Mahanati: Intense, Dramatic, Inspiring

Biopics are becoming all the rage in the current wave of Indian cinema, with each industry producing and popularizing lesser-known aspects of beloved celebrities. Mahanati follows the life of the South Indian actress Savitri, from her childhood days to her final days. The film begins in the 1980s by introducing Madhuravani alias Vani (Samantha Akkineni), a journalist who has been assigned to cover the story of Savitri (Keerthy Suresh). She, along with her photographer Anthony (Vijay Deverakonda), embark on a journey to uncover bits and pieces of the actress’ life, including her entry into films, her love affair and marriage to Gemini Ganesan (Dulquer Salmaan), and other highs and lows of her career and personal life.

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In any biopic, storytelling of a character’s life narrative is important and can make or break the film. Nag Ashwin’s direction is excellent and the interweaving of Savitri’s life (through flashback) with the lives of Vani and Anthony offers a comfortable balance of past and present. The characterization of Savitri provides viewers with a multifaceted view of who she is both as a superstar and a human being. From her magnanimous nature to her brilliance as an actress, Savitri is a fiercely dedicated and hardworking woman with a kind and compassionate heart. The blossoming of her love for Gemini Ganesan is shown so subtly and beautifully, alongside her upward climb towards success in the movie business.

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As a period film set in the 50s/60s and 80s, Mahanati’s settings and recreation of these eras is a nostalgic walk down memory lane for folks who grew up idolizing Savitri during these times. Dani Sanchez-Lopez’s cinematography is fantastic, and certain scenes depicting Savitri’s relationship with alcohol and alcoholism uniquely capture the quandaries of her mind and substance addiction. The music and background score by Mickey J Meyer infuses Indian elements with string orchestration in melodies that appeal to the ears and suit the visual vibe of the movie. While certain scenes appear dramatic and over the top by current standards of filmmaking and storytelling, they are justified by the fact that the majority of this film is set in a time period of up to six decades ago.

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Coming to the performances, Keerthy Suresh has done an incredible job as the superstar Savitri. From the young bubbly adolescent to the successful superstar to the helpless alcoholic mother, Keerthy excels in all facets of the dynamic actress Savitri. Dulquer Salmaan is charming as ever as Kadhal Mannan Gemini Ganesan, portraying the character’s love and admiration for Savitri as well as his insecurities and inner turmoil in their relationship. Samantha perfectly fits the role of the intelligent but shy journalist Vani, and her ending conversation with the Mahanati herself is heartfelt.

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Final Verdict: Mahanati is an inspiring Telugu-Tamil biopic that highlights the life of one of yesteryear’s beloved starlets Savitri. Although it is relatively long (almost 3 hours), this film is a definite tear-jerker, even for folks who are less familiar with Savitri’s life and body of work.

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102 Not Out: Hopeful Visions for Healing and Aging

102 Not Out has been making its rounds in media promotions for several months with viewers waiting in anticipation for the return of one of yesteryear’s dynamic duos – Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor. After a three-year hiatus, director Umesh Shukla (of Oh My God fame) returns with an entertaining dramedy (drama + comedy) about a unique father-son relationship between 102-year-old Dattatraya Vakharia (Amitabh Bachchan) and 75-year-old Baabulal Vakharia (Rishi Kapoor). Caught in the middle of this dynamic is a young lad named Dhiru (Jimit Trivedi), who keeps these men company in all their antics and adventures.

From the start of the movie, Dattatraya’s exuberant zest for life is infectious and exists as a stark contrast to the highly routined lifestyle of his son Baabu. In his quest to beat the world record of the oldest man alive and win that title for himself, Dattatraya is determined to transform his grumpy son into a more positive spontaneous person who loves life. In the process of following his father’s conditions, Baabu gains a newfound approach to and respect for his past, present, and future through a series of transformative experiences that remind him of the reasons why life is worth living.

The move towards more realistic storytelling in the Bollywood film industry is a welcome change from the frivolous (yet classic and quintessential) romance that characterized previous eras. In addition to being entertaining and comedic, 102 Not Out also touches on some heavy themes, including death and dying, attachment, aging, and adult parent-child relationships. The nuances in the multiplicity of roles held by Baabu, as both a son and a father, are an integral part of his characterization, transformation, and subsequent realizations about how to live in a self-compassionate way. Dattatraya does not simply help his son survive – he gives him space to thrive and helps him find energy to direct his own life. From the silly jokes to the deep meaningful insights about life, every moment of this film feels so real and human.

