Category Archives: Opinion

EMMY 2015 PREDICTIONS: WHO WILL WIN AND WHO SHOULD #TV #COLUMN #MANSWORLD

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Man’s World Magazine in September 2015 and is the third article of a monthly column on international TV.

 

Will it be Mad Men’s Year?

When the curtains roll down on 2015, it may well be the year when the world bid farewell to two Jons from two cult TV shows. We are still not sure if Jon Snow is gone (by which we mean he’ll totally be back on Game of Thrones) but Jon Hamm has definitely left the building, with Mad Men having ended its seven season run in May this year.

So when the TV industry’s biggest night – the Emmy Awards – takes place on September 20, 2015, all eyes will be on one Jon and only Jon only: Jon Hamm. Nominated twice this year, his 11th and 12th nominations overall (one for Best Actor for Mad Men, and one for Best Guest Actor for The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), if Hamm fails to win the 12th time (he’s been nominated for the 8th time for Mad Men!), these awards will possibly go down as possibly the bigger dampener this year than what happened to the other Jon.

But while we keep our fingers, toes and all else crossed for Hamm, here’s a look at all the big categories this year:

CATEGORY: DRAMA

DRAMA SERIES
Better Call Saul (BCS)| Downton Abbey |Game of Thrones (GOT) | Homeland | House of Cards (HOC) | Mad Men | Orange Is the New Black (OITNB)
SHOULD WIN:
Mad Men, for the perfect send-off.
WILL WIN: Mad Men, unless there’s a deliberate sabotage.
SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): The Americans, snubbed for the third time, Sense8 and Manhattan.

LEAD ACTOR
Bob Odenkirk (BCS) | Kyle Chandler (Bloodline) | Kevin Spacey (HOC) | Jon Hamm (Mad Men) | Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom) | Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan)
SHOULD WIN:
Jon Hamm, all the way!
WILL WIN: Jon Hamm, all the way!
SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): Matthew Rhys (The Americans), James Nesbitt (The Missing), Dominic Cooper (The Affair)? Come on, Jeff Daniels again?

LEAD ACTRESS
Taraji P. Henson (Empire) | Claire Danes (Homeland) | Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder) | Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) | Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) | Robin Wright (HOC)
SHOULD WIN:
Tatiana Maslany, for being kickass, or Taraji P. Henson, for being badass.
WILL WIN: Viola Davis, for clout, or Elisabeth Moss, for sentimentality.
SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): Keri Russels (The Americans)… sigh. And Hayley Atwell for the sassy Agent Carter.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey) | Lena Headey (GOT) | Emilia Clarke (GOT) | Christine Baranski (The Good Wife) | Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) | Uzo Aduba (OITNB)
SHOULD WIN:
Lena Headey, for the walk of shame in *that* episode.
WILL WIN: Christina Hendricks, because it is time.
SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): Vera Fermiga (Bates Motel), who cannot possibly do more.

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jonathan Banks (BCS) | Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline) | Jim Carter (Downton Abbey) | Peter Dinklage (GOT) | Alan Cumming (The Good Wife) | Michael Kelly (HOC)
SHOULD WIN:
Jonathan Banks, because he deserves it from Breaking Bad days.
WILL WIN: Peter Dinklage, because everyone else is too new.
SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): Mads Mikkelsen aka Dr. Hannibal Lecter is probably getting furious, but quietly.

CATEGORY: COMEDY

COMEDY SERIES
Louie | Modern Family | Parks and Recreation | Silicon Valley | Transparent | Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt | Veep
SHOULD WIN:
Parks and Recreations, for respect, although Silicon Valley was funnier this season.
WILL WIN: Veep, because Transparent is too acclaimed for the Emmys.
SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): Jane The Virgin, at the least, because About a Boy and You’re The Worst never even stood a chance.

LEAD ACTOR

Anthony Anderson (Black-ish) | Matt LeBlanc (Episodes) | Don Cheadle (House of Lies) | Louis C.K. (Louie) | William H. Macy (Shameless) | Will Forte (The Last Man on Earth) | Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent)
SHOULD WIN:
Will Forte, for being ROFL funny.
WILL WIN: Jeffrey Tambor, because no one from Modern Family is nominated.
SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): Randall Park (Fresh Off The Boat), Chris Geere (You’re The Worst) and Mark Duplass (Togetherness) really deserved shoo-ins.

