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Bard of Blood review: Emraan Hashmi’s Netflix series pales in comparison to Amazon’s Family Man

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Bard of Blood
Director – Ribhu Dasgupta
Cast – Emraan Hashmi, Sobhita Dhulipala, Vineet Kumar Singh, Kirti Kulhari, Jaideep Ahlawat 

Ironically for a show about espionage that tips its hat to Shakespeare, Bard of Blood is undone by its rotten writing and a glaring lack of intelligence. Unfolding across seven painfully convoluted episodes, Netflix India’s latest has neither wit, wisdom, or value. And based on expectations alone, it is the streaming service’s most disappointing Indian original series.

Arguing that Bard of Blood is intended for an audience that isn’t accustomed to dense, thought- provoking drama is disrespectful not only to millions of paying Netflix subscribers, but also to an industry that is yearning to be more ambitious. It is so disappointing to see such wonderfully talented actors, each of whom has proven themselves on multiple occasions — Raazi actor Jaideep Ahlawat has shone even in the same genre — be wasted on such drab material.

Watch the Bard of Blood trailer here.

You feel for poor Vineet Kumar Singh, who was so mesmerising in Mukkabaaz, as he struggles with his accent, which is supposed to be Punjabi, but sounds like it took a hard right from Chandigarh, and entered Haryana. I have a suspicion that he re-recorded a majority of his lines in post- production, unlike his cast-mates. You feel for poor Emraan Hashmi, eternally pigeonholed in the wrong boxes, like a dignified movie star at the mercy of a stylist who insists on dressing them in ill-fitting casuals.

But nothing can compare to my dismay at seeing the glorious Sobhita Dhulipala, who has been outstanding in literally everything she has done, be reduced to an exposition machine. In one scene, when the name of a Balochistani separatist leader is mentioned, Sobhita’s character, Isha, provides viewers with a quick summary of his hypothetical Wikipedia page. “Bashir Mari?” Isha says, “Yaani Balochistan ke Yasser Arafat? Kuch saal pehle unki death hui thi. ISA ne hi maara tha unko.” She says this in the presence of two others, both of whom are guaranteed to be aware of this information already.

Sobhita Dhulipala plays Isha in Netflix’s Bard of Blood.

This happens a lot in Bard of Blood. Information that should, ideally, be relayed through story and character, is simply blurted out loud. Every emotion, every thought, every fleeting idea is verbally explained, but rarely ever shown. After a point, watching a story that relies on such inelegant means of communication becomes exhausting. You’re hearing things, but not really listening to them. For a moment, I thought I’d been transported back to school, sitting in an unbearably boring class.

But even my maths lessons were occasionally more enjoyable than the seven hours it took for me to finish Bard of Blood, a show that feels at once glossy, yet bafflingly cheap. Based on the 2015 novel by Bilal Siddiqi, it tells the story of former spy Kabir Anand (Emraan Hashmi), who is plucked from his life as a Shakespeare professor at a Mumbai college, and hurled headfirst into a dangerous mission in Balochistan. Kabir has a personal history with the region, and with the Indian intelligence agency that threw him under the bus after a botched job there several years ago.

I must confess that I haven’t read the book, but I am aware that several key changes have been made to the text. For instance, the names of the Indian and Pakistani intelligence agencies have been tweaked, and Isha Khan has been renamed Isha Khanna. I wonder why; her name certainly bore no relevance to her character. But I was pleasantly surprised by how Bard of Blood avoided jumping on the patriotic bandwagon, especially when it could have, so easily, turned into a celebration of national pride. Neither is it antagonistic towards Pakistan, which, in today’s turbulent times, comes across as a minor miracle.

Vineet Kumar Singh in a still from Netflix’s Bard of Blood.

The central objective of Kabir’s mission requires him and his team — he is joined by the rookie Isha and the veteran Veer (Vineet) — to go rogue as they infiltrate enemy territory and attempt to rescue four Indian spies who’ve been kidnapped by the Taliban.

There are several interesting ideas in this premise that Bard of Blood flirts with, but never fully commits to exploring. It could, for instance, have examined the idea of patriotism, and how tragically some agents are treated by the government. The four kidnapped spies are considered collateral damage by the agency, whose flat-out refusal to stage a rescue compels Kabir to take matters into his own hands in the first place. But even in captivity, the prisoners of war display a sort of blind faith in their country that begs to be scrutinised, but is sidelined in favour of scenes that serve absolutely no purpose in the plot.

