questioned and dismantled by the protagonist, they one by one start changing their vote from ‘guilty’ to ‘not guilty’. The twists and turns in the script and the sharp dialogues keep the audience hooked on. It is almost like we, the audience, are a part of the jury, presented with a case and trying to discover what could be the ultimate realty.

 ‘Ek Ruka Hua Faisla’ was co-scripted by Basu Chatterjee along with Ranjit Kapur.  The latter also wrote the dialogues for the film. The cast of the film includes Deepak Qazir, Amitabh Srivastav, Pankaj Kapur, S M Zaheer, Subhash Udgata, Hemant Mishra, MK Raina, K K Raina, Annu Kapoor, Subbiraj, Shailendra Goyal, Aziz Kureshi and C D Sindhu with some admirable performances from K K Raina, Pankaj Kapoor, MK Raina, Anu Kapoor and Aziz Kureshi.

The cinematography was done by Ajay Prabhakar and editing by Kamal A Sehgal .It is a 117 minute long film produced by Basu Chatterjee.

Skater Girl

When you decide to make a film, you start with what is called a ‘theme’. It is the point you wish to make through your film and it is the core massage that you wish to convey as a filmmaker. Based on the message and the target audience you develop the storyline, its treatment etc. etc. The journey of a film from the stage of ideation to the day it is finally released is quite long and is full of many ups and downs. Finally after crossing all the hurdles when a film is complete and is ready to be shown to the audience, the filmmaker tries to assess whether the film is making ‘the point’, which the filmmaker had set out to make or not. Generally this exercise of ‘final changes’ is done based on the feedback from a small group of people, who supposedly represent the target audience. This pre-release reality check ensures that the final product is finally the same, which the filmmaker wanted to make when he had conceptualized the idea of the film. Manjari (writer-director) daughter of late Mac Mohan (Arre O Sambha, Sholay fame) based in Los Angles worked for nearly 12 years including working with filmmakers like Christopher Nolan on Dunkirk and The Dark Knight Rises, Patty Jenkins on Wonder Woman and Vishal Bhardwaj on Saat Khoon Maaf, besides other projects like Mission Impossible, Ghost Protocol, Wake up Sid and Gandhi of the Month before taking up a subject to make her own film. For making her debut film, she chose to come back home and make a film with women empowerment at its core. Set in a remote village in Rajasthan, ‘Skater Girl’ is about 16-year old girl Prerna, a village girl, who finds courage to ‘skate’ against all odds when her path crosses that of Jessica, a graphic artist from Los Angeles, who is looking for deeper meaning of life. Manjari, who was exposed to the skateboarding culture during her time in LA, says that it was the video of the sport transforming lives in a small village in a Madhya Pradesh that grabbed her attention. “Upon further research and meeting the skaters there, I realized that Skateistan in Afghanistan inspired the concept. This led me to dig deeper and I began my research in September 2016, immersing myself in the correlation between skating and social change.” the writer-director recalls. Vinati, her sister, who is the producer of the film, asserts that the idea was to involve as many real skateboarders as possible in the project. For the film, the producers have made India’s largest skate-park, spread across 14500 square feet with 100 ramps in Khempur village near Udaipur. According to few claims the story of the film is based on the real life story of one Asha Gond , a skateboarder from village Janwar in Madya Pradesh . ‘Skater girl’ is 2021 Indian-American coming–of-age sports drama film directed by Manjari Makhijany.The cast includes Rachel Sanchita Gupta, Shafin Patel, Amrit Maghera, Jonathan Readwin, Anurag Arora, Swati Das, Ankit Rao, Ambrish Saxena and the Bollywood star Waheeda Rahman. Manjari Makhijany and Vinati Makhijany wrote the screenplay and the music was provided by Saim-Sulaiman. It is a 107-minute film produced by Skatepark Film, Mac Productions and released by Netflix. The movie works on two separate tracks: Jessica’s attempts to get funding for building the skatepark and Prerna’s attempts to carve out a space in her life, where she can skateboard whenever she likes. There are many intersecting issues, which come to the fore: tradition, poverty, schooling, marriage, resistance, change and the ‘possibility’, but the film focuses on the societal pressure the protagonist Prerna faces and how her passion for skateboarding ultimately makes her overcome these obstacles – a point well made by the emotional journey of Prerna and the high point at which the film ends. Another interesting character in the film is Prerna’s charming younger brother Ankush (Shafin Patel), who conspires with her in following the passion of skateboarding and inspires her to finally realize her dream of skateboarding and get her wings to fly by breaking the ‘ceilings’ of society’s shackles! Besides having a good storyline, authentic backdrop, use of non-actors and lesser-known actors (although using celebrity actress Waheeda Rehman was a good idea to enhance the appeal of the end-point of the film) the filmmaker has used the metaphorical power of skateboarding in the film effectively to convey the core idea- skateboarding can change lives! ‘Skater Girl’ is a nice blend of facts and fiction treated realistically and drives home its point- skating or for that matter any sport can induce a wave of social change even in our villages with deep-rooted notions and traditions of orthodoxy! It is a coming–of-age narrative that is believable and uplifting. Enjoy the movie.

Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi

Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi Black Comedy is a genre of films that makes light of the subjects that are normally considered serious or painful. Writers and filmmakers often use this style for precipitating discomfort, serious thinking or creating amusement for the audience. Making a black comedy is like conducting an orchestra, in which every artist plays its part perfectly and every note falls in the right place. It is a huge challenge to execute a good black comedy project, where every single piece needs to blend seamlessly with the rest to create the right overall impact –all ‘surs’ (aka wires) must connect finally, including its connectivity with the audience. Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi (RAMKT) is a splendid effort in making a slice- of- the- life movie in the genre of black comedy- well written with a range of characters beautifully etched out, well performed by an ensemble cast of ‘actors’, well edited and above all well directed, it is a film worth seeing for the entire family. Each character is relatable especially for the viewers, who have seen or been a part of a joint family. For me it was a trip down the memory lane as the story is set in Lucknow (my home town) and we had a ‘Bhargava family’ as our neighbors in Ganeshganj, one of the old Mohallas of Lucknow. The frustration of being the eldest in family (they want me to earn money at the earliest or get out of the house), the pain of being in the middle (all new things for the elders, only left overs for me) and the loneliness of being the youngest (physically attached but mentally detached) – each one has a story to tell. I also found the Tauji, Mamaji and Phoophaji (a special class of people with oversized egos) relatable including the character of the youngest ‘Bahu’, who is always socially and emotionally a misfit in the family. Over all the film takes you on a nostalgic trip of the good old days of joint-family, textured with dollops of laddoos and kachoris and of course the speed breakers of ‘ Raat ka khana khaya.. …’. The dialogues of the film are sharp and witty and flavored local phrases like, ’Jo bole, kundi khole”. Lucknow is known for its composite culture and it has a large population of Sikhs. Introducing a Sikh character/family sharing the burden along with Bhargava family members adds a heartwarmingly realistic touch to the story. Sandeep Sengupta’s cinematography does justice to the story; some of the shots are just brilliant like the one where Manoj enters the house with a large portrait of Ram Prasad at a time, when there is a fight going on for getting a birth inside the toilet. Death is a subject that has been used in black comedy rarely. Mainly because it is very tricky to create amusement when you are reflecting upon somebody’s death. It can fall flat and it can even misfire. So all credit for the success of the film must go to its writer-director, who has been able to conduct the orchestra admirably including the songs, which are hummable and remind you of the musical orchestration of yesteryears. This is the debut film of the Seema Pahwa as a director. Kudos to Team RAMKT, all I can say is ‘Saksham Bhav ‘.

Sound of Metal

‘Sound of Metal’ is a 2019 American drama film directed and co-written by Darius Marder starring Riz Ahmed (a British Pakistani actor) Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci and Mathieu Amalric.

The film has received critical acclaim for the performance of the actors Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci as well as its sound design. The film has received six nominations for the 93rd Academy Awards, which are going to be announced on 26th April 2021.

