The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta)

US Presidential hopefuls take RVs, Che went on a motorcycle. The point is you need to go on a road trip to become a successful leader of the people

Ee Adutha Kalathu (Recently)

Strange and familiar make an appearance together for the first time in Malayalam cinema and the pair is a hit

Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl

Four feisty ladies, upbeat music and a handsome conman. Anushka gets Ranveer. Bollywood gets Parineeti

Das Boot (The Boat)

Best WWII film ever, in fact the best war film ever. In true German fashion, restraint is applied by shooting the entire movie inside a U-boat

Neelathamara (Blue Lotus)

Blue lotus shares the same stature of blue moon in Malayalam, so do good remakes. This one bucks the trend.

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Dec 10, 2017

TV Series Reviews : Better Call Saul, Big Little Lies, Fargo Season 3, The Untold History of the United States, The Night Of

This is the golden age of TV series. With the cult of cord-cutting claiming its followers across generational groups it is time we all bowed down to the power of streaming. When Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and HBO provide some amazing content and bring the best actors of our era to the TV, how can we not binge watch, right?

I've jotted down a few series I watched this year and the last, although there are many more that I liked like Stranger Things, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Orphan Black and re-watching Twin Peaks and Twilight Zone that I find too lazy to write about. So let me go ahead with my random picks.

Nothing has yet toppled Breaking Bad from my pantheon of the best TV series ever, but Better Call Saul - the TV series that Vince Gilligan and his team spun off from Breaking Bad is a close contender. Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill (aka Saul Goodman) is phenomenal. The same goes for the supporting cast - incredible acting and the story with its layered metaphors is as engrossing as Breaking Bad.

Big Little Lies brings big name Hollywood stars like Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon to a wealthy Monterrey neighborhood. It is a female oriented series centered around the lives and predicament of mothers whose children go to the same Monterrey elementary school. It is the closest in my list to a traditional TV series,

Oliver Stone's The Untold History of the United States is a ten part series I hope more Americans watched, as the untold in the title stands for untold to the Americans, but known as truth to the rest of the world. A great series for a history buff like me.

To me Fargo is all about its ambience, its colors and light and its all pervading 'winter-ness', which makes it a perfect series for dark and / or snowy nights. Although Season 3 won't be my favorite season, it is still a crime drama set somewhere where icy roads and grey sky are the norm - reminds  me of some place where I had spent a long time.

The Night Of , the mini series from HBO is the one I cannot leave without making a mention. This hard hitting series starring British actor Riz Ahmed was supposedly a pet project of James Gandolfini before he passed away.It is indeed one of the best series that came out in the last few years. John Turtorro plays the role Gandolfini was supposed to play. Ahmed won an Emmy for his role, where he thanked and touted James Gandolfini as the man who single-handedly changed television. Yes, the world was different before The Sopranos.

Nov 9, 2017

Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum

Dileesh Pothan is creating a new genre in Malayalam cinema with his unique story telling style. His main narrative builds up towards a simple event or two, establishing protagonists and their relationships. Nothing special there. What set Pothan apart are the nuggets of micro stories, mined observing the human condition in all its informal familiarity and strung together to aid the natural progression of the narrative. Every scene is like a gem of flash fiction. It almost seems super human that the writer/director could link and insert these vignettes cohesively into an engaging cinematic account.

Pothan's maiden outing as a director, Maheshinte Prathikaram, introduced us to his distinctive technique. In Thondimuthalum Druksakshiyum he hones it further. This film is raw, plucked right off the tree of life, seconds ago. Even the minute traces of glaze in packaging which would have been a prerequisite to hit the box-office bulls-eye for a first-timer have been stripped away in this second movie.

His casting, which has included Fahadh Fazil as his chameleonic cornerstone, has brought some unconventional and promising faces to Malayalam cinema. Aparna Balamurali in Maheshinte Prathikaram is followed by Nimisha Sajayan in Thondimuthalum Druksakshiyum - both offbeat and talented leading ladies perfectly fitting the film's territory.

Suraj Venjaramoottil and Fahadh Fazil have let go of themselves like clay, impeccably molded just as the characters should be at the hands of the director. There is no question that this is exactly how we would find them in real life, had these people really existed. The entire crew at the police station, where most of the action takes place, has given outstanding performance especially considering all of them are not professional actors but real officers of the law (except for Alencier Ley Lopez.)

The treatment of the film is very gritty, like an episode of reality TV if reality TV was not scripted the way it is. LOL. The director also displays a certain trust in the audience's comprehension abilities. There is an absolute lack of spin or manipulation in the depiction of events. The viewer is left with the task of deriving meaning and closure although there is no sense of incompleteness. Life goes on - in real and in reel.

