Within a month, after an impressive Gully Boy made waves at Berlinale and the Indian box office, filmmaker Zoya Akhtar is back to business with her Amazon Prime Original Made In Heaven. The show created by Zoya and her long-time collaborator Reema Kagti (Talaash, Gold) exposes the hypocrisy of the elite in India when it comes to the big fat Indian weddings. Written by Akhtar, Kagti and Alankrita Shrivastava (Lipstick Under My Burkha), Made In Heaven revolves around the lives of Karan Mehra (Arjun Mathur) and Tara Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala), two wedding planners navigating their business and relationships through the cut-throat competitive market of wedding planning in Delhi.
The first two episodes directed by Zoya Akhtar give the series a good start. The director moves the narrative swiftly to setup the mood and characters without wasting too much time in explanation. The leads Karan and Tara deal with their own problems as they plan others’ weddings. Karan, a son of a businessman, in debt, haunted by the failure of his previous venture, is living a life of shame and secrecy; he’s a homosexual. Tara has made her way from rags-to-riches by marrying a business tycoon Adil Khanna (Jim Sarbh) who is the main investor in ‘Made In Heaven’, the wedding planning company that Tara runs with Karan.
The big fat weddings in Delhi are a winning premise for a mainstream Bollywood film (Maneesh Sharma’s 2010 sleeper-hit Band Baaja Baaraat). But what the creators of this show have done with this setting is much more intense, impactful and most importantly, necessary.
Watch the Made In Heaven trailer here:
The nine episodes of the series show nine weddings. The narrative is consistent as all the nine episodes are written by Zoya, Reema and Alankrita. Where it falters is when the most obvious things are said with in-your-face dialogues. Certain plot twists are too predictable because of the way a character or sequence is setup. Be it a royal molesting a girl or a shady landlord trying to invade the privacy of his tenant or who is going to sleep with whom. The show is directed by four directors – Zoya Akhtar, Nitya Mehra, Prashant Nair, and Alankrita Shrivastava. But the narrative has a strong Zoya-Reema touch. The noise and the silence are dealt perfectly (Zoya has been using silences really well to tell a story, notably Lust Stories and Gully Boy).
The series is technically sound – the cinematography of Jay Oza, John Jacod Payyapalli, Stefan Ciupek, and Tanay Satam keeps things intimate and personal and the visuals stay with you. The hollowness in big places and people is captured beautifully. The series scores big on the music front as well. Just like he did for Gully Boy, music supervisor Ankur Tiwari has created-curated music with independent artists for the series.
The lead characters are flawed and that’s what makes them real. The supporting characters have their own layers that add to the ‘catharsis’ (a word Zoya uses a lot). What plagues the show in a minor way (thankfully minor) is the underplaying of Sobhita Dhulipala’s portrayal of Tara. She appears to be two different people when she speaks English and when she switches to Hindi. It has got more to do with acting than her rags to riches switch in the show. Adil Khanna played by Jim Sarbh is the least likeable character in the narrative. Whether the makers intended that character to keep the viewer guessing or not, Jim looks confused in his performance and it’s annoying to watch him.
Shivani Raghuvanshi plays a Dwarka girl named Jaspreet ‘Jazz’ Kaur trying to find her feet in the elite South Delhi. Her character has spark but could have been more developed. The voice-over by the detached Kabir (Shashank Arora) at the end of every episode is poignant. Kalki Koechlin does what she does best in a small role as Faiza Naqvi, Tara’s friend who has an affair with her husband Adil. She’s mostly seen discussing her life’s choices with her therapist.
The performance that stands out is of Karan played by Arjun Mathur. Arjun shows the angst, tragedy, pain, and shame of being gay with perfection. He is a victim but he’s not portrayed as just a victim. While being homosexual, he has the same set of issues that any heterosexual would. For that matter the show isn’t biased towards any gender, sexual orientation or class. It shows everything and everyone just the way they are.
And that’s what makes you think how do you know someone and how do you make sense of all this? Would you judge Jazz swiping company’s card just so that she can buy expensive clothes for a day and return them? Or judge the girl who doesn’t mind marrying a tree before she marries her man because she’s a ‘manglik’? And will you judge Tara tricking Adil so that she can climb the ladder to the riches? Or would you judge Karan for his choices? The pain he caused to the boy he loved in school so that people don’t know that he’s gay? Karma does find its way to show you the full circle. And the creators have used it well in the narrative.
From caste politics, dowry, infidelity, to dignity and freedom, Made In Heaven touches all the issues that plague the constitution of marriage in India. The issues are known and seen on screen before. But Made In Heaven addresses them in a new and better light. It’s worth a binge watch.
