Gullak Season 4: An engaging slice of life series that makes for good weekend watch

The conflict points of the 4th Season doesn’t quite hit the high notes of the previous one but still there is enough to joy

Starcast: Jameel Khan, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Vaibhav Raj Gupta, Harsh Mayar, Sunita Rajwar and others
Director and writer: Shreyansh Pandey
Additional writer: Vidit Tripathi
Production Company: The Viral Fever Media Labs
Genre: Comedy/drama
Streaming site: Sonyliv

The production house of The Viral Fever (TVF) has made a strong place in the streaming space. They have produced quality shows like the three seasons of Panchayat, Kota Factory and Gullak etc. Producer Arunabh Kumar has backed stories that have resonated with audiences of different age groups. The first three seasons of Gullak were hugely appreciated for how it depicted a typical middle-class family with their quirks and eccentricities. For those who haven’t seen the first three seasons the story revolves around the family of Mishras headed by Santosh Mishra (Jameel Khan) and the wife Shanti (Geetanjali Kulkarni).

Gullak web series has always had a format of a new problem in every episode, this time this time too the story is peppered with new conflicts of different nature. This time the focus is on adolescence and the challenges faced by Santosh Mishra and Shanti. This aspect is covered through the younger son Aman (Harsh Mayar). His equation with the elder brother Annu (Vaibhav Raj Gupta) has undergone a significant change too, there are no longer the inalienable siblings. There is also the nosy neighbor played by Sunita Rajwar who lands up in the house of Mishras on odd occasions.

A strong aspect of this season is the depiction of adolescence along with the challenges faced by the parents in trying to find a way on how to deal with the growing defiance of their off spring. The situations are portrayed in a lighter vein but at the same time the proceedings never get frivolous.

Director Shreyash Pandey does a wonderful job in showcasing the perspective of both Aman and the parents without getting into a judgmental mode. The banter between the siblings and their dynamics is a major highlight of season 4.

The scenes of affection between Santosh and Shanti are also wonderful to watch. The love is portrayed through just a few words and glances, but it still makes a huge impact.

Sunita Rajwar as the troublesome neighbor continues to bring the house down with her antics. This time though the character goes beyond just fun, there is also an impactful transition scene in the final episode.

The voiceover by Shivankit Singh Parihar is also filled with comic punches that leaves you in splits. His voice over at important junctures adds a lot to the fun quotient. Much like the previous season this time to the storytelling is crisp, but on occasions the conflict points seem rather hurried as well. The show could have benefited with more flesh in writing.

Fortunetly the universe of Gullak has been expanded with the addition of a love story. Helly Shah as a possible love interest of Aman though underutilized has a charming screen presence and their scenes are quite cute. Here’s hoping that the romantic angle is developed more in the coming seasons.

Actors Jammel Khan, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Vaibhav Raj Gupta and Harsh Mayar succeesfully take off from the previous seasons. They are all brilliant in their respective parts. Gullak Season 4 is a must watch who enjoy slice of life dramas.

Panchayat Season 3: A joyous return to the village of Phulera

Director Deepak Kumar Mishra does a wonderful job in mixing humor with emotions. The rural politics add a new dimension to the show

Starcast: Jitendra Kumar, Neena Gupta, Raghubir Yadav, Faisal Malik, Chandan Roy and others
Director: Deepak Kumar Mishra
Writer: Chandan Kumar
Producer: Arunab Kumar
Production Company: The Viral Fever
Music: Anurag Saikia
No of episodes: 8
Streaming site: Amazon Prime

For those who haven’t seen the two seasons of Panchayat the plot is about a young man Abhishek Tripati (Jitendra Kumar). Abhishek takes up the position of a panchayat secretary for lack of better options. In the first two seasons the viewers saw Abhishek getting himself acclimatized to the ways of a remote district situated in Ballia (Utter Pradesh). He forms a bond with the locals particularly the ones played by Raghubir Yadav, Neena Gupta, Faisal Malik and Chandan Roy.

Season 3 begins with Abhishek back in the city. At the end of the second season, he was axed from his job. A new secretary comes to the village to take his place but in a sudden twist of events Abhishek gets reinstated. His friendship with the village head /Pradhan Manju Devi (Neena Gupta) and the husband (Raghubir Yadav) has reached a strong level. There is also the pronounced romance between him and Pradhan’s daughter Rinky (Sanvika). Sure, there is no confession but for viewers it is apparent that they have grown fond of each other. Faisal Malik’s Prahalad is the depressed father who is still grappling with the death of his son. Chandan Roy’s Vikas is juggling between multiple duties job, married life and also being a pillar of support for Prahalad. Things take a turn when the arch army of Pradhan Bhushan (Durgesh Kumar) and co plan to settle old scores with the help of a local MLA. This leads to a major upheaval in the village ahead of the Panchayat elections, Abhishek finds himself in a tangle, he is sandwiched between village politics and aspirations of a higher job.

A strong aspect of Panchayat Season 3 is the director’s integration of the grassroot politics. There is a palpable intensity in the political rivalry that reflects the current times. Director Deepak Kumar Mishra deserves an appreciation for how he has dwelled into village politics and corruption at the grassroot level while maintaining the humor.