The core idea behind this film seems to have emanated from a desire to create a unique sound spectrum – starting from the high decibel metallic sound of electronic drums to the sound of buzzing in ears, to the indecipherable sound of missing words, to the noiseless world of a deaf rehabilitation centre, to the lack of it in a partial-sensory-deprivation zone of an isolated drummer learning to connect to the world through the written word, to the suppressed sounds of a song, to the incoherent reverberations of a party, to the muffled sounds of chatting of the children, to the faded sound of church bells and finally the soothing sound of silence – the sound spectrum is superbly designed and executed.

The plot revolves around Ruben (Riz Ahmed) a punk drummer and one half of the metal band, ‘Blackgammon’ and his singer girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). One day Ruben feels that he is not able to hear properly and goes to a see a doctor. The doctor tells him that he can make out only 20-30 percent words and his hearing is going to deteriorate rapidly; although a cochlear may help but that is too expensive. Reluctantly, Ruben relocates to a rehabilitation center for the deaf drug addicts run by Joe (Paul Raci), who in real life is a Child Of Deaf Adults (CODA) having grown up as a hearing child with two deaf parents. (Remember Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri in Gulzar’s ‘Koshish’ trying to figure out whether their newborn child is hearing impaired or not?).

Ruben is not able to confine himself at the rehab center for long.  He sells his music equipment and his RV (recreational vehicle) to fund for his implant surgery. Once activated, the implants allow Ruben to hear but cause irritating distortion that disrupts his attempts to regain his old way of life. Ruben flies to meet Lou at her songwriter father’s place in Belgium, where she has settled into a new life style.   Next day morning Ruben leaves while Lou is still sleeping. Irritated again by the distortions his implant is creating in his head, he finally removes his implant and processors and continues to sit in the open, now in silence. He is finally at peace with himself, connecting with the external world through his ‘ inner implant and processors.’ Happiness as they say is an internal process and not an external one.

The immersive sound design of the film takes the audience inside the head of Ruben, and takes them on an empathic journey of the protagonist starting from his world of high decibel drumming to the noiseless world of silent conversation with his inner mind.

The sound graph is also accentuated by the superb underplay by the actor Riz Ahmed by bringing out the disappointment, distress, frustration, and a strangulating sense of helplessness and defeat of a stage performer, who has suddenly lost his power of hearing. Besides, Riz another other actor who impresses with his acting is Mathieu Amalric as a French songwriter and father of Ruben’s singer-guitarist girl friend Lou played by Olivia Cooke. However, to my mind, the storyline could have been more riveting. Normally the storyline of a film overshadows the background music, but in case of this film, the sound design overshadows the storyline.

In January this year Riz Ahmed won the Best Actor Award at the 30th Gotham Awards. Paying tribute to Indian actor Irfan Khan in his virtual acceptance speech Riz said that 2020 was the year of a ’lot of loss’ and quoted Indian actor Irfan Khan’s words, which he ‘always thinks of ‘. ‘ I want to mention Irfan Khan, another great, tremendous actor, who we lost last year. Who’s words ring in my years right now, which I always think of: “Surrender to the dance of uncertainty” ‘, Ahmed said.

One cannot help but think of two Indian films, which had a similar theme-Manoj Kumar’s Shor and Gulzar’s Koshish. Leaving the technical supremacy aside, to my mind, the screenplay of Koshish was better than the screenplay of Sound of Metal and Sanjeev Kumar’s acting was as good if not better than the acting of the protagonist in this film.

Without romanticizing deafness ‘Sound of Metal’ makes a case for acceptance and embracing the inevitability of unpredictable changes in life- a point well made, cinematically, particularly audibly.

