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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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The Secret Of The Palamu Fort: An Interesting take on valor with a good mixture of mythology and mystery!

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Book Title: The Secret Of The Palamu Fort
Author: Razi
Format:
Paperback

About the Book
Someone has risen from the dead and is haunting the sinister ruins of the Palamu Fort, situated in the mystical land of Jharkhand.

A few hundred kilometers from the fort, in the capital city Ranchi, a History Professor of St. Xavier’s college is murdered at his home. The witnesses claim he was killed by a ghost!

The police is clueless. Inspector Patrick Minj ropes in Detective Robin Horo, who unearths a clue which indicates that the murder has a bloody trail running as far as 350 years in the history of Jharkhand. A poisonous conspiracy was plotted centuries ago in the Kingdom of Palamu that designed the downfall of an empire and forced the king to hide his legacy in the unforgiving and indifferent womb of time.

The ghost is leaving behind a trail of dead bodies and to solve the case Robin has nothing but an Artifact that is said to have an ancient curse over it and a centuries old riddle that if solved, could lead to an Elixir.

Witness the conspiracy unfolding that spans 350 years in the making and takes Robin and his companions on a labyrinthine adventure involving deadly secrets, dangerous threats and a lethal encounter with a beast in the jungles of Palamu.

Review

The Secret Of The Palamu Fort is a thriller with a twist of Ghost. The story is set up in the city of Ranchi, with Robin, the protagonist who is also a detective who is capable of solving every case. This is the mystery of a “ghost” who is killing people in order to protect “treasure” of King of Palamu. This ghost is rumored to be Satyabhama, the right hand of the king. There are unsolved murders before Rabin takes up the case. Will he be able to solve them?

With a book title which is interesting and mysterious, with a defining cover image of an abstract art of a warrior at a war scene, story is a good read without any drawbacks.

With a great mysterious plot-line, many subplots in the main story and a sequence of mystery elements, this book has well scripted characters that makes the narration an engaging one. An easy language with good vocabulary is observed in the story which makes a reader to pick up the book and read it to satiate the mystery hunger.

Book Review by Swapna Peri

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Judgementall Hai Kya movie review: Kangana Ranaut dazzles in a film about mind games

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Judgementall Hai Kya Director – Prakash Kovelamudi
Cast – Rajkummar Rao, Kangana Ranaut, Jimmy Sheirgill, Amyra Dastur
Rating – 4/5

We first see her upside down but also right side up. When we meet Kangana Ranaut in Judgementall Hai Kya, we see her feet, mid-air and upside-down. They happen to be surrounded by framed pictures of Ranaut in outlandish, overdone costumes: as Pamela Anderson in the red Baywatch swimsuit, or wearing Angelina Jolie’s distinctive Maleficent horns. She’s doing yoga, a headstand against a wall-ful of photos she regularly gets taken, then photoshopped — much like Govinda used to put up pictures as a cop and a lawyer in Raja Babu.

Ranaut plays Bobby Grewal Batliwala in Judgementall Hai Kya, a half-Punjabi half-Parsi girl who grew up with the trauma of her parents death, and has since taken to folding paper boats and birds out of bad news, or, more specifically, the grisliest newspaper reports about domestic violence. She’s an impassioned dubbing artist who gets pictures taken imagining herself in roles she’s only voiced for local markets. While she is “comfortable” volunteering to spend months in a psychiatric facility, she doesn’t like her medication. This girl plays carrom with her Zoloft.

Bobby, as you may have gathered, is quite a character. The audience gets to know her alongside the childhood scarring she faced and is given a gradual awareness of her mental fragility, or else we would conveniently have called her ‘quirky.’ Later in Judgementall Hai Kya, a theatre director, ignorant of all her past and labels, marvels at her pluck: to him she’s simply a manic pixie dream girl. It makes me wonder if Bobby needed to be freer of our judgement, or, conversely, whether most manic-pixie heroines need medication.

Judgementall Hai Kya, directed by Prakash Kovelamudi and written by Kanika Dhillon, looks like a slick, snappy comedy but there is so much more to this smart, significant satire. This is a film about gaslighting, the relentless psychological manipulation intended to discredit people in order to nullify their version of events. It is about insensitively and eagerly labelling a condition instead of offering empathy. It is about trying to ‘handle,’ not help.

The treatment is delicious. Daniel B George, composer for Sriram Raghavan films like Johnny Gaddaar, keeps the vibe groovy, accentuating the changing moods while playfully misleading the audience. During a police investigation, his background score unmistakably borrows from Ray Manzarek’s keyboard solo from Riders On The Storm — a song with killers, roads, brains and toads, about fatal hitchhikers who may in fact be illusions. Nothing in this layered film is by accident.

If it were, cinematographer Pankaj Kumar would ensure the accidents look bloody good. There is a glorious shot of people painted orange and bleeding black I won’t soon forget, and Kumar, one of the finest directors of photography working today (Haider, Ship Of Theseus, Tumbbad) has wonkier and more subversive fun with this film as he plays up Bobby’s oversaturated world, and tinkers with frame-rate and contrast to depict her (and possibly our) mental states.

Judgementall Hai Kya wears the clothes of a murder-thriller. Nosy Dadar landlady Bobby develops a fixation on her tenant, convinced he’s out to commit a crime. Things take a fearful turn and Bobby is devastated: was she right all along, has she willed the situation to happen, or was she so desperate to prove her fixation that she took things into her own hands? Her tenant, Keshav, fibs about eating meat and smoking, but how can that damn him? As he plaintively reminds the policemen, everybody lies.

Rajkummar Rao plays Keshav with a placid smugness while the camera — taking on Bobby’s female-gaze — takes turns objectifying him and stepping away. He’s a calm man of few words, but the gifted actor makes dryness appear nasty. He gets under the skin, or maybe that’s what we are meant to feel, since he’s certainly captured Bobby’s imagination. Being brusque is no crime, of course — but then again, neither is Photoshop.

