Fall TV 2014: What To Watch and When #TheUltimateViewingGuide

Fall TV premiere season is here, which means everything is going to be alright again! Here’s a handy Viewing Guide to what to watch and when. These are US premiere dates, and I’ll soon be putting up the respective India premiere dates, and on which channel they air. I’ll also soon be sampling all the new shows and making a post on them, so you know whether you should watch it or not.

(1) Click on the names of the shows to go to their IMDB page.  
(2) If I’ve done an interview of someone from the show, I have provided the link next to it. Click on the link to read the interview.
(3) If I’ve recently done/have a confirmed interview that I’ll be doing soon, I’ve written it along with the name of the show. It’ll come soon, I promise :).
(4) The shows in bold are the ones I recommend. If they are new shows, then those are the shows I’m eagerly waiting to watch.
(5) If a show is not in bold, it either means I haven’t seen it or I don’t like it. 
(6) If you want to see some of the best shows that have already aired this year, here’s the complete recommendation list: http://goo.gl/GJxnzG

The Good Wife [My interview with Archie Panjabi/Kalinda Sharma]
Boardwalk Empire 
[Coming Soon: My interview with Anatol Yousef/Meyer Lansky]
The Walking Dead
Homeland [Coming Soon: My interview with Rupert Friend/Peter Quinn and Nazanin Boniadi/Fara Sherazi]
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver 
Brooklyn Nine Nine
Madam Secretary
The Simpsons
Family Guy
Mulaney (New)

Once Upon A Time
 [My interview with Robert Carylyle/Rumplestilskin]
Bob’s Burgers
The Affair (New, Oct 19)

The Newsroom (Nov 9)  [Coming Soon: My interview with Thomas Sadoski/Don Keefer]
The Comeback (Nov 9)
Getting On (Nov 9)

The Big Bang Theory [Coming Soon: My interview with Mayim Bialik/Amy Fowler; My interview with Kunal Nayyar/Raj Koothrapalli]
Sleepy Hollow [Coming Soon: My interview with John Cho]
[My interview with Stana Katic/Kate Beckette]
The Blacklist
Forever (New)
Scorpion (New)
Jane The Virgin (New, Oct 13)
The Originals (Oct 6) [Coming Soon: My interview with Danielle Campbell/Davina Claire]
American Dad (Oct 20)
2 Broke Girls (Oct 27)
State of Affairs (New, Nov 17)
Ascension (New, Nov 24)

Sons of Anarchy
Agents of SHIELD
New Girl [My interview with Hannah Simone ]
The Mindy Project
About a Boy
The Flash (New)
Marry Me (New)
Selfie (New) [Coming Soon: My interview with John Cho]
Faking It
Person of Interest
Happyland (New)
Manhattan Love Story (New)


Modern Family
South Park
Key and Peele
Red Band Society (New)
Blackish (New)
Arrow (Oct 8) [Coming Soon: My interview with Paul Blackthorne/Det. Quentin Lance]
Kingdom (New, Oct 8)
The Middle
The Goldbergs
Mysteries of Laura (New)
Stalker (New)
Criminal Minds (Oct 1)
The 100 (Oct 22)
Web Therapy (Oct 22)

Scandal [Coming Soon: My interview with Joshua Malina/David Rosen]
How To Get Away with Murder (New)
A to  Z (New, Oct 2)
Gracepoint (New, Oct 2)
American Horror Story 
Grey’s Anatomy
Vampire Diaries 
Bad Judge (New)
Two and a Half Men (Oct 30)
The Millers (Oct 30)
White Collar (Nov 6)
Covert Affairs (Nov 6)
The McCarthys (New, Oct 30)

The Knick
Blue Bloods
Hawaii Five-O
Last Man Standing
Cristela (New)
Grimm (Oct 24)
Constantine (New, Oct 24)
Marco Polo (New, Dec 12)

Survivor’s Remorse
The Missing (New, Nov 15)

Here’s a list of my favourite TV shows that are already over this year: The Americans, You’re The Worst, Fargo, True Detective, Vice, Bates Motel, Suits, Orphan Black, Veep, Silicon Valley, Rectify, Happy Valley, The Leftovers, The Honourable Woman, Deadbeat, Broadcity, Penny Dreadful, The Assets, The Divide, The Red Road, Murder in the First, Turn, Power, Sequestered, Halt and Catch Fire, The Musketeers, Vikings, Utopia, Hannibal, The Killing, Banshee, Da Vinci’s Demons.  Read about them here: http://goo.gl/GJxnzG]

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© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.