For example, on one occasion, Kabir concocts an elaborate plan to have himself kidnapped in order to arrange a meeting with a young separatist, when all he needed to do was simply knock on his door. They are old acquaintances. And then there is the objectively pointless romantic track, which was quite literally shoehorned in; it did not exist in the book. Again, handled with a delicate touch, the romantic storyline could have breached some morally dubious themes, in addition to making grand humanist statements, but Bard of Blood’s stilted writing makes Murder 2 look like Before Sunrise.

Emraan Hashmi in a still from Netflix’s Bard of Blood.

It is one thing to have a poor script to begin with, but the problems metastasise when neither the filmmaking nor the acting is able to elevate it. Director Ribhu Dasgupta maintains a consistently messy style, and handles the multiple threads by routinely tangling them up. But there is little he could have done with the material he had. Ladakh doubling for Balochistan provided him with a suitably large natural sandbox to play inside, but the extras are laughably exaggerated, and the locations are distractingly glossy for a war zone. They don’t have a lived-in feel — instead, the several towns and villages our central trio visit appear to have been dressed mere hours before their arrival. The scenes set in Mumbai and New Delhi, meanwhile, give off a distinct whiff of having been completed in haste.

To discuss Bard of Blood’s handling of the very real, very relevant socio-political context of its story would be admitting that the show should be taken seriously. It shouldn’t. The very idea that a series which reduces Islamic terrorists to sloganeering, kohl-eyed caricatures can exist in the same world as Raazi, or even Amazon’s The Family Man, is mildly aggravating.

All this is evidence of a troubled production; of a building that was, in typical Indian fashion, constructed despite a rocky foundation, upon unstable land, and with subpar raw material.

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The Body movie review: Rishi Kapoor-Emraan Hashmi’s film lacks depth

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The Body
Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Emraan Hashmi, Sobhita Dhulipala, Vedhika Kumar
Director: Jeetu Joseph

It takes a deft hand to make a murder mystery that keeps you engaged and offers a zinger as the climax. Alas, Rishi Kapoor and Emraan Hashmi-starrer The Body is not that film.

Despite having a readymade story, director Jeetu Joseph fails to deliver or keep you interested throughout the length of the film. Given the plot and characters, it could have been quite a thrilling watch but poor treatment and a dry narrative leaves no scope for the actors – Rishi Kapoor, Emraan Hashmi, Sobhita Dhulipala – to perform beyond a point. A remake of a 2012 Spanish film by the same name, The Body is slow, scattered and a half-baked attempt at making a murder mystery.

Watch the trailer for The Body here:

The film begins with the body of a millionaire businesswoman, Maya (Dhulipala), going missing from a morgue. SP Jairaj Rawal (Kapoor) who is investigating the case believes the dead woman’s husband, Ajay (Hashmi) killed his wife by inducing a heart attack and then stole her body from the morgue to escape an autopsy.

As the events unfold over a span of one night – 8 hours to be precise – Hashmi gets plenty of hints that Maya is alive. Or is it her ghost? Meanwhile, his girlfriend Ritu (Kumar) is there to offer constant support to him to deal with the crisis. Will the cops find the body? Or will Ajay’s fears turn into reality?

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The Body has many questions and what-will-happen-next moments but without the thrill you would expect in a murder mystery. Joseph plays it safe, and doesn’t play around much with his characters. and doesn’t play around much with his characters.

Kapoor is in his elements as he returns to the screen after almost a year. He owns his part as the cranky police officer who has his own baggage – he lost his wife in a car crash, which he refuses to believe was an accident. He’s a tough nut to crack but holds your attention when he’s there.

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Hashmi, on the other hand, is shown as a diffident college professor who hits the jackpot when he marries Maya. He’s charming in parts but given that throughout the film he’s confined to the four walls of a morgue, he seems to be struggling to put pieces together and be seen.

While Sobhita as the svelte, rich and gorgeous entrepreneur born with a silver spoon is convincing, Vedhika is a bit of a misfit and doesn’t have a strong screen presence. She is mostly reduced to sobbing while telling Ajay, ‘tum wahan se bhaag jao’.

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As the series of events unfold, you’re shown flashbacks which are, each time, topped with a romantic song. Even though they’re shot at the most picturesque locales and look pretty, they totally take you away from the story.

