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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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Movie Reviews

Selection Day review: Netflix’s unconventional cricket drama is a must watch!

Selection Day, the Indian Netflix Original cricket drama avoids the sports film clichés and keeps you engaged in its uncertain turn of events. Here’s a review of part 1 and part 2 of this 12-episode series.

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Indians are obsessed with cricket. Generally, the kids are the ones who struggle to convince their parents to allow them to pursue cricket as a career. But in Selection Day, it is the father who is obsessed with making his two sons the best batsmen in the world – so much so that he calls them as Champion No. 1 and Champion No. 2 instead of their real names. Based on Aravind Adiga’s novel of the same name, Selection Day is an unconventional cricket drama. It avoids the clichés of a sports drama and focuses more on the inner and interpersonal conflict of characters.

The trio of father and sons come to Mumbai to get picked up by a school that has a cricket team so that they can apply for the Mumbai cricket team selection. Their rejections bring them to Weinberg Academy which is also struggling for funds and a win in the Harris Shield, a local cricket tournament in Mumbai. The cricket coach of the academy, who had given up coaching, spots the talent of the two boys at Shivaji Park during a stroll with his wife and gets them enrolled at Weinberg.

The journey of the trio begins and many layers and secrets of their relationship begin to unfold. Manjunath (Champion No. 2) doesn’t like cricket yet he’s playing it courtesy the tyranny of his father. Manju wants to become a scientist. Radha (Champion No. 1) is claimed by his father to become a better player than Sachin Tendulkar.

Watch the Selection Day trailer here:

Mohammad Samad (Tumbbad) and Yash Dholye as the two brothers (Manjunath and Radhakrishna) give a sincere performance. Karanvir Malhotra as the troublesome rich brat Javed Ansari has done justice to his layered character. Rajesh Tailang whom you must have adored as a cop in Delhi Crime plays the tyrant, manipulative and unlikeable father here. He’s too good as the bad guy. The effortless Ratna Pathak Shah as the Weinberg Academy’s head Nellie is a treat to watch. After a long time, Mahesh Manjrekar is seen in a refreshing role of the cricket coach Tommy Sir.

Netflix and other OTT platforms have given the Indian filmmakers and content creators the much-needed space and opportunity to tell authentic stories. Here (like Sacred Games), Maharashtrians speak nuanced Marathi, unlike in a mainstream Hindi film that would ridiculously mix languages for a wider audience to understand. Personally, I would rather read subtitles than listen to shabbily mixed languages in dialogues. The digital world has enabled storytellers to tell multilingual stories without compromising on the vision.

I haven’t read the novel by Aravind Adiga but the series is smartly written by Marston Bloom (Hindi dialogue by Sumit Arora) and finely executed by directors Udayan Prasad and Karan Boolani. Soumik Mukherjee has filmed Mumbai and maidan cricket with a fresh vision. Shashwat Sachdev’s (Uri: The Surgical Strike, Veere Di Wedding) music too avoids the sports drama clichés and the signature tune keeps playing in the head.

It seems like Selection Day was shot completely in one go and then divided into 12 episodes across two seasons. One might argue whether it could have been made into a feature-length film but a show is better. Feature films in India are limiting. And if the end of part 2 is any indication, I would be looking forward to Selection Day part 3.

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Kalank review: Varun, Alia, Sonakshi, Aditya, Sanjay and Madhuri’s period drama is heart-wrenchingly beautiful

Kalank review: Varun, Alia, Sonakshi, Aditya, Sanjay and Madhuri’s impactful romantic drama delves deep into the layered complex relationships

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Kalank has undoubtedly been one of the most highly-anticipated films in this quarter. The makers had over the weeks been treating us all with sneak-peeks of what to expect when the magnum opus releases. The one thing that stood out as a major highlight and became an instant talking point was the sheer grandeur of the film. The sets, the songs, even the casting… Everything spelt grand. The film, as we all know by now, stars Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditya Roy Kapur, Sanjay Dutt and Madhuri Dixit.

The pairings itself generated a lot of buzz – Varun and Alia is already a hit pair, Sanjay – Madhuri is a pair reuniting on the big screen after more than two decades and so naturally is being looked forward to. Sonakshi and Aditya make for an interesting jodi too and their glimpses together looked promising. With so much to look forward to, there is obviously much excitement about Kalank. But does it live up to the hype and the expectations?

Read our full Kalank review to know!

What Kalank is all about: The year is 1946 and the film takes place in pre-partition Husnabad, outside Lahore. Now let us be very clear early on – though the film’s situations are largely triggered and driven by the communal tensions simmering in the months leading up to India’s Independence and partition in 1947, the film is fictionalised and not a historical account. So, if you expect slices of your history chapters being served to you, you will be disappointed. Instead, the film is about the complex relationships and the layered lives of the six lead characters and their emotions interweaved through the story set in the violent background of the partition.

The lead characters – Roop (Alia), Zafar (Varun), Satya (Sonakshi), Dev (Aditya), Balraj (Dutt), Begum Bahar (Madhuri) – are all distinctly different from each other. They are strongly defined by their individual personality traits. Every character’s fabric is built from a common thread of emotional turmoil. And it resonates with each character. Each character is fighting his or her own battle. This tone is set early in the film and it’s clear that the film is not going to be a peppy, breezy romantic fare. It’s dark and intense, brightened only by the grand and lavish backdrop along with the occasional naach-gaana.

So, Satya is suffering from cancer with only one year to survive. Like a dutiful, mature wife and bahu, she sacrifices her own happiness to ensure that her husband will stay happy even after her death. The solution: She gets her husband – a silent and broody, Dev married to Roop, who is somewhat a rebel at heart and agrees to the matrimony only as a compromise. Balraj Chaudhry is the strict patriarch of the affluent Chaudhry family upholding the family values. The father-son (Balraj and Dev) are at loggerheads not only on personal matters, but also political views and opinions when it comes to running their newspaper.

