LIFF 2018 Review: In The Shadows (Gali Guleiyan)

    BY ANUJ RADIA

    In The Shadows (Gali Guleiyan) commences with a quote by William S Boroughs stating, “There are no innocent bystanders... What are they doing in the first place?” This one simple quote is what makes us ponder throughout the film.

    In the walled city of Old Delhi, a reclusive shopkeeper Khuddoos (Manoj Bajpayee) spends his days obsessively watching people through hidden closed-circuit cameras. When he overhears a boy - Idu - being beaten by a man (Neeraj Kabi), he begins to frantically search for the child.

    As he becomes lost in the labyrinthine alleys of the city, his grasp on reality falters, until he eventually stumbles across a shocking truth about a father and an abused son.

    Dipesh Jain’s feature film debut is a superbly dark psychological thriller that expertly explores the roots of paranoia. It is interesting how the mystery is not actually conveyed yet the viewers can join the dots and work it out. 

    Plus, Jain successfully encapsulates the raw and organic atmosphere of Old Delhi, through the camerawork.

    For instance, the crabbing/sideways shot of when Khuddoos goes in and out of the alleyways gives a sense of entrapment and bewilderment. It’s like we are living the central protagonist’s life. There is a solid visceral feel.

    Moreover, the beginning and closing shots, too, are significant. We see a bird’s eye view of the slum area. As the camera ascends, the frame is filled with several roofs of hovels.

    This, to a certain degree, alluded to the title ‘In The Shadows’ - it demonstrates that there are several stories (like that of Khuddoos) which go unnoticed - mirroring a dialogue in the film, “This is a maze you can’t get out of.”

    As such, the story and concept are intriguing. Dipesh pens a psychological thriller which attempts to be quite different. There is a similar vibe which we experienced in films like The Machinist and Peeping Tom.

    Besides the camerawork and narrative, Manoj Bajpayee’s performance is what rides the film. Bajpayee does not enact the part, he lives it. Manoj is consistent throughout the film, not once does he snap out of the character. Plus, to portray such an abstract and enigmatic character is not an easy task.

    In addition to Bajpayee, the movie is Au fait with some decent performances by Neeraj Kabi and Shahana Goswami.

    One of Neeraj’s last performances was in Talvar - a role which exhibited various dark shades. In this movie, he plays another darkish character.

    His role can be described as a chauvinist and Kabi makes the audience detest him. But his performance does not reek of evil. The negativity is underplayed and that is what works.

    Shahana Goswami delivers her part well as Saira (the wife of Neeraj Kabi's character). We know that she is an exceptional actor and she proves it yet again in this film. Ranvir Shorey, who plays Ganeshi, a friend of Khuddoos, is okay. He fits the bill.

    There are a lot of positives with In The Shadows. But despite having a modest length of two hours, I felt the film dragged slightly in the second-half. It would have been better if the second-half was tighter. But nonetheless, the viewer’s attention is captured well.

    On the whole, In The Shadows (Gali Guleiyan) is a sincere and commendable effort by Dipesh Jain. The movie is not solely a work of cinema, but it is a metaphor for life and how we (at certain points) try to get out of a rut.

    For Indian cinema, this is definitely unique and therefore, it deserves a watch!

    In The Shadows (Gali Guleiyan) runs as part of the 9th edition of the Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival, which runs at 15 cinemas across London, Birmingham and Manchester, from 21st June to 1st July, with 27 films.

    These include features and short films, in competition. It is the largest South Asian film festival in Europe. Buy your tickets via this website, at respective cinema box offices: http://londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk/

     

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    Veere Di Wedding Review: Masti, Mazaak & Uncensored Feminism

    BY ANUJ RADIA

    Veere Di Wedding (VDW) has been the talk-of-the-town since it's inception. Although it is dubbed as “I’m not a Chick Flick”, the movie is India’s first all-female coming of age buddy film.

    Regardless of the trailer’s reception, one cannot deny that the movie is set to challenge the stereotypical portrayal of female characters in Hindi cinema.

    Plus, with a stellar cast consisting of Kareena Kapoor Khan, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Shikha Talsania and Swara Bhasker - there seems to be a very fresh appeal to this Shashanka Ghosh film.

    Despite all the hype and high premise, how good is Veere Di Wedding? Asian Style reviews.

