Yeh Meri Family – Summer of ’98

Binge watch alert!

If you are a 80s kid like me and have a fetish for engaging storytelling this is it. This is IT!

A TV series released just about a month and a half ago with only seven episodes out so far this one won my heart. Every minute of the 30-ish minute episode is a treat and one that I would watch over and over again.

This is the story of a middle class family in Jaipur (my other hometown!) with a father, mother, two sons and a daughter. The story is narrated through the middle child  Harshu’s voice and the beauty of the art is that he breaks through the fourth wall by directly talking to the viewer as he narrates the happenings in his family life. Harshu is the rebel in the family, sandwiched between a studious and obedient elder brother and a little, playful baby sister. His father is a loving family man who is an investment broker with a bank and his mother is the ever-doting torn into a million directions housewife always looking out for her family. Harshu also has a wiser-than-his-age friend, Shanky, who is Harshu’s advisor for every life situation.

Each episode is a marvel of little emotional chunks of entertainment. Through the eyes of a 12-year-old you’ll see what he thinks about each of this family members, the love-hate relationship he has with them and what his hopes and desires are. At the end of each episode he comes to the realization that his family is what makes him tick.

This family is just so endearing that I feel like jumping through the TV and giving them a big group hug.

Hats of to Saurabh Khanna and Sameer Saxena for catching minute details of the 1998 setting, beautifully penning it down and then flawlessly bringing it to life on screen. From picking boy names in a cricket roster representative of late 90s fashion names to making the overweight father sit in two plastic lawn chairs, to the prints of the mother’s saris, to every single detail in the late 90’s Indian household – this is a masterpiece frozen in time!

For those of you with a penchant for personal finance you will love hearing the father’s analogies for mutual fund investing smartly woven into his everyday conversations. Love this educational angle by the writer.

In a day and age where TV serials are full of saas bahu politics, vengeance, snake ladies and black magic this is the best thing that happened to Indian television since Dekh Bhai Dekh and Hum Paanch. (10/10)

YMF

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Stree

The day I run out of synonyms for the word “brilliance” I’ll just start using “Rajkumar Rao”. This man is sheer amazingness when it comes to acting! He is the only reason I went to watch this movie and he remained the only reason I sat through it. Ok, to be fair, Aparshakti Khurana’s and Abhishek Banerjee’s acting wasn’t bad either.

I am all for respecting women, treating them fairly, giving them all the opportunities they deserve etc. but my pendulum doesn’t swing to the far extreme of feminism where I feel like tooting the women empowerment horn at every crossing. So the rather convoluted feminist agenda of this movie didn’t rock my boat so much, nor am I a fan of ghost movies and horror but the pure genius of Rajkumar Rao’s acting skills makes this a somewhat enjoyable watch.

The attempt to combine a social message with horror and comedy at the same time is certainly novel and applaud-worthy but the movie just stretches a bit too far into the weird to be perfect for any genre – and maybe that’s intended.

If only they had picked another actress instead of the stone-faced Shraddha Kapoor it could have tipped the scale for me. (5/10)

Stree

Crazy Rich Asians

One of the most predictable plot lines of all times has been turned into a Bollywood-esque American-Asian RomCom. It pushes every pleasure-button of awww-whispering romance lovers. Middle class girl, sole heir of a Billionaire family, fancy parties, sparking jewelry, fast cars, glitzy dresses, magnanimous houses. Check, check, check.

There has been a lot of hype about this movie but to be honest it was just a notch above the average love story. The conflict between the protagonists was somewhat subdued – or maybe I am  just used to a lot more drama having been exposed to Bollywood movies and real life conundrum that’s far more tension-filled.

Let me compare what happened in Crazy Rich Asians (pardon my belittling of Rachel’s issues) and what happens in the Indian context.

Chinese version:

Middle class girl & crazy rich boy fall in love. Poor little girl has to wear fancy clothes, get a make up artist, wear jewels, eat foods that she can’t pronounce. Rich mother-in-law doesn’t approve of the relationship but is straightforward enough to tell the girl that it won’t work out because she is not up to the mark.

Indian version:

Affluent girl & middle class boy get married. Middle class mother-in-law goes about town boasting what a stallion her son is as he was able to fetch an affluent – if lucky then also beautiful – girl. She uses the girl as a poster of her newfound riches all the while keeping the daughter-in-law in check.

Chinese version:

Girlfriend confronts would be mother-in-law: “There is no win! If he chooses me, he loses his family. If he loses me he will resent you for the rest of his life.” Mother-in-law sees complete sense in this dialogue and quickly slips off her fancy shizzle emerald and diamond ring off her finger to pass it on to the middle class girlfriend.

Indian version:

Wife begins to live a demonstrative middle class life because otherwise she is reprimanded for behaving ‘out-of-control’ and still trying to live like her ‘old family’. Husband starts having an affair because he can. If the wife complains about it she is going to get the boot. When wife confronts the husband his reaction is: “No problem! I’ll divorce you. You were just a trophy daughter-in-law for my mother to begin with. She has found another dowry-cow to milk.”

