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Omerta review: Rajkummar Wow!

Hansal Mehta’s Omerta starring Rajkummar Rao is filmmaking and acting brilliance at their best display.

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Omerta

Writer-Director: Hansal Mehta

Cast: Rajkummar Rao

Streaming on: Zee5

In November 2017, I had interviewed filmmaker Hansal Mehta at his office for a project I was working on. After the interview got over, I asked him when his latest film Omerta is releasing. He said something like, “Usko thoda time lagega. Film censorship mein atki hui hai”. I watched the film on the streaming platform Zee5 today. I wondered what could have been the issues that censors must have objected to? Was it the opening of the film that plays out over a black screen with desperate screams for help? The police interrogation scene which is actually a single shot of cops beating Rajkummar Rao. Or was it something that was completely chopped off from the film? Don’t know. But what is there in the film is remarkable.

I Googled Omerta. It means (among the Italian mafia) a code of silence about criminal activity and a refusal to give evidence to the police. Here, it seems to be a word play on the name of its central character Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British citizen of Pakistani origin. He is one of the most dreaded terrorists who’s linked with IC-814 hijack, murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl and as the film hints in the end, 26/11 Terrorist Attacks of Mumbai. Omar is not a hero. He never can be. Writer-director Hansal Mehta doesn’t try to humanize him either.

Watch trailer of Hansal Mehta’s Omerta starring Rajkummar Rao:

Instead, Mehta avoids clichés of dramatizing the protagonist’s arc and danger of justifying criminal acts by humanizing them. He constantly shows the religious fanaticism that leads to such violent radicalism. How organized crime portrays killing in the name of religion as a ‘holy war’, how educated people are manipulated and brainwashed to ‘take revenge’ of their brothers’ and sisters’ deaths/rapes. In one scene, an ISI agent (Rajesh Tailang) tells Omar that they need intelligent and educated Jihadis like him. An illiterate one is of no use. It’s a sad comedy.

He keeps the narrative to the point and covers about 15 years of Omar’s life in less than 100 minutes of runtime. It is commendable that in a film involving international politics, religion and crime, the filmmaker doesn’t lean towards either left or right. He pierces through the mentality of these humans turned terrorists. The film features real, news footage of some of the key incidents in the terrorist’s life/career, giving it a documentary-style feel. The visuals have a blue overlay, as cold as Omar portrayed bravely by Rajkummar Rao. It’s all in his flinty stares.

Also read: Dil Bechara: An appreciation post for an achingly beautiful film

Rao swiftly switches between accents – a borrowed British one to Hindi to a desi/sub-continental one while talking to journalist Daniel Pearl (Timothy Ryan Hickernell). He’s introduced as this deft, cold blooded mastermind. What highlighted his coldness for me was when he orders a glass of milk while interacting with a Czech national at a bar/restaurant. Reminded me of Colonel Landa from Inglourious Basterds, Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men, and Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange. There’s something off, unsettling about a grown up man drinking milk. Does it symbolize the evil conquering the innocent, pure? Maybe. Nevertheless, a powerful visual storytelling tool.

Also read: Breathe: Into The Shadows review: A promising psychological thriller becomes a slog

Omerta is undoubtedly a work of cinematic brilliance. Mehta uses symbolic visuals, silences and music smartly. It enhances the solid performance given by Rajkummar Rao. Aditya Warrior (editing) Anuj Rakesh Dhawan (cinematography), Ishaan Chhabra (music) and Mandar Kulkarni (sound) together create a powerful audio-visual spectacle. Omerta is a brave and brutal take on the futility of religion when it is used to propagate communal violence and disruption. From the trailer what seemed like a biography of a terrorist, is actually a comment on religious fanaticism. Do watch it.

Movie Reviews

Raat Akeli Hai review: Simply brilliant!

Raat Akeli Hai on Netflix starring Nazazudding Siddiqui and Radhika is an engaging murder mystery with brilliant work by all departments

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Raat Akeli Hai

Raat Akeli Hai

Director: Honey Trehan

Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte

Streaming on: Netflix

It’s completely dark at night. Two headlights flash and a car approaches from the background to the foreground on a curvy road in an extreme WIDE shot. I wonder how fantastic this shot would have looked on the big screen in theatres. That’s how Honey Trehan grabs your eyeballs in his directorial debut Raat Akeli Hai and keeps you hooked throughout the film. The film is a murder mystery taking place at a zamindar’s mahal (palace) Uttar Pradesh. An unconventional cop is at the helm of solving this ‘tedha’ case.

