Tag Archives: A. R. Rahman

Movie Review: Beyond the Clouds (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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A complex blend of heartbreak and hope, Beyond the Clouds examines the role family bonds play in making poverty survivable, while showing us that the concept of family needn’t be limited to blood relations.

Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi’s first Hindi picture takes place in Mumbai. An arresting opening sequence filmed by cinematographer Anil Mehta follows Amir (Ishaan Khattar) as he receives a bag of drugs from a car on a highway overpass. The camera sweeps down as he crosses under the roadway, and then it turns to watch Amir and his friend Anil (Aakash Gopal) speed away on a motorbike.

Amir and Anil are small-time drug runners, young and brash enough to overestimate the amount of power they really have. The don they work for, Rahoul (Shashank Shende), decides to put them in their place after Amir shows up at Rahoul’s brothel unannounced. He sets them up to be nabbed in a police raid.

During the course of a thrilling police chase, Amir happens upon his estranged older sister, Tara (Malavika Mohanan), and then hides out at her house. The encounter gives them a chance to hash out the reasons for their estrangement, perhaps setting the stage for a healthier relationship going forward.

Their reunion is short-lived. Tara is arrested the next day for seriously injuring her employer Akshi (Goutam Ghose) during an attempted rape. It falls on Amir to nurse his sister’s assailant back to health so that Akshi can testify to his part in the assault, the only way to free Tara.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of Beyond the Clouds is its depiction of how tenuous even modest notions of comfort and security can be on the bottom rungs of society’s ladder, especially for women. Amir’s association with illegal drugs can bring his wild lifestyle to a halt at a moment’s notice. And his rising of the ranks of Rahoul’s organization comes at the expense of drug addicts and women forced into prostitution.

Then again, Amir is more morally flexible than the average Hindi-film hero, able to pivot from making silly faces at a child to threatening a paralyzed Akshi with a knife without blinking an eye. It’s less a factor of his youth than his having grown up reliant upon such flexibility to survive. Khattar does a creditable job in his debut film.

Mohanan is less successful in her depiction of Tara, who acts zombified in her conversations with Amir after she’s imprisoned. Yet, when Amir isn’t around, Tara seems well-adjusted to prison life, looking after Chotu (Shivan Pujan), the young son of an ill fellow inmate (played by Tannishtha Chatterjee). Tara’s relationship with Chotu embodies the movie’s theme that our “family” is made up not just of blood relatives, but also those we choose to care for.

Chotu is one of many examples in Beyond the Clouds of kids living in places distinctly not child-friendly because their mothers are poor and have no one who can help them. Dozens of little ones run underfoot in jail, an arrangement permitted in some Indian prisons for children under six years old. One worker at Rahoul’s brothel shoos her daughter out of their room when a client arrives. Amir himself becomes a reluctant babysitter when Akshi’s impoverished elderly mother and two daughters arrive from South India and mistake him for one of Akshi’s friends.

The surprising weak point in Beyond the Clouds is A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack. Though the tone of the film isn’t dour, Rahman’s score is still too upbeat for the circumstances. Nevertheless, Beyond the Clouds is a thought-provoking, heartfelt exploration of our shared humanity.

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Movie Review: OK Jaanu (2017)

okjaanu3 Stars (out of 4)

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OK Jaanu (“OK, Darling“) is a straightforward, contemporary romance. No twists, just two attractive people falling in love. The movie works because it knows what it is.

OK Jaanu is a Hindi remake of the 2015 Tamil film OK Kanmani (which I haven’t seen), and from what I understand, it’s pretty faithful to the original. OK Jaanu‘s director, Shaad Ali, got his start as an assistant director under Mani Ratnam, who directed OK Kanmani.

The Hindi version stars Aditya Roy Kapur as video game designer Adi and Shraddha Kapoor as Tara, an architect. At a mutual friend’s wedding, they discover a shared disdain for marriage. They both have plans to leave India in short order: Tara to Paris to continue her architectural studies, and Adi to the United States to “give Zuckerberg a run for his money.”

