Category Archives: Reviews

Here are some of my published movie reviews for Firstpost.com. The rest are opinions that I’ll be writing here directly.

The Rise of the Prestige Documentary #TV #MANSWORLD #COLUMN

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Man’s World.

You could say it was after true crime series The Jinx in January 2015 or the Serial podcast in October, 2014, or with the satirical Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in April 2014, but no matter at what exact point of time you got sucked into the world of narrative non-fiction, there’s a good chance that there is, at this point, at least one piece of immersionist style documentary filmmaking that you are wholly obsessed with.

There’s been something for everyone in the age of ‘Peak TV’, over the past few years, with the most unusual channels or platforms making a foray into fiction, so as to not be left behind in the moment in pop culture, where nothing says prestige than making a TV series. Everyone from gaming platform Playstation to e-commerce site Amazon to tech giant Apple to the History Channel has put their fingers into ever-expanding pie and so it was only a matter of time where someone decided that it was time to move beyond fiction, into other realms of storytelling.

Not surprisingly, it was HBO again that was the harbinger of change, giving audiences, yet again, a taste of something they never knew they wanted. HBO had been producing or broadcasting documentary features for a good many years, with a focus on news-making content. But it was in April 2013 that they changed the game for TV for the second time since The Sopranos ushered in the era of golden TV in 1999.

In April 2013, HBO launched Vice, a documentary TV series that brought new media entrepreneur Shane Smith’s VICE magazine and digital news channel to TV. Produced by Bill Maher with Fareed Zakaria as Consultant, the series captured public and media attention alike, through the finale of its very first season – when it sent one of its journalists to document a basketball game with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. It was the first time any American TV show got access to Jong-Un, a man most famous for basically wanting America destroyed.

HBO again led from the front in 2014, when it launched a weekly news comedy show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, with a one-of-its-kind format that focused not only on satire about the week’s political or cultural absurdities, but also on one 10-15 minutes long main story that the show’s producers believe must be talked about. That story is essentially a satirical documentary-meets-rant about a hot topic of the week or the month, or even a long-standing problem, and from net neutrality to tax-exempted religious organizations to the American prison system, Oliver has taken on each with a cheeky grin.

But the narrative non-fiction storytelling device exploded into the collective conscience when Sarah Koenig’s began a weekly podcast, Serial, later that year, documenting the true crime story of the 1999 murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee by her then teenage ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, who was convinced and has been in prison ever since. As Koenig unraveled the case each week, interviewing the witnesses, the prosecutors, the family and friends of both, as well as Syed himself, she opened up a Pandora’s box that revealed a life-size hole in the prosecution of Syed and a legitimate doubt on whether he had committed the murder at all. The show has since been download a whopping 80 million times and the case has since, reopened.

Two more true crime serialized documentaries have since cause worldwide sensation. HBO’s The Jinx became watercooler conversation when the accused serial murderer it followed, Robert Durst, confessed to the crime on camera. After Netflix’s Making a Murderer was premiered last December, a petition of 128,000 signatures to free murder accused Steven Avery, was sent to President Barrack Obama. Amazon has now entered, what is being called the ‘prestige documentary’ business, by premiering The New Yorker Presents, a weekly series that will bring to life some of The New Yorker’s most acclaimed stories (both fiction and non-fiction).

The success of the immersive non-fiction narrative has led to many other documentaries being developed across TV and streaming media (but obviously), even as season 2 of Serial, season 3 of Last Week Tonight and Season 4 of Vice are on air currently. With VICE taking this success a step further and launching a 24-hours documentary channel in partnership with A+E Networks called ‘Viceland’, and additionally tying up with HBO for a weekly primetime news show, you only need to choose your poison now, but there’s enough of it to go around for everyone.

6 Unscripted Series to Follow Immediately:

VICE (HBO) – Multi-season documentary series covering one or two political, economic or cultural news topic in each episode, in gonzo style on-ground journalism.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) – Multi-season news comedy show featuring a main story in each episode that often puts center stage a systematic American problem.

Serial (Free Podcast) – Twelve-part true crime series following the case of convicted murderer Adnan Syed trying to determine if he indeed did the crime.

The Jinx (HBO) – Six-part true crime series following the case against accused serial murderer Robert Durst, with a sensational twist.

Making a Murderer (Netflix) – Ten-part true crime series following the allegedly wrongful conviction of accused murderer Steven Avery.

The New Yorker Presents (Amazon) – A recently premiered video magazine bringing to life some of the most talked about and acclaimed stories of The New Yorker.

Follow the blog on your left and like The Tanejamainhoon Page on FB: /tanejamainhoonpage
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Liked/disliked the piece? Leave your comments below!
Note: This interview first appeared in Man’s World in the March issue.
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.

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THE 50 BEST TV SHOWS OF 2015 (DRAMA & COMEDY)

#ICYMI:
THE 30 BEST INDIES OF 2015: http://goo.gl/xfRuOk
THE 35 BEST FILMS OF 2015: http://goo.gl/Z796RR
THE 100 MOST AWAITED FILMS OF 2016: http://goo.gl/KLHbTP
THE 35 MOST AWAITED TV SERIES OF 2016: http://goo.gl/b20Hr7
THE COMPLETE POP CULTURE CALENDAR OF 2016 (WITH RELEASE DATES): http://goo.gl/JMWW7c


2015 was a landmark year in what has come to be known as ‘Peak TV’. There was SO much TV and SO much of it was outstanding that I ended up watching over 100 TV shows through the year (out of which 70 were full seasons), and had to reduce my movie watching for the same reason. I’ve compiled below the list of the best new shows (drama and comedy) and the best returning shows (drama and comedy) of 2015. So this becomes a handy guide on what TV shows to look out for in their second seasons in 2016!

