Tag Archives: Netflix

Movie Review: Music Teacher (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Music Teacher on Netflix

Music Teacher is a melancholy exploration of the consequences of blowing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Beni (Manav Kaul) is a middle-aged vocal instructor and part-time lounge singer in Shimla, where he lives with his mother Madhavi (Neena Gupta) and younger sister Urmi (Niharika Lyra Dutt). He dreamed of being a playback singer for the movies, but his father’s death called him back from Mumbai years ago, before he could land any film gigs.

Adding salt to Beni’s still-open wound is the success of one of his former students, Jyotsna (Amrita Bagchi), who herself is now a popular playback singer. Beni must confront his jealousy and anger toward her when Jyotsna returns to Shimla for a concert after eight years in Bollywood.

But is the story Beni’s been telling himself about Jyotsna’s fame and their falling out true, or does he view the past through a lens that paints her as the villain (corroborated by his mother’s hostility toward her)? He reexamines the narrative as he tells it to his new neighbor, Geeta (Divya Dutta), a lonely wife who’s been ditched by her husband and banished to Shimla to care for her ailing father-in-law.

The present and past timelines in Music Teacher are differentiated by the color of Beni’s sideburns: black in the past, grey in the present. It’s subtle and easy to miss at first. Beni himself was more upbeat when he first meet Jyotsna, as opposed to the terse curmudgeon he’s become since she left. Their relationship was about more than music, but both had different dreams for the future.

Beni’s challenge is to realize how his own actions led him to his present unhappy state, and then either chart a new course or find a way to accept things the way they are. He’s spent his whole life waiting for his big break, thinking it could only come in the form of a show business career. He never considered that loving Jyotsna could be a life-changing opportunity in its own right.

Kaul plays Beni as more sad than angry, although the sense of having been wronged is what keeps him in stasis. Kaul convincingly portrays Beni as a decent guy who blew his big chance and never learned how to cope with it.

Bagchi is touching as Jyotsna, both in flashbacks as a young woman desperate for love and in an impactful present-day sequence in which she hints that the lessons she’s learned have been hard won.

While Jyotsna embodies all of Beni’s opportunities lost, Dutta’s Geeta represents the idea of accepting life’s hardships and finding pleasure where one can. Were Beni further along in his emotional journey, maybe he and Geeta could be happy together, damaged but at least not alone.

Though Music Teacher‘s story focuses on Beni’s growth, there’s an interesting theme about the lack of control women have over their own lives. Geeta is the most obvious example, fulfilling the edicts of a husband who lives in a distant city and no longer loves her. But Beni himself has undue influence over the lives of the women in his family. He selects a groom for his sister Urmi, and while we can assume that he wouldn’t make her marry against her will, he clearly has veto power when it comes to groom choice. Beni’s insistence forces Jyotsna to make a choice she doesn’t want to, and the repercussions destroy their relationship.

The men in Music Teacher don’t deserve the power they have. Geeta’s husband — who doesn’t even appear onscreen — is a bad guy for ditching her and offloading the care of his sick father onto her. Beni is guilty of myopic self-interest and a tragic lack of foresight, and loneliness is the consequence. Music Teacher is a big improvement over writer-director Sarthak Dasgupta’s first film, 2007’s The Great Indian Butterfly. There’s a lot to relate to and appreciate about this cautionary tale.

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TV Review: Ghoul (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Ghoul on Netflix

Ghoul pulls no punches in its depiction of the dangers of state-sanctioned religious intolerance. The show’s monsters are scary, but not as terrifying as the vision of the future presented by writer-director Patrick Graham.

The miniseries comprises three episodes, each with a runtime between 40-45 minutes (excluding closing credits). In all, Ghoul is about as long as a feature film. I appreciated the built-in breaks, which occur at logical points in the plot. This is a perfect kind of storytelling format for a streaming video platform, and I won’t be surprised to see it become more common as filmmakers adapt to changing audience viewing habits.

Graham keeps the scares to a minimum in the first episode: “Out of the Smokeless Fire,” establishing a world where every day is a nightmare for those on the wrong side of new societal divisions. A fascist Indian government cracks down on homegrown terrorism by outlawing certain religious texts and practices, burning books and whisking away citizens believed to harbor anti-nationalist sentiments for “re-education.” The only people targeted in crackdowns are Muslims, although the show doesn’t specifically identify the government as Hindu nationalist.

