Selection Day | S01 | Netflix

Yet another Indian Original has debuted on Netflix and is based on Aravind Adiga’s eponymous novel. A Booker prize winner, cricket and Netflix, sounds like a match made in Indian binge-heaven. I haven’t read Adiga’s work and knew little of the book when I slouched on the couch and decided to netflix (v) the other day. For a nation obsessed with anything related to cricket, it’s a bit surprising that we do not have as many movies or shows based on this favorite sport of ours as we would have liked to have had. I mean, considering the number of movies that the Americans have made on Baseball and Football and Basketball and Boxing, we pale in comparsion given the fact that we are equally obsessed with the showbiz too. If I must name one, Nagesh Kukunoor’s Iqbal is the only film that did justice to the true spirit of the game I feel.

Selection Day chronicles the lives of two young boys from a village in Madhya Pradhesh, who are groomed by their father to be the best batsmen cricket has ever seen. Rajesh Tailang plays the father and you see him telling another  character early on that he married the mother of his children because she was a star hockey player who could mother champion sons for him. Grooming is a subtle word, considering his obsession with the cause and that being the Under- 16 selections for Mumbai. The show starts with him moving the kids to Mumbai as the day edges closer. Yash Doyle and Mohammad Samad play the champions to be. Samad was seen in the rage of the season, Tumbaad recently and is one actor to watch out for. Karanvir Malhotra is another new face. Mahesh Manjrekar reinvents himself as the reluctant coach Tommy Sir. Giving him company is television and stage veteran Ratna Pathak Shah. Shiv Pandit appears and disappears, literally. Akshay Oberoi plays an industrialist chasing dreams of a different kind. Making an impression in a couple of scenes as “Gulshan” is Dibyendu Battacharya and something tells me we are going to see more of him in the industry. The strength of the show is perfect casting and earnest performances from these actors with some great writing to help them do that too. I have to read the book before Season 2 comes out to tell you if it’s Adiga or the writers who have done the work here.

Much like the T20 version of cricket that’s being marketed  by cricket boards these days, Selection Day too keeps the episodes short, this helps when you binge on a regular weekend. In fact the whole running time is lesser than that of a Bollywood film. But that doesn’t take away any of the fun or the charm of the series. I think it’s safe to call it the Malgudi Days of our times. You’d infact find yourself wanting Selection Day to return faster than you want Sacred Games to. Adiga’s writing has been branded Dickensian by critics I’m told and Selection Day is no different from what I have witnessed. Udayan Prasad, the director has done a fine job of translating Adiga’s vision on to the screen. I’m divided now though, like a batsman eyeing the fielder and looking for that second run. I could wait for Season 2 to find out the fate of the characters or I could go get the book off the closest shelf and something tells me I’m not the only one in that predicament.

 

 

Dogs Of Berlin | S01 | Netflix

The  90s opened the Hollywood floodgates to India thanks to Mr.Manmohan Singh and his policies. Major American movies were hitting local cinemas without much delay. The advent of Cable TV that followed soon ensured that you were hooked early on with the trailers that popped up on the Star Network. No, teasers weren’t a thing back then. Con Air was released in 1997 and was a personal favorite for a long time. Nicolas Cage it seemed, was done with serious Cinema and was trying to turn himself into an action hero. Wouldn’t blame him, something as intense as Leaving Las Vegas could do that to any actor. There was a slew of action films that starred Cage in his macho avatar from The Rock to Face-Off to Gone in Sixty Seconds and they remain favorites from a time when everything awed me. Cable TV back then was the internet, to put things in perspective. Con Air even had me taking upside down push ups, yeah. The movie had a lot of bad guys who said a lot of cool lines, at least it sounded cool to me back then. But I was in for a shock when I watched the film recently, two decades later. The movie reeked of racism and prejudice. I guess this is what happens when your world view changes. You don’t actually need to look for “subtexts” in Con Air to see all that’s wrong with the film, it’s been laid out blatantly, unapologetically. If Con Air was criticised for its racist content at the time of it’s release, it didn’t reach my part of the world. These days everything is scrutinised, some deservingly, some not. Irrespective of intentions, the scanner is working round the clock. If you are a serious student of Cinema and the society, you tend to look for it, at times it hits you right away. And I don’t take upside down push ups anymore either.