The Disciple

“Saints and ascetics have attained this music after thousands of years of rigorous spiritual pursuits. It cannot be learnt so easily….”, a profound statement made to an aspiring classical music disciple in the film ‘The Disciple’, but true for any person including a filmmaker, who is trying to chase the eluding success in any creative field. Like they say all good films are able to capture the soul of the story, Chaitanya Tamhane has been able to do the same this time again and in a much better way than what he did in ‘Court’. ‘The Disciple’ is a Marathi language Indian film written, directed and edited by Chaitanya Tamhane. Vivek Gomber (producer/actor, who played the male lead in a recently released film Sir) has produced the film. Vivek had also produced Chaitanya Tamhane’s first film ‘Court’. Rikhav Desai edited Chaitanya’s first film ‘Court’, whereas in this film the filmmaker has done research, writing, directing and editing himself. Chaitanya took four years to complete this film, including spending half of that time in research. ‘When I started out, I was just fascinated by with the anecdotes and the stories of eccentric geniuses and this idea of some secret knowledge and lost wisdom.” he has said in an interview. The film‘s executive producer Alfonse Cuaron is a Mexican filmmaker, writer and editor having received Academy Awards four times for his films like Gravity (2013) and Roma (2019). Alfonse, who acted as a mentor for Tamhane for this film worked especially on the visual effects in this film. Aneesh Pradhan, a tabla player and a music historian composed the music. Michal Sobocinski from Poland has done the cinematography. The film entered into the main competition section at the 77th Venice International Film Festival the film won FIPRESCI Critics Award and the Best Screenplay Award. ‘The Disciple’ is a story of the elusive pursuit of excellence or the ‘Truth’ as the film tries to define it. The protagonist, an aspiring classical singer, explores the path of Indian classical music seeking answers to his question whether he will ever achieve his aspiration of becoming a singer of excellence? As an audience if you care to follow the mental journey of the protagonist, you will end up discovering a new world of Indian classical music. This is a film, which needs to be absorbed and assimilated and not only seen or heard. Chances are, if you are creatively inclined, the film will work as a source of inspiration for you. It is a simply mesmerizing film. Each shot of the film is so well composed –naturally lighted and realistically evocative exuding ‘uninterrupted calmness’, which is the undercurrent through out the journey of the film. No excessive camera movement and no Jimmy Jib, the static frames only highlight the instinctual visual interest in the scene. The film uses mainly the non-professional actors. Aditya Modak, who plays the protagonist Sharad Nerulkar, is a classical singer and a chartered accountant. Similarly Dr Arun Dravid (born on October 3rd, 1943, first disciple of Kishori Amonkar, the renowned vocalist of the classical genre khayal and the light classical genres thumri and bhajan), who plays Guru Vinayak Pradhan is a senior exponent of the Jaipur Atrauli Gharana; a gold medalist from IIT, Bombay and a Ph.D. from MIT, USA, currently a Vice President of a large global company Jacobs Engineering Group, California and the Chairman Emeritus of Jacobs Engineering India. He is perhaps the only male musician from that generation, who has preserved and sings the ‘gayaki’ of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana in its purest form. These two along with many others new faces including Deepika Bhide Bhagwat (an upcoming vocalist) and Kiran Yadnyopavit (a writer, director in Marathi cinema) has created a film in cinema verite style. Using real life characters as actors and including mundane details of every day life like the people walking in front of the stage and chitchatting while the singer is performing on stage or the flask of the water being brought and kept in front of the singer, when he is in the middle of his rendition, lend a naturalistic documentary feel to the film. Through these casual moments, the filmmaker is also trying to prick our collective consciousness for being so insensitive to this invaluable part of our heritage . The Voice Over of Mai (done by Late Sumitra Bhave, National Award winning filmmaker) is meditatively enchanting to say the least. It is captivating in tone, tenor and timbre. Juxtaposed over a slow moving bike against the backdrop of Mumbai ‘s empty roads at nights these narrations in themselves are a rich cinematic experience. Watch the film with headphones, if you want to enjoy the visuals as well as the audio of the film. The film flows like a classical raga and takes you on a musical journey of classical music starting with ‘Bandish’ and ends up exploring a ‘Khayal’. The film will certainly ignite your interest in Indian classical music and you would like to dig deeper into this mystical world, like I did. 1.‘Bandish’ is a standard structured melodic composition in Hindustani vocal or instrumental music. The word bandish is derived from Hindi language meaning ‘binding together’. It is set in a specific raga (which is a melodic framework for improvisation based on the idea that certain characteristic pattern of notes aka ‘swaras’ evoke a heightened state of emotion) performed with rhythmic accompaniment by a table or pakhawaj, a steady drone and a melodic accompaniment like a sarangi, violin or a harmonium. In the past gharanas protected their bandishes from going out of the family. 2.‘Khayal’ is a traditional type of song from the northern part of India with instrumental accompaniment and typically having two main stanzas. Khayal connotes the idea of a song that is imaginative and creative in either nature or execution. It is imaginative in conception, artistic and decorative in execution (like the short improvisation called murkiyas) and romantic in appeal. 3.Dhrupad is the older version of khayal, which enjoyed popularity till the 17th or 18th century. The nature of Dhrupad music is spiritual. It does not seek to entertain, but to induce a feeling of peace and spirituality. It gradually declined with the emergence of Khayal, which is more romantic and entertaining. 4.Thumri is derived from the Hindi verb “thumakana”, which means to walk with dancing steps so as to make the ankle-bells tinkle. This form of vocal rendition is connected with dance, dramatic gestures, mild eroticism, evocative love poetry and folk songs. …. Well, all this you can Google and understand, but to satisfy your quest as a cinephile please reflect upon the closing statement of the film. “ Technique is merely a medium to express your inner feeling. Technique can be taught but Truth cannot. For that, you must have the strength to look inwards with unflinching honesty “. This is unparalleled cinema.