Nov 2, 2017


Second venture of the sister-brother producer duo Anushka and Karnesh Sharma, starring Anushka Sharma, Diljit Dosanjh and Suraj Sharma (Pi in the Life of Pi) is a perfect desi Halloween movie for our Hindustani brethren in Umrika if they are searching for one.

Anushka is a nebulous white ghost stuck in a tree, accidentally freed by Suraj and currently stalking him, pestering him for answers. The bumbling, aspiring Canadian rapper that he is, Suraj is unnerved and thrown into a loop by the presence of this floating apparition whom no one else is able to see. Diljit Dosanjh stops by as Punjabi folk singer/ Anushka's love interest in her real life, in the early 1900s Punjab.

Phillauri is a perfect example of how ghost stories look like when they are delivered via the dream pike at Bollywood. There is the quintessential over the top Punjabi wedding and there is a horizontally floating ghost swishing around in a sparkly ghaghra whose ghostliness quotient has been bolstered up by the masterly use of CGI and changing the operating angle to 180 degrees. Add to this, we have not one but two love stories - set a century apart for to meet the enchantment needs of different generations.

Nov 1, 2017

Viswasapoorvam Mansoor

A disjointed film that tries to take on many issues, falls short of most and remains unconvincing from beginning to the end.

Roshan Matthew, a new comer introduced in the movie Aanandam, embarks on his first solo venture as Mansoor the title character of this film. Although Roshan seems to have tried his best, the character of Mansoor is half-baked, leaving the audience wavering in placing their bets on him.

Some of the issues that film tried to address like inter-religious marriages, conservatism in liberal circles and branding the followers of certain religion as bona-fide terrorists are left hanging without any closure. Inter-religion marriage has relapsed further in the film when the real world has actually moved forward on this subject.

The love that blooms between Mansoor and Mumtaz (Prayaga Martin) seems more like case of infatuation and lust. Mansoor's former girl-friend (Leona Lishoy) and her place in the narrative reflects the befuddlement of the director, P.T.Kunju Mohammad. The director does not seem to be sure about which among the myriad causes the film vacillates between, is worth pursuing.

The accents of the actors is another jarring aspect of the film for me. The film takes place in Thalassery - none of the actors have succeeded in capturing the right accent for the region. Then there is the life-time Mumbaikar Mumtaz who speaks Hindi with a thick Malayali accent. Whoever dubbed for Zarina Wahab(as Mumtaz's mother Zaira Banu) has a better grip on Hindi than Prayaga Martin.

Oct 26, 2017

Bareilly Ki Barfi

Kriti Sanon is the leggy model who by some quirk of fate or by the malfunctioning magic wand of the casting director got deposited as a utility clerk, Bitti Mishra, in a musty sarkari (government) office in Bareilly, UP. Ayushmann Khurana is a writer so reclusive or ashamed of his writing skills or both  that he does not even want to be known as the author of his own novel. These are our two leads of Bareilly ki Barfi.

In real life, considering the rebellious, tomboyish nature of Bitti I would have expected her to have done a Kangana Ranaut and left her small town roots in the dust long ago and to reign over modeling world or Bollywood by now. Ayushmann Khurana as a writer is probably better than casting Varun Dhawan as one - that's surely a solid excuse for having Ayushmann as Chirag Dubey - printing press owner by the day and moonlighting novelist by night.

The perfect casting is Rajkummar Rao as Pritam Vidrohi - every bully's favorite person to pick on, the neighborhood punching bag - played to perfection by the national award winning actor.

Bareilly ki Barfi rides on the power of its script, direction and convincing portrayal of their roles by all the actors, not just the leads. It also plays safe by stringing together two of Bollywood's favorite subjects -1) love story ending in 2)wedding prep. It stays clear of moralizing and there are no villains in the story except for the hero.  A bubbly movie for a light-hearted hour or two.

Sep 30, 2017


What the heck is Tiyaan? 

Murali Gopy must have started off with an honorable intention of exposing fake religious gurus and their charades in the name of religion. To that end, he even played the evil mastermind god man and wrote the story placing a mirror on the 1990s infamous Babri Masjid demolition.

The intended result after watching Tiyaan should have been an audience aroused from their complacent slumber. All of us movie-goers should have come out of that movie hall spitting and fuming at the religious charlatans who had been deceiving us for so long and the worst-hit (by the message of the movie) among us should have turned into resolute atheists, right away.

We came out spitting and fuming alright, but not for the reason intended by the script, the story or the director - Jiyen Krishnakumar. The lofty ambition of the film has been marred by glaring mis-steps and outlandish lead characters incongruously propped up like towering, flimsy flex posters.