THE 10 BEST NEW DRAMAS OF 2015

  1. NARCOS: Because there has never been any other show with such scale and ambition attempted so far, and the makers of Narcos have pulled it off like only the cartels could!
  2. MAKING A MURDERER: Because watching the show is like living in a nightmare that you can’t wake up from.. ever.
  3. MR. ROBOT: Because with this show, Sam Esmail has given us the ultimate f**k you to this generation’s obsession with technology, in a twisted, warped, incredibly gripping way.
  4. JESSICA JONES: Because this show has given the Marvel Universe (yes, the entire MCU) its first great villain outside of Loki: David Tennant’s Kilgrave (another Brit baddies, surprise!).
  5. THE JINX: Because before Making a Murderer came along, this show was the true-life crime documentary the world was obsessed with, and its climax is *the* pop culture moment of the year.
  6. AGENT CARTER: Because where Netflix’s other TV shows are tonally reminiscent to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Agent Carter is a refreshingly sassy hero, who is, for once, a heroine.
  7. BETTER CALL SAUL: Because not only did they get back Saul Goodman, they also got back Mike Ehrmantaut and that gave us the year’s most inimitable friendship.
  8. SENSE8: Because with Sense8, the Wachowski siblings may have pulled up the world’s first truly global TV series, spanning four continents, and trying to address the question of ‘identity’ across each.
  9. THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE: Because the alternate history world that the show resides in paints a truly compelling – and frightening – picture of how our lives could have been had WWII been lost.
  10. FORTITUDE: Because as Christopher Nolan had shown us with Insomnia, there is no better way to do a psychological thriller than to set it in the cold, dark, isolated Scandinavian setting.
  11. FEAR THE WALKING DEAD: Because the show proves there is more to fear when the world is on the verge of losing than when it’s already lost.
  12. MARCO POLO: Because it is one of the most vivid, visually arresting, epic shows and criminally underrated of our times, rivaling Game of Thrones in scope and spirit both.
  13. DAREDEVIL: Because the show gave us Marvel’s first thumping TV win and laid the foundation for the gritty Hell’s Kitchen setting that’s more DC than Marvel.
  14. THE LAST KINGDOM: Because while the ‘UK’s sprawling series about Brits vs Nordics may not be its answer to Game of Thrones, it’s still immensely watchable TV all the same.
  15. HUMANS: Because just like Black Mirror predicted, even in the future it’s not robots we need to be afraid of, but humans.
  16. AMERICAN CRIME: Because the kind of writing 12 Years a Slave writer, John Ridley, has brought to the small screen, has never been seen before on network TV.
  17. WAYWARD PINES: Because this is the first thing after The Sixth Sense that Manoj N. Shyamalan has produced where he gives answers and they happen to be creepier than the question.
  18. DEUTSCHLAND 83: Because German citizens got the short end of the stick at the end of WWII and this cold war spy coming of age will take you into their world that we never knew of.
  19. BLOODLINE: Because Ben Mendhelson is this generation’s most watchable character actor.
  20. EMPIRE: Because besides the heavy hitters in its cast, this show has more plot in every episode than Mad Men had over 8 seasons… it’s a true network achievement!


THE 10 BEST RETURNING DRAMAS OF 2015

  1. FARGO: Because it’s easily Breaking Bad’s successor as the best TV show of today, and where I stand, Noah Hawley can do Coen Brothers better than Coen Brothers can – in fact Fargo is the reason why TV today is better than cinema, and is the shining example of the great times we live in called ‘Peak TV’.
  2. THE AMERICANS: Because as the most consistently outstanding and most criminally underrated TV show of the last three years, the cold war spy drama is a cable TV classic that should not be missed.
  3. GAME OF THRONES: Because somehow, every year, the show manages to raise the stakes and manages to beat every expectation the millions of fans have around the world.
  4. MANHATTAN: Because as the second most criminally underrated show of the last couple of years, Manhattan is just as consistent in being brilliant as The Americans is, and is about an even more intriguing plotline: the making of the atomic bomb.
  5. THE FLASH: Because neither Marvel nor DC have managed to make a superhero show that’s as much fun as this is – this show is what ‘comic’ books had intended their adaptations to be.
  6. MAD MEN: Because we may not ever be fully able to measure the impact of Mad Men on what we wear, but the series finale had a singular impact on how we think: that this was a show that defined the golden age of TV.
  7. SUITS: Because even in its fifth season, Suits manages to be just as exciting and entertaining as its initial run… and perhaps making Harvey Specter more human could have something to do with it.
  8. BATES MOTEL: Because before there was Wayward Pines, there was – and is – Bates Motel, the origin story of Pyscho’s Norman Bates, which is just as creepy, atmospheric and unpredictable in tone and as good in writing.
  9. THE LEFTOVERS: Because no one writes about life and loss like Damon Lindelof.
  10. THE KNICK: Because if TV is an art, no one can paint it like Steven Soderbergh can and that’s the most compelling reason to watch this show.


