Saturday, February 27, 2016

Review of Aligarh

Image Courtesy: Facebook page of Aligarh
Cast: Manoj Bajpai (Professor Siras), Rajkummar Rao (Deepu Sebastian), Dilnaz Irani (Namita), Ashish Vidyarthi (Advocate Anand Grover), Sukesh Arora (Tahir Islam), Balaji Gauri (Nita Grewal), Sumit Gulati (Tashi), KR Parmeshwar (Professor Sridharan), Ishwak Singh (Arvind Narayan), Nutan Surya (Anjali Gopalan), Divya Unny (Reporter), Suman Vaidya (Shadab Qureshi)
Directed by: Hansal Mehta
Story Idea and Research: Ishani Banerjee
Written by: Apurva Asrani
Screenplay by: Apurva Asrani
Music by: Karan Kulkarni
Cinematography: Satya Rai Nagpaul
Edited by: Apurva Asrani
Production Company: Eros Entertainment, Karma Pictures
Release date: 26th February, 2016
Language: Hindi
Duration: 2 hours

Aligarh, a biographical film by Hansal Mehta, is based on the life of a professor of Aligarh Muslim University – Dr. Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras. The year 2016 has so far seen two films Airlift and Neerja inspired from the true stories and here is another one, Aligarh. Such films really raise the bar of Bollywood films and Aligarh is no exception. It has created a lot of buzz offlate due to the intensity of the topic. Aligarh is a rare take on homophobia. We as individuals have the right to design our choices, and so, how would it be, if one is to face discrimination due to the choice he or she makes in their lives. Aligarh is based on one such true story about Professor Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, who kept his sexual preference confidential for years, but became a victim to an undercover sting operation just before a few months short of his retirement and was suspended from his post. Aligarh is just highlighting one point that every individual born on this earth has the right to live. Yes, we are living in a country, where homosexuality is illegal [Section 377, Indian Penal Code, 1860, which criminalizes carnal intercourse against the order of nature, was declared unconstitutional by the High Court of India on 2nd July, 2009, but this judgment was overturned by the Supreme Court of India on 12th December, 2013, saying that amending or repealing this section should be a matter left to parliament and not the judiciary. But, on 2nd February, 2016, the Supreme Court during hearing of the petitions submitted, said that all the curative petitions submitted will be reviewed afresh by a 5 member constitutional bench]. Aligarh is not an attempt to get the Section 377 repealed, but it tries to raise a very important point, we as a society shall protect the basic rights of every individual, be it LGBT, i.e. to allow them to live their lives without victimizing them for the sexual preferences they have. This film talks about just one Professor Siras, but certainly, there are umpteen Professor Siras in our country, who are suffering. The film draws our attention to the fact that how important it is for us as a society to change our attitude. We don’t have any right to judge anyone on the basis of their most personal and intimate choices, can’t enter anyone’s bedroom to question their dignity. Yes, the taboo topic of the film i.e. homophobia can make the film an adult film, but there are enough content in this film which can make the current as well as the coming generations thoughtful. This film not only deals with an homosexual’s ordeal, but also deals with other issues viz. right to live, desire to maintain dignity, redeem the maligned status, loneliness, finding solace in music and drinks to fight solitude, the very meaning of love etc. Brilliantly crafted film.

Image Courtesy: Wikipedia page
Who was Professor Siras? (Inputs from Wikipedia) : Professor Dr. Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras was a professor at Aligarh Muslim University specializing in Marathi Literature and the head of the Department of Modern Indian Languages. He had written many short stories in Marathi and also received Maharashtra Sahitya Parishad award. He was suspended from his post by AMU, following a sting operation on him intruding the privacy of his apartment, where he was found having sex with his rikshaw puller friend. Though he won his case against his university in the court, and got his job back as professor, he was found dead in mysterious conditions in his apartment within a week in 2010. 

