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Articles for The Huffington Post

On political labels: Stop it already! #Opinion #HuffingtonPost

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Huffington Post. An edited version of the piece can be found here:

I just read an article about how the person of the year in India is the ‘Bhakt’. You obviously know that the ‘Bhakt’ they refer to is any supporter of Narendra Modi or his policies, be it someone who casually believes PM Modi is right about a thing (eg. Demonitization) or that he is right about everything (e.g. 2002). Continue reading On political labels: Stop it already! #Opinion #HuffingtonPost


The 75 Most Awaited TV Series of 2016

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Huffington Post. An edited version of the piece can be found here:
2015 gave us the peak of what is being called ‘Peak TV’ with more great TV shows to watch than we could ever find time to, with streaming media like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu jumping into the mix that was already being dominated by cable TV channels like HBO, Showtime, AMC, FX and Starz (even as network TV struggled to make an impact). Even Indian creators (like TVF) and studios (like Y-Films) jumped on to the series bandwagon and gave us some fun shows to watch on the internet – and for free!

But the greatest thing about 2016 is that not only are we going to get more great *new* shows from all the above platforms, but we’ll also get more exciting new seasons of returning shows that blew our minds in 2015. Except for Fargo and Master of None (my favourite Drama and Comedy each in 2015), most of last year’s exciting shows are coming back so this may just turn out to be the greatest TV year EVER.

So here’s the ultimate guide to the 75 MOST AWAITED TV SERIES OF 2016 (Fiction). If you agree/disagree with the list or the order of the list or still think there are shows I missed out (although there are some that have been left out on purpose) do give a shout out in the comments. In any case, I’d love to know what your order is. Check ’em out:


  1. ROADIES: Because Cameron Crowe is writing and directing this TV series for Showtime and it is produced by JJ Abrams and it stars Luke Wilson and IT NEEDS TO RELEASE ALREADY.
  2. THE UNTITLED WOODY ALLEN SERIES: Because obviously.
  3. VINYL: Because HBO has got Martin Scorsese and Terrence Winter together to make a show about sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
  4. THE NIGHT MANAGER: Because TOM HIDDLESTON and HUGH LAURIE are coming together in a spy series adapted from a John Le Carre novel… I repeat, TOM HIDDLESTON AND HUGH LAURIE!
  5. LOVE: Because Judd Apatow is getting back to his TV roots with this show about modern love on Netflix and it’s going to be amazing.
  6. LEGION: Because the creator of Fargo, Noah Hawley, has been tapped into for creating an X-Men side-quel so this is obviously going to be better than any other superhero TV series out there.
  7. THE GET DOWN: Because Baz Luhrmann is making a Netflix musical show about rap in the Bronx in the ‘70s!
  8. AMERICAN GODS: Because Hannibal creator Bryan Fuller has come on board to adapt this fan favourite Neil Gaiman novel for Starz and it promises to be epic.
  9. PREACHER: Because Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have adapted this badass comic book and one can only hope it’s not anything like The Green Hornet because it stars Dominic Cooper.
  10. TABOO: Because Tom Hardy is starring in and producing this drama series set in the 1800s and it is being made by his frequent collaborator Steven Knight (who directed him in Locke).
  11. THE DEUCE: Because David Simon, of The Wire fame, is making a drama about the porn industry in the ‘70s starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco so get ready for some Boogie Nights.
  12. WESTWORLD: Because it’s an HBO show created by Jonathan Nolan and JJ Abrams and has a cast that includes Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, James Marsden, Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood!
  13. BASKETS: Because Louis CK is producing a show that stars Zach Galifianakis.
  14. ATLANTA: Because Donald Glover is coming back with a comedy after Community about the rap scene.
  15. LUKE CAGE: Because after Dardevil and especially Jessica Jones, just really cannot wait for this.
  16. LEGENDS OF TOMORROW: Because before The Defenders come together for Netflix, a superhero-ish team up’s happening over at DC with Arrow and The Flash heroes and villians including Firestorm, The Atom, White Canary, Heat Wave, Captain Cold and more joining hands!
  17. 11/22/63: Because JJ Abrams is producing this Stephen King adaptation about an alternate history plot where James Franco goes back to prevent the assassination of JFK!
  18. SON OF ZORN: Because Phil Lord and Chris Miller are back at Fox again after The Last Man on Earth with a new live action/animated hybrid comedy starring Jason Sudeikis.
  19. AMERICAN CRIME STORY: Because it’s about the OJ Simpson trial and Cuba Gooding Jr plays OJ and John Travolta plays Robert Shapiro and DAVID SCHWIMMER plays Robert Kardashian!!
  20. FULLER HOUSE: Because nostalgia.
  21. LUCKY MAN: Because Stan Lee has created this Brit superhero TV series and it stars James Nesbitt as a man who can control ‘luck’.
  22. BILLIONS: Because if Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti are coming together for a Showtime series, you know it’s going to be brilliant.
  23. ANGIE TRIBECA: Because Steve Carell has created and is producing this cop comedy and it stars Rashida Jones, who is back on TV again after Parks and Recreations.
  24. STRANGER THINGS: Because Winona Ryder is making a comeback with a Twin Peak-esque psychological thriller for Neflix.
  25. SCHOOL OF ROCK: Because even though it’s for Nicklodean, Richard Linklater has created it so I’m going to watch it.
  26. INSECURE: Because the star of the blockbuster internet series, The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae, has created this for HBO, so Lena Dunham better expect competition.
  27. THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE: Because Steven Soderbergh has shown that he can create the heck out of a TV series with The Knick and he’s adapting his own movie here so it promises to be super.
  28. THE YOUNG POPE: Because Paolo Sorrentino is making a TV series (!) and it stars Jude Law and it has something to do with ‘Youth’.
  29. CLASS: Because Doctor Who is getting a YA spin off and Steven Moffat is return as producer!
  30. EMERALD CITY: Because Tarsem Singh is directing a NBC series that promises to give a dark twist to the world of ‘Wizard of Oz’ and no one could have thought of all those words in the same sentence.