Now, the reason why I deliberated extensively on Con Air is because I chanced upon Dogs Of Berlin, a German Original on Nefltix the other day and was mid way into the first episode when I found myself asking if this too was biased and it bothered me because I liked what I had seen already. I didn’t want the urge to read into the subtexts to ruin this for me. More than being just a source of entertainment the most important aspect of cinema that fascinates me is the fact that it is the universal language that connects us human beings despite the geographic, genetic and cultural differences that we use to differentiate and identify eachother with, on a daily basis. I have said this aloud more than once. This is even more true in this age of unlimited exposure thanks to the internet. Netflix, Prime and other streaming portals have magnfiied this exposure by facilitating access to innumerable shows from other countries too. Dogs Of Berlin, which debuted on Netflix this month is the second German series to catch my eye, the other being Dark. Run Lola Run, The Lives Of Others and Der Baader Meinhoff Komplex are the only German films that I have watched and they were fine examples of German Cinema. Dogs Of Berlin showed promise early on and hence my apprehensions too.

Dogs Of Berlin looked different and relevant even with the minimal understanding I had of the present day German society. Cars and football are what comes to mind first when one thinks of Germany and of course it’s Nazi past. In stark contrast to that chequered past, Germany under Angela Merkel has had a different approach towards migrants and asylum seekers, especially in the wake of the Syrian crisis. Merkel’s policies were even blamed for having triggered the migrant crisis in Europe. Though it doesn’t exactly unfold against the backdrop of this migration, Dogs Of Berlin does deal with the German society that’s now a melting pot of cultures and the conflicts that are inevitable in such a scenario. The series is about an investigation into the death of a German footballer of Turkish origin on the eve of a football match between Turkey and Germany. There are multiple narratives woven into the story and they function in perfect cohesion as the series progresses, with the precision of a BMW engine. The death is discovered by a German police officer who has a gambling problem and is essentially the bad cop of the tale here. It does’nt help that he used to be a neo-nazi and that his brother who sports a moustache and a Hitler haircut and estranged mother are still very much a part of the organisation in Berlin. The good cop is another German, but of Turkish origin and is a representative of the Turkish diaspora in German, which I later found out, was substantial. The investigation is essentially a tour of the German underworld. We are introduced to the Lebanese Mafia in Berlin early on and they are the drug pushers, the Yugoslavs are not far behind with their grip on the football bookkeeping, there’s a Turkish biker gang who lament that they had to settle for  the protection racket and of course there’s the Neo-Nazis who hate everything that’s not German by heritage.

The German Turk and the German German are forced to team up due to political reasons but they have no love lost for each other. The investigators have their own agendas and  their share of personal problems which ultimately catch up with their professional lives as the tale progresses. The German cop’s wife has her set of  demons that she is forced to deal with on her own, which doesn’t end well for him or her. The cop on the other hand is having an affair with his childhood friend. The Turk is gay and has daddy issues. His father refuses to accept him for what he is and he is an emotional wreck. His ex on the other hand is dating the Lebanese Mafia kingpin who in turn is  dealing with a  younger brother who wants to be top dog in the organisation. This brother also wants a piece of the betting business run by the Slavs and is tyring to turn a promising player of African origin who just debuted on the national team. Thrown in the midst of these are a couple of  other characters  who have a story of their own but they fit perfectly into the jigsaw that this series is. The series is highly provocative and even hints at corruption and coercion that goes up to the highest echelons of the German football administraion. Initially you cant but  help notice that the makers have portrayed the outsiders as the ones on the wrong side of the law  mostly or as the ones who are tempted to stray. The Neo-Nazis get a rather sympathetic portrayal I coudn’t but help notice and the series justifies their existence by the pitching them as a reaction to the menace the immigrant gangs have become. Though the series takes the Dan Brown way out of this web of deceit and deception at the end, what’s  commendable is fact that despite the staggering number of parallel narratives, the series stays on course for most part. Apart from getting to know a bunch of talented German actors, thanks to the series, I did end up learning the German word for migrant workers, Gastarbeiter. One man’s Bengali is another man’s Gastarbeiter, to put things in perspective.