    VDW is a high spirited and upbeat coming of age story revolving around the lives of four childhood friends Kalindi (Kareena Kapoor), Avni (Sonam Kapoor Ahuja), Meera (Shikha Talsania) & Sakshi (Swara Bhaskar).

    Ten-years-later, when these four best friends reunite, they do not realise how much life has changed from what they expected.

    The film is set against the backdrop of Delhi, where the girls are born and brought up - it has a focus on the trials and tribulations in modern day world, regarding family acceptance, marriage & societal perceptions.

    One could appreciate the efforts of director Shashanka Ghosh’s endeavours to present a buddy film that is centred on four girlfriends undergoing various circumstances in life.

    As such, it is interesting to see how these friends address each other as ‘Veere’ (meaning ‘brothers’ in Punjabi) - this name is usually lovingly addressed from one boy to another.

    In Bollywood buddy films, we usually see a group of men sitting together, smoking, drinking alcohol and talking openly about sex. Seeing a group of women, doing the same is quite refreshing. VDW does not shy away from the foul language and sexual references. It is uncensored, quite literally.

    From the gossipy aunties to the pompous wedding festivities, Ghosh attempts to tackle stereotypical occurrences and characters which exist in society today.

    For instance, scenes like where Kareena’s father-in-law (played by Manoj Pahwa) attends a work phone call, exchanges a few cuss words and then continuing to do Pooja, is an example of the hypocrisy that exists in Indian society today.

    However, these interpretations are far from being realistic and natural. It seems as though Ghosh’s interpretation is far too larger-than-life and caricature-ish, which makes it hard (at times) for us as the audience to relate with.

    Having said that, there are plenty of humorous quotients in the film which will make one laugh out loud. But with regards to the story, it seems like an episode from the YouTube channels of Girliyapa and All India Bakchod (AIB).

    In fact, AIB even made an episode on honest Indian weddings, which also addresses the same stereotypes as VDW. However, why that video was funnier than this ‘non chick-flick’ is because the YouTube channel was not trying to make a statement. Plus, their gags were far more relatable.

    I feel as though Veere Di Wedding screams of feminism and despite tagging the film as ‘Im not a chick flick’ – this just makes the project seem too pretentious. It gives the impression that the movie is making an in-your-face statement, rather than having a sole purpose to entertain.

    In the past in Bollywood, we have seen instances where strong female characters become the film’s main focus. For instance, Kangana Ranaut in Queen, in which the movie’s storyline was simple yet effective and the comedic timing was not bragging about being bold. With VDW, the boldness and explicit nature seem to be the sole focus of the film - rather than the story and script.

    For months now, we have been fascinated by the film’s main cast line-up. More importantly, because this is the first time Sonam Kapoor Ahuja and Kareena Kapoor Khan feature in one movie together.

    But I must say, both actors are their usual – though Bebo seems much disenfranchised with it all. Nonetheless, she tries her best to portray the part of the commitment-phobe Kalindi well, though she lacks that zest which she usually brings to her roles. Sonam tries her best with the comedy portions. She endeavours to portray her part without going overboard.

    Though, the real show-stealers here are Swara Bhasker and Shikha Talsania. Swara, firstly, is dynamite as the drunkard and stoned divorcee Sakshi. The beauty about Swara’s performance is with a role like that, it can be easy for an actor overdo their part. But Swara adds gusto to her character. The way she delivers the one-liners with such ease will make you blow whistles and chuckle.

    Shikha has been previously seen in films like Wake Up Sid. In this Shashanka Ghosh film, she does not solely exhibit her comedic streak well, but she also enacts the sentimental quotients effortlessly. The way she blurts out lines like “Toh Teri lene ke Liye degree bhi chahiye?” will completely catch you off guard and tickle the funny bone. As for the rest of the supporting cast, they fit the bill.

    On the whole, Veere Di Wedding has some good funny quotients - which makes it an average one-time watch. But the problem is that the film tries way too hard to make a point.

    As a result, we are left to question: does Bollywood really need films with excessive swearing and over-the-top explicit nature to show how independent and strong modern Indian women are?

    2.5/5 stars

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    Beyond The Clouds Review: Hope, Love and Humanity make this Majid Majidi film a Piece of Art

    BY ANUJ RADIA

    Beyond The Clouds (BTC) - promises a lot. Primarily, it is a film which features two Oscar-nominated (and winning) names: AR Rahman and Majid Majidi.

