‘Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal’ Movie Review: A nice outlook on women, with a vengeance, switching on the tit-for-tat mode

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Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal is an interesting and intelligent attempt that makes you ruminate and understand a woman’s perspective and her wrath on seeing the heinous crimes that happen against girls.

A rock song plays in the background. You get different scenes from the capital city of India – Delhi. Street art comes into the picture as you see paintings on the walls. Glimpses of India Gate, Lotus Temple, and Humayun Tomb can be seen. You see Delhi Metro train busily helping commuters to reach their destination. The focus shifts towards a woman named Vibha (Shalini Vatsa) as she occupies a space inside ‘Women’s only’ coach. She can, then, be seen putting two cigarettes in her mouth and lighting them. As she does so, the rock music in the background intensifies.

This opening scene of Director Aditya Kripalani’s Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal – The Incessant Fear Of Rape, streaming on Netflix, has a lot to tell you. It drops you off in the Delhi city (a city that, among many things, has garnered attention for increasing crimes against women). There is a particular emphasis on ‘Women’s only’ signboard as Vibha boards train. And there’s definitely a rage of a woman felt in that two-cigarette-smoking scene.

Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal has four leading characters – Vibha, Shaila (Kritika Pande), Shagun (Sonal Joshi) and Chitra (Chitrangada Chakraborty). Shaila runs a ‘Taxi for women’ service. Due to certain circumstances, Shaila ends up picking up all three of them in her taxi by herself. All of them are strangers to each other and they randomly talk about various things. There comes a discussion on the types of feminism such as amazon, liberal, socialist, pop, radical, and feminazism (I didn’t know there are different branches of feminism honestly and it was good to be exposed). Not surprisingly, as it’s night time and they are in Delhi city, a topic on ‘women safety at night’ springs up. The talks, then, start entering into the terrain of ‘gang rape’ and the sheer brutality that the victimised women go through.

It is at this juncture the film actually starts taking a U-turn as these women start pondering over teaching a lesson to “such” men. They contemplate if brutally raping a single man would send the message across. As a matter of fact, men don’t think they can be raped at all, one of them says. Rightfully so, they conclude that it’s not that women can’t be brutal to men but they choose not to be. Co-incidentally, they encounter a man  (played by Vinay Sharma) riding his motorcycle and hurling vulgar comments at them. These women wind up beating this guy and keeping him shut inside a not-in-use room for a week.

The film, then, goes on to show what these women decide to do with this man and what measures do they think should be taken against him that will prove cruel in this man’s case. You see that they force him to cook food for them, clean the floor, jeer at him, or even make him wearing almost a bikini-style outfit. The film still shows that these women recuse from actually ‘raping’ this guy and only resort to showing him the fear of inserting a rod inside his anus. Somehow, even as these women try to inflict pain and be barbaric towards him in their own way, all those scenes aren’t that powerful. You can be left wanting for more such harsh and intense inserting-the-rod sort of scenes.

There can’t be tit-for-tat instances happening without a purpose. There is a deeply rooted cause behind all that indignation shown by these women. Their suffering is etched in their memories and nothing can erase that. Shagun, a cop, recounts an event when a woman came running to the police station for help but was shot dead right there by her father and brother in front of other male cops. Vibha reminisces a forgettable past where her daughter was kidnapped right in front of her and was gang-raped. Chitra narrates a miserable event where she tackled some men twice but failed at the third instance. Even Shaila, who is running a ‘taxi for women’ service, shows her fight towards women’s safety.

At other times, there are noticeable references or things that keep you thinking about women’s troubles. There’s a scene at Vibha’s home where both Vibha and Chitra are having a nice little conversation. The camera shows a framed painting in which two women are selling fish. Then, turns over to the wall clock that says 2 o’ clock. At this moment, you see Chitra enquiring if Vibha and her mother are staying in this home all by themselves. You wonder at the analogy created by Aditya Kripalani here and the inferences you can take away from it. The camera, then, turns away and slowly captures the framed posters on walls of films like Mandi (Directed by Shyam Benegal, this tells the story of a brothel) and Arth (Directed by Mahesh Bhatt, this explores extramarital affairs). In another scene, you see framed sketches of human hands on the wall at Chitra’s place. These are the sketches made by Chitra herself and present an eerie and sorry picture of a woman’s hand that has signs of sufferings. And whenever such sad depiction comes into the picture, you can’t help but find yourself mesmerised by the beautiful use of guitar sounds in the background.