The love angle between Abhishek and Rinky is also fun to watch. On certain occasions she is the one who takes the lead. The light scenes between them work as a perfect contrast to the intense politics playing out. Sanvikaa does well in her limited role.

Neena Gupta’s character has come a long way, she has finally come out of her husband’s shadow. in this season Manju Devi participates actively in the council meetings and also voices her opinions without any fear showing a refreshingly different side. But just like the second season this time too the show could have done with more of Neena Gupta.

Apart from the political aspect the director also deserves appreciation for how he has dealt with the themes of mental health, loneliness, financial independence etc. through multiple characters. Both Chandan Roy and Faisal Malik continue to be an important pillar for the show. The character arcs of both is another plus. Jitender Kumar is good as always particularly in the moments of intensity.

Although gripping for most part some of the writing could have been better. For example, the role of MLA’s daughter doesn’t serve much purpose. Also, you have a person who joins a strike out of blue with hardly any build up.

These small niggles aside Panchayat Season 3 is a good follow up to the first two seasons particularly for those who like village-based stories.

Murder in Mahim: A gripping drama that explores homophobia in depth

Throughout the series, Raj Acharya sheds light on the challenges facing the LGBTQIA+ community and how societal acceptance still lags.
Murder in Mahim, 12-05-2024, Crime drama/Thriller, 8 Episodes, 16+, OTT
  • Main Cast: Ashutosh Rana, Vijay Raaz, Shivani Raghuvanshi, Rajesh Khattar
  • Director: Raj Acharya
  • Producer: Tipping Point Films, Jigsaw Pictures Productions
  • Music Director: Not known
  • Cinematography: Not known
  • Rating: 3.5/5
  • Published in: Southfirst

Undoubtedly, as a culture, we have made significant progress in our understanding of homosexuality, but there is still a considerable distance to traverse.

While the removal of Article 377 was undoubtedly a significant victory, there is still a great deal of societal discrimination.

Based on Jerry Pinto’s novel of the same name, Murder In Mahim, focuses on a spat of murders, targeting young boys from the LGBTQIA+ community.

These murders send shock waves through the locality of Mahim, and the police team led by Shivajirao Jende (Vijay Raaz) has a huge task.

Synopsis

In his quest to find the criminal, Shivajirao finds support from a long-lost friend. This friend is Peter Fernandes (Ashutosh Rana).

Peter Fernandes is a retired crime journalist and shares a troubled history with Jende’s father.

As the inquiry continues, Peter struggles with conflicting emotions over his son’s sexual orientation.

Peter believes his son is homosexual.

Analysis

Shivani Raghuvanshi plays Firadus Rabbani, a member of Shivajirao’s force. She is a closeted homosexual herself.

The plot of the story alternates between a murder mystery and a social critique of homophobia as it goes along.

A strong aspect of Murder In Mahim is the father and son dynamics, whether it is the one between Peter and his son Sunil, or Shivajirao with his father.

The diametrically different views of Fernandes and his son regarding homosexuality give the show, some of its best moments.

Because of the resentment in Shivajirao’s connection with his father, he feels uneasy all the time.

They both have a distinct temperament. In certain situations, Shivajirao treats his son more like a father would.

A stellar cast

Murder In Mahim also does a good job of revealing society’s murky side.

For instance, the Mumbai local station has a sombre restroom that is meant to be a place of safety for this community; yet, instead of providing comfort, this increases worries about how acceptable they are in society.

The character of Shivani Raghuvanshi is another highlight of the show.

Firdaus Rabbani has been in a secret relationship with a girl for a long time. She finds it difficult to reveal her relationship to the public.

Performances

The filmmaker has done a good job of highlighting the inner struggle that coexists with her professional responsibilities but some pointless digressions cause the audiences to twitch.

Murder in Mahim is a compelling series that not only keeps you interested in learning who the murderer is but also features some powerful dialogues about acceptance.

A case in point is the subplot of a knife, which belongs to a character who has nothing to do with the murders. The middle episodes do suffer from convoluted plotting, though.

Regarding performances, Ashutosh Rana and Vijay Raaz are seasoned performers who don’t require an introduction.

They both deliver strong performances and fully embody their respective roles.

Furthermore, Shivani Raghuvanshi contributes significantly to her ability to compete with Vijay Raaz.

Verdict

Murder in Mahim is definitely for those who enjoy whodunits and have empathy for the LGBTQIA+ community.

(Views expressed here are personal)

Undekhi Season 3: Watch it for the performances and the visuals

Despite its flaws, ‘Undekhi Season 3’ has some strong performances and interesting twists that make it worth watching.
Undekhi: Season 3 (Hindi), 11-05-2024, Crime drama/Thriller, 8 Episodes, 18+, OTT
  • Main Cast: Surya Sharma, Harsh Chhaya, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Ankur Rathee, Shivangi Shah, Varun Badola
  • Director: Ashish R Shukla
  • Producer: Applause Entertainment, Banijay Asia and Edgestorm Ventures
  • Music Director: Anuj Danait
  • Cinematography: Murzy Pagdiwala
  • Rating: 3/5

For those who missed the first two seasons of Undekhi, the murder of a young girl, who loved dancing was at the center of the show’s premise, which was based on a true story.

