Me Before You: A must read for those who like intense love stories

Jojo Moye’s novel shares more than one similarity with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Guzaarish but it is hard to say who was influenced by whom given that the movie came first.

July 19, 2024

The central subject of Jojo Moyes novel for those who haven’t read is Euthanasia, a person deliberately wanting to end his life with the permission of the law. This happens when an individual is no longer able to bear the suffering from a disease that cannot be cured. What makes the book more than just a love story is how the writer has given an insight into the condition of Quadriplegia (a form of paralysis that affects all four limbs) Yes, the ending of the book is definitely debatable much like the movie Guzaarish. Both the book and movie do seem to suggest that those suffering from Quadriplegia have no other alternative than ending their own life. However, there is no denying that Me Before You is an emotional roller coaster

The storyline of Me Before You is about the journey of two polar opposites. On one hand you have Lousia Clark a common girl leading a normal life. She hasn’t seen much of a life beyond her tiny village. On the other hand, there is Will Traynor a rich guy who once led a very active life. He had travelled worldwide and participated in extreme sports. An accident leads to him being wheelchair bound for life. In a twist of events Lousia becomes a caretaker of Will Traynor and from here begins a roller coaster of a journey.

A strong aspect of the book for me was the gradual progress in the relationship between Lousia and Will. In the beginning Will is mostly cranky with Lousia which isn’t surprising given that his once active life has gone for a toss, however as the story progresses the readers get to see a different side of Will too. The light repartee and the way he teases her are fun to read. Both of them have an influence on each other with Lousia learning self-love, Will meanwhile learns to enjoy life’s little moments. While entertaining the readers Jojo Moyes has also a done good in addressing some heavy topics, for instance the discrimination faced by disabled individuals and quality of life among others.

Maharaja: Vijay Sethupathi and the non-liner storytelling elevate a standard revenge story.

July 15th, 2024

Maharaja movie banner

The movie also deserves appreciation in how it portrays a rape survivor who wants to confront her attacker telling him in clear terms on how she isn’t going to live in shame.

Starcast: Vijay Sethupathi, Anurag Kashyap, Sachana Namidass, Natarajan “Natty” Subramaniam and others

Director and writer: Nithilan Swaminathan

Producers: Jagadish Palaniswamy and Sudhan Sundaram

Production Companies: Passion Studios etc.

Cinematography: Dinesh Purushothaman

Streaming site: Netflix

Some movies are elevated through a gripping screenplay more than the plot. Nithilan Swaminathan’s Maharaja is a very good example of this. On the surface it is about a father who wants to catch the perpetrators who have caused mayhem in his simple life, what makes the movie engaging though in spite of the gruesome violence is the back-and-forth narrative along with the intricate setting that throws in a lot of clues making the viewers think.

Contrary to the title Vijay Sethupathi’s Maharaja is no king nor is he some business magnate. He works in a saloon. The life of this Maharaja revolves primarily around two things. One is his work, and the other is the daughter Jyothi (Sachana Namidass). Jyothi is a spirited teenager with dreams of being an athlete. It may sound bizarre but both of them worship a dustbin by the name of Lakshmi. We are told that this dustbin had saved Jyothi’s life. In an outlandish turn of events Maharaja goes to the station to file a case about a missing dustbin. The cops take him for a crazy guy and try to throw him out of the station, but Maharaja doesn’t budge constantly saying that he wants the dustbin back. Eventually the police agree to look into the case as Maharaja offers a huge amount of the money. What starts off as a simple case unravels many secrets leading to many twists and turns.

Vijay Sethupathi as the doting father

Vijay Sethupathi Maharaja talking about the missing dustbin

A strong aspect of Maharaja are the police station scenes where Vijay Sethupathi pleads to the cops about the missing dustbin. Yes, the scenarios may appear ridiculous but the earnestness with which Vijay Sethupathi repeats the story is amusing and moving at the same time. Although the viewers are laughing there is an undercurrent of tension too.

