Jagga Jasoos: An Eccentric Experience

Jagga Jasoos is a film that has been in the making for nearly five years now so it’s no surprise that it opened to viewers eagerly waiting to see Anurag Basu’s next production on celluloid. The film follows the story of Jagga (Ranbir Kapoor), starting from the beginning of his life in a hospital to his hostel days. We hear about his relationship with Bagchi (Saswata Chatterjee), a father figure who plays a prominent role in shaping Jagga throughout his childhood and adolescent years then suddenly vanishes. The latter half of the film focuses on Jagga’s adventure with journalist Shruti Sengupta (Katrina Kaif) to uncover the mystery of the missing Bagchi.

Compared to other films of this era, Jagga Jasoos is certainly an eccentric experiment in which director Anurag Basu slowly pushes the boundaries of cinema in this dramedy (drama + comedy) flick. The fact that the movie is a musical makes it all the more entertaining, with short, energetic bursts of song and dance every now and then when Jagga uncovers truths in his mystery-laden journey. The choreography for every song in Jagga Jasoos has its own incredibly unique style; my personal favorites are Ullu Ka Pattha and Galti Se Mistake.

Script-wise, there is not a dull moment in Anurag Basu’s writing. At any given point, there is something subtle or extravagant happening onscreen, whether it is nostalgic flashbacks of Jagga’s time with Bagchi or his developing friendship with Shruti. The interweaving of political intrigue and illegal arms trade provides an interesting backdrop for putting pieces together in this puzzle. Visually, Ravi Varman’s cinematography and Akiv Ali’s editing superbly integrate the past and present effortlessly into a single frame onscreen. The scenery of North Africa and Eastern India are particularly picturesque and colorful.

Although quite a bit is covered in this three-hour film, I wish there was more depth into the characters’ emotions and relationships with one another. The father-son connection between Bagchi and Jagga, though heartwarming, seems minimized by the chase and action sequences, which seem to form the bulk of the second half. As a psychologist, I was curious to learn more about abandonment and attachment dynamics playing out in Jagga’s inner life. There are also some moments where we witness Shruti’s vulnerability too; yet, these are just fleeting glimpses into her states of being.

All things considered, the entire cast has done justice to their given roles in this film, especially Ranbir Kapoor, who has the most screen time but probably the least dialogues. Special mention must be given to Saravajeet Tiwari, who played young Jagga beautifully. As usual, Saurabh Shukla shines in his role as an officer, and music director Pritam steps outside his comfort zone to deliver an appropriate soundtrack for this vibrant musical.

Final Verdict: Jagga Jasoos is quirky and very different for a film of 2017. Despite the strange, anticlimactic ending and somewhat confusing plot twists in the second half, the combination of comedy, mystery, and kid-friendliness makes this Disney venture appealing to all ages.

Baahubali 2: A Conclusion with Pomp and Circumstance

Baahubali 2 is easily one of the most highly anticipated films of India. This multilingual franchise has become a national event for Indians worldwide, who are all dying to know the answer to one important question: Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali? Discover this and much more in SS Rajamouli’s grand epic Baahubali 2: The Conclusion.

The film picks up where part 1 leaves off, continuing to narrate the history of Amarendra Baahubali (Prabhas), this time, focusing on his adventures with Kattappa (Sathya Raj) and his romance with Devasena (Anushka Shetty). Also in this tale of  treason and betrayal are Sivagami (Ramya Krishnan), Bhallaladeva (Rana Daggubati), and Bijjaladeva (Nassar), who each have their own complexities and responsibilities in royal family politics.

In all its grandeur and glory, Baahubali 2 bears similarities to several popular epics, including The Lion King, Jodhaa Akbar, and Mahabharata (particularly with the cousins rivalry trope). Filled with conspiracy theories and the struggle between justice and injustice, SS Rajamouli takes us on a three-hour journey into the world and internal dynamics of Mahishmati (Magizhmati) and beyond. Baahubali 2 seems like a fairytale, with all the special visual effects, yet at its core it is a film about humanity in the face of greed, power, love, and loyalty.