As the movie comes to a close, these four women meet at a place for drinks and celebrate together for having taught a lesson to such men (albeit through one man). They listen to news coverage on the television saying that this man has committed suicide. All four of them standstill with a discernible shock on their faces. Vibha runs back to women’s toilet and weeps (the camera puts the focus on women’s signboard here). You see that she has sunk back into gloom after all this. Perhaps the tit-for-tat was never the right option. It has seemed so initially with all that agony in her heart. Seeing the fate of that man has not given her the happiness which she thought she would get. She thought a fitting reply has been given to that man. And these women did that in their own style. The bigger picture is that, perhaps, thoughts of taking revenge against men would never even occur in women’s mind if they are not subjected to such cruelty in the first place.

Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal is an interesting and intelligent attempt that makes you ruminate and understand a woman’s perspective and her wrath on seeing the heinous crimes that happen against girls.



Burning Movie Review: A mysterious triangle

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Even though you sense a brilliance as the film ends, you can’t help but feel the weariness

The title of the Korean-language film, Burning (Beoning), has a significance that you only realise when the film warrants you to. Before the real meaning of ‘burning’ comes out, you get to envisage fire as it is perhaps the first thing that would come to your mind when you think of ‘burning’. Director Lee Chang-dong sets two different contexts. Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), in one of the scenes, reminisces about an agonising incident from his childhood where his father coerced him into burning down the clothes of his mother. In another lengthy sequence, Ben (Steven Yeun wears a smile throughout for this character to suggest a strange, evil person inside him that works so well) reveals his plan of setting fire to one of the greenhouses near Lee Jong-su’s home. This makes Lee Jong-su search for all the greenhouses he could find near his home before hearing a mysterious revelation from Ben that he already torched one thereby leaving Lee Jong-su perplexed. Finally, treading this slow-paced mystery, you reach a point when Lee Jong-su, whose girlfriend, Hae-mi (immersive performance lent by Jeon Jong-seo), has gone missing, is burning with anger and ends up killing the suspect and setting the car on fire with the dead suspect lying inside it.

Burning, based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, is thought-provoking and mysterious. Hae-mi’s character is closed-book. Her act of pantomime while having dinner with Lee Jong-su is enigmatic. When Lee Jong-su visits her home, she calls her cat but there is no cat to be seen which leaves him thinking that she is calling an imaginary cat. There are moments when she is emphasising upon the search for the meaning of life. There is ambiguity about Ben too as to what his relationship with Hae-mi is all about. Lee Jong-su keeps receiving a phone call but the person on the other end keeps mum. A sort of mystification always surrounds the lead characters of the film. But the film feels humdrum at different stages. The snail-paced storytelling doesn’t help either. Even though you sense a brilliance as the film ends, you can’t help but feel the weariness.

Someone Great Movie Review: A dull take on love, relationship and break-ups

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The film tries to be too cool with everything that it is doing. But the more it does so, the more irksome it gets.

Jenny (Gina Rodriguez) is sitting alongside a stranger and is emotionally revealing to her that her 9-year-long love relationship with Nate (LaKeith Stanfield) just ended. The stranger, though listens to all of that, abruptly stands up and walks away leaving Jenny clueless. She reaches out to her best friends Blair (Brittany Snow) and Erin (DeWanda Wise). She is moving to a different city and wants to have a blast with her friends for one last time before they all move on with their lives. Netflix’s Someone Great has a clichéd story that even 90 minutes of run-time makes you feel like it is too long. It is so annoying that all you would be thinking is – “Come on, get it over with!”.

It sort of gives you an opportunity to take a peek into the lives of Jenny and Nate. You get to see how the bond between them grew stronger and eventually how the fallout happened. But these scenes are so short-lived that you hardly get attached to these characters and never actually get to feel Jenny’s affliction. But this is the only character whose life is shown a lot more than that of Blair and Erin. And Gina Rodriguez has acted tremendously well. So, after a prolonged depiction of her dejectedness of having broken up with her long-time boyfriend in combination with Gina’s great performance, you do understand her feelings of wanting to reunite with her boyfriend.