The dialog gives off the feel of an exaggerated play of shadow puppetry enacted by ginormous cut-outs of actors with  stupendous names (e.g: Pattabhirama Giri, Aslan Mohammad, Mahashay Bhagwan) getting preachy in arcane tongues. So we the audience came out infuriated, searching for words. What the heck did we just watch? What was Murali Gopy thinking? Left, right, left, then straight down the garbage chute?

Tiyaan wants to make us socially aware and rally against pretenders of all kinds - religious, political, commercial or the one next door- your double crosser of a neighbor. But these messages are mutilated on delivery coming out of the mouths of characters with unconvincing back stories.

The film lost me at the moment Pattabhirama Giri (Indrajith) pulled out his brahmanical sacred thread as something more powerful than an AK 47 in the event of an attack by Hindu nationalists. Though in the very next scenes it was illustrated that Brahmanism is no superhero cape, even those couple of scenes could not escape the under currents of caste-ism and patriarchy omnipresent in the film. The movie breaks it back under the weight of heavy symbolism it is girdled by. The glue that was supposed to hold it together was Hindu - Muslim brotherly love, to the extent that real life brothers Indrajith and Prithviraj Sukumaran play the representatives of the two religions, a la brother from another mother.

Prithviraj's character Aslan Mohammad is the first born-again Hindu in the history of Malayalam cinema. The character is permitted to keep the religion he was born into (Islam) by his yogic baptizers. By now it is an established fact in Malayalam cinema that even those who have conquered all the senses go senseless in front of Prithviraj's charisma.

The directors and cinematographers are no match for Prithviraj's universal allure. Jiyen Krishnakumar, a directorial newbie does not even stand a chance. Every once in a while, the protector Prithviraj playing Aslan is placed as an arresting subject in sweeping frames featuring high Himalayan passes. He is seen sending out his calming gaze over the landscape, while strictly observing the rule of thirds. Other than these frames, I could find nothing arresting about the film. I do not know how people who are not Prithviraj fans (unlike me) survived this movie ?!

One unintended comical scene that caught my attention was when Aslan parted ways with his semi-nude saviors in the high Himalayas (location: go to Rohtang Pass and hang a right) with a Nama Shivaya , his dread-locked yogi friends retorted with Aslam Alaikum! Then both groups drew crosses and went in separate directions to the save the world. That is the inter-religious super glue I am talking about - didn't work for me, maybe it worked at the box office? (Ok, I added that last part about the crosses, couldn't resist the temptation. Which brings to mind that Christians are notably absent in the film, maybe because it takes place in the Northern Indian heart land where there is not a significant population of Christians? Yet this being a message-laden film which even goes back to a 14th century battle for particularly no reason, adding a few Christians in the mix would have hardly been a noticeable offense.)

Sep 29, 2017

Ayal Sasi

Sreenivasan looks like a terminally ill patient in the film, 'Ayaal Sasi', where he plays the protagonist in his last lap of life. His physique or the lack of it almost convinced me that director scouted for an actor who was indeed sick and made him the hero. But I couldn't have been further from the truth - Sreenivasan supposedly lost 15 kgs for this movie by sticking to a leaner diet. Salud! Sreenivasan, that speaks of quite a commitment.

Sasi is a human looking glass, perched to reflect and respond to the prejudices and vacuousness of society and the narrow-mindedness of religious groups. He is also depicted as someone who has a fondness for superfluity. Sreenivasan has tried to affect an air of detachment as a spacey artist floating by in an alcohol induced haze on the fringes of society.

I do not how box-office responded to story of an ailing frivolous artist and his run-ins with religion and greedy relatives. This is the kind of subject Sreenivasan excelled in as a writer. I wish it was his pen that wrote the script for this movie which could have unearthed many humorous possibilities, but at least they cast the right actor as Sasi.

Sep 9, 2017

CIA - Comrade in America movie review

Comrade in America (CIA) is a feather-light film drifting across borders, told through stories and lives it flits through on its way to the destination - a defined terminal point in a present day utopia (this promised land's promise is highly debatable these days, the film recognizes that.) 

The movie also features one of the most pumped-up entries for any young star I've watched recently in any movie in any language - the beat, the music, the rap, the Molotov cocktail, the blazing fires, the resolute red flag in the ascendant and of course the assured slow motion accompanying the grand entry of Dulqar Salman - if the youth of the nation does not fall for this, I do not know what else they will fall for. Except that most of the well-informed youth must have already fallen for the original Kanye West song, "No Church in the Wild" from which Dulquer's entry is copied scene to scene.

For Dulqar Salman, playing the protagonist - a young communist Aji Mathew, it is love that shines as a beacon on a distant shore. He scorns the idea of visas, distances and border walls in a way only foolish and impulsive twenty somethings in love can. It only seems natural that being a bona-fide communist Aji should have routine midnight conversations about his love life with his three trusted, official mentors - Marx, Lenin and Che (pretty good lookalikes for a Malayalam movie.)

