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No Fathers In Kashmir review: Ashvin Kumar’s film dares to seek the truth at any cost

No Fathers in Kashmir Review: Ashvin Kumar’s film is a beautifully told tale of love and loss, betrayal and bravery, and the quest for truth

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“We will never know why people do what they do, because we were not there,” said a wise old man in Kashmir. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ashvin Kumar has spent the last five years of his life in putting together this 107 minutes of celluloid narration called No Fathers In Kashmir, and battling to bring it to its correct culmination – the viewing by the public. He feels the world’s most secret war is waged in Kashmir, and that it’s time to start telling the truth about what life really is like in Kashmir. Many filmmakers have told stories built around and in Kashmir – they are highly sanitised versions of aspects not even remotely close to the harshness of the truths. The romantic Kashmir, that paradise on earth where our parents honeymooned no longer exists. And it can and should. A territorial war between two nations has sucked the soul out of what once truly was paradise, and crippled its people and their simple lives, leaving them maimed beyond just the physical. And all they still seek is to lead normal lives, without fear and hatred.

What No Fathers in Kashmir is all about: No Fathers in Kashmir, for the first time, tells the current-day story of Kashmir, through the eyes of two millennials who, in their search for the truth about their missing fathers, discover their first love, and heart-break, and the secrets that lie under the soil of their beautiful land – both literally and metaphorically.

It is a coming-of-age story about innocence, extreme youth, its resilience and in fact, is a hope that young audiences can know, and experience the realities of life in Kashmir as it is today. As much as the youth there are isolated from the rest of the youth of the country, the same situation exists in reverse too. Nobody tells the truth about Kashmir to our today’s youth, and they remain blissfully unaware. Ashvin believes that in the youth lies our hope for redemption, and that their questioning will help find the truth, build solutions, and eventually create a better tomorrow.

A child of privilege – Noor (Zara Webb) – comes to the valley with her mother Zainab (Natasha Mago) and her fiancé Wahid (Sudhir Dahiya), from London, in order to finish the paperwork on Noor’s missing biological father, so that Zainab can marry Wahid and move on in life. Staying with her grandparents (Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Soni Razdan), Noor meets Majid (Shivam Raina), a naïve, curious and endearing boy her own age, whose father is also missing. But the two are polar opposites. Majid has never questioned the loss in his life. The bright, eager and keen Noor is full of curiosity, and with great resourcefulness, quells her trepidation and fear as she gets drawn deeper into the issue of her father’s disappearance, unearthing a deep and dark secret in the process. What happens when she sets out to find his grave, what role does the army play in the events that transpire there, who is the mysterious and compelling Arshid (Ashvin Kumar), who switches from white to black to grey? What does he know and have to do with Noor’s father going missing? What is the truth and how is she to find out- that is what the film is about. In the real Kashmir, people are regularly picked up and never return home. The Indian army is both the friend and the enemy.

Yay: Both the young protagonists Noor and Majid have played their parts so naturally – they are truly representative of Ashvin’s HOPE. The veterans, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Soni Razdan are heartbreakingly stoic and emotional alternately, so much is said in their eyes, their shrugs, in the unspoken. Ashvin Kumar as Arshid Lone, is amazingly expressive with his kohl-lined eyes and his sometimes confident walk and sometimes weasely shuffle. You don’t know how far you can trust him. Peace-maker or rabble-rouser, he’s the deal-maker and the deal-breaker. Maya Sarao, as Majid’s mother is stunning in her brief role, as is the beautiful Natasha as Noor’s mother, trying to broker peace and a life beyond a dark sad past. Anshuman Jha as the army major gives a good performance despite looking too young for the part. So they all aced the performances.

The cinematography by Jean Marc Selva and Jean Marie Delorme is breathtaking. They have captured Kashmir and its still pristine beauty exquisitely. The sheer beauty of some of the shots leaves you agasp. The music allows listeners to hear some pure Kashmiri music, which the Hindi film-going audience has never had a taste of. (Bumbro is not a Kashmiri song, nor gives one a feel of Kashmiri music). The music had been created by composers Loïk Dury, Christophe ‘Disco’ Minck, delving into traditional Kashmiri poetry and sound. There is a generous smattering of Urdu and Kashmiri in the film, which is primarily in English. Majid’s speech and his idioms are a delight. And the boy’s portrayal of unaffected simplicity warms your heart.

The film’s story has already earned awards and development grant all in 2014, even as the journey had just begun. The costume designer Ritu Kumar, was completely on point. It couldn’t be otherwise. Eight films old, this is Ashvin’s first long feature, which he has written, directed, produced, and acted in.

The idealism of Ashvin Kumar – He is so ravaged by the truths and injustices he sees in life around him. One wonders what propels this man who is so driven, he continuously buzzes that restless energy off him. His search is always for the truth – every single time. His hope, his direction – is telling a story of and through young love, that will hopefully encourage and goad young audiences to seek to learn about their Kashmiri counterparts – that they will learn the truth about a conflict that has been shrouded by propaganda and misinformation, and one that has been poorly represented in mainstream Indian cinema. Ashvin believes that political change can only come through emotional engagement. This is what kept him at it, for half a decade, and even when at his lowest ebb in the making of this film.

Nay: Maybe Anshuman Jha’s extremely youthful looks do not carry enough gravitas to be playing an army major making major decisions. But you can’t fault his delivery of his role.

CineBlitz Verdict: No Fathers in Kashmir is as beautiful in its narrative and visuals, as it is chilling in its hard-hitting uncovering of the layered truths, and lies that are woven into the fabric of reality in Kashmir. This simply told tale touches one deep inside, where it matters.

Star Rating: 4 Stars

 

Movie Reviews

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.

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Tripti Dimri in and as Bulbbul

Director: Anvita Dutt

Cast: Tripti Dimri, Avinash Tiwary, Rahul Bose, Paoli Dam, Parambrata Chattopadhyay

Rating:

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.

Also read: Aarya review: A thoroughly enjoyable crime drama

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.

Also read: Rasbhari on Amazon Prime Video review: A scattered tale with no Ras

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.

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Aarya review: A thoroughly enjoyable crime drama

Disney + Hotstar’s latest special Aarya starring Sushmita Sen is an engaging and thoroughly enjoyable crime drama.

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Creator: Ram Madhvani

Cast: Sushmita Sen, Chandrachur Singh, Sikander Kher

Rating:

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.

Also read: Rasbhari on Amazon Prime Video review: A scattered tale with no Ras

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.

Also read: Gulabo Sitabo is an ‘antique’ dramedy that owes its charm to its eccentric characters

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.

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Movie Reviews

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.

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Swara Bhasker and Ayushmaan Saxena in Amazon Prime Video's Rasbhari

Director: Nikhil Bhat

Cast: Swara Bhasker, Ayushmaan Saxena, Rashmi Agdekar

Rating:

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.

Also read: Gulabo Sitabo is an ‘antique’ dramedy that owes its charm to its eccentric characters

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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