Allow me a nerdy digression. Mark Zuckerberg is the creator of Facebook, but he’s not a game designer. It would’ve been more accurate for Adi to say he was heading to America to become the next Mark Cerny or Will Wright. (Yes, I know how geeky I sound.)

Adi’s flirty friendship with Tara blooms into a full-blown love affair, though they refuse to utter the word “love”–since their romance must end once they expatriate. The sequence leading up to the consummation of their relationship is very sexy without showing much skin, other than a brief glimpse of Kapur’s shirtless back. The camera pans around the bedroom, letting the sounds of a thunderstorm and A.R. Rahman’s stirring score fill the audience’s imagination.

Adi’s and Tara’s belief that their fling is temporary and free of emotional strings is met with a collective, “We’ll see about that,” by the elder members of their social circle. Their landlord, Gopi (Naseeruddin Shah), recognizes in them the same fondness he and his wife, Charu (Leela Samson), shared in their younger days. As Gopi cares for Charu as her Alzheimer’s progresses, Adi and Tara see a depth of love that they might experience if they were willing to commit to each other.

The main characters’ family situations are a bit confusing, which is unfortunate given that those relationships exist in the story to explain why Adi and Tara are both so biased against marriage. At other times, scene transitions fail to clarify where the characters are geographically.

The lead actors are pretty good, and Kapur’s smile is a killer. However, the characters themselves never really won me over, despite multiple “Having Fun!” montages of the duo and their friends standing in moving convertibles or driving a moped through a cafe. Adi’s and Tara’s first conversation is over cell phones during the middle of a church service, which seems more rude than charming.

Where OK Jaanu redeems itself is in showcasing characters who are open and unapologetic about their sexual desires, all within a narrative that is strongly pro-monogamy. It’s a nice blend of modern and traditional.

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Movie Review: Jugni (2016)

Jugni3 Stars (out of 4)

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Writer-director Shefali Bhushan makes a promising debut with Jugni. Despite some plot hiccups, Bhushan’s film shows her knack for characterization and her passion for music.

The plot issues are present from the beginning. As the opening credits run, a woman travels from Mumbai to Hasanpur, a small town in Punjab. It’s a full twelve minutes before we learn that the woman is named Vibs (short for Vibhavari), played by Sugandha Garg, who’s gaining recognizability with roles in Patang, My Name Is Khan, and the Tere Bin Laden films.

Vibs is a rookie music director looking for fresh talent for a movie soundtrack. Her target is a lauded classical singer named Bibi Saroop (Sadhana Singh), but Bibi’s son Mastana (Siddhant Behl) gets to Vibs first. Mastana is also a singer, though his tastes are more modern than his mother’s. For example, the lyrics of his biggest hit on the local party circuit rhyme “kidney” with “Sydney”.

The amount of time Vibs and Mastana spend together rankles Preeto (Anuritta Jha), Mastana’s de facto girlfriend. She and Bibi worry that Mastana is reading too much into Vibs’ interest in him, letting Bollywood dreams cloud his vision.

Mastana is used to being the big fish in his small pond, so he’s certain his local fame will translate to success in Mumbai. Even when their song is a hit, Vibs cautions Mastana about the fickleness of the industry. Promises made in Mumbai don’t mean as much as they do in Hasanpur.

This city-versus-country conflict is at the heart of Jugni, not just in the way it governs careers but relationships as well. Preeto and Mastana aren’t officially girlfriend-boyfriend because they don’t need to be; it’s just a given that they will get married someday. On the flip side, Vibs shares an apartment with her boyfriend, Sid (Samir Sharma), but recent problems have rendered their relationship essentially an open one.

A night of passion between Vibs and Mastana holds different meaning for both of them. While Vibs treats it as a fling, Mastana considers it the foundation for a romantic relationship. Much like his dreams of success in Bollywood, he also envisions a future with Vibs and pushes Preeto aside to make way.

Refreshingly, Bhushan doesn’t take the side of either character, presenting them as complex young adults at a critical stage in their lives. Mastana is naive, but is he wrong to view sex with Vibs as a significant, possibly life-changing event? Vibs is nonchalant, but why shouldn’t two adults be able to have fun without it requiring a commitment?

