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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

WAR review: A spectacle for most part!

Two action stars of Bollywood are fighting against each other. Don’t ask many questions. Just enjoy the spectacle.

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WAR review


Two Indian soldiers are warring against each other. More than that two action stars of Hindi cinema are fighting against each other. Don’t ask too many questions, don’t try to apply too much logic, it will take the fun away from watching an otherwise spectacle – WAR. Captain Khalid (Tiger Shroff) is trained by Major Kabir (Hrithik Roshan). A spectacular and gripping first half of the movie reveals how they have reached from being bros to foes.

WAR could well have been Dhoom Reloaded; but the makers have made a sincere attempt to give these two heroes some back story and some flaws that make them super-humans than super-heroes. It is still larger than life, a tad tiring but watchable. It is popcorn entertainment. And the makers here are trying to bridge the gap between masses and classes.

Tiger Shroff flies like he does in every movie, but in this one he feels pain. A superbly choreographed combat scene introduces Tiger as he busts a mafia deal in Portugal. On the other hand, Hrithik is introduced as the quintessential superstar, getting off an helicopter and his subordinates looking at him in awe. Biggest admirer among them is Tiger, who idolises Hrithik in real life too. So, Tiger’s admiration for his senior officer (Hrithik) is inherently there. They look like brothers and their chemistry makes their bromance a fresh offering after a long time. WAR might just get its own franchise in near future.

Watch the WAR trailer:

WAR has reinvented the action scene in Hindi cinema with a more western-like cinematic sensibilities while blending the Indianness of emotions. Hrithik has experienced superstardom from his first film Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai. He went on to play a superhero (Krrish franchise) and an action superstar in Dhoom 2 and Bang Bang. But he can still pull off a Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and somehow manage a Super 30. But Tiger Shroff’s career has been modelled around action only. WAR is his sincerest performance. His acting prowess is not what we go to watch on screen. We have made peace with it. From whatever I have seen of him in films, this character of Khalid is (visibly) driven by emotion than just the action.

It is a film about bromance and it is mounted on two pairs of strong shoulders. It is about Hrithik and Tiger and they sail the ship through. The story (Siddharth Anand, Aditya Chopra) and screenplay (Siddharth Anand, Sridhar Raghavan) have enough twists and turns but silly situations take us to reach the end. The dialogues (Abbas Tyrewala) are lazy writing; needed some smart-ass lines. But by that time, you have put logic, questions aside, you just want to enjoy the action spectacle.

After the spectacular first half, the narrative drags, sometimes on the verge of derailing from the track. It’s a little too long. Maybe in near future – makers and audience – as a collective, won’t feel the need for unnecessary songs. Frankly, I had thought both songs Ghungroo and Jai Jai Shivshankar were meant as promotional songs but sitting through them during the movie was testing my patience. The twists are interesting but getting from one twist to another gets predictable on couple of occasions.

Also read: The Family Man review: This James Bond from Chembur is a delight to binge watch!

Four action directors have choreographed action for WAR and they have created some thrilling set-pieces. The first combat scene of Tiger, has only background score of fists and screams. It’s an adrenaline rush. But background score in the rest of the film is a little overdone.

Putting together such a big budget action film, especially if it features high-tech intelligence and security services, is definitely a tough task. In India, you have to find the lowest common denominator so that you cater to a pan-India audience. YRF had superbly managed that with Ek Tha Tiger and Tiger Zinda Hai starring Salman Khan. The success of it lies in humanising the quintessential superstar whose on-screen image has ruled the movies for decades. The makers surely have honed their skills with their latest offering. WAR’s success lies in its two humanised heroes, albeit action too. Watching it on screen once doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Don’t ask many questions. Just enjoy the spectacle.

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Movie Reviews

The Family Man review: This James Bond from Chembur is a delight to binge watch!

Manoj Bajpayee (as the undercover analyst Srikant Tiwary) alone is a good enough reason to watch The Family Man. But there’s more. It is everything that a spy-thriller should be.

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The Family Man review


What do you expect from a spy thriller? Kick-ass action, suspense, twists, smart dialogue, the spy’s heroics and some brilliant cinematic storytelling? Amazon Prime Video’s latest original The Family Man ticks all the aforementioned points. Created by the filmmaker duo Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK (Raj & DK) The Family Man is probably the coolest spy thriller coming from India.