Star rating: 3 stars
Bulbbul review: A visual spectacle let down by thin writing
Bulbbul on Netflix is a horror revenge drama film produced by Anushka Sharma and stars Tripti Dimri as an enigmatic woman in early the 1900s in Bengal Presidency.
Director: Anvita Dutt
Cast: Tripti Dimri, Avinash Tiwary, Rahul Bose, Paoli Dam, Parambrata Chattopadhyay
When after watching a film, you talk about the cinematography, production design, colors or music more than the film’s story, it’s an indication that the storyteller has lost his/her audience. Netflix India’s latest original film Bulbbul unfortunately falls into this category. The opening credit sequence with red flowers is captivating enough to raise the expectations from the film. You’re blown away by the visual spectacle that writer-director Anvita Dutt has created with her team – cinematographer Siddharth Diwan, production designer Meenal Agarwal, costume designer Veera Kapur Ee and the VFX department at Red Chillies.
The film is a celebration of colors – red hues symbolizing anger, celebration, menstruation and above all womanhood, stark blue representing the grim past. Adding to this visual spectacle is Amit Trivedi’s hauntingly beautiful score, dominated by violin. It’s a great combination of audio-visual storytelling. What hurts Bulbbul is its writing. Writer-director Anvita Dutt has tremendous command over the language, and the dialogues have a literary touch (no surprise as it is set in Tagore’s Bengal), but the overall narrative lacks novelty and doesn’t have much impact either.
Trailer of Bulbbul:
The characters played by Rahul Bose, Avinash Tiwary, Paoli Dam become one tone and standard template for films like this. What stays with you is Bulbbul portrayed by Tripti Dimri (such a beautiful enigma). She gives Bulbbul her vulnerability and grace with ease. Her eyes and smile do half her work. She seems so synonymous with the red hues in visuals and the violins in score.
The story begins in 1881 when Bulbbul, a child bride is married to a much older man Indraneel (Rahul Bose). He has a twin brother Mahendra who doesn’t have a conscience. Their third brother is Satya, played with complete sincerity by Avinash Tiwary. Dimri and Tiwary reunite after their debut film Laila Majnu (2018), a story of unrequited love. Here too their relationship of brother and sister in law has shades of belonging. Satya is Bulbbul’s friend, confidante as both are of the same age. They are writing a book together. The book as well as their friendship comes to an abrupt end when Satya is sent to London to study law.
Satya returns after five years, to know that a chudail (she-demon) is killing men of the village. This story is about women, and the abuse and suppression they have faced since beginning time. Men ought to be the villains of this narrative. But there’s a mandatory ‘not all men are bad’ type character in Sudeep (Parambrata Chattopadhyay). The men in the film have a standard template. Rahul Bose, Avinash Tiwary do their best but there’s not much for them to play.
In spite of its visual splendor, Bulbbul falters in its narrative and ends up in the same situation where most horror films do. It would have been great to see a tale of revenge in a novel way but unfortunately, nothing great happens after the promising start. The film at times, moves at a meandering pace, which can be repellent to a film on OTT, as the viewer can quickly switch onto something else.
Bulbbul is produced by Anushka Sharma and Karnesh Ssharma’s Clean Slate FIlmz. In their first production NH10, Anushka seeks revenge from her husband’s killers. Their next two projects Phillauri and Pari were ghost folklore and supernatural thrillers. Bulbbul is a combination of all three. To sum it up, there’s a lot to marvel in the visual splendor and musical genius of Bulbbul, but the thin writing lets the film down.
Aarya review: A thoroughly enjoyable crime drama
Disney + Hotstar’s latest special Aarya starring Sushmita Sen is an engaging and thoroughly enjoyable crime drama.
Creator: Ram Madhvani
Cast: Sushmita Sen, Chandrachur Singh, Sikander Kher
It starts with Aarya played effortlessly by Sushmita Sen hurrying up some morning household chores, getting her kid to school, managing to keep a tap on her younger sister’s wedding arrangements, and preventing her husband from having ‘just one laddoo’ as his triglycerides levels have gone high. This sequence as are other sequences in the series involving multiple characters is beautifully choreographed.
Ram Madhvani (Neerja), the creator of the show, along with his writer-directors is in no hurry to make this series compact. At 9 episodes, approximately 50 minutes each, Aarya unfolds slowly. If you assume that this is a crime thriller which such series get easily categorized into, Aarya might seem long and slow. That’s what people label anything that doesn’t move in quick cuts across multiple locations and plot twists.