While the investigation is going on Nithilan Swaminathan introduces the viewers to another important character played by filmmaker and actor Anurag Kashyap. Anurag Kashyap is also a common man called Selvam. Selvam is a loving father to his daughter Ammu but there is a dark side to his life unknown to the wife. Initially the viewers wonder how this man is connected to Maharaj’s life but the director has connected the dots expertly. The police characters lead by Natarajan “Natty” Subramaniam have also been written fairly well. They start off as a bunch of opportunistic cops but end up developing a conscience towards the movie’s end.

Anurag Kashyap as the other father who has secrets of his own

It goes without saying that Vijay Sethupathi is the backbone of Maharaja. In the police station scenes, he leaves you in splits, at the same time his portrayal of a desperate father touches an emotional chord. Anurag Kashyap’s lip sync does take some time getting used to, but he brings in the required menace, at the same time there is a major reveal related to his character in the climax, this humanizes Selvam and Anurag’s breakdown deserves distinction marks. Among the rest Sachana Namidass shines in one intense confrontation scene.

Some portions of Maharaja though could have done with better writing. Case in point Mamata Mohandas as the PTI teacher Aasifa.  She is a mother-like figure to Jyoti. The bond needed more impactful scenes for the viewers to feel the motherly love of Aasifa, another problem with the movie are the gruesome scenes of violence involving the women. Particularly bothersome is a scene meant to establish the villainy of Selvam and co. The close-up shots make it nauseating.

Bharateeyudu 2: A bloated sequel which doesn’t have the emotional complexities of the 1996 blockbuster

Director S. Shankar does a better job in the second half when he touches upon the consequences of cleaning corruption in your home. The ostracization that Siddarth’s Chitra Aravindan faces does touch the viewer’s heart, but the movie doesn’t come across as a whole

  • Starcast: Kamal Haasan, Siddarth, Samuthirakani, Kalidas Jayaram, Bobby Simha, Rakul Preet Singh and others
  • Direction, dialogues, story and screenplay: S Shankar
  • Producers: Subaskaran Allirajah and Udhayanidhi Stalin
  • Production Companies: Lyca Productions and Red Giant movies
  • Running time: 3 hours
  • Music director: Anirudh Ravichander
  • Cinematography: Ravi Varman

The genre of vigilante movies owes a lot to Shankar. Many of his movies have tackled corruption and featured crusaders of different natures. For example, in Gentleman and Aparichitudu (Anniyan) in Tamil, the protagonists took extreme measures to wipe out the rot in the system. On the other hand, there was Mudhalvan, where a television presenter ended up becoming a Chief Minister. In Mudhalvan, it was about repairing the system while staying within it.

Coming to the 1996 movie Bharateeyudu, it was one of its kind for those times. Apart from Shankar’s typical vigilante tropes, the movie also had some solid emotional drama with the vastly different viewpoints between Senapathy and his son Chandru, both played by Kamal Haasan. The writing and direction had shades of nuance, with Chandru not being painted as an all-out villain.

After a long gap of 28 years, the sequel is here, and the typical elements of Shankar, like long-drawn speeches and rants on corruption, have clearly worn out. It is high time that he finds a new cinematic language while talking about the same issues.

Indian 1 and 2. Shankar needs to change his cinematic language while talking about the same issues.

Indian 2 begins with the introduction of Siddarth’s Chitra Aravindan and his three friends. They run a YouTube channel called ‘Barking Dogs’. This channel makes political satires using the comic strips of R.K. Laxman. They can be called digital media activists. The channel receives a lot of views, but there isn’t much of a ground impact. In this situation, Aravindan believes that only Senapathy, aka Indian Thatha, can clean the rotten system. They start a campaign with the name ‘Come Back Indian’. Aravindan firmly believes that Senapathy is alive even after all these years, and his hunch turns out to be true. In a Facebook Live video, Senapathy tells all the youngsters to focus on exposing the corrupt individuals within their families while he would wipe out corruption through extrajudicial methods. However, this two-way route comes with its own dire consequences that severely affect both Senapathy and Siddarth and his friends. Running parallel to this is the track of Bobby Simha, a CBI officer hot on the trail of Senapathy. He is the son of the inspector Krishnaswamy from the 1996 film, played by the late Nedumudi Venu.