About the film Aligarh: The film by Hansal Mehta is a brilliant effort to depict the story of Professor Siras (Manoj Bajpayee). The film begins with Prof Siras coming home in a rikshaw and later, both Prof Siras and rikshaw puller going inside his house. And the next day newspapers headlines talk about Prof Siras being caught up in compromising position with the rikshaw puller. Lot of aggression is there amongst people, who burn his effigies in front of Aligarh University (yes, in the film, the university is called as Aligarh University, AU, shot at Bareilly). He is being suspended from his post.

Deepu Sebastian (Rajkummar Rao), a journalist with Indian Post Newspaper requests Namitha (Dilnaz Irani) to allow him to cover Professor Siras’ story. For Namitha, it is a ‘sex scandal’ story whereas for Deepu, it is a human story. Namitha is keen to give this story to someone experienced. After persistent efforts, Deepu manages to get the permission to cover Prof Siras’ story. Deepu along with his cameraman colleague Tashi (Sumit Gulati –Talwar fame) travels to meet Prof Siras. How after initial reluctance, a beautiful bond of sharing develops between Deepu and Prof Siras.

Prof Siras’ colleague and friend Prof Sridharan gets an apology letter signed by Prof Siras to submit at college. But nothing works out in Prof Siras’ favour, rather following his suspension, he is even given notice to vacate his accommodation, electricity is provided only for four hours in a day.

Prof Siras is miffed up with the way world is reacting to his news. He finds solace in a peg and in Lata Mangeshkar’s songs.

Activists convince him to file his case against Aligarh University so as to revoke his suspension. That is where the entry of Ashish Vidyarthi as Advocate Anand Grover happens.

Rest of the film is about how the court proceedings happen, how Prof Siras had to bear the brunt of coming out in open, accepting that he is a gay and fighting against his university. The film also portrays Prof Siras’ life through his words. His bond with Deepu also plays a pivotal point in the film. Watch the film to know, how the story has been presented.      

There are not many dialogues in the film, rather a perfect combination of words and silences are used. It is the same as how Prof Siras describes poetry: “It is in the silences. It is in the spaces between words.”  One of the good aspects about the film is that plot like this is so sensitively and sensibly handled.  

Certain scenes, dialogues are very thought provoking and interesting and some others will move you. I don’t want to highlight them, since, one must watch the film to experience the same. Still, to mention a few: Prof Siras, in spite of all the happenings, still speaking very high of Aligarh University to Deepu; Doctor and the nurse ignoring Prof Siras, he chooses to test his blood pressure all by himself inside Doctor’s cabin; his not even knowing the word gay; during court proceedings, he takes out his own book to read etc. A dialogue where he tells Deepu that how important it is to understand love, which is a beautiful word, but we end up maligning it by making it sound like a dirty word.

I don’t want to mention the scenes, but there is a clear cut message through those scenes that love just happens, and at times, lust is there between two people to fill their own voids of life. Who decides the morality?

Manoj Bajpayee as Professor Siras is outstanding. How wonderfully he has displayed the body language of a 63 year old Prof Siras. Manoj’s face expresses every emotion of Prof Siras, be it his embarrassment, fear, anger, pain. Manoj brilliantly projects the suffocation of Prof Siras too. Manoj has created a new benchmark for himself and other actors.

Rajkummar Rao is also very good as Deepu, who brings so much ease to the character which he does. Ashish Vidyarthi as always is very good. Dilnaz Irani and rest of the cast are also very good.

Hansal Mehta’s flawless direction, Ishani Banerjee’s ideated plot, deft writing/editing of Apurva Asrani to convert the same into a full-fledged film, music by Karan Kulkarni and Satya Rai Nagpaul’s brilliant cinematography makes Aligarh a great watch.

Aligarh, a very brave and intense film by Hansal Mehta, will keep you glued to the screen. It talks about every individual’s right to live, respecting one’s privacy. It no way asks you to support LGBT, but definitely asks one to have compassion towards them, and to respect their constitutional rights as human beings. Aligarh is a masterpiece, which has the perfect synchronization of brilliant performances, direction, writing, editing, cinematography and music.

