Padman – A superhero movie

The closing shot of Padman is as good as the brilliant ending shot of Truman Show. Akshay Kumar’s character finally has achieved what he had set out to do and the society has accepted him with elan. He stands alone at the center dressed in a pristine white shirt and the camera pans out showing us the full view of his village’s  beautiful Ghat.

I do not remember a lot of closing shots of Bollywood movies. Most of them are cringe-worthy photo ops that are a mere depiction of the end and nothing else. This was different and it stayed with me. It was powerful.

I had read a few reviews before venturing into the cinema hall. The problem with the reviews is that they influence your thinking about the movie. When the UN speech at the end was being delivered by Lakshmi (AK) I was wondering if the speech was long. Rajeev Masand had mentioned this in his review and it was clouding my judgment of the scene. A good percentage of the reviews have given Padman an average rating calling it a public service advertisement and a little too long. This also was playing in the back of my mind while watching the movie. It is clear then that for me reading reviews is detrimental to enjoying the movie!

Lakshmi is an intelligent mechanic who is a school dropout (8th standard we are told) and has a progressive mindset. He lives in a village in Madhya Pradesh on the banks of Narmada. Post his wedding he gets to know the trivial details of menstruation and how his wife Gayatri played by the eclectic Radhika Apte suffers for the five days every month. He finds it appalling that Gayatri uses an old cloth instead of a sanitary napkin. He learns from the local doctor about the ill effects of using unhygienic clothes during menstruation and is convinced that he needs to get the sanitary pads for his wife. Gayatri, on the other hand, does not want to spend money on the pads because it is going to eat into the household milk budget. Lakshmi at this point finds a purpose in life:

To build affordable sanitary pads.

His enterprising nature and experience as a mechanic help him figure out the basic process of making a home-made pad. But his lack of knowledge and resources prevent him from making the all elusive pads that will act as an alternative to the costly pads sold by the heartless money minded corporations.

Most of the movie deals with how he learns about the process to manufacture the pads and in the process also how to reach out to his target market i.e. menstruating women. There are many embarrassing moments where he struggles to find volunteers to try out his inventions. This clearly shows how obsessed he is with making the invention work that he has forgotten how sensitive is the topic he is addressing and attempting to solve. While his intentions are in the right place but the method to pursue the goal is not.

Enter Sonam Kapoor who plays Pari to fill the gaping hole in Lakshmi’s life.

She inadvertently becomes the first customer of Lakshmi’s pads and also a staunch supporter of his invention. The scene where he pulls out the pads from his pocket and gives them to Pari’s friends in the middle of the night is hilarious. Both Lakshmi and Pari together make a business out of Lakshmi’s pet project.

Sonam’s character was definitely needed in the movie. Without her, Lakshmi was pretty much done and dusted. He did not have it in him to build out the large-scale business. She makes him realize what he has been doing wrong all along. Women do not talk to men about women issues. She becomes the vehicle through which Lakshmi’s invention reaches its intended market.

That Sonam ends up falling in love with Lakshmi is questionable but I beg to ask why is it that not possible? She found in him a progressive man who is intelligent and has a passion to lead a meaningful life. The whole love angle does look like a blot in the story standing alone distant from the plot but it isn’t totally implausible.

The chemistry between Akshay Kumar and Radhika Apte is riveting. Both of them shine in depicting emotions through tenderly acts of love. The scenes between them have been written marvelously and their acting shines radiantly (Okay too many ly words there!).I personally couldn’t imagine Radhika Apte in such a role but she has pulled it off brilliantly. Contrary to popular belief she is not in the movie for just crying. Watch out for the scene in which she is in the crowd watching her husband in the river drowned with shame and how she shows that she has had enough of him.

Sonam Kapoor seems to be a favorite for receiving a lot of flak for her limited acting skills. She could have been better but she was not bad at all. Her character is a woman in today’s world who has multi-field interests and does not speak pure Hindi. What’s the problem if she is also a good Tabla player. Why do you have a problem with that? ( This is targeted at the reviewers who question her being depicted as a tabla player and then not showing anything about it later). She looked natural, beautiful and her charming self in the movie. And guess what that is how her character was written.

