‘Raqs-E-Inquilab’ review: Eloquent of despair and hope

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Despite insurmountable challenges and an all-pervasive ennui, distress can’t prevent the people from expressing their emotions through art forms, spark off collective action and further the spirit of resistance.

The Kashmir conundrum is like a constant beam of sunlight from the window during summer. Because it’s that time of the year when, while trying to withstand extreme heat, you are also wishing for pleasant days to be back. The wish for normalcy and peace to return in this region remains unfulfilled. The last few decades have seen Kashmir, also said to be the paradise on Earth, reeling under the climate of fear and tension. From the state of painfully suppressed rage to the expression of dissent in any form, Raqs-E-Inquilab (Art in a time of conflict), a short documentary film, paints the truth, the agony, the inner thoughts, and the how-it-used-to-be of the Kashmiris.

On one hand, the words ‘Incredible India’ can be read on a corner of a torn banner. On the other hand, we read anti-India messages on the walls. The mixed emotions transcend the persons interviewed in the film. Their pain and nostalgia are felt by us.

The conflict between locals and the military is seen through real footage (a throng of protestors throwing stones at the military) or the photographs (a little girl, apparently scared, is looking at an army person in a black and white photo). But it’s not hard-hitting as there is no strong emphasis on the depiction of violent protests. The focus of the documentary, directed by Mukti Krishan and Niyantha Shekar, is more on how profound the impact of the conflict is. A mere visualisation of the horrid experience of children growing up in the time of distress, the college students trying hard to focus on studies or the middle-aged persons recounting the sheer tranquillity and happiness that once engulfed the region and no longer can be witnessed deeply affects us.

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Those wanting to live peacefully are just not finding it easy to ignore the violence and bloodshed around them. And, how can they? It will come out in some form or the other (if not in the form of violence). They just can’t stray a hair’s breadth from the truth. Here, the forced disappearances of family members, rape or just the fear that has seized the region with the presence of thousands and thousands of troops in the streets are portrayed through different art forms. It’s not just the unpleasant memories that the paintings, the photographs or the poetry evoke but also a feeling of hope. The beauty of Kashmir that lies in its rivers, in its mountains, in its greenery and in its peace-loving people is clearly represented through these art forms (Striking visuals from Anirudh Ganapathy, cinematographer, does help capture the feeling of anguish and the want for stability and harmony.)

The documentary signs off with a touching poem. Its title, Raqs-E-Inquilab, which is also the title of the film, means ‘dance of revolution’. This poem clearly states that the revolt is on. Despite insurmountable challenges and an all-pervasive ennui, distress can’t prevent the people from expressing their emotions through art forms, spark off collective action and further the spirit of resistance.

‘Darbar’ Movie Review: Agony of joy, celebration and nostalgia

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The film scores heavily on Rajini’s style quotient. Whether he stands, walks, runs, or sits, there is a charisma to whatever he does.

A hardcore fan, all the way from Japan, joins the crowd outside the theatre as they, in their frenzy, venerate their favourite actor by performing the traditional paal abhishekam (a ritual of pouring milk on a big Rajinikanth poster). Inside the theatre, before the movie begins, a section of the audience starts chanting mantras. The euphoria surrounding the release of a Rajini film can be seen everywhere. (I saw and felt the love for Rajini all around and it’s something one has to experience for himself.) Once the film is projected onto the big screen, it doesn’t fail to entertain the audience either. Director A.R. Murugadoss’ Darbar is a film to celebrate for all those who adore Superstar Rajinikanth. Like Petta, it’s definitely not for anyone who is looking for a great story where the ‘actor’ Rajinikanth is fitted into. (He is one of those actors who has won the hearts of people with his exemplary performances more than anything else.) The narrative has poorly interwoven dots and dumbed-down plot points where the ‘Rajinism’ acts as the only saviour.

