‘Mindhunter – Season 2’ Web Series Review: Mysterious and creepy but engrossing only in parts

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Source: Netflix | YouTube

Mindhunter makes you imagine how a deadly crime would have taken place as it throws open the psychological reasons behind it

Season two of Netflix’s Mindhunter kicks off the proceedings with a dull first episode. After such a haunting, spine-chilling and thrilling season one, the very beginning of the second season puts you off. But the magic begins in the second episode as Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), FBI agent, comes to his own. Even Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), his colleague, remarks that “he’s back”. Well, Holden was the most interesting leading character in the first outing. And it’s only in the second episode when the intriguing interviews with serial killers commence (where the greatness of Mindhunter lies). This is where Holden slyly manipulates killers who are being interviewed. He gets them to talk about instances that are gruesome, brutal and violent which, otherwise, they won’t easily reveal. Jason Hill’s fantastic background score takes care of the rest.

Based on the non-fiction called Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker, the series tells the story of FBI agents who seek insights from imprisoned serial killers, study their behaviour, thoughts, and actions, and use that to find other such killers out there. (Ed Kemper, played by Cameron Britton, is a serial killer from season one. His interview with Holden made a tremendous impact. The season two makes sure of honouring this character by allowing him to make a brief appearance here). These are the killers who, as Bill states, “develop a sickening personal signature” and resort to committing “compulsive crimes”. Mindhunter is an exceptional and remarkable series for some important reasons. It never shows a person committing a heinous crime. It only talks about it. It shows photographs of dead persons taken by security officials for investigation. It makes you imagine how a deadly crime would have taken place as it throws open the psychological reasons behind it. David Fincher is one of the executive producers and has even directed a few episodes. So, you can expect the series to be extraordinarily suspenseful and thrilling as his films are known for.

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Source: Netflix | YouTube

Impressive cinematography lifts Mindhunter’s quality even further (Helmed by Erik Messerschmidt and Christopher Probst). Take this scene for example. In this, you get a longshot first. The surrounding isn’t bright where a car is parked at. But a little daylight has sneaked in. This shadowy place has a creepy aura about it. A guy approaches towards this car and enters inside it. You, then, get closeups as you see Holden sitting in the front seat of the car and the guy who just came in is sitting right behind him. While Holden does his usual manipulatory tricks while hurling questions at this guy about a serial killer, the camera juggles between side views and front views. The camera never focuses on this guy’s face as you get a blurred view which makes it even more intriguing. And in several other scenes, the camera also does little tricks to make a just-another-scene into a fascinating one. For instance, while a prison gate is thrown open and closed, it feels like the camera is affixed to the gate.

Anna Torv, who plays a psychologist Wendy Carr, was brilliant in season one. (She arrests you with her marvellous act). But she has less screen space. Wendy’s role in the investigation, albeit impressive to watch, is limited and fades away as her lesbian relationship take the centre-stage (which seem interesting at first but even this loses the sheen). Talking about personal problems of characters, even the problems that Bill confronts at home seems to be developing into something more serious and riveting. But that turns out to be repetitive and predictable.

The series also tries to keep its viewers guessing about the crimes and the motives. But it falters with the execution. It takes too long to create the confusion in your mind and ends up wearing you out. For instance, there are concerns of racial discrimination and attacks by Ku Klux Klan that seems to be turning into a grim situation. A political game gets triggered too. But the intensity, that the series wants to show through such politics and hate crimes, is never attained. Such long and tiresome instances aside, the series is otherwise a supremely engaging crime drama. It’s the want of knowing the answers behind the killings that make it worthy of binge-watching.

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‘Dream Girl’ (2019) Movie Review: Ayushmann Khurrana’s brilliance doesn’t save this film

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There is always a feeling that the film might get better at any stage. But that’s never the case. It’s the other way round.

A man imitating a blind. A police chief heading investigations on rape cases and caste discrimination. A man, in his twenties, utterly surprised to know that his mother is pregnant. A guy becoming a father of many by donating his sperm. These are, and many more, the avatars donned by Ayushmann Khurrana in his films. The actor has made a name for himself as a guy who does all those off-beat roles and has, more often than not, come out on top. Ayushmann has this knack of making the characters that he plays look supremely engaging. He plays the role of most sought-after ‘girl’ by the men and women in Dream Girl (not to be confused with Dream Girl that released in 1977). As a character that juggles between being a man (Karam) and a woman (Puja), he looks convincing in this film. But that doesn’t save the film from going through these phases – Bad, Worse and Ugly.