Amit Trivedi’s music is on point and is in his usual characteristic style. Aaj se Teri has quirky lyrics and is a compelling composition. The title song sung by Mika is entertaining and is also great to sing along!

After the endearing final shot of Akshay Kumar, they show an equally elegant shot of Arunachalam Muruganantham and call him the real Padman. Yes, the movie might have been made with the focus of minting money out of a social message but why do we find it difficult to accept that the message is important as well? The Padman challenge was termed as a marketing gimmick. It could be just that. But it has made the menstruation a living room topic. That in itself is an achievement. Yes, the movie will not make the percentage of women who use sanitary pads magically higher. But it celebrates the person who is attempting to do just that. So for once keep your cynicism aside and stretch your arms and hug the idea of Padman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The big sick

Image courtesy – Kumail’s Twitter account.

The advantage of making a good movie is that it doesn’t need in-your-face promotion. People will talk about it even weeks and months after the release. I heard people talk about “The big sick” on twitter a couple of times. Then the other day I saw this tweet which pushed me over to leave everything and watch the movie.

It is surprising that Amazon Prime did not showcase this flick on the front page of prime video. Who decides what goes on front and what gets watched? Shouldn’t we have more of a say in it?

The voice remote on Amazon Fire Stick works like a charm. I found the big sick waiting to be seen. I paused my household chores and began watching the movie.

I have seen Kumail Nanjiani’s work in HBO’s Silicon Valley and hence it was difficult for me to separate the characters of Dinesh and Kumail.

The movie works for more reasons than one. The chemistry between Kumail and Zoe Kazan is fascinating and believable. I was afraid that it was going to fall flat. The supporting characters are really well written especially the parents of Emily (Zoe). I loved the scene where Emily’s mom played by the beautiful Holly Hunter connects with Kumail on the eve of the Emily’s surgery. Ray Romano who plays the father has an awkward sense of humor and his lines work marvelously in the movie. Watch out for the scene in which he tries to say something profound about love and fails miserably.

Zoe is her charming self and eases through the character. She doesn’t have much weight lifting to do. Kumail on other hand had a lot of scenes where he had to dig deep and use his acting prowess. He succeeds mostly. There are few scenes which he wasn’t convincing especially when he had to show is angst at the poor vendor selling burgers. Other than that he played himself on the screen with great conviction.

Kumail’s family portrayal is down right funny. His baseball fanatic brother, the overbearing mother, typical sister-in-law and the restrained father. The scenes on the dining table will make you laugh out loud. Though I felt they stretched one routine a little too far, to the point that it looked repetitive .

The big sick isn’t your typical rom-com. It is much more than that. It has drama, depth, silliness, awkwardness, and above all a lot of humor. It is guaranteed to make you laugh.

This movie also brings the Asian immigrants in the mainstream. We know that US is filled with Asians but they have been represented poorly in the Hollywood movies. Up until now they have had to take stereotypical roles. Much like what Kumail plays in Silicon Valley. They were never the story themselves. Always a sidekick.

But it seems the times are now changing. Aziz Ansari’s Master of None being the another example of the Indian subcontinent actors taking the Centre stage. Can’t leave Hasan Minhaj’s The Homecoming King from this eccentric mix.

The big sick is a new age rom com that is endearing to watch. It is available on Amazon Prime. Add it to your watch list now.

Meeting Arjun Reddy’s Grandmother

Photo credit: Greatandhra. Com

I had always considered myself unlucky when it comes to meeting stars or celebrities at the airports or inside the flights. My friend who invariably meets someone every time she travels makes it look so easy. This for me wasn’t a goal but I wouldn’t complain if it happens to me.

I was traveling to Lucknow from Chennai on November 4, 2017. I was flying Indigo 6E 847, apparently the best airlines India has to offer.

