REVIEW: THE SPY ( Mini Series on NETFLIX; six episodes of approximate duration of one hour each)
Sacha Baron Cohen is a well regarded TV actor of Israeli origin, best known for his comic roles. I had seen one comedy movie of his called THE DICTATOR, which despite causing bouts of laughter, would be worthy of being called puerile. Gideon Raff is an Israeli film maker and director, best known as the brain behind the enormously successful TV series HOMELAND.
My closest peek into the life of a real world spy came when I saw the brilliantly made and enacted RAAZI. So when, I started getting prompts about the new Netflix series THE SPY, authored and created by Gideon Raff, I decided to watch it over a few days.
I will be most surprised, if this series does not walk away with a couple of awards. Based on the real life story of a Mossad spy, Eli Cohen, THE SPY manages to hold the viewer’s attention as Sacha Baron( playing his first serious role) gets under the skin of someone, who is initially rejected by the Mossad and his transformation to becoming one of Mossad’s successful agents. Gideon Raff recreates the family pressures of a spy’s life against the background of the Israeli Syrian conflict in the early sixties. It takes sometime to build up the tempo, but after that, it holds you in edge-of-the-seat posture for the better part. All the characters on the Israeli side and the Syrian side look utterly real: the Syrian intelligence head, who is distrustful of “the spy” from the very beginning sends the shivers whenever he comes on the screen. Sacha’s portrayal is sincere to the core and we begin to feel for him even as we know that he is beginning to be reckless. Is that the way, a person who is branded as a failure in the beginning, reacts? Either you give up ( like the son in CHICHORE) or you fight back recklessly…
Eli Cohen’s body was left hanging in a public place for a few days; his coffin hasn’t been returned. Just last year, his watch was returned to his wife. It was found in an auction house.
Not to be missed!

September 12th, 2019

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Of all the actors presently active on the Bollywood screen, Ayushmann Khurrana, is the one whose movies have raked in the highest returns on the investments. No other actor has delivered five commercial successes in a short span of two years. BAREILLY KI BARFI (Aug 2017), SHUBH MANGAL SAVDHAAN (Sep 2017), ANDHADHUN (Oct 2018), BADHAAI HO (Oct 2018) and ARTICLE 15 (Jun 2019). And that makes his success rate 100 per cent! Add to that the fact that no other lead actor has had 5 releases in a two year span in recent years. In each of these movies, he has played very different characters in totally non-glamorous settings in a remarkable manner meriting nominations from various quarters (including a National award for best actor). ARTICLE 15 was released just a few months ago and I am sure that his performance in this movie will also fetch him a couple of awards. In the light of the above, shouldn’t Ayushmann be called as the DREAM BOY of Indian Cinema?
DREAM GIRL, his latest movie, which released yesterday, has had the highest opening box-office collections compared to all his previous movies. Directed by debutant Raj Shaandilyaa, DREAM GIRL is a light hearted fun ride with a message about the serious ailment of loneliness in today’s world. Bollywood has realised that one doesn’t have to rely on making contorted faces or physically challenged bodies or below the belt dialogues or double entendre dialogues to create laughter. That is a great evolution indeed! DREAM GIRL scores not only because of the amazing chemistry between Annu Kapoor and Ayushmann (who can forget their performance in Ayushmann’s debut movie VICKY DONOR) but because of its attempted sincerity in bringing alive scenes from a Tier 3 town like Mathura. But as a whole, DREAM GIRL comes across as a series of short skits, rather than as an integrated comedy. Add to that the length, which at two hours and twenty minutes is a clear twenty minutes longer than Ayushmann’s previous movies, and DREAM GIRL slips a little. But notwithstanding these flaws, DREAM GIRL is a must watch, if only to lighten your day!

RATING: 3.5 out of 5
September 14th, 2019

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2019 has been a year where Articles and Sections have been much in the news. First it was the Ayushmann Khurrana starrer ARTICLE 15, which was in the news; then it was the turn of ARTICLE 35 A and ARTICLE 370 starring Amit Shah and now we have SECTION 375 starring Akshaye Khanna making the news. Just as I was penning this, it struck me that these three three characters involved in the news making creations have names in which the first letter of the first names is the same (A) and the second letter of the surnames is the same(H)!!
Triviliaties apart, all the creations have been extremely hard hitting and bold in their own ways. SECTION 375 : MARZI YA ZABARDASTI brings into the open the conflict that arises sometimes between Law and Justice. In the words of the defending lawyer, played with elan by Akshaye Khanna, Law is precise, but the concept of Justice is abstract. SECTION 375 is to be lauded, not merely because of its very real like story, but also because it doesn’t hesitate to hint that the pronouncers of judgments are prone to be influenced by public and press opinion. All the characters play their parts very competently. I would rate Kishore Kadam’s performance as a judge a notch higher than Akshaye Khanna’s performance as a defense lawyer. The only exception seems to be Richa Chadha’s portrayal as a prosecutor and that’s because, her dialogues and character have been drawn out weakly.
This is director Ajay Behl’s first film after he directed Rajkummar Rao’s tragic big city woes in CITY LIGHTS in 2014. Except that the treatment comes across as theatrical and the first half is a tad bit slow, Ajay Behl presents a fairly gripping command on how things are presented. For the critics, who haven’t been speaking favourably about the movie, like The Huffington Post, I just have to say that the purpose of the movie ( like case studies in management schools) is not to take a moralistic stand on what transpires. It is just a work of fiction, which perhaps has a close bearing on reality.