THE 10 BEST NEW COMEDIES OF 2015

  1. MASTER OF NONE: Because Aziz Ansari has created, written and stars in this show about modern love and there is no greater reason to watch anything more than this.
  2. CASUAL: Because Jason Reitman is the only director today whose understanding and critique of modern love is just as sharp as Aziz Ansari’s.
  3. MOZART IN THE JUNGLE: Because Jason Schwartzmann and Roman Coppola have cast Gael Garcia Bernal and indie sensation Lola Kirke to make an ode to New York through the world of symphony orchestras.
  4. BIG TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, FL: Because if there was ever a stoner version of Fargo, this is it.. the best unseen show of 2015.
  5. RED OAKS: Because David Gordon Green has recreated the world of John Hughes through this teenage coming-of-age in the ‘80s throwback show.
  6. THE LAST MAN ON EARTH: Because Will Forte has teamed up with Chris Miller and Philip Lord (of 21 and 22 Jump Street Fame) for a post apocalyptic comedy so how could it not be gold?
  7. CATASTROPHE: Because though season two proved to be a dampener, there is enough to like in the adult romantic comedy for couples who don’t look like Brangelina.
  8. HAPPYISH: Because if you hate social media, technology, capitalism, consumerism, and umm, people in general, this show will validate you.
  9. TOGETHERNESS: Because just like all things by Duplass Brothers, this indie dysfunctional family comedy is also lovely as it’s about everything and nothing.
  10. BALLERS: Because it is from the guys behind Entourage and it looks, feels, walks and talks like Entourage but in sports and it stars The Rock.


THE 10 BEST RETURNING COMEDIES OF 2015

  1. ABOUT A BOY: Because most underrated comedy on TV came to an end but not before making us feel all kinds of warm and fuzzy inside.
  2. SILICON VALLEY: Because if the Big Bang Theory made geeks cool, Silicon Valley makes the nerds hot… property.
  3. THE WRONG MANS: Because few people have managed to get the comic thriller space right on TV or films, and this show is hilarious and badass at the same time.
  4. MARRIED: Because in its season season, the comedy showed that you don’t necessarily need to be adults to be married, or at all, really.
  5. YOU’RE THE WORST: Because handling a tricky topic like depression in such a superlative manner shows that the best laughs come from the darkest situations.
  6. Veep: Because there are more memorable one-lines in Veep than there are comedy shows on TV.
  7. SURVIVOR’S REMORSE: Because this is not ‘Sports Entourage’ but ‘Sports Fast and Furious’ – it’s all about family, at the end of the day.
  8. FRESH OFF THE BOAT: Because as an Asian ‘Malcolm in the Middle’, FOTB is a fresh take on fitting in even when you stand out.
  9. BROAD CITY: Because girls can be ‘bros’ too, and if there ever was a show for girl bros, this is it.
  10. NEW GIRL: Because no matter how the good or bad the writing gets in subsequent episodes, that cast is the craziest comic ensemble on TV right now.


#ICYMI:
THE 30 BEST INDIES OF 2015: http://goo.gl/xfRuOk
THE 35 BEST FILMS OF 2015: http://goo.gl/Z796RR
THE 100 MOST AWAITED FILMS OF 2016: http://goo.gl/KLHbTP
THE 35 MOST AWAITED TV SERIES OF 2016: http://goo.gl/b20Hr7
THE COMPLETE POP CULTURE CALENDAR OF 2016 (WITH RELEASE DATES): http://goo.gl/JMWW7c


Follow the blog on your left and like The Tanejamainhoon Page on FB: /tanejamainhoonpage
Follow Nikhil Taneja on FB: /tanejamainhoonon Twitter:
@tanejamainhoonon Instagram:@tanejamainhoon,
on Youtube: /tanejamainhoon

Liked/disliked the piece? Think I’ve left out some fantastic shows? Think I’m awesome or really, really not? Leave your comments below 🙂
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.

MASAAN (2015) REVIEW #HUFFINGTONPOST

Note: This review was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) for Huffington Post in July 2015.


Masaan and the Idea of India

The idea of India has always been fascinating to me. Because, to me, India is – and always has been – more a utopian idea of what a country can and should be, whereas the reality has gotten rather lost in translation. Think about it: India is probably the only country in the world where there is not a single thread that unites every man, woman and child. Be it caste, colour, community, religion, language, race, or ideology, the people of India indeed have nothing in common with each other. It’s often said that Bollywood and cricket are the only two things that unite the country, but Bollywood stops being relevant beyond the Hindi-speaking regions, and cricket’s days of glory effectively retired with Sachin Tendulkar.

This seemingly disjointed modern India may not be easy to classify in any of the traditional ways, but that is because it is an India that is trying to break out of such classifications. The truth is, there is no one idea of India and perhaps no one India either; India is remarkable because there are several Indias within the idea tussling with each other, and within themselves, to stride through the remainder of the 21st century with some core belief system.

In this tussle, this struggle, lies a deep-rooted ambition, within the cities, towns, villages and all of its varied and diverse people and culture, to define themselves and to find meaning, which has been aided largely by the technological revolution that is still seeping in its every nook and corner, possibly not fast enough. YouTube has invigorated the young, Facebook has helped them learn free will, while Google has been their guide in navigating life, love and lust.

This is the complicated backdrop and landscape that Masaan, a film by debutant director Neeraj Ghaywan, is set in, and the layered protagonists of the film traverse through its various complexities. Winner of two Cannes awards, including the FIPRESCI Prize, given by an international federation of film critics, Masaan is a tale of two Benarases, both weighed down by its heritage and both trying to escape it by any means.