We are so close and yet so far – which is basically what Director Raaj Shaandilyaa’s Dream Girl is addressing. It points out the problem of loneliness. It highlights the lessening distances as well as the widening gap between each one of us in this connected world. But to make you realise this scenario and talk more intensively about this, the film doesn’t have a great narrative at its disposal. It tries a lot of comedy. A very few dialogues do seem humorous. (In a scene, Karam, impersonating as Puja on a phone call, indignantly clarifies that he is not a Taj Mahal but a Qutub Minar). But almost every other scene, that tries to be hilarious, turns out to be annoying and frustrating. It, then, resorts to throwing in some romance where the love between Karam and Mahi (Nushrat Bharucha) never seem to be of any relevance and vanishes into thin air. There’s always a song featuring in several films in Bollywood, if not all, to keep its audience entertained and engrossed. Dream Girl has it too. Radhe Radhe, in the composition of Meet Bros, that comes towards the end, is captivating and energetic to listen but doesn’t help the movie’s cause.

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The film also has plenty of other characters who, apart from Vijay Raaz who plays a drunkard-talking-poetry, neither seem interesting nor funny even though they try to. It’s Ayushmann who holds you tight right until the end. There is always a feeling that the film might get better at any stage. But that’s never the case. It’s the other way round.

Kattumaram Movie Review: A beautifully-made film on LGBTQ+ that shows hope and belief amidst difficult times

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Karthik Muthukumar, who is the Director of Photography, is a master at work. There are plenty of attention-grabbing shots at the seashore.

(Screened at Regional Film Festival 2019, Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi)

Singaram (Mysskin) says that mother sea, who has taken away life, will give something in return when she has calmed down. He is a local fisherman and is referring to the Tsunami that once took away many lives in his village (including his loved ones). He is living with his niece, Anandhi (Preeti Karan), and a young nephew. He believes that one day he will be able to cross the sea. Singaram is hoping his current situation will get better. Being a strong patriarch, he’s earnestly trying to find the right match for his nephew. Kattumaram (Catamaran), directed by Swarnavel Eswaran, is a metaphorical title that is remarkable for its deeply ingrained meanings. In this, there is always a belief that good-heartedness and good times will prevail and difficult times will be long gone by. Like Singaram, the film empathises with the LGBTQ+ community.

Singaram has different shades of character. And Mysskin is so good to bring out all of them with perfect aplomb. Although Singaram is a patriarch, he is also benevolent, caring, loving, understanding and supportive. (He offers money to someone showing utmost care in his countenance or even scolds a man for abusing a woman and thinking her as someone of a questionable character). Anandhi is a school teacher. (Preeti Karan’s voice is so beautiful and you can’t get enough of Anandhi dictating a lesson to the students). As Kavita (Anusha Prabhu), a photographer, enters the frame, the story takes a different shape and acquaints you with the blossoming romance between her and Anandhi. Whether it’s a romantic moment or an emotional sequence, P. Bharani Dharan’s melodious and captivating background score accentuates the feelings associated with the scenes to a whole new level (Can remind one of the legendary composer Isaignani Ilaiyaraja).

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Easwaran is interested in intelligently bringing out the lesbian connection in the film. The school’s name, where Anandhi works, is Vaanavil (which means Rainbow in Tamil). You see the school board out on the street with its name and those seven colours. (Is it to signify the Rainbow Pride Flag?). Easwaran is not trying to show you the sexual relationship between lesbians. He wants to delineate that it’s deeper and meaningful. (Kavita emotionally talks about her past and her ex-lesbian partner’s ill fate). Moreover, the film is set in a village where one’s sexual orientation is strictly judged by certain prejudices. Being caught as a lesbian would draw furious reactions from every corner of the village.

Karthik Muthukumar, who is the Director of Photography, is a master at work. There are plenty of attention-grabbing shots at the seashore. The locked-down shots, for instance, are mesmerising. (While the stationary camera is gazing at the tides by the seashore, the film depicts a family in high spirits at one instant and in immense anger in another. In a different scene, a flickering light approaches towards the camera while the surrounding is engulfed by darkness. As the light comes closer to the camera, a transwoman is revealed.) A long shot shows a man’s dilemma and his empathy for a widow. There’s also a medium shot which shows peacefulness and merriment. (You see Anandhi sitting on a wooden plank by the seashore, a cool breeze touching her cheeks and the top layer of sand moving with the wind). In a closeup, the camera closely captures a crab moving through the sand while, in the distance, men are playing a Kabaddi match at the night time and a bright yellow light is streaming from a street bulb. Even a combination of a long shot and a closeup works big time. (You get a longshot where pretty looking Anandhi, who is all dressed up, is standing by the seashore. And then, in the closeup, Anandhi turns behind, with the hair falling all over her face due to the blowing wind.)

