Dear Zindagi – A Review

Image result for Dear Zindagi posterGauri Shinde directs Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan in Dear Zindagi, her sophomoric film after the incredible English Vinglish. In the days of big budget star vehicles aimed at the hundreds of crore at box office filmmakers like Gauri are a welcome relief when they make what are essentially indie movies with a heart.

 

We are introduced to Kaira, played by the ever charming Alia who is an up and coming cinematographer who is brought in to do patch work on an assignment because the main cinematographer has fallen ill. We see her impatience and almost combative nature when it comes to looking for a big break to shoot her own movie. To put her visual stamp on something of her own. There are hints of a budding romance in the awkward conversations she shares with Raghuvendra played by the handsome Kunal Kapoor. Alia breaks up with her current boyfriend Sid a restaurateur played by Angad Bedi after confessing to have slept with Raghuvendra. Through her maid we are led to believe that there is an ongoing parade of handsome men who go in and out of her life, spending a brief moment being tacked on a pin-board. The first quarter of the movie is spent setting up the millennial context of independent living and being free of conventional moral guilt. Kaira is surrounded by a pack of very interesting characters, there is Fatima the stylist, Jackie the rich bohemian kid, A troubled teen coming to grips with his sexuality and the token Fat nerdy friend. Yashaswini Dayama who plays Jackie is absolutely precious as the counterpoint to Kaira and Ira Dubey as Fatima is wonderful as well. Kaira is kicked out of her rented apartment because the society has decided not to rent flats to bachelors, another millennial struggle. Reluctantly she moves back to Goa to stay with her family and this is where things come to a boil. Rohit Saraf who plays Kiddo, Alia’s brother is hugely effective in a tiny role.

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Through curious coincidences she ends up listening in on Dr. Jehangir Khan talking about Mental Health. Being unable to sleep Kaira books an appointment with Dr. Khan. Dr Khan, aka Jug played by Shah Rukh Khan is surprisingly Vegan – devoid of all Ham and Cheese that is trademark SRK. In a very restrained and refined performance Jug unpicks the complicated cross-wires of Kaira’s life. This is where Gauri Shinde’s subtle direction really shines. For viewers who are familiar with western dramas it might come across as a bit clichéd but in the Indian context there is a sense of novelty. There is commitment phobia, familial conflicts, sibling jealousy, dreams of falling off buildings. Every single situation feels organic and not forced. There is no mocking, no sermonising, even the one situation where there is a gay character is handled surprisingly sensitively.

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To me English Vinglish was one of the best debut movies and even the best movie of 2012. There was absolutely nothing that I could find fault with. With Dear Zindagi there are a few things that left me wanting more. While the songs of English Vinglish were lyrically contextual they were still incredibly memorable and hummable, not so with Dear Zindagi. Only “Love you Zindagi” has any appeal. For a movie whose main character is supposed to be a talented cinematographer the cinematography in the first quarter of the movie is surprisingly subpar. But these two minor misgivings are quickly forgotten when Alia is onscreen. It is hard to believe that Alia is only 7 movies old. She is immensely watchable and extremely relatable. The range she has exhibited from Student of the Year to Udta Punjab is incredible. She has mastered the art of emotional outburst, first seen with that pivotal scene in Highway and now with this scene around the dinner guests.

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Hopefully thanks to Alia the taboo subject of mental illness will become more of an open discussion in India. Gauri Shinde’s nuanced direction and sensitive portrayal does more than just pay lip-service to the subject. With this movie Shah Rukh Khan understands that this is where his talents are more suited to. The definition of entertaining is different for different people. I found it massively entertaining seeing actors and the director at the top of their craft. Even if this is not entertaining in the conventional sense this is in my opinion an important movie, a movie that pushes forth an agenda rarely touched upon openly and does so in a way that is palatable and relatable and frankly beautiful to look at. This is the therapy we all need.  This the grown up letter to life that has evolved from the pages of a teeny angst-filled diary.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – A Review