Naive patriotism inspires Nida Rahim (Radhika Apte) to enlist in the military, despite being the daughter of an Islamic scholar (played by S.M. Zaheer). She’s convinced that the government’s harsh tactics truly are about national security and not religious oppression, as her father believes — so much so that she turns in her own father for re-education. Soon after, she’s posted at a secret government prison to aid the interrogation of notorious terrorist Ali Saeed (Mahesh Balraj), who is captured in the show’s opening, half-dead and surrounded by the corpses of his followers. But why would the military assign Nida, a junior interrogator, to such a high-profile case?

The last two episodes draw from any number of horror films in which the characters are trapped in a remote location with a monster, their terror turning them against one another when their survival depends on them working together. Few of the soldiers and prisoners get any meaningful character development other than Colonel Sunil Dacunha (Manav Kaul), whose idea it was to bring Nida in, and Lieutenant Laxmi Das (Ratnabali Bhattacharjee), Dacunha’s skeptical second-in-command.

Although the relative anonymity of the other soldiers signals their expendability, it also highlight’s the shows message that any agent of a fascist government is liable for its crimes. Not every soldier in Dacunha’s prison personally tortured prisoners, but all of them knew about it and did nothing to stop it. The jail’s cremation room is a stark visualization of the parallels to Nazism present throughout Graham’s screenplay.

When Ghoul‘s namesake creature finally appears, the story becomes quite scary, playing on the fears of those within the prison. Several of the soldiers, including Dacunha, are haunted by the way engaging in torture has warped their sense of morality — not enough to stop torturing people, unfortunately — allowing the monster to play on their guilt. The scares in Ghoul are more psychological than surprise driven, and there’s a considerable amount of blood.

Nida is plagued by her own guilt, and she has no allies in her new surroundings. Apte is compelling in the lead role, showing both Nida’s grit and vulnerability. Bravely, the series doesn’t downplay her commitment to the totalitarian government. She’s willing to follow orders until the moment she’s absolutely convinced that she’s been duped. Nor does Ghoul try to make Dacunha more sympathetic than he should be. Kaul depicts Dacunha as conflicted, but unquestionably a bad person. Ghoul knows which way its moral compass points, and it’s not afraid to show it.

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Movie Review: Love Per Square Foot (2018)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Love Per Square Foot on Netflix
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Writer-director Anand Tiwari’s debut feature film Love Per Square Foot shows a lot of promise. Drawing from his own acting experience, Tiwari coaxes charming performances from his talented cast.

Two young strangers in Mumbai long for homes of their own. IT guy Sanjay (Vicky Kaushal) is tired of living with his fussy parents, Lata (Supriya Pathak) and Bhaskar (Raghuvir Yadav). Loan officer Karina (Angira Dhar) wants financial independence, a feat her mother Blossom (Ratna Pathak Shah) never quite achieved.

Sanjay is being strung along by his sexy boss, Rashi (Alankrita Sahai), and Karina is dating Sam (Kunaal Roy Kapur), a nice guy she likes but doesn’t love. When Sanjay and Karina hit it off at a mutual friend’s wedding, they realize that they can’t achieve their dreams if they stay with their current partners.

In order to take advantage of a government-sponsored housing program for newlyweds, Sanjay and Karina decide to apply together. They only have to get married if they win an apartment via a lottery draw, and even then, their arrangement is based on business rather than affection. They’ll split everything 50-50, from the costs of owning the apartment right down to household chores. That they start to fall in love with each other during the process is just a bonus.

The story takes its time establishing the relationship between Sanjay and Karina, which is great because Kaushal and Dhar are adorable together. Fresh off of his chilling turn as a crooked cop in Raman Raghav 2.0, Kaushal transitions seamlessly into an ideal romantic leading man. Dhar is effortlessly likeable and cute in her first film role.

Tiwari’s storytelling style is concise, with characters resolving problems that would normally stretch over several scenes with just a sentence or two. It’s refreshing, but it also creates the need to continually manufacture new conflicts in order to keep the story going. Problems aren’t born out of well-integrated subplots but rather spontaneously generate, and the story drags.