Gamak Ghar

Language matters and it does not matter. Language matters when you are reading a book and it does not matter, when you are watching a film. In India, there are generally two types of films-Commercial and Indie. Commercial films are those, which are backed by established production houses with their resources both financial as well as non-financial like the battery of experts for handling the various departments of filmmaking. Whereas in case of Indie films it is generally a solo effort, wherein one person referred to as ‘filmmaker’ tries to do almost everything like writing, direction, editing, production, distribution, promotion etc. Such low budget films are driven by the filmmakers’ deep desire to express themselves by communicating an idea or a belief, which is close to their heart. In other words, Indie films are driven from ‘concept to commissioning’ by the energy and motivation of the individual ‘filmmaker’ only. In the recent times, one such Indie film, which really reached out to touch the hearts of the audience across the world was ‘Court’ (Marathi) by Chaitanya Tamhane. Chaitanya has recently followed it up with another film “The Disciple’, (Marathi), which has received a number of International Awards including the Best Screenplay Award at Venice Film Festival. The film is yet to be released in India. Carrying forward the same tradition of Indie films which cut across the language and geographical barriers is one Maithili film titled ‘Gamak Ghar “(The Village House”). The film is written, edited, produced and directed by a young debutant filmmaker Achal Mishra. The film had premiered at the MAMI festival 2019, where it won the inaugural Manish Acharya Award for New Voices in Indian cinema. It is currently running on Mobi and is expected to be launched on an upcoming OTT platform called Cinemapreneuer shortly. The film chronicles two decades of a ‘family house’ in a small village in Darbhanga, Bihar, the native language of the place being Maithili. It is a story of changing time and space, where the protagonist is the house. I thought about writing a review of this film and then I felt I was falling short of words in English, which could translate the simplicity, the sounds, the smell and the sensibilities of this film. Then I came across this video review, which is done by a veteran film journalist Ajay Bramhataj in Hindi. Ajay ji hails from the same area of Bihar and has beautifully captured the ‘pathos’ and the ‘nostalgia’ of the film in a language, which is close to the language of the film. I thought he has conveyed the essence of the film, better than I could do in English. So I am taking the liberty of enclosing his video review. I think ‘Gamak Ghar’ deserves a visit by every Indian; it is the ‘ghar’, which exists in every village of India and more particularly in the heart of every Indian. The most remarkable thing about this film is that most of the characters are played by non-actors / villagers and the film is entirely shot at the real location taking the audience to as close to reality as possible. Don’t miss the gem of a movie; you will cherish this ‘memory’. The film has subtitles in English.