Darbar refers to a court held by a prince. Here, Adithya Arunachalam (Rajinikanth), the police commissioner, is the prince and Mumbai city is his court. He is, as he claims, a “bad cop”. The film touches upon the cases of human trafficking and illegal sale and consumption of drugs. But they are merely used to display the heroics of our protagonist. The cases are not explored in-depth and fade away quickly. We also see an interesting triangle – police being brutally killed; people losing faith in the police force; prisoners filling the gaps created by police. Again, Adithya steals the limelight here. In spite of a lot of things happening in the film, ‘Rajini mania’ simply outshines everything else. That’s good news for the fans but not so much for an ardent cinephile.

The film scores heavily on Rajini’s style quotient. Whether he stands, walks, runs, or sits, there is a charisma to whatever he does. The transformation in his countenance – from being sad at one point to slowly putting back smile on his face a moment later – is amazing.

It’s astonishing to see how Santosh Sivan, the cinematographer, captures the ‘Rajini moments’ using the ceiling fans. While Rajini is standing still, a camera, placed on the ground, captures him along with two ceiling fans on either side that makes for a perfect picture. Or, the camera is kept near the ceiling fan and the entire room is brought into focus. It, then, shows Rajini entering the room in style or throwing the phone away in his anger.

Whether it’s emerging from the smoke and walking towards the camera, or standing still inside a room with sunlight streaming in from the window, or putting on his goggles and turning to the other side, or just moving his finger to guide the men following him, Rajinikanth can make simple things look awesome.

Petta had plenty of references to previous Rajini films. Darbar doesn’t emulate Petta but does have some mentions too. Different instances make us hark back to some of his popular films. He looks at the camera and walks singing (with the lyrics containing life lessons) as the camera rotates from a stationary point and follows him. His dance moves remind us of Kuluvalile (Muthu) and Kokku Para Para (Chandramukhi). As he fights the goons with ease using the rapid movement of hands, it makes us reminisce about Moondru Mugam. The powerful way, in which he says his own name, make us remember Arunachalam. His Superstar title card music itself is reprised in the form of an addictive song (Kudos to Music Director Anirudh Ravichander).

Well, Darbar has its own original Rajini style too. Chumma Kizhi, another gem of a song from Anirudh, that will definitely make you tap your feet, features Rajini rendering a dance move that resembles the act of tearing something.

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The comical elements are abundant and it’s the character of Kaushik (Yogi Babu) whose scenes with Adithya are sidesplitting. Yogi Babu is a master of comedy and he has a peculiar way of insulting someone that seems extremely funny. He, as Kaushik, gets a surfeit of opportunities in the film to do that to Adithya character while the latter tries to impress a woman.

As a matter of fact, the funnier side of Rajini has always been a talking point. Kabali and Kaala, due to their strong and intense stories, couldn’t really show him in a jolly mood. But 2.0 and Petta had a superabundance of mirthful Rajini on display. Darbar is not far behind. Adithya and his daughter, Valli (Nivetha Thomas) show some dance moves during a classy fight sequence. Or, he, with a broad smile on the face, points his fingers at the camera and acts like he is shooting with a gun. Or, he just childishly explains how he will pierce the knife through all over his enemy’s chest and abdomen.

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Lilly (Nayanthara) is Adithya’s love-interest. Nayanthara’s charming presence, even though for a brief period, enthrals you. Apart from Yogi Babu, it’s Nayanthara who makes sure that she makes her presence felt. The mix of romance and hilarity during Rajini-Nayanthara-Yogi phase is one of the biggest highlights of the film. ‘Dumm Dumm’, another captivating song from Anirudh, features Nayanthara and Rajini dancing together that’s surely going to excite everyone.

Murugadoss doesn’t shy away from letting his audience know that Rajini is old. Yogi Babu who, in his flurry of humorous comments, keeps referencing to Adithya’s old age. Lilly’s cousin, rendered by Sriman in his brief and arresting spell, questions Adithya’s morality of loving a much younger woman (of his daughter’s age). Murugadoss purposely keeps such scenes to reiterate the fact that he is as popular and vibrant as ever. He wants to make a strong statement that over the years, Rajini, though, has aged, is still the most-sought-after actor. Adithya is seen doing weight training in the gym and passing a fitness test eventually. He is also revered by everyone no matter what their gender is or what age-group they belong to. (A group of transgenders sing and dance praising Adithya and even a small kid, wearing a police uniform, runs towards Adithya, comes to a stop and salutes him.)