Why Last Week Tonight is the Greatest Show on Earth right now #SundayGuardian #TV #Column

Weekly column by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) for The Sunday Guardian. Original (edited) article: http://goo.gl/rde9Wp

To declare that Last Week Tonight With John Oliver as one of the greatest shows on air today may just be a tad too early considering it’s only been 17 weeks since the show premiered on HBO; and also because it’s always a tad too early to declare something the greatest (*cough* Lance Armstrong *cough*).  But we’ll go out on a limb, along with all other parts of the body, to say that the news comedy show fronted by a once wee bit famous British comedian, is not only one of the greatest shows on air today, but also one of the best things to have happened to television in a long time.

If you are acquainted with the internet, you would know exactly what we are talking about. It’s hard to miss John Oliver’s cheery professor-meets-lovably aunt face on the world wide web, what with every news aggregator site from Buzzfeed to Vox aggressively shoving the show’s latest viral news rant into our faces, and for good reason too: everything Oliver does on the show is bloody brilliant.

Because everything Oliver and the producers of Last Week Tonight pull off week on week is nothing you’ve seen, much less expected, from a news comedy show. This is a show that delivers over 10 minute monologues on absurd topics like net neutrality and on far flung countries like Brunei, rarely has celebrity guests, is devoid of sketches or comic correspondents, and can essentially be summarised as 30 minutes of a Brit comedian telling America how ridiculous a country it is.

Last Week Tonight seems to have so many things wrong with it, that when you put them all together, it somehow, magically, becomes right. But this magic is a carefully constructed magic, with an aim far greater than merely to rouse laughter: Last Week Tonight aims to educate the viewers, mostly comprising of millenials famous for suffering from ADD, by being a cool, counterculture alternative to the instant gratification they are so used to.

The stories the show covers are ones that no one else does – like LGBT rights in Uganda or Native Advertising; and it covers them with a relentless passion and an irrepressible enthusiasm, that’s embodied by the former Emmy-award winning, ‘Senior British Correspondent’ to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Oliver, who is both the center of the magic and the perpetrator of the madness of the show. Oliver doesn’t just ask America to care about the stories he covers, they evidently *really* matter to his team as well; and they are chosen, researched and spoken of from a place of emotion; wrapped up in a tidy bow of rip-roaring jokes and well-timed cuss words. When Oliver chides, you feel like a little kid who deserved to be scolded, and you consequently want to do whatever you can to make up for it.

And the show certainly gives you that chance to make up for it; in fact, it implores your moral compasses to act. So when Oliver delivers a diatribe on net neutrality, he then makes a passionate appeal to internet trolls (“seize your moment, my lovely trolls, turn on caps lock, and fly my pretties, fly, fly”), driving them to the FCC website to comment, resulting in the site crashing. Oliver’s often asked people to email organisations (or in one case, Vladmir Putin) on specific addresses and mercilessly use hashtags to take part in a noble stance the show’s taken.

The show’s activism is now the stuff of internet legend but it is done with such well-meaning cheek, that you cannot help be entertained. In fact, the show goes to ridiculously fun lengths to make the most bland topics interesting: at the end of a profile of Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, it got ‘90s Europo sensations Right Said Fred to rework their song ‘I’m too Sexy’ into ‘You’re just a walking taint/The opposite of saint/At least Hitler could paint’; when discussing American’s prison systems, it got the muppets from the Sesame Street to sing an original song with Oliver (It’s a fact that needs to be spoken/ America’s prison systems are broken); it even got Steve Buscemi to do a tap dance and Stephen Hawking to deliver zingers dime-a-dozen to Oliver.