Rating : 4.5 / 5 (Very Good+)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Review of Neerja

Image Courtesy

Cast: Sonam Kapoor (Neerja Bhanot), Shabana Azmi (Rama Bhanot), Shekhar (Jaideep), Yogendra Tiku (Harish  Bhanot)
Directed by: Ram Madhvani
Produced by: Atul Kasbekar, Shanti Sivaram Maini, Bling Unplugged, Fox Star Studios
Written by: Sajwan Quadras, Sanyuktha Chawla Shaikh
Screenplay by: Sajwyn Quadras
Music by: Vishal Khurana
Cinematography: Mitesh Mirchandani
Edited by: Monisha R Baldawa
Production Company: Fox Star Studios
Distributed by: Fox Star Studios
Release date: 19th February, 2016
Language: Hindi
Duration: 2 hours 2 minutes

Neerja, is a film by Ram Madhvani, which is based on the real hijacking incident of Pan Am Flight 73 in Karachi, Pakistan in 1986. The film is based on incredible presence of mind and bravery shown by a 23 year old air hostess Neerja Bhanot, who became instrumental in saving almost 359 lives out of 379 lives on board. Such films which are based on real stories are beyond any review. The only thing which becomes important is whether titular character’s life and the incident have been justified in the film or not. Ram Madhvani has nailed it. The film Neerja sticks to the core, and the events unfold naturally, gradually. Neerja, the titular character, is shown to be a very normal girl, who evolves during a crisis situation and puts her head and heart in place. The story telling is done in such a manner that it would indeed touch your heart. One would also feel proud of the fact that an Indian girl grew beyond her own limitations and displayed extraordinary courage during crisis time. Neerja Bhanot is the youngest Indian to be awarded the Ashok Chakra, India’s highest honour for courage.  

Neerja Bhanot : Image Courtesy link

Background of the film is that a Pan Am Mumbai-Frankfurt-New York flight was hijacked on 5th September, 1986. This flight landed at Karachi prior to proceeding to Frankfurt, and that is where it was hijacked by four armed Palestinian terrorists of Abu Nidal Organization. Militants were planning to use the hijacked plane to pick up Palestinian prisoners in Cyprus and Israel. A survivor has also claimed that he had heard the hijackers intending to crash the plane into a target in Israel. This film Neerja is based on this hijacking incident.

Neerja (Sonam Kapoor), a die-hard Rajesh Khanna fan, is shown to be a fun-loving person, who spreads energy wherever she is. Initial frames show her sprouting Rajesh Khanna’s dialogue : जिन्दगी बड़ी होनी चाहिए, लम्बी नहीं . Neerja is an airhostess as well as a model. She had just done an assignment for bridal wear. She reaches her society gathering, where her family (parents – Yogendra Tiku and Shabana Azmi playing Harish and Rama Bhanot, and two brothers) are all waiting for her so as to make the boring party lively. And that is what exactly she does, peps up the whole atmosphere.

The next day she had to fly by Pan Am 73. It was her first trip as Head Purser. She was very fond of her job. Beautiful mother-daughter moments are shown before her departure. Rama tells Neerja also that her blood pressure shoots up whenever she goes for her duty and it comes down only when her flight lands. Rama is shown as typical mother, who gets worries for her child. She even worries, when Neerja misplaced her ring suggested by an astrologer. These small details make the movie even deeper.

Shekhar plays the role of Jaideep, who is smitten by Neerja, comes to drop Neerja to the airport. Shekhar gifts her a small pack as her birthday gift, asking her to open the same only on her birthday on 7th September, 1986.

Initial frames also shows the Palestinian terrorists’ preparation.
As a head purser, Neerja ensured whether things are in order or not in flight. Neerja is shown to be lovingly interacting with the passengers. Little did the passengers know that a crisis was awaiting them?

The flight landed at Karachi, where it was hijacked. Having taken a training to handle the hijack crisis, Neerja’s brain worked and she alerted the captain and his team at cockpit which made them leave the cockpit through an overhead hatch. Neerja’s thought behind alerting the captain and his team was to save them and also was sure that aircraft could not be forcibly flown. Neerja as a head purser handles the situation.