  1. NARCOS: Because there has never been any other show with such scale and ambition attempted so far, and the makers of Narcos pulled it off in Season One like only the cartels could!
  2. ROBOT: Because with this show, which won the Best TV Drama at the recent Golden Globe Awards, creators Sam Esmail gave us the ultimate f**k you to this generation’s obsession with technology, in a twisted, warped, incredibly gripping way.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. BETTER CALL SAUL: Because not only did the Breaking Bad showrunners get back Saul Goodman in this spinoff, they also got back Mike Ehrmantaut and that gave us 2015’s most inimitable friendship.
  7. AGENT CARTER: Because where Marvel’s other TV shows are tonally reminiscent to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Agent Carter has been a refreshingly sassy hero, who is, for once, a heroine.
  8. 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.
  9. SENSE8: Because with Sense8, the Wachowski siblings pulled off the world’s first truly global TV series, spanning four continents, trying to address the question of ‘identity’ across each.
  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’s season one proved there is more to fear when the world is on the verge of losing (to zombies) than when it’s already lost.
  12. MARCO POLO: Because it is one of Netflix’s most vivid, visually arresting, epic and criminally underrated shows, 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. HUMANS: Because just like Black Mirror predicted, even in the future it’s not robots we need to be afraid of, but humans.
  15. 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.
  16. SUITS: Because even in its fifth season, Suits managed to be just as exciting and entertaining as its initial run… and perhaps making Harvey Specter more human could be the arc to watch out for.
  17. 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.
  18. THE LEFTOVERS: Because no one writes about life and loss like Lost writer, Damon Lindelof.
  19. 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.
  20. THE LAST KINGDOM: Because while the ‘UK’s sprawling series about Brits vs Nordics may not be its answer to Game of Thrones, it was still immensely watchable TV all the same in its season one.
  21. TRANSPARENT: Because Jeffrey Tambor.
  22. WAYWARD PINES: Because this is the first thing after The Sixth Sense that Manoj N. Shyamalan produced where he actually gave answers, which happened to be creepier than the question.
  23. 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 took us into their world that we never knew of.
  24. BLOODLINE: Because Ben Mendhelson is this generation’s most watchable character actor.
  25. EMPIRE: Because besides the heavy hitters in its cast, this show has had more plot in every episode of its two seasons than Mad Men had over 8 seasons… it’s a true network achievement!