Perhaps the most important asset the show has, that makes it so ‘greatest’, can simply be paraphrased in one word: balls. Enjoying the freedom of being on an HBO as opposed to network television, gives Oliver and his team the freedom to piss on, cuss on, slur or offend any person or corporation that they decide deserves it. And everyone from FIFA (“comically grotesque” to Thai Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn (“buffoon & idiot”) has got a pounding from Oliver with a cheery face and a jolly good middle finger!

The show’s bias is neither with the left nor the right, the show neither dumbs down its content nor babbles in pseudo-intellect; and when it gives an opinion, it comes neither from a moral high ground nor from emotion; because where John Oliver stands, it is only logical that no one is spared.


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Note: An edited version of this article first appeared in The Sunday Guardian in the September 21, 2014 issue.
Link: http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/why-last-week-tonight-is-a-vital-addition-to-tv

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Small Goes Big: Superheroes on TV! #SundayGuardian #Column #TV

Weekly column by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) for The Sunday Guardian. Original article: http://goo.gl/2MSlmS

You may have heard that DC Comics and Marvel have locked down a total of 30 release dates over the next six years, right up to 2020, for the their upcoming planned comic book hero adaptations on the big screen, which include Avengers movies, Justice League movies, Guardians of the Galaxy movies and Fantastic Four movies. Add the X Men movies and the Spiderman movies to this roster, and you have around 40 superhero movies to look forward to (or escape from) in the coming years.

And if you thought that you could avoid this assault by altogether barring movie theatres from your lives, guess what? There are over 15 TV adaptations of comic books in the offing, and three of the biggest ones launch this fall season, starting from September. Wait… did I make all of this sound like this was bad news? Because, OH MY GOD, this is FREAKING AWESOME!

There are already two major superhero shows currently on TV, DC Comics’ Arrow and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, both of which return for their next seasons in October. But things are going to get *massive* this year with three mega shows (and a fourth in January) that will considerably expand the DC and Marvel shared universes on TV and possibly be the BEST THING EVER.

  1. Gotham (DC Comics): Gotham is the prequel to Batman and will feature the origin stories (of the origin story) of heroes and villains of the town where s**t’s been going down since ages now. The show will follow a young detective James Gordon, as he tries to solve the twin murders of 10 year old Bruce Wayne’s parents Thomas and Martha Wayne, and encounters villains like the Penguin, the Riddler, Catwoman and Poison Ivy, just as they started to go batshit crazy. Epicness is guaranteed.
  2. The Flash (DC Comics): A young Flash will rise and discover his superhuman speed and strength this fall in Central City, not far away from Starling City, where the green-masked Arrow has been fighting crime for two seasons now. The buzz around The Flash is tremendous, thanks to a leaked pilot that went viral over the internet. We may or may not have seen that leaked pilot depending on who’s reading, but we can definitely confirm that it’s AWESOME.
  3. Constantine (DC Comics): While Constantine may not be the hottest comic book property because of the sins committed by its 2005 big screen adaptation, the upcoming TV series is developed by The Dark Knight trilogy writer David S. Goyer, stars a British actor in the lead and falls in the action horror genre, which is a TV favourite these days (The Walking Dead, Sleepy Hollow, etc), so there are full chances that the show may break out into a huge hit.

While DC consolidates its foothold in TV, Marvel will be trying the same come January, with the premiere of Agent Carter, starring Hayley Atwell, who’ll be reprising her role as Peggy Carter from 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger and the badass Marvel one-shot short film, which is available on YouTube and is a *must* watch.

And if you think Marvel’s been slow to the party, wait for Daredevil in 2015, which will premiere on Netflix, and be the first in a series of four superhero TV shows, that will lead up to a superhero team-up miniseries, The Defenders, which will be much like The Avengers, but on the small screen. And at the moment, we’ve only discussed DC and Marvel – there are many more shows from many other comic books coming too.  The small screen is never going to be small again!

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Note: An edited version of this article first appeared in The Sunday Guardian in the September 13, 2014 issue.
Link: http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/superheroes-take-over-the-small-screen

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.


By Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon). Original article: http://goo.gl/Uk51lH

How much romance should be in a romantic comedy? I have always felt that the makers of contemporary Bollywood romcoms have not been able to figure that out yet. There’s the new age filmmakers, who believe in ‘less is more’ so there seems to be this big fear when something reaches towards an emotion, or more like, ‘OHMYGOD EMOTION! WHAT DO WE DO NOW? THIS WILL MAKE PEOPLE FEEL AND THAT WILL DESTROY THE WORLD’. For example, the recent Finding Fanny, or Hasee Toh Phasee or Shuddh Desi Romance or you know, Dunno Y.. Na Jaane Kyun (#badjoke).

Then there’s the old school Bollywood filmmakers – or new age old school Bollywood filmmakers – who are basically the sons of somebody or one of the 100 relatives of the Bhatts, who approach emotion as a fat man would approach food: ‘LET’S HAVE EVERYTHING! THIS IS SPARTAAAAAAAAAAA!’ For example, Ek Villain, Aashiqui 2, Tum Mile, and 300 (#secondbadjoke)

And then there’s Dharma, YRF and Imtiaz Ali, who straddle the thin line in between, basically behaving like a drunk guy walking trying to walk straight: one time he will fall to the left, one time he will fall to the right, but he can never, ever stay in the middle. But every once a while, there comes a guy who, like a veteran drunk, can contain his daaru, and *own* this bloody line. Habib Faisal is one such veteran piyakkad (and I’m going to ignore that he wrote Bewakoofiyan because you know what, shit happens, ok?).

Faisal so expertly straddles the rom and the com in his movies that it’s hard to believe the genes of a 16 year old teenage girl and a, say, Asrani or Mehmood, or Keshto Mukherjee, doesn’t run in his blood at the same time (although I have no proof it doesn’t).

Let me cut the crap now and get to the point: Dawaat E Ishq is a romcom feast! It’s a delicious (#wordthatgoeswithdaawat) film with just the right ingredients in just the right quantity (#diditagain) and all the right garnishing on top (#somebodystopme) to make for a perfectly cooked meal (#omgthisisadisease) of love and fun. (#sorry)

I’m not going to get into the story since you should discover that yourself, but what I really loved about the movie is that it’s a movie that completely maintains its irreverent tone from the very beginning to the very end; never for once taking itself too seriously. When there is romance, it’s emphasised so very well in body language or through the eyes, or through the face; basically through everything Parineeti Chopra does because she’s just that damn awesome.

And when there’s drama, it is emphasised not with blaring emotional background music (*cough* Bhansali films *cough*)or a bucketful of glycerine (*cough cough* Bhansali films *gets asthma *); but just through great writing that leads itself to a conflict so well, that you are naturally intrigued to what could happen next. And what happens next, is usually a witty line or a smart foil of a cliché, usually through the OUTSTANDING Anupam Chopra – who is just as good as an Amitabh Bachchan or a Rishi Kapoor in any damn thing he does; in fact, several times he’s better – and the very charming Aditya Roy Kapoor, who’s quite a revelation, really.

For example, in the scene in which Gullu (the girl) has just been proposed to, the camera just stays on her face for a bit – and she is given the freedom to make us feel. And she does it so damn well, that you can’t help but feel and get tingly inside, perhaps because of the direction, perhaps because it’s Parineeti! And when there’s a conflict – like the finale – without giving any spoilers – there’s a leap of logic and some surreality but never any hammering the point away, all done to maintain that fantastic tone that’s been carried from scene one.

The chemistry between Parineeti and Aditya Roy is quite outstanding. To be honest, Parineeti can generate chemistry with a dying puppy if she wants (#ArjunKapoor #runningjoke); but full credit to Aditya Roy Kapoor, who’s taken to the role of a dil-phenk Lucknawi nawaab of the streets, like Deepika has taken to an anti-TOI activist (#snarky #sorryDeepu). To be honest, I really didn’t know Kapoor can act so well, but he’s immensely likeable in this, and makes one thing clear: he belongs among the leads, and he’s here to stay.