 

 

Bodyguard | S01 Netflix | BBC

Twenty minutes. That’s all  it took for Bodyguard, the BBC show that debuted on Netflix the other day, to get me hooked. And I presume I’m not the only one, if the rave reviews and ratings the show garnered on it’s original release on the BBC network are anything to go by. In fact those  very twenty mintues are all it took again for none other than Theresa May to switch off the show too, as she herself told the Press. Now, that should add some perpsective if you’re looking for some. Whatever you have heard or read about the show is entirely justified I vouch, now that I have binged through the six seaons of some very  British intrigue and thrills. Come to think of it, from Sherlock to Line of Duty to The Night Manager, the BBC have proven time and again that when it comes to the very serious business of classy thrillers and gritty police procedurals, they are past and reigning masters.

For a show that moves at the pace it does, Bodyguard  touches upon on a range of issues from PTSD to xenophobia while telling a decent tale of intrigue. Hollywood has used all variants of PTSD to set the cash registers ringing right from the Vietnam War days  to the American campaigns in the Middle East and around but it’s not everyday that you get to see a troubled British war veteran on screen. In fact I’d go so far as to say that David Budd, the central character played passionately by Richard Madden is nothing less than a modern British version of  John Rambo, that quintessential poster boy of PTSD, on celluloid. Bodyguard was fearless too I felt for most part as it did not stick to stereotypes and shunned prejudice early on but it has to be said that it turned out to be a deftly played card of a plot twist which was indeed disappointing to an extent. Reminded me of the regular Dan Brown template for thrillers where every major instituition as we know it is attacked  and portrayed as agents of evil but the actual acts of crime turns out to be the doing of one deranged  mind. The writers have obviously heavily borrowed from current day British politics and the PM in Office currently was interestingly the Home Secretary too earlier, which is one of the main characters here, played by a short-haired Keeley Hawes. In a curious gender reversal of sorts the incumbent PM in Bodyguard resembled Boris Johnson and the Home Secretary is the one who is after his job here, deft sleight of hand by the writers indeed.

Apart from the writing, much of the intensity on the screen owes it to the performances of the lead actors, namely Madden and Keeley Hawes. Richard Madden who made a name for himself as the short lived but much loved Robb Stark on HBO’s Game of Thrones is the mainstay here and has delivered a moving and engaged performance. Keeley Hawes plays a character that has shades of the one she played in Line of Duty, to an extent and is most probably the reason why she was cast in the role of Julia Montague, the Home Secretary. Other actors who make more or less silent entries early on but go on to make their mark towards the end. Nina Toussaint-White, Ash Tandon and Anjli Mohindra stands out in their roles and something tells me we’d be seeing more of them in the future as actors. Recent BBC shows have displayed active engagement in the cause of diversity when it comes to casting and is essentialy a reflection of the British society at large too I feel. Bodyguard is not without faults entirely but it makes for an engaging and intelligent watch. One thing I like about the BBC shows is that they are short but intense affairs in contrast to epics like Breaking Bad. Unfair, unnecessary and pointless comparision I agree but that’s just me and trust me I’m not complaining.

 

Ghoul S01 | Netflix : Z meets The Exorcist In A Familiar Landscape.

