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!

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A Gentleman: Sundar, Susheel, Risky

Meet Gaurav (Sidharth Malhotra). A well-mannered, successful Mr. Nice Guy with aspirations and intentions of settling down with his vision of the American Dream – a minivan, single-family home in the suburbs, and a loving family. The only thing missing is his ideal partner. Enter Kavya (Jacqueline Fernandez), the impulsive, adventure-seeking woman of Gaurav’s dreams. Gaurav’s life and vision of a happily-ever-after are turned upside down when he is confronted with a case of mistaken identity as thugs knock on his door searching for Rishi, a secret agent who happens to be his lookalike. What unfolds in the rest of this flick is action, comedy, and the politics of relationships past.

A Gentleman bears some resemblance to films and TV shows like Knight and Day/Bang Bang and White Collar, which all fall into the same genre of action/romance/comedy, making it appealing to a diverse range of viewers. The stunt scenes and action sequences are crisp, and the plot line is slick and gripping throughout. Thanks to the filmmakers switching back and forth between the stories of Rishi and Gaurav, there is never a dull moment in this narrative.

At its core, this film is about a man with a simple dream of having an ordinary life. Gaurav hesitates and seems overly committed when it comes to romantic relationships, but his genuineness and friendly nature make his character very relatable. On the other hand is Rishi, who we sympathize with for hating his adrenaline-filled life and wanting to escape the adventure and thrill that accompany his risky profession as an agent.

Sidharth Malhotra’s performance in this film is convincing, and he makes people fall in love with the sundar, susheel Gaurav. Jacqueline Fernandez perfectly fits the bubbly, fun-loving Kavya and her pole dancing in the song “Chandralekha” is mind-blowing! Suniel Shetty flaunts his salt-and-pepper look and brooding demeanor as the classy, silent villain Colonel. Sachin-Jigar’s music is catchy and aptly suits the Miami party vibes of the film, as do the costumes and outfits for Sid and Jacqueline.

Final Verdict: A Gentleman is a paisa vasool, masala entertainer that promises love, laughter, and lots of action. A solid feel-good movie that lets you temporarily forget your troubles!

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!

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!