One of the major strengths in this film is definitely its strong female characters. Anushka Shetty and Ramya Krishnan deliver power-packed performances as Devasena and Sivagami (respectively), who are two fiercely loyal, determined women faced with insurmountable difficulties and circumstances in a manipulative kingdom. With ease, Ramya Krishnan simultaneously embodies a compassionate, concerned mother and a righteous, commanding leader. Although Anushka’s stunts and action sequences in the first part of the film are brilliant, the cherry on top would have been seeing her in full form fighting off villains in the latter half. Nevertheless, as Devasena, she sticks to her tenacious principles and maintains a confident attitude throughout.

K.K. Senthil Kumar’s fantastic cinematography, combined with MM Kreem’s haunting, melodious music and background score, only enhance this epic conclusion. The occasional visual throwbacks to this film’s precursor, particularly in the end, make it more holistic and integrated for viewers of both films. The grandeur of the sets and costume design are visually appealing and appropriate to the development of the plot. I also appreciated the interspersion of pure Sanskrit words and phrases here and there; it definitely gives Baahubali 2 more of a historical context.

Another highlight of this saga is the bromance and bonding between Kattappa and Amarendra Baahubali, whose relationship is characterized by respect, teasing, and mutual trust. It is truly heartbreaking to witness the moment where Kattappa does the deed and we are faced with the reality why it happened. Rana Daggubati and Nassar too stay true to their roles as the neglected ones who are determined to rule and rise to power.

Final Verdict: Baahubali 2 is not just a film. It is an experience filled with romance and revenge, comedy and conspiracy, treason and triumph. Brace yourself for gory violence, some lighthearted moments, and a lot of intensity.

Badrinath Ki Dulhania: Love vs. Love

So far, 2017 for Bollywood has been filled with lots of drama and action flicks and very little romance. The team of Shashank Khaitan, Karan Johar, Alia Bhatt, and Varun Dhawan returns to the silver screen with Badrinath Ki Dulhania, the much-anticipated part two of the Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania franchise. A complete package entertainer, Badrinath Ki Dulhania is a typical romantic-comedy that focuses on two main characters – Badrinath Bansal (Varun Dhawan) and Vaidehi Trivedi (Alia Bhatt) – and the marriage-related politics in their families and communities.

This film is uniquely set in the rural small towns of Kota and Jhansi, amidst the backdrop of middle-class family weddings and dowry politics. Although director Shashank Khaitan’s social message of gender discrimination is not new, it has been packaged in a different way to showcase how these issues still affect classes of society in certain parts of India. As a film (re)viewer far removed from dowry-related politics in India, I can only hope that those who need to see this film for that message understand the filmmaker’s critical undertone about the treatment of girl children in India.

Badrinath Ki Dulhania is a very colorful movie, and the vibrant colors are only magnified on the big screen. From bright pinks and blues to subtle purples and yellows, the visuals in this film capture almost every color of the rainbow and beyond. A great way to kick of Holi celebrations! Alia Bhatt’s outfits as Vaidehi Trivedi are gorgeous, with different looks for each location that stay true to her character.

Almost every person in this film – Badri, Vaidehi, Somdev (Sahil Vaid), and all the family members – goes through a unique journey, with their own struggles and challenges along the way. In 2 hours and 20 minutes, it is only possible to get glimpses of each journey, but this leaves the emotional core of the film hanging and not very deep. Viewers may not be able to fully empathize with the struggles of any one character, including Badri and Vaidehi, whose emotions seem to be explored at a surface-level. The film’s editing, particularly in the second half, could have been more crisp. No matter how much Badri’s acts of aggression reflect his internal struggles, it becomes tough to watch him repeatedly act out his aggressive impulses, that too in Singapore, a nation with strict law enforcement policies.