If you can look beyond the foolhardiness of the central character and forgive Amal Neerad, the director for building a movie around such an inane cause, the film in fact is enjoyable with its sprightly dialogs, interesting vistas, well crafted side characters and informative like a memoir documentary.

Kudos to the director and team in attempting a subject - U.S (southern) border crossing in an Indian regional language film. It is also the first film, international or otherwise, that I have watched recently, dedicated to all refugees from all over the world. With refugee crisis holding center stage in the news I am sure there will be more and there should be more, but glad to have seen it first in a Malayalam movie.

The film rides on the star power of Dulqar Salman with good support from Siddique, Dileesh Pothan, Soubin Shahir, Parvathy, Jinu Joseph and new comer Karthika Murali. The only character that felt out of place was the Malayali girl with an unconvincing story who turns up in the U.S-Mexican border crossing group, named Pallavi played by Chandini Sreedharan - not to reflect adversely on Chandini's acting skills. Pallavi's grand father might have been the Malayali who had that tea-shop on the Moon when Armstrong made the giant leap for mankind and was (tricked into) thinking he was the first man on the Moon. Then again I can understand the director and writer's justification of allowing our handsome, charismatic hero an incidental female crutch, if the movie had to be a commercial success 😊 - which it was.

Sep 8, 2017


Achayans is a loud movie - both literally and figuratively with a multi-star cast headed by Jayaram. To keep things interesting beyond the antics of the four Achayans (informal usage to reference a group of Malayali Christian men) made up of Jayaram, Unni Mukundan, Adil Ibrahim and Sanju Sivaram, the movie also tries its hand at being a crime thriller. 

The 'crime' excuse is used to bring in Prakash Raj as the newest avatar of astute South Indian detective. Brainiac cops in South Indian movies usually make their entries, exits and other perambulatory exercises to the background roar of Vedic chants while fingering their sacred thread (worn diagonally across the torso.) The thread-fingering is to reinforce the notion of the intelligent "Brahmin", the most intelligent and venerated of all castes - therefore excellent detective material, in case the audience were tone-deaf and missed out on the suggestive accompaniment of decibel shattering Sanskrit howling.

Another issue I have with Kannan Thamarakkulam (director of this 'epic') is the extreme distortion of his lead female characters.  The world of women in Thamarakkulam's head is a house of mirrors. Every time he needs inspiration for a female lead, he peers into this carnival attraction in his head and comes out with gruesome caricatures of women reflected on its mirrored walls. Achayan's has Amala Paul's Reetha Fernandez - a closet lesbian(?) caricatured to literal perfection with an askew wig, ill fitting jeans and operating in a perpetual pissed-off mode as dictated by the script and director's understanding of the said category of women.

Now that I think about it, the entire movie is a burlesque platitude, a rehash of rehashes. There are not many moderate characters nor is there anything new, but there is a pleasant surprise - Jayaram. In this melee of over-acting and contrived ruckus, this improved version of Jayaram comfortably sporting his natural grey hair and exuding confidence without overdoing it, offer tiny breaks when we audience can ease off on our hyperventilation.

Aug 31, 2017

Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu

If director Sathyan Anthikkad had aged like fine wine, Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu (hereafter referred to as RBO) is what he would have come up with. Regrettably he didn't and thankfully Ranjan Pramod, the script writer of some Anthikkad's later movies has filled the void.

The best thing about RBO is it seems so natural and light. The flow of dialog, the ease with which characters appear or slide in and out of frames, the sounds, the ambience, the effortless attention to detail which in reality must have taken some effort and all this put together and delivered as a well constructed entertainer is commendable. Bravo!

And then there is Biju Menon - the king of reinvention in contemporary Malayalam cinema, playing the title character Baiju. His journey from the handsome, brooding, youngest son in Doordarshan TV series - Mikhayalinte Santhathikal through emotional dramas like Meghmalhar in the early 2000s to the man who found his funny bone in Vellimoonga, Maroobhoomiyile Aana and RBO - has been like watching an evolving chameleon in action. We are left to wonder what other colors or characters would he comfortably grow and morph into in the coming years.

The natural ease in direction is reflected in the performance of other actors too. Aju Varghese, Deepak Parumbole and many other new comers who play significant roles give the feeling that we are watching their daily goings-on without a veneer of pretense. I also loved the absence of dubbing as it helped in interring the phantasm of the same female character's voice that used to come back to grate you in every other film.

