Tag Archives: Tanvi Azmi

Movie Review: Tribhanga (2021)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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A matriarch’s serious illness gives her family occasion to examine their troubled relationships in Tribhanga: Tedhi Medhi Crazy. One big structural flaw hampers this otherwise insightful and well-acted depiction of complicated family dynamics.

Nayan (Tanvi Azmi) is a celebrated author and head of the Apte family. She has a stroke and falls into a coma while dictating her autobiography to her ghost writer, Milan (Kunaal Roy Kapur). Nayan’s daughter Anu (Kajol), a famous and temperamental actress, rushes to Nayan’s bedside with her own adult daughter, Masha (Milthila Palkar).

One of Anu’s first reactions is to joke that at least she won’t have to listen to Nayan talk for a change. Anu and her brother Robindro (Vaibhav Tatwawaadi) don’t try to hide their disdain for their mother just because she’s ill. Nayan made some radical, progressive choices in her life, such as giving her children her own surname following her divorce from their father. However, she never considered the potential negative impacts those choices could have on her kids, nor the price they would pay for her devotion to her writing.

Those hard early years forged an unshakeable alliance between Anu and Robindro and influenced Anu’s own parenting style. Anu and Masha are joined at the hip, but there’s still space for Masha to have her own separate, affectionate relationship with Nayan. Masha seizes upon the opportunity presented by her grandmother’s hospitalization to learn more about the men who were once important in Nayan’s life.

The key man in Nayan’s life at present is Milan, who is the biggest problem in Tribhanga. He’s not a real character so much as a human plot device created to stoke drama and move the story forward. His interactions with the other characters are unnatural, as though Milan has no understanding of human emotions. His awkwardness stands out, given how authentic all of the other characters feel and how well-performed they are, especially by Kajol and Palkar.

Milan — who spends almost as much time in Nayan’s hospital room as Anu — cannot understand why Anu hates her mother. When Anu finally tells him why, her anger seems perfectly justifiable. Milan responds by showing her a video of Nayan addressing the subject matter directly. So Milan already knew the reason, yet still could not understand Anu’s feelings.

Tribhanga is only writer-director Renuka Shahane’s second feature film (her first in Hindi), so maybe relying so heavily on Milan for plot progress is a matter of inexperience. It might also be a matter of not trusting other characters and their actors to more the story forward organically. Instead, Milan interrupts scenes that promise to reveal family history in a more natural, light-hearted way — such as when Anu and Robindro reminisce over their aunt’s delicious ladoos — just to say something dumb that makes Anu mad and cuts the scene short.

In a film about how parental choices affect children, having Milan lurk around the hospital feels like another unwanted choice imposed upon Anu via Nayan and director Shahane. In reality, would anyone want a non-family member whom no one but the comatose patient even likes hanging around in a small hospital room? Other characters could have given Anu insight into her mother’s thoughts just as easily as Milan, especially since the film relies on flashbacks and not just Milan’s interview footage to present Nayan’s side of the story.

The film also stumbles a bit when making comparisons between Anu’s parenting style and Nayan’s, treating some actions as equivalent when they aren’t. Same for comparing Anu’s reaction to her childhood with Masha’s. The film suggests that Masha’s decision to marry into a conservative, patriarchal family as the logical response to being raised by a single mother, as though families only exist in those two forms with nothing in between.

Director Shahane is onto something with Tribhanga. She knows how to write complex women characters and build interesting relationships for them. Trusting in the audience to follow those characters through a story that develops organically is the next step.

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Movie Review: Bajirao Mastani (2015)

BajiraoMastani3 Stars (out of 4)

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The historical epic Bajirao Mastani scores high marks for scale and style, but its message of religious tolerance is perhaps its real selling point.

The movie’s title bears the names of the renowned battle commander Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) and his second wife, Mastani (Deepika Padukone). Bajirao served as prime minister of the Maratha Empire in the early 1700s.

Though already married to Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra), Bajirao falls in love with Mastani while helping her to free her father’s besieged castle. Mastani herself is an accomplished warrior, a fact that impresses Bajirao as much as her beautiful looks and graceful dancing.

Before returning home, Bajirao gifts Mastani his dagger, unaware that this constitutes a marriage pact among her people. This presents a huge problem not just because Bajirao already has a wife, but because Mastani was raised in her mother’s Muslim faith, not in the Hindu faith of Mastani’s father and Bajirao himself.

When Mastani follows Bajirao to his home in Pune, she is shunned by Bajirao’s mother, Radhabai (Tanvi Azmi), who lodges Mastani in a whorehouse and appoints her the humiliating position of court dancer. Undeterred, Mastani publicly professes her love to Bajirao, who builds her a palace of her own. This does not go over well.

(Before continuing, I want to point out that, when Bajirao returns home with Mastani, he and Kashibai already have a preteen son, Nana. Given the lack of familial affection between Bajirao and Nana, I wasn’t sure if he was actually their biological son, or just some kid from the household that Kashibai calls “son.” Nana is, in fact, their child.)

