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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!

Movie Reviews

Comedy Couple review: Breezy, romantic and funny!

Comedy Couple on Zee5 directed by Nachiket Samant stars Saqib Saleem and Shweta Basu Prasad in the lead roles as a stand-up duo.

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Comedy Couple on Zee5

Comedy Couple

Director: Nachiket Samant

Cast: Saqib Saleem, Shweta Basu Prasad, Pooja Bedi, Rajesh Tailang

Streaming on: Zee5

It starts with stand-up comedian Anubhav Singh Bassi performing at a laughter club in Gurgaon. The film’s lead pair Deep Sharma (Saqib Saleem) and Zoya Batra (Shweta Basu Prasad) are up next. They’re a stand-up duo. They perform together as well as are dating each other. They call themselves the Comedy Couple. The couple looks good together and are instantly likeable. There’s a certain ease with which both behave in front of the camera, especially Shweta.

When the couple is found smooching in the elevator, the society throws them out. Zoya comes to know that Deep alongwith their broker Timmy had told the society that they are brother and sister. They’re also faced with the situation of having to get married in order to get a house they like (because most Indian societies have issues with live-in couples).

Also read: Ginny Weds Sunny review: Unimpressive and forgettable!

Deep has a habit of lying to avoid complications and confrontations in life. He hasn’t told his parents that he has left his secured IT job to pursue stand-up or that he has been dating Zoya. Also, Deep doesn’t mind being an artist who doesn’t take a stand on social issues, saying sorry even if he’s not at fault. He’s just your average guy. His girlfriend also calls him that, in fact likes him for being average. She wants an ordinary, normal life, not an extraordinary one. And Deep fits the bill perfectly with his imperfections.

But when Zoya finds out about Deep’s lying habit, things between them begin to turn tense. These two being stand-up comedians help this film avoid the usual stretched out longing and belonging sequences. Instead they crack sarcastic jokes about each other when things start to fall apart. The jokes are not laugh-out-loud but funny enough to bring a smile on your face. The situations have a certain freshness to them, a lot of it also gets value addition from the film’s female lead.

Also read: Serious Men review: Nawazudding Siddiqui shines in a slightly cluttered film

Comedy Couple makes use of quite a few instances from the current Indian stand-up comedy scene where comedians were trolled, threatened, or arrested for cracking ‘anti-national’ jokes. There’s always a danger in such films becoming gag sequences than a story. Writers Bikas Ranjan Mishra, Kashyap Kapoor, Raghav Raj Kakker, Gaurav Sharma and director Nachiket Samant have successfully managed to put together a seamless narrative.

The affable comedy couple is supported by some equally funny supporting acts by Jasmeet Singh Bhatia, Aadar Malik, and Pranay Manchanda. Rajesh Tailang (different from his usual intense outings) and Pooja Bedi (seems like an extension of her role in Netflix’s Masaba Masaba) make cameo appearances.

Also read: Bandish Bandits review: A melodious treat

What do you need from a romantic comedy? A likeable couple and some romantic and funny moments that make you root for them to be together. Rom-com, a genre which has seen a decline in the number of movies being made for theatrical releases. To be honest, OTT seems like a more suitable medium for these films as it frees you from the censorship (self as well as CBFC), please-all-don’t-offend-any-thus-mediocre narratives and the financial aspects of theatrical releases which limits the storyteller from telling an authentic story. Nachiket Samant’s Comedy Couple on Zee5 is a breezy and funny two-hour watch on your nearest mobile phone.

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5 travel and food shows for a perfect Netflix and chill!

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5 travel and food shows for a perfect Netflix and chill!

The world is slowly getting back to normal, albeit the new normal, after the lockdowns are lifted globally. While some countries and Indian states have opened their doors for tourism, only time will tell when you actually step outside for a long trip to the destination on your travel list. But till you get to travel again, you can certainly watch a few travel and food shows to widen your scopes of travel, add new places to your list as well as get to know a bit more about the places, people and their culture before you visit.