Gunjan Saxena – The Kargil Girl

There are two main ingredients for a film to succeed in India – one is the emotional connect with the audiences and the second is its believability or the authenticity. While this film has been able to connect with the audiences mainly riding on a real life story of a vulnerable female protagonist laced with the soft coating of patriotism, the authenticity of the film has been a compromise. The big production house has used a large canvas to make the film look authentic and it has succeeded partially, mainly in parts filmed at the Air Force Station including the sorties of the ‘cheetahs’ over the Kargil valley. However, some of the sequences like the absence of a ladies toilet or a ladies changing room look silly and contrived. The brazen bias shown against a lady officer during the training period seems to be unrealistic and I believe Indian Air Force has taken an objection to these scenes in the film for sending wrong signals to the public. But Bollywood cinema thrives on glamourizing silly things and this production house is no exception to this rule.

To my mind the life story of Gunjan Sinha had all the ingredients for making a powerful film but it would have required a stringently realistic treatment for the film including casting a new non-glamorous face for the role of Gunjan Saxena. But keeping in view that a big commercial production house in India cannot risk taking a new face on a big budget film; Janhvi Kapoor is the perhaps best fit for the role, out of the young female stars currently available in Bollywood. She looks lanky enough in the film making one believe that in the physical fitness test she could have met the height criterion, because of her long hands and long legs bridging the gap..  However, I believe, she could have done a much better job as an actor. Her acting talent really gets exposed, especially in the scenes, where she is pitted with stalwarts like Pankaj Kapoor. All the same, credit goes to her for risking her career by accepting a rather non-glamorous role. Few years back who would have imagined that a start-child that too the daughter of glamour queen Sridevi would be seen in a non-glamorous film? Signs of the changing times!

 Another issue in the film, which did not look very convincing to me, was the reason for Col Saxena’s motivation to support her daughter join Indian Air Force. It could not have been only ‘desbhakti’ alone as his son was already in Armed Forces. Besides, in the socio-cultural background, which Col Saxena represents, most of the parents aspire their sons and daughters to join either civil services or judiciary or academics (they swear by power of pen, ‘kalam –dawat’ as they call it). If I were the writer, I would have made father a non-commissioned officer (say a JCO). That would have added an aspirational angle to a non-commissioned officer’s desire to see his daughter becoming a commissioned officer and breaking a glass ceiling. It is like a constable aspiring his daughter to become an IPS officer. Also the character of a JCO would have gone well with the cinematic image of the actor .

Apart from father, mother and brother, the secondary cast of the film has done a good job .The credit for this must go partly to the casting director, whose name somehow does not figure in the list of the credits for the film. Cinematography by Manush Nandan is good. Amit Trvidei’s music is soothing. But the best part of the film is the editing by Nitin Baid (Masan, Trapped, Gully Boy), which does not allow any dull moment on the screen.

Gulabo Sitabo

Merely assembling a bunch of local characters and putting them in a dilapidated ‘haveli’ with its tottering walls, arched doorways and large windows does not make a compelling film.  It seems the script of Gulabo Sitabo was crafted sitting in Mumbai and then planted on the location of Lucknow. It is like picking up an English thriller and filming it in Jalandhar or Rajkot. The story of Gulabo Sitabo revolves around an old decaying ‘haveli’ in old Lucknow and the machinations of an old man Mirza, portrayed by Amitabh Bachchan with an oversized prosthetic get up.

 Besides,’ Lucknow ‘, which is the background of this film, does not live in the physical remnants of the city, but lies behind these decaying walls well entrenched inside the flirtatious minds and malleable hearts of the people, who live in these spaces.  The soul of ‘Lucknow’ lies in its way of life- the ‘ganjing’, the shayari, the ghazal, the Awadhi folk songs, the perfumes, the chat and the ‘pehle aap’  culture laced with the aromatic smell of  kababs and biryani  served with  pan ‘giloris’, wrapped in silver foils.