RATING : 4 out of 5
September 15th, 2019

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“A dream is not something that we see in our sleep. It is something that does not let us sleep.” So says Akshay Kumar, playing the role of Rakesh Dhawan, head of India’s first Mars Mission in 2013, in the movie MISSION MANGAL. And that energy, enthusiasm and nationalistic fervour which fills every frame of this movie, will surely help in breaking the box- office collection record for 2019, currently held by Shahid Kapoor’s KABIR SINGH. How successfully, this will weather the advent of SAAHO, to be released in about ten days, remains to be seen, but I am confident, that MISSION MANGAL will continue to rule the roost. For those of you, who do not know about SAAHO, it is India’s most expensive movie till date, costing nearly ₹ 400 crores.
But now, back to the topic of MISSION MANGAL. Any story featuring the underdogs meeting the mission goals, in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges is bound to strike a chord in most of us. Add to that, a strong nationalistic fervour. Spice it up with moments of elation and disappointment like in any real life story. Stir it well with emotions to such an extent that you are glued to the screen. And let the background music blend seamlessly in the flow. And get a set of characters, to whom the common man can readily relate to, do the talking and taking you through from start to finish. You most certainly have a winning recipe at the end of it all. That’s exactly what MISSION MANGAL achieves!
Deftly scripted and directed by Jagan Shakti in his first film as an independent director (he has worked earlier as Assistant in ENGLISH VINGLISH and PADMAN), the biggest success of MISSION MANGAL is its sincerity to instill in its viewers a resounding backing for success of the mission on the screen. The last time such emotions were created was when audiences were watching DANGAL. Fortunately, DANGAL was about wrestling and Aamir Khan’s home grown techniques went well with the critics. In this case, the mission is about putting a satellite in orbit around Mars and therefore, notwithstanding that our brilliant scientists at ISRO made it happen, our critics and cynics are scoffing at the triviality with which serious science related matters are dealt with. I am not saying that MISSION MANGAL has the technical slickness and credentials of say APOLLO 13 or a fictitious STAR WARS, but the point it is trying to make is that Indian Jugaad works! Would the audience have lapped it up if differential equations and complex computer simulations were presented instead of the humble Puri frying experience?
The cast does an outstanding job: Akshay Kumar and Vidya बालन are very capably supported by the supporting team.
Amit Trivedi’s background music raises the adrenaline at the right times and the creative touches by R Balki (PAA) are well felt, despite his name featuring in a small corner in the credits.
But the clip featuring the Prime minister could have been avoided; was it done to get a Government recognition. Those and other glitches shouldn’t take away the credit from MISSION MANGAL for what it provides. Wholesome entertainment!
REVIEW: 4 out of 5
20th August 2019

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I normally do not post long notes, but what I came across when I was attending a wedding in Mumbai so impressed me that irrespective of who said it, it sounded so simple and down to earth, that I felt like sharing ..

Baruch De Spinoza was a Dutch philosopher, of Portuguese Jewish origin, considered one of the great rationalists of his time along with the French philosopher Rene Descartes. Spinoza was born in Amsterdam in the 17th century of a businessman father who was successful but not wealthy.

This is the nature of the God of Spinoza:

God would have said:

“Stop praying and giving yourselves blows on your chests, what I want you to do is to go out into the world to enjoy your life.
I want you to enjoy, you sing, have fun and enjoy everything I’ve done for you.
Stop going to those gloomy, dark and cold temples that you built yourself and that you call my home.
My house is in the mountains, in the forests, the rivers, the lakes, the beaches. That’s where I live and express all my love for you.
Stop blaming me for your miserable life; I never told you that you were a sinner.

Stop being so scared. I do not judge you, nor criticize you, nor ever is angry with you, nothing bothers me, nor do I devise punishment. I am pure love.

Stop asking me forgiveness, there’s nothing to forgive. If I made you… I filled you with passions, limitations, pleasures, feelings, needs, inconsistencies… of free will, how can I blame you if you do or say something out of that what I put in you? How can I punish you for being as you are, if I’m the one who made you? Do you think I could create a place to burn all my children who misbehave, for the rest of eternity?
What kind of God can do that?
Forget about any kind of commandments, of any kind of laws; those are wiles to manipulate you, to control you and only to create guilt in you.
Respect your peers and don’t do to others what you don’t want for you. The only thing I ask is that you pay attention in your life, that your alert status is your guide. This life is the only thing there is, here and now and the only thing you need.

I have made you absolutely free, there are no prizes or punishments, there are no sins or virtues, no one carries a marker, no one carries a record.
You are absolutely free to create in your life a heaven or hell.