One of Badrinath Ki Dulhania’s strengths is its dialogues and the actors’ comic timing. Varun Dhawan has proven himself in comedy and his chemistry with Sahil Vaid in this flick is lovely. Alia Bhatt is an excellent actor who can do justice to just about any role she is given, and she excels alongside Varun as a rebellious, self-confident career woman. The lead pair’s regional dialect and accents seemed authentic, helping viewers see them not as as Varun and Alia but as Badri and Vaidehi. Kudos to all the choreographers for the catchy dance numbers in this flick; my personal favorite – Ganesh Acharya’s choreography for Aashiq Surrender Hua!

Final Verdict: Romance, drama, comedy, action, and a social message. This film has all the ingredients for a superhit masala Bollywood flick. Badrinath Ki Dulhania is surely a refreshing start to Spring and the 2017 upcoming season of Bollywood rom-coms. A nice pleasant watch that will make you feel good!

Dear Zindagi: Frustration, Contemplation, Reconciliation

4 teasers, 3 songs, and several behind-the-scenes videos later, Gauri Shinde’s most awaited flick Dear Zindagi finally hit movie theaters worldwide. Dear Zindagi follows the story of Kaira (Alia Bhatt), a cinematographer and aspiring filmmaker who goes on a journey of self-discovery with the help of her therapist Dr. Jehangir Khan aka Jug (Shah Rukh Khan) amidst the gorgeous scenery of Goa. The result is a series of revelations connecting Kaira’s past and present interactions and relationship patterns.

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At its core, Dear Zindagi is a film about relationships – starting, continuing, and ending them. From romantic and familial to personal and professional, we see Kaira struggling with the balancing act of managing all the relationships in her life while trying to stay sane and accept herself for who she is. The narrative’s power, however, lies in the complex yet powerful therapeutic relationship between Kaira and Jug. Shinde plays with the stereotypes of counseling and mental health, with references to the impact of childhood trauma and neglect, while challenging and breaking through stigmas associated with seeing a therapist.

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Coming from the exalted filmmaker of English Vinglish fame, the expectations for Dear Zindagi are high – perhaps a bit too high that Shinde is unable to live up to the bar she set for herself. The fact that Dear Zindagi conveys a powerful message about increasing awareness of mental health in Indian society is a major leap forward for (relatively) mainstream Bollywood cinema. While the message is clear, the process of communicating it is a long-winded, two-hour journey that could have been shortened significantly, particularly in the first half. What this film lacks in effective plot and pacing Gauri Shinde makes up with Jug’s profound dialogues that leave viewers with something to ponder even after leaving the cinema hall.

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Dear Zindagi is an out-and-out Alia Bhatt film, and she is a natural onscreen as the spoiled confused rich girl Kaira. Needless to say, Shah Rukh Khan is excellent as Jug, effortlessly embodying the role of a therapist who self-discloses more than a typical counselor with the intention of drawing Kaira out of her shell. Amit Trivedi’s music is not particularly unique and gets rather repetitive. Laxman Utekar’s cinematography of picturesque Goa makes the visuals of this drama highly appealing and attractive. It was nice to see Kunal Kapoor and Ali Zafar onscreen after quite a while as two of Kaira’s paramours.

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Final Verdict: Dear Zindagi is not excellent as per Shinde’s prior track record but it’ll make you shed a few tears towards the end. It presents a fresh concept and relationship not previously explored in Bollywood cinema in a stereotypical yet non-stereotypical way. A poignant film that leaves you thinking and reflecting!

Doctor Strange: Marvel in Mystery, Magic, and Mysticism

Marvel Studios returns to the cinemas with their much awaited adventure film, featuring the ever-so-glamorous Benedict Cumberbatch in and as Doctor Strange. After experiencing a nearly fatal car accident and suffering severe forms of incurable nerve damage, Stephen Strange travels far and wide to receive tools for healing and training in the mystic arts from The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). As he develops his skills and talents in Kamar-Taj, Strange ultimately finds himself caught between returning to the comfort of his previous life and taking the path less traveled.

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*Note: As someone who is not familiar with Marvel’s comic series of Doctor Strange, I write this review based solely on what was depicted in this feature film.

