Yakshini: A not so satisfying blend of fantasy, thrills, and romance

The performances of Vedhika and Ajay save the series from being a complete washout

Starcast: Vedhika, Ajay, Rahul Vijay, Manchu Lakshmi and others

Director: Teja Marni

Producers: Shobu Yarlagadda and Prasad Devineni

Production house: Arka Media Works

Music director: Priyadarshan Balasubramaniam

Cinematography: Jagadeesh Cheekati

No of episodes: 6

Streaming site: Disney+Hotstar

On paper Yakshini directed by Teja Marni has an interesting storyline which could have made for a good concoction of fantasy, thrills and romance but the not so impressive direction coupled with some lackluster CGI make it a tedious watch for most part.

Maya (Vedhika) is a Yakshini/Nymph who has been cursed by Kubera the king of Yakshinis in the mythical land of Alkapuri. Maya falls in love with Mahakal (Ajay). Mahakal deceives her by pretending to be in deep love with her for a particular purpose. Soon the reality of Mahakal comes out leaving Maya heartbroken. Maya is denied re entry into Alkapuri by Kubera. Upon pleading Kubera puts a condition saying that Maya can come back to Alkapuri after killing 100 bramhacharis. She kills 99 but things get complicated as she falls in genuine love with an innocent bachelor Krishna (Rahul Vijay). There is also another Nymph called Jwala Mukhi (Manchu Lakshmi). Jwalamukhi has her own personal agenda against Maya while pretending to be a friend. The rest of the story moves along multiple lines. Mahakal’s enmity with Maya and how he desperately wants to make her his slave, whether Krishna come to know about Maya’s plan and is Maya is able to return to Alkapuri etc

One of the very few redeeming features of Yakshini are the performances of Vedhika and Ajay. As the beautiful and dangerous Maya Vedhika delivers a compelling performance. She is suitably sensuous when required but also makes a big impact in the portions where the character takes a ferocious turn. In the few emotional bits, she effectively conveys the vulnerability of the role. Ajay as the antagonist is effective in bringing the required menace making the viewers hate him. The dynamics between Mahakal and Maya are far more interesting than the tepid love story between Maya and Krishna.

A major problem with the web series Yakshini is the poor handling of the love story. The romance feels mostly labored, adding to the annoyance further is the family of Krishna. This track makes the show look more like a tv serial and less of a web series. Lakshmi Manchu’s Jwala Mukhi begins with promise but beyond a point it doesn’t add much.

The back story of Maya and the Yakshini clan is also severely underdeveloped. More time needed to be spent on that. The VFX and the cinematography isn’t bad but compared to the Baahubali movies the quality is definitely a big letdown. The less said about the music the better.

Yakshini is a very much avoidable even for those who are hardcore fans of fantasy shows.

Chandu Champion: This true story of grit and determination takes the viewers on a roller coaster of emotions

This Kabir Khan directorial begins off hazily but soon finds its grove. Kartik Aryan delivers a knockout performance putting his blood and soul. He doesn’t miss a single beat
  • Starcast: Kartik Aryan, Vijay Raaz, Bhuvan Arora, Rajpal Yadav, Yashpal Sharma, Shreyas Talpade and others
  • Director and writer: Kabir Khan
  • Additional writers: Sumit Arora and Sudipto Sarkar
  • Producers: Sajid Nadiadwala and Kabir Khan
  • Music: Pritam
  • Production Companies: Naiadwala Grandson Entertainment and Kabir Khan Films
  • Cinematography: Sudeep Chatterjee
  • Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes
  • Genre: Biographical drama

There was a period in Hindi cinema when the on-screen portrayal of disabled/ differently enabled people used to be all about the Bechara syndrome. They were often portrayed as objects of pity or to evoke comedy. But this depiction has undergone a significant change in the recent past. Case in point being Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black featuring Rani Mukherjee. In this movie Rani Mukherjee played a visually impaired girl Michelle based on Helen Keller’s life. Michelle is never reduced to a stock caricature, there is a strong determination to prove herself. In Guzaarish Hrithik Roshan played a popular magician Ethan who suffers paralysis and turns into a radio jockey. Although Guzaarish is a grim story that focuses on Euthanasia/ mercy killing yet it is also a tale of resilience. The scenes of Ethan as a Radio jockey and how he spreads hope through his wit are in particular were compelling.