    Secondly, it is a venture which hopes to give Bollywood two new superstars: Ishaan Khatter and Malavika Mohanan.

    Thirdly, the film promises to be an uplifting yet poignant tale of two siblings who face a lamentable incident and how they overcome it. Collectively, there is a lot of expectations from the movie.

    After a world premiere at BFI’s London Film Festival, the movie has finally released worldwide and Asian Style gives their verdict.

    The movie narrates the story of a 19-year-old peddler named Amir (Ishaan Khatter) who, when on the run from the cops, finds his estranged sister Tara (Malavika Mohanan), who in a bid to protect her brother, lands up in jail.

    As tragic as the storyline is, Majid Majidi completely overlooks the tragedy and misery of the two siblings.

    The themes of hope, love and humanity are at the epicentre of Beyond The Clouds. Through a simple, non-preachy and artistic way, Majidi very tells us what it takes to be human.

    There is an interesting parallel to the story. Despite the fact that both Amir and Tara are torn by an unfortunate event, the hope remains consistent in their lives.

    Amir, on one hand, finds himself reaching out and helping the family of the man who has ruined his life - the man he hates.

    On the other hand, Tara in prison seeks comfort and looks after Chotu - the son of her ailing cell-mate (played by Tannishtha Chatterjee).

    What I like about the film is that despite set against the backdrop of the Mumbai slums, that does not veer into becoming a film that highlights the difficult lifestyle of those who reside there. Majidi stays true to the story and concept.

    Now, with a Majid Majidi film, you can expect a lot of realism. Every shot that is captured has so much detail. As such, the camera work is par excellence and encapsulates the cityscape of Mumbai very well.

    For instance, there is a shot where Amir walks away. One-half shows a well-lit side of Mumbai, where there are tall buildings - a progressive section.

    Then the other half, where Amir walks, is dimly lit and completely desolate - untouched or has minimal progression.

    Not only does this scene exhibit the harsh reality of India, but it symbolises the main narrative arc of BTC well. It shows how Amir must fight the battle of releasing his sister - alone. It makes the audience sympathise with him.

    The powerful story and well-developed characters are effortlessly portrayed by the cast. Ishaan Khatter, to begin with, is a firecracker. It is so hard to believe that BTC is actually his first movie.

    Amir is a fierce yet compassionate character and with Ishaan, there is an intensity and innocence in him - both of which are neatly exhibited in the film.

    The highlight of Ishaan’s performance is his high emotional outburst after seeing his sister - in a shocked state - being dragged away in prison.

    Prior to this, we saw glimpses of Amir crying. But this eruption is just on another level... The intensity is just par excellence for a newcomer.

    Malavika Mohanan is like a breath of fresh air. She has a solid screen presence and holds her character very well. The good thing is that she knows how to switch between emotional and light-hearted sequences with such ease.

    However, I think with Malavika, she needs to work on her emotional outbursts more. There is definitely intensity in her performance - just that small tuning with her emotional expression will make her into a more effortless actor.

    Gautam Ghose as Akshi - the man who destroys Amir and Tara’s lives is good. Initially, he has a very mysterious aura, but as time goes on, his expressions and body language do the talking.

    Three-time national award winner GV Sharada has shone vastly in South-Indian cinema and undoubtedly, she is a legend. In BTC, she plays Akshi’s mother. Her presence is solid and without saying a lot, she conveys it all.

    In addition to the main cast, all the child artists are equally excellent and enact their roles well - so does Tannishtha Chatterjee in her brief part.

    It is quite clear that Beyond The Clouds has a lot of positive aspects and if I’m honest, there are hardly any negative traits. But as one expects, the pace is slow and requires patience - though I can guarantee you will not get bored.

    Also, if you are expecting a pulsating or grand AR Rahman background score similar to what he has done in Lagaan or Slumdog Millionaire, then I’m afraid this might disappoint you slightly.

    Having said that, one does not necessarily feel the lack of background music consistently throughout the film. The capturing of natural sounds oozes an authentic feel - it is this natural sound which allows the viewer to be drawn into the city.

    On the whole, Beyond The Clouds is a film which leaves you in tears, but yet a smile glistens through. It is a work of pure art.

    From fantastic performances to a story which connects to a worldwide audience, this Majid Majidi film has humanity as its central focus and makes us realise the true essence of life.

    Don’t miss this!