I started watching RBO with the expectation of a syrupy feel good movie. It is a feel good movie but it is also comfortably real and uncompromising without ruffling many feathers. There is not much of a story and the only character introduced to create tension (played by Padmaraj Ratheesh) is the only weak point in the narrative.Nice work, Ranjan Pramod and a treat for the audience.

Aug 30, 2017

Munro Thuruth

On the seemingly long train journeys symbolic of my childhood summer vacations, Munro Thuruth was a mysterious station with a distinct multi-racial name. It was quite unlike other Kerala railway station names like Karunagappalli, Vadakara or Payyannoor, which all seemed staid in comparison.  During evening journeys north from Thiruvananthapuram, Munro Thuruth station was one of the first stations the train passed through after darkness had settled in for good. The peculiar name and its association with a long dead British official, who might still be haunting the dark estuaries guarded by looming, ghostly coconut palms on little floating islands, had created an aura of supernatural spookiness in my young mind.

The movie Munro Thurath by Manu does not really help in erasing out that impression. It is still metaphorically dark in the movie which is not about ghosts, but an unsettling story with live people. Since this movie seems more like an intellectual exploration rather than a prospective commercial pot-boiler, there are no givens, not in a formulaic sense.

Indrans portray a stalwart grand father figure who takes up the challenge of housing a mentally unstable teenager, his grandson. This role is a far cry from the comedic or disposable side-kick roles Indrans had enacted in his past movies and brings out the matured actor in him.

The troubled teen looks less like a teenager and more like a young man in his mid-twenties which reduces the credibility of his character and makes the surveillance setup around him seem a tad overboard.

The main character to me is the psyche of the place, Munro Thuruth. As the grand dad, a life long inhabitant of the 'thuruth' says in the movie, "there is here," referring to the slivers of land buoying on Ashtamudi lagoon and "then there is every where else,"  encompassing the vast namelessness that lies outside Munro Thuruth. The 'thuruth' is like an organism (almost reminds me of King Kong or Godzilla), cauterized from the rest of the land, with a life of its own, closing in on its inhabitants and all their actions are just reactions to its heart of darkness.

Aug 24, 2017

Three Book Reviews

Reading fiction makes me strongly aware of passing time, sand grains traveling faster than ever down the constricted throat of an hour glass. Most often I find myself questioning, why am I wasting my time reading some one else's version of 'non-reality' when there is so much of reality or real world left to explore. Even if I succeed in reading a truly genius work of 'non-reality', there is a strong tendency for these stories to disengage, tumbleweed like and blow away, fast fading across my prairies of forgetfulness. I simply cannot seem to hold on to these superbly crafted non-realities by any of the master wordsmiths of our times.

Non-fiction on the other hand gets hungrily ingested and cataloged for future reference, adding on to an accretion of wondrous snippets of information about the universe and everything in it. There is so much to learn and non-fiction writing is one of my most primary, go-to learning aids.

Being a lifer in the digital era - searching on Google or taking the endless elevator down the Wikipedia rabbit hole is usually my first nature as it might be for any urban human of my vintage. But there are times when you feel the spiritual need to disconnect from all technology, start on a diet of eating fruits and berries, stop shaving, plant your organic cotton, pick it and weave your own clothes and chirp with the crickets at sundown. Knowing my own limits, I have so far only attempted the first step of this yogic regimen - disconnect from all technology.

During the few hours of my technology abstinence, in the absence of search engines and other crowd sourced enlightenment, I revert back to reading scrolls - books, if you insist on using the correct modern terminology. Whether it is to tackle existential questions or to figure out a past President's horticultural habits, there is a usually book out there somewhere documenting just that.

Every other month I become fascinated with aging, death, growing old and the old age's titillating promise (or the only silver lining?) of making a person wiser. In search of this wisdom or you could say as a part of prepping early for the final act, I attempt reading realistic accounts of people who have been there and done that or books about old age written by people who have worked and lived close with old people like physicians and care-givers. I have chanced upon some very illuminating reads this way - like Sherwin Nuland's The Art of Aging: A Doctor's Prescription for Well-Being and Atul Gawande's Being Mortal : Medicine and What Matters in the End.

Most recently I landed upon The Lioness in Winter: Writing an Old Woman's Life by Ann Burack-Weiss, that belongs to the preparing for old age genre. Unlike Nuland and Gawande who (were) are physicians, Burack-Weiss is a social worker and her book reads a little bit more like an academic work than a non-fiction best seller (which the other two were.) 

That said, her focus on the writing and thoughts of notable women on old age and death and curating these into a cohesive account, is unique and as a woman, interesting to me. There were places I skimmed through the pages when it started reminding me of protracted thesis documents and the hours spent in musty libraries jotting down references to beef up the appendices. Yes,that's how we did it in the dark pre-digital era, right around the time when I was young and the wheel had just been invented.