One side-effect of this balanced presentation is a blurring of who the film’s main character actually is. That then clouds the ultimate goals for each character, making it hard to get a sense of where we are in the story at any given point. Not every movie needs to rigidly follow a traditional structure, but Bhushan shows enough familiarity with that structure that certain deviations just make things confusing.

As for the performances, Behl — who also gets an associate writer credit for Jugni — imbues Mastana with a mixture of innocence and arrogance. Garg has a challenging job because Vibs spends a lot of time listening to other people play music, and it’s hard to make that look interesting onscreen. Garg is good at portraying Vibs’ internal conflict, making her vacillation understandable without coming across as manipulative.

Jugni is an aesthetic delight for both eyes and ears. The movie looks lovely, thanks to cinematographer Divakar Mani. Clinton Cerejo provides a terrific soundtrack, with contributions from luminaries like A. R. Rahman and Vishal Bhardwaj.

There’s an awful lot to like about Jugni. I’m really interested to watch Shefali Bhushan grow as a filmmaker.

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Movie Review: Mohenjo Daro (2016)

MohenjoDaro1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Even without context, Mohenjo Daro isn’t a very good movie, but it’s especially disappointing when considered within the landscape of recent Indian films and with regard to director Ashutosh Gowariker’s past achievements.

Gowariker’s story takes place in the ancient Indus Valley city of Mohenjo Daro, around 2,000 years B.C. Hrithik Roshan plays Sarman, a nearby farmer with a mysterious connection to the city that he doesn’t understand.

Sarman’s uncle Durjan (Nitish Bharadwaj) caves to Sarman’s relentless begging and allows his nephew to go to the Mohenjo Daro, albeit with warnings about the city’s many dangers. At forty-two, Roshan is too old play a character so immature that he opens the “only in case of life or death” package that his uncle gives him as soon as Durjan is out of sight.

When Sarman arrives at the metropolis he finds a place governed by greedy politicians fearful of the merciless senate leader Maham (Kabir Bedi) and his bully of a son, Moonja (Arunoday Singh). Maham orders a tax increase, even as farmers struggle with diminishing yields due to Mahan’s damming of the river.

Sarman is fed up and ready to head home when, wouldn’t you know it, he spots a beautiful woman who makes him change his mind. (Conveniently, everything of import in Mohenjo Daro happens at exactly the right moment.) The woman is Chaani (Pooja Hegde), daughter of the head priest (Manish Chaudhary) and The Chosen One of Mohenjo Daro.

Chaani presents all kinds of problems in the story (none of which are Hegde’s fault). Right after Sarman admonishes his buddy and traveling companion Hojo to stop ogling women, Chaani shows up in an outfit that demands ogling. Her backless, floor-length dress has slits all the way up both thighs, a cutout to expose her navel, and a pushup bra. So, it’s bad when other men leer at women, but not when Sarman does it?

Then there’s the part about Chaani being The Chosen One. A prophesy at the time of her birth decreed that she would make a decision that would usher in a new era for Mohenjo Daro, but she never makes such a decision. She’s just a bystander as the people forget about her divine destiny and declare Sarman the savior of Mohejno Daro.

With very little written or archeological evidence to go by, Gowariker was free to style his version of Mohenjo Daro as he wished. The results are bizarre, not in a fanciful way but in an impractical one. In addition to feathers and several kilos of metal beads, Chaani’s elaborate headdress has slices of geodes that hang next to her face. One can only imagine how annoying it must have been for Hegde to have slabs of rock clanking against her cheek in nearly every scene. And don’t get me started on helpful city guard Lothar’s (Diganta Hizarika) 1980s side-ponytail.

There are weird visual nods to classic Christian stories from Hollywood, too. In flashbacks, Maham is styled like an evil Jesus. Narendra Jha as the crazy prophet Jakhiro looks like Charlton Heston’s Moses from The Ten Commandments.