  1. MOZART IN THE JUNGLE: Because in this Golden Globe-winning comedy, 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.
  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 in Master of None (which is yet to be renewed for season 2, unfortunately).
  3. RED OAKS: Because David Gordon Green has recreated the world of John Hughes through this teenage coming-of-age in the ‘80s throwback show.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. TOGETHERNESS: Because just like all things by Duplass Brothers, this indie dysfunctional family comedy is also lovely as it’s about everything and nothing.
  7. BALLERS: Because it is from the guys behind Entourage and it looks, feels, walks and talks like Entourage but in sports and it stars Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
  8. SILICON VALLEY: Because if the Big Bang Theory made geeks cool, Silicon Valley made the nerds hot… property.
  9. MARRIED: Because in its second season, the comedy showed that you don’t necessarily need to be adults to be married, or at all, really.
  10. YOU’RE THE WORST: Because in its season two, handling a tricky topic like depression in such a superlative manner proved that the best laughs come from the darkest situations.
  11. VEEP: Because there are more memorable one-lines in Veep than there are comedy shows on TV.
  12. SURVIVOR’S REMORSE: Because it is not ‘Sports Entourage’ but ‘Sports Fast and Furious’ – it’s all about family, at the end of the day.
  13. 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.
  14. BROAD CITY: Because girls can be ‘bros’ too, and if there ever was a show for girl bros, this is it.
  15. NEW GIRL: Because no matter how the good or bad the writing gets in different episodes, that cast is the craziest comic ensemble on TV right now.



  1. PERMANENT ROOMMATES: Because the first Indian fiction series on the internet and also the most popular has announced its season two with a ‘Cooooool’ poster. Sumeet Vyas’ Mikesh and Nidhi Singh’s Tanya return in what promises to be an even funnier season with quirkier characters, with Biswapati Sarkar’s brilliant writing.
  2. BANG BAAJA BAARAAT: Because the most popular Y-Films original series of 2015 directed by Anand Tiwari and counting Sumeet Vyas (Mikesh!) among its writers, about a mental wedding of Ali Fazal’s Pawan with Angira Dhar’s Shahana, and a cast that comprised theater and film legends, has also put out a teaser at the beginning of the year promising a season 2 but with no date announced. (Though I obviously know *exactly* what is happening here since I’m, *ahem*, the Associate Producer of the series #selfplug)
  3. PITCHERS: Because though there is no news yet about plans for Pitchers Season 2, there is no doubt that it will return with another season, seeing how ‘Tu Beer Hai’ has become the stuff of legend and Naveen Kasturia’s famous speech has gone viral on YouTube… and because we are yet to be told what exactly is going to happen with Naveen’s startup!
  4. BAKED: Because Delhi University Shenanigans have never been depicted in such a fun, ‘misadventurous’ way than what the three mad flatmates managed to show with their late night delivery service and it’s about time we find out what else the show has to deliver in its season two (though no date has been announced).
  5. MAN’S WORLD: Because though Man’s World season one was a complete season in itself, its theme of gender equality got it many laurels and love from the internet and it remains to be seen whether it will flip the world again in its season two. (Please note: There is no other exciting original fiction series out there so far – and even by viewcount – and hence I have had to #selfplug twice. Hopefully 2016 will have MOAR work by everyone and from everywhere!)


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Note: This interview first appeared in Huffington Post on January 21, 2016
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.


‘There’s a kindness deficit going on everywhere’

Note: This QNA of Josh Radnor was done by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) in October 2015 for Huffington Post. An edited version of the piece can be found here:

Josh Radnor, most famously known for playing the affable ‘Ted Mosby’ in the cult TV sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, truly came into his own as an artist in the last few years. He’s made two films as a writer-director (Happythankyoumoreplease won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and Liberal Arts received much critical acclaim), he’s starred in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play, Disgraced, he’s written pieces for The Huffington Post, LA Times Magazine and Indiewire, among others, that exude positivity, and has also given inspirational talks the world over. He was in Mumbai recently for one such talk, where he used his fame as an example to speak about why we need to be ‘contagiously good’ with kindness.

In an exclusive hour-long interview, he spoke about why he believes so strongly in kindness and hope, and discussed acting, writing, direction, and of course, How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM). 

You wrote a wonderful piece in The LA Times Magazine ( on the importance of being kind. It’s interesting that you are using your fame to talk about not any big, worrisome issue or cause, but about something as elementary as kindness.
I think that there’s a kindness deficit going on everywhere, in some way. I think we’re hurting a little bit, and a simple word or a kind gesture from someone can really alter the course of someone’s day or someone’s life. Because of that, I feel that we underestimate the power of kindness, and how every word, thought and action is consequential. I think I also wrote in the piece that unkind words were kind of like air pollution. It’s almost like people writing mean stuff on the internet… they don’t realise that it actually goes somewhere and affects people emotionally. Words have a kind of charge or a heft, that what comes out, goes around, and you can feel it.
So well, even if I worked in finance or the Silicon Valley, I’d still be talking about kindness. It may have something to do with growing up in the Mid-West, which is a nice place (chuckles), but I think, more than that, it’s about how when I’m kind, I feel good, and when I’m not, I don’t feel good. So, in some ways, being kind is like a beautifully self-serving thing, because I would rather feel good about myself and what I’m contributing to the world, rather than just being reckless and serving my ego all the time, which, I find exhausting, you know.