Siddarth runs a YouTube channel Barking Dogs

The first half of Bharateeyudu 2 is a slog in more ways than one. The typical elements of Shankar are dialed up 100 notches. There are excessive dialogues on corruption, and the way Senapathy comes back to India appears very convoluted. The tweets of Come Back Indian trending so fast feel comical, to say the least. The rich businessmen that Senapathy kills seem to be an amalgamation of Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi. All of them are North Indians with a big appetite for wearing bling clothes. Senapathy uses different martial art techniques.

All of them come across as irritating caricatures rather than flesh-and-blood characters. The conversations of Kamal Haasan with these men play out way longer than needed and border on utter ridiculousness. For instance, a rich man gallops like a horse for a long distance after Senapathy strikes him. As audiences, you are completely unmoved because of the flat writing and staging.

However, Shankar does redeem himself in the second half, particularly in the scenes that showcase the aftereffects of Senapathy’s advice. Chitra Aravindan exposes his own father, resulting in severe discord with his mother, who eventually ends up committing suicide. Chitra Aravindan isn’t even allowed to perform the last rites, facing severe ostracization. Siddarth’s showdown with Kamal Haasan has some powerful dialogues where the character questions Senapathy on how his advice of first cleaning up corruption in your own house may look like a great idea but in reality has dire consequences. He further adds that what is the point of having a corrupt-free society when you don’t have a happy home. From being loved by youngsters, Senapathy goes to being the most hated. Senapathy also briefly faces public ire; they throw stones at him. This portion comes late in the second half but saves the movie from being a complete washout.

Siddarth’s showdown with Kamal Haasan

Mention must also be made of the few scenes between Siddarth and Samuthirakani. The emotional scene where Samuthirakani’s character asks his son why he did this, and the subsequent dialogues make a powerful impact. Siddarth scores as an actor, particularly in these scenes.

As Senapathy, Kamal Haasan makes the viewers believe in the superhero qualities of his role. Yes, the role doesn’t pack the same emotional resonance as it did in 1996, but to Kamal Haasan’s credit, he does sell the big speeches.

The music of Bharateeyudu 2 is nowhere close to the first one; however, the background score by Anirudh Ravichander is impactful in a few scenes. The action sequences are way too prolonged and quickly become tedious. Shankar’s eye for grandeur does make the movie a visual feast, but the storyteller Shankar is absent for the most part.

Kill: Visceral action yet a thrilling ride

Kill movie banner

Director Nikhil Nagesh Bhatt elevates a standard action plot by bringing class divide and blurring the lines between what we consider as hero and anti hero.

  • Starcast: Lakshya, Raghav Juyal, Tanya Manikatla, Abhishek Chauhan, Ashish Vidyarti and others
  • Director and writer: Nikhil Nagesh Bhatt
  • Music: Shashwant Sachdev and Vikram Montrose
  • Cinematography: Rafey Mehmood
  • Producers: Karan Johar, Guneet Monga etc
  • Production houses: Dharma Productions and Sikhya Entertainment

On surface the plot of Kill may appear as a series of action sequences, a show reel for debutant Lakshya to establish himself as a massy hero who can vanquish villains even after facing severe blows.  But what makes Kill different from other violent movies is a strong emotional poignancy. The character graph of Lakshya’s Amrit Rathod from a commando who initially just wants to control the situation to eventually becoming a bigger monster has strong undercurrent of emotions. As the movie progresses Nikhil Nagesh Bhatt questions our notions of what we consider as hero and anti-hero. No wonder Kill got rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival, kudos to Karan Johar for giving a movie like this a significant platform along with Guneet Monga.

The initial minutes of Kill are devoted to the love story between Amrit Rathod and Tulika (Tanya Maniktala). Tulika is returning to Delhi after a reluctant engagement. Amrit and his fellow commando/ friend Viresh (Abhishek Chauhan) are also on the same train. Amrit is making plans on how to convince his future father in law with the help of Viresh. A romantic story soon turns into a catastrophic night thanks to a group of dacoits (armed robbers). The leader of this gang is Fani (Raghav Juyal). Ashish Vidyarthi plays Fani’s father and a fellow dacoit. The father and son don’t get along well. What should have been a simple robbery ends up in a violent bloodbath because of Fani’s thoughtless actions who is desperate to get his father’s approval and love. Nothing more can be revealed here.