    4/5 stars

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    October Movie Review: Shoojit Sircar Challenges Traditional Depiction of 'Love' in Bollywood

    BY ANUJ RADIA

    Shoojit Sircar's October, a film which is presented to be a story about love, promises to be quite a poignant and profound venture.

    Not only does the movie aim to showcase a different variation to Varun Dhawan’s calibre as an actor, but through Banita Sandhu from Wales, Sircar once again launches a new talent in Bollywood.

    Despite the unique appeal and impressive premise, how good is the final product? Here, is our review.

    The movie narrates the story of Danish Walia aka Dan (Varun Dhawan) an intern at a five-star hotel, he is a carefree young chap.

    Shiuli Iyer (Banita Sandhu) is another intern who often bears the brunt of Dan’s audaciousness and the two know each other from College.

    Post a sudden and unfortunate turn of events, things drastically change, resulting in Dan and Shiuli’s lives intertwined with each other.

    A transformation happens and a special bond develops between the two. But unlike any other ‘love’, this is more of a deeper connection.

    As prominently mentioned by Shoojit Da and the crew in the media, the movie truly turns out to be a story about love.

    It is interesting to see how a mere acquaintance like Dan becomes a really close friend to Shiuli and that too under such serious circumstances.

    The film doesn’t fall for the formulaic Bollywood style of love, where a hero/heroine realises how much they are attached to an individual following a ‘Lambi Judai’ (dramatic separation). October highlights a different and more complex shade to love, which is not unconditional, but a pure selfless love.

    What I particularly like in this film, is Sircar’s method of transition. At one point, flowers and the changing season are the main focus.

    This almost becomes symbolic of how nature continues its course and so does Shiuli-Dan’s lives in a slow and steady manner.

    As such, this portrayal about love is dynamic and unexpected. There are a few sequences which completely catch the audience off-guard and pull the heartstrings in a very precise way.

    Sircar, unlike any other Bollywood filmmaker, does not focus too much on a plot’s sentimentality and that is the beauty of October.

    I also like the character development, especially that of Dan. Initially, he comes across as quite a rebellious, carefree guy - almost childlike and this itself is represented through his small idiosyncrasies like stepping on washed bed-sheets.

    However, after the tragic events, we get to see a more compassionate, caring and protective side to Dan, even though those quirky traits are consistent throughout.

    One must, at least, give credit to Juhi Chaturvedi for penning characters which are well-developed. Intrinsically, the vivid writing smoothly translates into excellent performances by the main cast.

    Varun Dhawan, to begin with, brings Dan to life. To portray such an abstract character - that too in proportion is not easy. Even during the emotional outbreaks, Varun does not overdo his part.

    His performance is subtle, yet effective. I think this could be considered to be one of his best performances till date. Mr Sircar has definitely mentored him well!

    Whilst October marks Banita Sandhu’s debut in Bollywood, I actually felt as though I was watching a seasoned actress.

    Despite having minimal dialogue, Sandhu conveys everything through her expressions and body language. She seems so in tune with her role. Honestly, I think she can work wonders in Bollywood and beyond.

    Gitanjali Rao plays Professor Vidya Iyer - Shiuli’s mother and she is a perfect asset to this talented cast lineup. In my opinion, this is one of the most realistic portrayals of a Bollywood mother. Her expressions and reactions are so natural and seem very convincing. In fact, She reminds me of Deepti Naval!

    In addition to several positive aspects, there are a few downsides to October. Primarily, a negative point is that the movie progresses at a snail’s pace. It feels as though the film's progression gets stuck, especially during the second-half.

    Also, there seems to be a lack of atmosphere. Many of Shoojit’s previous ventures, regardless of how serious a film’s concept or how slow it is, there is usually an oomph which maintains the audience’s attention throughout the movie.

    Here, the zest seems to be lacking, despite the fact that the emotions do strike a chord with the audience.

    If we reflect back on Sircar’s filmography traits, all of his films/productions either seek to break taboos (Piku, Vicky Donor) or challenge society’s regressive mentality (Pink). Even with October, he challenges the stereotypical depiction of love in Hindi cinema. For this endeavour, I must congratulate him.

    Overall, Juhi's writing combined with Varun and Banita’s superlative performances makes this venture a decent watch, although patience is strongly required!

