Sonchiriya Movie Review: Intense and rooted

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Sonchiriya is an intense dacoit-based story that throws light on sexual abuse and caste-related violence backed by a superbly written screenplay

Indumati Tomar (Bhumi Pednekar) croons ‘Sonchiriya’ (sung by Rekha Bhardwaj in the composition of Vishal Bhardwaj) that has a haunting and calming effect. She is sitting with an ailing young girl as they are being rescued by dacoit Lakhna (Sushant Singh Rajput) on a boat. This moment comes immediately after the intermission as it leaves us in a state of serenity. This is also the moment when we get to know that Sonchiriya is, actually, the name of that young girl. This scene has a special place in my heart as it sprung like the sweet smell of soil that the air carries after the rainfall during peak summer. The film has such intense story that we yearn for the tranquillity, that this song produces, to remain with Indumati and the young girl as they have gone through a lot of sufferings due to the so-called caste and the sexual abuses.

Rooted in casteism and child sexual abuse, Abhishek Chaubey’s Sonchiriya portrays the life of dacoits, their internal conflicts, their continued battle against security forces and, most importantly, how they wind up saving the lives of Indumati and the young girl accompanied by her. The back-and-forth style of screenplay in Sonchiriya infused the film with ‘surprise’, ‘unknown’ and ‘guess’ elements. A small girl, for instance, flashes in the eyes of the dacoit Maan Singh (Manoj Bajpayee) early on in the film which frightens him. The relevance of that small girl comes much later and at the appropriate juncture in the story as Lakhna recounts a misadventure that led to the killings of young children. Even the complete picture of what really transpired during the conversation between Maan Singh and an informer, that takes place before they go about looting a big fat Indian wedding, is disclosed much later.

Manoj Bajpayee’s brief appearance for the Maan Singh character overshadowed the presence of every other actor whenever he came on to the screen. His terrific acting brought out the benevolent expression while giving away money to an informer. He looks dangerous when he calmly asks for the cash to a trembling guy in a wedding. It was only when his part was over that the other characters finally seemed to exist. Lakhna, played by Sushant Singh Rajput, bloomed soon after Manoj’s brief stint and was well supported by dacoit Vakil Singh played by Ranvir Shorey. Lakhna, as Indumati states in a scene, is an understanding and kind-hearted dacoit. Vakil is very particular about one’s caste (He shows his aggression when the young girl, accompanied by Indumati, is found to be of a different caste who are termed by them as ‘untouchables’). Vakil, also, has no regard for women and considers them inferior (He scolds a guy, in a scene, saying, “Tu mard ni, aurat hai” (You aren’t a man but a woman)). Bhumi Pednekar’s extraordinary act exemplified the sentiments attached to the character of Indumati (One could feel the harrowing experience she must have gone through as she pleads Lakhna not to reveal that she was, too, subjected to the sexual abuse during her childhood). Even Ashutosh Rana looked threatening as he plays the role of a security officer (When he is hiding on a terrace, he slowly gets up and keeps a stern face, gestures with a finger on his lips to a boy standing on the opposite terrace in a bid to tell him not to shout, and shoots at the dacoits).

I felt that the movie lost the grip in the second-half. But the intensity remained intact because of its brilliant writing and the marvellous way with which it brings out the core issues revolving caste and girl child rape incidents. Not to forget the fantastic background score that further intensified the impact of the movie.

With the security forces chasing away the dacoits and some members of security forces planning to take down their own leading officer, the movie rightfully ends on a note referring to the natural occurrence of life in which snakes eat rats and vultures eat snakes. Sonchiriya is an intense dacoit-based story that throws light on sexual abuse and caste-related violence backed by a superbly written screenplay.

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Gully Boy Movie Review: An intense drama with a musical feast that gives a sense of belief

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Spearheaded by Ranveer Singh’s breathtaking act, Gully Boy presents a strong narrative that has elements for you to identify yourself.

MC Sher (Siddhant Chaturvedi) says to Murad (Ranveer Singh), “Sab comfortable hote to rap kaun banata” (If everyone lived comfortably, rap would not have taken its birth). This thought reflects in the entire film. I watched the movie with such intensity that I started reminiscing instances from my own life and felt an astounding belief building up inside me as to “Yes, you can follow your passion and be great”. That’s the power of this film. No matter what field you are in and what destination you are heading to, Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy has such incredulous effect on us that we start believing that there is light at the end of the tunnel. As this film claims, it surely is a perfect “Shout-out” to the “real gully boys DIVINE and Naezy”. It is an intense story of a rap artist who fights his way out of his father’s supposed notion of them being a “naukar” (servant) and triumphs against all odds by following what he earnestly wanted in his life.

