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Half Widow review: Danish Renzu’s heart-breaking tale of love, longing and loss is a must-watch

Half Widow review: A hard look at the harrowing and emotional trauma of half widows in Kashmir, Danish Renzu’s directorial debut is story telling at its best and not to be missed

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Kashmir has time and again been explored in cinema. In fact, just last month there was Salman Khan’s Nitin Kakkar-directed Notebook – a romantic commercial entertainer set in Kashmir and simultaneously there was Ashvin Kumar’s No Fathers in Kashmir that took a raw and hard look at the situation there post the insurgency. What was common in both the films was the stunning beauty of Kashmir being captured and presented as a priced highlight. Well, that’s where Danish Renzu’s Half Widow differs. In fact, not just from these two films, but also from every other film that’s either been made, based, set or shot in Kashmir!

As the name suggests, Renzu’s film addresses the trauma of that marginalised section of women in Kashmir, whose husbands have gone missing in the Valley or as they would say have been taken away from them. The lives of these women becomes an unending tale of wait which they do even as they question if their husbands are even alive… and whether they should consider themselves married or widows – hence Half Widow! The term is a reality of the Valley, just as true as the paradisical beauty of Kashmir is.

However, Renzu’s film while set in Kashmir focuses on the plight of these Kashmiri half widows and the place’s beauty becomes an incidental element. So, while Kashmir is explored as a natural setting, not a single frame is shot that would forcibly exploit its beauty. The shikaras, the snow, pathways covered with chinar-leaves… everything is a backdrop never the highlight. The film has Kashmir at its heart, but its protagonist Neela as the soul.

What Half Widow is all about? The film begins with Neela (Neelofar Hamid) penning her thoughts, as she writes that every age has its own dream. With this we step back in time and into her world. Neela is an orphan and she and her younger brother Zakir (Shahnawaz Bhat) have been brought up by their loving Khala (Haseena Sofi). When she’s of marriageable age, like any other young woman, Neela dreams of a happy married life. She even finds a loving husband in the kind-hearted Khalid (Mir Sarwar), who is an artisan by profession and runs a small business of making paper mache handicrafts. On their marriage day, Khalid realises the strong and loving bond Neela shares with her brother Zakir and he immediately takes him under his care too. Neela is soon pregnant and everything is perfect in her little loving world, even while the Kargil war is on. However, one fateful night her life takes a drastic turn when Khalid gets picked up from their home for interrogation by the paramilitary forces. A violent fall during the arrest results in Neela having a miscarriage. As she overcomes her grief of having lost her unborn child, she sets out to search for her husband.

Suddenly having to face a married woman’s worst nightmares, she is heart-broken but refuses to give up her search or wait. All of Neela’s attempts and pleas are futile as she is unable to trace him down at the police station in the days to come. Khalid becomes just another missing face from the Valley, likes hordes of other locals. Neela is relentless in her search, as she attends rallies and prays in dargahs, visits graveyards and gets thrown out of police stations, oscillating between helplessness, prayers, hope and the stark reality of the situation. The trauma of checking dead bodies and not knowing whether to be happy or sad at the bodies turning out to be someone else’s, Neela battles these heart-breaking situations and more, almost daily.

But the wait is endless as days turn to months and months to years. Inspite of laws permitting half widows to remarry and her aunt also coaxing her to consider remarriage, Neela refuses to even give it a second thought. Derived of all sense of being, she ceases to have an identity. With her like a shadow all through this time is her younger brother Zakir, who is her strongest support. As time elapses, their aunt passes away, Zakir gets married to a local girl Zyeda (Yasmeena Wani) and they even have a son Faizan (Ayaan Sikandar). Does Khalid finally return? What happens along Neela’s wait is the heart-breaking story told in one-and-half hour of the film’s runtime.