Hari Chopra (Sunil Shetty), the main antagonist, appearing too late in the film, doesn’t have a powerful characterisation and isn’t impactful either. Other antagonists in the film played by Prateik, Nawab Shah and Jatin Sarna, after short appearances, vanish into thin air.

At most places, the bad storytelling is discernible. The film, especially, loses its hold halfway through as the dumb proceedings from thereon are irksome. For instance, the sentiments attached to the loss of the daughter is never felt. Or, the evil acts of antagonist and his villainy is not represented well enough.

In the recent past, fitting Rajinikanth into a great story and satisfying his hardcore fans has remained an enigma to many directors. Director Shankar’s Sivaji The Boss, Enthiran, and 2.0 are exceptions. Pa. Ranjith’s Kaala and Kabali also did well create an unusual environment for a Rajinikanth film. Darbar, in a way, follows the Petta-esque script where a plentitude of Rajini moments keeps the audience, fans in particular, engrossed. That doesn’t ensure the film to become memorable. The film definitely entertains. But when you leave Rajini out of the equation, the film feels hollow. Darbar is a treat for Rajini lovers but not so much for film connoisseurs.

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‘Ghost Stories’ Movie Review: Terrifies you to the core only to lose grip in the end

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The problem with all the segments is a dull finish where the ‘final reveal’ turns out to be bizarrely less horrifying and less gratifying too.

Devoid of forced inclusions of screams or any dramatic appearances of ghosts, Netflix’s Ghost Stories, an anthology horror film, doesn’t fail to frighten you out of your wits. It plays a wait-and-watch game where the stories slowly build up the tension surrounding a character, make you ponder over the mystery, and eventually uncover the eerie situation the character is in. This is seen through four different stories in Ghost Stories where Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, and Karan Johar have directed one each.

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As the title suggests, each of the stories in the film depicts supernatural elements. A suspenseful story has a same person both inside and outside the room at the same time. We also get a psychological thriller where the line between a human and a bird gets blurred. There’s also a story of a village full of zombies who are led by a man-ape monster. Another story represents a curious case of an interaction between an invisible granny and a man. In all of these, we see a calm-before-storm pattern.

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To make your heart go pitter and patter, the film comes packed with a surfeit of spooky instances. Whether it’s a dead crow on the road, or an isolated, leafless tree, or a combination of two circular designs on the door and a chair below it resembling a face of monstrous creature with a pair of eyes and mouth, or a zombie running towards the camera with rage, Ghost Stories has it all. Background music is so magnificently scored by Benedict Taylor that it raises the tension to a whole new level. Even the exemplary acting from the likes of Janhvi Kapoor, Sobhita Dhulipala, Mrunal Thakur, Surekha Sikri and Sukant Goel keeps us engrossed.

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Even though each of the stories starts off well, gathers momentum and keeps the intensity high, they fall short of greatness towards the end. The problem with all the segments is a dull finish where the ‘final reveal’ turns out to be bizarrely less horrifying and less gratifying too. The disappointing and unsatisfying closures will definitely upset you after an intriguing build-up.

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‘Good Newwz’ Movie Review: Raj Mehta delivers funny yet sentimental film on his debut

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The comedy in Good Newwz is not slapstick. Here, it’s more about the scenarios where intelligence (Varun and Deepu) meets stupidity (Honey and Monika).