Several other instances invoke tranquillity. A long shot, with the camera placed near the field, shows Anandhi riding her bicycle in the distance. Or, you see the camera focussing at two coconut trees against the blue sky.

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Amidst the serious tone of the film, the film does have chucklesome instances. A family indignantly walking off and hurling abuses at Anandhi for rejecting their son seem funny. Singaram threatening a police officer for molesting Anandhi is both stylish and humorous.

The film does have no sexual activity related to a lesbian relationship. But it shows glimpses of different people deriving sexual pleasures in different ways. You see a transwoman involved in oral sex. You also see religious woman, alone at home, is seduced by a man for sex. In a way, the film resorts to represent a slice of life. A boy and a girl meeting each other, getting married, leading a happy life to get the approbation of the everyone else is considered to be a norm by many. But when someone doesn’t end up leading a similar life, is questioned, thrashed and even ostracised.

‘Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar… The Untold Truth’ Movie Review: An honest portrayal of caste discrimination in India

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Director Jabbar excels at the realistic portrayal of hatred and discrimination.

(Thanks to India Habitat Centre for screening this amazing film)

An implacable hatred builds up inside you against all those who have made a fellow man walk around with an earthen pot around his neck and a broom around his waist. The former was to avoid even his spit falling on the ground and keep the earth ‘pure’. The latter was to sweep away his own shadow. This is the ‘caste’ atrocity we are talking about. Director Jabbar Patel decides to display all of this through pencil sketches right in the beginning and states clear his motive of portraying disturbing pictures to set the right mood for the film. (It’s a brilliant idea to highlight that through pencil sketches as they produce an eerie feeling). ‘Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar… The Untold Truth’, English-language National Award-winning Indian film, documents the oppression faced by the so-called low caste Hindu citizens of India in the hands of high-caste ones. It was Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, belonging to low-caste himself, who emerged as a beacon of hope for all those who endured years of suffering (and still do). He took up the responsibility of bringing about a massive social reform across the country and imagined a “caste-less” and “class-less” Hindu societies in India.

Ambedkar is one of the greatest heroes in the history of India. So, he deserves a special introduction scene. And Jabbar makes sure of that. You see the camera focussing on eyeglasses placed over an open book and a pen beside it. Slowly it moves closer to it and comes to a stop. Then comes Mammooty, who plays Ambedkar, into the picture. He sits in front of that book and wears his glasses. (Mammooty’s remarkable acting skills brings Ambedkar back to life).

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Director Jabbar excels at the realistic portrayal of hatred and discrimination. The film exposes the ill-treatment the low-caste Hindus are subjected to. No matter what heights he reaches in his life, he will always be called ‘untouchable’ and will be oppressed. (In spite of being the senior person in his office and highly educated, Ambedkar had to bear the brunt of caste system as he was forbidden from drinking water from ‘common’ jug). Some remain silent and accept the boundaries set up for them. Others, like the social reformer Ambedkar, defy the orders and jokingly tell them to “purify” the things after touching or using them. Purification mechanisms do exist, as the film highlights, that are also written in ancient Hindu texts. Even the non-Hindus are aware of this caste system as they resort to discriminatory remarks. (Not surprisingly, Ambedkar even goes on to say that caste system in India is worse than what the African slaves had to go through).

The film shows that it was never easy for Ambedkar to do good for ‘his’ people. There was abuse, financial problems, and discrimination all the way. His wife Ramabai (Sonali Kulkarni) had to confront “loneliness” and “hardships”. There was even a tussle between Ambedkar and Gandhi (Mohan Gokhale) as more than the need for “stability of government”, Ambedkar stated, it is important to abolish the discrimination based on caste and creed. The film raises an important question – Is embracing a different religion the answer to escape the oppression? (Ambedkar went on to embrace Buddhism and encouraged others to choose this path).