Ghoul lured me in with it’s trailer. Hot on the heels of Sacred Games, here was an Indian Original that looked interesting and featured a prominent cast member from that other rage of the season Anurag Kashyap – Vikramaditya Motwane production too. Though the series speaks Hindi it is set in a more or less unnamed land – except for a brief historical reference by one of the characters-  and looks nothing like anything that we have come across on Indian screens, the fact that Sacred Games had set the bars high notwithstanding. Adding to the intrigue off-screen is the presence of a non-Hindi speaking writer-director, Patrick Graham at the helm. Maybe that explains the kind of tone and mood that’s alien to shows and films from our part of the world. Ghoul is pitched as a superatural horror series and it is scary, but not because of the horror element.

Costa Gavras’s Z  is as political a movie could get and The Exorcist set the mould in which every other horror movie since has been made. Ghoul has elements of both the classics and their genres in a delicious mix. It presents a dystopia which is not about a dusty, windy, rundown future or a world where machines have taken over, neither is it one where humans have moved to Mars, rather Ghoul leads us into a very real place where the government has taken control of lives and any voice of criticsim and dissent is in danger of being clamped down ferociously. Patrick Graham was researching torture in modern warfare when he hit up on the idea he claims. Now, that must give you an idea. Ghoul even reminded me of The Silence Of The Lambs not necessarily because it had a female officer walking down a dark corridor with prisoners in cells on either side. Radhika Apte seems to be doing at home what Priyanka Chopra is trying away. Manav Kaul transforms into an army officer who’s eons apart from other characters he has recently portrated with ease.One actor to watch out for.

Anurag Kashyap’s first two films never saw the daylight thanks to run-ins with the regulatory authorities, namely CBFC and it later turned into a regular excercise for almost all his productions. So when a giant like Netflix streamed its way onto Indian screens with the kind of creative liberties it bestowed upon talented individuals with whom they joined hands like Kashyap, who has been working the system from within for decades us as an audience were definitely the ones to benefit most. If Kashyap flexed his muscles with Sacred Games, he has gone for the sucker punch with Ghoul. It’s not the demon that’s the scariest in this miniseries, it’s the people in it and the system they represent that leaves you disturbed. If you thought Sacred Games was perfectly timed, Ghoul would leave Rahul Dravid drooling. The release eerily coincided with the crackdown on activists across the country . Kashyap and Co have almost done a Nostradamus I’d say.

Sacred Games : S01 | Netflix

Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra, Shantaram by Greogory David Roberts and Maximum City by Suketu Mehta are three books which were published few years apart at the dawn of the millenium and all three of them have a common central character, that being Mumbai. Mehta and Chandra coincidentally had collabroated on Mission Kashmir too. Apart from Sacred Games, the rest could safely be called non-fiction with Shantaram treading a thin line between fiction and reality. But then any story about Mumbai is a genre in itself, magical realism meeting Mario Puzo, if I may. Shantaram was the one book that I looked forward to being made into a movie and if I am not wrong Mira Nair was supposed to do one with Johnny Depp in the lead. That never took off I guess. Sacred Games to be honest was a difficult read, in terms of the sheer number of pages it ran into and was a slow burner  but it had all the makings of a potential gangster drama, in the hands of the right filmmaker. Ram Gopal Varma was fresh on the heels of his take on the Mumbai gang land with Satya and Company and looked  the perfect candidate in those days, now not so much. So it was only natural that one of his early collaborators who went on to make a distinct name for himself in India and globally, Anurag Kashyap turned out to be the one who brought Vikram Chandra’s magnus opus-as it would be touted now- to life on the screen finally, and how. It’s also a landmark in terms of the fact that it’s the first Indian Netflix Original.The book was a critical success, commercial not so much back then and given the hype and rave reviews  Season One has generated thanks to Kashyap and Co. , I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a revived interest in the book itself and offer some consoloation to the author towards the cause of the unrecouped original million dollar advance by Harper Collins.