The lack of historical data was an opportunity to create something visually stunning, but Mohenjo Daro just isn’t. Worse, it looks really bad when compared to last year’s historical epic, Baahubali: The Beginning. In every respect — costuming, CGI, fight scenes, musical numbers — Mohenjo Daro looks like a lackluster version of Baahubali, with a less compelling story.

The bland, obvious plot is perhaps the most shocking element of Mohenjo Daro. Gowariker has a great track record for writing and directing engrossing stories that subtly convey his political ideals. Lagaan had poor, rural Indians literally beating the British at their own game. Swades showed how innovation and dedication to community can circumvent the slow movement of government. Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey saw young Indians pushed to violence by oppressive British rule. In Jodhaa Akbar, Roshan played a progressive emperor who embraced multiculturalism.

Gowariker ditches the nuance and character motivations of his previous films for cliched populism. Sarman declares that The People are fed up paying the senate’s taxes, and The People cheer in unison, somehow instinctively knowing that this outsider is the savior who can lead them out of poverty, and causing them to forget about the crew of murderous hill goons Maham employs as bodyguards, a la Tyrion Lannister.

It’s too easy. The idea that all of India’s (or anywhere’s) problems could be solved if the masses would rise up as one behind a charismatic leader is lazy and unsatisfying, whether the action takes place in the modern day or thousands of years ago. It absolves the masses of having to do the hard work that was such an important part of Lagaan, Swades, and Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey. Just wait around for a messiah — but not the woman we thought was The Chosen One. This other guy instead.

Even the manner in which the story is presented is ham-handed. A. R. Rahman provides a score full of uncharacteristically garish musical cues. The single corniest moment sees one character tell another, “something something something YOUR FATHER,” followed by a noisy instrumental blast and a zoom to closeup on the listener’s face.

There are also none of the culture-clash elements from Gowariker’s previous films present in Mohenjo Daro. Sarman is an outsider, but it’s not really a problem. He adapts to life in the city almost immediately, making friends and falling in love without a hitch. Then again, there’s not enough to Chaani’s character to make her a complicating factor. She’s there to look pretty, which Hegde does exceedingly well.

The actors aren’t to blame for Mohenjo Daro‘s shortcomings. No one is particularly good or bad, although I did enjoy Singh’s performance as the thwarted heir apparent more than I have some of his past work. This will be one of Roshan’s most forgettable roles.

There’s not enough substance here to tell if Mohenjo Daro could have been more than it is. It’s just the unfortunate product of a talented filmmaker who appears to have lost his way, sublimating his ideals for pandering that pleases no one.

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Watch A. R. Rahman Live in Concert Online

Legendary film composer A. R. Rahman will receive an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music in Boston on October 24, 2014. To mark the occasion, Rahman will perform a concert with the school’s Indian Ensemble. Proceeds from the concert benefit a scholarship in Rahman’s name that provides funds for Indian students to attend the school.

Though the concert is sold out, it’s going to be streamed online starting at 8 p.m. Eastern on Friday. Here’s where you can watch the concert live. If you need more incentive to watch — “Free A. R. Rahman concert” isn’t incentive enough? — check out the video below of the Berklee Indian Ensemble performing Rahman’s “Jiya Jale” from Dil Se. They’re fabulous.

Movie Review: Kochadaiiyaan (2014)

Kochadaiiyaan2 Stars (out of 4)

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Note: I watched the Hindi version of the film with English subtitles.

Fantasy is a genre rarely explored in Bollywood, especially films of the sword-and-sorcery variety. Kochadaiiyaan (“The King with a Long, Curly Mane“) fills that void, incorporating grand, mythical elements into an animated historical adventure.

However, the film’s story is undermined by director Soundarya R. Ashwin’s and writer K. S. Ravikumar’s fixation on plot twists. Instead of telling the story in a linear fashion, Ashwin and Ravikumar throw in a twist every half-hour or so, revealing that what appeared to be the truth was a lie. Wait another half-hour, and the truth is again turned on its head.

The twists aren’t well-designed. There’s no feeling of inevitability to them. They confuse more than they illuminate. Instead of inspiring an “Ah ha!” reaction, the only response is, “Huh?”