This year you have had the biopic of the visually impaired businessman Srikant Bolla starring Rajkummar Rao. In this movie director Tushar Hiranandani made some scathing remarks on how some people think that the best way to help the blind is only through making them cross the road. Now you have Kabir Khan’s Chandu Champion based on an incredible true story of Muralikant Petkar. India’s first paralympic gold specialist.

The movie begins in the present with an older Muralikant Petkar (An outstanding Kartik Aryan). He is narrating his tale of glorious days to a bunch of cops. From his younger days itself Murali had a huge dream of winning an Olympic gold medal for India inspired by KD Jadhav an Olympic medalist. He openly says that his dream is to win an Olympic gold medal only to get ridiculed and bullied by his fellow classmates. At one point Murali also runs away from his village. He joins the Indian army and finds a strong ally in the form of Karnail Singh (Bhuvan Arora) who gives Murali hope that he can become the next Milkha. Vijay Raaz plays Tiger Ali. He is a coach cum father-like figure who trains Murali for the boxing championship. He reaches the finals but only ends up with a silver medal leading to a strained relationship with the coach. In the life altering 1965 Kashmir war Murali faces many wounds in the process of trying to save his colleagues. Murali ends up in a prolonged coma becoming paralyzed waist down. At one point he even tries to commit suicide by having excess pills, but destiny has other plans for him. The rest of the story is about how Petekar manages to overcome all the odds fulfilling his dream of winning gold along with why he is narrating his life story to a bunch of policemen.

There is no denying that Chandu Champion has a hazy start. The scenes of Murali in the military camp has a distinct hangover of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. The humor at places is also reminiscent of that however the movie finds its grip soon. The scenes of Murali preparing for the boxing championship and how he pummels down his opponents only to lose in the finals has been brilliantly written and enacted. The Pre interval block of the 1965 war and the life altering event sets a solid base for the second half.

The second half becomes even more engaging. The portions of Murali’s despair touches a strong emotional chord. As viewers you root for him to succeed in life. The return of Tiger Ali and the way he motivates Murali to dream big again is wonderful to watch. This time the sport is swimming with the aim of winning gold in the 1972 Summer Paralympics. But here again the path is far from easy as the sports committee is not too keen on funding a player for the Paralympics event. The way Murali overcomes all these challenges and sets a world record by clinching the gold medal in 37.33 seconds is exhilarating to watch.

An aspect of Chandu Champion that elevates the movie from just a template underdog drama is the message that it conveys regarding disability and differently abled people. There is a powerful monologue where Murali talks about how differently abled are not looking for sympathy. It critiques the Bechara syndrome and how sometimes even their best efforts are not given due recognition.

Chandu Champion is also technically strong. Sudeep Chatterjee’s cinematography coupled with Juluis Packam’s background score elevates the movie’s emotional core further. The cinematography of the boxing and the paralympic sequences in particular deserve a special mention.

Pritam’s music is not of the blockbuster type but the songs Tu Hai Champion and Sarphira make a strong impact.

Coming to the man of the moment Kartik delivers a career defining performance. His physical transformation is of course beyond commendable but beyond the physicality the actor also shines bright in the scenes of showing helplessness, frustration, resilience and grit. He more than holds his own opposite the veteran Vijay Raaz. The hunger to be taken seriously as an actor is very much visible. Even as an older man he is pretty good.

Vijay Raaz as the coach has an interesting arc and is not just used for comic relief. He brings in a lot of emotional depth. His emotional moments with Kartik Aryan give the movie some of its best moments. Bhuvan Arora also makes a strong impact in his limited screen time. The camaraderie between him and Kartik is very much on point.