LEAD ACTRESS
Lisa Kudrow (The Comeback) | Lily Tomlin (Grace And Frankie) | Amy Schumer (Inside Amy Schumer) | Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie) | Amy Poehler (Parks And Recreation) | Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)
SHOULD WIN:
Amy Poehler, really now. It’s been seven years.
WILL WIN: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, although Amy Schumer could really ride on her Trainwreck wave.
SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): Golden Globe Winner Gina Rodriguez for Jane The Virgin, to begin with! Plus Minnie Driver (About a Boy), Aya Cash (You’re The Worst) and Melanie Lynskey (Togetherness).

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory) | Julie Bowen (Modern Family) | Anna Chlumsky (Veep) | Gaby Hoffman (Transparent) | Allison Janey (Mom) | Jane Krakowski (UKS) | Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live | Niecy Nash (Getting On)
SHOULD WIN:
Anna Chlumsky has a win long due now.
WILL WIN: Allison Janey because six Emmy wins are not enough.
SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): Kether Donohue (You’Re The Worst), Jenny Slate (Married) and Amanda Peet (Togetherness).

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) | Adam Driver (Girls) | Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele) | Ty Burrell (Modern Family) | Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) | Tony Hale (Veep)
SHOULD WIN:
Keegan-Michael Key, anyday.
WILL WIN: Ty Burrell because Emmys can’t see beyond Modern Family.
SHOULD’VE BEEN NOMINATED (AT LEAST): Steve Zissis (Togetherness), Desmin Borges (You’re The Worst) and everyone on Silicon Valley.

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Liked/disliked the piece? Think there are more great shows that I’ve not covered? Leave your comments below 🙂
Note: This piece first appeared in Man’s World Magazine in the September 2015 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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Imran Khan booed at #MFF2014: ‪On the hypocrisy towards Bollywood

As happy as I am about the Mumbai Film Festival resurrecting itself through the love of its fans and with the support of the film industry, this piece (http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/imran-khan-gets-booed-film-snobs-dont-want-bollywood-part-mff-1759369.html) really irked me. Imran Khan, who was called to present one of the films at the fest, was booed by ‘film buffs’ on stage, and I’ll be honest here: this hypocrisy prevalent in some of us is terrible, shameful and also a little bit sad.

Let’s talk about the hypocrisy relating to Bollywood first. I’ll be the first to say that I have a disdain for most Salman Khan films, all Anees Basmee films and pretty much everything Sajid Khan touches and turns to shit. But that angst doesn’t come from a place of looking down upon Bollywood, it comes from being a huge fan of all that’s glorious about Bollywood and from realising that mainstream Indian films today have become a shoddy derivative of what they used to be in the time of Manmohan Desai and Amar Akbar Anthony or even in SRK’s ’90s with Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. I care about Bollywood and that’s why you find me, many a times, speaking out against the films of today.

But that’s also why you find me promoting the Bollywood films I like as much as I do the little indie films of today. If I liked and plugged Filmistaan, Ankhon Dekhi or for that matter, Queen and Haider; I also enjoyed Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya, Daawat-E-Ishq, 2 States and Khoobsurat, and have never shied away from letting that be known, because Bollywood has, is and will always be a part of our cinematic culture and of what makes us unique globally. So even if we may not like it at all or stand for it, we should still respect it, because there’s space for all kinds of cinema to coexist. Sometimes, it ultimately boils down to a film being a good film or a bad one, and it’s perfectly alright to have an opinion on that, as long as we are equally accepting of a counter opinion, or are just tolerant, for that matter.

Which brings me to the Imran Khan incident: It’s besides the point whether or not he holds up as an actor or whether or not he’s done good films (I’ve personally *loved* many of his films) or the fact that he’s stood up for causes on many occasions or even the fact that the Mumbai Film Festival may not even have happened this year if ‘Bollywood’ may not have rallied to support it. He is an actor belonging to the film industry we hold in such high esteem, that we love and are die hard fans of (whether the Bollywood or the alternative part), and for that and that alone, he, and every young or old actor, deserves our respect. We cannot and should not look down upon him or any actor for that matter because their choice of our movies don’t match up to our standards.