There is one story about Devi (Richa Chadda), who, as a liberated young woman, has pre-marital sex with a fellow student, only to be caught by the traditionalist police and blackmailed into shame. The second is a love story of a young couple, Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) and Shaalu (Shweta Tiwari), belonging to different castes, and hoping to surmount the barriers presented by it.

In both stories, technology is an accomplice in seeking progress, and by sharp contrast, in one, it is a weapon used to threaten conformity too. Both stories are also driven by the ambitions of the protagonists to not be held prisoner to the milieu, conditions and the masaans (crematorium) they are born into, and that are born out of them. But reducing the stories to themes and metaphors would be doing a disservice to the soul that runs through them and the love, loss and longing that they so beautifully capture in the quiet chaos of the ghaats of Benaras.

Ghaywan, in his very first film, creates a deeply affecting world that devastates and uplifts at the same time, and that becomes a part of your world long after the film is over. The deftness with which he captures emotions of hope and young love (in the romance of Deepak and Shaalu), prejudices and old mores (in the relationship between Devi’s father and the inspector that blackmails them), aspiration and rebellion (through Devi) and death (in the stunning scene between Deepak and his friends), deserves much lauding. He has been proficiently supported by a wonderful script and heartfelt dialogues by the inimitable Varun Grover, through the earnest lens of Avinash Arun, who recently debuted as a director himself with the fine Killa, and the moving music by Indian Ocean, whom we cannot get enough of.

But the film’s true winner are the fantastic performances that Ghaywan has extracted from its lead cast. From a poignant and memorable Vicky Kaushal and the endearing warmth of Shweta Tripathi (both of whom have huge things ahead of them) to the intricate depth of emotions that Sanjay Mishra (who is clearly on the path of being a legend) as Devi’s father brings, to the confident, tender and touching performance of Richa Chadda that the film is anchored by, to the striking cameos by Pankaj Tripathi, Bhagwan Tiwari and Nikhil Sahni, Masaan is a masterclass in acting.

This is another winner by Phantom Films and Guneet Monga’s Sikhya Entertainment and as good a beginning as any by Manish Mundra’s Drishyam Films that, much like the film, is to be watched out for. An Indo-French production, if Masaan is (deservedly) successful at the box office, it may also help get further international funding to tell more such stories about the heart of what makes modern India. But these are not the reasons you must watch Masaan for.

Masaan deserves to be watched because it a rare film that holds a mirror to that deep-rooted ambition that runs through the pulse of this modern India: to break out of the boxes it’s been holed into, to overcome the circumstances it was born into, to rise above the demarcations that were set in its outdated texts and its archaic traditions, and to have the liberty and choice to be whatever and whoever it needs to be… to not just live, but to truly be alive.
Agree/disagree with the review? Leave your thoughts in the comments below 🙂
Follow the blog on your left and like The Tanejamainhoon Page on FB: /
tanejamainhoonpage
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@tanejamainhoonon Instagram:@tanejamainhoon,
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Note: This piece first appeared in The Huffington Post on July 25
Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.in/nikhil-taneja-/masaan-review-a-fine-film_b_7869922.html
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.

On Bombay Velvet: How internet is killing the movie and the curse of being Anurag Kashyap #NotaReview

This is not a review of Bombay Velvet. Because whatever I say about Bombay Velvet doesn’t matter to you at all. You’ve already made up your mind about how you feel about Bombay Velvet, even especially if you haven’t seen it, because you have read gossip about the film’s edit issues before its release, or you’ve read Komal Nahta’s tweet about how two shows of the film got cancelled in the morning, or you’ve read a review of the film by critics who were ‘let down’ by this film.

For that matter, you have decided that no matter what others say, you will like this film because you are a Ranbir fan, an Anushka fan, or an Anurag Kashyap fan (are there any left though?). You may like it because everyone’s disliking it and you are a hipster, or you may like it because of the amazing irony of how a Rs 100 crore budget film has become an underdog. You may just like it because your expectations were lowered by the reviews of critics or your friends, and now you don’t find the film *that* bad.

It’s beside the point that I loved the film and its characters and its setting and the outstanding music, it’s pointless reviewing Bombay Velvet because invariably, I must belong to one or more of the sects I mentioned in the previous paragraph, perhaps without even knowing it. Because clearly, no one’s reviewing movies anymore, everyone’s reviewing their expectations of it.

Expectations vs the Film
Let me attempt to explain: When was the last time we walked into a movie theater without any expectations from the film whatsoever? Even if we didn’t have high expectations of the film, we certainly didn’t have no expectations else why would we spend your hard earned money and our precious time watching the film?

The reason we had these expectations (as little as they may be) is because we liked the trailer of the movie, or we like the actors in it, or the director of it or because it came recommended to us by a critic or a friend. So the film ultimately either lived up to these expectations, or fell short of them, and our opinion on the movie is an outcome of that. That’s largely how it’s always been when it comes to movie watching but ever since social media has happened to our lives, our expectations have started getting skewed much more sharply than ever before. With the groundswell of opinions on every movie, especially if they are STRONG and LOUD (whether positive or negative), our expectations have *become* our review of the movie. Think about it, we now rarely feel any different after watching a movie from what is being said about the movie, or the opinion we formed about it beforehand.