On that note, for someone who is entirely new to Marvel’s world of Doctor Strange, this film has a lot to take in. Integrating holistic Eastern and Western principles of health and medicine with philosophy and spirituality, this adventurous superhero flick is gripping right from the start. From the witty hilarious dialogues to the Matrix-like stunts and special effects, Doctor Strange commands and sustains the attention of viewers throughout its running time of 115 minutes.

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An aspect of this film that I truly appreciated was the lack of cultural appropriation with which Asian philosophies and practices have been depicted and interwoven. We literally enter other worlds, or multiverses, ones where the concepts of physics, time, and gravity intersect with chakras, spirits, and astral bodies to create a forcefield of magic and energies that is only imaginable. Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Framestore, Luma Pictures, Method Studios, Rise FX, Crafty Apes, and SPOV bring this supernatural imagination to life with their amazing visual effects in the film.

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From a psychological perspective, what I particularly loved about Doctor Strange is how beautifully flawed and perfectly human each and every character is. It shows true strength and courage to admit and accept one’s past wrongs while working hard in the present to create a positive impact on the future. The traditional trope of overcoming arrogance in a magical and spiritual training arena is very much present and needed for egotistical Strange to accept and surrender in order to regain control. Needless to say, Benedict Cumberbatch was the perfect choice to play Doctor Strange, coming across as a combination of haughty, curious, and creative. His chemistry with Wong (Benedict Wong) is simply fantastic, adding light humor to this action-packed adventure.

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Final Verdict: Doctor Strange is a mind-blowing film where director Scott Derrickson and Marvel Studios take you on Strange’s journey of self-discovery through magic and mysticism. Stay till the end after the credits to check out Marvel’s sneak peak of what is to come!

Khoya: Loss, Belonging, Meaning

Khoya. Lost. The word lends itself to feelings of sadness and abandonment. Experience all these emotions and more in Sami Khan’s poignant drama Khoya, which follows the journey of Roger (Rupak Ginn) as he sets off from his hometown in Canada to find his birth family in India.

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Khoya is a deeply evocative film that takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster with Roger through India. From encountering the consequences of corruption firsthand to traversing the road with nothing but the clothes on his back, Roger goes through significant trials and tribulations in his quest for family and belonging. As an audience member, I felt an immense amount of sympathy for Roger as he,a brown-skinned foreigner with a linguistic barrier, experiences in India for the first time. Issues of forged adoption papers and child trafficking bring in social messages about serious matters that are seldom spoken about but nevertheless plague the adoption industry worldwide.

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Metaphors and symbolism are galore in this profound film, particularly with subtle subtextual references to different religious and spiritual traditions. The cinematography by Kevin Wong beautifully captures realistic imagery of India in ways that are unlike the colorful over-the-top visuals often portrayed onscreen in mainstream cinema.

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There is a lot to unpack in Khoya, from Roger’s identity struggles as an Indo-Canadian unaware of his Indian roots to his feelings of shame about being adopted. The film’s pace is mellow and contemplative, seeming slow at times, but it intentionally flows with the protagonist’s internal struggles throughout his journey. Contributing to the reflective vibe of the film, there are minimum dialogues so much of the story moves forward in silence through body language. Needless to say, Rupak Ginn has done an excellent job essaying the role of Roger. The directorial technique of flashback to introduce bits and pieces of Roger’s past is an interesting touch that adds more dimension to this ruminative drama.

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Final Verdict: Khoya is a film that requires more than 100% of your attention while watching. Because there is so much to absorb, a thorough understanding and analysis of the film can only emerge from multiple watches. Visually grey and hazy with thought-provoking and reflective content!

Venue: 3rd i South Asian Film Festival (San Francisco, CA)

The World of Goopi and Bagha (Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya)

Based on Satyajit Ray’s film written by Upendra Kishore Roychowdury, The World of Goopi and Bagha (Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya) is an animation comedy musical directed by Shilpa Ranade that follows the tale of two musicians – Goopi the singer (Rajeev Raj) and Bagha the percussionist (Manish Bhawan). The film begins with them getting thrown out of their respective villages due to their horrendous musical renderings. After encountering an evil ghost who grants them four boons, the rest of the film follows their journey towards achieving musical harmony involving two rival brother kings, a sinister commander-in-chief and his sidekick wizard, and a princess’ hand to win in marriage.