Then, there’s Erin neglecting her girlfriend before finally saying, “I love…” and her girlfriend responding back in an instant saying, “I love you too”. This is designed to be a touching scene. But, Erin’s love-life hasn’t been given any emphasis. So, you can’t expect anyone to be moved by this. Blair’s relationship with her boyfriend is full of pretence. Therefore, you would have already figured out that this would end too. And so it does! Moreover, Blair’s relationship with her boyfriend hasn’t been given any significance. You don’t really care whether they get along well or not. Brittany Snow’s weak performance doesn’t help either.

The jollier times that these girls enjoy together is perhaps the only phase which I felt was nice (Watch out for the singing and dancing that these girls do together). ‘Latina’ written on Jenny’s shirt or the ‘Feminist’ written on sofa cushion do their bit of magic as well.

The film tries to be too cool with everything that it is doing. But the more it does so, the more irksome it gets. Written and directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, Someone Great is a rom-com that is a commonplace.

Delhi Crime Web Series Review: A tense and heartrending portrayal

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Richie Mehta has done a marvellous job to depict a brutal incident in an engrossing way.

It’s not even a “heinous” crime. It’s “insanity”. An apt way of putting things into perspective by Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Vartika Chaturvedi (Shefali Shah). She is heading a criminal investigation to find out the 6 men who raped a woman on a moving bus. Delhi Crime, Netflix’s web series, directed by Richie Mehta, is an unsettling portrayal based on a real incident that shook the whole world. It was not only the gangrape that called for immediate investigation and protests in India’s capital city. The insane manner with which she was tortured was much more painful to even imagine (the details of which I am in no mood for reiterating as I am already in shock after watching this series and it’s going to be days before I can actually start thinking that I can get by in this cruel world).

The series not only takes potshots at the lack of alertness on the part of some of the police officers, which many argue is the major cause of crimes taking place, it also brings into purview how some of the honest cops put in their heart and soul into the investigation process. Vartika finds out that a male police officer is high on weed while on duty at a checkpoint on the road and replaces him with a female officer Neeti Singh (played brilliantly by a believable and empathetic Rasika Dugal). Neeti goes on to restrain a vehicle doing an illegal ivory trade. Vartika makes a good point that this is the reason why more women police officers are needed. That does not mean that there aren’t any good male cops around. A police constable, involved in this investigation, has no time to buy medicine for his wife. Another police officer readily accepts the order to travel a long way for capturing one of the rapists as his whereabouts come to light but the officer expresses his tiredness as he sighs wearily. Another cop, whose wife has come to police station carrying a lunchbox out of concern, has no time to eat food, let alone eating along with her. Even Inspector Bhupendra Singh (Rajesh Tailang), who is closely working with Vartika, has back pain but keeps going to help fast-track the investigation (Bhupendra’s respect for Vartika and the understanding between them is exhibited with perfection).

You feel the indignation rising inside you when one of the prime suspects gets caught and he, after tense interrogation, confesses that he committed this crime and adds that he has no regrets on doing so. But you also see that these rapists do have fear of their family. They try to commit suicide inside the prison fearing what would their family do when they get to know about their son being involved in this crime. One guy, apprehended by the police, tries to swim across a pond in order to get away from the police officers after being caught. But, when the police officer yells at him saying that what he did on that bus would be told to his mother, he stops right there, says that he will cooperate in this case and pleads to them not to reveal any of this to his mother. It is strange to see that someone, who loves his mother so dearly and does not want her to know about his stupid act, can go on to do horrible things to another woman.

One of the most impactful scenes is the one where the victim comes to her senses in the hospital and agrees to narrate the whole story for official records. She went through something so disastrous and inhuman. So, when she, with what strength she can gather, speaks with a low volume and tells everything to an official person (who is, again, a woman), it starts upsetting you. This official person, somehow, writes down the complete story controlling all her emotions.

It is agonising to even watch something terrible like this happening to a woman. Andrew Lockington’s music enhances the intensity with which the series proceeds and Richie Mehta has done a marvellous job to depict this brutal incident in an engrossing way.

Roma Movie Review: A film that will linger long upon the retina of memory

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Netflix’s Roma is a heartrending and picturesque film that will remain in our memories for ever so long.

