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Notebook movie review: Kashmir is the real attraction of Zaheer Iqbal, Pranutan Bahl film

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Notebook
Cast: Zaheer Iqbal, Pranutan Bahl
Director: Nitin Kakkar
Rating: 2.5/5

There are perhaps only a few places on Earth that are as achingly beautiful as Kashmir — the Dal Lake with boats snaking around, conifers calling out to the sky and a history that has blood splattered all over it. Set in the Valley, this is how Notebook begins as well — with the death of an innocent, all seen through the haze of a dream.

Notebook has been directed by Nitin Kakkar.

The film establishes its ambitions early on — it touches upon displacement and death, terror and a generation forced to live under the shadow of guns. However, it is in the execution that it falters; having touched on these important subjects, it rushes off to tie it all neatly into a romance. Notebook is just not the film that can carry it all off; it splutters and the effort becomes obvious.

Zaheer Iqbal’s Kabir Kaul is a displaced Kashmiri Pandit who returns to his roots, and to a school his father once established. A misfit anywhere but in Kashmir – his home, Kabir is a replacement for Pranutan Bahl’s Firdaus who left the post at the school a while back.

His guide and only friend at this school, set in the middle of nowhere, is a diary kept by Firdaus. As he deals with frogs in Sintex water tanks and a handful of apple-cheeked pupils who refuse to warm up to him, Firdaus’ story of finding herself runs parallel to his narrative.

He falls in love with Firdaus without ever meeting her – quite a departure from the millennial love stories Bollywood regularly churns out – only to find out that she is getting married in a few days. The two share hardly a few frames together as the notes exchanged through the diary are their only communication. A fundamentalist father who wants to push his academically brilliant son into militancy is how Kashmir’s political situation is reflected in the film.

The film’s two leads being launched by Salman Khan hardly get any time together; the romance is unremarkable but a gorgeous Kashmir and a gaggle of children are used intelligently by director Nitin Kakkar. After last year’s Laila Majnu, Notebook has again been shot entirely in Kashmir and cinematographer Manoj Kumar Khatoi has ensured every frame is bursting with beauty. The visual portrayal will stay with you long after you forget the sub-par love story.

After Loveyatri and Hero, the best thing we can say about Salman Khan’s latest protege, Zaheer Iqbal is that he is not Aayush Sharma. He may have acquitted himself in a masala movie but the epistolary romance is beyond his ken. Pranutan offers a restrained performance but rough edges do creep in.

Inspired by the Thai film, My Teacher’s Diary, the film begins well but starts slackening in pace. A good idea, it is the execution that falters. The second half especially could have done with some editing and better narrative tools than convenient twists that you can see coming a mile off. Notebook’s music – the soul of any romance that aims to launch newcomers -is its biggest letdown.

It is perhaps the sign of times that you begin by rooting for these lovers who still believe in pure love but want them to get on with it somewhere around interval. Yes, you found the diary. Yes, you have fallen in love. Now, find a computer, send her a Facebook request and meet at a Cafe Coffee Day (CCD) closest to you! Our patience is not what it used to be.

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Article 15 movie review: Ayushmann Khurrana hunts for inconvenient truths in an essential film

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Article 15
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Manoj Pahwa, Kumud Mishra, Sushil Pandey, Sayani Gupta, Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub
Rating: 4.5/5

The posting was a punishment. Ayan Ranjan, newly minted Indian Police Service officer, the tuck of his shirt crisp as a new banknote, readily admits the reason he’s sentenced to the bleak badlands of Uttar Pradesh. Ranjan had agreed with a senior officer without sounding officious enough — he had said “Cool, sir”, a yes-man forgetting his only line — and the perceived insubordination was enough to land him in a world where half the people don’t touch the other half.

Article 15, Anubhav Sinha’s searing film about the indignities endorsed by the caste-system in modern day India, does not play it cool. Inspired by the real-life Badaun killings — and a stirring tribute to Alan Parker’s 1988 procedural thriller Mississippi Burning — this film features policemen hushing up the murder and gangrape of three 15-year-old girls because they belong to a lowered caste. Us, and Them. It is a grim, unrelenting and essential film, one throwing up truths we choose to forget.