The Lioness in Winter is interesting if you are curious about the winter of life and are familiar with some older women authors like Maya Angelou, Anais Nin, Joyce Carol Oates, Simone de Beauvoir and a bunch of others and might care to know what they thought about growing old. Or if you are a woman with some free time to read (that's a rare animal, the free time factor eliminates all the probables), it might be worth a try.

How many times have we relived with Holocaust ensconced in the warmth of our couches? I know my answer, far too many to count. The list of non-fiction books on Holocaust I have read is shorter compared to Holocaust movies. There was Night by Elie Weizel and Diary of Anne Frank - that's about it.

Last week I added one more to the list - Man's Search for Meaning by  Viktor Frankl. Again like The Lioness in Winter, Man's Search... also verges on being an academic dissection of life in concentration camps through the eyes of Frankl who was a psychiatrist imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps, almost through out the entire war. He was imprisoned in four concentration camps, including Auschwitz. The author intended his writing to be a honest description of every man's life in those dreaded camps and wanted it to serve as inspiration to never give up on life even when it gets as tough as it got for those Jewish prisoners.

Frankl's work to me seems like a treatise on hope penned in the most hopeless of situations. A first-hand account of the most wretched people on Earth (at one time) and written matter-of-factly by a person of scientific and logical temperance - which I am pretty sure Frankl was. Are you like that? Then you might like Man's Search for Meaning.

Mohsin Hamid is a notable novelist of our age, the kind you keep watch on especially if you have roots in the Indian subcontinent. Why did I pick Exit West? It is fiction, but it is one of the very few fictional takes on a very contemporary crisis and I was curious how the 'non-realistic' version of contemporary reality looked like. Also, I have read a few of Hamid's earlier works like The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, that I found interesting. Since the current truth of the Middle East refugee crisis is too hard to bear, I thought maybe fiction might present a more tolerable picture. I was not mistaken.

Exit West names no names, geographies of conflict are kept deliberately obscured by the author. Although that didn't stop me from imagining it all playing out in Syria. We get to see the yin and yang of human nature responding to wars and displacement through the two protagonists - one female and one male. Unlike the refugees of the present day crisis, in this work of fiction, magical realism makes sure there is no heart-wrenching, lifeless supplicated forms of little children washed up on Europe's beaches.

It is a quick read. Despite the place and the time where the story is set, the narrative does not delve into the miseries of people fleeing their native lands in the wake of wars but rather on exploring the psychology of human nature and relationships in a dystopian but seemingly (new) normal future.

Aug 17, 2017

Noor : A movie review

Why am I quick to equate flakiness and self obsession with millennials?  The first few character building scenes of Noor showcase the text book enactment of these traits that I have come to associate with the people of this particular age group. Maybe my lack of understanding stems from me falling prey to the oft-quoted affliction of older people - the generation gap disease. I had a similar reaction recently to the whiny, flighty, empty shell of a movie that was headlined by Alia Bhatt and propped up by Shah Rukh Khan - Dear Zindagi.

Noor is much better off when you come to its story's core, in the sense it tries to have some pith - a journalist trying to catch her big break, in search of 'the' big story that will set her apart from the pack. Adapted from Pakistani writer Saba Imtiaz's debut novel, 'Karachi You Are Killing Me' the content holds pace with the current social media and reporting trends. It correctly identifies, to post or not to post as the existential question which will make or break the day for the millennials.

Sonakshi Sinha playing Noor almost makes it to the big leagues with a lead on a socially relevant breaking news story, but let's stay clear of spoilers, shall we? Kanan Gill - a Bangalore-based standup comedian and YouTuber gets his Bollywood break in this film directed by Sunhil Sippy which is a nod to internet influencers and emergence of non-traditional news reporting.

One of the biggest advantages Sonakshi has going for her as an actor is that she can be your relate-able girl next door, the non-size zero type. The movie is built around Noor's soliloquies, self-reflective news presentations and blog posts - and she does do a lot of soul searching of every kind, enough to provide material for a film. But most of the time the enlightenment from these ruminations dawn too late upon Noor, after she had already screwed up the situation. Enter, the ever-present social media, the savior of our times with its all righting corrective-fluid facility of making things viral, equal and ultimately just. Noor is saved, movie gets to end with a happy face and I get to make a positive blog post.

Aug 11, 2017

Book Review: Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

Comedy Central must have really done its research and as a member of its audience I thank them for introducing us to Trevor Noah. To get a comedian all the way from South Africa, an unknown face to most of the American public, as the presenter of a headlining show is a gamble they took. I hope it will pan out for the both Noah and the network. With two years under his belt The Daily Show hosted by Trevor Noah is slowly inching up in the ratings chart and holding it steady after an initial slow year.