The anger directed at Mastani and Bajirao by Bajirao’s mother, brother, and son is primarily based on her religion and its perceived pollution of the family line. Bajirao’s tragic flaw is his underestimation of the depth of his family’s hatred.

Kashibai has the biggest grievance against Bajirao for breaking their matrimonial vows, but she’s a pragmatist. She has a house to run while Bajirao is off sacking cities, so she is less outwardly hostile toward Mastani than her in-laws. Yet there is fury in Chopra’s eyes while Kashibai goes through the motions of keeping the peace. By virtue of her position — and Chopra’s performance — Kashibai is the film’s most interesting character.

Bajirao himself is devoted but oblivious. He’s supposedly as skilled a diplomat as he is a fighter, but he reads the vibe in his household all wrong. He acts as though he’s entitled to do what he likes without realizing that his threats are no match to his family’s hatred of Muslims. The limitations of the character don’t leave much room for Singh to shine, although his buff physique certainly fits the part.

Mastani’s character also feels underwritten. After her introduction as a fierce warrior, that aspect of her persona is diminished, replaced by an emphasis on a more passive kind of femininity. According to Wikipedia (for whatever it’s worth), the real Mastani accompanied Bajirao on his battles. It would have been fun to see more of that, although Padukone’s dancing is quite a treat.

The film’s early battle sequence is impressive, emphasizing the key players while still feeling expansive. Dim pre-dawn lighting gives a sinister tone to the fight. There’s also an effective scene later in the film as Bajirao imagines his destiny manifesting as a shadow army on black horses.

Designer Anju Modi’s costumes and jewelry pieces are so stunning as to merit a museum exhibit. The film’s sets are lavish, the dance numbers beautifully choreographed.

Tales of star-crossed lovers are always popular, but writer-director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s choice of this particular pair is timely. Bajirao and Mastani love beyond the borders of religion, condemned by a society with hearts too small to tolerate such a union.

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Movie Review: Dekh Tamasha Dekh (2014)

dekhTamashaDekh3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Dekh Tamasha Dekh is a satire of modern India, but its relevance is universal. Director Feroz Abbas Khan and writer Shafaat Khan present an insightful, funny story about the dangers of sectarianism and intellectual laziness.

The town of Canda functions under an uneasy balance between the local Hindu and Muslim communities. The town’s most prominent politician, Mutha Seth (Satish Kaushik), also owns the local newspaper, and he bemoans the declining readership. The marketing guru he brings in pushes local gossip: “What people wish to read is more important.”

Mutha Seth gets his wish when a billboard depicting his likeness falls over, killing Hamid (Satish Tare), the local horse cart driver. Hamid’s body is already in the grave when members of the Hindu community demand that the Muslims turn the body over to them. Hamid was born as a Hindu named Kishen, although he converted to Islam more than twenty years earlier.

This sparks a protracted legal battle over the dead man’s body, and both sides become increasingly militant. The new chief of police, Sawant (Ganesh Yadav), struggles to quell a feud he doesn’t really understand, as he’s reminded by the local historian, Professor Shastri (Satish Alekar).

Though the ideas of corrupt politics and violent religious tension are large in scale, they are exacerbated by small acts. For example: Kulkarni (Dhiresh Joshi), the editor of the local paper, feels his career threatened by the new marketing guy, so he publishes an inflammatory story that sparks a riot. When the paper’s lone reporter, Rafiq (Angad Mhaskar), asks a visiting imam to promote peace instead of war, Rafiq is forced to flee for his life as the city burns.

Khan constantly reminds the audience that fights driven by fanaticism have dire consequences for people who want no part in them, especially the poor. Cinematographer Hemant Chaturvedi’s shots capture characters framed in doorways or windows. We are invited into their homes to see their suffering.

The people who suffer the most in the fight for Hamid/Kishen’s body are his own family. His widow, Fatima (Tanvi Azmi), doesn’t care what happens to the body. He’s dead, and she and her children are still poor. She tolerates the mournful wailing of the women who’ve taken over her house, vowing to pray continuously for Hamid’s soul until he’s buried. Then the water turns back on for the day, and they abandon their prayers to fill up their buckets.

Even worse off is Hamid’s daughter, Shabbo (Apoorva Arora), who’s in love with a Hindu man named Prashant (Alok Rajwade). Shabbo’s pragmatism and worries are mitigated by Prashant’s relentless optimism. He stares at her as though she’s the only thing that exists in the world. In another place, their future happiness would be a given, but not in Canda, where their very relationship is tantamount to treason.

Grounding the story so firmly in one town highlights the way such problems could manifest in any town in any country. Substitute two other religions — or races or political parties — and the mania that overtakes Canda could happen anywhere. It’s a chilling lesson told in an amusing, moving way. Dekh Tamasha Dekh is terrific.

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