We already liked Piku before we entered the theater to watch it because EVERYONE LOVED IT. We were already impressed by the excellence of Court because EVERYONE WAS IMPRESSED BY IT. We were already disappointed with Detective Bymokesh Bakshy because EVERYONE WAS LET DOWN BY IT. We were already blown away by Fast and Furious because EVERYONE WAS BLOWN AWAY BY IT. Perhaps you are one of the rare people who felt the opposite for every movie I mentioned or you genuinely liked/disliked the previous movies and that has nothing to do with ‘everyone’. The truth, as they say, is probably somewhere in between.

The curse of being Anurag Kashyap
Let me put it another way: What if Court was made by Anurag Kashyap? What is Piku was made by Sajid Khan? What if Byomkesh Bakshy was made by Chaitanya Tamhane? What if Fast and Furious was made by Michael Bay? What if Bombay Velvet was made by Anand Gandhi?  Just think over this for a second. Would we still feel exactly the same about these movies? More importantly, would the *critics* feel the same way about them? Of course we wouldn’t. Because somewhere, we can’t disassociate the filmmaker from the film and that is true even moreso for critics.

Prove me wrong by showing me a review of Bombay Velvet that does not talk about Anurag Kashyap’s ambitions with this film, the film compared to his other work, the film with respect to other gangster film, the budget of the film, the expected box office, the negative buzz around it, etc etc etc. You’d be surprised if you find a review that only talks about the film and nothing else but the film because Anurag Kashyap is intricately linked to this film, but is that really fair? Why isn’t it only about the film anymore?

If you completely disagree with me on this, here’s another perspective: What if Woody Allen, who has been accused of being a pedophile, gets convicted? You’d certainly not be inclined to revere him as a person but would it have any bearing on what you think of him as a director? But that’s actually immaterial, to be honest, because the only question that matters is: would it change the way you feel about his films? Will Annie Hall make you feel any differently or will you love Midnight in Paris any less, knowing that the director behind him may not be a very good man? It won’t and it shouldn’t because it *really* doesn’t matter who has made a film. Only your connection to it matters.

Internet criticism
But that may not be true in the case of critics in the internet age. I read the reviews of a few critics who found Akshay Kumar’s Gabbar mildly enjoyable and gave it around 2.5 stars. I saw the film and it definitely didn’t suck as much as every other south remake but 2.5 stars? Bombay Velvet has got 2.5 stars. Byomkesh Bakshy got 2.5 stars. Are Gabbar and Bombay Velvet/Byomkesh Bakshy at the same level in ANY way? I’m not trying to be a condescending asshole or a cacophonous fanboy (although that’s beside the point too because you’ve already made up your mind either way, haven’t you?). What I’m trying to say is: Did Gabbar make you FEEL for even one second? What did you take back home after watching Gabbar? On the other hand – are you saying NOTHING in Bombay Velvet or Byomkesh made you feel? You took back NOTHING after watching them?

I’m not at all comparing popcorn films with ‘cinema’ and trying to draw a fail parallel. Because I LOVE popcorn cinema. Absolutely LOVE it. Because the best popcorn cinema also makes you FEEL – it could any feeling from awe and joy to aww and joy. (If you get the time, please do read this piece by Sady Doyle on popcorn cinema; possibly the best written article on cinema this year: http://www.wired.com/2015/05/marvel-killing-the-popcorn-movie/). Gabbar didn’t make me feel, neither do any of the umpteen other South remakes. Avengers (not part 2) did make me feel though, as did The Fault in our Stars in the same way that a Dhoom 3 and 2 States made me feel *something*. They are the epitome of popcorn films but I took away something back home after watching them. I took away something from Bombay Velvet and Byomkesh too, but nothing from Gabbar. Yet they are all given a star rating of 2.5 stars and to be honest, that blows my mind.

I am not calling out critics too (I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinions and how am I to say my opinion is better than yours?) but I do have a problem with criticism connected with expectations. Because I fail to understand how ratings can be flexible according to expectations. The reason Gabbar got 2.5 was because the reviewers went into theaters expecting to see an absolutely horrible film but were surprised that it didn’t suck THAT BAD. On the other hand, Byomkesh got 2.5 because the reviewers were expecting to be blown away but that didn’t happen; and Bombay Velvet got 2.5 stars because the reviewers expected to be let down and that’s exactly what happened. I admit, some of this is informed from my understanding of criticism because I was a ‘critic’ for a while for Firstpost.com and to be honest, I occasionally suffered from the same issues too.

It may have been JUST me and perhaps I wasn’t qualified enough to be an opinion-giver (‘critic’ is too strong a word to my liking), and I may be ENTIRELY wrong and presumptuous about internet criticism (because criticism without the support of the internet today does not exist). But the truth is, it was only after I left my opinion hat at home and started watching films as a filmbuff that I began to see them for what they are. My feelings towards any film, now, are based on what I feel *because* of the film, or if I feel because of it at all. It has nothing to do with the perception of the film or the cast and the crew.

Why Bombay Velvet cannot be left to die
I loved Bombay Velvet. I didn’t connect with it in the first thirty minutes at all, but then I was slowly pulled in by it and by the end of it, I had been wholly consumed by all the complexity at play – the class divide of Khambatta and Balraj, the love story of Johnny and Rosie, the angst of Balraj to rise above his so-called aukaad, the loyalty of Chiman, and all else. The music was the true champion of the film and Amit Trivedi’s OUTSTANDING score interpreted on film is reason alone to watch this film. I loved the world of the film created by its superlative cast (Ranbir, Anushka, Satyadeep, Karan and Kay Kay took my breath away) and crew, and contrary to what many have said, I felt that the film didn’t reach its full potential because of the edit, done by the great Thelma Schoonmaker and Prerna Saigal.