Watch the Raat Akeli Hai trailer:

Nawazuddin Siddiqui (in sublime form) plays this cop named Jatil Yadav. His birth name was Jatin. A spelling mistake in the birth certificate made it Jatil (means difficult). He has been living with the name and his personal complexes throughout his life. Jatil is aging and wants to get married to a girl with decent manners and decent looks. He himself is conscious about his looks. He uses fairness cream which he hides behind the mirror. Jatil Yadav is surely the most unique cop I’ve seen on screen.

Also read: Omerta review: Rajkummar Wow!

He has the nose of a bloodhound; smells what others can’t. He’s intrigued by the murdered zamindar’s wife Radha (Radhika Apte). He tells her that he’ll help her if she’s being falsely accused of his murder but he won’t spare her if she is indeed the murderer. Strangely enough, I was neither sympathizing towards the killed nor curious to know the killer. Was simply absorbing the cinematic world created by Trehan and his team.

Raat Akeli Hai is a story rooted in India but the film’s treatment is quite Indo-Western. Much like that seen in films by Vishal Bhardwaj and his former longtime associate Abhishek Chaubey (Ishqiya, Sonchiriya). Chaubey serves as the Supervising Producer on this film. The film is produced by Ronnie Screwvala’s RSVP in association with Chaubey and Trehan’s MacGuffin Pictures.

Also read: Shakuntala Devi review: A delightful film; Vidya kasam!

Trehan is an ace casting director and in his directorial debut he brings out splendid performances from all the actors. From seasoned Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte to the relatively newbies Nishant Dahiya and Shivani Raghuvanshi. There are also brief but superb performances by Ila Arun as Jatil’s mother, Swanand Kirkire as the deceased brother-in-law, Aditya Srivastava as an independent political leader, Shweta Tripathi as a muted wife, and Tigmanshu Dhulia as a senior cop.

Also read: Lootcase review: Could have been more fun

Nothing of this could have been possible without an engaging screenplay, layered characters, and flavorful dialogue written by Smita Singh. The material on paper is executed for screen brilliantly by Trehan’s direction, DOP Pankaj Kumar’s picturesque framing, A. Sreekar Prasad’s sharp editing and Karan Kulkarni’s dramatic background score. The drama is slow burn and keeps unfolding smoothly. Go with the flow and enjoy Raat Akeli Hai.

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Lootcase review: Could have been more fun

Lootcase on Disney+ Hotstar starring Kunal Kemmu is promising but lacks the punches and grip to make it a roller-coaster ride

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Lootcase

Lootcase

Director: Rajesh Krishnan

Cast: Kunal Kemmu, Rasika Dugal, Ranvir Shorey, Vijay Raaz, Gajraj Rao

Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar

A struggling common man finds a suitcase full of cash. He brings it home. His life is going to change. And with that load of cash comes its share of twists and threats. The story is familiar. In some films the cash is replaced by diamonds or gold or drugs. The latest film in a similar setting that comes to my mind is Akshat Verma’s outrageous comedy Delhi Belly (2011) directed by Abhinay Deo. Haven’t seen many great comedies being made since then. Even Verma in his directorial debut Kaalakaandi (2017) couldn’t quite recreate the magic of his writing debut.

In Rajesh Krishnan’s Lootcase, Kunal Kemmu plays this commoner Nandan Kumar who by the stroke of fate finds a suitcase full of cash worth crores. The suitcase belongs to a minister named Patil (Gajraj Rao). He sends his punters and a cop (Ranvir Shorey) to find the suitcase. There’s another businessman/goon involved in this scenario, Bala Rathore (Vijay Raaz). A film like Lootcase, needs characters that are complete nutcases.

Watch the trailer of Lootcase:

But the only quirky character here is that played by Raaz. He sprouts wild life analogies to explain to his punters how to act in a given situation. “Jaanwaron se kuchh seekho”, he says. He asks them to subscribe to NatGeo channel. It’s hilarious. There are a few genuinely funny moments in the film but are inconsistent. All the actors in the film give their sincere best to the characters they play. But in a film like this, you crave for more quirks and bizarreness.

Also read: Omerta review: Rajkummar Wow!

The humor is good-natured but predictable. In some scenes, one can predict what is going to happen. At more than two hours of runtime, Lootcase is a little stretched with unnecessary songs. Couldn’t feel the adrenaline rush that is must in such films to keep the viewer hooked. The situations seem more formulaic than organic. Thankfully the moral lessons have been kept short and sweet.

Also read: Shakuntala Devi review: A delightful film; Vidya kasam!