Shreyas Talpade as the funny cop and Sonali Kulkarni as a journalist could have been used better though.

Chandu Champion is an inspiring story that needs to be watched on the big screen. Muralikant Petkar, Kabir Khan and Kartik Aryan take a bow.

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.

A rundown of the best political films made in Bollywood

An overview into how Hindi Cinema used to make good political films that had coherence and didn’t pander to the ruling party

The state of the recent political movies in Bollywood cuts a very sorry figure. Movies like the Accidental Prime Minister and PM Narendra Modi are woeful products in more ways than one. Yes they are incoherently staged both in terms of acting and storytelling, but apart from these aspects the movies have been used as tools for negative political propaganda. In the case of The Accidental Prime Minister it was clearly made to malign the former Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh along with the entire Congress party. PM Narendra Modi on the other hand was meant to absolve Modi from all crimes and put him on a pedestal.

On the other hand both Kashmir Files and the Kerala Story are hugely islamophobic in nature. There is no denying the sufferings of the Kashmiri pundits but director Vivek Agnihotri presented a rather one sided pictures with all the Hindus being sufferers and Muslims being monsters. The Kerala Story on the other hand hugely exaggerated story of Hindu women being radicalized by the ISIS. Much like Kashmir Files here too you won’t find any positive Muslim character. This hate against Muslims represents the attitude of the BJP government. The success of both these movies is a byproduct of the times we live in.

Then there are the likes of Uri: The Surgical Strike, Tejas and this year’s Fighter. Uri: The Surgical strike was a highly dramatized account of Indian army retaliating to the URI Attacks. The movie was clearly meant to establish that the surgical strike had taken place in real. Not surprisingly the BJP party used the movie as a tool of propaganda particularly the dialogue “How’s the josh”. Hrithik Roshan’s Fighter was on the other hand was inspired by the Balakot strike. The climax of Fighter is straight out of a single screen universe with patriotic dialogues and ample dose of jingoism.

This year the team of The Kerala Story returned with Bastar: The Naxal Story which made a mockery of the Naxal movement, it didn’t find audiences even with those who like propaganda movies. Article 370 on the other hand directed by Aditya Suhas Jambhale did fairly well primarily due to the performances of the two leading ladies Yami Gautam and Priya Mani. However the characterizations of the Kashmiri locals which include the politicians was highly laughable. The director made it look like only Prime Minister Modi and BJP are concerned about the welfare of Kashmiri population.

Not surprisingly Narendra Modi mentioned about the movie urging the viewers to watch it a few before the movie’s release. Even you look at Kashmir Files the party workers played a significant role in promoting the movie. But it has to be said that political movies in Bollywood has not always been like this and following is an overview into some of the well crafted political ones.

Rang De Basanti directed by Rakesh Om Prakash Mehra was about the corruption in the defense department that leads to the death of a pilot played by R Madhavan. The movie did not shy away from showing the deep rooted corruption and the cynical attitude of the youth who believe that no good change can come.

What also added to the impact of Rang De Basanti was the way it intertwined the sacrifices made by our revolutionaries Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad among others and today’s youth who think thoughts of revolution and sacrificing for the country is an outdated thought. The gradual change in the protagonists played by Aamir Khan, Siddarth, Kunal Kapoor, Sharman Joshi etc was wonderfully written and directed.

Prakash Jha is someone who is well known for directing movies that have an undercurrent of socio political aspects. For example his 2010 film Rajneeti was modeled on the epic Mahabharata while looking at the dark underbelly of the political scenario in our country. Through the huge ensemble of actors Director Prakash Jha cooked a gripping cocktail of complex relationships, an uncontrollable lust for power and rivalry of the siblings among other things.

A major highlight of Rajneeti was the strong characterizations of all the actors.  For example Ranbir Kapoor’s character Samar starts off as a young man leading a quiet life in the US. But getting sucked into the family politics brings out the monster in him. There is a hugely poignant scene towards the end where Samar decides that he has had enough and politics is not for him. Apart from the strong characterizations Rajneeti also had some powerful scenes showcasing the political circus that takes place when candidates meet ordinary people.