Ganesh Gationde, the surreal character who is a hero, a villain and a victim simultaneoulsy needed a Nawazuddin Siddiqui to be elevated to greatness as one of the most memorable characters ever written.Back when I read Sacred Games, Gaitonde did not have a face. Now, I cannot imagine anyone else but Nawazuddin as Gaitonde. It’s his destiny as an artist, I can’t but help feel. Consider this, it took Vikram Chandra around ten years to write the book.He travelled to Bihar and attended Bollywood parties as part of the writing process.The book was released in 2006. Nawazuddin Siddiqui made one of his early screen appearances in a minor role in Anurag Kashyap’s unreleased Black Friday in 2004. Little did Siddiqui or Chandra know that their creative talents would come together and were fated to take on Netflix by storm decades later.This will go down as Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s greatest role ever and the man scorches the screen every second he’s on it.When he is not on, his voice over holds sway over the audience. Sartaj Singh, a cop, the other central character in Sacred Games interestingly had made an appearance in Vikram Chandra’s earlier novel, Love and Longing in Bombay, I am told. Saif Ali Khan brings Sartaj Singh to life here and delivers a performance that is a testimony to the fact that Bollywood is a jungle where even the most talented artists could get lost for eternity. Anurag Kashyap has rescued Khan here from that jungle, so to speak, who has shown in the past that in the right hands, he could give the best in the business a run for their money. He plays Sartaj Singh with such depth and sensitivity that he has transformed himself completely into the character. Even his silences tell the audience stories here. Most notable is the scene where he meets constable Katekar’s wife. Katekar played brilliantly by Jitendra Joshi is an endearing character and is Sartaj’s sidekick, as the genre would have it. Radhika Apte is a no-nonsense intelligence officer who is far removed from the female cop characters we have come across on Indian screens. Luke Kenny, a familiar face on Channel V of yore is seen as an assassin here. Jatin Sarna makes  an impression as Bunty, Gaitonde’s man. Rajshri Deshpande plays a different kind of gangster’s wife here, quite unlike anything that we have seen on Indian screens before. Kubra Sait is Kukoo the primary love interest in Gaitonde’s life, a character already being talked about in the media. Every other actor from Neeraj Kabi to Shalini Vatsa to Geetanjali Thapa lingers in your psyche as the characters they play. Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap have co- directed the series with Motwane working on the Sartaj timeframe of the story and Kashyap on the Gaitonde origins. The decision was right on the money given the fact that the urban landscape is where Motwane’s stories have flourished till now in contrast to the hinterlands that we are now familar with in Kashyap’s films.

Sacred Games is a case of art-imitating-life-imitating-art.The timing of the show could not have been more perfect, considering the central theme it deals with and the times we live in. In the Mumbai of Chandra, Kashyap and Motwane, the good guys are not that good and the bad are not exactly evil. The city decides the fate of the individual.Delhi, the power centre is no match for Mumbai, it’s a different world altogether, a character reiterates that in a line he speaks. Sacred Games explores the underbelly of Mumbai where agents of politics, businesses, movies and religion are indulged in a constant process of evolution in a struggle for power and control. Gaitonde is almost Forrest Gump here with major incidents that shook the nation in the past couple of decades proving turning points in his life as a career gangster. Even someone as dreaded as Gaitonde is a pawn in the hands of the people in power, politically. Motwane and Kashyap have successfully brought in an element of suspense and maintains it without losing their grip on the aesthetics of the tales being told. The series is particulary critical about the past governments who were in power when incidents which changed the country forever occurred. Sacred Games is what happens when an irresistible force in the entertainment industry like Netflix meets a filmmaker with immovable vision and outlook. Kashyap and Co. have come out all guns blazing here and have delivered a world class piece of entertainment. Looking forward to the next season and I think I’m going to revisit the book again.

 

 

Seven Seconds : The Netflix Series to Binge and Brood over This Month.