In the first thirty minutes, to give the film a certain pace and atmosphere, what I felt were crucial scenes of romance between Rosie and Johnny weren’t allowed to breathe and were cut off just when they needed that little pause for us to feel deeper. The uneven pace of the film throughout is its biggest downfall and somewhere, there is a director’s cut which could be 3 hours long but which I suspect I may love more. But I still love Bombay Velvet, but as I had mentioned upfront, what I think of the film doesn’t even matter.

The more time spent on the internet consuming about movies before watching them, is killing the experience of watching any movie for what it is. Remember the unparalleled pleasure of being in a cinema hall at one with a movie, and discovering it unfold one scene at a time, before the onslaught of teasers of teasers and trailers 2,7,10? Before Twitter and Facebook told you EVERYTHING you didn’t want to know about the film but would have liked seeing or deciding for yourself? Before opinions were jammed down your throat because you live on the internet and opinion-givers do too?

Hence my opinion of Bombay Velvet is immaterial. What matters is what *you* think of it. And the only way for you to decide is not by reading snarky comments about it on the internet but by going to the theater and watching it yourself. Watch it not because I or anyone else liked the film, but because such an intricately created and painstakingly mounted film is certainly worth your time – at least worth more than reading all the gossip about it. Whether you love, like or dislike it, watching a movie of this scale, design and feel isn’t an experience you get often in India cinema, and will certainly not get anymore if this film is doomed by the wrath of the internet and the curse of being Anurag Kashyap.

Do not let the internet kill Bombay Velvet. Do not let the internet kill movies.

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Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!: Dibakar Banerjee, I LOVE YOU.

 (Full Disclosure: I work at YRF but this post isn’t sponsored by the studio but comes from the heart of a filmbuff who watched the movie in a theater with a paid ticket, instead of a film screening!)

It’s strange but I distinctly remember how every Dibakar Banerjee movie has left me feeling. I remember being euphoric at the end of Khosla Ka Ghosla. This was an Ocean’s 11 devoid of gloss, cool, swag or for that matter, George Clooney. But Anupam Kher Khosla and his motley bunch of family and friends made me want to whistle out loud for kicking Khurana’s butt so hard and so well. There was such a satisfaction that I felt after the Khoslas avenged Khurana for me – yes, I wanted to avenge him to because the film made me feel that it had happened to me, or someone I know really well.

Love, Sex Aur Dhokha made me feel cheap and ashamed. I’m not even sure why because I have never done anything like the protagonists in the film or subscribed to any of the views they had. But I felt dirty after watching the film, because I was part of a system that allows such tragedies to happen on a daily basis. I should have felt helpless but instead I felt mad that I had allowed this to happen; as if I played some part in making this possible.

In fact, it was Shanghai that made me feel helpless. It made me realise more than ever before that there is no such thing as one India. That India can unfortunately never be looked at as a single entity, because of the hundreds of worlds that it inhabits – and because most of these worlds are at odds with each other, at some level. I felt sad that one India will have to be left behind for another India to move forward, and I felt frustrated that this this won’t be allowed to happen so we may remain in this pathetic gridlock forever.

It was Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye! that made me feel the most among all Dibakar Banerjee films. I felt for days, for weeks, for months – and every time I simply think about the movie, I feel even now. This isn’t a feeling I can describe or elucidate in words, more so because it felt like the distinct lack of all emotions. It was the feeling of emptiness – the most difficult and demanding of emotions, one that you cannot shake off, because you don’t know how to. Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye is, for me, one of the greatest modern day Indian movies because of the hole it left in my heart.

I talked about Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye! last because Banerjee’s new film, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is a movie that made me feel the exact opposite of it. What is the opposite of feeling empty? Feeling everything! I felt possibly every emotion in my chest from thumping tension during the opening credits to excitement and euphoria to perplexity and panic to impatience and insight, to jaw-dropping awe during the final shots. What I felt during Byomkesh Bakshy was the mother of all feelings – the feeling that you seldom get while watching a Hindi film in a big screen: I was THRILLED!

Detective Byomkesh Bakhsy! is basically Detective Byomkesh Bakshy Begins, but the film has been made so that even within the inception of the movie, there is the inception of the detective. So the first half of the film is the origin of the man and is actually Byomkesh Bakshy begins and by the end of the second half, we come to reach the origin of the detective, and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy begins. This may be why the film has two very distinct paces – the first half is beautiful, languid, slow-burning and expansive, whereas the second half is chaotic, relentless, thrilling and focused. Interestingly though, even when the first half unfolds at its pace, there is so much of the plot thickening that it seems relentless, and even with the enthralling second half, there is a poetry in the plot unravelling that it is beautiful. But every frame is delicious, every shot alluring, and every plot development tantalizing through the course of the film.

As much as I hate to use the cliché, the movie is quite the experience: Dibakar Banerjee has invited you to the theaters for a scrumptious feast but it is up to you to eat in tandem with the pace of the film, else you may be too full for desserts or stay hungry because you were too spoiled for choice. I suppose – and I can only guess here – that’s the reason why some people remained far from appetized, because this is a film that demands a certain level of engagement, commitment and attention from the viewer, and it then proceeds to reward you wholeheartedly for it.