The very first thing you notice is the music, contributed by several musicians, which is ingrained in this film with such significance. The music plays a crucial role to exemplify the feelings of high-spiritedness, agony and despondency. For me, the best portrayal of music-exemplified emotions is a scene where Murad, while working as a driver, drives a woman home, who is in tears, and the Doori poem plays out in the background – Kehne ko hum paas hain par kitni doori hai, ye bhi kaisi majboori hai…Main ye behte aansu ponchu utni meri aukaat nahi (We are so close to each other yet so far…My status is not high enough to wipe off your tears).

Gully, in hindi, refers to the alley. Here, Gully Boy refers to Murad who lives in the ‘gullies’ of a slum in Mumbai. Early in the movie, some tourists from London visit this slum and are, apparently, excited as they exclaim “wow!” and click pictures. The tourist guide takes them, incidentally, to Murad’s house to show them the kind of toilet that they have in these houses (Funnily, Murad’s grandmother charges 500 for this). One of the tourist guys is wearing a t-shirt with a printed image of a hip-hop artist. Murad praises his t-shirt and to the utter surprise of that guy, Murad starts singing an English rap song sung by that artist. This scene assured that the film is in no way going the familiar poor-guy-becoming-rich way. Gully Boy is not at all clichéd. In fact, this scene is the first of many instances that show Murad’s inclination towards the hip-hop genre. Influenced by MC Sher (What a rip-roaring rendition by Siddhant Chaturvedi for this role), Murad joins him and starts writing verses and presents them to MC Sher. There is no heroic display of him suddenly doing so well. He, even, loses in the most embarrassing manner imaginable in a rap battle (It is so moving to see Murad when his opponent uses Murad’s poverty as the baseline for his defence as Murad keeps his head down and is mortified by what he just heard). It is this unhurried nature of Gully Boy that is so impressive. We are happy for it to be taking its time. As MC Sher insists Murad to bring out the “jwala” (lava or fire) inside him and face the world with intrepidity, we get energised as the film slowly depicts the rise of Murad or the Gully Boy (his stage name).

I am sure the film is going to strike the right chord when it comes to representing the lives of billions of people who are unable to pursue a career that they want. Murad, under the circumstances of his life, winds up working as a car driver and the growing pain inside him comes out in the form of a rap verse “Apna time aayega” (My time will come). Succumbing to the pressure of his parents, he starts working in an organisation through the influence of his uncle. He, even, indulged himself in stealing cars with his friend Moeen (Vijay Varma). While commuting in a train, he looks at the gloomy faces of fellow passengers going back to home after a drudging day of work. In another scene, Murad’s uncle praises him for choosing the right career and the next moment Murad looks at the clock and leaves for a rap battle audition. Zoya Akhtar has meticulously orchestrated the turn of events that illuminates how Murad gets on the right path eventually after a series of struggles.

Murad boards a bus and so does Safeena (Alia Bhatt has done an amazing job. Oh! What a performer!). They stare at each other every now and then. As soon as the person sitting next to Murad stands up and deboards the bus, Safeena occupies that seat. Just when we are about to think if this is an age-old trick of a boy-meeting-girl in a bus, Safeena and Murad hold each other’s hands. They are already in love for 9 years. So, the focus of the film remains intact as the narrative wastes no time in illustrating Murad’s love-life. Even though Alia Bhatt’s presence is transient, it is so lovely to see the portions that involved them courting. When their relationship comes to a standstill for a period of time due to Murad’s brief stint with Sky (Kalki Koechlin), he says, in a scene, that life without Safeena is like having spent a life without a childhood. This brief spell of romance portion has been moulded in such a beautiful way that their separation makes you feel sad.

It is not just the external forces that come in the way of Murad. He has to confront difficulties at home too. His conservative father (Vijay Raaz is stupendous in this character) remains mad at him. He has also married another lady and has brought her home which leads Murad’s mother (Amruta Subhash) into an enormous amount of desolation. It broke my heart to see Murad’s mother crying madly as he hugs her. Even Safeena explains to her parents that she lies to them because they won’t allow her to put on lipstick, go out with boys and have fun. Safeena’s mother (Sheeba Chaddha) shows some photographs of men and tells to Safeena, in a scene, that she is at least getting to choose a man to get married unlike her. These are the sort of hindrances that, not only Murad and Safeena, but a lot of us have to deal with to be able to attain something.

I had to endure a lot of those mandatory commercials that were played before the start of the movie. But as the movie ended and I left the cinema hall, I completely forgot about those tiring advertisements. Thanks to this stunning film! Spearheaded by Ranveer Singh’s breathtaking act, Gully Boy presents a strong narrative that has elements for you to identify yourself.