The narrative twists and coincidences are ambitious, and Kovelamudi weaves them together deftly, working the film both as thriller and allegory as the pace only intensifies. Judgementall Hai Kya has a lot to say, and not only via smart lines, though those are pointedly sharp. We’re informed Bobby suffers from acute psychosis, and later, when she’s seeing visions, one of her hallucinations calls another one ‘cute.’

Decidedly less cute is the sight of a cockroach. Ranaut spots one all over the place, dousing her house in pesticide and flinging slippers to squash it — this slipper hits a smiling Rao instead. As she loses grip on life to focus on a cockroach nobody else seems to see, it starts functioning as a symptom of her growing psychosis. Alternatively, though, could this tingling of her cockroach-sense signal an urgent itch she can’t scratch but she needs to?

Bobby believes this, as she calls bewildered policemen to tell them where she last saw the insect. The way Ranaut’s eyes gleam as she talks about the cockroach… this actress really is extraordinary. This is a finely acted film, with superb performances from Amrita Puri, Satish Kaushik and Jimmy Sheirgill, not to mention Rao, but it rests entirely on Ranaut’s shoulders and she delivers both vitality and credibility. Bobby may be over the top but hers is a sharply subtle performance, and Ranaut — not least because of the battles of perception she faces off-screen — is ideal for the part.

At rehearsals for a newfangled production of the Ramayana (one where Dhillon cleverly takes on a wordy, self-referential cameo) Bobby stubbornly refuses to participate in a trust exercise. This is not a character who will trust — at least not on command.

Judgementall Hai Kya loses whizz in the final stretch, trying hard to keep audiences guessing even when the climax is apparent, and the makers could instead have concentrated on subtext. The investigative epiphanies, also, feel too simplistic compared to the messaging of the narrative and the film’s overall intelligence. I remain smitten, for instance, by the way they used the 1972 song Duniya Mein Logon Ko with such double-edged lyrical precision.

Watch this film. As evidenced by a man Bobby sees carrying homilies on placards on a street corner, Judgementall Hai Kya knows the difference between accepting and determining something. It is a film about malicious misdirection, and the validity of our narratives — especially those labelled incorrect. It’s okay to jump at a cockroach even if you’re the only one who sees it. From the right angle, a bug is a feature.

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Jhootha Kahin Ka movie review: Rishi Kapoor is wasted in a flat farce

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Jhootha Kahin Ka
Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Sunny Singh, Omkar Kapoor, Jimmy Shergill
Director: Smeep Kang
Rating:1/5

In the 90s, David Dhawan made atrocious comedies about the most inappropriate subjects. For instance, if I remember correctly, Dhawan made three different films about a man having to juggle two wives, with fidelity being the gag — I say three, there may well have been more. Yet even this bawdy premise was rendered mostly innocuous thanks to preposterously un-salacious leading men like Govinda and gifted actors like Anil Kapoor, making the film play out like a tasteless joke. A tasteless but often funny joke.

Watch the trailer for Jhootha Kahin Ka:

Jhootha Kahin Ka, directed by Smeep Kang, is the opposite of those films. True to its title, the film is about several men basing their lives on abject lies, but while the subject matter — a comedy of convoluted errors — isn’t shameful, the treatment and the performances feel somehow dirty. When a man repeatedly snarls at his wife, accusing her of having affairs and declaring that his daughter can’t be his own, it shows a meanness of spirit that does not belong in comedy.


Equally out of place in a comedy are actors like Omkar Kapoor, ostensibly this film’s leading man — a young fellow given to far too much ham (who, ironically enough, was a child actor in some of those David Dhawan comedies). The film is about Kapoor’s character, Varun, lying to a girl, her parents and his father in order to get married under false pretences, while his friend, Karan (Sunny Singh) lies to a girl, her parents and his brother in order to get married under false pretences. The lies double up and while there could have been some hijinks in this situation of crossed-wires, the all-out chaos here involves lesser confusion for the characters than for the writers and, eventually, the few of us viewing this film.

Rishi Kapoor stars as Varun’s father, a retired policeman who lies about the amount of land he owns, and while the veteran appears to have visibly refused to read the bad-acting memo, he can’t do much with the numbskulls around him. Still, the actor pretends this is a real movie, conjuring up little moments like humming songs from Padosan sternly, as if scolding himself to remember the lyrics, with an eye on the house next door.

There are a few good performers — the always-entertaining Jimmy Sheirgill shows up in an orange kurta-pyjama meant to stand in for a prison jumpsuit, Lilette Dubey stays graceful in a thanklessly written role full of double entendres, and it’s grand to see Rakesh Bedi find some laughs — but the old guard doesn’t have enough room to save this show.

Singh plays Karan relatively straight, in refreshing contrast to Kapoor who rushes through too many expressions, but the boys are given vacuous heroines with no discernible personalities, and the film’s mounting chaos is never sufficiently clever, interesting or even twisted beyond predictability. This is a film in which a girl teaches French using oversized alarm clocks and pineapples, a film where a father sings a peppy song about the looseness of his son’s character, but, most of all, this is a film where nothing seems to matter.

Comedy, as those Dhawan farces underlined, requires consequence — or at least the appearance of consequence. Govinda would bend over backwards desperately spinning a web of convoluted lies because getting caught would ruin everything. These young men, meanwhile, full of a millennial all-will-be-well entitlement, pile on their lies with unthinking nonchalance, never bothered about where the lies will lead or a way out of them. As a result, there is never any tension, there are no stakes, and the only laughs are unscripted.

Call this a comedy? Now there’s a damned lie.

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