A dancer was shot and killed after turning down an influential man’s advances during a marriage.

Considering how well-connected the family patriarch is, nobody speaks forward to reveal the truth.

Intermingled with this story was the track of the DSP in search of a tribal girl.

Previous seasons

It was widely appreciated that the first two seasons of Undekhi exposed how easily corruption sneaks into our society and how powerful and wealthy people can get away with crimes by abusing their power.

The series equally addressed women’s difficulties, especially underprivileged ones, by using the character of a runaway tribal girl.

The performances of the actors; Harsh Chhaya and Surya Sharma as the utterly despicable father and son Jodi also worked wonders.

There are definite expectations for the third season for fans of socially conscious crime series.

There are a little too many new characters and subplots in the third season. However, there are some excellent moments in the show.

Synopsis

The third season begins with the reopening of the dancer’s death case. DCP Ghosh (Dibyendu Bhattacharya) has found an important video. He is hopeful about getting justice for the deceased girl, along with putting an end to the crimes of the Atwal family headed by Papaji (Harsh Chhaya) and Rinku (Surya Sharma).

On the other hand, Rinku is hell-bent on reviving the illegal drug business. He, along with the cronies, is searching big time for Samrat (Nandish Singh Sandu) to take revenge.

Papaji’s younger son Daman (Ankur Rathee) and daughter-in-law Teji (Aanchal Singh) are searching for a buyer for the resort at the same time, intending to move there. The plot takes numerous unexpected turns as it goes along, with certain secrets coming to light.

An aspect that works strongly for Undekhi Season 3 is the characterization of Rinku.

Unlike the previous seasons, the viewers see an emotional side of Rinku beneath the toughness.

This comes out well in the husband and wife-related scenes. Surya Sharma’s scenes with Muskaan (Shivanghi Singh) bring out a delicate side, that is refreshing to watch.

A scene depicting Muskaan’s death during her pregnancy follows. It’s heartwarming to see Rinku remember the good times he had with her before breaking down.

Engaging moments

The face-off between Rinku and DCP Ghosh also gives the show some of its best moments. The banter between them and the constant tussle keep the viewers engaged.

Dibyendu Bhattacharya adds a lot of colour to the show with his quirky one-liners.

He does a wonderful job of showcasing the determination of a man who wants to bring justice.

Harsh Chhaya as Papaji continues to ace his role. He takes off from the first two seasons without any hiccups. Yes; the antics are repetitive, but the swag with which he plays, is remarkable.

The juxtaposition of Manali’s scenic beauty with the darkness of the character’s deeds also enhances the atmosphere.

Cinematographer Murzy Pagdiwala does a first-rate job of capturing this distinction through the lens of his camera.

Undekhi Season 3 comes with twists that catch the viewers unaware.

The best example of this is a key revelation about Rinku’s actual father.

Despite Rinku being a horrible person, it is hard to not feel for him emotionally.

Verdict

One big problem with Undekhi Season 3 is some of the underdeveloped characters.

Key characters from the previous seasons, Ankur Rathee and Aanchal Singh, have been largely wasted.

In a similar vein, there are times when it gets hard for the audience to follow the plot.

Lesser subplots would have contributed to making the show more cohesive.

Undekhi Season 3 has its problems, but there is enough intrigue that will hold your attention.

Lootere: Jai Mehta makes a respectable debut in this thriller with elements of action and drama

Despite the pacing issues, good performances and the atmospherics make this action-on-the-high-seas web show worth a watch.
Lootere (Hindi), 22-03-2024, Action-Drama, 8 Episodes, 16+, OTT
  • Main Cast: Vivek Gombler, Deepak Tijori, Rajat Kapoor, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Aamir Ali, and Amruta Khanvillkar
  • Director: Jai Mehta
  • Producer: Vishal Chaturvedi and Ruchira Janwalikar
  • Music Director: Achint Thakkar
  • Cinematography: Jall Cowasji
  • Rating: 3/5
  • Published in: Southfirst

Hansal Mehta is a filmmaker who has created a strong niche for himself with content-oriented stories both on the big screen and also the digital space.

Though he has never been part of the big commercial directors club, his name comes with a certain credibility.

Jai Mehta, son of Hansal Mehta, has a big reputation to live to. His maiden attempt at direction — Lootere web series — is noteworthy.

Sure, certain aspects need to be tighter. For instance, the Somalian backdrop could have done with more depth. But still, Jai shows his capability in how he draws some fine performances and also builds up the tension.

Synopsis

Aamir Ali in ‘Lootere’. (X)

The central plot of Lootere is a ship that is hijacked by a group of Somalian pirates.

AK Singh (Rajat Kapoor) is the captain of the ship. He has a tough task in keeping the crew united given the rising tensions among the crew.

Running parallel to this is the track of a businessman played by Vivek Gomber. His character, Vikrant Gandhi, deals in shipping companies.

Vikrant has a secret consignment in that captured ship and he tries to manipulate a big crisis in such a way that it would help him.

What follows is a roller coaster of a journey with various layers and subplots.

A visual feast

Lootere begins on a high and the screenplay starts as fast-paced. But some of the episodes feel drawn out.

Also, the scenes of Vikrant with his wife Avi (Amruta Khanvilkar) could have been fleshed out better.