The Accidental Prime Minister Movie Review: A drudging recapitulation

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The Accidental Prime Minister is like an uninteresting synopsis and as it comes to a close, it feels incomplete.

As the movie begins with news headlines that are flashing on television channels, it was ostensibly like a slight hint to the audience as to how the movie will pan out. Directed by Vijay Ratnakar Gutte, The Accidental Prime Minister is based on a memoir by Sanjaya Baru. Just like those news headlines, the movie remains a mere overview of Manmohan Singh’s tenure as India’s prime minister.

Unlike Narendra Modi, who succeeded Manmohan (Played by Anupam Kher) as India’s Prime Minister and is a great orator, Manmohan had a reputation of being a soft-spoken person. The movie takes superabundance of time in establishing this characteristic nature of Manmohan and keeps doing so till the end. It depicts the slow change in the attitude of Manmohan and it gives us a glimmer of hope that there might be some interesting ‘inside’ information that we will get to see on screen. But the film turns out to be a recapitulation of the events that transpired in his time as the prime minister and nothing else.

The film attempts an exact imitation of real-life personalities – Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Ahmed Patel, APJ Abdul Kalam to name a few. Even Anupam Kher does his best to render a copycat version of Manmohan Singh. But that remains just an initial reaction of “Oh, that is Abdul Kalam!”. It never works at all as far as engagement is concerned and we hardly find them interesting anymore after a period of time. Akshaye Khanna as Sanjaya Baru is narrating the whole story and even faces the camera and talks to the audience in the process. It seems interesting initially but gradually it loses its sheen as well. The ‘punch lines’ used in the film further aggravates the whole mood (Manmohan refers to himself when he says that lion never brushes its teeth). The Accidental Prime Minister is like an uninteresting synopsis and as it comes to a close, it feels incomplete.

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga Movie Review: Educative, Introspective, Sentimental

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Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga strikes a responsive chord and is an impactful movie that intends to teach a lesson about LGBTQ

Sweety (Sonam Kapoor Ahuja) says in one of the scenes that every true love story accompanies itself with “siyappa” (chaos). That reflects in the movie as she sort of skulks behind a curtain hiding her true self and when she does try to be with the love of her life, she gets entangled by all sorts of ‘siyappa’. Director Shelly Chopra Dhar’s Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga exhibits the life of a lesbian, her struggles to hide her identity in the name of keeping her family’s long maintained pride, and how she finally gathers the pluck to say that she can’t stay tight-lipped anymore. The best thing about the movie is how craftily it portrays that she actually is a lesbian.

The movie begins with mirthful scenes all around. Everyone is revelling in a marriage ceremony. There comes a suggestion from someone to Sweety’s father Balbir (Anil Kapoor) that the marriage ceremonies are great for finding the best match for his daughter and we see Sweety getting upset by that thought and going away. Kuhu (Regina Cassandra), a random girl at the ceremony, comes up to Sweety to recommend her brother. There is a typical Bollywood-style hero-comes-to-rescue-heroine scene when Sahil (Rajkummar Rao), a writer, winds up running off with Sweety who are being chased by Sweety’s brother Babloo (Abhishek Duhan). Sahil, even, asks her why are they running which negates the possibility of feeling have-seen-that-a-lot and you are not even irked by it and instead you find it funny. So, there is a palpable romance building up which is felt through Sahil’s continuous efforts to somehow meet her again and talk to her (like the humorous scene where he climbs up Sweety’s house, reaches the kitchen window and hands over a letter to Balbir assuming him as the cook). Not until moments before the ‘interval’ sign pops up on the screen that we know Sweety is a lesbian.

Post-interval, Gazal Dhaliwal’s exceptional writing comes to the fore as the narrative becomes more focussed. Whatever the inkling of movie’s theme that we get before the intermission actually gets clearer, revealed and elaborated in the second half of the film (Sweety’s love for one of her classmates in her school days; her paintings that had two women getting married which was even ridiculed by her schoolmates when found; her attraction towards Kuhu and how they stealthily met each other after falling in love during the marriage ceremony). It is Sonam Kapoor Ahuja’s beautiful portrayal of Sweety that enhanced the sentiments attached to the character.