It also reminds me of an incident during the year before last’s Mumbai Film Festival, when Silver Linings Playbook was the opening film, and post the film, Anupam Kher, who had a supporting role in it, was called upon stage for a QnA. More than half the audience exited the auditorium when he came on stage, and none of the others cheered or clapped or bothered to ask any questions. Kher gracefully thanked everyone and exited almost immediately, and understandably. If that’s how we treat a man of Kher’s stature, it’s not a surprise that Khan was booed too.

Now to all those people who look down upon Bollywood because they like ‘world cinema’: I have interviewed over 30-40 international filmmakers including the likes of Richard Linklater, Nicolas Winding Refn, David Cronenberg, and you know what everyone says about our industry? As much as they are inspired by Satyajit Ray or are interested in Anurag Kashyap’s filmography, they are *fascinated* by Bollywood. They love the song and dance – many have spoken about how much they loved a Lagaan or 3 Idiots or any SRK film. I actually had a month long email exchange with Oscar-nominated director of Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin, who had seen ‘My name is Sheela’ somewhere, and wanted suggestions on similar songs because he was so hooked. I sent him a bunch of Vishal-Shekhar and Pritam songs and he loved ALL of them!

The reason these guys like Bollywood as much as they like our indie stuff is because they love how Bollywood makes us distinct and they celebrate that as much as they respect our alternative cinema. So the fact that we ourselves have little respect for an aspect of our pop culture that is celebrated across the world, just as much as a Ravi Shankar or Zakir Hussain or AR Rahman are, is shameful. Especially since we enjoy a ‘Sheela ki jawaani’ or ‘Chhamak chhalo’ just as much as the average Bollywood fan, and continue buying tickets for a blockbuster Khan film in a multiplex far more than we do a smaller, niche film. PVR Rare releases a bunch of independent or world cinema films every month – NONE of them last over a week, because no one’s going to the cinema to watch them. How many of us know of Avinash Arun’s Killa that won a Golden Bear at Berlin or Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court that won at the Venice Film Festival? So why this hypocrisy?

On a side note, it disturbs me how we are moving towards being a culture of mean-spirited bullies. And I’m not just talking about Bollywood or India, but globally. The internet has empowered many a troll to take down someone’s opinion or point of view or artistic endeavors, that too, anonymously. People who haven’t had the courage to step out and do things on their own are today sitting behind a computer screen and laughing at people who do, however good or bad they might be is besides the point. Who are we to judge someone’s talent? Who are we to say someone’s way of living life or someone’s right to an opinion or someone’s way of expressing themselves is any better or any worse than someone else? It’s not about ‘trying’ or enjoying yourself today; unless you are the very best at what you do, people are going to be assholes to you.

How has ‘not giving a shit’ become a cool thing? Why is mean, snide and snarky trolling ‘liked’ or enjoyed? How did we because such a people? Why is being sympathetic or nice or kind looked down upon today as a sign of weakness? Social media and instant messaging and the shift towards being a ‘right now’ generation has turned us into a people of knee jerk reactions. We are now a culture that is quick to pull others down because they don’t meet *our* expectations of how *they* should lead their lives. No matter how anyone justifies it, this is, sadly, nothing to be ‘liked’.

 

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Haider is Vishal Bharadwaj’s inteqaam on Salman Khan’s cinema #MovieReview #Haider #SPOILERS

Spoiler Alert: Salman Khan and the headline of this piece is discussed in the first 4 paragraphs and contains a spoiler. Read from paragraph 5 if you want to avoid it.

Note: Have added my view on the debate around Haider in the existing review, in the last three paragraphs.

Haider is a film that makes daring statements about many different things over the course of its runtime. But the most artful statement it makes has to do with Salman Khan. * spoilers follow* In the movie, set in 1995, two brothers (or friends), both called Salman, are Salman fanatics (fondly called ‘Bhaitards’ on the internet): they are not only obsessive about Salman’s movies, they also impersonate him down to his look, style, and behaviour. They run a Bollywood VHS parlour, dressed almost entirely with posters of Salman’s mug, in the middle of a lake in Kashmir and sell Salman Khan ‘Bollywood’s Rocky and all time superstar’ to anyone, Indian or American, who wants to indulge in the movies.