Jai Mehta along with the writers could have explored the reasons behind Somalia’s very volatile environment with better depth.

However, a stand-out aspect of Lootere is the stunning cinematography. The visuals of the high seas and the action inside the ship make the viewers feel that they are also part of the action.

Additionally, the dusty bylanes of Somalia have a gritty feel.

Cinematographer Jall Coswaji deserves distinction marks for a job very well done.

Boasts brilliant performances

Vivek Gomber in ‘Lootere’. (X)

Much like the protagonists in Scam 1992 and Scam 2003 — both created by Hansal Mehta (he was also the director of the first one), here too, the show features an unlikely hero.

Vikrant Gandhi is someone who is filled with unlimited greed for power and his actions fuel the narrative.

Yes, it is hard to empathise with him, given his actions are the root cause for a lot of destruction that happens. But having said that, he does have a redemption arc too, and Vivek Gomber does a wonderful job of portraying the different shades.

The Somalian Pirates have also been crafted in a detailed manner. Each of them has a specific personality trait that makes them stand out.

A particular mention must be made of Martial Batchamen. His character, Bharkad, has been written with nuances.

He is not a template pirate leader. He is fighting his own battles while managing the group. Martial Batchamen is in excellent form.

The scenes of AK Singh trying his best to keep the spirits of the crew high while maintaining his own give the show some of its best moments.

Verdict

Watch Lootere if you are a fan of thrillers that have the subject of high jacking or if you are curious to check how Hansal Mehta’s son fares as a director.

Heeramandi: A riveting spectacle that sheds light on a significant chapter of India’s freedom struggle through the lens of tawaifs

The dense plot with many characters and backstories takes time to get used to. But the series is a must-watch for its grandness and impactful storytelling
Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar (Hindi), 01-05-2024, Period Drama, 8 episodes A, OTT
  • Main Cast: Manisha Koirala, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditi Rao Hydari, Richa Chaddha, Sanjeeda Sheikh, Sharmin Segal, Farida Jalal, Fardeen Khan, Taha Shah, Adhyayan Suman, and Shekhar Suman
  • Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
  • Producer: Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Prerna Singh
  • Music Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
  • Cinematography: Sudeep Chatterjee, Mahesh Limaye, Huenstang Mohapatra, and Ragul Dharuman
  • Rating: 4/5
  • Published in: Southfirst

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s empathy for sex workers or the fallen woman is a separate genre in itself. He presents them not only in a larger-than-life manner but also makes them take a stand for an important cause.

Much before Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022) happened, there were Devadas (2002) and Saawariya (2007) that had Madhuri Dixit Nene and Rani Mukherjee respectively playing sex workers in the respective movies.

In both movies, there is a visible sensitivity in the way he writes these women.

Gangubai Kathiawadi, based on a heart-touching real-life story, further highlighted Bhansali’s empathetic approach. In the film, he combined the elements of grandeur and masala storytelling while making some important points.

In his digital debut, Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar, Sanjay Leela Bhansali has once again touched upon women in the sex trade with a strong undercurrent of socio-political aspects.

Synopsis

Manisha Koiralain ‘Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar’. (X)

The story of Heeramandi is set at the peak of India’s freedom struggle.

Mallikajaan (a ferocious Manisha Koirala) is the reigning queen of a powerful palatial house in pre-independent Lahore. She is surrounded by an army of gorgeous women like the elder daughter Biboo (a radiant Aditi Rao Hydari) and Lajjo (Richa Chaddha).

Lajjo is a daughter-like figure to Mallikajaan. She was sold to her at an early age.

Mallikajaan’s younger sister is Waheeda (Sanjeeda Shaikh).

There is also Alamzeb, Bhansali’s niece Sharmin Segal, who plays the second daughter of Mallikajaan. Alamzeb has no interest in following her mother’s footsteps and instead wants to become a poetess.

Mallikajaan’s hold over the area takes a severe beating with the arrival of Fareedan (Sonakshi Sinha in a career-defining performance). Fareedan is hell-bent on taking revenge, she has a history with Mallikajaan and has qualities which are similar to the latter.

As the plot progresses, the internal strife and politics of the brothel along with the freedom struggle run by side eventually leads to the trio of women playing an important part in India’s freedom struggle.

Inspiring execution by Bhansali

Richa Chaddha and Sanjay Leela Bhansali. (X)

The beginning episodes of Heeramandi can be difficult to follow with the multiple plots.

For example, the double role of Sonakshi and why Fareedan is hell-bent on bringing down the pride of Mallikajaan and the anguish of Waheeda who feels let down by Mallikajaan. However, once the story settles down the proceedings keep you thoroughly intrigued.

The way Fareedan takes on Mallikajaan and the scenes of them trying to outdo each other are a delight to watch. They both come across as equals with all guns blazing.

There is a generational trauma that begins with the death of an important person that cannot be revealed here.

One of my favourite scenes in the web show is the portion where Mallikajaan praises Fareedan by saying that neither Biboo nor Alamzeb has inherited her qualities.

Heeramandi also has a wonderful love story in the form of Alamzeb and Tajdar (Taha Shah Badussha). Tajdar is Oxford-educated and dashingly handsome. He is the rebel son, while the father is a Nawab who is completely pro-establishment.

