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Soni movie review: Netflix’s finest Hindi film, this deserved better. 4 stars

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Soni
Director: Ivan Ayr
Cast: Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Saloni Batra
Rating: 4/5

A young woman, maybe in her early 20s, walks down a deserted street early in the afternoon. A man on a cycle rides perilously close to her, reaching out for her breasts the moment he gets a chance. She pushes him off the bike and they are soon surrounded by Delhi Police personnel. The man is arrested and the woman – a cop in plain clothes – gives herself a mental shake before she goes to stand on yet another road, trying to keep the women safe.

As a reporter who was part of Delhi Police’s drive against eve-teasing – yes, that’s what it was called back in the day when I watched the scene unfold – I have often wondered what that woman must have gone through, thought, felt. Could she have accepted it all as part of her duty, would she have felt violated, would she have wanted to react with her fists?

Watch Soni trailer here:

Soni lashes out, she blows a fuse and doesn’t apologise every time she is faced with sexism and misogyny – whether on the streets of Delhi or inside the ‘safe’ confines of work and home. Like that policewoman from all those years come back to life, Soni (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan) in the eponymous Netflix film is a Sub Inspector who along with her boss Kalpana (Saloni Batra) is keeping the streets safe for women.

Ivan Ayr’s film opens in midst of such an operation targeting crimes against women. Verbally abused by a man, Soni doesn’t read him his rights; she breaks his jaw before her mild-mannered superior can pry her away. She is a repeat offender in a world where men are entitled and women considered lesser despite their achievements. Misogyny in this world is insidious and inherent, social strata notwithstanding.

The film may be named Soni but it is a character study of both women – Soni living in a middle-class colony and her IPS boss who is married to a senior police officer. Once the uniform is off, Kalpana is yet another junior partner in marriage, harangued for not having children despite being in her 30s and told off by her husband for being ‘too soft’ for the police force.

Recommended Read| Thackeray review: This is not a whitewash, it’s a confession

Soni, her anger coming from years of sexist treatment, has her own demons. Estranged from her husband Naveen, she is often counseled by her well-meaning neighbour to make up, for what is a woman without a man? As the lines between her personal and professional life blur and she is attacked at home, Naveen says it has happened because they don’t live together. A lone woman – even one who wears khaki – is an easy target, and needs a man for protection.

The two women forge an unlikely friendship, joined by their passion towards their work. A scene where Soni is ready to give up and Kalpana reaches out to her with author Amrita Pritam’s seminal work Rasidi Ticket is poignant in its handling.

The narrative gives layers to the two women, making them three-dimensional characters who have to face up to societal expectations, demands of the job and tyranny of gender roles. Without any music, the scenes are shot as single-takes and low-key at all times. David Bolen’s camera is discreet as it never intrudes.

Soni doesn’t give any answers, it doesn’t dramatize problems too. It just shows life as it is and is all the more powerful for it. Perhaps one of the most masterful Indian films on Netflix, I am surprised that the OTT giant didn’t give it a better launch. Like the women it champions, Soni deserved better.

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John Wick 3 Parabellum movie review: Keanu Reeves delivers the best action film since Mission Impossible Fallout

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John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Director – Chad Stahelski
Cast – Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Lawrence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Lance Reddick, Ian McShane, Angelica Huston
Rating
– 4.5/5

The only way John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum could’ve been better is if Keanu Reeves had somehow got his hands on one of those ‘desi kattas’ from an Anurag Kashyap movie, and gone and shot the CBFC’s worst ideas in the face. I’m being extreme; a couple of clips in the kneecaps would suffice.

As hyper-stylised Neo-noir action threequels go, it’s damn near a masterpiece – breathtakingly beautiful to look at, mythologically dense, and featuring the best action set pieces since Mission: Impossible – Fallout. And for it to have been desecrated in the manner that it has is positively criminal.

When it is at its most euphorically adventurous, as John Wick is beating a giant man with a hardbound library book, the Indian censor board decides that watching this death in particular – despite the film having shown dozens of other deaths already – is too much for an adult human to handle. And so it arbitrarily slices and dices important scenes, making up its own rules as it goes along, guided by a wonky moral compass.

Watch the John Wick 3: Chapter 3 – Parabellum here

It’s disappointing, to be sure, but this is John Wick we’re talking about – it is said that he once killed three men in a bar with a pencil (a pencil!). He is a man of focus, commitment, and sheer will. He can smash mountains, bury oceans and escape the light. He can do better than a bunch of bored uncles.