    *** (3/5 stars)

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    Film Review: Tiger Zinda Hai

    Salman and Katrina's team work is what makes this sequel work

    By FATIMA PATEL

    If you enjoyed Ek Tha Tiger, then Tiger Zinda Hai will set the screen ablaze for you.

    You may say Tiger Zinda Hai is predictable, far fetched in some scenes, but this sequel is an enjoyable watch.

    The story fast forwards eight years on from where it left from the first franchise. Indian RAW agent Tiger (Salman Khan) and ISI agent Zoya (Katrina Kaif) are now married and living a peaceful life with their son, having long left their lives as spies. However, their plans soon change when Tiger is hunted down by his former boss at RAW to go on a mission to rescue 25 Indian nurses who are held hostage at a hospital by a dreaded terrorist organisation that has taken over Iraq.

    From here it becomes a Salman Khan show and the Sultan delivers with screen presence, punchy one liners and above all huge star power.

    Nonetheless, Katrina is not far behind. She too follows Salman in the mission, although from the Pakistan side, to rescue a further 11 Pakistani nurses. It is because of his wife Zoya that fuels Tiger to unite RAW with ISI for the rescue mission.

    The marriage between ISI and RAW for this mission, adds a human touch to the storyline, which is heartening to watch especially considering the political tensions between both countries.

    Peace lovers will most certainly enjoy the scene where the agents from both sides talk about how if India and Pakistan were one, they would have the best cricket team in the world, as is the conversation about the music artists that if the likes of Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Abida Paveen and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan were all doing a concert together, how wonderful would that be! It all makes it a jubilant watch.

    However, for me the real scene stealer is Katrina. When it’s a Salman Khan action drama, it’s hard for the female lead to get much mileage, but Kaif does and delivers some kick ass stunts.

    Katrina compliments Salman Khan perfectly and it’s this team work that makes the film work, in an otherwise predictable and loose storyline. The pace of the film could have been a little tighter and perhaps the storyline could have been a little tenser, especially considering the subject has been taken from a real-life incident. I also feel that Ali Abbas Zafar could have done a lot more with the direction, considering he had the star presence of Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif.

    The supporting cast do a good job. Paresh Rawal is effective and the antagonist, Abu Usman played by Sajjad Delafrooz performs his role well.

    Over all Salman fans are not going to leave the theatres disappointed as they will most definitely get to see an avtar that they’ve enjoyed before in Ek Tha Tiger.

    Rating: 4/5

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    Fukrey Returns trailer is here and it promises a joyride for audiences

    By RAHUL RAUT

    The 'Fukrey' boys – Choocha, Hunny, Lali, Zafar – are back and so is Bholi Panjavan who has returned from the jail and is in no mood to relinquish her evil hold over the boys. The whole team of 2013's sleeper hit is back with 'Fukrey Returns' to tickle the funny bones of audiences once again by its unique characterisation and funny moments.

    Fukrey Returns trailer is here and it promise a joyride for audiences

    The trailer of 'Fukrey Returns' which released today promises more fun and gambol this time and shows the wilder side of the gang. Choocha (played by Varun Sharma) who used to see the winning lottery numbers in his dreams in the first part, can now see the future. And due to his this new trait which has been called ‘deja-chu’, the boys get in trouble again. Courtesy Choocha's extrasensory perception ability, the entire group takes off on yet another adventure that is filled with fun and chaos.

    Besides Varun Sharma and his friends-in-crime, Pulkit Samrat, Manjot Singh and Ali Fazal, Richa Chadda also returns in the sequel. Her character of Bholi Punjavan is back from jail and wants to take her revenge from the four and make them run again. Actor Pankaj Tiwari has also an interesting role and he lends a great support to the boys. Especially the last scene between Pankaj and Varun is hilarious.

    The trailer also shows the strange encounter with a snake and tiger leaving the audiences wondering what role they have in play and how the Fukrey gang clash with them. There are lots of moments in the trailer that will make you smile and even scream.

    Overall, 'Fukrey Returns' trailer is already a winner. It promises a joyride for the audiences. Directed by Mrighdeep Singh Lamba and produced by Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani, this comic-caper is releasing in cinemas on 15th December.

    Meanwhile...