Neerja’s marital discord and her divorce with Naresh (in Doha) is also shown interspersed with the hijack events.

The film further shows the ordeal faced by the passengers and crew. How the events shape up? How did the terrorists treat passengers and the crew? How did Neerja save the lives? Was she able to maintain her cool in midst of this crisis? Was she able to negotiate with the terrorists and also simultaneously keep the passengers calm? What gift Shekhar had given Neerja? Watch the film for Neerja, the braveheart.

Sonam Kapoor is good as Neerja. Shabana Azmi’s motherly affection would win your hearts. Rest of the cast has also done a good job.   

Certain scenes are extremely emotional: Roma and Harish’s conversation after the highjack, wishing her daughter to be safe but not able to console each other. The last scene where Roma shares her grief, pain, pride of being Neerja’s mother.

Watch Neerja, an excellent film, which would leave you in tears for the kind of human spirits displayed by the braveheart. She made Rajesh Khanna starrer Anand film’s dialogue her own life’s philosophy: जिन्दगी बड़ी होनी चाहिए, लम्बी नहीं . She lived a great life. Grand Salute to Neerja.     

Rating : 4 / 5 (Very Good)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Review of Puthiya Niyamam (പുതിയ നിയമം)

Image Courtesy: Official Facebook Page of the film
Cast: Mammootty (Adv. Louis Pothen), Nayantara (Vasuki Iyer), Baby Ananya (Chintha), Aju Varghese (Romanch), Sheelu Abraham (DCP Jeena), Rachana Narayanankutty (Kani), SN Swamy, Sadiq
Directed by: AK Sajan
Produced by: P Venugopal, Geo Abraham
Written by: AK Sajan
Music by: Songs – Vinu Thomas; Background Score – Gopi Sunder
Cinematography: Roby Varghese Raj
Edited by: Vivek Harshan
Production Company: VG Films International
Distributed by: Abaam Movies, Popcorn Entertainments (Asia Pacific)
Release date: 12th February, 2016
Language: Malayalam
Duration: 2 hours 13 minutes

Puthiya Niyamam (പുതിയ നിയമം) has indeed created a new benchmark for the Malayalam films. Written and directed by AK Sajan, I could find an evident similarity between this film and Drishyam. It outperforms Drishyam, which was a superhit film. Story of Drishyam was beyond right / wrong, and it dealt with how an individual deals with the situations in crisis, especially when family was involved. Puthiya Niyamam highlights the wrong (s) of our society and how ordinary people, when victimized, evolve to fight the situations. Here also, the protagonists’ rights may not be the ‘rights’ of law, and that is how, the name of the film is in sync with the plot i.e. to frame new laws. Social evils viz. drug addicts, sex maniacs etc. are shown through different characters, who can do much damage to the society. The story builds up gradually, but keeps the audience glued on to the screen. Even though, no suspense is revealed in the first half, the screenplay certainly generates curiosity in audience. In comparison to Drishyam, it has fewer lighter moments, but it is indeed a crime thriller, which would make you watch the same with bated breath.

The film begins with the narration of Chintha (Baby Ananya), who introduces her parents Vasuki Iyer (Nayantara) and Louis Pothen (Mammootty). Vasuki is shown with a sling on her left hand. Chnitha says that her mother has changed, and she often gets embarrassed by her strange behaviour. Vasuki is a Kathakali dancer, who has changed offlate from a fun loving cool person to an absent-minded, gloomy and brooding person. Vasuki causes embarrassment to  Chintha when she blasts the caretaker of her school bus, when he tries to help Chintha ride the bus. Vasuki even forces Louis to buy a new car just to pick up and drop Chintha to school. Chintha keeps on asking Louis in regard to why and how her mother changed.

Nayantara as Vasuki (Image Courtesy: Official Facebook Page of the Film)
 Chintha introduces Louis to the audience, according to her, he is a cool celebrity and just opposite to Vasuki. He is a TV anchor as a film critic, and also an advocate, who is specialized in divorces. He is shown as a very light-hearted person, who has good sense of humour.