To cut a long story short, the turning point of the film is brought about when Haider, brutally and mercilessly stones the two Salmans to death. If you haven’t watched the film and are still reading this, let me assure you that the murders are well-deserved, in the context of the movie, of course (otherwise they aren’t, so umm, don’t do them). The two Salmans are basically sidekicks without a hero, and also without a brain of their own, who go to whichever side is most profitable; within the movie, the tide is the Indian army, and it is most profitable to kill Haider, but they end up dead instead.

I generally don’t tend to make too much of symbolism in a movie but I almost stood up in my seat to applaud Vishal Bhardwaj when Haider *literally* stoned Salmans (who were Salman buffs), to death. The movie, which eloquently discusses, dissects and waxes eloquent on ‘inteqaam’, is essentially Vishal Bhardwaj’s inteqaam on Salman Khan’s brand of cinema; the brand of mindless entertainment, the sidekicks of what ‘cinema’ really is, that cares about little other than profit.

This may just be me – I don’t know if anyone else has brought up this point – and perhaps, like many on social media tend to think so, Bhardwaj *is* in fact paying tribute to Salman through the characters and his songs and film clips. But to think of it, is it a mere coincidence that among the many camps that potential terrorists are taken to, is a camp in which the men in uniform are watching a Salman Khan movie? Where I am concerned, Vishal Bhardwaj has, with Haider, unabashedly made a statement on the condition of cinema in India, and with a film this fantastic, stoned ‘Bollywood’ in the face, to prove that a great piece of cinema can also be pretty ‘mainstream’.

Because Haider is both a defiance of all that is Bollywood, and at the very same time, an ode to it. It’s got the ‘rooh’ of an art film, but the body of a contemporary Bollywood classic. It stays within the parameters of all that Bollywood is – there is at least one forced romantic song, there is a love story that’s trying hard to fit in, among all the nuanced characters there’s still a conventional hero and villain, there’s at least one slightly well-known token Kashmiri actor in Aamir Bashir whose role as the heroine’s evil brother is basically being angry all the time, there’s the most famous Bollywood problem: not knowing how to shorten a great film to a perfect one because you are in love with your product, and the film’s also got its own Salman Khan in Irrfan: the introductory scene of Irrfan basically makes you realise that Irrfan is Vishal Bhardwaj’s Salman Khan! – and yet, the film succeeds on all other levels as a cinematic achievement.

The direction is masterful; every shot has been conceived as a labour of love and it is evident that this was a film Bhardwaj possibly took even more seriously than any other in his illustrious career. The cinematography (Pankaj Kumar) is unbelievably good, I doubt anyone else can claim a better shot Bollywood film this year; the dialogues are exquisite… really, more than the music itself, I found the dialogues to be music to the ears in the way they were written and of course in the way they were expressed. Because every dialogue was expressed by an actor in a way that they owned that dialogue; that those words were written only for them and no one else in the world could perform them any better. Because the acting performances in Haider are possibly some of the best in contemporary cinema, of *any* country. From a newbie like Shraddha Kapoor to the character actors (the two Salmans) to seasoned ones, everyone is remarkable, even in the smallest of roles (Kulbhushan Kharbanda!).

Of course, Tabu and Kay Kay Menon steal every scene they are in because they are just that damn good. The oedipal layer that Tabu brings to her character is disconcerting, and the humanity that Kay Kay brings to a character so rotten is incredible. But that’s to be expected of the two stalwarts. What stands out in the movie, and which is one of the two greatest achievements of Haider – is the rise of Shahid Kapoor as a man amongst the boys.

With this movie, in fact from a single scene – the radio scene, which is bound to go down as iconic in film folklore as one of the bravest, most badass pieces of Indian cinema – Shahid has cemented his place amongst the likes of Ranbir Kapoor, as one of the finest and most terrific young actors in the country. Shahid evidently stripped himself of himself for the movie; he doesn’t just play Haider, he *is* Haider. This is a career defining performance, if there ever was one, and this could very well be Shahid’s McConaissance. Shahid Kapoor is the new Matthew McConaughey, and Haider is his True Detective. If, hereon, Shahid manages to build on the shoulders of Haider, he may well have booked a place among the greats of his generation, but if he goes back to his ‘Gandi baat’, it would be a loss tragic to our cinema.