One of the highlights of 102 Not Out is certainly the music by Salim Sulaiman, whose infusion of jazz, salsa, and other styles are as diverse as Mumbai itself (where the film takes place). Laxman Utekar’s cinematography of concluding scenes with snapped pictures and sketches captures the essence of every scene and highlights important moments throughout. Needless to say, Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor deliver fantastic performances in their respective roles, and their chemistry and camaraderie is both entertaining and endearing. One can only hope for more films that display such unique but important themes and focus on different kinds of relationships.

Final Verdict: 102 Not Out is a movie that instills hope and offers new visions for how to approach living the latter part of life. Short, sweet, and sentimental, this heartwarming love story between a father and son is a must watch for 2018!

Bollywood and Indian Classical Dance: A Series of Unfortunate Events

The relationship between the Bollywood industry (namely, many of its choreographers) and Indian classical styles of dance is controversial and has been somewhat problematic for a long time. This is a rant that may seem repetitive but comes as a necessary response to the following video I encountered, in which a famous Indian choreographer has created a guide to Indian classical dance. Take a look…

Some brief context about Terence Lewis – he is an excellent contemporary dance artist with lots of experience in other Western styles of dance (having been a judge and choreographer for many Indian dance reality shows, films, and award functions). During the first minute or so of the video where Terence explained the hastas/mudras (hand gestures), I was pleasantly surprised at how accurate and true to the form he was being. Unfortunately, what came afterwards was a slow downward spiral. From demonstrating subpar adavus in an even more subpar araimandi to incorrectly labeling other mudras, it is clear that Terence Lewis is not an expert on teaching Bharatanatyam, yet it is unclear why he made this video considering his lack of expertise.

What I find even more appalling and disappointing than the misinformation and lack of proper technique in this video is how Indian classical art forms are generally reduced to something that can be easily learned and picked up, as evidenced by the random insertion of Indian classical dance steps into mainstream Bollywood film songs and by many Bollywood fusion dance teams and groups around the world. This degrades the amount of dedication, determination, discipline, and hard work required to learn and perfect Indian classical dance, which is a lifelong pursuit and journey for many artists.

Bharatanatyam and Bollywood are both so dear to me that it really breaks my heart to see the former’s consistent misrepresentation in the latter. Part of me is compelled to feel hopeful for the future but the other part of me knows how slow (or unlikely) change can be in a society that values fusion over form.

Note: This is by no means an attack on all choreographers who incorporate Indian classical styles of dance into their work. While there are non-trained dancers who do it improperly, it is important to recognize that there are others who approach Indian classical dance with the sincerity and respect it deserves.

Black Panther: An Empowering Fantastical Legacy

Marvel Studios’ Black Panther is easily one of the most anticipated superhero films of 2018 and I must say, it was worth the wait. The film begins with a brief history of how Wakanda (a fictional kingdom nation in Africa) and the tradition of the Black Panther came about. Within a few flashbacks, we see that the kingdom of Wakanda is rendered heirless, with T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) next in power to become King of Wakanda. When faced with an unexpected enemy Erik Stevens (Michael B Jordan), T’Challa must fight to protect his kingdom alongside his main supporters, including his bodyguard and commander-in-chief Okoye (Danai Gurira), his sister and resident scientist Shuri (Letitia Wright), and his “ex” and an intelligence spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o).

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Amidst the political atmosphere of hate crimes and police brutality against African Americans in the US, Black Panther is a superhuman social commentary on racism, oppression, colonization, and African diasporic experiences, raising questions about connection, responsibility, and identity. Writers Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole excellently weave this underlying thread throughout the film, framing it as both a serious issue that demands attention and inserting it into witty one-liners as satiric comedy. Here’s hoping and wishing that a nation as technologically advanced and culturally rich as Wakanda exists not only in futuristic fantasy and science-fiction but can in due course become a reality in Africa, proving that Western industrialization and colonization need not be a benchmark for progress and development in the world.

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Black Panther is a holistically African film, deriving visual elements from various different African countries, tribes, and subcultures. From village squares and streets resembling North Africa to jewelry and costumes like East African tribes, the makers of the film have clearly put in a great deal of effort in doing background research for this superhero spectacle. I particularly loved the connection to ancestors as a source of strength, support, and healing for Wakandans. The growth and use of the innovative technology of the imaginary element vibranium was also amazing to see onscreen.