The story revolves around a strategic military genius named Rana (voiced and played by Rajinikanth in motion capture before being rendered on screen). The plot jumps between Rana’s rise to power in the kingdom of Kalingapuri, his return to his homeland of Kottaipattinam, and his recollections of his father, another great military strategist called Kochadaiiyaan (also played by Rajinikanth).

Sadly, Kochadaiiyaan isn’t a self-contained story, but rather a set-up for a sequel. Its incomplete ending is abrupt and frustrating.

Much was made in the promotion of the film regarding the advanced (for India) technology used in the animation. Had expectations been downplayed, perhaps the quality of the animation wouldn’t seem so disappointing. Even using motion capture, the animation looks no better than an early PlayStation 2-era video game cutscene.

Figure movement is the film’s biggest visual flaw. Fluidity of movement is hit-or-miss when it comes to the human characters, which is a huge problem in the movie’s many dance numbers (though some numbers fare better than others). On a related note, A. R. Rahman’s soundtrack is stirring, but not replete with hit singles.

An even bigger problem with the animation is the jerky movement of the film’s animals. Epic battle scenes become laughable with one glance at the arthritic horses “galloping” into war.

Character renderings also vary in degrees of quality. Rajinikanth is recognizable, his hairstyle changing to suit his multiple characters. Rana’s love interest, Vadhana Devi, looks more like Juhi Chawla than the actress who voiced her, Deepika Padukone.

Director Ashwin’s best use of animation is in giving a grand scale to Kochadaiiyaan‘s environments. Buildings are larger, battlefields more vast, and background characters more plentiful than most live-action film budgets could accommodate.

As for the acting in the film, it’s hard to judge, given the shortcomings of the animation. One tic that grows funnier over time is the characters’ penchant for stating the full name of the kingdom “Kottaipattinam.” I’d love to see a video compilation of every time a character says it, because it would probably include a hundred clips and run about five minutes long.

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Movie Review: Lekar Hum Deewana Dil (2014)

Lekar_Hum_Deewana_Dil_poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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Everyone does stupid stuff during college, but rarely something as reckless as getting married on a lark. The characters in Lekar Hum Deewana Dil (“With Our Joyful Hearts“) take that matrimonial leap and spend the rest of the film paying the consequences.

Dino (Armaan Jain) and Karishma (Deeksha Seth) are best buddies, though their university chums suspect that their feelings for one another are more than platonic. Karishma’s father insists that his daughter marry at age twenty-one, citing a vague family tradition as precedent.

To save Karishma from an arranged marriage, she and Dino elope on his motorcycle. They get married, but they never actually consummate it because neither of them thought to buy condoms, and they’re constantly on the run from their parents.

When they do find a peaceful moment, Dino and Karishma are faced with the realities of married life. They don’t have jobs, they’re running out of money, and they know nothing about how much it costs to run a household. Practical pressures strain the couples’ relationship, and Karishma calls the road trip off when she is forced to poop in the jungle.

The second half of the movie deals with the fallout from the elopement. The focus on practicalities that dominated the first half disappears, and the second half centers more on whether or not the couple is destined to be together.

Given the tenor of the first half, whether the couple is meant to be together isn’t of utmost importance. The question is whether they are ready to be together, but Lekar Hum Deewana Dil glosses over that. By the end of the film, Dino and Karishma are mostly unchanged from the privileged, immature kids they were at the beginning.

That’s not to say that Dino and Karishma are bad characters. They just don’t evolve. If anything, they devolve, spending most of their time after the interval screaming at each other.

Jain — who looks like a young clone of Saif Ali Khan — and Seth are competent, but they’re not asked to display much range. Few other characters get much screentime except for Dino’s older brother Dev (Sudeep Sahir), who is fine until a bizarre romantic subplot turns him into a stammering oaf.

One of Lekar Hum Deewana Dil‘s selling points is a soundtrack by A. R. Rahman. The music is good, but it’s hard to enjoy within the context of the film. Director Arif Ali favors jerky handheld cameras and claustrophobic closeups on faces. Combine those with quick edits, and the song-and-dance numbers — especially the opening one — become an exercise in avoiding motion sickness.