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You do need the acquaintance of good people to deal with the problems of life. Ambedkar had them too. That is why Ambedkar was able to get financial support for his studies. He also had a friend in college who stood by him and encouraged him. In India, such atrocious cases, as the film presents, where a low caste Hindu is not even touched or not allowed to enter the temple or adjudged a sweeper or manhole worker by birth, are still prevalent. Ambedkar’s vision of a casteless society is possible only if we, as a good human being, join hands and show compassion to a fellow person without ever resorting to discriminatory acts on any grounds.

‘Crawl’ Movie Review: A nail-biting duel between two apex predators

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Source: Paramount Pictures | YouTube

Crawl is a jaw-dropping thriller that holds our attention and keeps us frozen with horror throughout.

A Category 5 hurricane has hit the city hard. The roads are inundated. Houses are quickly getting submerged. The policemen are busy out there trying to persuade people not to drive their cars to the areas that are heavily impacted. But the stubborn Haley Keller (Played by Kaya Scodelario who perfectly kept the seriousness in her countenance) decides to take another road and find her father who might be stuck in the house due to the flood. Her situation metamorphoses from ‘worse’ to ‘threatening’ as she not only finds her father, Dave Keller (Barry Pepper), in the basement of the house but also the huge and dangerous alligators. One has to trumpet forth the praises on Director Alexandre Aja who, then, goes on to create an environment of such tremendous fear, creepiness and anxiousness that the feeling of terror grows on us. Crawl is a jaw-dropping thriller that holds our attention and keeps us frozen with horror throughout. Alexandre makes sure that we don’t sit back and relax. It’s not just the characters in the film who are struggling against the alligators. It’s also us feeling uneasy whenever a gruesome moment comes.

Whether the alligators are present in a scene or not, the sense of disquietude is intact. A falling tree crashing through the window of the house is horrifying. When the injured leg of both Haley and Dave are shown, there’s a feeling of discomfort. But we can easily foretell when the alligator would make an appearance in certain instances. That didn’t take the sheen away completely. As, when the alligators do come into the picture, the scenes are highly frightening. (They tear apart a human body into pieces).

Written by Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen, the film, even though, is engrossing and terrifying, is also irksome at few instances. The film resorts to showing the divorce angle in the midst of a life-threatening situation that neither invokes emotion nor seem appropriate to be told at that juncture. The film also considers its audience incapable of construing Haley as a talented swimmer and that it can help her tackle alligators. It keeps harking back to the times when Haley impressed everyone in the swimming competitions. But it’s the fraught-with-danger feel, that the film produces, which makes you let go of these erratic instances. And Alexandre makes sure there’s plenty of fearsome moments.

‘Nerkonda Paarvai’ Movie Review: A riveting film on consensual sex with a bit of heroism

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Source: Zee Music South | YouTube

Nerkonda Paarvai is a perfect remake of Pink that is intense, sorrowful and thrilling

Nerkonda Paarvai (Direct gaze) will naturally make us reminisce Pink of which it is an official remake. It is, of course, focussed and strongly presents its case like Pink. But, it is also more detailed than the original. And it works big time. Director H. Vinoth has chosen to stay true to the actual storyline and doesn’t deviate from its core message. The film does emphasise the issue of consensual sex. It superbly exhibits the fact that a mere “no” suffices to convey a woman’s objection to sex no matter if she is a girlfriend or a wife or even a sex-worker. There’s one character that Vinoth has chosen to alter a bit to give the film a whole new outlook – the lawyer named Bharath Subramaniam (Ajith Kumar). A terrific actor like Amitabh Bachchan pulled off a stunner while playing a lawyer in Pink. The personal life of the lawyer was not explored in detail in Pink. Nerkonda Paarvai excels on that front.

We are not just concerned about the fate of the three women – Meera (Shraddha Srinath), Famitha (Abirami Venkatachalam), and Andrea (herself) – who have been wrongly charged for soliciting young men and causing fatal injury to one of them. There’s also a good-old-days of Bharath. We are strongly attached to this character. We wear a smile on our faces looking at his happier days and also feel for his loss. (Vidya Balan is impressive as the wife of Bharath in her brief stint).

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Source: Zee Music South | YouTube

This is Tamil Cinema and ‘star’ factor matters a lot. Once again, Ajith and his love for cars and bikes can be seen that would delight a lot of his fans. Some stylishly shot scenes where Ajith rides a bike on high speed or removes the dust-covered cloth from his four-wheeler to take it out for a drive look wonderful. We also see him mentioning Formula-1 racing. Ajith also brilliantly brings out two sides of Bharath character – Subdued and Intense. There is a fight sequence as well and Ajith looks heroic (This sequence may feel unnecessary and may also seem a bit too much. For instance, a Doctor warns a goon on phone that he has to be careful with Bharath’s indignation).