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Needless to say, the visuals and cinematography by Rachel Morrison is absolutely brilliant, giving folks who have been to Africa all the feels and a serious dose of nostalgia. In his background score, Ludwig Goransson uniquely combines an EDM base, hip-hop beats, and traditional African drumming, singing, and instrumentation to create a sound that is representative of African and African diaspora cultures.

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Black Panther features all-star cast members who have all essayed their roles well. While the characters themselves may be fictional, fantastical, and transcend reality, their motivations, intentions, and actions are realistic and demonstrate the essence of human nature. One of my personal favorites is T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), whose strength, power, and sass as a scientist steal the show.

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Final Verdict: Black Panther is a unique superhero movie that traces the narrative of a historically ignored people through mind-blowing visuals and powerful thought-provoking storytelling. Bearing some resemblance to the Hindu epic Mahabharata and the recent multilingual two-part blockbuster Baahubali, Black Panther is so gripping and engaging that I wanted the film to continue. As always, stay till the very end for a sneak peak into Black Panther in Marvel’s next flicks!

Padmaavat – Intensity, Extravagance, Familiarity

After much controversy and debate, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Padmavati – renamed to Padmaavat – officially released worldwide to packed movie theaters and thundering box office sales. Following suit from his previous films, Bhansali once again explores historical fiction, situating this one in the 13th century context of the Indian subcontinent’s politics and the lives of Maharawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor), Padmavati (Deepika Padukone), and Sultan Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh). Also in the milieu are archetypal characters one would expect to find in any historically-based drama film – Nagmati (Anupriya Goenka), the disgruntled first wife of Ratan Singh, Raghav Chetan (Aayam Mehta), the scheming revenge-plotting expelled Brahmin priest, Mehrunissa (Aditi Rao Hydari), the neglected and abused wife of the tyrant, and Malik Kafur (Jim Sarbh), a subservient servant who is (not so) secretly in love with his maniacal monster of a master.

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There is no doubt that Bhansali knows how to create a visual spectacle and display extravagant opulence on the big screen. But for viewers who have seen Bhansali’s body of work as a filmmaker, there are no surprises or particularly new elements in Padmaavat that distinguish it from his more recent films. Like Ram Leela and Bajirao Mastani, Padmaavat musically and choreographically features a traditional Indian group dance, an ode to and display of traditionally strong and energetic masculinity, a sensuous expression of lust (“Binte Dil”, which resembles a male/queer version of “Ang Laga De” from Ram Leela), and a romantic heartwarming ballad. The action and fight sequences are all too predictable and the level of violence and gore is extreme.

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Padmaavat is rooted in and filled with Hindu mythological tropes and themes. Bhansali clearly draws comparisons of Padmavati to Goddess Durga and Savitri and Alauddin Khilji to Raavana – both directly through the dialogues and indirectly through the cinematography and the characters’ actions. His directorial touch and attention to detail in certain scenes throughout the film do not go unnoticed but in fact provide more insight into the inner workings of his characters. That said, there is no real plot in this film, which makes it feel like a drawn-out ordeal for viewers who are left waiting for a significant sequence of events.

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Any discussion of Padmaavat would be incomplete without a few words about the mass self-immolation (jauhar) that marks the climax and resolution of this film. It goes without saying that this ending is intense and powerful, particularly on a large screen, but it left me feeling confused about choice and empowerment. It certainly raises questions surrounding the chronological context of women’s roles and rights then versus now. As a feminist and mental health professional in-training watching the jauhar scene in the audience, I felt angry and helpless, as I struggled to identify an alternative to this form of collective suicide. Part of me secretly hoped that instead of committing suicide themselves, the women would set Alauddin Khilji and his troops on fire, with an alternative ending of Padmavati ruling the Rajput kingdom thereafter as Queen. Needless to say, if Bhansali’s goal was to re-author this narrative from history, that would have been a solid empowering ending to make the story of Padmavati even more relevant in a 21st century context.