Aarakshan on the other hand directed by the same man took up with the burning topic of reservation, special benefits being given to people belonging to a particular caste. There are some powerful scenes in Aarakshan particularly the first half which depicts the class and caste conflict. Case in point being Pratik Babbar and Saif Ali Khan’s characters expressing their contrasting views about reservation, Pratik’s Sushant is a typical rich brat who thinks that Dalits should not be given any special privileges and are afraid of working hard.

Tamil Director S. Shankar is well known for making movies featuring vigilante protagonists. Through his protagonists the director has covered issues that are important to the common man. S. Shankar’s Nayak: The Real hero is the remake of his own Tamil movie Mudhalvan.  Unlike the vigilante protagonists of his previous movies who have an inbuilt social consciousness Anil Kapoor’s Shivaji Rao Gaekwad is more of a reluctant hero who wants to lead to peaceful life. Shivaji starts off as a cameraman in a popular television channel; from there he eventually becomes a reporter. One day his life takes a dramatic turn while interviewing the chief Minister of Maharashtra, Shivaji questions the chief minister on certain things like choosing to not control a violent riot that causes a lot of damage. In a very filmy turn of events Shivaji ends up being the Chief Minister of Maharashtra for a day and does a lot of good,  eventually he replaces Amrish Puri’s Balraj Chauhan.

Of course there is nothing subtle in the way Shankar goes about depicting the issues plaguing the society. Every point feels hammered in but at the same time there is no denying the relevancy of what Shankar addresses. There are scenes in the movie that mirror the real life corruption that we read about everyday from grassroot to national level. Through the character of Amrish Puri director Shankar also explored the harmful affects of vote bank politics and appeasing a certain community to just win the elections.

Nayak: The Hero is a movie that has aged well. Sure it was not a hit movie at the time of its release but over the years it has made a certain place in the viewer’s hearts.

Anurag Kashyap’s  Gulaal is also a noteworthy political movie. The plot of Gulaal is set in Rajasthan focusing on the community of the former royalty who want to restore both the Rajputana province and the kingship.

The central protagonist of this tale is Dilip Singh (Raj Singh Chaudhary), Dilip Singh starts off as an unconfident guy but soon gets involved in local politics after the death of his roommate cum friend Rananjay Singh (Abhimanyu Singh). Rananjay Singh was contesting in college elections, a local commander Dukey Bana (Kay Kay Menon) insists Dilip to contest in place of his slain roommate and he makes sure that Dilip does win on the behalf of the Rajputana party. Running side by side are multiple subplots.

Anurag Kashyap’s depiction of student politics and the violence is hard to stomach; nevertheless the movie makes a strong impact. Gulaal also works as a critique of some movements that talk about how a particular community or a region is superior to the rest.

Sometimes the movie also plays out like a Shakespearean tragedy combing elements of jealousy, greed and corruption. At other times you have the Quentin Tarantino touch in the staging of the scenes that show the lawlessness.

Here’s hoping that Bollywood gets back to making solid political movies. The current trend of propaganda political movies have reached a saturation point which is evident in the lackluster response of the recent ones.

Mr and Mrs Mahi: Rajkumar Rao and the music are the only redeeming features of this underwhelming romantic/sports drama

Director Sharan Sharma disappoints after a promising debut in Gunjan Saxena. Janhvi Kapoor needs to get out of her stock expressions
  • Starcast: Rajkumar Rao, Janhvi Kapoor, Kumud Mishra, Zarina Wahab and others
    special appearance (Arjit Taneja)
  • Director and writer: Sharan Sharma
  • Additional writer: Nikhil Mehrotra
  • Production Company: Dharma Productions and Zee Studios
  • Music directors: Vishal Mishra, Tanishk Bagchi and others
  • Cinematography: Anay Goswami
  • Running time: 2 hours and 18 minutes

Sharan Sharma’s first movie Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl was much appreciated for its strong storytelling particularly the father and daughter relationship. The movie also packed a powerful punch in showing how Gunjan broke through the mostly male stronghold to make a place for herself. For Janhvi Kapoor the movie was a resurgence after the mixed reviews to Dhadak.