Gulzar’s ‘Raat Pashmine Ki’ (Cosy Night) is seen on the bookshelf and a character misreads it as ‘Raat Paseene Ki’ (Roughly translates to ‘Sweaty Night’ which is a clear reference to Sex At Night). Husband argues with his wife in a cab, in another scene, for pushing him too hard for longer durations of intercourse (Driver listens to everything, reacts awkwardly and can’t remain silent.) A sister and a brother, in a different scene, are sitting around a table with their spouses and the discussion leading to different sex positions makes the brother feel weirdly uncomfortable as he starts making irritated yet funny replies. Directed by debutant Raj Mehta, Good Newwz has several such rib-tickling scenes that can keep one constantly engaged and in good spirits. (Well, some of the sentimental scenes, later on, may look a bit overcooked but that sidelines itself soon and let the movie turn even funnier.)

Good Newwz basically tells the story of two couples who find themselves tangled in a web of surprises and confusions. With both of the couples claiming (or denying) each other’s child as their own, the film offers a hysterical and emotional view of how they eventually deal with it. Here, you wonder if the birth of a child is really a ‘good news’ to the protagonists.

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Akshay Kumar has portrayed some wonderful characters in the past that required him to make the audience laugh out loud (most memorable ones are Hera Pheri and Welcome). He succeeded. Even in the films that were not an out-an-out comedy genre, he displayed his comic potential to a great extent. He can be as funny and sprightly as he is grim and despondent. One has to trumpet forth the praises on Director Raj Mehta for wonderfully leveraging Akshay’s making-one-laugh-out-loud ability. Akshay plays Varun in Good Newwz and never overly tries to do something comical. Varun’s frustration and angst, that come out as natural responses to a situation, turn out to be hilarious.

It’s the presence of other leading characters that actually make Varun’s job easier in giving you unstoppable laugh. Monika (Kiara Advani) exhibiting her poor English pronunciation (for instance, Flesh for Flush, Spam for Sperm) calls for a humorous response from Varun. The continuous giggling of Honey (Diljit Dosanjh), as he speaks, is enough to put a smile on your face. Deepu (Kareena Kapoor Khan), who plays Varun’s wife, leaves her best till the end. (The hilarity is at its peak when she delivers her baby in the hospital and frustratingly yells at Doctor Anand Joshi who is played by Adil Hussain.)

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The comedy in Good Newwz is not slapstick. Here, it’s more about the scenarios where intelligence (Varun and Deepu) meets stupidity (Honey and Monika). In the midst of comedies, the film offers a lot to think about. The film displays prudence and makes us ponder over the question of what’s the right way – ‘adopting a child’ or ‘trying to give birth to a child of your own blood’. It also delineates mix of heartlessness and good-naturedness as we get different perspectives on creation and destruction of life. The women in the film are more sensible when it comes to human life and teach a lesson to men. Except for the songs that seem unnecessary and an inclination towards sentiments that seem uninteresting and too melodramatic (barring an instance that can bring tears to your eyes where Varun emotionally embraces Deepu), Good Newwz is definitely a piece of great news and ensures a perfect end to 2019 for Hindi Cinema.

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‘Dabangg 3’ Movie Review: Better than Dabangg 2, but still a bad film

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When Sudeep, who plays the antagonistic character named Baali, arrives on screen and exhibits the villainy, we revel in his exemplary presence. In short, Sudeep shines in a Salman Khan film.

It all began with the humongous success of the first in the series of Dabangg. Salman Khan as Chulbul Pandey was quirky and funny. This idiosyncratic Indian cop from a rural part of North India had something about him that made him immensely likeable. The dialogues, especially, were hilarious. He, for instance, jocularly asks slim policemen to be on his left, fat ones to be on his right and fit guys to be right behind him only to realise that none of the policemen cared to follow the orders and ran past him. He also realises that he had just spent a huge sum of 500 Indian Rupees to talk only for a minute with a woman he loves. And, his English is rib-tickling too. (Remember what he says after shooting at the ground unbeknownst of the fact that the man lying on the ground, whom he was aiming at, has long run away? – “There’s always a first time, always a next time… next time”.) 