The father doesn’t approve of neither Tajdar’s love nor his being a part of the revolution.

Tajdar does not know that Alamzeb is the daughter of Mallikajaan for a long time. There is a playfulness in their romance that brings a smile to the viewer’s face.

Similarly, the audience also feels sad when their love story does not have a happy ending.

A scene that needs to be talked about here is when Tajdar dies in the police cell on the night when he is dressed up as a groom. The father leaks the information to the British officer as he is dead against having a tawaif’s offspring as a daughter-in-law.

The torturous death of Tajdar is a perfect example of state-supported custodian violence.

Makes an impact

Sharmin Segal in ‘Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar’. (X)

Through Heeramandi, Sanjay Leela Bhansali has also touched upon how it was not just the British who followed the divide-and-rule policy. Some Indians were also busy fighting among themselves for supremacy and vested interests.

This comes out through the juxtaposition of brothel politics and India’s freedom struggle.

The songs composed by Bhansali also strike a chord. A song that deserves a particular mention is “Azadi“, which plays out in the final episode.

The tawaifs march towards a prison wall at night with a swelling background score. The police try to stop them but this group of determined women do not give up and start hitting back.

Unlike the hugely polarising Jauhar sequence in Padmavaat (2018), this has much more of an emotional impact because it does not come across as a fashion parade.

The weak-hearted would have a tough time holding back their tears, it is impossible to not root for them and applaud their bravery.

In spite of their wealth and social standing, the Nawabs backed away from the fight against the British. These women, on the other hand, decided to fight back and not give in.

The styling and the taking of some shots look like a replica of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s previous movies. For instance, the crowded lanes. But this is not a major deterrent.

Manisha Koirala & Sonakshi Sinha stand out

Sonakshi Sinha in a working still. (X)

Heeramandi has a sprawling cast but the ones who stand out are Manisha Koirala and Sonakshi Sinha.

Cast against type, both the actors sink their teeth into the respective roles and pass out with flying colours.

Manisha plays the mercurial patriarch with absolute glee. She does a first-rate job portraying both the negative shades and the deep inner agony.

Sonakshi Sinha matches step by step proving that she is highly underrated. She plays the firebrand devil with complete abandon,

Sonakshi has a commanding screen presence and it is difficult to move your eyes away when she is on screen.

Aditi Rao Hydari and Sanjeeda Sheikh also make their presence amply felt.

Richa Chaddha is fiery in the short but impactful role of a heartbroken woman.

Sharmin Segal is successful in portraying the innocence of a young girl but could have done better in some of the emotional scenes, nevertheless, the actor shares a wonderful chemistry with Taha.

Among men, Taha Shah makes the strongest impact. He does a swell job of showing the internal struggle of a young man torn between love and responsibility.

Special mention must be made of Farida Jalal, who makes for an adorable grandmother. The scenes between her and Taha also make for a good watch.

Verdict

Through Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar, Sanjay Leela Bhansali has made an impactful debut in the digital format. The web series is a must-watch for those who like Bhansali’s mode of storytelling.

It is streaming on Netflix.

Dil Dosti Dilemma: A breezy coming of age drama that makes for a good watch

Director Debbie Rao does a fine job of exploring the clash between societal expectations and personal identity.
Dil Dosti Dilemma (Hindi), 25-04-2024, Drama,7 episodes U/A, OTT
  • Main Cast: Anushka Sen, Tanvi Azmi, and Shishir Sharma
  • Director: Debbie Rao
  • Producer: Seema Mohapatra
  • Music Director: Sid Paul
  • Cinematography: Deep Metkar
  • Rating: 3.5/5
  • Published in: Southfirst

Teenage is generally a period of huge upheaval in many ways. It is a period of confounding emotions, self-doubt, and so much more.

Dil Dosti Dilemma, directed by Debbie Rao, focuses on this turbulent period through the lives of three teenagers.

For those who are not aware, this web show is based on the book “Asmara’s Summer” written by Andaleeb Wajid.

The web show is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Synopsis

Anushka Sen’s Asmara is a privileged young girl who borders on being insensitive.

In the initial episodes, she comes across as a brat much like her other two friends — Naina (Revathi Pillai) and Tanisha (Elisha Mayor).

These three live in a very extravagant part of Bengaluru. They love shopping and spend as much money as they want without any care in the world.

Asmara is also a fashionista. She is excited about her Canada trip but a blunder results in her being sent to the grandparents’ (played by Tanvi Azmi and Shishir Sharma) house.

There is a huge difference between the place Asmara’s parents live and that of the grandparents.

Ashamed to say that she is living in a middle-class locality, Asmara cooks up a story to her friends about going to Canada. She also comes with a unique plan of making her friends believe this.

The rest of the story focuses on how Asmara makes new friends, finds love, and plays a key role in the Tibbri locality not getting destroyed in the name of redevelopment.

Relationships portrayed well

‘Dil Dosti Dilemma’ is streaming on Amazon Prime Video. (X)

An aspect that works strongly for Dil Dosti Dilemma is the characterisation of the three friends and how Debbie Rao explores the complexities of teenage friendship.