Yay: Half Widow is story-telling at its best. The heart-aching simplicity with which the story is told to Neela’s understanding of life as she deals with pain, longing and the emotional trauma of a hollowness left by her beloved’s absence, every aspect is soul-stirring. The film belongs to these three: Renzu’s vision and direction, Neelofar Hamid’s performance as Neela and the show-stealer: the soulful dialogues and lyrics written by Sunayana Kachroo. Whether it is to convey Neela’s angst and anger as she lashes out at journalists saying how Kashmir is only news for the media who just want to sell the grief of the victims and not empathise with them – or then to portray her hurt when called illiterate, as she says, “Zakhmon ki sirf ek zubaan hoti hai… dard ki!” Without relying on upheaved dramatics, every dialogue still strikes at your heart and stays there long after.

Renzu instead of indulging in politics blame-game, reaches out and taps deep into the emotions of the women who live torn lives in a dilemma, whether to move on and remarry or continue waiting for their missing husbands. Their reluctance to move on also reflects the judgmental attitude of the society that the women find themselves facing in case of choosing to remarry. When one such woman expresses her fears and doubts, Neela says, “Everyone should do what’s best for them!” A simple yet strong statement, it resonates with women across the world. Also, Zakir as the protective brother, taking a stand when he refuses to let his sister go to Half Widow’s shelter home at his marriage is commendable.

Neela, between helplessness and pain, struggles to make peace with her forced and unfortunate circumstances. While there is just no news of her missing husband, time seems to have stopped for her, while the world around her moves on. Consumed by grief of missing her husband, she even contemplates suicide. But inspite of what seems like fighting a losing battle and succumbing to disappointment, she finds hope and an optimism to carry on and find a larger purpose in life while the wait continues. Her heartwarming interactions with her aunt, an aged shepherd, and a street singer drop along some beautiful nuggets on life and some even ignite in her a desire to find meaning and a sense of fulfillment.

Half-widow

Renzu has strictly cast local talent and all actors fit into their characters effortlessly. The three leads Neelofar, Mir and Shahnawaz do a marvelous job. Neelofar brings alive Neela’s pain and struggle and her performance will move you – first to tears and then also make you smile through them. A particular scene where she sees another wedding with tears rolling down her face is heart-wrenching. The cinematography (Antonio Cisneros) retains the strong flavour of Kashmir in the subtleties of everyday life, yet doesn’t let the beauty empower the story-telling. The story in itself is told beautifully and executed equally well. The music fits in perfectly well. The art department, the editing, sound and the costume department ace it too.

Nay: The fact that the film has not yet got a theatrical release! Well, we could say that the language should’ve been Hindi throughout and that the subtitles are a distraction, but to be honest, it truly isn’t!

CineBlitz Verdict: Danish Renzu’s film is a master-piece! A heart-wrenching poignant tale addressing the stark reality of Half Widows, the film moves you and raises many questions. But what it truly about is finding the real purpose of life and celebrating the triumph of human spirit over everything else! Half Widow is an endearing tale tapping into the emotional hollowness that Neela bears while her circumstances force her to embark on a harrowing journey of self-discovery. Soul-stirring and deeply moving, this heart-breaking tale of love, longing and loss is a must-watch for the brilliant story-telling.

Star Rating: 4 Stars

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Kabir Singh Review: Shahid Kapoor’s performance in and as the toxic lover, Kabir Singh, aces all else

The ‘intense’ love story Kabir Singh featuring Shahid Kapoor and Kiara Advani is a veritable kiss-a-thon!

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Star Rating: 

Kabir Singh is director Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s remade Hindi version of his own Telugu hit film Arjun Reddy (released in 2017). The Telugu version starred Vijay Deverakonda and Shalini Pandey in the lead roles, whilst the Hindi version features Shahid Kapoor as the titular character, paired with Kiara Advani as his romantic lead. Ironically, neither of the two were Vanga’s first choices (but both have done ample justice to their roles). The film is called a romantic drama, but earned an ‘Adults Only’ certificate at the Censor Board. The film is jointly produced by Cine1 Studios and T-Series. Despite a lot of back-and-forth on who would play the two leads, once Shahid was locked, the film was wrapped up in a record eight months, and released today (June 21). The heart-thumping soundtrack is by Mithoon, Amaal Malik, Akhil Sachdeva, Vishal Mishra and Sachet Parampara.