Image result for fantastic beasts and where to find them movie posterDavid Yates directs Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol and Colin Farrell in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In an original story by J K Rowling taking us back to world of witchcraft and wizardry that she created when she introduced us to the boy who lived. The story of Newt Scamander was a mere footnote in the story of Harry Potter and his 7 years of education at Hogwarts. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was the title of one of the textbooks Harry, Ron and Hermione studied. With this movie Rowling takes the world of wizardry outside of the confines of Hogwarts, there have been tantalising glimpses in the 7 novels but with Pottermore and now this 5 movie franchise the possibilities are potentially endless. Was that a book called “Casandra and her Cat Gustavo” that Kowalski was reading? Wasn’t Casandra the name of the Divination teacher Trelawney’s great-great-grandmother? Surely nothing in Ms Rowling’s world is coincidence.

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The story starts with our hero Newt landing in New York in the 1920s with a suitcase full of magical creatures. The creatures are let lose in the city and with the help of No-Maj (muggle to us potterheads) baker Kowalski, ex-aurorer Tina and her leglimense sister Queenie, Newt tries to capture them before they get in harm’s way.  There are mentions of dark wizard Grindlewald terrorising Europe, growing tensions between the magical and non-magical folks of America and a mysterious dark force causing mayhem on the streets of New York. As with all her stories Rowling skilfully creates entire worlds in the most unusual of ways. There is a veritable forest filled with magical creatures inside Newt’s suitcase, a ministry of magic with a very Gatsby-esque aesthetic, every character is intricately layered.

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Eddie Redmayne is quite the chameleon actor; he is shy and retiring like Einar from The Danish Girl when talking to his fellow humans and comes alive and is intelligent and compassionate in equal measure like Stephen Hawking from Theory of Everything when it comes to talking to his Beasts. Katherine Waterston is her father’s daughter and brings a Sam Waterston familiarity to her character she is earnest and likeable yet a bit skittish and jumpy. Alison Sudol brings the 1920s-glamorous oomph. Dan Fogler is fantastic as the No-Maj wannabe baker who ends up in the enchanting magical world and instead of being freaked out like most adults would do, he is wide eyed and precocious like a child. Ezra Miller brings back the creepy, devil child freakishness that he first burst onto the screens with, in We need to talk about Kevin. Samantha Morton plays Mary Lou a Umbridge like character who hates magic and Witches and Wizards and recruits the orphans in her care to keep an eye out on the suspicious magical activities in New York. Collin Farrell is fantastic, however  I think he  is potentially miscast as Director of Magical Security. I don’t want to reveal more secrets but I wish Farrell was cast in the Big Reveal character instead given that the subsequent films are going to feature that character prominently and an actor of Farrell’s age, and physical disposition is more suited to that character than the direction Yates went in.

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Rowling and Yates use Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to setup the magical universe and in the process, take their time setting up things like giggle water, the blind pig speakeasy and the obscurius but by no means is the story any less impressive as a result. Like the very first time we hear Hagrid say “You’re a wizard Harry” the viewer, a Harry Potter devout (yours truly) or a newbie Redmayne enthusiast (the wife) walks away sufficiently mesmerized and entertained excited about the possibilities with the stories to be told. This however is not a children’s movie; this is decidedly dark and future stories will tell tales of malice the likes of which Dumbledore has locked away in his pensieve.

The camera work by Philippe Rousselot is lush with sepia toned Newyork of the 1920s. Coleen Atwood’s costumes and the Production design and Sets are rich and layered and the next best thing to actually reading Ms Rowling’s writing. James Newton Howard provides an excellent accompanying soundtrack but I find the lack of a distinctive signature sound, like he did with Harry Potter which sounded like the wings of the snitch unfolding, a bit of a bummer.

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Ms Rowling is often credited with reviving the publishing industry when she brought the world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter to pages. With Fantastic Beasts, she may very well be responsible for saving Warner Bros studios that has gone in a terrible direction with Justice League with Snyder at the helm of that franchise. With her west-end play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and now with this spin-off, she proves that there is a lot more magic still left in her to share with the world. She is the queen of storytelling and long may she reign!

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Whether a Potterhead or not this is a fantastic movie only a precursor of things to come. There is loads to like here and with his present lucky streak Eddie Redmayne can do no wrong. Do not miss Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them