The other great achievement of Haider – of course – is to bring the Kashmir issue to the front and center of Bollywood, which is the front and center of everything India is. The film pulls few punches and holds up an unflattering mirror on delicate matters like army torture, plebiscite and more – but ultimately, it is wise to remember that this is a film and not a political mouthpiece or propaganda. There is a story of a person and a family being told here, and that story does not necessarily depict all sides of the conflict.  I have hence tried not to make this review about the issue as well, because while films are often a commentary on society, Haider doesn’t claim to be one, and the only thing that it tries to be faithful to is Shakespeare and his tragedy, Hamlet, of which it is an adaptation.

Haider should hence be seen only through a cinematic lens and not a political one; because a piece of fiction cannot be held accountable for not judiciously reproducing history. Bhardwaj and cowriter Basharat Peer deserve praise for bravely representing on screen a version of a specific part of history that’s seldom been spoken about in mainstream cinema, and the onus is up to us to understand its background and its reality. The emotional response to Haider by those who feel strongly about the other side of events should ideally be channeled into a discussion or turned into prose or poetry through any artistic medium, and a film like Haider should be welcomed because it means that major Indian studios (DISNEY UTV Motion Pictures) and the censor board are now ready to share such stories, if well made, on the big screen.

The story of, and in, Haider may or may not attempt to give a mainstream voice to a specific, marginalised community, but if the film starts a meaningful conversation about Kashmir in the homes of ‘the masses’, and if its ultimate message – that revenge is never the answer – is the takeaway by audiences far and wide, then Haider won’t just be an achievement for Indian cinema, but an achievement for the Indian collective conscience.

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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

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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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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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Thank you, How I Met Your Mother #Blog #TV

Woke up at 5.30 am to watch the live stream of the series finale of How I Met Your Mother, with Sagar Taneja across two countries, along with the millions who watched it in the US, because we didn’t want to miss being part of the shared cultural experience the ending would be. It was supposed to be legend-wait for it-dary!

BUT. The writers ruined it. The ending was the most contrived, most out of place and most unbelievably cliched ending of all (HIMYM may be the LOST of sitcoms!). It didn’t do any justice to what the writers had worked so hard to build towards all season – and perhaps, all 9 seasons. Still, as they say, it’s the journey that matters, and not the destination, so here’s a fond farewell to possibly the most beautiful season of HIMYM, that, in some masterfully written 24 episodes, gave depth and maturity to what was once just a FRIENDS wannabe.

The heart of all fantastic shows is genuine emotion and hats off to creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas to have turned a sitcom into a sometimes melancholy, but always warm and enriching comedy-drama about the only things that matter in life: love and friendship. It pleasantly surprised me how often the eternally optimistic Ted Mosby’s quest to finding the mother of his kids tugged at my heart in this season because when you’ve been looking for love that long – and then you actually find it, there’s nothing more perfect.

And it was just that – perfect. Cristin Milioti as the mother was perfect. All the flashforwards between Ted and the mother were perfect. The first date was perfect. The romance was perfect. The marriage was perfect. And the culmination of their story, to me, was perfect. And that’s where the series culminated for me. In that moment when Ted met the mother and shared the yellow umbrella with her, and they realised how the universe had conspired in bringing them together, and they said ‘Hi’ to each other at the end of their conversation . Perfect!

HIMYM, in its own quirky way, reinstated to me many things I believe in myself: THIS: http://goo.gl/ujp9y9; How, just because you are an adult, you don’t need to act as one; How, if you try for something long enough, the universe conspires for you to get it; How the little stories we remember to tell are the ones that keep us going in finding new stories to tell; How, things may not always turn out to be perfect, but if you have love and friendship in your life, everything turns out okay; How, being eternally hopeful may possibly be looked upon as stupid, but hope is also possibly the only thing that is eternal – even when one story ends, another may begin if you have hope; and How, there are some people in your life you can never, ever let go off.

In the legendary words of Ted (S09E22), “Here’s the secret kids. None of us can vow to be perfect. In the end all we can do is promise to love each other with everything we’ve got. Because love is the best thing we do.”

Thank you Ted Mosby, Barney Stincon, Marshall Eriksen, Robin Scherbatsky, Lily Aldrin & Tracy McConell and thank you Josh Radnor, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Segel, Cobie Smulders, Alyson Hannigan & Cristin Milioti for the love. So long!

Note: This piece was first written on April 1, 2014
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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.

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