For example, Naina is desperate to get social validation. Tania struggles to cope with her parents drifting away and having possible extramarital affairs. Asmara, on the other hand, is ashamed to talk about her grandparents as they do not live in a high-class locality, unlike her parents.

The three have a WhatsApp group called “Awesome Threesome” for sharing things. However, there are certain secrets which they hide from each other for fear of judgment.

The web show also dwells on the topic of classism and the rich-poor divide with sensitivity.

The dynamics between Asmara and her grandparents give the show some of its best moments.

It does take a while for Asmara to adjust to her grandmother’s ways and vice versa. This gradual progression is filled with lovely moments.

There are scenes where the grandmother learns from Asmara how to deal with certain situations. The chemistry between Tanvi Azmi and Anushka Sen adds a lot of entertainment to the storyline.

The portrayal of the relationships — be it Asmara’s growing bond with the grandparents, a new friendship with Ruksana, and her love with Farzaan — have come out well.

A couple of subplots needed better etching though. For instance, a track related to Naina’s brother.

Also, the falling marriage of Tanisha’s parents and her using an intern at her father’s office to find out whether the mother is having an extramarital affair or not does hamper the proceedings at places.

Anushka Sen is the show-stealer

Team ‘Dil Dosti Dilemma’. (X)

The performances across the board, led by Anushka Sen, are top-notch.

Anushka’s Asmara is someone who starts as an annoying rich brat whose attitude towards the middle class borders on being intolerable.

But as the plot progresses, the character goes through many changes and the actor does a splendid in capturing the various nuances. She holds her ground firmly even in the scenes with the more experienced Tanvi Azmi.

Tanvi Azmi and Shishir Sharma, as the grandparents, are wonderful to watch. They play their parts with a lot of warmth. A particular mention must be made of the few romantic scenes between Tanvi and Shishir Sharma.

Kush Jotwani, as Farzaan, has a good presence and is charming as the young man whose life takes a different turn after the entry of Asmara.

Final take

Dil Dosti Dilemma is a story of self-discovery and is worth watching if you like teenage dramas and are in the mood for something light.

My Dear Donga: A breezy rom-com with a lovable thief

The USP of ‘My Dear Donga’ is how love blossoms between the robber and a young woman stuck in an unhappy relationship.
My Dear Donga (Telugu), 19-04-2024, Romantic-Comedy,1 hour 43 minutes, U/A OTT
  • Main Cast: Abhinav Gomatam, Shalini Kondepudi, Nikhil Gajula, and Divya Sripada
  • Director: BS Sarwagna Kumar
  • Producer: Maheshwar Reddy Gojala
  • Music Director: Ajay Arasada
  • Cinematography: SS Manoj
  • Rating: 3/5
  • Published in: Southfirst

Light-hearted rom-coms with some fun always make for a good stress buster. My Dear Donga, directed by BS Sarwagna Kumar, fits perfectly in this category.

The storyline of My Dear Donga is paper thin but Shalini Kondepudi, who has written the story and acted, ensures there is some good situational humour in the movie.

The subject of My Dear Donga focuses on new-age relationships and the small things, which matter in the long run.

Synopsis

Sujatha (Shalini Kandepudi) has been in a relationship for over two years with Vishal (Nikhil Gajula).

Vishal is a doctor who lies to his girlfriend about being in an ICU when he is actually watching a cricket match with his friends. Apart from this, he also occasionally ignores her with some excuse.

Things reach a crescendo when Sujatha learns that there is no ICU in the workplace of Vishal. She catches him red-handed handed watching a cricket match with a friend.

Naturally, Sujatha is devastated and reaches home broken mentally.

A robber named Suresh (Abhinav Gomatam) is already in her house and picks up a few valuables. Initially, she is shocked but soon, Sujatha and Suresh start conversing with each other as they have some commonalities in terms of family backgrounds, they hate their respective fathers.

Things get more complicated with the arrival of Vishal and her two friends. They visit Sujatha’s house to celebrate her birthday, and Sujatha introduces Suresh as her childhood friend.

The rest of the story is about how the birthday party goes and how she develops feelings towards Suresh.

Explores today’s relationships

Team ‘My Dear Donga’. (X)

A strong aspect of My Dear Donga is its crisp running time. At one hour and 43 minutes, the movie never feels dragged out.

Director BS Sarwagna quickly establishes the thorny relationship of Sujatha and Vishal.

Here, it has to be said that Sujatha is telling her story to a bartender who listens to her with complete attention. His reaction shots coupled with the conversations between them raise many chuckles.

How Sujatha develops feelings towards Suresh and the blossoming of love has been etched well.

A good example of this is when Suresh takes Sujatha & Co out, giving a huge surprise by celebrating her birthday with cake.

The situational humour involving Abhinav Gomatam also has some fun moments.

Special mention must be of the scenes where Divya Sripada’s character questions Abhinav Gomatam’s Suresh about where he and Sujatha met and which school they studied in.

As mentioned above, My Dear Donga focuses on the small things that matter in a relationship. Arranging surprise party poppers, washing the plates, and spending more time with the girl you love may appear trivial. But sometimes, these very same things give big happiness. This aspect has come out strongly.

Technical crafts

Ajay Arasada’s music could have been more soulful, but still, the tunes go with the movie’s flow. The title song “My Dear Donga” has been well-tuned.