We’ve seen how you’ve carried these ideas into your writing and direction as well, but the roles that you’re taking on as an actor after HIMYM are all complex in their own ways. Is there a line that you draw about the kind of roles you take, so you stay true to your philosophy artistically?
Yeah, certainly. But it’s not about not choosing a, say, violent role, it’s more about how I may not respect what it’s saying to the world. I think we become the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. I know this in my life that I want to be careful about who I say I am. So, I feel like, if we say we’re greedy, horrible, angry creatures, we become that, and I’d rather not be that. I don’t want to participate in things that make me feel bad about humanity, or that perpetuate certain lies about who we are. I’m certainly interested in playing complicated people but I turn down a lot of stuff that I feel like, is… (chuckles), assaultive of our better nature.
Like I said in the other Huffington Post piece ( that we spoke about before the interview, there are so many other people who are on the case of how horrible we are, and I just feel like, as a creator of things, I want to take people through the dark woods of the Joseph Campbell stuff, but I want people  to come out of the other end, emerged and transformed, and awakened to some new aspect of themselves that they didn’t know before they went on that journey.

In the same Huffington Post piece, you wrote about how there is snobbery about films with so-called ‘lighter’ ideas, like kindness, and how the darker stuff is always seen as more real and ‘sophisticated’. Do you face that challenge whenever you try to make something similar?
Oh all the time, all the time. I mean, it’s interesting because, both my films very applauded at Sundance, and embraced in the world, but there‘s a certain kind of critical snobbery that takes over. I always ask myself that question: why do we consider that which is dark ‘sophisticated’, and I think it has something to do with this suspicion that underneath everything, we’re actually bad. I was talking to a friend the other day, and telling him how I think, it’s the exact opposite; at our core, at our core-core, at the deeeepest base, I think we’re divine. I think we’re good. And I think there’s all this other stuff that’s on top of it that we need to get rid of, so we can get back to that core principle.
I just feel that it’s a different way of conceiving of the world, and conceiving of the uses of art, and what, I sometimes think, are the misuses of art, which reinforce these ideas that we are these terrible, horrible, Darwanian creatures who just are wired to maximize self-interest. I just think that’s a lie. I feel it’s actually brave in such a cynical society to tell stories where people are risking the charge of being called ‘sentimental’, which I think is ridiculous, because in today’s age, if the critic feels something, if they feeeel something, if they get provoked emotionally, they call it ‘sentimental’ (chuckles). But I go to the movie so I can feel something, so I can transform myself, right? So I think that there needs to be a distinction between sentiment and sentimentality. Sentiment is great, it’s a full feeling. Sentimentality is something manipulated, it’s a lie. It’s a false, cheap, cliché. I feel like I don’t make those kind of movies, because I’m trying to make something real and honest and have the characters experience something that makes the audience feel something. I try not to apologise for that, although maybe I just did apologize for that (laughs). I try not to, though (chuckles).

In both your films, there’s always some wisdom being passed on by someone older to someone younger, and sometimes, the other way around. How did this become a theme for you? You’re also doing this in your own life now with your talks and columns.
Someone pointed out to me after Liberal Arts that all my films have mentorship in them, and they were right. There’s a whole web of mentorship in them, and I think it’s because I had very good parents, I had very good teachers, but also because I like learning. I like learning from people. And people have said things to me at very tender moments that have altered the course of my life. And, because of that, I find it to be a very dramatic moment, when someone has just the right words that you need to hear and it’s almost as if, you know, God has taken over their mouth and is speaking to you. You know, they are speaking to you what you need to hear. So I’ve really loved the teachers I’ve had. And I really love the opportunity when I can be a good friend or a mentor to someone, and that’s certainly a theme of what I do. But there’s also another theme.
You know, it’s interesting, I spoke at Cambridge the other night and I read this article someone wrote about it. She was a little glib and dismissive of one particular thing that I said. Someone had asked me if I had any advice for college students, and I essentially said what I had said in Liberal Arts, which is that this is the only time you get to do this, and if you don’t appreciate it now, you’re going to be haunted by the fact that you didn’t. The writer used a term like a ‘tacky cliche’ and I was kind of thrown by it, I thought, ‘No! It’s a cliché because it’s true!’ If you aren’t present in this moment, you’re going to be nostalgic and you’re going to realise that you weren’t awake for one of the most special times of your life. I was telling my friend this the other day, that I’m not like a sunny optimist all the time, I actually battle some real melancholy, but I’m trying to (chuckles) stay on the side of working towards transforming rather than getting stuck in some rut…  or (pauses), a feeling of hopelessness. I mean, that’s maybe the worst feeling… hopelessness. So be grateful, you know. And that’s what both the movies are about – pay attention to your life and be grateful.