Srikant Tiwari (played by Manoj Bajpayee) is an undercover analyst in the Threat Analysis and Surveillance Cell (T.A.S.C.) of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). As seen in any spy movie/series these men live two lives. They can’t reveal the nature of their job to their family and friends. They describe their work mostly as meetings or office paperwork. The man here is no different.

Srikant Tiwari is a highly-respected spy in the organisation but leads a dejected family life. His brother, wife, kids think that he’s a loser doing a ‘government job’. But unlike other ‘family men’ Srikant can’t remove his frustration on his family. Unlike other husbands/fathers he can’t tell what he goes through at work on daily basis. It’s agonising as well as heroic. Heroes do their jobs silently.

The show is aptly titled The Family Man with the tagline “Middle Class Guy, World Class Spy”. It is this family side of this ace spy that connects him with every man in the country. In a way, it is the story of all of them. Unlike many spy thrillers there are no men looking suave in suits, driving swanky cars and sipping expensive whiskies.

The Family Man trailer:

Tiwari eats vada pavs and idlis at the street stalls. He drinks at modest quarter-bars after a tiring day. He drives a Santro. Tiwari is asking his senior to approve his long due home loan. But this James Bond from Chembur (a Mumbai suburb) is way cooler than any other spy you would have seen.

Manoj Bajpayee plays Srikant Tiwari with such an ease that him alone is a good enough reason to binge watch the show. Gaalis (cuss words) uttered by him sound lyrical. He carries a certain pain on his face – that’s the dejection he faces as a family man. He swaps it with an endearing smile (almost childlike grin) when he accomplishes a mission. And this is captured beautifully in one scene where his daughter is telling her mother about how he saved her from getting suspended from school. What a middle class man yearns for is a sense of validation, at work and at home. Srikant at work is worshipped but struggles to find that validation at home.

The series is credited as based on news stories. The filmmakers’ (Raj & DK) 2010 film Shor In The City was also based on the news stories. The duo’s knack for showing quirkiness in the smaller-than-life scenarios has been evident since their debut feature 99. Here, they don’t have the limitation of censorship or the duration limit of a feature film. And they show what they can create when they have that freedom.

Also read: Manoj Bajpayee’s The Family Man is inspired from several real-life events

Raj & DK have crafted two outstanding one-take shots of assassination of terrorists. One of them is more than 10 minutes long. When was the last time you saw something like this in Indian content? Cinematography (Nigam Bomzan, Aziz Moollan) is spot on. Background score is hypnotic. The action looks more adrenaline than a choreographed set-piece. That’s a plus. Even the supers/title cards are done well. The screenplay (Raj & DK, Suman Kumar) and dialogues (Sumit Arora of Stree) capture the diversity of India blending all the flavours in one.

The Family Man is not only about the spy and his family. Through various sequences leading to the centre conflict of terrorism, the series touches upon the socio-political reality of today’s India. The cow protectors and mob kill two men carrying beef in their truck. Three college students involved in terrorist-like activities are mistakenly killed. Terrorism that is often linked to a religion has its roots going down to the places and people you wouldn’t imagine. Complexities are smartly woven together.

But it’s not just about terrorism and political secrets. The series explores the dynamics of interpersonal relationships at home as well as work. How quickly the kids are growing up rather getting exposed to the whole wild world. How modern day marriages are going through a transition. The creators here have managed to bring all of this together quite efficiently.

Also read: Manoj Bajpayee is the utlimate hero who broke Bollywood stereotypes!

All of this wouldn’t have looked seamless on screen had it not been for its fine actors. Leading them is of course Bajpayee. Besides being a spy he’s a storyteller at heart. He can coin a story at any gun point. He’s a delight to watch. His Maharashtrian sidekick, his colleague at NIA, JK Talpade is played superbly by Sharib Hashmi (long time after his hilarious 2012 film Filmistaan). Priyamani as Srikant’s wife Suchi plays it subtle and simple. But she keeps you intrigued. Tiwary’s kids Dhriti (Mehek Thakur) and Atharv (Vedant Sinha) give natural performances.

Need to mention Neeraj Madhav here who plays Moosa, an ISIS trained terrorist. He portrays the complex emotions of a vulnerable son missing his mother and executing a terror attack with prowess. Other supporting cast of Shreya Dhanwanthary, Darshan Kumaar, Sharad Kelkar, Dalip Tahil, Kishore Kumar G, Abrar Qazi do their jobs sincerely.