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Coming to the performances, the highlights of Padmaavat are definitely Ranveer Singh and Jim Sarbh, whose chemistry and passion for power are a treat to watch. Despite the one-sidedness of Malik Kafur’s adoration and love, the queer subplot between him and Khilji is much appreciated as a welcome change from the heteronormativity of Indian cinema and testimony to the fluidity of gender and sexuality across time in Indian culture and history. Shahid Kapoor and Deepika Padukone hold their own as strong leaders, and their display of Rajput pride in their roles as King and Queen of Mewar cannot be overlooked. While Shahid’s dialogue delivery and punchlines reverberate with resonance, Deepika’s are not quite as effective, falling short of the power-packed performance expected of her. Sanchit Balhara’s background score personifies epic grandeur, especially in the climax as all the red-clad Rajput women run towards the fire. Ganesh Acharya’s signature choreography in “Khalibali” reflects Alauddin’s madness personified through movement, which Ranveer Singh executes excellently and energetically.

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Final Verdict: Padmaavat is an intense and extravagant display of greed, opulence, materialism, and power. For those who are familiar with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s films, there is nothing particularly novel or unique in Padmaavat that distinguishes it from his other movies. Watch for the stunning visuals and riveting performances by Ranveer Singh and Jim Sarbh.

New year reflections

Stories are a powerful medium through which the tales of people’s lives can be communicated to the world at large. Storytelling is a unique art that requires the wit, craft, and intelligence to piece the important parts together to create a cohesive narrative.

We say each person’s story and journey through life is unique – but is that really the case? The fundamental unifying factors of all stories are experiences, and emotions associated with those experiences. We are all human beings so how different can things really get…

What’s different is the packaging. Each of us is conditioned to express ourselves in a specific way, which is highly shaped by our past, upbringing, experiences, and people in our lives. This individualized unique expression is gift wrapping paper – it comes in all different shapes, sizes, colors, and designs (just like humans, at the physical level at least). But tear away the layers and layers of gift wrapping and packaging and ultimately we all share a fundamental core spirit within. This may sound Vedantic, but this philosophy (for me) transcends religion and spirituality. It is the very essence of humanity, of what it means to be a living, breathing human being.

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Very rarely, we take time to reflect on things we take for granted, especially at a physiological, mental, and emotional level as Homo sapiens. Our capacity to think and feel, to be rational or irrational, to act out or act in – these are all privileges given to the human species. Some may wonder whether these are privileges at all, as they can sometimes seem crippling when we lose control over them. There’s also the flip side that merely being given these sense faculties could result in the opposite problem of over-worrying, over-using, and over-indulging.

Regardless of where people lie on the scale of neurodivergence – or any scale for that matter – each of us is capable of empathizing with another, even if we may not share the same life experiences. It is a hard-wired human instinct that has survived across generations and centuries of evolution and survival of the fittest. There is a deep truth in finding what unites rather than what divides and separates us. In a world filled with as much negativity and hatred as today, there has never been a more appropriate time, not just to stand up and fight, but also to sit down and listen. And listening doesn’t just have to happen with the ears. It is a holistic somatic experience that triggers emotional responses and cultivates spiritual connection. In the years to come, I hope I am able to help make this world a little more pleasant, optimistic, and hopeful a place to live. Through listening. Through art. Through compassion and empathy.

With yet another year gone and the new year in its initial stages, here’s to composting the past, nurturing the present, and planting the future in 2018 and beyond.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

After the release and popularity of the book in 1981 and the Robin Williams film in 1995, the Jumanji franchise returns in the 21st century, with more action and adventure than ever before. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle begins by showing the lives of four teenagers in Brantford, New Hampshire, who happen to end up together in detention and subsequently embark on an adventure into the video game world of Jumanji. The bulk of the film focuses on the characters’ journey through the video game, as they work together to advance through the levels and save Jumanji while trying to stay alive.

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This standalone sequel is a great blend of comedy, action, and adventure. We enter into the world of Jumanji with the characters, feeling their emotions and experiencing the roller coaster of navigating the game with them. Despite the fact that it is an enjoyable time-pass movie, there are some philosophical words of wisdom interspersed in the script here and there. Since the characters embody the roles and bodies of avatars in the video game, there is a clear emphasis on the idea that appearance is not everything. The limited number of lives for each character in the game brings in an additional existential element of only having one life to do what you want to do and be who you want to be.