Here, I am listing five travel and food shows that I not only thoroughly enjoyed binge watching, but they also gave me much more than I had expected – touching, hilarious, informative stories about places and people, food and culture.

Somebody Feed Phil

I stumbled upon Somebody Feed Phil while having dinner one night and surfing through Netflix. Took me a while to get used to the host Phil Rosenthal (creator of Everybody Loves Raymond) and his jolly good fellow persona. But once I connected with him, I absolutely binge watched all three seasons till I tired my eyes.

Phil is an affable person, considerate, foodie, and has a childlike enthusiasm towards people and food. Being the creator of a world famous sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, the humor quotient on the show is top notch. During his world trip to eat food, Phil visits all the possible food places from street food stalls to fine dine restaurants, meeting people as peculiar as him with their unique stories and food.

The most lovable part of the show comes when Phil interacts with his equally funny parents over Skype. Their conversation is like a cherry on top in every episode. Season 4 of Somebody Feed Phil starts streaming on Netflix from October 30. This is my favorite show of the lot.

Jack Whitehall: Travels with my father

Loved the family angle used in a travel show (Somebody Feed Phil) and I could not resist watching this show soon. Jack Whitehall: Travels with my father is one of its kind travel and food show where comedian and actor Jack Whitehall takes his 70-something father Michael Whitehall on a trip during his gap year. In the first season, the lads and dads trip takes place in South East Asia.  Jack does antiques of taking his father to places he’d hate the most without telling him – cheap hostels for stay, yoga classes, drag shows, camel rides, a Magic Mike night and more.

Michael is a grumpy yet curious man and often his eccentric and unpopular opinions on culture, foreign lands, foreign people, foreign food and of course his son are what make this show fun to watch. The banter between father and son is often hilarious. At times, I doubted whether it’s all scripted or the polar opposite personalities of father and son genuinely bring in the friction and fun. Whatever maybe the case, this lads and dads trip is worth a watch. The duo goes from South East Asia in the first season, Europe in the second, Los Angeles in the third and Australia in the fourth season.

Street Food Latin America

I absolutely loved Street Food Asia that landed on Netflix in 2019. Most humane and inspiring stories were the highlight of the show. Later I found out about creator David Gelb’s other fine works like Chef’s Table. I am fascinated by Latin America from whatever I have seen on television shows and films. I think there’s a cultural resonance between us Indians and South Americans. Both of us are eccentric yet emotional people, developing countries, history of colonialism, and both cultures have fascinating foods for all occasions.

Street Food Latin America keeps the moving stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things at its core. The street food is humble yet delicious. The stories are often women centric and are inspiring. What’s great to see is that in spite of all the adversities in life, the smiles on people’s faces are heart-warming. After all, there’s nothing more democratic in this world than street food. Do watch it.

Restaurants on the Edge

This is a typical TV broadcast show and has over-enthusiastic hosts talking animatedly. A trio of a designer (Karin Bohn), chef (Dennis Prescott) and an entrepreneur (Nick Liberato), give a complete makeover to a restaurant which is in a complete mess. Over two seasons, the trio travels to Malta, St. Lucia, Slovenia, Austria, USA, and Canada to name a few.

Moving stories of the restaurateurs/owners and the awe inspiring makeovers given by the expert trio, especially designer Bohn, is (as it should be) the highlight of the show. The episodes are 45 minutes to one hour long. I’d often watch an episode over lunch and another over dinner. With only six episodes per season, the show ended with I wanting more.

Paul Hollywood’s Big Continental Road Trip

This is more of a travel and cars show. In spite of having world renowned baker Paul Hollywood as host, the show hardly features food. Hollywood is a racing enthusiast. He travels to Italy, Germany and France to drive a variety of cars – modern supercars to vintage cars to delivery vans. If you like history and culture, this show will be a fun ride for you. It was amusing, at times baffling to see some of the cars and cultural connection with them.