I couldn’t tell you if there’s anything after this life, but I can give you a tip. Live as if there wasn’t.
As if this was your only chance to enjoy, to love, to exist.

So, if there is nothing, then you will have enjoyed the opportunity I gave you. And if there is, be sure that I will not ask you if you behaved well or not, I will ask you. Did you like it?… did you have fun ?..What did you enjoy the most? What did you learn?…

Stop believing in me; believe is to assume, guess, imagine. I don’t want you to believe in me, I want you to feel me when you kiss your beloved, when you play with your little girl, when you love your dog, when you bathe in the sea.

Stop praising me. What kind of egotistical God do you think I am?
I’m bored of your praise, I’m fed up with thanks . Do you feel grateful? Prove it taking care of yourself, your health, your relationships, the world around you. Do you feel overwhelmed?… Express your joy! That’s the way to praise me.

The only thing sure is that you are here, that you are alive, that this world is full of wonders.

What do you need more miracles for?
Why so many explanations?

Don’t look for me outside, you won’t find me. Find me inside… there I’m beating in you.”

Baruch De Spinoza

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To see or not to see: that was the ₹ 2,000 question (ticket price for my wife, my nephew and myself) that was on my mind, after hearing fairly vitriolic comments about the ₹ 350 crores multi lingual SAAHO. My wife who also had read about the “torturous” time a few viewers had experienced, asked me: KYA SAAHO KO SAHNA ZAROORI HAI ? I told her that many of my friends were waiting for my take on this Prabhas Shraddha Kapoor starrer if only to save them the ordeal of spending 170 minutes watching the movie. But what made me see the movie was when a frustrated (because of his disappointment with the new government in Andhra which had come to power on the promise of huge expectations) friend from Andhra Pradesh asked me: Which is more disappointing, 3 months of Jagan’s government or 3 hours of SAAHO?
Such has been the hype about SAAHO, that notwithstanding the adverse reviews, the first three days box-office receipts have broken records!
My first reaction after watching SAAHO was to try to recollect any other movie which I had seen in the last few years, which I could rate as worse than SAAHO. It didn’t take me much effort to recall that THUGS OF HINDOSTAN was definitely much worse than SAAHO. While that was the overall impression, there was one area where THUGS OF HINDOSTAN scored better: however inane it was, but I could understand the story. But in SAAHO’s case, I just couldn’t put the pieces together. The basic idea of the story in SAAHO is quite good. But the writer director Sujeeth seems to have totally wrecked what could have been a good thriller. I will not comment about Prabhas’ diction or Shraddha Kapoor presenting a lost look ( I wouldn’t blame her: with such a plot, everyone would get lost) or the tacky VFX in a couple of scenes. The action scenes are well shot and the glamorous locales for the song sequences are indeed fabulous. I have started to look at the feasibility of visiting Highline179 in Reutte on the Austrian German border, which at 400 metres is the world’s longest pedestrian suspension walkway!
Scenes featuring such locations and action scenes give an idea of where most of the budget might have been expended. If you want to see that, by all means see SAAHO. But unless you are a resident of Andhra Pradesh , you may not get the answer as to which is more disappointing : 3 months of the government there or 3 hours of SAAHO!
RATING: 2 out of 5
September 2nd, 2019

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Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment Private Limited is an Indian production house, best associated with successful but forgettable movies like HOUSEFUL and its sequels. However, whenever this production house has tied up with good directors, the end result has been good movies which created no ripples in the box-office. Examples are HIGHWAY directed by Imtiaz Ali, RANGOON directed by Vishal Bharadwaj and the 2019 production SUPER 30 directed by Vikas Bahl. To this, one must add the Nitesh Tiwari ( DANGAL) directed CHHICHHORE.
CHHICHHORE is a slang name used unflatteringly for a group of vagrant good-for-nothing school or college kids and is perhaps an unsuitable title for a movie which is a meaningful take on the warmth of college friendships and the meaninglessness of creating pressures to be “winners”. Deftly woven against the background of hostel life and what would appear to be trivialities, for those who haven’t experienced hostel life, CHHICHHORE awakens nostalgia, at least for those who have spent a few years in their adolescent years in a college hostel. Nitesh Tiwari, who is an alumnus of IIT, Mumbai includes several settings from his alma mater as we get introduced to the characters, one by one. And what strikes a chord is that all these characters and their eccentricities are so real and an immediate connection is set up between the viewers and the audience. Nitesh Tewari gets outstanding support from all his performers without exception; this is easily Shraddha Kapoor’s finest acting display.
Pritam’s music is a tad disappointing and the hospital scenes look more filmy to match the script, but that doesn’t prevent CHHICHHORE from delivering its message.
Coming back to its title, I was wondering what could have caused the makers to choose this name. My research led me to the information that CHH is a camp undertaken by a group of friends who have all at one stage or another attended St. Francis Xavier College, in Canberra in Australia. In this movie, the campsite is the hospital! Whether this is true or not, one thing is certain. Quizzes based on Bollywood can have one more question in their armour: Which are the two films whose single word titles feature CH twice over? CHITCHOR and of course CHHICHHORE!

RATING: 4 out of 5
September 10th, 2019

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