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!


A World of Contrasts

This world is a dichotomous one
Filled with contrasts.
Rich and poor,
Comfortable and uncomfortable,
White and black,
And all the colors in between.

Every moment of life is like crossing over the bridge between both ends;
Shifting from side to side, as if to balance a scale,
Along a continuum of diverse and unequivocal opposites.

I may associate myself more toward one side.
One end feels more comfortable, more familiar, more safe – whatever that means.
While the other breaks open my comfort zone in ways that I never expected.

Back to back, these experiences allow me to see the full potential
Of this universe,
Of those in this universe,
Traversing through the path of life
Like me but in their own unique ways.

This world is a dichotomous one
Filled with contrasts.
Rich and poor,
Comfortable and uncomfortable,
White and black,
And all the colors in between.

Open those eyes and be witness to the rainbow of possibilities.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


*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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)

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).


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

Rustom: Romance, Revenge, Reality

When I saw the trailers for Rustom and Mohenjo Daro, my first thought was: which one am I going to watch first? In light of the saying, “Better late than never”, I finally got a chance to catch Rustom at the movies. Judging from past filmography (Special 26, A Wednesday) of ace director Neeraj Pandey, who has produced this venture, Rustom is an Akshay Kumar movie not to be missed.


Based on the K.M. Nanavati case from 1959, Rustom follows the story of Rustom Pavri (Akshay Kumar), a commanding naval officer in the Indian army accused of shooting and killing Vikram Makhija (Arjan Bajwa) after discovering his illicit relationship with his wife Cynthia (Ileana D’Cruz). What results is the thrill of discovering the facts and uncovering the mystery behind Rustom’s actions and his entanglements with naval politics.


As a drama-thriller, Rustom has many strengths to its credit, once of which is the excellent direction by Tinu Suresh Desai. In particular, the police investigation scenes with each of the involved individuals – cutting back and forth in one take between the witness and investigating officer – were filmed beautifully and creatively. Cinematography by Santosh Thundiyil also added to the film’s overall presentation, and the elegant long-shots of naval ships in the waters enhanced the 1950s vibe of this period flick.

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 12.43.19 AM

It is of crucial importance that a crime-thriller have a solid storyline with unexpected plot twists and intriguing character development along the way. The plot thickens, making way for suspense throughout the film. Unfortunately, the songs feel unnecessary and detract from the pace of the story; the film could have been edited to be more succinct without picturizing all the romantic melodies. Despite the fact that Rustom revolves around criminal case proceedings, the newspaper drama and comedy interspersed during the courtroom scenes added light humor to an otherwise serious premise.


Coming to the performances, needless to say, Akshay Kumar fits the role of Rustom Pavri very well. Viewers see not the actor but a commanding naval officer grappling to uncover the boundaries between truth and deception, justice and injustice, and defending the country and saving his family. Ileana D’Cruz is an actress who selects somewhat unconventional roles in the film industry, and this time too she carries herself very well as the ideal wife of an elite naval officer. Her portrayal of Cynthia as (simultaneously) an independent sexually liberated woman and a lonely, remorseful wife embraces many facets of femininity and humanhood. Esha Gupta slays onscreen as Preeti Makhija, the victim’s rich and powerful sister willing to do anything to avenge the death of her brother.


Final Verdict: Rustom is an absolute must-watch if you enjoy crime-thrillers. Definitely not appropriate for children so leave the kids at home for this one. Though it’s a bit of a long movie, the court proceedings and consistent discovery of new facts and details keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Mohenjo Daro: Ancient Magnificence Personified

Mohenjo Daro is easily one of the most highly anticipated films of 2016. Boasting extravagant visuals and the deadly combination of Ashutosh Gowariker and Hrithik Roshan, Mohenjo Daro is an appropriate ode (on August 15th, Indian independence day) to the nation’s and world’s ancient civilization.

The film opens with a spectacular introduction to our hero Sarman (Hrithik Roshan), an indigo farmer in the small village of Amri. Sarman travels to Mohenjo Daro to trade in the bazaars but eventually discovers his long lasting connection to the city, not to mention finding the love of his life Chaani (Pooja Hegde). The movie traverses through the romance between Sarman and Chaani, as well as Sarman’s entanglements with Maham (Kabir Bedi), the chief of Mohenjo Daro, and the city’s politics.


One thing that never fails to impress in Ashutosh Gowariker films is the cinematography. In conjunction with the director, cinematographer C.K. Muraleedharan has done an amazing job transporting viewers into the world of Mohenjo Daro in 2016 B.C. The climax flooding scene was particularly prolific, realistically capturing how ancient civilizations may have perished.

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Needless to say, a tremendous amount of effort is involved in creating a film project of this magnitude. From set design and art direction to costuming and choreography, the makers of Mohenjo Daro have worked very hard to recreate something we can only imagine or dream of while studying history. The interweaving of the Sindhu script and other languages from neighboring regions and civilizations was interesting and made the film seem more realistic. A.R. Rahman’s haunting background score and addictive music helped to bring alive Gowariker’s vision of Mohenjo Daro’s artistic culture. This was complemented by Raju Khan’s unique choreography, infusing tribal and Indian classical elements with bits and pieces from Egyptian and Sumerian styles of dance.

While the film was a visual treat, overall the plot could have been more cohesive and paced better. In an attempt to please diverse audiences and include several genres (romance, action, drama, historical fiction), each section seemed to flow well within itself. However, in the process, it seemed more like a collection of related short stories and did not have an overarching story as such. At the same time, this did not detract from what the film had to offer; it was still entertaining.


Coming to the acting performances, Mohenjo Daro is an out-and-out Hrithik Roshan film; he was perfect for the role and essayed it well. It goes without saying that Kabir Bedi is an experienced actor and he was great as the greedy, revenge-hungry ruler of Mohenjo Daro. Pooja Hegde is beautiful but the script had little to offer for her character despite being “The Chosen One”. Perhaps a more experienced actress would have allowed the director to create a stronger characterization of Chaani, highlighting autonomy and courage.


Final Verdict: Mohenjo Daro is visually stunning, musically haunting, and historically based but not necessarily accurate. It has the stamp of a quintessential Ashutosh Gowariker movie, resembling his past track record of Lagaan, Swades, and Jodhaa Akbar. Definitely worth watching on the big screen, at least to appreciate and admire all the hard work that has gone into making this movie!