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.
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.
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?”
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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