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In any kind of theater, be it cinema or live performance, actors take on roles and bring their characters to life onscreen. In this film, there is an interesting inception of roles within roles, as each teen character and personality exists inside the video game avatar role. So essentially, Dwayne Johnson plays the character and personality of Spencer inside the body and characteristics of Dr. Bravestone. For the adolescent characters in the movie, taking on the roles of Dr. Bravestone, Ruby Roundhouse, Mouse Finbar, and Professor Oberon in the game gives them a different perspective about and insight into their real lives as Spencer, Martha, Fridge, and Bethany.

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As someone who has not seen the first Jumanji film, I thoroughly enjoyed this latest edition, which features a stellar star cast of Dwayne Johnson as Spencer, Kevin Hart as Fridge, Karen Gillan as Martha, and Jack Black as Bethany. It was a pleasant surprise to see Nick Jonas onscreen as Alex, the boy who disappeared on account of being stranded in the video game for years. The chemistry and evolution of friendship between Spencer and Fridge is incredible, and Jack Black slays as a self-obsessed teenage girl inside a man’s avatar body. Special shoutout to cinematographer Gyula Pados and the beautiful nature, scenery, and Hawaiian locations where the movie has been filmed.

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Final Verdict: Jumanji is an entertaining and humorous flick with an appropriate balance of action-adventure and comedy. It is definitely a little scary in bits with certain scenes that could make you jump out of your seat, but ultimately you may find yourself cheering on the teenage characters within the video game avatars to face their fears and overcome the challenges in front of them. A fun (PG-13) movie that will transport you to another world!

New Zealand: Nature Capital of the World

The new year is upon us and this holiday season I had the privilege to be able to travel to New Zealand for Christmas and New Years. Often known for its picturesque scenery in Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, New Zealand is an island nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a distinct blend of western European and indigenous Maori cultures. From glacially carved hills and valleys to sprawling plains with cows and sheep, New Zealand is the place for nature lovers to (re)connect with themselves and the universe. Check out the top things to do and places to see in New Zealand’s South Island!

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Christchurch

Christchurch is a quaint little town in the Canterbury region of the South Island. Since we were there on Christmas Day, many shops and restaurants were closed but there is still much to do and see in the city center part of town. Christchurch and other areas of the Canterbury region were severely affected by an earthquake that shook the region in 2011, so it is still recovering from those losses and damages.

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Kaikoura

For water enthusiasts, Kaikoura is a short three-hour drive from Christchurch to the eastern coast of the southern island, where whale and dolphin watching are popular activities. An alternative to whale watching boat tours is an airplane flight above the Pacific Ocean to spot whales from the sky, which tourists usually opt for during rain and choppy waters when boats cannot go into the ocean. Dolphins are typically easier to spot, while sperm whales tend to hide and stay underwater for longer. There are also mini hiking trails and viewing points near the coast where you can spot and get up close to seals and seagulls.

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TransAlpine Kiwi Rail

The TransAlpine Kiwi Rail is one of the best ways to get a glimpse of the diversity of landscapes in New Zealand. The TransAlpine Rail goes from the east to west coast of the southern island, departing from Christchurch and arriving in Greymouth. Throughout the five-hour journey, there are jaw-dropping sights of the Southern Alps, tall canyons, rivers, mountains, and waterfalls.

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Franz Josef/Fox Glaciers

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are approximately 30 kms away from one another, with Franz Josef being more snow-capped and popular among tourists. There are two options to get to the top of Franz Josef glacier. The first is a 20-minute helicopter ride which takes you there, allows about five minutes for pictures, and returns back to the Franz Josef village. The other option is a helicopter ride followed by a three-hour guided hike on the ice. Unlike glaciers in Alaska or the North Pole, the best part about this glacier is that temperatures are warmer than expected, especially in the summer.

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Besides going to the top of the glacier, other activities in Franz Josef village include hiking trails through the mountains and hot glacier pools. The hiking trails are part of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park and range in length from 1 hour to 8 hours. The hot glacier pools are a popular attraction for tourists. Essentially, the water is taken from the melting glaciers and heated to warm temperatures so people can choose and switch between three different pools. The best time to take a dip in the pools is in the evening when a cool breeze begins to come in.

Lake Matheson

About 4 kms from Fox Glacier is Lake Matheson, which is supposed to be the most photographed location in all of New Zealand. Lake Matheson also features a few different hiking trails to see the reflection of the mountains and glacier in the mirror lake. A nice, brief stop along the way, especially if you’re driving through the country.