That’s also possibly one of the things that Ted Mosby taught the audiences. I loved Ted and found it amazing how he was probably the only sitcom character I’ve seen whose ‘quirk’ is empathy. He cared, felt and had compassion. And that seems to be something you’ve brought to the role.
I used to feel like he was closer to me when I started, because I was trying to find these points of identification with him, but as the show went on, I started growing in ways that the character was not. So I’ve used this before – I’ve just said that he was like my annoying younger brother (chuckles). Like we’re definitely related (grins), and he sometimes drove me crazy, but at the end of the day, I loved him, because he was such a great guy.
You know, my acting teaching at NYU used to say that a character is a 50% meeting of you and 50% of the character. So there was 50% of the stuff that the writers were doing and 50% was stuff that I was bringing to it. And then, the writers start paying attention to who you are, and then they write that in, so it becomes like this weird, interesting dialogue between you and the writers, about this character. You know, for instance, Jason’s character, Marshall, was envisioned, and you’ll notice in the pilot, that he’s afraid to open the champagne bottle. But then they got ahold of Jason Segel, who’s not afraid of anything (chuckles). So they started making him a different character, because they suddenly had the actor. So similarly, I don’t feel like Ted, but I lent Ted a lot of myself, if that makes sense.

Did any of the ideas perpetuated by Ted or the show shape who you are as a person?
Ted… not quite, no (chuckles). I mean, maybe I’m being dishonest with myself, but I think he was a better example of a friend than he was as a romantic kind of a guy. I mean, he gets so much credit for being this great romantic, but sometimes I think he was actually crazy, and a little obsessive, in a really unhealthy way. Like a lot of people cite this ninth season speech, where he talks about love, you know… ‘Love means doing anything for a person, no matter if it kills you’, and I think, like, ‘No! It doesn’t!’ That sounds like insanity, calm down (grins). But I thought he was one of TV’s great friends; he was a really loyal person.
As for the show, well, I think the biggest thing that it gave me was that it taught me to be publicly vulnerable. Because it’s a very hard thing for a man to be that vulnerable in our society, and some people don’t want to see that, and others are longing to see that. So, it taught me a certain kind of emotional bravery that I don’t know I would have had had I not been forced every week. And I remember that same acting teacher at NYU thought that I was an incredibly, technically proficient actor, but he thought that I didn’t I wasn’t connected to my emotional life. And I couldn’t think of a better teacher for that particular thing that I needed to learn than HIMYM.

I want to end by asking you a fan question, which you may have been asked already a hundred times. It’s been over an year since HIMYM ended, do you look at the ending differently now? Do you feel it could have ended in some other way?
(Chuckles) Yeah, I mean, I wasn’t the creator of the show, I didn’t write on the show, so I was serving the show as an actor, and I know, certain people act like I, (laughs), you know, had something to do with it or wrote that, and I obviously didn’t. But I also stand by thee vision of it and I think, ultimately, the show will age quite well. I think it’ll be interesting how we feel about that in 10 years versus right now, and I think some of the sadness people felt was just sadness about the show ending. It’s just hard to let go of something that you love like that. I also think if you look at it from a kind of meta perspective, it’s like the whole pilot episode was not about the mother but about ‘Aunt Robin’. So the DNA of the whole show was in that pilot episode. ‘I thought we were talking about Mom?’ ‘No, we’re talking about Aunt Robin!’ That’s what the whole show was.

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Note: This piece first appeared in The Huffington Post on October 26, 2015. An edited version can be found here:
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.


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.
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Note: This piece first appeared in The Huffington Post on July 25
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