Not two weeks have passed since the events of the first film, when that poor fool decided to kill John Wick’s dog and ended up incurring that wrath of his alter ego, the Baba Yaga. In those two weeks, John Wick has taken down literally hundreds of New York’s finest Russian gangsters, gone on an Italian ‘vacation’, and has thumbed his nose at the High Table – the mythical government of sorts in this fictional world of assassins and a$$holes.

This makes him a man on the run, with nowhere to hide and an entire city’s worth of assassins hot on his trail, looking to grab a slice of that $14 million bounty.

Like its two predecessors, it navigates between highbrow cinema and schlocky garbage better than Sebastian Vettel around a race track. At one point John visits a theatre named after the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky; and then there are the requisite nods to spaghetti westerns and Hong Kong gun-fu. It is, however, also a film in which a dog bites a man in the crotch multiple times. And through cinematographer Dan Laustsen’s lens, even the campiest bits look like high art.

It’s fabulously lean, plot wise – John Wick has a target on his back, and he must fight to have it removed. This takes him to Casablanca, where he meets up with an old friend (and possibly flame?) played by the perfectly cast Halle Berry. Keanu Reeves – bless his pure heart – isn’t the best actor in the world (likely even his street), but in just a couple of scenes manages to convey years of history with Sofia, Berry’s character. Their partnership was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film, and I can’t wait for them to team up again in future instalments.

The dense world building that was teased in the first couple of John Wicks is more fleshed out in this one, with the introduction of an even higher power – the Elder, who apparently outranks even the High Table, and is the only one who can grant him forgiveness. If the John Wick series is one giant metaphor for Catholicism (as I fully believe it is) then the Elder is sort of like the Pope. The film’s themes of guilt and penance, sin and salvation certainly suggest so. Although it could just as easily be a film about surviving in a corporate jungle, bound by rules and bureaucracy.

John Wick 3 is a film with many adversaries, but not necessarily a villain – in all honesty, I would contend its biggest nemesis is the CBFC. As per usual, a vast majority of the men who are sent to stop John Wick are merely faceless obstacles that he must slice and shoot his way through. In that regard, the third film is closer to resembling a video game than the previous entries in this unlikely franchise. After every immaculately choreographed fight, John Wick levels up, until he arrives, exhausted but evolved, for the boss battle.

Mark Dacascos stars as the primary antagonist, Zero, whom he plays like a cross between a fanboy and a samurai. The tone of their final showdown wasn’t unlike Grigor Dimitrov challenging his idol Roger Federer at Wimbledon. And despite John Wick 3 being the only Hollywood film to satisfactorily utilise the talents of The Raid’s Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman, in the end even the henchmen that they play are too awestruck by John Wick’s legend.

As one should be, I suppose. At three films old now, director Chad Stahelski is clearly onto something. A part of me wishes for him to branch out, to tell new stories; but a bigger part of me wants him to keep making these movies until glamorising guns like this becomes un-PC.

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Book Review: Men and Dreams: In the Dhauladhar

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Men and Dreams in the Dhauladhar is a wonderfully interwoven story of three people who accidentally meet each other in the Dhauladhar range. The story revolves around a hydroelectric project which has been passed to construct a dam in the same range.

With the most unique plot, the book focuses on how life continues to move on even when it is full of hurdles and full of ups and downs. The story line is incredibly genuine.

The three main characters, whilst Nanda, Khusru and Rekha have been so effortlessly sketched. The character development is Superb. Seldom do readers find a book which satisfies things more than one can ever imagine, and this one is just the epitome of that. With a wide spectrum of themes tracing different aspects of life, this book proves to be a 5 star read.

The plot is something which we don’t encounter frequently. The narration is effortlessly spectacular. The writing style and the flow is really commendable. It just never breaks the ease flow. Overall, it was indeed a great read!

About The Author : Kochery C. Shibu is a retired naval officer. A graduate from the National Defence Academy he has held several important posts in the Indian Navy. Post his retirement he has executed hydroelectric projects in the Cauvery river basin in Karnataka, Beas river basin in Himachal and lately Teesta river basin in Sikkim. He holds a postgraduate degree in Defence Studies from Chennai University, and MA in English Literature from Pune University. Men and Dreams in the Dhauladhar is his debut novel. The technical content of the novel, namely the setting up of a hydro-project is drawn from his experience in these projects since 2005, as are many of the characters inspired from those whom he encountered at the project site. Kochery C. Shibu was born in Kochi and now lives in Bangalore with his wife and daughter.