Sharan Sharma’s second venture Mr and Mrs Mahi had all the potential to be a solid feel-good movie, but this time the director has disappointed the emotions land rarely and the cricketing portions are a dampener. It also doesn’t help that Janhvi seems to have stepped straight out of Baawal sets in a different universe. Sure, the character sketch leaves a lot to be desired, but Janhvi’s monotonous expressions doesn’t really help. She really needs to up her game significantly particularly in the times of talented young actresses like Nitanshi Goel and Pratibha Ranta from Laapaata Ladies. Or even Mrunal Thakur who has delivered some impactful performances.

Mr and Mrs. Mahi tells the story of a failed cricketer Mahendra Agarwal (Rajkummar Rao) and his doctor wife Mahima Agarwal (Janhvi Kapoor). Mahendra toils away in his father’s sport shop. Mahendra’s dream was to play for the national team however that didn’t transpire for many reasons. There is a constant undercurrent of tension, the father Hardayal Aggarwal (Kumud Mishra) considers Mahendra as a defective piece. The son on the other hand looks at himself as a complete zero. Adding to Mahendra’s woes is the elder brother Sikander Aggarwal (a caricaturist Arjit Taneja). Sikander is a big television actor whose face is seen on billboards; fans throng after him. This adds to Mahendra’s insecurity. Things take a turn when Mahendra comes upon his wife’s cricketing abilities. He manipulates Mahima into believing that she is made for cricket. Mahendra is successful in making Mahi a star, but their marriage takes a beating as Mahendra’s desire for fame has not been quenched.

One of the few redeeming features of Mr and Mrs Mahi is the top notch Rajkummar Rao. Yes, Mahendra is not a likeable person. On more than one occasion he comes across as very selfish and also insensitive but at the same time it is impossible to hate Mahendra completely thanks to the layered character and Rajkummar Rao’s portrayal. The way Rajkummar showcases the psyche of a broken man is a testament of his immense talent. The actor also raises some chuckles in the scenes where Mahendra records videos promoting himself on how Mahma has reached this far because of him.

The music composed by the various composers does make for a good listen and watch. A particular mention must be made of Vishal Mishra’s “Roya Jab Tu”. This song takes place when Mahendra and Mahi have a spilt and her game has taken a severe beating. Anay Goswami’s cinematography is suitably glossy and does make the movie visually appealing.

Director Sharan Sharma does make some important points on how the need for fame can drive a person insane and also the aftereffects of suppressing childhood dreams. However, these scenes are far and few in between.

A major problem with Mr and Mrs Mahi is the lack of depth in both the characterization and the acting performance of Janhvi. For most part the viewers see the film from the perspective of Mahendra and this leaves little room for Mahima. Often times she comes across as a pushover whether it is the father making her choose a doctor career or the husband manipulating her to become a cricketer. There is little agency here and by the time Mahima gives it back to Mahendra it becomes too late.

As mentioned in the beginning Janhvi needs to get out of her stock expressions. The emotions of fear and vulnerability are the same as we have already seen in the likes of Baawal and Mili. Sure, she has worked on the cricket aspect but other than that there is nothing new. Also, the cricketing aspect feels superficial given that Mahima is never seen fielding on the ground.

Mr and Mrs Mahi is strictly an average watch only elevated somewhat by Rajkummar Rao.

OTT opens new doors for female actors

With the advent of OTT, the likes of Shefali Shah, Sushmita Sen, Manisha Koirala, and Sonakshi Sinha got their due.

The advent of OTT platforms has led to a significant change in more ways than one. One of the major changes has been to the narrative style.

Thanks to the longer runtime and long-form format, web shows have more scope for sustained storytelling.