The two ex-lovers are one well Tiwari returns to, with Rashi’s demands on Sanjay’s attention becoming increasingly outlandish and less believable. As a character, Rashi is one-note, which is too bad because Sahai shows some charisma in her first film role. Kapur’s Sam has fewer scenes, but the actor makes the most of them.

Tiwari relies even more heavily on the main characters’ parents to complicate matters, chiefly on the grounds of religious objections to the union. Sanjay is Hindu and Karina is Christian, though neither seems especially devout. The sudden parental religious objections feel obligatory — as though one can’t make a Bollywood romantic comedy without them — and they don’t easily fit with the central modern love story. Despite having wonderful actors in the roles, all of the parents are unfunny caricatures.

The rookie writer-director must perfect his story crafting, but overall, Love Per Square Foot is a fine debut — not just for Anand Tiwari but for Angira Dhar as well.

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Streaming Video News: July 26, 2017

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with several new additions to the catalog. The 2016 Malayalam film Munroe Island (aka Mundrothuruth) is now available for streaming, as are the Indian television shows Buddha Sutra, The Great Escape, Kissa Currency Ka, and Samagri, Sampatti Aur Sauda. Instant Watcher also has a link to the cooking show Ithihas Ki Thali Se, but the show isn’t available on Netflix just yet. Look for it to join the streaming catalog soon.

Streaming Video News: June 25, 2017

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with two new additions to the catalog. The reprehensible 2017 thriller Kaabil is now available for streaming, though I’d discourage anyone from actually watching it. Instead, watch the classic Mughal-E-Azam, which also just joined the streaming service (thanks for the heads up, Gaurav!). For everything else new on Netflix — Bollywood or not — check Instant Watcher.

Streaming Video News: June 21, 2017

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with a major new addition to the catalog. Aamir Khan’s 2016 smash hit Dangal is now available for streaming. If you’re looking for a movie the whole family can enjoy, Dangal fits the bill perfectly. The London-set Desi comedy Amar Akbar & Tony was also recently added to the service. For everything else new on Netflix (Bollywood or not), check Instant Watcher.

Streaming Video News: May 26, 2017

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with a major new addition to the catalog. Shah Rukh Khan’s 2017 gangster drama Raees is now available for streaming. It’s not my favorite SRK film, but it has its moments. For everything else new on Netflix (Bollywood or not), check Instant Watcher.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Heera with two new additions, including another 2017 theatrical release — Commando 2! The plot is crazy, but Vidyut Jammwal action movies are always fun. The second new addition to Heera is 2016’s Dev Bhoomi: Land of the Gods. I’m not sure if Amazon’s deal with Cinestaan applies to the US as well as India, but the addition of Dev Bhoomi could presage the eventual addition of Konkona Sen Sharma’s directorial debut A Death in the Gunj to Heera. We’ll have to wait and see.

I made one addition to my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime as well. The documentary Faith Connections — which director Pan Nalin made before Angry Indian Goddesses — is now available for streaming.

Streaming Video News: May 24, 2017

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with two new additions to the catalog. Piya Behrupiya is a filmed version of the stage play by the same name, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night that played at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater last fall (though I’m not sure where the Netflix version was recorded). Also new is comedian Hasan Minhaj’s stand-up special Homecoming King.

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon’s Heera Channel with another new stand-up special — Biswa Kalyan Rath: Biswa Mast Aadmi. Biswa gained fame as a member of the duo behind Pretentious Movie Reviews, and he had a killer cameo in Brahman Naman.

Streaming Video News: May 10, 2017

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with five additions to the streaming catalog: Aiyyaa, Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap, Gabbar Is Back, Madras Cafe, and Michael, starring Naseeruddin Shah. Madras Cafe is the most interesting of the new additions that I’ve seen. Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap is underdeveloped, and Gabbar Is Back‘s narrative is a disaster. For everything else new on Netflix (Bollywood or not), check Instant Watcher.

Streaming Video News: May 1, 2017

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with a ton of new additions to the catalog. More than thirty titles were added today, some for the first time (like Tanu Weds Manu) and some after a prolonged absence (like Kahaani). In addition to the Bengali film Abby Sen, the TV show Ramayan, and the documentaries Fire in the Blood, Mostly Sunny, and Saeed Mirza: The Leftist Sufi, the following Hindi movies are now available for streaming:

For everything else new on Netflix (Bollywood or not), check Instant Watcher.