Karan Wahi, in the small role he has, is very, very sweet and, pardon my French, cute, and does a super job of making us like him. I really want to see what Kapoor and Wahi do next; their charm is a healthy thing in an industry that needs more of them else Saif Ali Khan will NEVER STOP playing romcom roles. IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT? And once again: Anupam Kher!!!!!!!!!!! I mean, what an actor!!!!!!! What a star!!!!!!!!! He owns every frame of what he does!!

The only thing that got my goat a little bit were the badly placed songs, and well, the fact that it had very little plot, but when did things like plot ever come in the way of an enjoyable film, right? I would totally recommend the film: it’s such a great family film after such a long, long time. Light, breezy and very entertaining. And the best part: while being all this, it also makes such a fantastic point about a social evil dowry (so very Rajkumar Hirani-esque, yay). So basically: Habib Faisal roxxxx!

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Note: This article first was first put up on Facebook on September 19, 2014. Link: http://goo.gl/Uk51lH

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Finding Fanny: Because Deepika Padukone #Review

By Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon). Original article: http://goo.gl/uHBVTN

To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to Finding Fanny because it looked damn pretentious and it was made by Illuminati Films [*read Edit*] who are most famous for getting fantastic directors to make the shittiest movie of their careers. For example, Sriram Raghavan’s Agent Vinod, Homi Adjania’s Cocktail, and Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal, which wasn’t as bad as the rest, but whose second half is as random as casting Vir Das for two dance numbers. And when they made one great film *finally*, Go Goa Gone, they went on record to say that they’ll never be making a film like this, because it lost them money, and also probably because it doesn’t suit their filmography that comprises of shitty films. But, ultimately I went for it, because Deepika Padukone.

To my surprise, the film turned out to be a sweet, pleasant film that had some mad funny scenes and some outstanding acting by the greats: Pankaj Kapur, Naseeruddin Shah and Dimple Kapadia. And Deepika Padukone. What the film lacks so spectacularly in plot, it makes up through some genuinely funny Pankaj Kapur moments and some genuinely heartfelt Naseeruddin Shah moments and some genuinely over the top Dimple Kapadia moments. It also stars Anand Tiwari in a hilarious cameo; I think Anand Tiwari is one of the best actors today, and he pretty much stole every scene he was in. Also Deepika Padukone.

Of course, the film is pretentious and laboured quirky at many places, like the whole ‘random Russian dude in Goa’ angle, and the enormously dull, boring, bland, uninteresting, badly written, pointless and *insert own adjective* Deepika Padukone-Arjun Kapoor love story that was forced into the film because casting the two stars was the only way that people would come to watch it. On a side note, I’m now beginning to worry that Arjun Kapoor’s entire range of emotions is limited to looking like a dying puppy, or maybe Homi didn’t care because Deepika Padukone.

At just 1 hours and 40 minutes, the film is a breezy one time watch, so it’s not going to kill you, although it won’t make you stronger either (sorry, bad joke). But you really *should* watch it to see our film legends in roles that they’re really having the time of their lives in. Also did I mention Deepika Padukone?

P.S. Still not sure the delight of Finding Fanny was worth the pain and anguish of suffering Cocktail. (*dramatic pause*) Nope, it wasn’t. Nothing ever will be. But then again, Deepika Padukone.

[Edit: Turns out its not Illuminati who made this but Dinesh Vijan, which explains to me that it’s basically Saif who’s screwing up all their films. Which makes even more sense because he worked with Tigmanshu Dhulia for Bullett Raja and that was Tigmanshu’s worst film. So SAIF IS THE CULPRIT]

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Note: This article first was first put up on Facebook on September 14, 2014. Link: http://goo.gl/uHBVTN

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Why Mary Kom is the film Bollywood needs #Review #MaryKom #Bollywood

By Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon). Original article: http://goo.gl/Gfd0Oq

Well, what a great year this has been for women in Bollywood! Starting with Madhuri Dixit & Huma Qureshi in Dedh Ishqiya and Alia Bhatt in Highway to Kangana Ranaut in Queen and Rani Mukherjee in Mardaani to Priyanka Chopra now in Mary Kom, women are kicking all kinds of ass in movies that respect them, celebrate them and give them a standing ovation!