Links

  • Lekar Hum Deewana Dil at Wikipedia
  • Lekar Hum Deewana Dil at IMDb

In Theaters: May 16, 2014

There are no new Hindi movies opening in the Chicago area on May 16, 2014. Bollywood fans may want to check out the Hollywood flick Million Dollar Arm when it opens nationwide on Friday, since it features a soundtrack by A.R. Rahman and performances by Hindi-film character actors Darshan Jariwala and Pitobash Tripathy.

On Friday, The Lunchbox opens in a new pair of local theaters: The Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago and The Glen Art Theatre in Glen Ellyn.

2 States continues its run at the AMC Showplace Niles 12 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville.

Movie Review: Highway (2014)

Highway4 Stars (out of 4)

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Writer-director Imtiaz Ali’s great strength is his ability to relate emotional truth. His characters act the way that regular people do, not the way that movie characters are supposed to.

Highway is the fullest realization of Ali’s gift for conveying truth. It often feels more like a documentary than a work of fiction. It’s an astounding accomplishment.

Smart directorial choices heighten the sense of immersion in the main plot. Past events and scenes not featuring the movie’s main character, Veera (Alia Bhatt), are primarily shown within a frame, while current events take up the whole screen.

The film begins with un-subtitled footage of preparations for Veera’s wedding, shown within a black frame. Veera doesn’t look particularly happy in any of the footage.

The image fills up the whole screen in order to show Veera sneaking out of her house to meet her betrothed, Vinay (Arjun Malhotra), who’s not pleased to act as Veera’s chauffeur on a nighttime jaunt. She says she feels stifled in the bustling house and wants to run away. He would rather get home as soon as possible.

The couple stumbles into a robbery at a gas station, and Veera is taken hostage by a gang of petty thieves led by Mahabir (Randeep Hooda). Only once they’ve made their escape do the thieves realize they’ve captured a rich man’s daughter, and they’re not happy about it. They know that Veera’s father will use all of his substantial resources to find her, so they hit the road with Veera in tow.

Veera’s initial fear gives way to fascination as she sees parts of India that she never knew existed. It occurs to her that, even though she’s vacationed all over the world, she’s never seen anything outside of her hotel.

It cannot be overstated how brilliant Alia Bhatt is as Veera. So much is demanded from her — from expressing childlike wonder to terror to heartbreak — and she excels at every turn. A simple scene in which Veera laughs with delight at the sight of a roaring mountain river is impeccable.

Hooda is perfectly cast as Mahabir, who winds up growing nearly as much as his young captive does. Gruff and taciturn by nature, Mahabir slowly allows Veera to coax vague information about his troubled past out him, forming a bond with her that he wishes didn’t exist.

Mahabir’s gang is freer than their leader is in expressing their amusement with their charge. One of the goons — Aadoo (Durgesh Kumar) — is particularly charming, staring at Veera with the same wide-eyed fascination with which she regards nearly everything she sees.

So much about Highway is beautiful: the performances, the mountain scenery, A.R. Rahman’s gorgeous score. There are a number of times when not much seems to happen, but those are some of the best moments. Ali allows the audience time to breathe and soak in the atmosphere he’s created. It’s a wonderful experience.

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Streaming Video News: October 19, 2013

The 2012 Telugu movie Eega is now available for streaming on Netflix in its Hindi-dubbed form, Makkhi. I have really wanted to see this revenge movie about a man reincarnated as a housefly. Reviewer Josh Hurtado — who has raved about Eega/Makkhi since its release — notes that version of the film on Netflix bears a runtime of 1 hr. 59 min.: shorter than the original release (2 hrs. 27 min.) but longer than the international version (1 hr. 47 min.).

Also new on Netflix is 2010’s Raavan, which I thought was gorgeous. It features my absolute favorite A.R. Rahman song, “Jaare Ud Jaare,” which was added to the film too late to be included on the soundtrack album. The only version of it that I could find is on YouTube, but the video spoils the end of the movie, so don’t watch it if you haven’t seen the film.

Keep up with the latest additions to Netflix via Instant Watcher.