    O mere Mehboob song from Dharam Veer to be recreated in Fukrey Returns

    The makers of 'Fukrey Returns' have recreated the iconic song, "O meri Mehbooba", from Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Zeenat Aman and Neetu Singh starrer 1977 fantasy-adventure, 'Dharam Veer'. Picturized on the four boys, this song is the first track in 'Fukrey Returns' and comes at a crucial point. Although the new version has Raftaar's rape and 'Kaala Chasma' fame Prem Hardeep's composition, Mohd. Rafi's voice and the original hook line have been retained in it.

    https://youtu.be/f-UzOpuKOVY

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    Ittefaq Trailer Review

    By RAHUL RAUT

    Yash Chopra's 1969 murder mystery 'Ittfaq' starring Rajesh Khanna and Nanda is considered a classic coming from Yash Raj banner. It's one of the path-breaking films of that era and is still counted as one of the best mysterious drama made in Bollywood. Now, Dharma Productions, BR Studios, and Red Chillies Entertainment have come together for the adaptation of the 1969 eponymous which has been directed by the original producer BR Chopra's grandson, Abhay Chopra.Ittefaq movie stills

    The trailer of the new 'Ittfaq' which was released a few days back seems intriguing and gives a sense of adrenaline rush throughout. It keeps you at the edge of your seat making you eager to know more. The crime thriller which has multiple points of view, by the trailer, looks gripping, thrilling and fascinating backed by a strong storyline.

    'Ittfaq' is a whodunit murder mystery and revolves around a night when two people are brutally killed by an anonymous person. Two suspects are trapped while investigating the double murder case. However, both of them give different perspectives about the same night to prove their innocence.

    The trailer begins with a dialogue,"What were you doing there?". An injured Sidharth Malhotra (Vikram Shetty) lands up at Sonakshi Sinha's (Maya) doorstep to ask for help. She lets him inside the house but that mistake turns their lives around. The duo who are the only witness as well as the prime suspects, through interrogating with police, depict the incident different way making the case more challenging and cryptical.Ittefaq movie stills

    While all fingers point to Sidharth and Sonakshi's characters, the end of the trailer shows the doorbell ringing which indicates that a third person might have also been involved in the incident that happened that calamitous night.

    Sidharth who has been seen in rusky look again after 'A Gentleman' shows his rowdy attitude and trapped suspect pain brilliantly. Sonakshi as a "misunderstood" woman intrigues with a never-seen-before performance from her. However, it's Akshaye Khanna who shines in the two-and-half-minutes trailer. Akshaye plays the role of a no-nonsense cop who will stop at nothing to find the truth since both the witnesses' testimonies are immensely different.

    The visuals in the trailer are fantastic. The dialogues raise the curiosity. There is a scene in the trailer where Akshaye proclaims, "There are three versions of the story. His Story. Her Story. And the Truth. We've to find the Truth." This surely arouses the interest to this crime thriller.

    Ittefaq movie stills

    However, despite the trailer is riveting, it has its own flaws. Although it's been said that 'Ittfaq' will not be a direct rip-off of the original, it doesn't seem the movie has been updated to keep up with the times. There are some scenes which are very unconvincing and won't go well with the audience in 2017. For example, Sidharth climbs up to the first floor to ask for help. Usually, if someone gets injured in an accident, he goes to the nearest house which would probably be on the ground floor. So when a physically injured guy jumps to the first floor of a flat just to ask for a phone call from her landline, it doesn't look anything than flimsy.

    Overall, the 'Ittfaq' trailer looks amazing. A crime thriller told through multiple points of view, no songs, no romantic angles, 100-minute run-time and a new twist to the end are the factors enough to make it an interesting watch. It seems like a not-to-be-missed movie and I am excited to catch it in theatres when it releases on 3rd November 2017.

    https://youtu.be/mvfvoCdPrII

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    REVIEW: Sukanya – Indians can do opera

    Even if you’re not familiar with classical Indian music you’ve probably heard of the global sensation, composer and musician Ravi Shankar. At the age of 90 ‘Pandit’ Ravi Shankar began to write his only opera -Sukanya, which is a love letter to his now, Widow Sukanya Rajan.

    Sold as a semi staged production the story is a tiny segment from the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata. With an amalgamation of a fifty-five piece London Philharmonic Orchestra, five Indian musicians, nineteen BBC Singers, an international cast, dancers from the Aakash Odedra Company and libretto from Amit Chaudhuri, you no doubt walk into the auditorium with plenty of expectations.