Reading his memoir, Born a Crime, I am all for team Noah and want him to be successful. The man has come a long way from his humble South African beginnings. The book was an eye-opening introduction to what is like to grow up straddled on the race fence in South Africa during apartheid (albeit it was in its final descent.)

As a child of a forbidden union, a secret child who needed to be kept invisible and then later on as a young man who defied categorization and racial profiles, Noah's a staggeringly mind-blowing journey. From the teen hustler churning out copied CDs in the slums of Soweto to the interesting new face chosen to replaced the legendary Jon Stewart, it almost seems like an impossible hop.

Noah dedicates his memoir to his mother, "For my mother. My first fan. Thank you for making me a man." An extraordinary woman in an extraordinary time, she chose to have Noah because she wanted a child, her child, who will have everything she didn't have. She did not have Noah to consummate her marriage. For there was none between her - a South African Xhosa woman and his Swiss-German father who was twenty years her senior. In a way, Trevor Noah and the way she brought him up was her raising the middle finger against apartheid and boy, I am sure he has made her proud!

Born a crime is a powerful account of coming of age in a historically important time and place, lived through and written by one of the astute commentators on society and culture of our times. Definitely worth a read.

Aug 8, 2017

Naam Shabana

Best thing about Naam Shabana is its perfect casting of Shabana. Bollywood is discovering the girl in their own backyard who had to travel south first to prove her talent. Manoj Bajpai is all gravitas, as we expect him to be. Akshay Kumar in his super man cameo is an elusive and slithery master spy and Prithviraj is exploring the negative role niche further in Bollywood (or digging himself into a deeper hole, you decide.) 

Women in combat sports is a happening theme Indian movies (Bollywood and regional) for the last few years, thanks to the medals Indian women have been bringing home from all the international sports meets. Naam Shabana takes Shabana's combat sports talents and shakes it up with a revenge drama stirs it into an international spy thriller. I am glad it is a girl bashing up the bad guys, but not really glad that often times our evasive male master spy has to extract her out in the end.

I watched this movie as a Tapasee Pannu vehicle, a Bollywood movie helmed by a female actor and didn't try to dissect the script or the direction (Shivam Nair.) Had to fast forward most of the last scenes and while doing so caught a glimpse of Anupam Kher in what looked like a baldness cure job gone bad - no idea what he was doing with computers, didn't look like he should be anywhere near one.

Jul 26, 2017

Take Off

Fiction is often created exploring the far-fetched what-ifs of life. But sometimes life outsmarts fiction, the improbable happens to the everyday human. You, me or our neighbor next door becomes the new story without any intention of being so. Most times these otherwise inconceivable events are not usually pleasant in nature. It stretches the limits of human spirit and makes heroes out of average Joe or Jane. Some of these form the material of 'based on a true event' movies. TakeOff is one such movie.

Based on a real-life rescue mission of Malayali nurses trapped in the war zone of Iraq and taken captive by ISIS in 2014, TakeOff takes it material from their harrowing few days in captivity and a coordinated diplomatic rescue mission that procured their release. The engagement of the audience with the subject is brought by focusing on the life of one of the nurses, called Sameera, inspired from the character of one of the real-life nurses involved and played in the movie by Parvathi Thiruvoth.

The treatment, development and execution of Sameera's character - an independent working woman from a Muslim family, who becomes a divorcee and later marries her coworker, has been done commendably. Shot in actual locations, this is a laudable effort by the movie makers to convey authenticity of the situation, hopefully this will be a trend others will follow.

Also worth noting is the moderation exercised in tugging the heart strings of the audience through a melodramatic script which the original story had immense 'potential' for. The script, direction and acting have worked together to create as faithful an interpretation as possible, except for one part at the end (involving Kunchako's character.) But who does not like a happy ending and you have to considerate to a producer who put in the money and effort to let the crew shoot in real locations. So in the light of ensuring the producer's return on the investment, I, the clueless but haughty reviewer, approve this slight of script.

Parvathy Thiruvoth is a force to reckon in the Malayalam movie industry today.  Kunchako Boban and Fahad Fazil are grounded and mature in their supportive roles and so is Asif Ali, who also gets to put in a few minutes. Great job, director Mahesh Narayan and team Take-Off.

Jul 11, 2017

1971 : Beyond Borders (...and beyond comprehension)

Film makers make films they are passionate about. If a director can create a larger than life character as a flag bearer of this passion and rope in a super star to play it, it will be easier to find a producer sympathetic enough to bet his/her money on this 'passion project.' 1971: Beyond Borders is  the latest installment of Major Ravi's exploration of his primary passion : Indian military and his secondary passion - Lt.Col Mohanlal.