What Kabir Singh is all about:

It is the ‘intense’ love story between two medical students Kabir Rajdheer Singh (Shahid Kapoor) and Preeti Sikka (Kiara Advani), whose love doesn’t come to fruition in marriage. It unhinges the already toxic-charactered hero, now a surgeon, who becomes an alcoholic and descends on a self-destructive path when his girl-friend’s parents oppose their union and marry her off to somebody else. His family and friends rally around him and despair of him alternately. But he is hell-bent on getting his love back or then it doesn’t matter what happens… Selfishly enough, to him or to the people who love him and suffer for him.

The aggressive Kabir Singh, an academic topper and senior is respected and feared by all in the college. More fear because he is a bully and any amount of trying to bathe him in glowing adjectives would be a lie. He imposes his love on the young and impressionable Preeti, a fresher, staking and claiming her as his territory by going class-to-class saying it. As students of anatomy, they spend every spare minute in exploring each other’s, and rarely pause between kisses, the chain that keeps their love-story literally bonded. And so they complete their education. He goes to her parents to ask for her hand. Actually demand it. They refuse, and there are fights galore, and the two lovers say a lot of bad stuff to each other and move on with their lives. One with alcohol, and the other, with a ‘so-called marriage’. The downslide of Kabir is rapid and devastating for those around him. How does this whole bizarre, toxic relationship really end?  Ah well, watch and learn what not to do in one.

Yay:

Shahid Kapoor is simply brilliant as the troubled and troubling Kabir Singh. He seems to have enjoyed the role at points and really suffered at times. Either way, his immersion into this flawed character was complete and flawless. A spoilt, rich brat who is best friends with his forward thinking grandmommy (played very well by Kamini Kaushal), at constant loggerheads with his dad, Suresh Oberoi, and doted on by his mature, yet indulgent brother Karan, played by Arjan Bajwa. Even though his was a brief role, Arjan lent a lot of credibility to his character, and layered it as best he could to showcase the depth of his nature.

Kabir’s friends, Shiva (Soham Majumdar – very well-performed) and Kamal (Kunal Thakur) stick by his side through thick and thin. Kiara was effective as the naïve, impressionable and sometimes wilful lover girl. Their chemistry is unmissable. You can cut it with a knife. As performances and storytelling go, it makes for compelling viewing. The dialogues by Siddharth Singh, Garima Wahal and Sandeep Vanga score in many places.

Nay: The kind of hero this character is, is basically someone who one would suggest, required psychiatric help. The acceptance of someone like this so casually and normally grates one’s core. Yes, lovers like these, exist aplenty in the South Indian film hero’s portrayals, possibly in that social milieu too. But it completely sends off dangerous wrong signals as to the very foundation of what relationships are built on. The thought that the character is based a lot on Sandeep Vanga Reddy is scary. Emotional aggression is not acceptable. Ever. And physical intimidation, even lesser. THIS IS SO NOT HOW TO WIN LOVE. In fact, going further, this does not classify as love at all. It is glorified lust, with no thought about emotional damage on either lover’s part for the other. Or how do they justify just upping and leaving the other suffering in the trail of negative action post their separation?

Aarif Sheikh’s editing left one wanting for serious respite. At just short of three hours, it seemed a tale of interminable proportions. And not a happy experience. The sound track is good, but heart-thumpingly loud right through, no subtlety. But that is something this film lacks at many levels. It is not a subtle love story.

No amount of disclaimers and warnings can work with the sheer quantity of alcohol and drugs and the ways and means to hide it in open sight that were executed in Kabir’s home. Moreover, an almost-always-drunk surgeon taking pride in a few hundred surgeries where his hands didn’t shake, sorry guys, the medical community needs waking up. Despite Shahid’s excellent performance, at no point in time does he evoke one’s sympathy whatsoever. He is a selfish, manic, unduly angry, badly behaved, horny bugger, his misdeeds protected by money. There is no poetic or philosophic side to this wrongly named Kabir.