Anil Kapoor is the undeniable star of the film. There is always something interesting happening every time he, as Balbir, comes on to the screen. His constant pursuit of lurking around the kitchen and trying to cook something in spite of having forbidden to enter kitchen brings a smile on your face. His romance portions with Chatro (Juhi Chawla) is outstanding and is one of the biggest highlights of the film. As a matter of fact, in Chatro’s words, Juhi delivers a “mind-shattering performance”. I could not hold back my tears when Balbir travels down the memory lane and finally realises what went through in his daughter’s mind all these years and comes out in support of her (Composed by Rochak Kohli and sung by the haunting voice of Kanwar Grewal, the Chitthiye song that plays in the background exemplifies the sentiment attached to this phase).

As I stood up and made my way forward to exit the cinema hall, I had two instances from the film fixed in my mind. One is when Sweety uncloaks her ‘love’ for women to Sahil, he laughs hysterically but later understands, apologises to her and even lends a helping hand. On the other hand, Sweety’s own brother Babloo remains committed to his stance saying that she has earned a ‘bad reputation’ for her family. Whether the film succeeds in bringing a change like in the case of Sahil or people like Babloo has no effect at all and are unmoved, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga strikes a responsive chord and is an impactful movie that intends to teach a lesson about LGBTQ.

Soni Movie Review: A silent protest

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Soni is a moving tale that subtly expresses its emotions.

A glum-looking Soni (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan) has come to buy grocery items from a shop and the shopkeeper’s assistant packs everything for her. He also greets her cheerfully, talks to her politely, hands over the package with a smile and sends her off merrily. All the while, Soni just gives him a smile in return hiding all the anger and sadness rankling her (The world will be a better place if all the men behave like that shopkeeper’s assistant with the women). Netflix’s Soni (the title of movie and the name of protagonist) is a poignant take on women and their indignation on various issues concerning men. The best part is that it subtly highlights everything that it is trying to depict and never really tells you, “this is the problem”. You realise that yourself.

Directed by Ivan Ayr, the film not only emphasises upon feminism and troubles of women but also shows how strong, fearless and brave they are or can be. Soni is a policewoman who is grappling with unjust behaviour of some of the men she meets (when she gets into fight with a man in the opening scene because of his misbehaviour and ends up hurting him badly or when she bravely confronts men who have occupied a ladies toilet for smoking pot and are teasing her). We see how she has to bear the brunt of their wrongdoings and have to be content with whatever the life presents to her. Kalpana (Saloni Batra), Soni’s superior in the police department, is the only person who understands Soni and her troubles.

There are instances in the film where we can sense a sort of silent protest being conducted albeit through a crafty approach. Naveen (Vikas Shukla), whose relationship with Soni has taken a backseat, visits her house. On getting to know that someone pelted stone at the window, he asserts that it would not have happened in his presence (This is to show that he thinks a man’s presence is necessary to safeguard women and woman can’t be safe alone). In another scene, a policeman mocks at a guy saying that it is such a shame to take money from a ‘lady’. When Kalpana’s niece locks herself in her room all day and later reveals to Kalpana that she got her periods in the school and was derided by someone, Kalpana encourages her to stay strong and fight back. Sometimes, Soni is just busy going about her household chores as the camera follows her and the silence in the whole sequence projects an eerie picture of her loneliness.

Geetika Vidya Ohlyan’s work is absolutely exemplary and the intrepidity she brings out in Soni’s character is commendable. Saloni Batra’s performance is equally great in the shoes of Kalpana. The brief exchange between Soni and Kalpana at a restaurant left a lasting impression where Soni says, ”Kabhi to lagta hai sab theek ho gaya hai, phir lagta hai vaisa hi hai, kuch theek ni ho sakta” (Sometimes it feels like everything will be alright, then it feels like nothing has changed, nothing can be improved). Soni is a moving tale that subtly expresses its emotions.

Thackeray Movie Review: A biased biopic that is engaging in parts

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Thackeray ends up aggrandising Balasaheb rather than actually portraying his life in truest form.

Thackeray is a biased take on the life of Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray. It is a movie which is solely made for the glorification of the ideologies of Balasaheb and his deeds. We get the glimpse of how he gets deified through the introductory shot itself. We see the back of Balasaheb (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), then one of his hands appears, and the camera swirls around to show his face. This is almost like the heroic entry of protagonists in typical Indian ‘mass movies’.

Written and directed by Abhijit Panse, the film seems excruciatingly long trying to establish the reasons that triggered anger inside Balasaheb. It sure is arresting in some phases like the one where he is trying to make peace with Muslim community but winds up propounding the path of Hindutva after riots.