Another major positive change is the space OTT has created for female actors to challenge themselves in mainstream and middle-of-the-road cinema.

With the longer runtime in web series, the actors have more time to build their characters and delve deeper into the nuances, which is often not possible in mainstream films with a limited run time.

They are also breaking the stereotypes of age and conventional roles.

Many female actors, despite talent, have been limited to supporting roles, with minimal scope of showing their acting prowess.

Of course, there have been phases where women-centric films have garnered both critical acclaim and commercial success. Some of these include The Dirty Picture (2011), Kahaani (2012), Queen (2014), Neerja (2016), Raazi (2018), etc.

However, the format of a web series offers more scope for the portrayal of powerful characters.

With the advent of OTT space, female actors got their due, especially in the case of Shefali Shah and Manisha Koirala, who have shone in Delhi Crime (2019 and 2022) and Heeramandi (2024) respectively.

Careers of Shefali Shah & Sushmita Sen revived

Shefali Shah in ‘Delhi Crime’. (X)

Among the firsts is the web series Delhi Crime (2019 and 2022), which revived the career of Shefali Shah.

She played the role of a DCP in the Delhi police. DCP Varthika helms the team which investigates the Nirbhaya case and also handles the public anger owing to the heinous crime.

She is a strong-willed officer who is also dealing with a rebellious daughter. The audiences had not seen Shefali previously in this kind of role and she surprised one and all with a rock-solid performance. Shefali Shah further surprised the spectators with her negative role in Human (2021).

Another similar example is Sushmita Sen, known for her glamorous roles, including that of lecturer Miss Chandini in Farah Khan’s masala potboiler Main Hoon Na (2004). While she was presented glamorously, the actor in Sushmita has mostly taken a backseat on the big screen.

Then comes Aarya (2020, 2021, 2023, and 2024) and Taali (2023)—the perfect examples of why Sushmita deserves better roles in mainstream cinema.

In Aarya— a crime thriller, she goes from being a single mother to eventually being sucked into the world of crime.

Taali, on the other hand, was a biopic of the transgender activist Shreegauri Sawant. In both these series, Sushmita was absolutely brilliant.

A realistic portrayal by Huma Qureshi

Huma Qureshi in ‘Maharani’. (X)

Huma Qureshi reinvented herself with the web series Maharani.

She has always been a competent actor starting from the Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) movies. She played important roles in movies like Badlapur (2015) but has never carried a film on her shoulders.

However, in the three seasons of Maharani, Huma showcased her larger bandwidth to play with. Her role of Rani Bharati (based on Rabri Devi) starts as a simple woman who is happy in her domestic life.

She is a school dropout much like the other women in her village. However, her life undergoes a huge change when her husband who is also the Bihar chief minister gets severely injured in a shootout.

From feeling like a fish out of water to becoming a fierce administrator, there is a huge canvas that Huma Qureshi got to play with and the actor absolutely nailed it.

In all three seasons, she got the nuances of the role spot on. She also did a good job of getting her dialect right.

Sonakshi Sinha & her acting prowess

Sonakshi Sinha in ‘Dahaad’. (X)

Then comes Sonakshi Sinha, who has shown that she is here to stay with Dahaad (2023) and Heeramandi (2024).

For a large part of her movie career, Sonakshi has played roles where she is restricted to just a song and dance routine, and being a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued.

These include Rowdy Rathore (2012), R Rajkumar (2013), the Dabbang films (2010, 2012, and 2019) and even the last theatrical release Bade Miyan Chote Miyan.

Yes, some of these movies have turned out to be money spinners but a sense of repetitiveness crept in.

However, the two-web series—Dahaad and Heeramandi—showed the actor in a very different light.

In Dahaad, Sonakshi Sinha was seen as a Dalit police officer (Anjali Bhaati).

On more than one occasion, she is insulted because of her gender and caste.

Sonakshi was adequately fierce and managed to capture the grittiness of a determined police officer well.