The initial moments start as a love story

A strong aspect of Kill is the humanizing of the dacoits. There are portions of the second half where the armed robbers vent out their vulnerabilities and fears. They want an escape from this havoc seeing the brutal deaths of their family members. On more than one occasion they plead to Ashish Vidyarti’s Beni about deboarding the train.  Director Nikhil Nagesh Bhatt is successful in bringing out a strong sense of brotherhood. He also subtly highlights the class divide and the impoverished state that leads to these men becoming robbers and looting rich people. On the surface they appear as ordinary men but there is a deep angst within.

The scenes between Ashish Vidyarti and Raghav Juyal is another major highlight of the movie, there is a constant friction in spite of both being armed robbers. A particular scene that has to be mentioned is the one where Beni talks about how Fani has dumped his father’s values and principles. To this Fani replies sarcastically that they are dacoits and he isn’t Amitabh Bachchan’s Narayan Shankar  from Mohabbatein to talk about principles and values, this scene raises ample chuckles.

The action sequences by nature are very violent and definitely not for family audiences, however stunt directors Se- Yeong along with Parvez Sheikh deserve kudos for coming up with innovative combat sequences in the confined spaces. A particular mention must be made of how they have used the window curtains that become death traps. Cinematographer Rafey Mehmood camera work is also fantastic. He successfully captures the tense atmosphere through his lens.

Kill wouldn’t be what it is without the brilliant acting particularly lakshya and Raghav. Lakshya makes for a perfect action hero. He captures the turmoil of Amrit many times with just his eyes and overall body language. Lakshya fully convinces the audiences that Amrit has become a killing machine. Fani’s taunt at Amrit on how he isn’t a hero but a big monster feels very true. Raghav Juyal best known for his dancing skills springs a very pleasant surprise. He knocks it out of the park as a cold blooded villain who has his own vulnerabilities. Fani’s anguish at seeing the violent deaths of the family members including his own father has been well portrayed by Raghav.

Both Lakshya and Raghav deliver terrific performances

Tanya Manikatala does well in her brief yet important role. She brings in an understated strength to Tulika. Her lovey-dovey moments with Amrit that include him proposing to her in a toilet seat comes across as a respite from the breathless action. Ashish Vidyarthi also makes his presence amply felt as the frustrated father who prophesies that the reason for him dying before time would be his son. Abhishek Chauhan has a straight forward role of being Amrit’s ally in the initial phase nevertheless the actor has his moments.

True to the title Nikhil Nagesh Bhatt has killed it, this violent saga may make you apprehensive of train journeys but it is a must watch for those who like blood and gore with a solid storyline.

Kartik Aryan: From a comic actor to a versatile star

A rundown of Kartik’s journey from Pyaar Ka Punchnama to Chandu Champion

Starting with Pyaar Ka Punchnama Kartik has done 17 movies so far. He  started out with lighter roles that have shades of comedy and romance but with movies like Dhamaka, Freddy and the latest Chandu Champion Kartik has proved that he has got good range. He also tried his hand at an out and out commercial movie Shehzada, a remake of Telugu smash hit Ala Vaikuntapurramulo, though the movie ended up being a disaster because of the weak direction. However to Kartik’s credit he did make for a credible all-round hero.

In Pyaar Ka Punchnama Kartik played one of the frustrated boyfriends; there is a particular scene where Kartik vents outs his anger in a lengthy monologue about issues that men face in contemporary relationships. It struck a huge chord with young boys making Kartik an instant hit.  The sequel of Pyaar Ka Punchnama had an even bigger monologue that Kartik aced. For a long period Pyaar Ka Punchnama image stayed with the actor but thankfully Kartik managed to come out of those shadows.

Singing Ami Je Tomar in Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2

One of Kartik’s biggest strengths has been his charming nature and an endearing goofiness. A good example of this is Anees Bazmee’s Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 (2022); in this movie he played the role of Ruhan Randhawa. In the process of helping a girl he pretends to be a fake Baba convincing people that he has the ability to communicate with the spirits of dead people.

Kartik generated a lot of humor with his dialogue delivery and expressions. He brought the house down on many occasions particularly when he pretends to be an expert Baba.