Dabangg 2 tried to bask in the glory of its predecessor and was an absolute disaster. There was nothing new about it. It just used the story of Part One as a template. The Chulbul Pandey that we knew from Part One was missing. He was flavourless in Dabangg 2 to be precise. Dabangg 3, directed Prabhu Deva, attempts to address the question of ‘doing something new’. A subplot, which is a prequel of Part One, greets you here. But, does it work? The answer to this is a big “No”. Salman is colourless both as Chulbul Pandey and Karu Pandey (this Karu version is another trial to do something new-ish). The right question here would be – What part of this ‘prequel’ works? When Sudeep, who plays the antagonistic character named Baali, arrives on screen and exhibits the villainy, we revel in his exemplary presence. In short, Sudeep shines in a Salman Khan film.

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More than Salman, it’s the Sudeep factor that gives us some respite from the state of boredom that the film leads you into. (The fast-paced narrative somewhat helps to keep you awake.) As Baali, his stare itself is spine-chilling. The danger is also felt in the background score whenever he appears. The camera shows him through the gaps of small Natraj idol and he looks ominous. He looks stylish as he, standing in front of a lady and not facing her, stabs her with one hand without any sort of remorse. He wears an evil look as a red light engulfs him while standing near a fire. He is also involved in a ‘dramatic reveal’ where, at first, his face is veiled behind a shadow and, later, he appears flying in the air.

Except for a couple of instances (The mistaking-balls-for-gulab-jamun scene and a cameo by Ali Basha are hilarious), the comedy is bad in the film. It feels odd to sit through a plethora of comedic scenes with the blank countenance.

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The songs composed by Sajid-Wajid in Part One were captivating. Dabangg 2’s music album was a huge hit too. This third part lacks that magic. (Well, that iconic Dabangg theme music, that sounds like Bollywood version of Ennio Morricone, stays.)

The cameo of heroines in Dabangg franchise continues. Sonakshi Sinha, as Rajjo Pandey, had a charming disposition about her in Part One. The romance in that film was simply fantastic. But the sheer irrelevance of her character was palpable in Dabangg 2. In this third installment, not only the character seems irrelevant, but we also get irked whenever this character makes an appearance. An introduction of a new character named Khushi (acted by the newcomer Saiee Manjrekar who looks good in her short stint) doesn’t give the wings to the romance part either. It only makes matters worse as the Chulbul-Khushi love angle takes off just like that!

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An interesting element, and the only lovely aspect in the film, is that ‘prequel’ itself. (Salman Khan himself has written the story and he seems to have gotten this prequel thing right in some ways.) It’s really not a perfect summation to the events of the past but has answers to some of the things about Chulbul Pandey that we liked in Part One. Why does he keep his goggles on his back collar? How did he come up with this infamous “Chhed Kar Denge” dialogue? How did someone like ‘him’ get into the Indian Police? Why was he called Chulbul after all? Dabangg 3 nicely creates a whole new universe for itself answering all of these questions in its own unique way.

Salman is revered by many. He understands that. He uses that to good effect. He, in the film, has conveyed several messages to his fans. Whether it’s ‘Smoking is injurious to health’ or ‘Dowry prohibition’ or ‘Women empowerment’ or ‘Stopping violence against women’ or ‘You reap what you sow’, he has all sorts of great things to say. As the film comes to a close, he even leaves us to ponder upon the possibility of his plunge into politics. But, will that be enough for the film to work?

‘El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie’ Review: An insignificant follow-up

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To say bluntly, you patiently wait for the film to really get things moving and engross you in any way.

The camera focuses upon a gun in a dimly lit room. This gun, which is pointed towards the camera, slowly moves closer to it. It’s Jesse (Aaron Paul) who is holding the gun. He, with anger in his countenance, says to a man-disguised-as-policeman, “I’m no cop killer, you be cool, and I’ll be cool, understand?”. This scene from El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, which is a follow-up to critically acclaimed TV series Breaking Bad, is one of those brief instances that reflected the brilliance of its predecessor. But such thrilling moments are far and few in between.