The movie opens with a close-up shot of the floor as the background sound indicates that floor-cleaning is being done. To confirm that, dirty water splashes onto the floor. There is apparently an opening on the ceiling which can be seen through the reflection on the wet floor. It brings the outer sky in view. A plane flies above in the sky. Slowly camera changes its direction from the floor and moves upwards to show Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) busily cleaning the floor. By this time, I was already engrossed in the movie and enthralled by the scrupulous attention to detail in the camera work. Cleo is the central character who works as a maid for Sofia (Marina de Tavira). Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is a film that will linger long upon the retina of memory as it takes us through the lives of Cleo and Sofia and beautifully exhibits the pain they go through.

Cleo and Sofia express their anguish in different circumstances and for different reasons but their loss has a congruence. Sofia, whose husband has left her for another woman, tells Cleo that women are always alone no matter what people say. Cleo, whose boyfriend has betrayed her after impregnating her, delivers a stillborn baby. Later, Cleo weeps and reveals that she never wanted that baby to be born. We understand where’s that coming from and are moved by their loss.

Roma is a perfect example of majestic camera work. It is like a tutorial to the filmmakers. In many instances, the camera remains stationary at a point and swivels around as the characters do their job. It almost feels like you are standing right there keenly observing each of the characters. Cleo just goes about doing her household chores while the camera is fixed at a point and rotates around to follow her (It feels placid, hushed and lonely). While Sofia, her husband (Fernando Grediaga) and the kids are watching a programme on television, we see everyone of them sitting on a sofa with a smile on their face (camera slowly rotates from left to right) as Cleo is moving behind them showing a keen interest herself (You feel the attachment towards her while she sits down beside their sofa to watch the programme and the next moment Sofia asks her to bring tea). A beautiful bed-time song can be heard as we see a lot of toys kept in a room (again, the magnificent camera work is on display as it moves leisurely from left to right) and the visuals reveal Cleo singing for Sofia’s daughter. A 360-degree view from the centre of the house can be experienced when Cleo goes about switching off all the lights in the house (Thanks to Alfonso for presenting merely a switching-off-lights scene so remarkably!). To top it all off, it is a black and white film that made it visually even more appealing.

The brilliant piece of camera work further accentuated the feel of specific scenes. Cleo joins Sofia’s son and lies on a concrete slab at the terrace, with hands spread and eyes closed, playing what the boy calls as being “dead”. She responds by saying that she likes being dead. There was a feeling of tranquillity in the whole scene as it leaves us in a train of thoughts. The camera moves up, slowly rotates towards the right and we get the view of other terraces with clothes hung out to dry (There is nothing great about this view but it comes after a thoughtful scene that makes it more serene-looking). In another scene, Cleo reveals to her boyfriend that she is pregnant inside a cinema hall and he goes away saying that he will be back. But the movie ends and he is nowhere to be seen. While the movie ends on a happier note, we see her slightly worried and turning back to see if he is coming back. All the while camera is placed behind her with the full view of cinema hall and the screen to illuminate the contrasting emotions. As she comes outside the cinema hall, we do not see her crying or showing some strong emotions, instead we feel her forlorn state as she is engulfed by the noise of roadside sellers.

We get so attached to Cleo’s character that we rejoice when she is in a jollier mood and feel sad for her sufferings. She correlates, in a scene, a relaxing environment of the countryside with her own village and it soothes us. When Sofia scolds her to clean the dog shit on the house corridor, it hurts us. At road traffic, two children, wearing a frightened face, are glued to their car window to see Cleo crying in pain who is being taken to hospital as we feel her affliction. Cleo is about to have a glass of alcohol in a party but a couple dancing nearby hit her accidentally as she drops her glass (Her innocent face is enough to make you feel for her). Even Sofia’s children are very attached to her (We are emotionally drawn towards her when she informs about her being pregnant to Sofia, cries and Sofia’s son suddenly appears and hugs her. In another scene, Sofia’s children hug her and persuade her to come out with them for an outing).

As the movie comes to a close, we see that Cleo is back to doing her household chores at Sofia’s place. She is walking up the stairs to the terrace and the sky comes into view. A plane passes by in the sky which reminds us of the opening scene. It leaves us with a plethora of thoughts. One can think that it’s the end of all her sorrows and a return to normalcy. Or, one may think, whatever happens, life goes on. Netflix’s Roma is a heartrending and picturesque film that will remain in our memories for ever so long.