Just like anyone else I sat near the gate waiting for the boarding to start. I was consciously making an attempt to not use my mobile phone. Why you ask? Let’s just say I don’t like that we have become slaves to our phones. More on that later. Of the hundreds of people sitting in the waiting area only handful were actually mindful of their surroundings. Most of them had a screen to stare into or were listening to music. Nothing wrong in doing either.

The moment they announced the boarding people flocked together and tried their best to beat everybody else to the line. After much effort I got onto the plane. The charismatic and inhumane air hostess welcomed me with a authentic fake smile which obviously dint work for me. I know better. While I was making my way through the aisle, expecting people to behave civilized and make way for others, I saw a familiar face.

An old lady trying to get comfortable in her seat. I couldn’t remember where had I seen her before. By the time I got to my seat at the backend of the plane i realized she might be the actor who played the role of the charming grandmother in the movie Arjun Reddy. Since I wasn’t sure if it was her and also did not know anything about the actor I dint do anything. The only thing I had read about her was a two line reference to her acting career in one of the movie reviews. Hence without giving it too much thought, I got comfortable in my seat and forgot about her.

Four hours later the plane landed in Lucknow. The moment the seat belt sign was turned off people got up in a jiffy, unloaded their bags from overhead cabin space and then waited in a line smelling each other’s odor. I can’t understand why people do that. By saving those 2 minutes how are they making their lives better? More on that later.

I waited for the aisle to get vacant. There were handful of people struggling with their luggage. I walked to the front end of the plane and to my surprise found the old lady standing near her seat. I couldn’t resist and asked her “Aren’t you the actor who played the role of the grandmother in Arjun Reddy”?

She said yes and I could sense a little pride in her voice. Not knowing what exactly to do in such a situation I continued to talk with her as I would talk to any stranger. I accompanied her on her way to the baggage carousels. She was in a wheelchair and an attendant was helping her drive the chair. The next 15 to 20 minutes of my life were enriching to say the least.

We quickly began to converse in Kannada and she told me about her experience of working in movies in different languages. I still did not know her name or anything else about her. She had apparently won an award in Karnataka and was telling me gleefully about the message she delivered while accepting the award. She took pride in saying that she is still earning at 78. She expected people to do their duties and told me repeatedly to allow people to do their duties. I was being helpful and trying to find a trolley for her but she insisted on the attendant to do it. We are paying him and he should earn his money was the reply I got form her. She did not budge in saying that people like me should not try to be extra nice and do other people’s jobs.

She was charming and energetic. Her zeal to talk about her life was exciting to see and it was clear to me that she must have been a strong woman in her hey days. I accompanied her till the exit gate where her family was waiting to receive her. Throughout the conversation I had umpteen number of opportunities to ask for a photo but I refrained. I was fighting the urge to take tbe selfie. The purity of the moment gets muddled when you bring in the moment capture device.

She asked me where I worked and stayed in Chennai. When I told her about the area I stay in, she was surprised and said we stay close by. I don’t remember if she said come over for a visit but even if she didn’t it doesn’t matter.

She introduced me to her family and was checking with them if they could drop me to a nearby place. I said my goodbyes to her and truly felt good for meeting her.

I still did not know her name. I called up a friend from office and narrated the incident to him and he told me that she is Kanchana.

Badrinath ki Dulhaniya


Photo by Jake Hills

Seldom do I see the audience responding to the character’s actions on the screen. A lady sitting in the row behind me was evaluating every action taken by Alia Bhatt’s character (Vaidehi) and was mostly in agreement with her. She used phrases such as these:

“Sahi kar rahi hai”

“Aur kya kar sakti hai wo, aise situation me”

The running commentary intrigued me because the message in the movie is rightly about women empowerment. Can’t a small town girl have dreams to fly (To be an air hostess)? Does she need to sacrifice her dreams in order to get married at the “right age” and give peace of mind to her disease ridden father? Doesn’t she deserve the right to speak and a chance to be respected?

The writer-director Shashank Khaitan has attempted to tell a movie that does not have cracks. At least on the surface. He gets it right for most part of the movie. But there are flaws as there would be in any effort of such magnanimous nature.