Mary Kom, the movie, isn’t perfect by any stretch – it’s got a Bollywood star at its helm instead of a Manipuri actress, it’s got a flawed, hurried screenplay, a sometimes jarring background score, unnecessary song placements; basically every cliche that a typical Bollywood film is guilty of. I can list a thousand ways this movie could have been better, to the level of a potential Foreign Film Oscar nominee, but you know what, all of that is immaterial and really doesn’t matter. Because Mary Kom is a very important film, and perhaps one of the most progressive films that ‘typical Bollywood’ has ever made.

This is a film with an almost completely North East Indian cast and each one of them knock it out of the park, proving that there’s talent *everywhere*, as long as we care to look. This is a film where the husband is shown willingly asking his wife to pursue her passion while he takes care of the kids at home, since his career is secondary and because her career is far too important to be sacrificed. This is a film where a woman, when faced with a choice between choosing her conservative father and choosing the passion of her life; goes for the unlikely choice, because you know what, women can and should do whatever the hell they like too! This is a film that shows that while men may face hardships in Indian sports, women have to overcome hardship from every single sexist male, every chauvinist attitude, every patriarchal rule, and even battle with the natural instincts of motherhood in order to achieve something.

In light of all this and more, Mary Kom is such an inspiring story of one of India’s most under-celebrated sports icons. Yes, it doesn’t hold up as a film at many places (it could have had much more of Manipur and Mary Kom’s struggles too), but this is an important watch for the fact that there lives a legend among us, who is an embodiment of the strength, courage and awesomeness of a woman – especially an INDIAN woman – who has to juggle being a daughter, a wife and a mother, and yet somehow manages to kick ass at all these as well as her passions and dreams… and at the international level that too.. FIVE TIMES OVER! Mary Kom is Maginificent Mary and this may not be the film that India deserves, but it is certainly the film that India needs.

So kudos to the makers, who brought the life of such an inspiration to the screen, for making Bollywood just a little more progressive, open-minded and respectful of women, kudos to Priyanka Chopra, who really put everything she had into this and came out all heart (and I understand that she was cast to bring audiences to the film, which is so important in a movie like this); and kudos to women in general, who are the BEST, and deserve many, many, MANY more such movies about them and their awesomeness, on screen. Please go watch this movie is you are a woman to feel empowered, but please DON’T MISS this if you are a man, to learn from the North East how it is cool to treat a woman with respect!

But please do watch Mary Kom, not for the flawed film it is, but for the brave story it tells and the small but sure step it is for mainstream Bollywood. In cynical times for our cinema where stalking, molesting or insulting their heroines by 45+ ‘stars’ on screen is what passes off as entertainment (Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who produced this film, last produced Rowdy Rathore where Akshay pinches a random woman off the streets in the name of ‘love’), we really need to make sure such movies are applauded for the effort to set the status quo straight!


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Note: This article first was first put up on Facebook on September 5, 2014.
Link: http://goo.gl/Gfd0Oq

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Shining new ‘light’ on superhero franchises #SundayGuardian #GOTG #Column

In Groot We Trust: Guardians of the Galaxy and the bright future of the Superhero genre

Weekly column by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) for The Sunday Guardian. Original article: http://goo.gl/8JkfSE

When it was initially announced, Guardians of the Galaxy was a movie set in outer space, featuring five anti-heroes: a violent talking raccoon (Rocket voiced by Bradley Cooper), a dim-witted talking tree (Groot voiced by Vin Diesel), a former WWE wrestler (Drax played by Dave Bautista), a lead who was earlier best known as the chunky shoe-shiner in a niche TV show (Starlord played by Chris Pratt from Parks and Recreations) and the only recognisable face in green makeup (Gamora played by Zoe Saldana).

It was being directed by an indie filmmaker whose most notable work may have been scripting the Scooby-Doo movies (James Gunn), was allotted a budget of $170 million dollars (enough to feed Bangladesh) and to make matters worse, it was an action comedy (the last superhero action comedy announced, Deadpool, never got released). Recipe for disaster, right?