There isn’t much scope for cinematography here given the setting but still, the film looks good visually.

Apart from relatively weak music, the reasons for Abhinav Gomatam’s Suresh becoming a burglar does not make much logical sense.

Also, we are never shown whether the mother comes to know about her son being a robber or not.

In the initial portion of the movie, we hear her voice. But after the family backgrounds are discussed, there is no mention of her.

Abhinav and Shalini excel

Abhinav Gomatam and Shalini Kandepudi do most of the heavy lifting.

Abhinav Gomatam’s ability to generate humour is of course well known. Here too, the actor does not disappoint. He plays the loveable thief with a lot of charm.

Apart from the comic scenes Abhinav also proves his versatility in the portions where Suresh gives wisdom.

As the story progresses, Shalini Kondepudi brings in both the required innocence and the strong-headed nature.

The rest of the actors do as required.

Final take

My Dear Donga makes for a good weekend watch in the family. Some moments in the film will definitely connect to this generation.

It is streaming on AHA.

Amar Singh Chamkila: Imtiaz Ali returns back with a bang

After a series of love stories, Imtiaz Ali takes a welcome detour and delivers a hard-hitting film that goes beyond a biographical drama.
Amar Singh Chamkila (Hindi), 12-04-2024, Biological Drama, 2 hours 26 minutes, U/A, OTT
  • Main Cast: Diljit Dosanjh, Parineeti Chopra, Apinderdeep Singh, Nisha Bano, and Anjum Batra
  • Director: Imtiaz Ali
  • Producer: Imtiaz Ali and Mohit Choudary
  • Music Director: AR Rahman
  • Cinematography: Sylvester Fonseca
  • Rating: 4/5
  • Published in: Southfirst

Imtiaz Ali is a director who is known primarily for making love stories and he has found good success in that genre except for Jab Harry Met Sejal (2017)and Love Aaj Kal (2020).

But one of Imtiaz Ali’s best works to date remains Highway (2014). The director focused his lens on the issue of sexual abuse with the backdrop of Stockholm syndrome.

The film was a major breakthrough for the now national award winner Alia Bhatt. It is also one of Randeep Hooda’s best works.

In the last few years, Imtiaz hasn’t had the best run at the box, both critically and commercially.

Tamasha (2015) did moderate business but Jab Harry Met Sejal along with Love Aaj Kal 2 were damp squibs in more ways than one.

Finally, Imtiaz Ali has broken his dry run with the movie Amar Singh Chamkila.

Synopsis

Amar Singh Chamkila begins with the assassination of the controversial Punjab Pop Singer played by Diljit Dosanjh and his wife Amrajot Kaur (Parineeti Chopra).

Imtiaz Ali’s ‘Amar Singh Chamkila’. (X)

The husband and wife were a popular duo who had sung many songs.

From here the movie goes into non-linear storytelling that talks about the formative years of Chamkila which had a huge influence on his music, and how he goes from a Dalit laborer to a singer who is both admired and criticized in equal measure for the brazen lyrics that are sexual in nature.

At times Amar Singh Chamkila also plays out like a whodunit giving an insight into the groups who had a big issue with how Chamkila didn’t adhere to the social diktats.

One of the things that majorly works for Amar Singh Chamkila is the characterization of the titular role. Diljit Dosanjh’s character is not a rebel by design.

There are scenes in the second half when Chamkila tries to move away from his regular songs and tried devotional, but the audiences want Chamkila to sing what he is famous for.

Chamkila is not someone who is dismissive of what is happening around him, but at the same time he is a man who chooses not to be bullied into submission.

In that way Chamkila’s character proves to be a worthy successor to the previous Imtiaz Ali protagonists whose intent was to live more freely and in the process discover their purpose in life.

Many pertinent questions

In the two hours and 26 minutes running time Imtiaz packs in many themes.

For example who gets to decide what an actual art is? Should an artist endure a lifetime of hate and humiliation for choices that are driven by circumstances? And finally how there is a huge difference between criticizing an art versus wanting to ban something that does not align with our tastes.

Parineeti Chopra in ‘Amar Singh Chamkila’. (X)

There are many powerful moments in Amar Singh Chamkila that stay in the viewers’ minds for a long time.

For example, a journalist comes to meet Chamkila and insists on having a personal interview. Chamkila is reluctant to the extent that he won’t even look into her eyes, the reason being this journalist has worn pants.

This portion works as a hard-hitting statement on how a singer has no issues in writing songs describing women’s sexuality in a raw manner but at the same time, modern clothing is a big problem for this man.

Amar Singh Chamkila also boasts of some hard-hitting dialogues. There is a scene where Chamkila talks about how everyone isn’t blessed with the privilege of thinking about what is right and wrong.

He goes on to add that he certainly is not in that position and makes music to just feel alive.

The film also has some archival footage showing the real Amar Singh Chamkila and the wife Amrajot Kaur, this is juxtaposed with the scenes of Diljit and Parineeti.

Sure this technique becomes distracting on occasions but still the raw footage makes it easier for the audiences to understand why the real Chamkila was considered as a threat by the purists.