You can’t ask for a better casting than this. Ajith is fantastic and makes the Bharath character look fierce, powerful, concerned, helpful, loving and anguished. Shraddha Srinath and Abirami Venkatachalam, in particular, deliver impactful performances. The surprise package to me was Rangaraj Pandey in the role of a lawyer named Sathyamoorthy who goes up against Bharath.

Yuvan Shankar Raja’s music has its magic felt as well (Kaalam, sung by Alisha Thomas and Yunohoo, is the one to look out for).

The humiliation, stress, sorrow, sexual assault, harassment and molestation that the women in this story encounter shouldn’t happen to anyone. The film raises a voice in support of women who are subjected to cruelty. It highlights male dominance and the beliefs of considering women as the weaker sex. Most importantly, it addresses the misconceptions that many men have in regards to women, their mannerisms and their lifestyle. Nerkonda Paarvai is a perfect remake of Pink that is intense, sorrowful and thrilling.

‘Pink’ Movie Review: A gripping drama on consensual sex

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Source: Times Music | YouTube

Pink is one of the greatest courtroom dramas that you will ever see. It is focussed and heartrending.

You know how it is” says a male office boss with a sorry look. “Yes, I do know how it is” replies a crestfallen and shocked Falak (Such a brilliant performance by Kirti Kulhari in this role). A fake, indecent photo of hers has been doing the rounds in the whole office. She has felt greatly humiliated by this as she never did any of this sort in the first place. The scene showed how painful it is for a woman when she is wrongly accused. Pink is Director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s answer to misconceptions that a lot of men have vis-à-vis women. The film is a masterpiece which shows what a woman goes through when she is harassed, molested, sexually assaulted, and is forced to accept the cruel world without raising questions. 

Pink is one of the greatest courtroom dramas that you will ever see. It is focussed and heartrending. It sarcastically explains women’s safety manual that has instructions on the Dos and Don’ts for the women so that men don’t get the false idea of their consent for sex. It’s Deepak Sehgal (A spellbinding performance from Amitabh Bachchan for this character), a lawyer, through which the film presents its case and that too with such perfection (Not to forget the arresting act by Piyush Mishra who plays a lawyer as well in this film). The film shows you how Deepak defends the case for three women – Minal (Taapsee Pannu’s fantastic act for this character makes you really feel the agony), Andrea (herself), and Falak – on whom the complaint has been filed stating that they solicited some men and ended up causing grave injury to one of them (The soliciting part is so tremendously portrayed that it hurts you to see these women being shown in a wrong light).

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Source: Times Music | YouTube

The film highlights a male chauvinist society where women are made the scapegoat in a lot of problems. (Falak’s unsympathetic boyfriend presumes that Minal is a girl of questionable character. In response, Falak, with utter sadness, says that she hoped to receive some warmth from him and not advice.) The film shows that there are men who still consider women as weaker sex (A guy, in a cafeteria, says to Falak, “Tum vaise bhi ladki ho” (You are anyway a woman)). It also hurts you when Pink makes you realise that even a “natural human behaviour” of women is perceived wrongly by some men. Or, even her choice of living with her friends and not with family is put under the scanner.

But again it goes without saying that this world is also replete with good people. There are male characters in the film who stand as a pillar of support to these women in times of distress. Andrea’s boyfriend comforts her and applauds her for being “brave”. The landlord Kasturilal (Vinod Nagpal) remains supportive to these women and never doubts them.

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Source: Times Music | YouTube

With so many different layers in the film, you never actually get to see the sexual assault incident happening until the closing credits. But the incident is talked about with such intensity that just imagining it makes you feel pity for the girls who suffered. The music does its trick too to match the mood of the film (Kaari Kaari song, in the composition of Shantanu Moitra, sung by Qurat-ul-Ain Balouch, comes twice in the movie and blends beautifully well with the emotional scenes).

When I first watched the film back in 2016, I felt that the importance of the film and its relevance to the real-world situation was sky-high. I watched it again recently as a Tamil remake of this movie – Nerkonda Paarvai – thronged the theatres last week. Pink still felt so fresh and riveting. This story demands such a remake. It needs to be told in different languages. Pink is not just a great story on consensual sex where a simple “no” from your girlfriend, wife or even a sex-worker forbids you from having sex with them. But it is also told in a way that it engrosses you, thrills you and astonishes you all at the same time.