Cine Blitz Verdict:

Whilst the film may do well in the South and in the North of India, metro cities’ urbane audiences might find it off- putting. For sure it’ll do business. You should watch it for Shahid Kapoor alone. And to learn what not to do and be in a love relationship.

 

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The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir review: Dhanush shines in his international debut and steals the show with his effortless charm in this delightful film

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Review: Dhanush’s fantastic performance and the spirited story are the film’s high points

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The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir poster

Star rating:

We have seen several ‘Hollywood’ filmmakers in the past dabble with films set in India or with Indian protagonists. Ken Scott’s The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir is the latest addition. Based on Romain Puértolas’ French novel, The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe, the film is a global production with filmmaking and cast involving three countries – France, Belgium, India – but is largely set in India with Dhanush playing the protagonist. The film marks the South superstar’s debut in international cinema (We wouldn’t want to narrow it down to Hollywood). So, how does Dhanush score in his English film debut? And does The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir make the cut for the Indian audience? Read on to find out!

What The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir is all about: 

Travelling to Paris someday is the only dream that a hard-working single mother, Siringh (Amruta Sant) regales her young son with. However when school starts, the reality that they are poor, hits Ajatashatru Lavash Patel aka Aja, who decides that he doesn’t want to be poor anymore! In a bid to break away from poverty, street-smart Aja inspired by a fake fakir, devises con-plans early in his childhood. He grows up to be a trickster cheating people with fake magic stunts along with his two cousins.

After his mother’s untimely death, Aja finds out that his father was a French magician. His only aim in life then is to travel to Paris. He somehow manages to do that and carries with him his dead mother’s ashes. While there, he even visits a furniture store that he was obsessed with as a child, after seeing its photographs in a magazine. It’s at this store that he runs into an American, Marie (Erin Moriarty) instantly falling in love with her. They decide to meet at the Eiffel Tower the following day. But destiny or ‘karma’ has other plans for Aja! He soon finds himself on one big adventure ride that takes him across Europe.

Yay:

Child actor Hearty Singh playing the young Aja is an absolute natural on the screen. He lights up the frame each time with his innocence and mischief. From his overtly dramatic-outbursts to his curiosity-laden questions about his dad – he evokes laughter each time. The mother-son equation is also heartwarming.

Dhanush easily carries forward that amazing charm as the older Aja. He is simply fantastic in his role. Dhanush effortlessly breathes life into his character, enhancing the narrative that at many points threatens to be a lackluster affair. He makes you feel Aja’s highs and lows at every turn. The film is ably-supported by the rest of the cast. Erin Moriarty (Marie), Amruta Sant (Siringh), Bernicio Bejo as Nelly and Barkhad Abdi are particularly noteworthy. Dhanush shares an amazing chemistry with Erin and Bernicio.

The generous dollops of humour do make it a fun entertainer – the run-in between Nelly’s ex-lovers is hilarious – and it is also laced with several emotional moments that will tug at your heart strings. With due credit to the director, there are some very strong issues like that of juvenile delinquency, illegal immigration and displaced refugees, addressed with a light-heartedness, but not handled insensitively. The music and the direction are average, though the cinematography brilliantly captures the essence of each country beautifully, right from the Mumbai chaos to the beauty of Rome’s cobbled streets.

Nay:

Like in most attempts by Hollywood filmmakers, this film too at times reeks of the limited approach the westerners often have in showcasing India. Their obsession of associating and presenting an India with cattle, Bollywood-style dance, the desi look (read maang tika, bindi, ghagra-choli and jewellery), and snake-charmers and fakirs is endless and their efforts to capture that relentless! But for the Indian audience this doesn’t work and is perhaps where it may not click with most. The film slackens pace in places. The narrative also seems to fall off edges at times, which is lifted pluckily by Dhanush.