Sadhya, which is mostly attributed to the festival Onam globally but is otherwise a regular fixture in almost all events and ceremonies in Kerala, when served in its true form and devoured passionately as a true Malayali is expected to, can leave you bloated and intoxicated even, when you haven’t concluded it as it should be. If you have been to one of these elaborate sessions, you must have come across people going around with a serving of spiced buttermilk towards the end. This has in fact been immortalised in the minds of Malayalis across the globe by actor Innocent and the whole idea is that the buttermilk serving is supposed to work as an antidote to wave off the intoxicating effect of the feast, especically the penultimate serving of paayasam, the sweetened porridge of sorts. Now if your’e wondering what in the name of Mahabali’s belly does this have to do with Seven Seconds, the show that debuted on Netflix few weeks back, it’s the most fitting analogy that I could come up with to convey the kind of effect, watching the show close on the heels of Black Panther, could have on a viewer. Seven Seconds is the dose of buttermilk to wave off the sway of Black Panther and jolt you back to reality.

Veena Sud, the creator of the show specialises in remaking and transplanting foreign shows to the American heartland for the benefit of the English speaking audience. She did it in the past with The Killing, the Danish show and this time around she has found the perfect cultural setting for the Russian movie The Major in Jersey City. The show is a police procedural, a courtroom drama, a crime thriller and social commentary at the same time.Seven Seconds does not hide the fact that it draws inspiration from the #blacklivesmatter campaign and features direct references to the events in Ferguson and New York. This is one show that is not afraid to take sides and call a spade, a spade. It shows you how ordinary people struggle with personal loss and how it wreaks havoc in their lives.While they demand answers and asks questions too, they are not always the same ones that the crowd of protestors ask.Everyone is a victim here of the choices they make, some more than the others, justice is elusive and penance is not an option, as in real life.

The show rides on some of the most powerful and compelling performances in recent times by a group of talented actors. Regina King and Russel Hornsby play parents to a slain kid with an honesty and depth that leaves you no choice but to empathise with the characters. Clare-Hope Ashitey plays the troubled prosecutor and keeping her company in the hunt to nail the bad guys is Michael Mosley whose cop character and portrayal is an oasis of sorts for the viewer in a story that’s otherwise grim and bleak to the core. The most complex character of the lot, that of the cop who is torn between his own past, his integrity, the crime that he commited and the decision that changes his life forever taken under the compulsion of his corrupt colleagues, is played by Beau Knapp. Though it starts off slow to a brooding pace, the series makes up for it the later episodes and takes the tone of a thriller almost, that would make Grisham proud.There are a few successful attempts to break steterotypes and avoid cliches. All things said, this is one show that chooses to stick to ground realities and offers little or no closure to the viewers and the charcters in the end, much akin to the world that we live in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dark | Netflix :Review

A German show debuted on Netflix the other day.Not that i have a problem with the spoken language when it comes to binge watching, Narcos had more than a fair sprinkling of Spanish.But this one turned out be something else entirely.Imagine watching Nolan’s Interstellar in a language that you do not speak or understand, while you were drunk, with subtitles, thats the closest i can get to explaining my experience as a viewer, the fact that the show dealt with the same mind bending theme as Interstellar notwithstanding.Both are about bending of time, but its your mind that gets bent ultimately by the time you figure out the story.

For those of us who feel that Stranger Things Season One was the best Sci-Fi drama to hit Netflix but have been disappointed by Stranger Things Season 2, Dark just might be the right button to hit, literally. While Dark doesn’t have any of the nostalgic charm of Stranger Things and is in fact a grim tale with a bunch of disturbed characters, you still end up caring for the most of them and their fates, but you might want to keep a pad and a pencil at arms length too, not the easiest of plots to keep track of exactly.I am not exaggerating, trust me on this one.

For a plot that progressed in the most complicated yet flawless of ways, i must say i was a bit disappointed by the ending of this Season, which could only be justified by an impending Season Two announcement .The stage has been set brilliantly, a climax thats worthy is what the creators owe us as viewers now.Nothing less will do.