In Heeramandi, Sonakshi played an archrival to Manisha Koirala’s Mallikajaan; Sonakshi’s Fareedan is as ruthless and emotional as Mallikajaan.

Sonakshi Sinha chewed the scenery and more than held her own opposite the more accomplished Manisha Koirala. Fareedan was an absolute firebrand and Sonakshi did complete justice to her part.

A powerful comeback for Manisha Koirala

Manisha Koirala in ‘Heeramandi’. (X)

Heeramandi has also given a fresh lease of life to Manisha Koirala’s career.

In the films post her cancer recovery, the actor played a mother to heroes Ranbir Kapoor and Kartik Aryan respectively. There is a little depth in these characters for Manisha to chew into.

However, Heeramandi is a show that will give a major impetus to her second innings.

The role of Mallikajaan is far removed from all her previous roles; she never played a terrifying matriarch before. The body language along with dark shades is a completely new territory.

It is something that the viewers don’t expect from Manish Koirala, but the actor surprised everyone.

She portrayed both dark shades and emotional vulnerability with finesse.

Konkana Sen & Karishma Tanna

Konkona Sen, an actor par excellence, proved her talent over and over again in many shows and films. However, with Killer Soup (2024), the versatile actor proved she could play a negative character with equal finesse.

Konkona did play a negative role in Ek Thi Daayan (2013), but in that movie, she was just one of the three heroines. The Abhishek Chaubey directorial, though, had her as a major pivot.

Karishma Tanna in ‘Scoop’. (X)

In the Killer Soup web series, Konkona Sen played a housewife named Swati Shetty.

Swati dreams of opening a restaurant so she can have an identity of her own. But all she gets in the name of support from her husband are empty promises.

The role of Swati goes from a loving wife to a plotting woman. Konkona pulled off the different moods without fumbles.

Finally coming to the splendid performance of Karishma Tanna in Scoop (2023). The actor, too, has been part of known movies like Grand Masti (2013) and Sanju (2018). In these films, she was a mere glam doll.

But Scoop turned out to be a big game changer as the role was author-backed and Karishma made complete use of it.

In this web show, she played a journalist named Jagruti, who was falsely implicated in the murder of a fellow investigative journalist.

The role comes with many shades, starting as a confident woman who later becomes dejected yet maintains a fighting spirit in the harsh jail atmosphere.

Karishma Tanna was immensely successful in making the viewers root for Jagruti.

This is just a brief peek into how OTT has opened new doors for female actors. Many more women actors from mainstream and middle-of-the-road cinema are likely to join this list in the future.

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.

Srikanth: Rajkummar Rao leads a gripping tale of self-determination that feels like a warm hug

Director Tushar Hiranandani deserves huge appreciation for not using the blindness of Srikanth Bolla as a tool of self-pity.
Srikanth (Hindi), 10-05-2024, Biography , Drama, 2 hours 14 minutes, U, Theatre
  • Main Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Alaya F, Jyothika and Sharad Kelkar
  • Director: Tushar Hiranandani
  • Producer: Bhushan Kumar and Krishan Kumar
  • Music Director: Anand Milind, Tanishk Bagchi, Sachet Parampara, Ved Sharma
  • Cinematography: Pratham Mehta
  • Rating: 3.5/5
  • Published in: Southfirst

There was a time when biopics on different personalities used to sell like hotcakes. Cases in point are Farhan Akhtar’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), Vidya Balan’s The Dirty Picture (2012), and Sonam Kapoor’s Neerja  (2015).

These movies raked up both critical acclaim and commercial success.

However, the genre has somewhere lost its sheen in the last few years, particularly the ones related to sports like Taapsee Pannu’s Shabhaash Mithu (2023) or even this year Maidaan (2024). The box office numbers of the Ajay Devgn-starrer are still far away from the producer’s investment.

A major reason for Indian biopics losing its sheen is the overt melodrama along with the predictable beats.

Nevertheless, director Tushar Hiranandani’s Srikanth, based on the visually impaired businessman named Srikanth Bolla, is a welcome change in more ways than one.

