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!

Advertisements

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.

empathy

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.

Jumanji-Welcome-to-the-Jungle

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.

Jumanji-Welcome-To-Jungle-Early-Reviews

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.

jumanji-welcome-to-the-jungle-official-trailer-3

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.

o_LPQrWjz3XU0lXNSJbedeX6YJcSW7zn

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!

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.

dear-zindagi-kaira-alia-bhatt

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.

dear-zindagi-75911

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-srk

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.

dear-zindagi-first-take-759

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.

doctor_strange_2016

*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.

doctor-strange

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.

drstrange-trailer

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.

wong-in-marvels-doctor-strange

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.

roger-subhash

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.

maxresdefault

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.

khoya

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.

rupak-oliver

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).

ranbir-aishwarya-anushka-adhm

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.

ranbir-aishwarya

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.

ranbir-bulleya

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.

anushka-ranbir-mountains

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!

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.

fawad-adhm

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!