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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

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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.

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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Movie Reviews

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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