On a parallel track is the dark and infamous world of Heera Mandi that also houses the palatial kotha of Begum Bahar, the renowned courtesan. It is here that Zafar works as an ironsmith. A flamboyant, yet angst-ridden character, his anger stems from being the illegitimate child of Bahar and Balraj and being addressed like-wise. He finds his solace in women, his chief interest being a nautch girl (Kiara Advani).

Nurturing her heart-break since years, Bahar is even shunned by her son. Zafar harbours a strong hatred towards Balraj and his family as much as he does towards his mother. He aids Abdul (Kunal Kemmu) in working towards spreading unrest aimed at harming the newspaper run by Balraj. Roop drawn to Bahar’s voice goes to Heera Mandi. Eventually, she gets the Chaudhry family to agree and allow her to learn music from Bahar. There Roop runs into Zafar and the ground is set for the most-sizzling chemistry we have seen in recent times. It is intense! Roop, who anyway felt trapped in a loveless marriage with Dev, falls for Zafar. The attraction of forbidden love is unhinged.

As the story progresses, the characters find themselves locked in a never-ending emotional tussle. Sonakshi and Aditya are coming to terms with having a new wife in the picture, Alia being drawn to Varun, who is struggling with acceptance. And of course, there’s Dutt struggling to make peace with his past mistake and Madhuri repenting her unrequited love and loss. Even as the characters struggle to overcome their emotional upheavals, riots break out, and their lives are turned upside down, ultimately defining their choices.

Yay: Like we said, Kalank was so far being spoken about for the grand and lavish sets being compared to Sanjay Leela Bhansali films. But the real highlights of the film are the performances, the dialogues and the nuanced handling of the complex relationships. The larger-than-life characters and their heart-wrenching performances actually dwarf the magnificent backdrops. The intense chemistry between the characters is the best part of the film.

The endearing and tender moments between Sonakshi and Aditya are in sharp contrast with the searing on-the-brink-romance between Alia and Varun, who are emotionally torn as forbidden lovers. The ache of lost love is epitomized by Madhuri and Dutt beautifully. Not just these, the father-son confrontations, the mother-son showdown, all add up to the film in brilliantly crafted scenes.

All the stars are in top form and the film sees their best performances till date. Varun aces as Zafar channeling the anger and angst through his eyes. His performance in this one makes Badlapur and October look like a warm-up. Alia proves her mettle yet again. She is one of the finest actresses and with Kalank she does it yet again. Dutt speaks volumes with his eyes and Madhuri brings out the pain of heartache beautifully. Sonakshi will remind you of her film Lootera. With Aditya, she makes an impressive outing. Kunal’s grey act is impressive and Kiara does well in her brief role.

Overall, the performances supported by strong dialogues make the maximum impact and score the film all its stars. The narration and the story are interesting and Abhishek Varman’s direction and screenplay score brownie points too. In fact, the director has shown the nuances of each character very sensitively. The music, choreography and cinematography are all top-notch.

Nay: The biggest fail for the film is the length, which could’ve been shorter by atleast 20 minutes. The VFX and CGI were spoilers too. While the bull-fight scene was exciting in concept and execution, but it was not convincing to be a part of the narrative. While the music works, some songs could have been avoided and seem forced in the film. Alia’s introduction scene fails to make a mark and her conversation with her father seems too tame.

The events leading up to the climax also fail to add depth and seem rushed. The film fails to present a balanced view when dealing with the communal aspects. The film uses the Hindu-Muslim conflict as the backdrop and reflects the simmering politically charged agendas fuelled by religion. However, they all seem one-sided.

CineBlitz Verdict: A highly-charged emotional love drama, Kalank rides high on the intense and complex relationships fuelled by romance. The film is entertaining, but leans heavily towards heart-wrenching moments. The film boasts of some brilliantly crafted emotional scenes. Kudos to Abhishek Varman and the cast! The film is a visual treat no doubt and keeps you entertained, but might feel a tad-bit long! A must-watch for die-hard romantics and definitely for the fans of its lead stars!

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Kalank review: Not Varun – Alia, but Sonakshi – Aditya’s chemistry is being talked about by the audience

Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt’s period drama set in 1940s has been getting a mixed response, read on…

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Karan Johar’s magnum opus Kalank released this morning (April 17). The film has been trending ever since the makers revealed the first look. While tinsel town gave the film thumbs up, the audience have mixed responses. Read on to know what people are saying about the Abhishek Varman directed multi-starrer.

Kalank has looked grand throughout, while many have loved it, few think it could have been made better. But everyone has been gushing about Madhuri Dixit Nene and the cast. A tweet says, “Just now completed watching in Bangalore  WoW really top notch performances especially  I went for theatre only only for u VD  Me and my MoM watched.She also liked lots Ur expressions, acting, costumes, dance & Climax  I hope u notice this tweet VD.” Another says, “Lastly, I liked a few things. Dev and Satya’s relationship. Dev’s inner conflict and in parts, Varun Dhawan’s convincing performance. He tries to live the life of Zafar but in some parts, he just can’t stop being Varun. .” Check out all the fan reactions the film has got, here:

 

https://twitter.com/divyadjj06/status/1118412510070099970

Kalank is directed by Abhishek Varman and stars Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Madhuri, Sanjay Dutt, Aditya Roy Kapur and Sonakshi Sinha in pivotal parts. The film was Karan Johar’s dream project that has finally translated on to the 70mm. If you have already watched Kalank , let us know what you think about the film in the comments section below. Also, for more updates and gossip, stay tuned to CineBlitz.

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