Personally, I loved everything about DBB; from the subtlety of Sushant Singh Rajput (a class act) to the flamboyance of Neeraj Kabi (possibly the greatest find of the last 5 years) to the awesomeness of Anand Tiwari (who I absolutely love watching on screen – although I’m biased because he’s a friend). I loved the entire supporting cast, from Meiyang Chang to Divya Menon to even Swastika Mukherjee, I loved Banerjee’s quirky humour (the Maggi Tomato Ketchup ode made me laugh out so loud that I could feel the piercing gazes of the people sitting behind me in the theater), I LOVED Vandana Kataria’s production design, Nikos Andritsakis outstanding camerawork, Sneha Khandwalkar’s fabulous background song and the INSANE indie music and even the end credits sequence that a lot of people found off. Simply told, my mind was blown by the badassery of the film, and I was stumped that a film so international in design, vibe and execution could come from an Indian director!

*spoiler* Yes, if anything, I did miss some scenes of the impending Japanese invasion at the end, I do believe the climax was a little stretched and if intercut with scenes of an advancing Japanese army, would have become bigger in scope and nail-biting in tension, but considering this is (and should be) the first part of a franchise, I am not one to nitpick.

When you think of it, it’s not at all strange that I remember how every Dibakar Banerjee movie feels. This is a man who has singlehandedly raised the bar for himself and his contemporaries with every movie, but with Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, Banerjee has raised the bar for Indian cinema as well.

 

NOTE (Not related to the movie): I know that given my new job at YRF, everything I say about any movie from now will possibly be looked at with the lens of where I work, and it may seem shady that I have written such a gushing piece on a film produced by YRF, but those who know me, know well that I’m a film fanatic first and anything else after. And for those who don’t: I graduated as a computer engineer, started my career at HT as a journalist, dabbled in digital at Viacom18 and then made shows for MTV, but the one thing that’s remained constant in my life is my complete and utter love for the visual medium of cinema and television, and no matter where I work or what I do, I will continue reacting to every movie and TV show I see from the heart, than from a calculative mind. Koi doubt mat rakhna apne dil mein, filmbuff hoon mein Mumbai ka! 🙂

 

Agree/disagree with the review? Leave your thoughts in the comments below 🙂
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Baby: Neeraj Pandey is the Raju Hirani of Bollwyood action thrillers! #Review

It’s been a while since I’ve felt compelled to write a review of a Bollywood film and to be honest, I didn’t think an Akshay Kumar film would be that film but here we are! The horribly named Baby, Neeraj Pandey’s third film, is the Indian action thriller that we didn’t know we needed, and if enough people watch it, I do hope it become exactly the blueprint of what an Indian action thriller *should* be.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Yes, the bar for a ‘Bollywood’ action thriller is so low that in retrospect, Ghajini seems like a classic, especially because it was the starting point for the downward spiral of the garbage dump that were the South remakes, from Bodyguard all the way to Action Jackson. Many of such crimes committed on the audiences in the name of cinema were inflicted by Akshay Kumar himself, so what Neeraj Pandey has pulled off in Baby, with Kumar at its helm, is nothing sort of an achievement!

To reiterate: Baby is an absolutely awesome surprise. I did not go into the theatre expecting to be as thrilled as I ended up being in the nearly three hours of its runtime, which really went by just as fast as the speed in which Akshay ran throughout this movie – because clearly, this time he was running for the cause that is his career. And if this is an attempt at redemption, Akshay can consider all his sins forgotten (including Rowdy Rathore, which I as *very* reluctant to forgive), because the man’s redeemed himself and how.

Baby is another film in the long line of films trying to decode the India-Pakistan issue through a cat-and-mouse game between Pakistani fundamentalists (or ISI) and the Indian ATS/IB/RAW/Whatnot. Where many others have failed in the past, Baby succeeds on the merit of a tight, gripping script that really gives you no time to think in between scenes. The film starts with action, ends with action – and baring a few awkward, cringe-worthy attempts at showcasing the ‘family’ angle of things – there is loads of action everywhere in between.

But the action here follows a plot that is just a little too smart for your average Bollywood action film, and just a little too Bollywood for your superior action thriller. Pakistani jihadists are planning a bigger attack than 26/11 and it is upto Akshay Kumar and his special ATS forces team (codename: Baby) to save the day, but everything done, acted and shown, leading upto the climactic saving of the day is done with great flair, structure and even logic(!). I’ve realised that in that way, Neeraj Pandey may just be the Raju Hirani of Bollywood action thrillers: his films manage to walk run across the fine line between ‘typical Bollywood’ and ‘good cinema’, and deliver some power packed punches in the simplest manner.

So while there are scenes where Danny Denzongpa (brilliant, as usual) spends a good chunk of time explaining the logic behind what is happening and what needs to, whenever there is the opportunity of a seeti/taali moment, Neeraj Pandey never shies away from that either. And there are *many* such moments, and when I heard the audiences maaroing either, for the first time in ages, I didn’t feel like throwing up… because they were surprisingly well deserved! Then, of course, there’s all the humour that Pandey brought to the proceedings in the most unpredictable of ways, and some moments *really* had you laughing hard (especially the ones with the rod and the slap – you’ll know which).