At the same time he was equally intense in the song Ami Je Tomar where he pretends to be possessed by the devil. Apart from his goofiness what also makes Kartik a success is his ability to experiment and work in genres that people don’t associate him with.

Kartik Aryan as the disgrunted man in Dhamaka

Much before Chandu Champion there was Ram Madhvani’s Dhamaka released in the year 2021. In Dhamaka Kartik played the role of a former prime time anchor Arjun Pathak now demoted to a radio jockey. On the personal front too his life isn’t going well. In short he is a disgruntled man. The character is far away from the usual boy next door roles and Kartik did a wonderful job in portraying the different shades.

In the year of Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 there was also Shashanka Ghosh’s Freddy a dark psychological romantic thriller about an introvert dentist who craves for companionship. Often times Kartik’s character of Dr Freddy Ginwala is mocked for his social awkwardness. In the title role Kartik aced the many aspects starting from desperation to the eventual dark turn.

kartik-aaryan Freddy showing the simmering rage within the calmness

The best part of Kartik’s performance was how he showcased the simmering rage beneath the calmness. Even in terms of body language one can see the big variation.  In spite of similarities to Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker Kartik made sure that his performance has its own individuality.

Now to the latest Chandu Champion directed by Kabir Khan. The role of Muralikanth Petkar, a Paralympics champion is a tough one to portray both emotionally and physically.

Kartik in this movie also appeared as an older man for the first time in his career. Before the movie there was lot of chatter about how he went from 39 percent body fat to just 7 percent.  

Kartik-Aaryan in Chandu Champion

The physical transformation was definitely extraordinary getting the perfect look to portray an athlete. But more than the physical transformation what stood out was how Kartik showcased the despair of Muralikanth after getting paralyzed waist down. There is a deep sadness including a suicide attempt. Kartik made sure that the audience’s heart went out for Muralikanth, because of which audiences feel happy for Muralikanth when he creates a world record in the sport of swimming.

Kartik Aaryan Sattu (Satyaprem Ki Katha) from a simpleton to standing up for his wife

Talking about romantic dramas Kartik’s best performance in this genre is Satyaprem Ki Katha (2023). Directed by Sameer Vidwan  Satyaprem Ki Katha was an impactful romantic drama focusing on the issue of date rape. Kartik’s Sattu starts off as a goofy guy but there is a solid emotional graph too as the movie takes a serious turn. The performance is particularly good in the high emotional moments. The evolution of Sattu from a simpleton to someone who stands for his wife was very well showcased by the actor.

This is a brief rundown of Kartik’s roles that showcase his versatility. Here’s hoping that this younger star goes from strength to strength and does many more versatile roles.  

Cuckhold: A gripping novel that makes the viewers empathize with Bhoj Raj

Bhojraj Singh Sisodia is best known for being the husband of a reputed poet saint Meerabai, not much information is there about him other than being Meerabai’s husband. Kiran Nagarkar’s cuckhold is a biography of this man set against the backdrop of India in 1600’s.

It is hard to say how much of Kiran Nagarkar’s writing is fiction and how much reality is there. Keeping aside this aspect there is no denying that the writer has given a wholesome perspective of the ruler. The readers come to know about the different qualities of Bhojraj Singh Sisodia. For example, a courageous warrior and also someone who came up with distinctive schemes.

Kiran Nagarkar is successful in transporting the viewers to those times. The description of the war strategies and the ways of gathering information about the enemies’ position is very engaging. What also adds to the book are the numerous philosophical talks which represent the king’s thought process.

The internal battles of Bhojraj and his feeling of bewilderment with lord Krishna being his rival has also been written well. The readers can feel the various emotions that he goes through. Cuckhold is a long book, over 600 pages but for those who like elongated historical fiction it is a must read.