CineBlitz Verdict:

The film is a beautiful and breezy story about love, hope, karma and dreams. It is inspiring and heartwarming that makes it an interesting watch. The cliches spoil the fun at times and there’s nothing extraordinary about the film, but Dhanush is the reason why it should be put on your must-watch list. A petty thief onscreen, he’s a show-stealer too! The brilliant actor proves his mettle again and shines in his international debut.

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Movie Reviews

Kaafir Review: Dia Mirza gives her career’s best performance in this tale of divide, nationality and unspoken love

Zee5 Original Kaafir starring Dia Mirza and Mohit Raina is a series that deals with a sensitive topic beautifully and emerges a winner

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Kaafir Review
a still from Dia Mirza and Mohit Raina starrer Kaafir

Star Rating: 

 

Writer Bhavani Iyer has a skill of building an intense narrative around a compelling love story and still makes them look appealing together, with nothing out of place. This craft is commendable since not many can master it. Kaafir gives us Dia Mirza 2.0, and the actress shines brighter than any other star in this sky created by director Sonam Nair and Bhavani Iyer. In a tale that talks about longing, confusion, and unexpressed love, the screenplay hits you hard and all you need is a big box of tissues. With a strong script, storyline, and brilliant performances Kaafir deserves your watch.

What’s Kaafir About: An ex-lawyer-turned- journalist Vedant (Mohit Raina), in search of a human interest story, stumbles upon footage of a toddler who was born in a jail in Kashmir as her mother is an alleged militant. Curiosity makes him meet Kainaaz Akhtar and her daughter in jail. Kainaz, a Pakistani citizen, following a bad incident, crosses the border and enters India where she is caught and declared a militant, and kept captive for seven years when her punishment is actually just 15 months. In the course of her stretch in jail, Kainaaz goes through a lot of hardships and violence. After getting to know her story, he sets on a mission to free her and send her back to her country. The storyline talks about divide, nationality, humanity and unsaid love, but never strays too far away from its main plot.

Yay: Let’s just take a moment to appreciate Dia Mirza for the performance she has bought to the table as Kainaaz. In her digital debut, the actress has sunk her teeth deep into the character. The pain, vulnerability, anger, disgust, love and much more is evident on that face, and you can feel all of that even when she has no dialogues. Those eyes are enough.

Talking about the high point, writer Bhavani Iyer who also has Alia Bhatt’s Raazi to her credit knows what she is talking about. Here, the enmity between the two countries isn’t the fodder to create a character, but finding a solution is. Direction by Sonam Nair puts the blocks just right and keeps you up through the series. Just when you think that Kainaaz is released from the jail in an early episode (Yes, spoiler) you are confused as to what’s left now. It is later that you realise that the canvas is much bigger than her acquittal, it is way beyond that.

What has our hearts is the subtlety in the scenes dealing with the feelings the two have for each other. You know its love, they know its love, but letting it go is all that they can do. We need tissues in abundance at this point.

Pratik Shah’s cinematography captures the set-up nicely. The beautiful snow-clad valley of Kashmir turns out to be a gateway to this dark colourless world of Kainaaz. The background score is there to make you uneasy, the chaos around Vedant in the outer world, and the deadly silence around Kainaaz in the jail is noticeable.

Mohit Raina as Vedant is perfect. Though the set-up is similar to his last outing URI: The Surgical Strike, the actor brings newness to this part.

Nay: Just two things, in the course of the show, the script mentions the Kashmiri Pandits, and a few other things which are hit-and-miss. A more subtle approach might have driven the point home more effectively. Also, the time frame in the first half gets a bit confusing.

CineBlitz Verdict: By the climax, a poem in Dia’s voice written by Swanand Kirkire plays in the background. It roughly read “Log ladte hai milne ki khaatir, par apni to bichad jaane ki ladaai thi,” if that doesn’t hit you hard, then nothing will. Watch Kaafir, and you must, for Dia, for the writing, and the love that is never really confessed. A series that deals responsibly with a sensitive topic and emerges a winner. We fully recommend watching this Zee5 Original.

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