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.

The Haunting of Hill House Series Review: A spine-chilling series where even ‘no-ghosts’ scenes are horrifying

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This series will definitely inspire and pave way for more series to be made in the horror genre without trying too hard to make the viewers jump out of their skins… Spoilers ahead.

“Aaaargh..”, screams young Nell (Violet Mcgraw). She has woken up from a nightmare or that’s what her father Hugh Crain (Henry Thomas) thinks. But she says that she saw a bent-neck lady. He calms her daughter down and exits the room and closes the door slowly. Diagonally opposite is the room of the other daughter and he finds that she is sleeping quietly. He notices that the door of young Nell’s room is open again, closes it shut and goes back to his room. By this time, the expectation of seeing a ghost or something is already sky-high. The camera is focussing on the door that opened itself, slowly turns left towards the adjacent wall and the scene cuts. This scene comes at the start of the first episode. Such is the brilliance of this series that even when there are no ghosts around, you are terrified by the thought of seeing it.

Created and directed by Mike Flanagan, Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House is a supernatural horror series which is based on Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name. Over the course of 10 episodes, we travel along the journey of a family whose lives are haunted by their short stay at the Hill House. The greatest strength of this series is the way it is structured in its writing. There is a constant juggling between two different timelines. One of the timelines, which is also the root of the whole story around which everything depends upon, shows the terrifying things that happened to the family in Hill House in 1992. The other timeline shows the present world, that is, 26 years later, where we see how the events at the house have shaped up the lives of the family members. So, what happens here is that it lets you put different pieces together and keeps you constantly under its grip. And when I say young Nell or young Luke (Julian Hilliard), I am referring to the younger version of these characters during their stay at the Hill House.

This series is not about never-seen-before moments. The horrifying scenes are something that we have seen or experienced in different horror movies. There are no forced inclusions of ghosts to scare you. There are no unnecessary loud screams to frighten you or annoy you for that matter. It keeps you on your toes and takes ample amount of time to allow the fear to grow on your mind. When Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser), the eldest daughter, opens the door thinking that some kid is playfully knocking on her door, there is no one outside. And the next moment you hear loud bangs from all corners of the house sending down chills all over your body. In another scene, Hugh Crain wakes up in shock seeing his wife Olivia (Carla Gugino) sitting over him holding a knife-like object against his neck. There is a feeling of terror as, like Olivia, we try to picture how she got here in the first place.

Well, we do see appearances of ghosts but they come at the right places and their transient presence is enough to make your heart go pitter and patter. A tall ghost, with its feet just above the floor, slides inside a room. Young Luke, one of the sons of Hugh Crain, who is hiding under the bed, makes a sound out of fear and the tall ghost bends down to take a look at him. In another scene, Shirley is embalming, which is a way of forestalling the decomposition of the dead body, and while she is doing that, we are horror-struck by the anticipation of some ghostly thing to happen but nothing happens. And when she is done embalming and is leaving the room, she sees the ghost of her mother Olivia sitting on a table and beckoning her. Most frightening ghost in this series is the bent-neck lady. We see her appearing on top of young Nell. She even pops up out of nowhere in the car to scare the wits out of Shirley and her sister Theo (Kate Siegel).

There were scenes where someone just talks about a hair-raising experience where it compels you to imagine and feel the chills. A woman explains a horrific experience to Steven Crain (Michiel Huisman) who is another son of Hugh Crain. She explains how her husband died in a car crash and saw his ghost hanging over the ceiling of her room. We do not see any visuals here but it is so terrifying to just envisage that. In another scene, Dudley, who is a caretaker of Hill House along with his wife, explains how he asked his wife not to stay at Hill House after dark and stopped seeing strange events happening in his house. Such scenes just raised the bar higher and made this series as frightful as it can be.

I felt like the series started losing the grip post-midway. It did not scatter my wits as it did in the first five episodes (there are 10 episodes in total). But it did not bother me much because I was still engrossed and affrighted as the series uncovered more important details of the events that happened at the Hill House. Mike Flanagan’s writing is top-notch coupled with great performances from the casts. This series will definitely inspire and pave way for more series to be made in the horror genre without trying too hard to make the viewers jump out of their skins.