Kemmu’s Nandan Kumar (common man, common name, as he says) works at a printing press. His life revolves around his wife Lata (Rasika Dugal) and his little son. He wants to keep them happy and provide the leisure that they dream of – dining out, going to the movies, an oven, traveling to Shimla etc. Full marks to the detailing of characters and setting. If only the screenplay by Rajesh Krishnan and Kapil Sawant was more gripping and dialogue by Sawant were witty, Lootcase could have been a roller-coaster ride. It is still simple and sweet. You can give it a shot if the trailer caught your fancy.

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Movie Reviews

Shakuntala Devi review: A delightful film; Vidya kasam!

Although told through her daughter’s perspective, this is Shakuntala Devi’s story and Vidya Balan’s picture. And Balan is effortlessly brilliant.

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Shakuntala Devi

Shakuntala Devi

Director: Anu Menon

Cast: Vidya Balan, Sanya Malhotra, Jisshu Sengupta, Amit Sadh

Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video

I find biopics boring to watch. Especially the ‘all-hail protagonist’ types and the ones made to clean-up a public figure’s image. Rarely do we get to see a complex or flawed character presented as he/she is/was. Amazon Prime Video’s latest original film Shakuntala Devi rids this biopic tag upfront with a disclaimer that it is a story told through the perspective of Shakuntala Devi’s daughter Anupama ‘Anu’ Banerji.

The ever so brilliant Vidya Balan plays Shakuntala Devi, one of the world’s renowned Mathematicians who was called ‘Human Computer’. We see an 8-year-old Shakuntala in 1934 Bangalore solving a tough Math problem ‘just like that’. Nobody knows how she does it then nor later when doctors examine her after she has already become world famous. She solves difficult math problems which an average person can only attempt to read. Hell, even the super computer during that time failed in comparison with genius woman.

Watch the trailer of Shakuntala Devi:

Although told through her daughter’s perspective, this is Shakuntala Devi’s story and Vidya Balan’s picture. And Balan is effortlessly brilliant. Is there ever a dull moment when this actress graces the screen? I don’t think so. Just like her roles in the brave The Dirty Picture, quirky Ishqiya, lovely Tumhari Sulu, and a Bollywoodized Mission Mangal (she was the only good thing about that film) she lets her femininity and grace trump every gender talk (taunted by women and men alike). As far as I recollect, throughout her film career Balan has never played a character who’s making her mark in this male dominated world by doing nothing else but imitating men. In Shakuntala Devi, she reiterates out loud, “Main bada aadmi kyun banu? Main badi aurat banungi.”

Shakuntala Devi is undoubtedly a stellar role to have in your filmography. And Balan gives that role the dignity and charm that it needed. She uses the term ‘Vidya kasam’ (meaning I swear on my knowledge) when she has to swear onto something. It’s smart word play on the actor’s real name. She is ably supported by Sanya Malhotra (Dangal, more importantly Pataakha) as Shakuntala Devi’s daughter Anu. Vidya and Sanya look like they’re real mother and daughter. It adds more value to their chemistry. Jisshu Sengupta and Amit Sadh play their supportive husbands’ roles sincerely.

Also read: French Biriyani review: A delicious, hilarious comedy of errors

The dialogue by Ishita Moitra is crisp. The impact of modern day women empowerment movement on dialogue is evident. It works well for the most part but in some scenes set in 1940s, 50s and so on the lines seem a little force fed. The screenplay by Anu Menon and Nayanika Mahtani takes off to a flying start but gets a little jaded in the last 30 minutes of the film. Cinematography by Keiko Nakahara is the only but major turnoff of the film. This is not a film you’d watch out for sound design or background score so these parameters don’t really affect your movie watching experience. The recreated world of yesteryears is decent enough.

The story of Shakuntala Devi, the film, comprises almost seven decades – often switching back and forth. This woman teaches us how to chase our dreams and live guilt-free. However, she holds almost a lifelong grudge against her parents, especially her mother. She’s not game for the idea of spending her life with just one man. She even asks this question to her daughter. But then she once chose to shift to Calcutta, have a family and raise a child.

Also read: Breathe: Into The Shadows review: A promising psychological thriller becomes a slog

We, the people, can ‘live’ our lives with limitless possibilities but we often choose to ‘spend’ our lives within the standard templates. Often these templates have gender roles. The debate on which is the hot topic of today’s times. Every argument on ‘he did – she did’ will have a counter argument. If SHE says ‘Whole life with just one man?’ and if HE says ‘Whole life with just one woman?’ will have as many perceptions and responses (about the character) as there are individuals. But does it, rather should it really matter? Because a story is about an individual’s journey and every story has a context which you can’t fix into a generic template.

Life is all about perspectives. Shakuntala Devi is a story of a mother told through her daughter’s perspective. And it’s a story well told. A delightful film, Vidya kasam!

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