 

Like an Italian on the show says, Germans want to make cars that are classy and powerful like them. We Italians make cars that make a lot of noise, just like the Italian people. Then you wonder and see that all Italian models – the Lamborghinis, the Ferraris, the Maserati’s all indeed make a lot of noise. Paris, the most romantic city in the world, sees some of the worst traffic jams. Also, the fashion capital of the world (Paris) has a really poor sense when it comes to designing their cars. It’s paradoxical, it’s historical, it’s phenomenal, it’s everything packed into one hour episode of each country and some of its famous cars. Take this ride for sure.

Bonus: You can also check out The Chef’s Table, Taco Chronicles, Ugly Delicious, The Truth about Alcohol, and Coffee for All on Netflix.

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Movie Reviews

Ginny Weds Sunny review: Unimpressive and forgettable!

Ginny Weds Sunny on Netflix stars Yami Gautam and Vikrant Massey in the lead roles. The film by Punit Khanna has nothing new to offer.

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Ginny Weds Sunny

Ginny Weds Sunny

Director: Puneet Khanna

Cast: Yami Gautam, Vikrant Massey

Streaming on: Netflix

In Ginny Weds Sunny, Shobha Juneja (Ayesha Raza) says to Sunny (Vikrant Massey) “What is love? It’s just a habit. You make her (her daughter) your habit and try to make yourself her habit.” Something to this effect in Hindi. It is what it is, isn’t it? Gone are the days of finding a special someone? These are the times of finding the right (read compatible) one. Romantic couples these days don’t need a third party villain. They are usually thwarted by the differing ideals of their chosen partners. The career ambitious generation of ours is knowingly/unknowingly becoming egoistic in order to prove ourselves as artists, entrepreneurs, software programmers (?) or whichever career option we choose.

Do these achievements merely become labels we put on ourselves? Are we happy as an individual, a human? If not, can we keep our significant other happy? That makes me ask another question, do most of us give our partner that much significance to call him/her our significant other? Aren’t we becoming mere ideas of ourselves based on the ideologies most of us have borrowed from pop culture and trends? Be it career or fashion or food or politics? Does it become too difficult to find a romantic partner and be happy with him/her? Are we becoming too self-centered and getting eaten up by self-importance?

Also read: Serious Men review: Nawazudding Siddiqui shines in a slightly cluttered film

The young boy and girl here in Ginny Weds Sunny don’t have many expectations from life or each other for that matter. They’re as confused as most of the youth. The film takes place around NCR. The boy, Sunny (Vikrant Massey) wants to start his own restaurant. His father says he’ll sell his hardware store and give that place for the restaurant only if the son gets married. The girl, Ginny (Yami Gautam), works in life insurance and is carrying on an on-again-off-again relationship with her ex-boyfriend. Why should these two like each other or fall in love with each other? Don’t have a solid reason. But hey, love just happens, right?

There’s nothing new to see in this standard template romantic comedy with boring song montages. To begin with I couldn’t care for any of the two characters. Yami Gautam with a borrowed brat attitude to look hard to get is not convincing enough. Vikrant Massey tries his best to keep you interested in this sloppy screenplay and uninspiring dialogue (Navjot Gulati, Sumit Arora) but there’s not much for him to do. The supporting characters, headed by Ayesha Raza as Ginny’s mother and Suhail Nayyar as Ginny’s ex-boyfriend have a few moments to show their spark. Isha Talwar makes a predictable cameo appearance.

Also read: Bandish Bandits review: A melodious treat

Director Puneet Khanna executes the written material with text book scene design and shot taking. The production design and cinematography are ‘colorful and chakachak’ as required for a rom-com. Hindi cinema has always been complacent with romantic comedies. What is the need for detailing or creating layered characters or bringing out nuanced performances? It’s ‘just a rom-com’, right? This one is no different. Nothing ignites a fire. In the end, did I care for the boy and girl living happily ever after? No. If you care to know their story, Ginny Weds Sunny is streaming on Netflix.

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