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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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)

 

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Karwaan

A masterful ode to relativity theory! You don’t feel the presence of something until you know what its absence feels like – and vice versa.

This movie looks simple on the surface but like a great artist the director has left hidden messages strewn all throughout the plot.

The death of Avinash’s father sets in motion a journey that forms unusual friendships, relationships with complete strangers, the budding of a love story and a deep understanding of what the world looks like through other people’s eyes.

Irfan Khan portrays a very unique kind of funny with his in-the-moment character. He is a person with a huge heart but one that commands due respect, a gentleman with a penchant for the proper.

Dulquer Salmaan, an established Malayali actor, is fantastic in his Hindi debut. Just the perfect amount of restrained emotion, everyday guy looks and an ease with which he attracts the attention of the viewer for the entire two hours.

Mithila Palkar, a rebellious teenager with a skewed sense of right and wrong, is trying to find herself as she inches towards adulthood.

Each of theses three characters have different family circumstances, especially when it comes to the relationships with their fathers and each find their solace in different ways.

If you are expecting a fast paced, glamorous, somewhat predictable movie, this is not it. Watch it for all that’s happening in the “now” of the plot and dare to read between the lines. (9/10)

Karwaan

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)

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Bhavesh Joshi Superhero

The reality of a corrupt country meets our comic book superhero – minus superpowers.

Three college graduates who are bothered by the state of corruption in Mumbai and the inconveniences that causes to the common man are all inclined to make a change – yet at different levels of passion. When one of them dies pursuing the cause another one is left with a choice to carry on his friend’s mission or move to America for a cushy job. As he feels guilty for his friend’s death he dons a superhero mask and sets out to take on the bad guys.

Had Siku’s character been a bit more realistic this could have turned into a solid drama hitting the nerve of the national PITA (pain in the a$$). Or if Vikramaditya Motwane had given Siku a few superpowers I could have stopped being bothered by a 9-5 engineer’s sudden courage and action skills and just enjoyed this as an out and out superhero movie. Trying to make it a blend of both took away credibility from both genres.

After seeing Harshvardhan’s rather dismal first attempt at acting Bhavesh Joshi Superhero – his second movie – seemed a lot better. Despite being an action movie he didn’t puff up to an extent that would make him look unreal, nor is he trying to (sorely) stand out with over the top acting.

The storyline was there; so much so that the annoyances endured by people in the plot start getting under your skin but the resolution of them in a half-baked superhero attempt don’t allow me to give this one more than half the rating points. (5/10)

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Bhoomi

This movie with a message went unnoticed because either our society is becoming immune to constant messaging about India’s rape “culture” or they see enough of it being shared around on social media that they didn’t care noticing this mirror of Indian society.

This is the story of a daughter and her father in a small town whose life gets turned upside down by one man’s inability to handle rejection of his one-sided love. What follows is a sequence of abduction, gang rape, an unsuccessful attempt at seeking justice through the legal system, humiliation by law and society and the eventual revenge by father and daughter.

If you can ignore the non-sensical last 10 minutes of the movie it’s a pretty well made film, with great context setting, moving plot line, just enough detail to invoke anger, disgust and pain. Aditi Rao Hydari and Sharad Kelkar have acted brilliantly. Sanjay Dutt conveyed more with his eyes than his emotions. (8/10)

This movie is sadly far too relevant this week in light of what happened to little Asifa and unfortunately thousands of other unnamed girls and women across India. Expressing your anger through social media is one thing but thinking through solutions is another. There is so much psychological cause and effect and an unsettling level of voyeurism going on that it begs the question if the way to address this problem needs to be solved with the same weapons.

I strongly believe that crime and resource scarcity cannot just be curbed by patches like better education and better infrastructure. They are important but shouldn’t be the only focus. To nib the issue in the bud you have to solve for population growth control. Just like that rapes cannot be stopped by raising awareness on social media and candle marches. It’s time to nib the issue in the bud!

I am no psychiatrist but here is my very simplified – but not simplistic – attempt at understanding this situation:

Monsters rape because they are either mentally ill, have a desire to execute power over someone who is weaker than them (also a psychological disorder), are influenced by wrong interpretations of religion or its centuries old manifestation that men are a superior species. All of these causes are tightly related to the emotional centers of a human’s brain. Let’s park this thought for a second.

Many women’s plight never comes to light because of fear of repercussion, what will society say, the fear of their families being ostracized, the fear of living a life pinned by painful stares and if someone is so “benevolent” accompanied by some pity. Fear of all of this is also tightly related to the emotional centers of a human’s brain. These women have already endured the utmost test of physical cruelty. Now their neurons become hyper-sensitive to emotional cruelty. Let’s park this second thought too for a second.

Clearly, the sharing of such crimes on social media, television, newspapers, documentaries is not doing anything. I have no insight into statistics but I doubt the number of rapes are going down. And dare I say the Indian legal system is not (yet) equipped to handle these cases with the seriousness that they require to create consequences that are harsh enough to deter criminals.

Let’s go back to the two points I made earlier. If the perpetrators are driven by causes related to their psychology and the victims are put to silence by consequences related to their psychology — isn’t it high time this issue be addressed with a psychological war?!

There is a saying and a fact: The only way to cut a diamond is with a diamond.

The only way to end this psychological disorder is through psychological warfare!

Again, this is far more than two hours of my thinking can solve but this movie made me think how much more effective it would be to give these monsters a taste of their own medicine. Killing them by death penalty would be too easy of an end to their lives and likely not a shocking enough deterrent to future criminals. But killing them with their own weapons of fear, isolation and mind torture a little every day is worth a thousand deaths by execution.

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October

Bematlab ki sadness. That’s the feeling I left the theatre with.

I certainly don’t mind movies on the dark side of the emotional spectrum, ones that are more tragic than comic or take a bit of interpretation but this one kept me waiting for two hours for something to happen.

I later learnt it’s about unconditional love without expectations but there is zero character development or explanation of any sort about the protagonist. I kept wondering the entire time if he is of low IQ, mentally unstable, distracted, has some violent background that will later be revealed or if he has some history with the girl he is so besotted with. Nothing! Nada! He just happens to pretty much give up his daily routine, job, family, friends to be by the side of a bed-ridden girl who was nothing more than a colleague before.

The plot moves slower than it takes an iceberg to melt. Varun Dhawan’s acting is not bad but at times belabored. Gitanjali Rao tried her best but I didn’t see much of an emotion in many scenes where I expected to.

As for the title – just like the movie – it’s a far cry from sensible. Girl’s name is Shiuli which means Jasmine. Jasmine blooms in October. Let’s call the movie October. Let alone ‘bloom’ the girl meets a much worse fate. Kuch bhi! (3/10)

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