Major Ravi's moral bulletin of all humans being bros, not defined by borders and political, religious or racial interests is a commendable message to propagate through the medium of cinema. As a member of not-his-target audience my grouse is the cliche-laden story, the script that could have benefited from having a script writer, the casual and incorrect use of conversational English and the overwhelming presence of our 'complete' actor Mohanlal.

And what were black people doing as rebels in Georgia? This is one of the former states of the USSR, the nation on the Black Sea coast in Europe. Did Abkazians export troops from Africa to fight their civil war? Anyway who cares about real facts when Mohanlal is about to set the history right for Georgians, Pakistanis and Indians especially Malayalis.

I set out on watching 1971 : Beyond Borders knowing very well that the workings of Major Ravi's brain will be beyond my comprehension and I should not even more for a second nurse the hope that I will like this movie. Nor did I entertain the false illusion that this film while time traveling back to the seventies will give us back the Mohanlal of the eighties. Sad to say, I was not proven wrong in any of these aspects.

Jul 3, 2017

Angamaly Diaries

Ambitious - with 86 new faces, this unconventional movie rocks to the lyrics of Damn It Feels Good to be Gangsta (Geto Boys) whenever I rewind it in my mind. Not that it lacks an offbeat sound track - by Prashant Pillai, it's just that 'thug life' feel it gives.

Another thing it reminds me of is the kinetics and aesthetics of the City of God, not the Malayalam movie, but the Brazilian Cidade de Dues (portguese) by Fernando Meirelles. The spry camera action through Angamaly's narrow crowded streets is reminiscent of the dynamic hand-held scenes through Rio's favelas. Both movies make a feast out the urban grime, grittiness, gutsiness and desperation

Chemban Vinod Jose rises as a writing talent in this movie directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery known for his whimsical creations (ref-Amen.) In the middle of 'team' (gang) rivalries, pig killings and pork recipes flavoring the heat and throes of life in Angamlay (a small town near Kochi, Kerala), there is a handsome hero, Pepe (Antony Verghese) and his bevy of girl friends to keep things interesting.

Jun 21, 2017


Raees is Shah Rukh Khan time traveling to the eighties with aviator style frames (his character has a vision problem), shirts with shoulder epaulettes and several colorful rotary phones at his disposal. Director Rahul Dholakia’s DeLorean-esque powers place Shah Rukh in a coastal town in Gujarat, which is looking for a savior, although the town does not know that yet.

Before we jump into the movie, some trivia action first. Skip on to the next paragraph, if you are not into such 'trivial' stuff. Gujarat, the home state of the current Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi is a realm of contradictions. It has the longest coastline (990 miles) of any Indian state but not many people are into seafood. They prefer thin flat-breads of varying thinness ending with 'la' or 'li' to dead fish any day. It is a state known for its tough Hindu identity politics but also has a sizeable Muslim population; both communities are known for their entrepreneurial spirit. It is also a ‘dry’ state, the sale and consumption of alcohol is banned 24/365, but it remains one of the biggest markets for illicit liquor in India, with special features including home delivery.

Raees Aslam, the main character played by Shah Rukh is a Muslim bootlegger/ multi-talented entrepreneur(all Gujaratis are entrepreneurs of some sort, but not all entrepreneurs are Gujaratis) who insists that he would not mix religion with business and holds true to his word for most of the story. The film is all about Raees-the man aka Shah Rukh Khan. So if you are not into Shah Rukh, beat it. Or better still, hang around, Shah Rukh does give many opportunities in this film for you to trash him with his signature mannerisms  peek-booing into his performance not very infrequently.

Then there is the inimitable Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the honest cop Majmudar who has a weakness for all things in writing. The beautiful Pakistani actress Mahira Khan stars as Shah Rukh's lady love.  Maybe it's make up, maybe it's Mahira (I suspect it is make-up on both sides), while Shah Rukh manages to look younger, Mahira succeeds in looking older thereby bridging their couple of decades worth of age gap in real life rather skillfully. 

The ubiquitous Indian drink - chai (tea), in shot-glass sized cups makes numerous appearances not only as a drink, but as strategic props and pointers to help the chai-drinking bootleggers and co. keep one step ahead in the game of whoever is chasing them at the moment - be it the cops or other really wicked bootleggers. When liquor flows like water it is chai you crave for - is the moral of the story.

Raees is pure Bollywood masala in a realistic setting. The streets of Bhuj where the movie is shot adds an indisputable made in Gujarat seal. Music and songs which can make or  break a Bollywood blockbuster is just the right mix tape, with different music directors or bands composing each song, that DJ ordered for making Raees a success. All in all I'd consider Raees a well-aged Bollywood moonshine.