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Scenic Drives

The drive from Franz Josef to Lake Wanaka is one of the most beautiful drives in the southern island. With picturesque scenery appearing suddenly, cameras always have to be on standby and easily accessible, and this is not the case for just this journey but for any road trips in New Zealand. From the stunning views of the Southern Alps to the scenic Bruce Bay to the lush greenery and waterfalls, the southern island is brimming with beauty.

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Lake Wanaka

The fifth largest lake in all of New Zealand, Lake Wanaka is a nice getaway with many water sports in and around the lake. From lower-risk activities like pedal boating to more intense ones like jet skiing, there is a range of adventure for everyone. We chose to do an activity called the Wana Jet, which is essentially a thrilling jet speedboat ride on the Cluthe River, and it offered an appropriate amount of adventure for our taste.

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Queenstown

Queenstown is a beautiful city located further down on the southern island. It surrounds Lake Wakatipu, which is the third largest lake in all of New Zealand. Taking a gondola/cablecar up to the top of a mountain in Queenstown offers many options for activities, including zipline, luge, bungee jumping, hiking, skydiving, biking, and much more. The zipline tour with EcoTrek is highly recommended and consists of zip-lining through the forest, information on the environment and sustainability, and Maori legends and folk tales about the formation of natural landscapes around Queenstown. Even on a cloudy day, the views of the mountains and the lake from the top are absolutely breathtaking.

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Te Anau Glowworms Cave

A three-hour drive southwest of Queenstown is the village of Te Anau, which marks the entrance to Fiordland National Park and the Glowworms Cave. The Te Anau Glowworm Cave Tour consists of a boat ride to the cave through Lake Te Anau, followed by a walking and small boat tour within the cave. Glowworms are unique creatures whose tails light up like stars to imitate the night sky in order to attract prey using a fishing line technique. Going on the smaller boat inside the dark cave and seeing the glowworms up close is a magical experience. Inside the cave are gushing waterfalls from melting glaciers at the top of the mountain.

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Milford Sound

Also situated within the Fiordland National Park is Milford Sound. Known by its Maori name Piopiotahi, Milford Sound is a water body that was carved by melting glaciers moving through the valley and leads into the Tasman Sea. During the boat cruise along Milford Sound, you can spot a few waterfalls, one of which is taller than Niagara Falls, and possibly some water animals, such as seals and dolphins.

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As always, I will leave you with a Bollywood travel tidbit. Selected scenes and songs of Indian films, including Kaho Naa Pyaar Hain, Maatraan, I Hate Luv Storys, not to mention classic Hollywood flicks like The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, have all been filmed in various cities across New Zealand. Try to spot and recognize these next time you’re in this part of the world!

Thor Ragnarok: Stunts, Superheroes, and Strength

One of the most anticipated superhero movies of the year, Thor Ragnarok is shattering the box office with its billions of dollars in revenue and raging reviews! Continuing where the previous movie left off, Thor Ragnarok begins with a scene of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) captured and held prisoner by the demon Surtur, who explains the prophecy of Ragnarok impending on Asgard. The rest of the story revolves around the family conflict between Odin’s children – Thor, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and Hela (Cate Blanchett) – regarding the rightful heir to the throne of Asgard.

As someone who is not very familiar with characters from Marvel Comics, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie but some context from previous films is certainly needed and helpful, especially in the beginning scenes. (Pro tip: read through the Wikipedia summaries of the first two Thor movies just before watching this film). A perfect blend of action, comedy, and drama, there is much to appreciate in this superhero flick. Deep moments of interpersonal connection between characters are immediately followed by fight sequences and fantastic comic timing to lighten the mood and add an extra dose of entertainment for viewers. I appreciated the interspersing and special appearances of other Marvel characters like Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), in addition to the Avengers insiders here and there.

In any superhero movie, a series of different mythical worlds and time periods often serve as backdrops and settings in which the plot takes place, and in Thor Ragnarok, there were several. From the faraway mystical castle of Asgard to the cluttered junkyard of Sakaar, each planet is characterized by unique lifestyles that invite the viewers into an ethereal experience transcending reality. The visuals and animations in Thor Ragnarok are amazing, and due credit must be given to the entire team of artists, designers, and animators for all their hard work.