So while Crazy Rich Asians has the making of a commercial box office hit it is not really a home run story. Some scenes are so exaggerated, such as the friend’s bachelerotte party, that you feel you are watching any American chick flick.  Fine to watch once for a few giggles here and there and to admire the wealthy of Singapore but certainly not a 10er. (6/10)

 

CRA

Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety

While Indians are collectively wasting three digit crores on watching Veere di Wedding and Race 3 here is a movie that went almost unnoticed at the box office despite having so much going for it.

The actors may be newbies but they acted better than many established Bollywood billionaires in a movie with an actual plot, story flow and character development. There was drama in the form of a genuine bromance, family frolic, a challenge between protagonists, beautiful sets, emotion and comedy.

With some movies the pace is such a drag that I wouldn’t mind taking a quick stroll through the park in between but the pacing of this one was just perfect to want to stick with each and every scene.

Literally every single song was quite the ear worm and a chartbuster over the last couple of months.

Sonu and Titu are very tight childhood friends – almost brothers – who watch out for each other to the extent that if one is in trouble the other will go to any lengths to save his bro. That emotion is nicely shown through comedy, camaraderie, and conning. Nishrat plays a fabulous villainista with very well measured acting. (9/10)

STS

Veere di Wedding

Veere di Wedding – brought to you by the big ad rupees of the Indian consumer goods industry! This movie is the perfect case study for Marketing 101 in Business School on the topic “product placement gone wrong”. I want to know how much Anil Kapoor charged Bikaji to show four bathing attire clad pretend 20-somethings sit at the pool in Phuket and chomp out of aluminum Bikaji Bhujia bags. I also want to know how much Amul paid him to show the mandatory fat person in the group of four girls eat tub after tub of Amul ice cream with a chocolate  laden tray in the foreground of the scene. Once I get the economics of that maybe Videocon, Uber, and the at least three other brands that I am losing track of care to share how much they paid to get artificially placed into the scenes killing the mojo of the movie. Oh, wait! Did I say mojo? There was none!

Call me old school, call me prude, I have little patience for movies that are interpreting feminism to be the impersonification of vulgar, vagina-driven and very very immature. I used to not enjoy Hollywood movies for their excessive use of the f-word (506 times in The Wolf of Wall Street) and here we are making a full-circle aping the West with the c-word. Believe you me, I am likely the rare Indian outlier that doesn’t believe in marriage for the sake of marriage unless it has meaning, commitment and real intent but the way genuine issues were handled unnecessarily loudly in this movie was a complete put off.

Every stereotype found a place in this movie and was exaggerated to suit the Indian movie goer palate: extramarital affair, gay couple, broken family, NRI marriage, big fat Punjabi wedding, wedding rituals, one smart friend – one fat friend – one pretty friend – one rich friend group.

Shashanka Ghosh should focus on directing Indian TV serials because they could make good use of his over the top drama seen here and in his previous movie Khubsoorat. Poor direction and worse cinematography. (1/10)

VDW

Tumhari Sulu

#MainKarSaktiHai

Every housewife is more – some of them far more – than just a housewife. While women in the workforce get to play out their personalities with a legit tag of a working woman, the ones working in their homes are often ‘discounted’ as bhenjis. Here comes Vidya Balan to show you that personality trumps title and ambition trumps education!

Never have I seen a non-body-conforming Bollywood actress carry herself with so much confidence on the silver screen. A housewife, married to a sales manager and with a 11 year old boy facing peer pressure she is living a middle class life. Her twin sisters rub in their success every so often on their visits and tell her what’s right and wrong for her but she doesn’t let herself be belittled and goes on to become a RJ for a borderline raunchy late night radio show. With her unique people skills she shows the owners of the radio show that a saree-clad bhenji has more to offer than meets the eye. She takes the vulgar out of the show and is fully enjoying her work when the typical Indian husband surfaces in her otherwise loving husband. The loss of authority in his job and the happiness of his wife in her job don’t sit well with him so she leaves her job for 5 minutes to join it back in a jiffy as soon as she finds him a tiffinwaala job with the radio channel. Yeah, the last 5 minutes of the movie were just as confusing as my previous sentence. Not sure what happened there and why all of a sudden she decides to rejoin when she just handed in her resignation – but maybe someone else can explain that to me.

Fabulous acting by Vidya Balan and Manav Kaur. Totally not important to this review but I have a thing for men with strong jawlines. 😉 (6/10)

TS

Mubarakan

It’s borderline harmful to have to watch Arjun Kapoor not only once but twice in a movie. Big daddy money at work at its best. I know not to be superficial but hey Bollywood is Bollywood. If you can’t act, at least look good. </politicalincorrectness>

Think of this as the classier, most tasteful version of a Sajid Khan movie. Many loud characters, convoluted story, senselessness…but Anil Kapoor, Ratna Pathak and Pavan Malhotra were the saving grace. Athiya Shetty causes visual dissonance in my head. I just cannot get Sunil Shetty out of my head when I see the lower half of her face. A trick to make it less obvious would be to avoid wearing magenta lipsticks…just sayin’. Nice settings, classy Indian clothing and tolerable songs rounded it up to a 5/10.

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