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The film has a very old school animation feel to it, with caricatured hand-drawn depictions of the characters. It communicates a universal message of peace and brotherhood that is very applicable in light of current political dynamics in the western part of the world. As in most kid-friendly animation flicks, the typical good versus evil trope appears, with Goopi and Bagha coming to the rescue with their music.

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The highlight of this film is its dialogues and music. At its core, The World of Goopi and Bagha is a musical, with several songs interspersed to carry the plot forward. Narayan Parshuram’s music composition weaves different musical styles, including Indian classical and regional folk elements. The integration of Hindi, Sanskrit, and Urdu words in Rohit Gahlowt’s dialogues contributes to the all-inclusive view in which Indian society is portrayed in the film. The rib-tickling lyrics are charming and add even more lightness to the movie.

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Final Verdict: Despite the corny jokes and some over-the-top silly moments, Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya is an animation that is for both kids and adults. If you are familiar with Satyajit Ray’s original work, it is likely you will enjoy this adaptation even more. For a change, immerse yourself in art that is light-hearted, positive, and enjoyable!

Venue: 3rd i South Asian Film Festival (San Francisco, CA)

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil: Filmy, Poignant, Emotionally Real

After a four-year directorial sabbatical, Karan Johar is back with more emotions, more drama, and more romance than ever before in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. It is a chain of relationships with primary undertones of friendship and unrequited love, featuring Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor), Alizeh (Anushka Sharma), and Saba (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan).

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At its core, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is a movie that questions the boundaries and definitions of relationships, specifically related to friendship and love. In a generation where options for relationships abound, labeling them becomes very difficult and varies based on people’s values. It is fair to say that Karan Johar is adapting with the times, moving from “Pyaar Dosti Hai (Love is friendship)” in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to challenging those very notions of pyaar (love) and dosti (friendship) in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.

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In most of his movies, Karan Johar makes audiences deeply feel and empathize with the emotions of his characters. We fall in love with and experience heartbreak alongside them, yet we also get frustrated with them – their choices, their actions, their inability to move on from their overpowering sentiments. As Ayan goes through the emotional rollercoaster of falling in love and not receiving the type of love he wants in return, he copes by fervently and relentlessly pursuing his passion of becoming a singer.

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Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is not just about deep emotional drama. It also touches on the fun and filmy aspects of (a privileged) life. As a total filmy Indian-American, I absolutely loved the references to all things Bollywood, from recreating iconic dialogues and songs to picturesque romance moments in sweaters and chiffon saris. The first half was filled with satirical Bollywood elements that will have you laughing and send you on a trip down memory lane.

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The chemistry between Ranbir and Anushka is on-point, as are the meaningful, poetic dialogues, particularly those of Aishwarya’s character Saba. Anil Mehta’s cinematography beautifully captures scenes of Paris, London, and Vienna. Complementing the visuals is Pritam’s haunting and highly addictive music. My personal favorite – The Breakup Song!

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Coming to the performances, the entire cast performed brilliantly in this film. Whether it was Ranbir Kapoor as a crazy-in-love emotional singer, Anushka Sharma as a nonchalant bindaas girl, or Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as a mature, intellectual poet, each character’s innate essence of humanness and realism came across very well. The special appearances were a delightful surprise that added more star value to this mainstream flick.

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FInal Verdict: Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is a poignant, filmy drama that will definitely have you in tears at some point during the movie. Despite the somewhat stereotypical ending/plot twist, it has all the elements of a successful Karan Johar movie but also sparks thought-provoking discussion afterwards. Manage your expectations and you will enjoy a good watch!

PINK: Intense Social Commentary

Shoojit Sircar has made a space for himself within the social thriller category of filmmakers in Bollywood, and his latest production venture Pink is no different. Directed by Aniruddha Roy Choudhary, Pink follows the tale of three girls – Minal (Taapsee Pannu), Falak (Kirti Kulhari), and Andrea (Andrea Tariang) – three boys, the curious neighbor (Amitabh Bachchan), a myriad of narratives about the events that transpired one night, and one big fat court case to puzzle together all the muddled pieces.