The characterization in this film is absolutely brilliant, with the undertone of a shared humanity in each individual despite their magical powers and superhuman abilities. Even though Thor is God of Thunder, he is essayed by Chris Hemsworth as someone who is eternally on a journey of self-discovery and developing self-awareness of his strengths and weaknesses (as a warrior and otherwise). Both Cate Blanchett and Tessa Thompson slay onscreen as the two powerful female leads in the film, although the makers ought to have given a proper name to Tessa’s character, who is simply known as the Valkyrie/Scrapper 142. I definitely appreciate the lack of any clear or established romance between the Valkyrie and Thor, as the love and attraction angle is stereotypically portrayed and/or expected when heterosexual characters of the opposite sex fight side by side in any action flick.

The relationship and chemistry between Thor and the Hulk is adorable, endearing, hilarious, and filled with many “aww!” moments. But by far one of the most interesting characters is planet Sakaar’s Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), whose quirky comments, spunky personality, and self-obsessed narcissism provided much needed lightheartedness and laughs throughout the movie.

Final Verdict: Thor Ragnarok is a supremely entertaining film that could be classified within the broad Indian film genre of a “masala movie”. Equal parts action and comedy, this movie has all the ingredients of a Marvel movie – stunts, superheroes, and strength. Definitely stay till the end of the credits for a sneak peek of what is to come!

Judwaa 2: A Wacky Blast from the Past!

Easily one of the most awaited sequels of the year, Judwaa 2 recreates the double dose of laughter, entertainment, and loudness from its prequel 20 years ago. Featuring Varun Dhawan as Prem and Raja, with Jacqueline Fernandez as Alishka and Taapsee Pannu as Samara, Judwaa 2 follows the same ghisa-pitta movie plot of every double-role Bollywood film from the late 20th century: a gangster, a pregnant mother, separation of twins at birth, a stuttering sidekick, and several instances of mistaken identity with the twin brothers (who, needless to say, have lives and personalities that could not be more opposite).

Having been in the profession for as long as he has been, David Dhawan has clearly made a place for himself as a filmmaker in the genre of comedy. From Govinda and Salman Khan hits in the 90s and early 2000s to directing his own son now, not much has changed about his style of direction in Judwaa 2, which very much embodies a loud, slapstick, filmy vibe. True to its name, this film is essentially a 90s comedy movie that has been made and released in 2017, so those who are a huge fan of films from that era will feel nostalgic in this trip down memory lane. There were several cool throwbacks to the 1997 Judwaa, with the song remakes of “Oonchi Hai Building” and “Tan Tana Tan”, and a very special appearance by none other than Salman Khan, the original Judwaa star.

As a film aficionado and critical viewer of all cinema, I believe that a review for movies like Judwaa 2 is incomplete without a brief mention of the objectification and racism consistently perpetuated in Bollywood. In an era where heroes and heroines alike dedicate themselves to the gym to achieve a “perfect hot bod”, objectification too has adapted with the times and become more “feminist” (for lack of a better term), with abs being projected and zoomed in onscreen just as much as asses. Racism in Bollywood is just as if not more problematic than the objectification phenomenon. The representation of Africa and blackness in Indian cinema is an ongoing, problematic issue that has been present for a long time, with Bollywood directors disrespectfully portraying African countries and cultures as tribal, underdeveloped, and uncivilized. Judwaa 2 has a couple of cringeworthy scenes involving race and culture that really made me question my decision to watch this film. Clearly I didn’t fully leave my brain at home for this one as advised!

Judwaa 2 has all the ingredients of a mindless masala movie, namely: crass comedy, objectification (of men and women), the melodrama and emotion of the 80s, and ridiculous action sequences. Movie buffs will appreciate the sprinkling of references to and mimicry of other Bollywood films and actors in the dialogues, which add an extra element of humor. Varun Dhawan has consistently proven himself as a capable actor when it comes to comedy and Judwaa 2 is no exception, as he rolls off Raja’s one-liners with ease. Having dabbled quite a bit in comedy herself, Jacqueline Fernandez suited the character of Alishka perfectly. After her serious avatar in Pink, it was a surprise to see Taapsee Pannu pull off a role in such a mainstream masala movie – a true testament of her versatility as an actress. The best part about this movie for me, however, was all the funky dance moves choreographed by the maestro Ganesh Acharya!

Final Verdict: Judwaa 2 is a wacky blast from the past with some laughs and much silliness along the nonsensical ride. The highlight is the songs and dances, which will make you want to get up and groove along to the catchy beats. Not super family-friendly film but proceed with caution!