To be very honest, I always thought Neeraj Pandey was a gareebon ka Paul Greengrass, but he’s proved me wrong and how. It’s not that the film is super slick or jazzed up (it isn’t). Could Baby have looked more Agent Vinod and less A Wednesday? Yes. Does it matter? Absolutely not. Because while Pandey has ensured enough aerial shots, wide shots, and other camera tricks to give the film that grandness, what ultimately works for the film is how real it is: not for a second do you believe something like this is not being pulled off by our own soldiers already. And that’s really Pandey’s trump card. He makes make believe believable!

There’s just so much I loved about Baby – the action sequence where Taapsee Pannu kicks major ass, the level of detail wherein after an explosion, Akshay Kumar’s character sports a bruise on his face throughout the film, the fantastic acting by the supporting cast no matter how small or big a role they had, Anupam Kher the legend, and so much more – that the Argo-inspired climax is but a little bump in the bigger picture that is the movie.

So though I already may have, I don’t want to wayyy oversell Baby, but I *cannot* stress enough that this movie deserves to be watched, and in theaters. Watch it for Akshay, watch it for Pandey, or watch it because there is nothing else playing in Indian films that is remotely watchable, but do watch Baby. It is perhaps the most fun you’d have in watching an Indian a Bollywood action thriller.

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Dark. Twisted. Funny. Fucked Up. Gone Girl. #Review #GoneGirl

As I sat watching Gone Girl and the movie unravelled one of its incredible plot twists, I could sense a feeling of dread settle into couples throughout the theatre. I was transfixed at what was happening on screen – and how staggering it was – yet, I was distinctly aware that a quiet unease was creeping its way into the psyche of every couple, married or otherwise, as the theatre slowly fell into an uncomfortable silence. Perhaps this was the paranoia that the movie had projected unto me manifesting itself into a dark, perverse fantasy about the lives of others, or perhaps, Gone Girl is, in fact, the kind of movie that will make every couple momentarily reassess all that is right, and certainly all that is wrong with their relationship.

To say that Gone Girl is a thriller about a the hunt for the missing wife of a seemingly sociopathic man (or look at it as a thriller from the angle that you’ll see when you watch the film) will be a gross misjudgement of what director David Fincher and screenwriter Gillian Flynn have attempted to do with the movie, and will be a much too simplistic – and inaccurate – reduction of what is undoubtedly one of the most twisted and murky deliberations of marriage on the big screen.

That marriage is not easy is a fact that has been explored through several prisms in many a great films of our times, and of that before, from Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf? to Blue Valentine. But just how f**ked up marriage, or for that matter, relationships can be, has arguably yet to be dissected in a manner in which Fincher and Flynn together do through the movie.

Gone Girl takes any and all expectations a viewer may have aligned himself with when going into the movie, and then smashes them to pieces, much like it does to every thought we may have had about the institution of marriage, or about what it means to be in a committed relationship. What the movie may do to couples watching it together is entirely dependent on just how seriously they take the movie or for that matter, just how mature or happy they are, because at its best, Gone Girl is a movie that can save a troubled marriage; and at its worst, it is the most horrid and unpleasant date movie of all time.

On the other hand, and in a most brilliant contradiction to the theme of the film, Gone Girl is also a first rate black comedy and satire. I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions through the film, because its meditation on the bizarreness, incredulity, ridiculousness, stupidity, ethical and moral ambiguity, and the complete and utter disregard for professionalism that has become the media, is top class and should necessarily be seen and taken with a very big salt of pinch by everyone who works in the profession themselves.

David Fincher has used the plot of the movie to deliver a scathing diatribe on what has come to be called the ‘media circus’, where (no spoilers, don’t worry) people are put on trial and verdicts are passed without evidence, facts or even logic, where the convenient outcome is passed on the news as the right outcome, and where the consequence could be immense and tragic and yet no individual person has to take the fall – and which is why this unfortunate trend continues to grow, unabated.

Cinematically speaking, there’s nothing I can tell you that you wouldn’t know already: Fincher’s direction is outstanding, the music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is fantastic, Flynn’s screenplay is far too superior for being her first, and most other things including editing (Kirk Baxter), cinematography (Jeff Cronenweth) and the cast are near-perfect. But if there are two elements that stand tall among equals, they are the acting performances by leads Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.

It’s funny how Matthew McConaughey’s McConaissance is spoken about with much ferocity all over the internet when Ben Affleck underwent a McConaissance, or Benaissance, if you may, much before he did. This is an actor whose performance does not rely on histrionics or dramatics but on subtlety – and Affleck betrays the confidence of an actor who could be, at this stage of his career, unbeatable at his game. This is a performance worthy of many rewards, and oh man, I can’t wait to see Affleck as Batman now. He’s going to fucking kill it! Since I can’t say much about Pike because of spoilers, let me say this: The greatest actress you didn’t know of so far has arrived, and how. Her performance is the stuff of legend (and I believe it would’ve been amplified if the film were to be shown without cuts).

Since I don’t need to convince you any more to go watch the movie, let me say this: I don’t think it was a perfect movie because the end didn’t go down well with me (I will write why after everyone’s seen it). And I still think Fincher’s best films are The Social Network and Fight Club. But if you are a fan of movies, and particularly of movie experiences, Gone Girl is as unique an experience as you’d get at the movies. Do not miss it.

P.S.: If you liked the film, you are going to love these alternate posters of Gone Girl: http://goo.gl/qe98H3


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