El Camino is not utterly boring but also not the greatest of follow-ups. It’s those surprises during hunt-for-money and western movies-like gunfighting sequences that interests you. Written and Directed by Vince Gilligan, the film picks up from where it left in Breaking Bad. Basically, the climax of that TV series acts as this film’s premise. Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is dead and it’s not clear what lies ahead for Jesse. The film follows Jesse’s journey as he, who is kept in captivity, escapes and looks forward to new beginnings in life.

The film’s title didn’t seem to be of great relevance when you get acquainted with the film’s storyline. El Camino tests your patience too. There’s always a feeling that the turn-the-tide moment is just around the corner. To say bluntly, you patiently wait for the film to really get things moving and engross you in any way. It does throw a few elements that ignite your interest for a brief period and then disappoints you. Perhaps the sheer respect that you have for Breaking Bad may allow you to successfully sit through the whole movie.

‘Jallikattu’ Movie Review: Beastly humans vs Innocent animal

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It depicts a violent chase that resembles a battlefield in which a king’s army is mindlessly running for the kill.

In the beginning of the film, you see the camera focusing on the red sky and the beams coming out from several torchlights on the ground. There’s tranquillity felt during this scene. Here, Director Lijo Jose Pelissery gives importance to the ‘colour red’ and ‘the torchlight’ as you see how these two metamorphose into something ferocious. As the movie progresses, while the colour red takes the form of flesh and blood, the torchlight gives way to fire.

Turmoil is something that has found a place in Lijo’s previous films like Ea.Ma.Yau and Angamaly Diaries. You can witness that in Jallikattu too. There’s a commotion in a village and the men, with vehement rage, are running after a buffalo. A ‘mountain’ of men (yes, you see a throng of men forming a mountain) not only go after an animal with rage but also go after each other. The film’s storyline makes you question whether, as humans, we have reached a stage where we, with our sagacious minds, have fully understood the significance of coexistence. It makes you understand the importance of living together in harmony. The film assesses the evolution of humans and checks whether or not the modern-day humans have evolved and grown into a more intelligent and compassionate species than the Early Humans.

Jallikattu is terrifying and engrossing. Prashant Pillai’s tense background score is the film’s biggest asset. Whether it’s the tick-tock sound like that of a clock or some demonic noises, Prashant’s score amplifies the fierceness of the movie. Gireesh Gangadharan’s brilliance in his cinematography tricks makes the movie even more horrific. You see the closeups of burning fire with intermittent blackouts. Or, the camera quickly moves closer to a fruit hanging from a tree and comes to an abrupt stop. The rapidly changing scenes showing a wooden stick being sharpened or meat being chopped off (with Prashant’s music in action) is splendidly stitched together. Even the continuous uninterrupted shots like a man going from room to room and talking to different people are immersive.

The film is not out-and-out grim. Lijo has made sure that it has its share of humour as well. For instance, a street food seller calmly walks on the road as an irritated villager, trying to catch the buffalo, pulls him aside. And, in another scene, while a group of men are having a serious discussion on the roadside, they get irked by the drunkards who are carelessly yelling and dancing on the streets.

The trio of Sophie (Santhy Balachandran), Antony (Antony Varghese) and Kuttachan (Sabumon Abdusamad) give the film a taste of romance and lust. Even though it is for a short while, Lijo ensures that it is noticeable in the midst of all that violence and rancour.

Jallikattu doesn’t follow a central character as such. But there are certain individuals who are closely followed to delineate the beast coming out from the humans. (The rivalry between Antony and Kuttachan arrests you).

Jallikattu is also a bull-taming sport in Tamil Nadu but the film chooses not to depict it in any way. Unlike the actual sport, this film depicts a violent chase that resembles a battlefield in which a king’s army is mindlessly running for the kill. Here, not only a buffalo subjected to cruelty is unbearable and painful but the representation of sheer loss of humanity and compassion is staggering. Not only an animal welfare activist but even the human rights activist will find it hard to witness what this film has to offer. Such is the greatness of Lijo as he gives this film a thoughtful outlook.