Technical aspects

AR Rahman’s music coupled with Irshad Kamil’s lyrics is the backbone of Amar Singh Chamkila. Mohit Chauhan’s “Baaja” sets the tone perfectly capturing the spirit of Chamkila. “Tu Kya Jaane” is another wonderful number celebrating the love between the husband and wife.

The camerawork by Sylvester Fonseca is also first-rate. The cameraman deserves distinction marks for bringing alive the 1970’s and 80’s of Punjab. A particular mention must be made of the scenes where the village girls talk straight to the camera with some hilarious punchlines.

Imtiaz Ali also deserves credit for how he has depicted the impact of insurgency, both for Punjab and Chamkila’s professional life.

Performances

Diljit Dosanj in ‘Amar Singh Chamkila’. (X)

Diljit Dosanjh delivers a rousing performance in the title role. It goes without saying that Diljit’s histrionics is a major asset of the movie.

The actor portrays the vulnerability and the fighting spirit of Chamkila in a stellar manner.

Among the supporting cast, Anjum Batra, as the first musician who collaborated with Chamkila stands out the most.

Parineeti Chopra has her moments like the love ballad “Tu Kya Jaane” where she does a wonderful job in showcasing a love-struck woman but the role of Amarjot needed to be etched better and also deserved a stronger actor.

A film could also have done with a deeper dive into interpersonal relationships. The track of Chamkila’s first marriage before settling with Amarjot also feels patchy.

Verdict

Keeping aside these small niggles Amar Singh Chamkila is a glorious return to form for Imtiaz Ali. Diljit Dosanjh shows why he deserves to play the male lead in Hindi Cinema more often.

Inspector Rishi : A gripping whodunit that also makes strong points on how superstitious beliefs are used to create chaos

Notwithstanding the tacky CGI and some convoluted plot points, director JS Nandhini keeps the audience engrossed for the most part.
Inspector Rishi (Tamil) web series; 29-03-2024, Horror-Crime Drama, 10 Episodes, 16+, OTT
  • Main Cast: Naveen Chandra, Sunaina Yella, Srikrishna Dayal, Kanna Ravi, Malini Jeevarathnam, Kumaravel, and Harini Sundararajan
  • Director: JS Nandhini
  • Producer: JS Nandhini and Shukdev Lahiri
  • Music Director: Ashwath
  • Cinematography: Bargav Sridhar
  • Rating: 3.5/5
  • Published in: Southfirst

JS Nandhini’s Inspector Rishi begins with a group of tribes committing mass suicide inside a cave in the Thenakadu Forest near Coimbatore. The reason behind their suicide is a huge mystery and has not been cracked.

Cut forward to 20 years, a series of bizarre murders happen inside the Thenakadu Forest.

Inspector Rishi Nandan (Naveen Chandra) investigates the case. He comes with a lot of emotional baggage.

Joining him in the investigation are local cops Kathryn (Sunaina), Ayyanar (Khanna Ravi), Chitra (Malini Jeevarathnam), and forest ranger Sathya (Srikrishna Dayal).

The locals believe that there are supernatural elements behind these killings. They consider a demigod called Vanaratchasi as the saviour of the forest.

Rishi, on the other hand, firmly believes that all these things are due to a human being with vengeance in mind.

In a nutshell, Inspector Rishi is about unravelling the mystery behind the murders with some impactful social commentary.

Analysis

Srikrishna Dayal plays Sathya Nambeesan in ‘Inspector Rishi’. (X)

The best part of Inspector Rishi is how director JS Nandhini has developed the interpersonal relationships between the characters.

As mentioned earlier, Rishi comes with a huge emotional baggage and is haunted by the death of his ex-girlfriend and has visions of her.

Rishi is also partially blind and as viewers, you are curious to know more about his past and what led to him losing an eye.

Similarly, there is also a homosexual love track featuring Chitra. Thankfully, this track has dealt with the required sensitivity without resorting to clichés.

A special mention must be made of a scene regarding the Vanaratchasi. Villagers talk about how gods like her suffered on account of their sexuality.

Chitra puts herself in the shoes of Vanaratchasi.

The professional and personal challenges of the various officers have been well integrated making the viewers care for them.

A gripping series

Ashwath scored the music for ‘Inspector Rishi’. (X)

Every episode ends on a gripping cliffhanger making the viewers more tense about who is causing this mayhem. Is human greed the reason behind all of this or something bigger?

Thankfully, Director JS Nandhini successfully ties up the knots.

The supernatural elements have also been showcased well, barring a few tackily staged special effects.

The horror comes from the brilliant background score which does not resort to the typical horror clichés.

JS Nandhini also deserves credit for how she has tackled the subplot of superstitious beliefs. There is some impactful social commentary on how superstitions can play with the minds of the most rational people and the chaos it creates.

The show also makes some important points on how human greed can destroy the environment and the need for eco-preservation.

Inspector Rishi also has folklore elements like the Gayatri and Puskhar-created web show Suzhal-The Vortex. The folk aspect makes the show even more gripping.

Coming to the flaws, the CGI is very tacky, to say the least. The show could have easily done away with the few CGI scenes.

Also, some of the descriptions and plot points feel a bit convoluted.

Final take

The performances led by Naveen Chandra and Malini Jeevarathnam are top-notch. Inspector Rishi is a must-watch for those who like whodunits with a dash of folklore.

It is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.