Kalki 2898 AD: A gutsy attempt at mixing dystopian world with Mahabharata

Nag Ashwin proves his capability as a versatile director, the movie works best when it focuses on Prabhas and Amitabh Bachchan

  • Starcast: Prabhas, Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Haasan, Deepika Padukone, Saswata Chatterjee, Pashupathy, Anna Ben and others
  • Special appearances: Mrunal Thakur, Dulquer Salman, S.S Rajamouli, Vijay Devarakonda, Ramgopal Varma etc.
  • Story, direction, screenplay and dialogues: Nag Ashwin
  • Additional screenplay: Rutham Samar
  • Additional dialogues: Sai Madhav Burra and B.S Saewagna Kumar
  • Producer: C. Ashwini Dutt
  • Production Company: Vijayanthi movies
  • Cinematography: Djordge Stojilijkovic
  • Music: Santhosh Narayan
  • Genre: Science fiction
  • Running time: 3 hours and 1 minute

The track record of Indian cinema with science fiction/futuristic worlds is pretty abysmal. A major reason for it is the necessity of masala elements where the hero has to do romance, comedy and action while saving the world. Rakesh Roshan’s Krrish movies though not seamless did a good job in mixing Hollywood tropes with Indian Masala. Ayan Mukherjee’s Bramhastra was high on visuals, but a weakly written love story coupled with erratic characterizations made the movie just about an average watch. Last year Vikas Bahl made an attempt at directing a movie set in a futuristic world where the society is divided into two and poverty is at an extremely high level. Ganapath ended up being more about Tiger Shroff’s somersaults and was roundly rejected by the audiences.

Now you have Nag Ashwin’s Kalki 2898 AD also set in a futuristic world. The two-film old director has already created a niche for himself with Yevade Subramanyam and the biopic Mahanati on the legendary actress Savitri. Mahanati in particular is a challenging movie given that it is based on a very beloved actress who is admired by many, but he did complete justice to her life. With Kalki 2898 AD the director has pushed himself even more and let his imagination fly high. For example, he makes you believe that there would be a future where women would have zero autonomy over their bodies and the need for capitalistic gains will wipe out cities. In spite of obvious similarities to Dune and the Mad Max films Nag Ashwin delivers an impressive concoction of sci fi elements with mythology. But the women characters are a major weak spot, and the random love story of Prabhas with Disha Patani is a major speed breaker.

Kalki 2898 AD moves along multiple timelines starting from the Kurukshetra war. Amitabh Bachchan is Ashwatthama who is cursed with immortality by lord Krishna. On the other hand, there is the dystopian landscape of Kashi, the world’s last city. However, it is in complete shambles. The mighty Ganges is in a parched state and food is naturally scarce. There is a towering structure called Complex governed by Yaskin played by Kamal Haasan. He rules the place with an iron fist. Inside the Complex there are many fertile women who have been put on an experiment. Deepika Padukone’s SUM-80 alias Sumathi is an employee who is supposed to make sure that these fertile women get sufficient food and medicine. But there is a twist here; Sumathi who has been considered infertile for ages is now five months pregnant. Then you have Shambala a place for refugees from different faiths and cultures. They are putting their lives at stake for a better future.

Bhairava (Prabhas) wants to escape from the dreariness of Kashi and get into the Complex. He has AL car Bujji (with a fun voiceover by Keerty Suresh). There is a constant banter between them which gradually develops into a strong bond. Bhairava is a selfish man who is unaware of his destiny. As the story progresses Bhairava’s life gets intermingled with Ashwatthama, Sumathi and the people of Shambala.

For a movie like this a seamless blend of special effects and cinematography is very necessary and Kalki 2898 AD scores full marks in this department. The high-octane action sequences between Amitabh Bachchan and Prabhas in particular is a major highlight. Thankfully Nag Ashwin doesn’t show Bhairava as invincible, on more than one occasion we see him getting hurt. These scenes are also sprinkled with humour that bring a smile. Nitin Zihani Choudary’s production design also deserves a particular mention in how he creates an imaginary landscape that immerses the audiences.

Director Nag Ashwin also deserves distinction marks for how he integrates the Kurukshetra episode in the film. The emotional turmoil of Ashwatthama and his quest for repentance strikes a chord. Amitabh Bachchan delivers a stellar act overshadowing Prabhas on occasions.

Prabhas as Bhairava has a role that comes with different shades. There is humor, and he also comes across as not so likeable. Prabhas does complete justice to both. His interactions with Keerty Suresh’s Bujji add a lot to the movie.

Kamal Haasan as the evil Yaskin has a brief role but he sends down a chill with his intimidating act.