Badrinath (Varun Dhawan) is born with a silver spoon. While his elder brother and sister-in-law toil hard in the car showroom business, he is busy doing the recovery of money lended by his father. He is happy doing it and considers his family’s reputation as his job description.

In a “chance” encounter Badri meets Vaidehi and is smitten by her. To make it apparent, we have the surrender hua song in the beginning. The song is also used for credit rolling which seems a better purpose for it than taking the story forward.

Badri doesn’t need Vaidehi’s approval. He wants to marry her. No need of love and consent. As long as her parents are willing who cares what the girl thinks. In comes Vaidehi’s “No” and out goes Badri’s “Self-confidence.”

The further story revolves on how Badri learns to respect women and gathers courage to stand up to his father.

Badri-Vaidehi chemistry works beautifully on the screen. Badri’s friend Somdev (Sahil Vaid) is the source of comic relief and thankfully has been given some meaty time on the screen. Alia Bhatt continues to impress with her incredible talent. Watch out for the scene, where she convinces herself that marriage is the right thing for her while doing the chores in the kitchen. Varun Dhawan makes us laugh and is also sincere enough to make us feel for his plight in the second half.

If the movie was a relay race, it started great and continued doing good till the 70% of the track and then decided to give up. It then just wanted to finish and qualify, not win.

Pink is the new black

I am half asleep while I am typing this so excuse the typos, improper usage of grammar, and something else that I cannot remember…

Shoojit Sircar seems to be a synonym for unconventional. Sperm donation, Sri Lankan civil war, Bowel moments, and now society’s portrayal of women. He doesn’t represent the Bollywood we know, he is defining what Bollywood could be.

The casting director deserves our applause. Be it the three girls, old judge, typical dad, Delhi brats and the redemption seeking lawyer. All of them have done the fraternity of actors proud.

Writing is the reason why the movie works. The story is fairly simple but the treatment to it isn’t. The vulnerability of the characters is what you will relate to. Incidents like the one showed in the movie have become much too common for us- the India that lives in the media bubble.

This is not a movie on women empowerment. The Bollywood’s idea of women empowerment is two fold. I am digressing here but there is a need to.

First, display the courage women possess to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. The modern Sati. Remember Anushkha in Sultan giving up the dream of olympic gold for a baby? or Sonakshi in Akira agreeing to the mental disability charges to save the city from riots.

Second, make the heroine muscular enough to defend herself and the entire womankind by hitting the goons. Ex: Rani Mukerji in Mardaani.

Pink doesn’t fall in any of the above categories, it just happens to show a mirror to the society.

The movie asks a few pertinent questions:

  1. Why does the clock need to decide the character of women? – If women come back to their home late at night there is something definitely fishy?
  2. How can men and women hangout in the same flat? The pro-active hormones will activate the sexual desires and the unthinkable will happen.
  3. Women from ‘reputed’ families do not drink or hangout with boys.

and there are few more which question and challenge the feudal mindset some of us still have. These are not new questions. They have been asked before but not like this, with a purpose in mind.

Gist of the story: There are three girls who meet few mutual friends at a rock concert and agree to go to dinner with them. Post dinner they all have a few drinks and then their sophisticated lifestyle goes for a toss and in comes the desi mard. Things go out of control and one girl hits the boy with a bottle. The boys can’t fathom how could a girl hit them and runaway, questioning their manhood. Girls are scared as the society expects them to be. And, the society does what it does best, stands still and enjoys the drama unfold. One good Samaritan tries to help and when things go out of control, he steps in and in the ensuing struggle saves the day.

The good samaritan is Amitabh Bachchan. If you felt Big B gets too much attention, this movie might give you the reason why. I loved his portrayal of an aging lawyer battling his wife’s illness and saving the girls next door. In one scene, he looks at Meenal ( the protagonist) after asking a personal question with such ferocity that you cannot help but marvel at his brilliance.

I loved the ending scene where they convey the message men and women are equal, with a simple gesture.

The movie is being praised by everyone except KRK and that’s the precise reason why you should watch it. A lot of thought has been put in making the movie and that is rare in Bollywood.