“Welcome to Page 7 India,” says Ranjan’s wife, when he calls and texts her, his eyes wide with newly discovered outrage at the plight of the Dalits and the downtrodden in middle India. Reports about these atrocities are relegated to the little-read middle of the paper, far from the front and sport pages. Ayan, a young Brahmin who likes his single malt, and walks around with a holster suavely sticking out from underneath a well-cut blazer, feels as much a stranger to that locale as an Englishman. The policemen below him are keen to make sure he isn’t some young fool out to change the system after watching too many renegade cop movies starring Ajay Devgn. ‘They get transferred,’ grunt old cops in the know, ‘while we get killed.’ Us, and Them.

Written by Gaurav Solanki and Sinha, the film has the stench of honesty. It is hauntingly shot by Ewan Mulligan, who slides through the shadows to zero in on acute specifics: the breakfast prepared before a murder, the everyday banality of a crime scene, and — most unforgettably — a man cleaning a filthy black drain. He cleans our world because we won’t do it ourselves.

As policemen plod through a marsh, Ranjan asks about politics, and the men good-humouredly state why they vote for the Elephant one year and the Cycle the next, and for the parties their mothers told them to always vote for. Rebels use Whatsapp, while cops keep tabs on activism by seeing what messages are being forwarded. The filmmakers cannily use texting to educate the leading man, the messages from his level-headed wife becoming the voice in his head. We do not need a hero, she insists. We just need people to stop waiting for a hero.

Ayushmann Khurrana plays Ranjan with inevitable entitlement. His elitist indignation while barking orders gets things done, but also distances him from the policemen answering to him. In one remarkable scene he matter-of-factly asks the cops about their places — and his own, for he is privileged enough not to know — in the caste hierarchy, and the distinctions between caste-and-Kayastha are maddening. One of them says he is a Jaat, and was ‘normal,’ but has now been granted Other Backward Class status, while Jaats in other states have not. This is illegal. Ranjan asking them their caste, I mean. Not the division, but the pronouncement of it.

Khurrana is spot-on, consistently harrowed and, building on the everyman baggage of his earlier films, immensely relatable. He eschews showiness to stay true to the part, a protagonist who is aware he will be looked on as an upper-caste saviour, aware that it isn’t his role.

Sinha surrounds him with a superb ensemble. Manoj Pahwa is frighteningly good as a higher-caste cop. Berating a junior, he clenches his teeth so hard it feels like he doesn’t trust himself to open his mouth, for fear of biting someone of a lower status. Top performances come also from Sushil Pandey as a lowly policeman who seems like the nicest bloody guy; Kumud Mishra as the son of a sweeper who is now a policeman (yet relentlessly reminded of his background); and Sayani Gupta as sister to one of the missing girls, her gigantic plaintive eyes an indictment of India itself.

The mercurial Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub plays a revolutionary, a rebel who can’t afford to lose hope because he has become a face of it. He gets the film’s most memorable lines, achingly confessing how he has been so romanticised that he is left without romance. With the horrors around, it felt criminal for him to smile at a girl he loves. In the land that allows Us and Them, all pleasure feels guilty.

What do you do when the system is the bad guy? There are no revelations here. We’ve read about such cases, we’ve sighed about these horrors. Article 15 is not a film in search of easy answers. It is instead a reminder that we already know the questions, but don’t ask them enough. Not cool, sir.

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Honor 20i review: Doesn’t make the cut

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Brand: Honor

Product name: Honor 20i

Key specifications: 32-megapixel selfie camera, triple rear cameras, Kirin 710 processor, 4GB RAM, 128GB storage, 3,400mAh battery.

Price: Rs 14,999

Rating: 3/5

Honor 20i is the most affordable smartphone in the company’s latest Honor 20 series. The smartphone borrows the premium design of the Honor 20 and Honor 20 Pro but comes with subtle changes. Honor 20i’s key features include a triple-camera setup, a 32-megapixel selfie camera, big storage and GPU Turbo 2.0 for a better gaming performance.

Looking at the specifications sheet, Honor 20i matches the competition including Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 Pro and Realme 3 Pro. It’s also aggressively priced at Rs 14,999. Honor 20i may look promising but it still needs a lot improvement and is far from being the best mid-range phone.