Thackeray justifies everything that Balasaheb did by saying things like if loving the nation is a crime, then what he did was also a crime. Take for instance the violence that erupted under Balasaheb’s direction in Mumbai when he believed ‘others’ (South Indians majorly) are taking up the major chunk of jobs in Bombay (sorry, Mumbai, as Balasaheb corrects an advocate). It was horrendous to see some Marathi guys, supporters of Shiv Sena, are standing with weapons like knife in their hands while a South Indian man drops his bicycle and the container full of Idlis and Sambhar on the road and runs away in fear; Or, when a guy hurls a stone at the window of a south Indian hotel In another scene, Balasaheb gestures to one of his men to slip the knife back inside his pocket and justifies that weapons used by his men are for the purpose of saving ‘their’ people. It was strangely uncomfortable when he tries to change the name of Aurangabad to Sambhaji Nagar (This reminds of recent instances like the name change of Allahabad to Prayagraj).

His relation with his wife Meena Tai Thackeray (Amrita Rao) hardly develops. A small boy comes up to Balasaheb and asks for an autograph. There is no significance given to their relationship and when Balasaheb sends her a letter from prison, we don’t feel the sentiment at all as she weeps reading the letter.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui is a class apart. You can’t ask for more from an actor who has made a name for himself with his exemplary acting. But the film’s objective of glorifying Balasaheb, his actions on spreading hate and finally justifying all that with his love for ‘his’ people and the nation is hugely discomforting. And the movie hopes to continue unsettling the audience as it ends on a note of ‘To be continued’. Thackeray ends up aggrandising Balasaheb rather than actually portraying his life in truest form.

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi Movie Review: A big yawn

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In spite of Kangana Ranaut’s magnificent performance, Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi is a tedious watch.

It all started with a small yawn. Not that I was sleepy but nothing really interesting was transpiring initially. I waited. Then, a bigger yawn came through. And by the time intermission arrived, it got so mind-numbing that the biggest of all yawn happened and it kept on coming through thereafter until the end. Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi is dullsville.

The best thing that has happened to this film is the title. What better title can you give than Manikarnika? (It is the name of the protagonist and hence, the movie as well) Other than that, this is a soulless tribute to one of the most legendary heroes of India’s struggle for freedom from the British rule. The story of Manikarnika (played by Kangana Ranaut) is not something unheard of. It is one of the most referenced heroes of all time in Indian history. Directed by Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi and Kanaut Ranaut, the movie exhibits the developments leading up to the revolt of 1857, where Manikarnika, who later adopted the name of Rani Laxmibai, led from the front.

Visual effects are below par. When Manikarnika is pointing her arrow at a fast-moving tiger, you can apparently judge that it’s not a real tiger because of not so great graphics work. Also, some of the stunts performed by Kangana Ranaut clearly looks like a CG work (she climbs over an elephant as if some external force has picked her up from the neck and dropped her off over the elephant).

The movie is plagued with dramatic dialogues trying to enhance the wrath, gutsiness and patriotism that are associated with particular scenes. They made it look like watching an Indian soap opera. A British officer mocks at Manikarnika by saying that she can’t even speak English and chuckles along with other officers (Oh! Very funny) to which she presents a stagy response. The duel that Manikarnika had with Captain Gordon (Edward Sonnenblick) consisted of a theatrical exchange of dialogues that never looked impressive.

Some of the characters never developed into an interesting part of the film. Sadashiv (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub looks convincing in this role) is an ally of British officers but his character never bowls you over as it intends to. Even the character of Jhalkari Bai (Ankita Lokhande) did not have any impact at all. She shows some moves in a song called ‘Dankila’ (The music of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy is not likeable either) and comes out in support of Manikarnika but I was not moved by her emotional yells.

Kangana Ranaut shines all the way. She looked like she belonged there. When she keeps a stern face to show that she has got the pluck to talk to a British officer and declines to bow her head before him, she does look menacing.

Some of the scenes really look emotional (but they were so few that it couldn’t alter the fate of the film). Captain Gordon enters the village with an army and everyone kneels down except an old man who is unable to. It was horrifying to see a British officer hitting hard at that old man’s legs as he falls down in pain. The animal love of Manikarnika was beautifully brought out when we get to know that she has not killed the tiger with her arrow but only made it unconscious so that it can be sent back deep into the forest. She also forbids her husband from killing a deer as we see a mother deer feeding milk to a baby deer. It was great to see when Manikarnika mobilises women and trains them. Even the fight that transpires towards the end was high on emotions.

In the beginning, there is a mock sword fighting among some of the family members of Manikarnika as she joins them in the process. Excluding Kangana, that whole sequence looked so unprofessional (devoid of swiftness and agility). It seemed like they have picked the sword for the very first time in their life and are just flashing it around. Maybe that was a hint that sort of foretold how dull the movie will turn out to be. In spite of Kangana Ranaut’s magnificent performance, Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi is a tedious watch.