    Alok Kumar sings Chyvana and Susanna Hurrell sings Sukanya

    Sukanya begins and we’re introduced to Chyvana, an old sage who sits to meditate for so long that he becomes cocooned by an ant hill. When the unaware Princess Sukanya stabs at the ant hill she accidently blinds Chayvana. To make amends her father King Sharyaati offers his daughter to the sage. The loving marriage is disrupted when two jealous demigods challenge Sukanya, asking would she still recognise her own husband if he was of similar resemblance to them. She declines the challenge but her husband accepts on her behalf.  

    Admittedly there was a sneaky dread that Sukanya may become lost in its own grandness, thankfully this wasn’t the case. The Opera was beautifully directed by Suba Das who made his Royal Opera debut. The six singers sang their roles well, the demigod duo (Aswini Twins) singers Michel de Souza and Njabulo Madlala enjoyed great chemistry. The choreography and dancers were effortlessly perfect, mesmerising us with their swirls, turns and stamps.    

    The magnificent Welsh conductor David Murphy was also making his debut. The Easter and western music effortlessly danced into the air in perfect harmony, there were moments you could have easily closed your eyes and be lost in the magic. The musical utopia gave you shivers down your back and goose bumps on your arms.

    The demigods were sung by Michel de Souza (L) and Njabulo Madlala (R)

    The stage was designed as three staircases, with the central staircase including steps large enough to allow performances to sing or dance on, which worked perfecting when a fifty-five piece Orchestra sat at the base. I’m very fond of video imagery, the mood and space is created perfectly and quickly. However there were times when the imagery projected on performers and the background was not the background, which was a little off putting if you want to be lost in the world of the story. Saying that, one of my favourite visual moments was when the ant hill formed around Chyvana, it was a greatly effective and creative use of video projection.

    Although there is love for a fusion of music and an admiration for a multicultural cast, I’m not sure it worked so well when Keel Watson (King Sharyaati) a black singer and actor played the part of a white Susanna Hurrell’s (Sukanya) father. It did lead me to ponder over questions of lack of opportunities and representation. The brilliant Alok Kumar who played Chyvana is a beyond capable singer and performer but it was clear that this character was referred to as ‘old’ and then begins the spiral down questions of where are the mature actors? Does it make a difference? How old is old? Should it make a difference?   

    During the interval a white lady turned to me to say “I didn’t even know you had opera” I had to get her to repeat two more times, purely because I didn’t understand the statement. It was evident my repeated ask unintentionally made her and her friend very self conscious and unintentionally I allowed an uncomfortable politically incorrect feeling fill the air.  
    She didn’t know I had opera?
    What I concluded from that was “I” meaning “we” meaning South Asians did Opera. To be honest nor did I, but if it comes my way looking and sounding anything close to what Sukanya did, I’m not going to complain.

    Excited for the future development of Sukanya and hoping the full production will be alive and touring in the very near future.

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    Restaurant review: The Pind, in Bradford

    Authentic Lahori food can be enjoyed at the Pind restaurant in Bradford.
     
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    Finding Fatimah: When Millennial Muslims look for love

    Finding Fatimah is a fresh take on the great British Muslim matrimonial crisis. How to find love (and get married) as you approach your 30's while keeping it all strictly 'halal'.

    The film starts with Shahid, played by Danny Ashok, approaching the big Three-Oh, trying to make last ditch efforts to get a printing business running, a business that he would eventually have to sell and worse of all, he is divorced already! After failing to find a suitable partner in his own circles , Shahid, like a true blue millennial turns to the internet.

    Fatimah-poster2What is British Muslim online dating all about? Shahid finds out pretty soon. After a few dates go horribly awry, Shahid almost gives up but just before he does, he finds a young doctor called Fatimah, played by the beautiful Asmara Gabrielle. There's only one tiny problem though - Shahid hasn't told Fatimah that he was previously married! Will the misunderstanding be resolved in time? I'll let you watch the film to find out.

    Both Danny and Asmara do complete justice to their parts, as they play characters with their own complicated backstories. There's something endearing about seeing them together as they navigate their relationship and  the people around them.

    Finding Fatimah does have its shortcomings though. The execution of the comic scenes could have been better as I felt a lot of the situations that might have potentially been hilarious on paper turn out to be a bit blah when played out. That shouldn't stop you from watching it. If nothing else, it will open up a window into a very real struggle that a lot of young British Asian Muslims are going through.

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