 Gulabo Sitabo, in that sense, is a lightweight film resting on a weak script. Even powerful actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushman Khurana could not make it compelling enough for most of the audiences. It seems the film was majorly banking on the love of audience for the charm of Lucknavi culture. But a film, first and foremost is a ’ compelling story ‘ and location, performance, production design only play a supporting role. The fragile grey walls of an old decrepit haveli with gaping holes cannot carry an entire film on its shoulders. This film does not give you any ‘wow’ moments and what stay back with you is just the get up and the character of Mirza. I wish the role of Mirza  was etched a little more to make this character  an unforgettable one.

In spite of these weaknesses, the film sails through resting on two powerful pillars- one that of the nuanced performance of Amitabh Bachhan and the second, the spirited performance of not so famous local actors of Lucknow led by Farrukh Jaffer (Begum), Shrishti Srivastava (Guddi), Sri Prakash Bajpai (Pandeyji), Sandeep Yadav (Security guard), Sunil Kumar Verma (Mishraji) Poornima Sharma (Fauzia), Udayveer Singh  (Munna Saxena), Poonam Mishra (Mishrain), Archana Shukla (Susheela) and the doctor-turned-lawyer Zia Ahmad Khan .Keep it up gang of Lucknow !!

Raat Akeli Hai

This ‘Raat’ is not ‘’Akeli at all- it comes with a repertory of characters, a number of back-stories and a series of dots, which need to be connected in order to fully comprehend the mystery of this whodunit film. The entire story is played out over a span of two and a half hours. Therefore, if you want to enjoy this film, make sure you do not miss a single scene and a single dialogue in the film and watch the whole film in one go.

 The long opening night scene filmed on the banks of Ganga sets the mood of the film- it is dark, intriguing and has many layers to it.

The story is created around the subterfuge happenings, in an old mansion during a wedding night, where all the characters are made to look and behave as suspects. The first half of the film is used to introduce various characters and the investigation starts only in the second half. The script of the film written by Smita Singh has the ingredients of a mystery novel, like a number of suspicious looking characters of an extended feudal family collected together to celebrate a wedding in an old haveli contrasted with an atmosphere of dimly lit nights on the banks of the Ganges around the leather tanneries to make a gripping whodunit suspense thriller. But from script to the screen, is a long journey for a film and the captain of the ship during this transformative journey is the person called director of the film. So if a script with almost all elements of a good whodunit plot, despite being well cast, well acted, well designed and well shot, fails to keep the audience hooked on for the duration of two and a half hours you know where the deficiency lies. I wonder why the length of the film could not be shortened in spite of the fact that the film is edited by one of the most seasoned editors in the industry A.  Sreekar Prasad of Talvar, Mangal Pandey, Dil Chahta Hai fame. Honey Trehan, the debutant director of the film has been a very successful casting director for films like Tumbbad, Makde, Maqbool, Omkara, Kaminey, Dedh Ishquia and Udta Punjab etc. and no wonder he does such a good job with the casting of this film also.

Another factor in the film, which contributes to the inadequate grip of film, is the acting of the protagonist, Inspector Jatil Yadav played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui. He has developed an understated style of restrained acting, which he continues to use in almost all his films, whether he is playing the role of a culprit on the run or a rebel inspector.  At times during the film, it seems we are watching Nawazuddin Siddiqui and not Inspector Jatil Yadav. Radhika Apte as Radha and Illa Arun as Inspector’s mother do justice to their roles. Tigmanshu Dhulia is gradually becoming a seasoned character actor, while Swanad Kirkire is trying hard to add acting also in his repertoire of talent.  Shweta Tripathi fails to evoke sympathy, which her character demands. Padmavati Rao played by Pramila Rao; a theatre artist from Bangalore seems to be a welcome find. All said and done, ‘Raat Akeli Hai’ is a film where all ‘pieces’ seem to be in right place but the over all film fails to attain its optimum potential.

P.S. Just a small query. Nawazuddind introduces himself as a sub-inspector and wears three starts on his shoulders?