Wrong! Because at a domestic box office of $255 million and counting in four weeks since its release, Guardians of the Galaxy has just become the highest grossing film of 2014 in the US, beating established franchises like Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Amazing Spiderman 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past, and is well onto becoming one of the highest grossing films globally too, with an estimated worldwide box office of $500 million and counting.

But it’s not the numbers that you should care about, it’s what the numbers represent. If you’ve been even moderately interested in superhero flicks over the last decade, you’d have noticed a dubious trend: At some point during the last few years, comic book movies took a turn towards darkness and stopped being ‘comic’ altogether. Christopher Nolan, auteur that he may be, is to completely blame for this disturbing mess – his ‘Dark’ Knight trilogy set the tone for pretty much every comic book superhero movie to follow.

After Nolan’s gritty reboot of Batman with Batman Begins, we got a Spiderman reboot sans humour (The Amazing Spiderman), a Superman reboot that had a dark tinge throughout the film (Man of Steel), an Iron Man so dark that it was shot mostly at night (Iron Man 3), a Captain America so dark that even the Hulk had better jokes (The Avengers) and a Thor so dark that they even put the word ‘dark’ in its title, you know, in case anyone thought it *looked* too bright (Thor: The Dark World).

On the heels of this illness that has plagued non-superhero franchises too (Star Trek Into ‘Darkness’), came the unlikely Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie so aggressively anti darkness that its trailer featured Swedish pop rock band Blue Swede’s ‘70s anthem, ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ as opposed to, you know, Mike Zarin’s BRAAAM!s from the Inception trailer (yup, that’s the ‘dong’ sound you’ve heard in the trailer of *every* summer film since Inception, and yup, that’s how it’s spelt on the internet).

Considering the fact that the joke was actually on the last few superhero films that tried being funny (Green Lantern and The Green Hornet failed spectacularly), it cannot be stressed enough how monumental the earth-shattering success of the unlikely Guardians of the Galaxy is. Here’s a film that’s so experimental that it’s practically a lab experiment by Marvel. It’s not that the film has an exceptionally original storyline – it would do Blake Snyder’s beat sheet proud – it’s old wine, but only if the bottle was an insane novelty, designed in outer space by a bunch of misfit goons.

Take the pre-climax scene where the five anti-heroes agree to go on a suicidal mission to save the world after Starlord’s ‘I have a plan’ speech. The movie does the cliché but then, once all five are standing, Rocket remarks snarkily, “There, I’m also standing. Look at us, a bunch of jackasses, standing in a circle!” It is how the film takes all such superhero tropes and plays it to perfection, only to turn it on its head before the end, so that the audience gets to watch both an irreverent indie film and the familiar summer film that they all can’t seem to watch enough of.

Because that’s what Guardians of the Galaxy is: a summer blockbuster with the soul of an indie film. It’s got the big ticket action scenes, but it’s also got the quiet moments – like the scene where Groot grows a flower to gift a little girl; or the scene where Groot releases fireflies to bring about light in a dark scene; or well, just the fact that it’s got Groot! Instead of going the ‘one for them, one for us’ way with their slate of blockbuster films that go right up to 2020, Marvel Studios have figured out the inspired middle-path: ‘something for both’. How else do you explain an ingenious ‘70s soundtrack (‘The Awesome Mix Vol. 1) to a film set in space?

The success to the film bodes well for indie filmmakers with original voices who are looking to do something more than great films that give them creative satisfaction but pay a journalist’s salary (next to nothing, in case you were wondering). It also plays out remarkably for the hapless audience that wants to be entertained but cannot suffer through one more never-ending Michael Bay explosionfest (especially without any Megan Fox). Most importantly, it is exactly the hint (a $500 million one at that) that studios needed to make films that are something other than the 50th instalment of their safe franchise or the 80th reboot of the proven one.

It is early days yet, but like the heroes at its helm, Guardians of the Galaxy may be the unlikely misfit film that the world needed, and not just the film they wanted. The future of the galaxy is in safe hands indeed, because in Groot, we trust.

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Note: An edited version of this article first appeared in The Sunday Guardian in the September 7, 2014 issue.
Link: http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/shining-new-light-on-superhero-franchises

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