By the time you reach climax, you have made your own deductions and the twist makes you go ‘wow’ and ‘blah’ at the same time. The Body is mediocre at best, watch it if you truly like thrillers but don’t expect it to make it to your top 5 list.

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Frozen 2 movie review: Elsa and Anna make a case for reparations in more beautiful but needless sequel

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Frozen 2
Director: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck
Cast: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff

One of the easiest tests for assessing a sequel’s quality is comparing its cast and crew to the original. Are the leads back? Is someone else making it? Did the director have to be thrown out and another brought in their place to fill the hole? Frozen II passes this test with flying colours. Everyone from the original is back, including all the voice actors (Oscar-winners and otherwise) and also the directors. Which means, those who read the script were confident about it and so maybe, you should be, too. However, the test is often deemed unreliable for one factor–the sweet, clinking sound of coins dropping in their purses.

Frozen is still the most successful animated film ever made with a box office haul of $1.27 billion. And this isn’t even a fraction of the money it made for Disney with its Elsa tiffin boxes, Anna backpacks and Olaf toilet plungers. Of course, a sequel is too glossy an idea to not entertain. Another movie means four more Elsa costumes and four more Elsa dolls for your child’s collection. I’ll pray to my god that you find the four-in-one version, for the sake of your wallet and your sanity. That’s the least I can do after writing a review that tells you why you should bring your kids for Frozen II anyway.

Watch Frozen 2 trailer here:

In its second part, the story of ice queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) and her sister Anna (Kristen Bell) takes a more colourful albeit less enchanting turn. Set in the season of autumn, the screen aflush with stunning hues; the fiery red maple leaves, the soft auburns of hidden forests, the icy blues of Elsa’s snow outfits and the royal aubergines of Anna’s cloak. It’s an aesthetic fit for an Instagram trend. #VSCOgirls are shook.

But beautiful visuals were not all that was promised. Six years ago, Frozen gave Disney one of the most refreshing stories about princesses and magic. It wasn’t just a musical delight — although repeated listenings did …uh… made one particular song hard to ‘let go’ from your head. Frozen subverted long-held ideas about the meaning of true love and why one must always find it in a suitor. With a lot of pomp and pageantry, it sang about a woman’s need to break free from isolation and embrace her powers; and finally, learning to trust the ones closest to her. It was a story about how people can help others heal and grow stronger. Things change for Elsa as she breaks away from her sallow, lonely origins and embraces a happier side with her sister.

This image released by Disney shows Elsa, voiced by Idina Menzel, in a scene from "Frozen 2." (Disney via AP)

With Frozen II, there is no relationship to resolve or personality issues to address. Therefore, the story, the tension and the central conflict feels forced from the very beginning to the absolute end. This time when we meet the two sisters of Arendelle, an undisclosed amount of time has passed since the original. Everything seems happy and joyous in her kingdom but Elsa has been hearing eerie voices call out to her. In the spirit of every kids movie ever, she decides to chase after it and once again brings peril to her kingdom with her ever-growing icy powers that are beyond her control.

To bring things back in order, she goes searching for answers in an enchanted forest and Anna is bent on staying by her side. Last time’s events should have been enough to remind Elsa that Anna can hold her own and even save her in times of need. But the days of not trusting her sister and infantilizing her are still not behind her. The entire party, including the sisters, Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven and snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) get divided into different groups when Elsa ditches them to save Arendelle and to find her true self. Cue a song sequence in which Elsa sings at night in a kingdom of isolation with not a footstep to be seen. Welcome back to Frozen (2013).

Elsa, voiced by Idina Menzel, from left, Anna, voiced by Kristen Bell, Kristoff, voiced by Jonathan Groff and Sven in a scene from Frozen 2.

In between a few death hoaxes and one stunning song (Into The Unknown) and one that will make 1991 Bryan Adams proud (Lost In The Woods), the film also makes a case for reparations…? The wronged people of the forest should be given their due for all that they suffered for decades and it falls on Elsa and Anna to make a tough decision for the good of their kingdom. What could have been a powerful opportunity to draw parallels with contemporary realities and teach a lesson or two in sacrifice and acceptance, was too quickly resolved with not much of a sacrifice. Of course, the real world doesn’t have ice queens to help them out.