Design, display

Honor was among the first ones to bring premium design to the budget and mid-range segments. With Xiaomi, Realme and several others following suit, Honor 20i doesn’t really stand out in the crowd. It does have a premium look and feel thanks to the trendy gradient finish colours. Up front, there’s a 6.21-inch Full HD+ display with a U-shaped notch on top. The display quality is just okay on the Honor 20i, and changing the colour tones doesn’t make much of a difference either.

Camera

One of the biggest highlights of Honor 20i is its front-facing camera. At 32-megapixel resolution, it’s among the highest in this category. Honor, however, needs to work on its portrait mode for selfies. Otherwise, selfies come out good with nice colour balance and details. The triple rear cameras seem promising but the results weren’t as expected. Most of the photos I took in daylight didn’t come out detailed. As you zoom into the photos, you see the amount of detail lost. Honor 20i also offers 120-degree lens which is good for landscape photos. If camera is priority then phones like Redmi Note 7 Pro and Realme 3 Pro offer a more comprehensive experience.

Performance

Powered by in-house Kirin 710 processor, Honor 20i felt little slow during my usage. You’d expect phones in this category to be fast enough to handle minor tasks such as flipping through applications. But that’s not the case with Honor 20i. The battery life is pretty good with the Honor 20i running long for around 12 hours. It comes in only one variant with 4GB RAM and 128GB built-in storage.

Verdict

With phones such as Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 Pro and Realme 3 Pro setting the bar really high, Honor 20i just doesn’t make the cut. The selfie camera is good but if that’s only your requirement, Xiaomi’s Redmi Y3 is even better and more affordable.

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Kabir Singh movie review: This Shahid Kapoor film is injurious to health

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Kabir Singh
Director:
Sandeep Vanga
Cast:
Shahid Kapoor, Kiara Advani
Rating:
1.5/5

There are so many shots of cigarette smoking in Kabir Singh I’m surprised they didn’t rope in Akshay Kumar for a supporting role, to keep reminding the film’s leading man to replace cigarettes with sanitary napkins. Substance abuse is, however, the least toxic thing about this misogynistic film. This is a film about a bully, an abuser of women, an alcoholic surgeon, and a foulmouthed hothead — and that’s just the so-called hero.

Director Sandeep Reddy Vanga, remaking his Telugu hit Arjun Reddy, gives us a character who nearly rapes a woman at knife-point, and later pees his pants. Incontinence is not traditionally heroic, therefore I assumed Vanga would make a cautionary tale. Instead, Kabir Singh applauds its pathetic protagonist, and ends up an obnoxious celebration of toxic masculinity.

Shahid Kapoor does well to play Kabir like a hand-grenade who lost his pin hours ago. He’s always seething, even on the football field, and I hoped this film would dissect the performative aggression popularised in children by sporting icons like Virat Kohli, (complete with repeated use of that unimaginative swearword that makes the curser appear like he’s invoking Ben Stokes), but no such luck. Kabir mouths off to the dean, proprietorially stakes his claim on a girl he stares at, and bullies anyone in his path as he moves her into the boys’ hostel.

It’s a shame, because there’s some sharpness here. Kabir’s riposte to the dean is scathing but smart — “You’re the dean of the college, just an employee doing his job. I’m a student of this college, and this is my college” — a fine line showing the character’s need to wear entitlement with pride. The film looks slick, and is smartly shot by Santhana Krishnan Ravichandran, who captures obvious places in intriguing ways, like stairways and, in one memorable shot, a two-man fight on a single mattress. These good bits are overlooked, however, when Kabir slaps the heroine, saying “Who knows you in college? Your identity is that you’re my girl.” Ugh. And this monstrosity is three hours long.

At some point, Kabir loses ‘his’ girl — played simperingly by Kiara Advani, who it’s hard not to feel sorry for — but Vanga continues to project him as hero, turning him into a ‘genius’ surgeon who operates only when drunk. Later, when confessing this during a medical negligence hearing, he does so with wounded nobility, like a man who thinks the Oath doctors take means they must act Hypocritical.

Kabir gets more repulsive by the scene, but other characters thinking he’s wrong doesn’t help when the creators don’t agree. A cautionary tale can’t end with the villain getting what he wants, while Kabir Singh rewards his sins with a happy freeze-frame. The best lines come from the boy’s grandmother, played by Kamini Kaushal, who wisely says, “Suffering is very personal. Let him suffer.” If only.

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