Bahishkarana: A gripping rural drama which successfully transports the viewers back to the period of feudalistic landlords

July 22, 2024

Bahishkarana web series banner

Director Mukesh Prajapathi takes a leaf out of Sukumar’s Rangasthalam and also other village based social dramas however he does show his individual stamp

Starcast: Anjali, Ravindra Vijay, Sritej, Ananya Nagalla etc

Direction and screenplay: Mukesh Prajapathi

Dialogues: Shaymu Chennu

Music: Siddharth Sadasivuni

Cinematography: Prasanna Kumar

Production Company: Pixel Pictures Pvt LTD

No of episodes: 6

OTT platform: Zee 5

Mukesh Prajapathi takes the viewers back to the times of caste discrimination and landlords exploiting young girls of lower social strata. The strange thing is that these upper-class men do not want them in their houses but have no qualms about enjoying them in bed. The story of Bahishkarana isn’t particularly new. The village president Shivaya (Ravindra Vijay) is revered by the villagers of Peddapalli and also the surrounding ones. Darshi (Sritej) is Shivaya’s right-hand man; he reveres Shivaya like the rest. However not surprisingly Shivaya is not what he appears to be, there is an unknown dark side.

To this the director has added the angle of a mysterious woman who pops up in Peddapalli. Pushpa (Anjali) is the personal mistress of Shivaya and is kept far away from the village. Darshi is given the responsibility of looking after Pushpa instead he ends up falling in love with her and she too reciprocates his feelings. But Shivaya obviously isn’t pleased with this development and gets Darshi married to someone else in a cunning manner. As the plot thickens the story takes many turns and deals with different threads. For example, how the villagers come to know about the reality of Shivaya among others.

Darshi and Pushpa falling in love

Darshi as Shivaya’s right-hand man

An aspect which captures the viewer’s attention while watching the show is the period set up. The production design and the cinematography deserve a particular mention. Prasanna Kumar needs to be praised for how he has captured the rustic terrain of Peddapalli through his lens. His cinematography adds immensely in creating the right atmosphere.

Siddarth Sadasivuni’s songs perfectly gel with the nature of the story. My favorite song of the album is Kalaa Nijam, a melodious tune that establishes Darshi and Pushpa falling for each other. He has also delivered an impactful background score particularly in the scenes of tension.

The love story between Darshi and Pushpa has also been well developed. The process of them falling in love is filled with some adorable moments. As viewers you wish they had a happy ending.

Dialogues by Shayam are another asset. His dialogues are power packed with some impactful social commentary on the exploitation of the poor. There are also some powerful scenes showcasing how the society looks at the likes of Pushpa.

What hampers the series somewhat though is the hangover of some village based social dramas particularly those that have featured the legendary actor Rao Gopal Rao. Apart from this the show could have also done with more attention-grabbing twists. The plot mostly runs on a single thread, and this does get monotonous at places.

The performances of the three principal actors elevate the drawbacks in a significant way. Anjali shines bright with her bold performance. Her portrayal of Shivaya’s concubine and also Darshi’s lover deserves distinction marks. Ravindra Vijay also does a splendid job in portraying a quiet menace. Shivaya is someone who portrays himself as a do- gooder from outside but he is actually a womanizer. The actor brings out the subtle variations in a wonderful manner. Sritej also gets into the skin of Darshi. The rugged look coupled with his performance in the emotional scenes deserves distinction marks. Ananya Nagalla is pretty good in her limited screen time.

Anjali shines with her bold performance

Bahishkarana is a must watch for those who like gritty dramas with village background.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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

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

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

Peter believes his son is homosexual.

Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

A stellar cast

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

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

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

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

Performances

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict

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

(Views expressed here are personal)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous seasons

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

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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engaging moments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Synopsis

Aamir Ali in ‘Lootere’. (X)

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

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

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

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

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

A visual feast

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boasts brilliant performances

Vivek Gomber in ‘Lootere’. (X)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inspiring execution by Bhansali

Richa Chaddha and Sanjay Leela Bhansali. (X)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes an impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manisha Koirala & Sonakshi Sinha stand out

Sonakshi Sinha in a working still. (X)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict

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

It is streaming on Netflix.

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

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

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

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

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

The web show is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Synopsis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relationships portrayed well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anushka Sen is the show-stealer

Team ‘Dil Dosti Dilemma’. (X)

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

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

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

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

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

Final take

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