Louis and Vasuki had an inter-caste marriage which resulted in their families shunning them. Louis is also conscious of the change which has happened in Vasuki’s behaviour, but he tries to keep her in good humour. Vasuki is very particular about things.

Mammootty (Louis) with Baby Ananya (Chintha): Image Courtesy - Official Facebook Page of the Film
The first half is used to build the story in a gradual manner. Other characters are introduced in a very natural manner be it the entry of DCP Jeena (Sheelu Abraham) or Kani (Rachana Narayanankutty). DCP Jeena is supposed to be very particular to bring law and order in the city and also be in favour of people in need. Kani is also a news anchor, who lived in the same complex as that of Vasuki and Louis. Kani at times openly flirts with Louis. Sadiq is shown as a teacher, who is being awarded for his good teachings to the students, but is he able to give the same upbringing to his child? Role of SN Swamy is pivotal to the plot, let me not reveal it.

Louis is shown to be a divorce lawyer, who, on the contrary, believes in marriage. He tries to convince his clients to save their marriage through his logics, blunt questions and at times even through counseling. He does not take up cases just for the sake of money. He is constantly shown to be dealing with various clients which again and again reiterate his thoughts about marriage. Aju Varghese makes an interesting entry as Romanch, who is also seeking divorce.

The second half of the film unfolds the reasons behind why Vasuki changed. What actually happened which changed her life forever? What sort of heinous crime happened? How does she respond to the happenings? Is she able to grow beyond the current situations and able to overcome her own moods? How does Louis become part of her journey? Is Vasuki able to gain herself back? What is DCP Jeena’s take on Vasuki? How various events unfold? How justice is sought ?

The film will definitely leave you with pain in your heart for the kind of social evils happening in and around us. Nayantara is in terrific form. She looks very beautiful. She has done complete justice to the grief-stricken Vasuki. Mammootty’s performance as Louis is also very good. He keeps the suspense element alive till the last moment. Baby Ananya is also good. Rest of the cast has also done justice to their respective characters.  

The background score of the film by Gopi Sunder is absolutely perfect as per the tone of the film. The backdrop of Vasuki being a Kathakali dancer also goes well with the plot. Probably the first half could have been a bit more fast.        

Puthiya Niyamam (പുതിയ നിയമം) is a must-watch film, talks about the social evils of our society, and how social evils can turn somebody’s life completely topsy turvy. Watch it for the way the story is dealt and also for terrific performances of Nayantara and Mammootty.

Rating : 4 / 5 (Very Good)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Challenge the Perception

Me in a training session

This is one of the winning post for #IAmCapable at BlogAdda in association with Nihar Naturals :

Thank u BlogAdda !!!

We as human beings form opinions about others in probably 30 seconds of meeting them. And researchers say that these opinions or as we call it, first impressions are formed basically on the appearance. But the point which I want to talk here is that we should judge our own judgments about an individual. Just forming opinions, without any communication, simply on the basis of physical appearance, looks, or even the dressing sense other than ours can be disastrous and wrong at times. Having said this, I agree that, we shall definitely take care of our personal grooming. How we carry ourselves is very important. What we wear, how we wear, and our appearance everything is very important. It is indeed great to be updated about the fashion trends, but one must choose the attire as per one’s comfort and also on the basis of what suits.

Being a woman, it has happened many times during different phases of life that I have been judged on the basis of my looks, appearance and my attire. One such incident I remember which happened a decade back i.e. in 2006. It was in 2003 that I started my entrepreneurial journey as a corporate trainer. Being a Keralite, I was always fond of sarees. So, whenever I went for a training programme, sarees became my formal attire. And I must admit that wearing sarees enhanced my confidence. So, it was like any other day of a training programme. I had to speak on personal and professional excellence in an IT-enabled service organization. I chose one of my good bright cotton saree. As always, when I looked into the mirror, I felt confident in saree and got all set to conduct the session.