Watch trailer of Disney + Hotstar Specials’ Aarya:
Aarya is an official Indian adaptation of the Dutch series Penoza. To me, Aarya came as a big relief from the overdose of crime thrillers on the OTT space. It does involve crime for it is set in the world of drug mafias. But it is as much about a woman, a daughter, a mother, and a wife. Interpersonal relationships have been woven so beautifully that the slow burn feel of the series is its asset.
Madhvani and his co-directors have got remarkable performances from their actors. Remember Sonam Kapoor in Madhvani’s Neerja (2016)? It is the only performance of the actress that stands out in her entire filmography.
Here, Madhvani has an ensemble cast that gives excellent performances. Leading the pack is of course Sushmita Sen. This is her show and she owns it. She portrays Aarya with poise. When her world turns upside down, she takes it head on like a fierce lioness protecting her cubs. Chandrachur Singh (also making a comeback) as her husband has his own charm. Vikas Kumar as ACP Khan, Ankur Bhatia as Sangram, Namit Das as Jawahar, Sikander Kher as Daulat, and Manish Chaudhary as Shekhawat leave their mark.
The series is remarkably cinematic in its production design, costume design, cinematography, sound and background score. The writing is organic. There’s not much dialogue-baazi in it. Yes, it is possible to keep the audience engaged by letting the characters converse than trying to dramatize every scene with filmy one-liners. There’s a lot to marvel at Aarya – the woman and the series.
Aarya might not be a binge watch for everyone. I took my time watching an episode a day. But I thoroughly enjoyed the series. The slow burn allowed me to get transformed to crazy rich drug world in Rajasthan and the world of Aarya. It gave me that time to absorb everything without having to be on my toes all the time trying to guess what’s gonna happen next. I liked that for a change. You might too.
Rasbhari on Amazon Prime Video review: A scattered tale with no Ras
Amazon Prime Video’s latest Indian web series Rasbhari starring Swara Bhasker takes too long to make a point and falls all over the place while doing so.
Director: Nikhil Bhat
Cast: Swara Bhasker, Ayushmaan Saxena, Rashmi Agdekar
Nostalgia, a teenage boy’s sexual fantasies/awakening, small-town setting can be a good combination to put together a film or a show in today’s times. India’s youth have struggled hard to express their sexuality; often leading to perversions and sex crimes. Where boys with the so-called freedom that they have had got than the girls hasn’t really helped them becoming more mature or responsible romantic/sexual partners. Women still struggle to express their sexuality for the society they live in hasn’t really encouraged rather allowed them to do so.
Amazon Prime Video’s latest web series Rasbhari tries with good intentions to address this issue. Swara Bhasker plays Shanoo Bansal aka Rasbhari a seductress, sexually charged woman who is every man’s fantasy in Meerut – from school students and teachers to paanwala, cable guy and cop. Men lust over her whereas their wives call Shanoo a ‘kulta’.
Watch the trailer of Rasbhari:
One of the males lusting over Shanoo is her student Nand Kishore Tyagi (Ayushmaan Saxena), who boasts among his friends that he will score with Shanoo. There’s innocence and foolish craze in a teenage boy’s fantasies about a mature woman. For many boys, their first crushes have been their teachers. The makers here, writer Shantanu Srivastava and director Nikhi Bhat take too long to establish the setting and characters. Frankly, there’s nothing much that they reveal about either. First four episodes test your patience after which the story starts moving.
The writer tries to give the sub-text. For example, Nand offers Shanoo soan-papdi (an Indian sweet) to which she says, you should ask someone what they like instead of assuming it. Assumptions indeed lead up to f**k ups. It’s a subtle way of telling men about seeking consent before sex. Don’t know how many understood that metaphor. Sub texts like these are few and inconsistent. The whole narrative is. At times, it feels as if they’re trying to say too many things, which is fine as a series is where you can actually try it out, but it is so disoriented that you have to try hard to focus.
The series does produce a few laughs, most of them coming from the cuss words that the school friends use for each other. That’s the most organic thing in the series. Everything else looks forcefully stuffed. The cardboard characters don’t have many layers or depth. You know pretty much how everyone is going to react in a situation. Swara Bhasker as Shanoo and Rasbhari is inconsistent throughout and fails to make an impact in a series where there’s no competition for her. She is Rasbhari and it’s her series. Ayushmaan Saxena as Nand Kishore and Rashmi Agdekar as his romantic interest Priyanka do slightly better.
There is for sure a good intent to tell an erotic tale from a woman’s perspective. Although, a guy is a narrator of this one. But Rasbhari could have been more compact and impactful to make a strong statement. What could have been a fun 2-hour feature film is stretched to about four hours of series divided into eight episodes. Thus, Rasbhari becomes a scattered tale with no Ras.
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