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Needless to say, Pink is a dark, serious film with an empowering social message that never gets old. Issues of consent, gender and sex roles for men and women, and sexual assault are explicitly discussed, and for a (mostly) mainstream Bollywood film, that is a major leap forward. These are discussions that need to take place in many households, and the filmmakers do a great job of gracefully bringing uncomfortable issues out into the open.

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Possibly the best directorial touch of this film is that the viewers never know the actual story of what happened that night in Surajkund. For the majority of the time, we are left to grapple with the opposing narratives of the girls against the guys, and the fact that either story could be accurate keeps viewers gripped despite the somewhat slow pacing of the movie. Considering the solemn storyline, Pink’s visuals are relatively sober and dark, adding a haunting vibe to the overall picture. Even the title “Pink” implies an important social statement regarding sexual and gender roles for women in contemporary Indian society.

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Coming to the performances, Taapsee, Kirti, and Andrea essayed their roles as independent working women in Delhi excellently. As expected, Amitabh Bachchan was the star of the show as the ace lawyer Deepak Sehgal. His portrayal of Deepak’s somewhat creepy demeanor combined with tactful wit in the courtroom is a true testament to the actor’s versatility. Special mention must be given to Shantanu Moitra, whose background score was the perfect combination of subtle and intense.

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Final Verdict: Ironically enough, Pink is a film with many shades of gray and explores overarching values surrounding women and sexuality in contemporary Indian society. It has a social message conveyed with strength and conviction in a courtroom trial setting. Brace yourself for intense, realistic cinema!

Mirzya: Poetry in Motion

When I first saw the trailer of Mirzya, the words that came to mind were abstract, colorful, and visually gorgeous. Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra promises just that in this epic adventure romance interweaving the legend of Mirza Sahiban and a modern-day parallel love triangle between Karan (Anuj Choudhry), Suchitra (Saiyami Kher) and Monish/Adil (Harshvardhan Kapoor).

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Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra does a fine job combining two parallel tales from different times effortlessly into one narrative. The transitions between the present-day love story and the ancient legend are seamless, but it would have been nice to see more scenes from the folktale of Mirza Sahiban, especially for viewers who are not familiar with it. In this cinematic world of love, lies, and deceit, there are moments of pure humanness where we are able to identify with the characters and their (sometimes conflicting) motivations.

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As promised in the trailer, Pawel Dyllus’ cinematography is simply breathtaking, contrasting visuals of Rajasthan’s barren deserts and Ladakh’s picturesque mountains. The combination of natural landscapes and slow motion moments makes this film worth watching in the theater. Besides the visual imagery, metaphors and literature references are galore in Mirzya, thanks to the profound dialogue and screenplay by Gulzar.

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Despite the prolific writing, Mirzya is somewhat of a plotless film, and the overall abstract and artsy vibe makes it feel longer than it actually is. The music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy is versatile, as is the contemporary choreography by Raju Sundaram and Mayuri Upadhya. Shoutout to Nritarutya Dance Company from Bangalore, who are the background dancers in most of the songs. The background score adds dimension to the film by accentuating and musicalizing routine movements in the daily lives of the blacksmiths. At the same time, Daler Mehndi’s tracks on Mirzya become repetitive and predictable relatively quickly.

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Saiyami Kher is beautiful and authentic as Suchitra, and Harshvardhan Kapoor pulls off his angry young man character quite well. However, I wish he would have adopted another look in the contemporary romance compared to the ancient legend to better differentiate the two male leads. Anuj Choudhry executes the role of a Rajasthani prince with questionable intentions rather well. Special mention must be given to Om Puri and Anjali Patil, whose portrayal of Zeenat is heart-wrenching.

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Final Verdict: Mirzya is a visually stunning movie that features abstract storytelling, beautiful cinematography, and poetry in motion. The lack of plot slows down the pace of the film, but Harshvardhan and Saiyami do justice to what they are given. A PG-13 film worth watching once for the cinematic experience!