It was my first association with this organization. I reached 45 minutes prior to the programme and after reaching the training hall at the client site, I ensured to fix my laptop, projector etc. And slowly participants started coming. This organization had a casual attire culture and being a Friday specially, young professionals were dressed up in more casual bright colours. Being fond of colours, I was thoroughly enjoying young bright energy around me. Slowly the training hall was occupied with participants. Out of 25 participants, 20 of them were boys.

When I started the training programme, I got very lukewarm response from the participants, which was absolutely contrary to my anticipation. My gut feeling was that these young professionals would be actively participating, but in spite of introducing the topic in a broader perspective and to my satisfaction, energy was missing in the room. Although I was unable to figure out the reason, I thought to challenge myself and went ahead with the training programme. I learnt their name at one go during this introductory ice-breaker, which definitely did magic and the connect between us started happening. Slowly I saw the participants opening up.  I took the advantage of the new environment setting in, I shared with them a shayari:
नजर बदलो, नज़ारे बदल जायेंगे,
सोच बदलो, सितारे बदल जायेंगे,
कश्तियाँ बदलने की जरूरत नहीं,
दिशा बदलो, किनारे खुद-ब-खुद बदल जायेंगे I

This shayari earned me a big applause. Slowly, the session became more and more interactive. Free flow of conversations happened. They had lots of queries on success, excellence, balancing personal and professional lives etc. These questions made the session very interesting. The whole learning session became a great experience with lot of fun and activities. To my surprise, even the lunch table turned out to be interactive.

Now it was time for the verbal feedback at the end of 6-hours session. To explore what made them give me such a lukewarm response in the beginning, I asked them to give me response and feedback for the following three questions:
1.    What was their thought when they came for the training programme.
2.    And now, at the end of the day, what was their thought pattern?
3.    One learning which touched their heart.

Almost 15 boys and 2 girls shared honestly that they had come to the training expecting the facilitator to be dressed in western attire. Though they liked me in saree, their perception was that my training programme also would be conventional one. They confessed that their perception was absolutely wrong. They were amazed at the unconventional mode of conducting training with audio-visual slides, stories, activities, jokes, shayari. Most of them said that the very shayari, which I have mentioned above, touched their hearts.

I was really overwhelmed with their feedback. I was also very satisfied.

This incident was one typical experience of mine, where I was judged on the basis of attire. I was in traditional attire in an organization where the culture was different. I still continue to wear sarees for my training programmes, though I do take care of the fact that if I have to go to such organizations, where the culture is informal, I do try to fit myself into my comfortable formal western attire too. It is not a matter that which is the right approach, but the point which I want to highlight is that do we judge others specially women on the basis of what they wear.

One thing I do feel that it is not only men judging women on the basis of what women choose to wear, but at times, even women judge other women.

The research and survey done says that women get judged based on what look like, more than on what they do. Women don’t just have to worry about looking presentable, but also to worry about how they will be perceived. Every outfit carries a subtle message for people who pass judgments, and women are forced to adhere to the image that their appearance creates. Not just experience, but even statistics say the same. Please take a look at some of the startling figures that the Nihar Naturals #IAmCapable survey conducted by Nielsen India reveals:

a.   69% of men agree that their judgment of women is based on their looks.
b.   64% of women agree that the judgments passed on them have affected their ability to reach their true potential.
c.    70% of women agree that majority of judgments on women are from family members or friends rather than strangers.
d.   72% of women agree that working women face more judgments on their looks or their clothes than housewives.

Image Courtesy: from BlogAdda page 

I agree with this fact that one needs to look presentable and dignified. At the same time, one also needs to be careful about forming opinions about others. I also want to convey a message to us, the women fraternity, that we need to be sure and confident of ourselves and challenge the wrong perception and judgments of others. Let our performance and work speak against these unjust criticisms / false judgments and let us try to outperform ourselves. It is time for us women to excel beyond one’s own expectations and be an optimum performer in various spheres of lives rather than succumbing to these judgments.

Please watch this video (courtesy: NIhar Naturals)

I am breaking stereotypes based on appearance by sharing your experience for the #IAmCapable activity at BlogAdda in association with Nihar Naturals.