Santhosh Narayanan’s music lacks good songs but he more than compensates it with a powerful background score.

Kalki 2898 AD has many cameos from actors and directors. Out of these Ramgopal Varma and S.S Rajamouli are fun to watch. There is a Baahubali reference where Prabhas jokingly says about how he gave 5 years to that project, it definitely raises a chuckle. Among others Mrunal Thakur is impressive in her brief role.

A big flaw of Kalki 2898 AD are the two female leads. Disha Patani is only used for glamour and one completely out of place song. Deepika Padukone on the other hand plays a pregnant woman mirroring her real life. She is mostly required to look petrified, and the expressions irritate after a point.

The movie’s runtime could have been crisper with lesser cameos. For example, Dulquer Salman and Avasarala Srinivas don’t add anything significant with their presence.

A caution: Too many good directors going into the dystopian landscape is something that the industry should be careful about.

Maharaj: Flawed but an important story of a real-life social reformer

Junaid Khan deserves kudos for choosing an issue-based story for his debut feature. Although the story is set in pre- independence times the plot holds a huge relevance even today. Self-appointed godmen exploiting female devotees in the name of religion is a rampant thing even after so many centuries.

  • Starcast: Junaid Khan, Jaideep Ahlawat, Shalini Pandey, Sharvari Wagh and others
  • Director: Siddarth P Malhotra
  • Writers: Sneha Desai, Vipul Mehta and Kausir Munir
  • Based on: The book Maharaj by Saurabh Shah
  • Cinematography: Rajeev Ravi
  • Music: Sohail Sen
  • Producer: Aditya Chopra
  • Production house: Yash Raj Banners
  • Streaming site: Netflix

Godmen have a magnetic power over their female devotees, in spite of the fact that several of them have been accused of sexual offences whether it is Gurmit Ram Rahim or Asaram Bapu. Maharaj directed by Siddarth P Malhotra of Hichki fame focuses on one such godman. Junaid Khan playing Karsandas Muji is a social worker and a journalist. From a young age itself he starts questioning certain social customs of those times.

Jaideep Ahlawat is Jadunath ji short form JJ. Jadunath is a high priest of a major sect of Vaishnavites called Pushtimarg. The words of JJ are considered divine. Many women are enchanted by him and want to become his special devotees through charan seva. Shalini Pandey who plays Karsandas Muji’s fiancée Kishori who is in huge awe of JJ. Kishori willingly falls into the trap of Jadunath leading to a huge argument and a breakup with Karsandas. Later she comes to know about the reality of the self-styled godman, but it is too late as the relationship is beyond repair. In simple terms the story of Maharaj focuses on how Karsan exposes JJ by writing about his sexual escapades and the subsequent court case that was fought in the supreme court of Bombay (1862).

The first half of Maharaj is definitely uneven. There are elaborately choreographed dance sequences, and the styling does come across as too modern. The music of Sohail Sen doesn’t help the matters either. But the movie finds its ground as soon it moves into the confrontational zone. There are some powerful dialogues that question the wrongful religious practices and the blind faith. This comes out strongly in a commanding monologue delivered by Junaid.

There is also an important voiceover by Sharad Kelkar on how we do not need a third person to have a connection with God. The underlying message of the voiceover is that a person doesn’t become God because of dharma, dharma is just a way to become a good human being.

Siddarth P Malhotra has also touched upon the freedom of press and how a young man refuses to bow down in spite of many hurdles. These scenes hold a mirror to today’s society as today’s journalists also face many restrictions.

Junaid Khan as Karsandas, just like the movie takes a while in finding ground but the actor becomes better as the movie progresses. He manages to hold his own opposite the supremely versatile Jaideep Ahlawat. Jaideep Ahlawat as JJ conveys a lot with just his expressions and overall body language. As expected, the actor delivers a brilliant performance.

Shalini Pandey and Sharvari Wagh have brief but important roles. Each get a solid emotional scene which they pull off well. Sharvari brings a certain vivaciousness to the proceedings. She particularly shines in the sequence where her character confesses about being forced to do charan seva at a young age.

Maharaj is a praiseworthy debut for Junaid Khan in spite of some sluggishness.

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.