Buy Men And Dreams In The Dhauladhar From Amazon

Review by : Sudarshan Wagh

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Avengers Endgame movie review: An epic conclusion to Marvel’s Infinity Saga; it’s a triumphant tear-jerker

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Avengers: Endgame
Directors – Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Cast – Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Don Cheadle, Brie Larson, Paul Rudd, Josh Brolin
Rating – 4.5/5

With Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has arrived at its long-awaited ‘conclusion’, offering fans an old-fashioned mix of grand spectacle and undiluted emotion. To say that it is a success would be too simple an observation; what it deserves instead, is a eulogy.

Like a series finale of a television show you’ve loved for years, it crosses all the Ts and dots all the Is – some more neatly than others – and ends not so much with a feeling of rigid resolution, but a sense of freeing possibility. For new doors to open, Marvel seems to be saying, old ones must first be closed. It’s a film that will compel even the Frost Giants in the audience to whoop and weep.

Watch the Avengers: Endgame trailer here

For films like Avengers: Endgame to succeed, piled as they are with unfathomably large expectations, a well-oiled system is required to be in place. There needs to be a discipline in the writing, a crispness to the editing, and a generosity in the performances. True ambition in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, more often than not, is born out of a strict adherence to rules. And there are perhaps no two filmmakers better at working within studio sandboxes than Anthony and Joe Russo – at least not on this unprecedented scale.

Avengers: Endgame is a terrific example of that epic intimacy that Marvel does so well – alternating between glorious action and subtle character moments. Watching it almost feels like taking a wistful walk down memory lane, flanked on either side by a Russo brother, our hands held firmly in theirs. It’s an odd feeling that I can’t quite describe; a mixture of déjà vu and nostalgia, of melancholy and euphoria.

It’s a delicate balance to strike, but not nearly as difficult as having to write a review without revealing potential spoilers, whose definition, it seems, is as subjective as the idea of Iron Man 3’s Mandarin being a good villain.

But there won’t be any spoilers here, at least not beyond what we’ve seen in the trailers. The marketing campaign that Marvel put together for Endgame is a work of art in itself – I can confirm that most of the footage we’ve seen is pre-opening credits stuff. There are, however, parallels to the scientific methods trailer companies employ and the Russos’ keen understanding of blockbuster storytelling. Despite being the longest superhero film in history, and the longest film in the MCU, Avengers: Endgame is paced like Quicksilver on crack cocaine. Not a single moment feels unnecessary, but there are scenes – especially in the first act – that feel slightly rushed.

It’s their own fault, really. Over the years, we’ve come to develop certain expectations from our Marvel movies, as well as a patience for their indulgences. This makes the ‘getting the band back together’ scenes in Endgame rather tedious. We know what needs to happen, so why dilly-dally?

The fatal flaw with Avengers: Infinity War, I feel, was that at no point did the Decimation feel like it would be irreversible. It was a scene – a very good scene – built entirely on shock value that dissipated almost as swiftly as one of ‘the fallen’. And after all, they say that no movie death should be believed unless you see a trickle of blood escaping from the corner of the character’s mouth.

It was a similar situation with Captain America: Civil War. Steve Rogers and Tony Stark’s differences felt more like a momentary tiff than an ideological confrontation; in other words, of course they were going to get back together.

Avengers: Endgame isn’t like that, and that’s what elevates its credibility, and injects unexpected drama to its already weighty themes. There’s a sense of finality to it that feels wholly unprecedented in the MCU. The Russos are probably operating at their most mature here, examining themes of parenthood and patriarchy, loss and legacy – and of power; how it switches forms as it moves from one hand to another (literally). The only way to confront radical terrorism, the film asserts – and Thanos is a radical terrorist, make no mistake about that – is through unity and bravery.

Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark/Iron Man in a still from Avengers: Endgame.

This isn’t to say that Endgame is a dour film – the trailers have certainly sold it that way; like an unholy love child between Back to the Future and The Leftovers. But I was surprised by how funny it was, and when it needed to be, how purely entertaining.

One scene in particular – I won’t say a word more – will extract the same sort of response from audiences’ as Thor’s entry did in Infinity War.

But regardless of what they say, Endgame is very much Infinity War – Part 2, in that it directly addresses the fallout of the Snap. Certain scenes feel like they’ve been there since the earliest drafts of the script, while others genuinely feel like they were added post the release of Infinity War – the Russos have always had a finger on the audiences’ pulse, so it would make sense for them to have done that.

They’re insisting that this is the end, but it’s like Tony choosing pizza over cheeseburgers – we all know that’s never going to happen. The more movies they keep making, the more they’re going to dilute the impact of Endgame, But for fans who’ve been there from day one, it will be the satisfying conclusion they’ve been waiting for, and a love letter to the franchise they adore. The MCU, in this moment, has given us a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Cherish it. Hold it dear. Whatever it takes.

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