To sum it up, The Family Man is a cinematic romance. Everything just falls into the right places and it’s the moments that make it an enjoyable journey of ten episodes. Drop everything else and binge watch it.

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Movie Reviews

The Zoya Factor review: Why so much fuss?

Sonam K Ahuja does a reasonably good job but the film is much ado about nothing.

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The Zoya Factor review

Alright, I haven’t read the novel (The Zoya Factor) on which this film is based. So, I went to watch the film with zero expectations. I just wanted to be entertained for those two hours in the theatre. But unfortunately, entertainment didn’t last for more than the first half. Sonam K Ahuja plays Zoya Solanki who was born on 25th June 1983, the day the Indian cricket team won the World Cup. Zoya’s father (played by Sanjay Kapoor), an avid cricket lover calls Zoya a lucky charm for the Indian cricket team.

Zoya hates cricket. But as fate would have it she finds herself becoming the official Lucky Mascot for the Indian cricket team. How that happens and whatever happens after that is the premise of the film. But there’s so much fuss around this silly sounding phenomenon. Cricketers and crickets fans alike are known to be superstitious. Most of us have watched tense cricket matches doing all sorts of praying rituals, just so that India wins the match or series. The madness reaches its peak when it’s the world cup.

My generation of cricket fans must have seen all the emotional outrage when things don’t go well for Team India. The World Cups of 1996, 2003 and 2007 have been prime examples of that. Post the 2011 world cup victory, fans have sobered up (or down?). The Zoya Factor involves one such world cup with lucky mascot Zoya on the Indian team’s side. The year in which the story is happening is not clearly mentioned. If it is present day, then a thing or two should have been changed w.r.t cricket rules (taking a runner is not allowed to a batsman anymore).

Trailer of The Zoya Factor:

What hurts The Zoya Factor is the lack of reasoning. We get to know how Zoya becomes the lucky mascot but why would the cricket board even consider something like this is a question (even if it’s just a movie) that doesn’t have an answer. The ‘Hows’ of a film can be debated and passed on but the ‘whys’ can hurt a film’s prospects big time. That’s the case with The Zoya Factor. There’s so much fuss created that you wouldn’t care for.

The film showcases everything on a superficial level. We don’t get to know much about Zoya (the protagonist) apart from the fact that every aspect of her life sucks. A more layered character would have added some weight to the film and the drama around her would have been somewhat credible and believable. Sonam K Ahuja does a reasonably good job as Zoya. She has put on weight for this role and she looks the part she plays. But more should have been explored about Zoya’s character. All the other characters are one dimensional, including that of Nikhil Khoda (played by Dulquer Salmaan), the captain of the Indian cricket team who starts dating Zoya. You don’t really feel connected to anyone’s journey.

Also read:Dream Girl review: Ayushmann Khurrana shines again!

The film drags a lot. There are some genuinely nice and funny moments but those are all in bits and pieces. There’s brand integration throughout the film. In a movie based on cricket an integration of Pepsi won’t hurt much as the brand has been associated with the game and cricketers for decades. Branding of a paint brand on the team’s jersey is still fine. It’s pretty much realistic too. (I like to write good things about film and I found myself looking for reasons to like this one).

The film drags a lot. There are some genuinely nice and funny moments but those are all in bits and pieces. But cricket, the centre of the whole circus should have been shot well. It is poorly acted and directed. The way the players play the shots or get out or drop catches or run their teammates out – it looks silly and lazy. All the clichés like no balls, sixes on the last ball, catches taken with a player’s feet touching the boundary line make their way into the film. It would have still been fine, had it been built up smartly. Interestingly, some of the cricketers and a board member look like they have been modelled on real Indian cricketers and officials. It’s fun if you spot it.

Also read: Chhichhore review: Nitesh Tiwari’s masterpiece is hilariously profound and overwhelming!

It is difficult to put together a cricket movie for the complex game that it is. Unfortunately, this is yet another failed attempt to crack a cricket movie. There have been quite a few made on contemporary cricket. Barring MS Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016) and Iqbal (2005) all others have been works which lack knowledge and detailing. Movies succeed on the suspension of disbelief. Unfortunately, The Zoya Factor didn’t work for me on that front. I left the movie theatre with the question, “Why so much fuss?”


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