Sure, there is a fairytale-like structure in how Srikanth overcomes his obstacles. But, at the same time, the movie does throw light on some important things.

How we should not view differently-abled persons through the lens of pity, instead we should engage with him or her as equals.

Synopsis

‘Srikanth’ is a biography. (X)

The movie begins with the birth of a boy. The father is initially ecstatic about a son being born and rushes home.

He names him Srikanth after the famous batsman Krishnama Chari Srikanth. However, all this changes once the fact of his son being blind comes out.

In the beginning, both parents have a hard time worrying constantly about the child. Things are further compounded by neighbours and relatives who think that Srikanth has no future.

At one point, the father almost buries him alive. But better sense prevails with the wife stopping him.

The rest of the plot looks at the journey of Srikanth from just another village boy to an inspiration for many people like him.

Analysis

Generally, Indian biopics do shy away from showcasing the grey areas of their protagonists. Here too, Tushar Hiranandi surprises big time.

In the second half of the movie, Srikanth has a downfall in business because of his overconfidence and also a bitter attitude towards his business partner-cum-friend Ravi (Sharad Kelkar).

There is a scene where a media person talks about how Srikanth wouldn’t be successful if Ravi hadn’t backed him up.

This does not go down too well with Srikanth; he believes he is wholly and solely responsible for his victory.

Writers Jagadeep Siddhu and Sumit Purohit have written some crackling dialogues that stay with the viewers long after the movie has ended.

A good example of this is the sequence where Srikanth is not allowed to board the plane on account of being visually challenged. The officials insist on someone accompanying him.

How Srikanth turns the situation around with some crackling dialogues not only brings a wide smile but the lines also provide a reality check on how persons with disabilities are not treated as equals.

The monologue at the end also deserves a big thumbs up.

There are scathing remarks on how some people think that the best way to help the blind is only by making them cross the road.

Takeaways

Jyothika at ‘Srikanth’ press meet. (X)

A strong aspect of Srikanth is how the director has projected the stark contrast between India and the West regarding the education facilities for the differently abled.

There are scenes where Srikanth faces rejection for wanting to choose science, though he tops the 12th board exams. The challenges of the protagonist with the Indian educational system have been presented poignantly.

Tushar Hiranandani also does a wonderful job of showcasing the bond between Rajkummar Rao’s Srikanth and Jyothika’s Devika.

Devika was a teacher of businessman Srikanth when he studied at a special school for the visually impaired in Hyderabad.

However, her association with Srikanth goes much beyond school. She is his friend, philosopher and guide.

Devika supports him in every step that he takes but at the same time, she also gives him a reality check when needed.

The best example of this is the portion where she lambasts him for becoming insecure and bitter in the second half.

A speedbump

Rajkummar Rao in ‘Srikanth’. (X)

The love story between Rajkummar and Alaya F though comes across as a major speedbump.

Alaya F has a charming presence but her character of Swathi appears and disappears at the whim of the writers.

The blossoming of love between the two feels rather hurried. Also, there are times when the all-round abilities of Srikanth become a little difficult to digest; like the scenes where he plays basketball and cricket without any hiccups.

The romantic songs of Sachet Parampara “Tu Mil Gaya” and “Tumhe Hi Apna Maana Hai” are soothing in nature. However, the recreation of “Papa Kehte Hain” from Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak  (1988) is the major highlight of the soundtrack.

Rajkummar and Jyothika excel

In the title role, Rajkummar Rao delivers an exceptional performance. The actor just disappears into the role starting from the mannerisms.

He particularly shines in the scenes of Srikanth grappling with insecurities. There is also a goofiness to Srikanth which Rajkummar brings out expertly.

Jyothika also makes a big impact bringing the right mixture of warmth and fierceness.

Sharad Kelkar plays the business partner-cum-friend with a lot of empathy.

Final take

Srikanth makes you think about how differently-abled persons should be treated as mainstream and deserve equal opportunities, just like anyone.