The film, even without a strong, beating, motivated heart at its core is still not dull enough to be unwatchable. Josh Gad’s Olaf is once again one of the best things about the film. He still gets the most hilarious lines; his laugh is just as infectious as we remember it; his stupidity is the kind that make you burst into giggles rather than roll your eyes in frustration. In a standout scene, he gives a hilarious recap of the events of the original and it’s the most exciting and impressive piece of writing in the whole film. As a sad cherry on the cake, Olaf looks forward to adulthood and how he will be wiser when he grows up — a sly dig at all the grown-ups in theatre, realising how wrong he is about it all. It’ll stab at your heart when he realises none of it was true and frankly, he has one of the best character arcs in the film. Can’t believe I just said that about an anthropomorphic pile of snow.

Anna, voiced by Kristen Bell, and Olaf, voiced by Josh Gad, in a scene from Frozen 2.

Frozen II, however, falls short on the musical front, something that made the original Disney so memorable. Each song was catchy, crisp and brilliant in the first film. However, with the sequel, dig my brain as hard as I might, I can’t remember a single line of lyrics from more than one song. Idina Menzel knocks it out of the park once again with the powerful Into The Unknown, and the haunting chorus is still ringing in my ear, hours later. And karaoke lovers beware, this one will be tougher than its predecessor to sing.

But one catchy song is too less, one great snowman too little a reward for those who have waited six years for this. Maybe now that we have realised it was not really worth it, can we finally let it go?

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Terminator Dark Fate movie review: Dear Arnold Schwarzenegger, it’s time to say hasta la vista to this franchise

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Terminator: Dark Fate
Director – Tim Miller
Cast – Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna

Breakneck, blasé, and browner than usual, Terminator: Dark Fate is a prime example of sneaky Hollywood self-plagiarism. But in all fairness, a rehash was promised, and that is exactly what has been presented.

Two trump cards, however, add a necessary dash of freshness to this largely stale sequel, which erases the events of three films and a television series, in an attempt to restore the failing franchise to its former glory. The performances of Linda Hamilton (returning as Sarah Connor for the first time since 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day), and Arnold Schwarzenegger (who never really left), serve as soulful anchors in director Tim Miller’s emotionally disengaged film.

Watch the Terminator: Dark Fate trailer here 

The year is 2020, and two naked cyborgs with duelling missions have dropped out of the sky in Mexico City. Their target is a young woman named Dani. While a female cyborg played by Mackenzie Davis has been assigned the Kyle Reese role as a protector to Dani, a formidable new Terminator model, the Rev-9, engages them in an unending chase. Aside from the significantly increased presence of Hispanic characters, the plot of Terminator: Dark Fate is essentially an inelegant Frankenstein’s monster, fashioned out of the elements that made the first two films in the series such classics.

For all his faults as a filmmaker, James Cameron’s screenplays are a lot like the Terminators — streamlined and without an ounce of fat to slow them down. Dark Fate, despite Cameron’s creative inputs — he returns as producer after having vocally endorsed and rejected previous films — has a lot of unnecessary weight. It relies too heavily on large-scale action set pieces to truly let the intimacy of its story sink in.

The Biblical themes of the first two films have mostly been discarded, although a new Messiah is in need of protection. But Miller does a fine job of co-opting Cameron’s muscular directing style, his machine-like obsession with efficiency, and the idea of motherhood.

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Linda Hamilton, left, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator: Dark Fate.

Another of the movie’s highlights is Arnie’s return, which, slightly disappointingly, arrives well past the halfway mark. Visibly older now, he talks about how, after having completed the mission he was programmed to carry out, he went about finding a purpose in life. I can’t possibly discuss the details of his mission, but the idea of a robot spending decades trying to assimilate into our culture, and developing a conscience, is instantly interesting. The manner in which the film addresses this, however, has the subtlety of a Schwarzenegger punch to the gut.

It’s equally interesting how, over the years, the Terminator franchise despite lukewarm audience reception and poor reviews has shown an almost robotic resilience. The last two films in the series — Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys — were intended as trilogy starters, but their subsequent box office failure put an end to those plans. And although at least one of those films had James Cameron’s blessings, neither had his creative insights.

So the fact that Dark Fate is less inventive than Salvation, which at least transported the story to a post-apocalyptic future, and Genisys, which tapped into themes of privacy and online surveillance rather potently, is monumentally disappointing.

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