If there ever was a need for urgent renaming, it is the word ‘streaming’ used to describe all things OTT. In the days of Netflix segueing from a DVD-rental to clawing the network show space, riding on the efficacy of network packages, ‘trickling’ would be mot juste. Now, it’s ‘flooding,’ nothing less. In the blitzkrieg of movies and shows that hit you incessantly, keeping up is but an ambitious game plan that’ll never come to fruition. Whence this piece of a sampling of what I’ve watched thus far this year. It’s not everything, and it’s not long-form, just playing catch up. Spoiler: most of the content is 2021 residue.
The Lost Daughter
Or how the stakes of being a mother can feel like being tied to a stake and watching your life going up in slow burn. In her debut helming feature, writer-director Maggie Gyllenhaal uses close-up shots to discomfiting effect as she explores the slow-crumble that professor Leda Caruso (a brilliant Olivia Colman) experiences whilst holidaying on a fictitious Greek island as she observes a young mother (Dakota Johnson) struggle with her three-year-old. Using flashbacks that cut as deeply as psychological scars, Gyllenhaal explores the explosive world of post-partum depression, the dark side of motherhood, and the implosion of a woman’s career. Jessie Buckley is equally riveting as the young Leda, while Peter Sarsgaard, Gyllenhaal’s spouse in real life, is a highlight as a professor who catches Leda’s fancy and vice-versa. When someone delivers their lines with suave, masticated thoughtfulness as Sarsgaard does, how can’t you let your guard (gaard?) down? (Streaming on Netflix)
Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana
Director Raj B. Shetty, also acting as Shiva in this Kannada feature (whose title means One flies on Garuda, One mounts Vrishabha), draws complex parallels with Indian mythology and gods’ personas, even as he has Rishab Shetty play Hari, Shiva’s brother-in-arms, as the duo upend the mafia hierarchy of Mangaladevi, a coastal town in Mangalore. Mounting poetic action choreography, the director dances the dance of death in stunningly shot sequences set to composer Midhun Mukundan’s chilling score. As the brothers rise in violent stature and are relentlessly stalked by the mild-mannered Sub-Inspector Brammayya (a nuanced, troubled act by Gopal Krishna Deshpande), they have to deal with power and money play that rips their lives apart. Even the gods can handle only so much manipulation. (Streaming on Zee5)
Early on in the movie, you get that director Aakash Bhatia loves stylized camera movements, especially if it’s topped with dollops of campy production design. But in remaking Tom Tykwer’s zany 1998 Run Lola Run—in itself an anachronistic choice, some would say—there’s little else he’s gotten right. Despite a bravado act by Tahir Raj Bhasin playing a likable-unlikeable shrimp whose Satya gets his girlfriend Savita into a loopy mess, the movie feels much like she does. Trapped in a time and place of no one’s liking. Plus, Tapsee Pannu—she of enviably toned legs—playing a Maharashtrian girl, still inflects like what she did in the very good Rashmi Rocket. Or Haseen Dilruba. Or Soorma. Has she, like the movie, gotten into a rut? Even as you hope that her choices bring out deeper shades of what she’s truly capable of, Loop Lapeta’s highlight is a delightful performance by Rajendra Chawla playing Mamlesh, a sly and sharp jewelry store owner. How you wish some of that smarts had rubbed off on the rest of the movie. (Streaming on Netflix)
Amidst disturbing news feeds and a hide-and-seek pandemic, this Marathi movie (whose title refers to a traditional dance form) is what the doctor ordered. Director Hemant Dhome bases life’s philosophies, tragedies, laughs, and everything bitter and sweet in a touring company’s debut trip to England with a motley group of women. As they begin to rumble and tumble during the vacay and connect their life’s threads with each other, they rope you in as well, ever so gently. Director Dhome lends a light touch to the goings-on, letting his supremely talented cast of women—Suhas Joshi, Nirmita Sawant, Sonalee Kulkarni, Suchitra Bandekar, Kshiti Jog, Sayali Sanjeev, and Mrinmayee Godbole—take charge. What of the gents, you ask? As the tour operator, Siddharth Chanderkar provides a marvelous foil to his traveling bunch, the superb Anant Jog chews at his scenes effortlessly in a cameo, while Dhome himself, playing a confused fiancé to one of them, is content to provide space, much like his character. It’s something we men can take a cue from. (Streaming on Prime)
The premise of forbidden attraction is a mysterious one. Yet, you can’t help but feel that the one between Alisha (a roiling, terrific Deepika Padukone) and Zain (Siddhant Chaturvedi, also superb) is forced. What begins as flirting from Zain’s side—was he simply shooting in the dark, hoping to score? Or was his relationship with Alisha’s younger cousin Tia (Ananya Panday) not exciting anymore? Or was Alisha looking for an escape route as well, stuck as she is with an unemployed struggling writer Karan (Dhairya Karwa doing a nice job of being unlikeable)?—turns into passionate sessions set to some unfathomable vocal sounds (also called songs). As I put this down on paper, the attraction looks logical. Onscreen, it happens because if it doesn’t, the movie’s inert inertness precludes it from walking to the next step that it’s itching to go to. Director Shakun Batra, so good with dysfunctional families in Kapoor & Sons, goes just that little awry in his placement. But once the deed’s done is when he finds his footing. If you keep the financial cack-handedness away—but you can’t, because that’s prime to the plot’s machinations—there’s some depth (the movie’s title coming into play) literally and figuratively that’s covered here. Relationships are messy, and this one gets really murky— in which we find true cinematic joy, we purveyors of all turmoil except those that are ours. But it’s Ananya Panday who’s a revelation. Like a feather that’s doomed to be blown away from its perch despite its own belief that it won’t, she’s vulnerable, innocent, and heartbreakingly good. For an act like that, she’d truly have had to scrape some uncomfortable human depths. (Streaming on Prime)
I found the scene where Homi Bhabha (Jim Sarbh) jumps into the radioactive pool of the Apsara reactor ludicrous. Others have taken offense at Vikram Sarabhai (played by Ishwak Singh) being portrayed as a wishy-washy man with a seemingly dense mass of dreamy cumulus in the top story. Still others, more woke, have taken umbrage at the fictional character of Dr. Raza Mehdi (a lugubriously good Dibyendu Bhattacharya) who’s out to sabotage Bhabha and India’s nuclear dreams; and a Muslim character at that. As the days go by, there’ll be more. But you can’t take away the series’ maddeningly catchy hook and premise. Two of India’s most remarkable minds—add Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (Arjun Radhakrishnan) to the mix—are brought together in a fine fictional account of their private and working lives, with some real-life broad strokes. Director Abhay Pannu isn’t out to educate us about nuclear science, though you’d do well to abstain from dunking yourself in a radioactive pool—the only one going critical would be you. With the Indo-China war hovering around it and the CIA’s skulduggery adding to the drama—and nodding to a probable cause of Bhabha’s demise—there’s moments of pulsing suspense in this eight-episoder. When not that, it’s the relationships that intertwine the story. The fine women in the series get some fine talent to portray them: Regina Cassandra as Mrinalini Sarabhai hypnotizes and speaks a million words with her eyes, Saba Azad as Parvana Irani, aka Pipsi, is a flummoxing bundle of energy, while Neha Chauhan as Kamla Chowdhry adds an uneasy energy of empathy and knowing kapu to the proceedings. Besides Achint Thakkar’s moving, evocative music score, one of the highlights is the easy banter between Bhabha and then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who Rajit Kapoor plays with an easy charm. The dialogues are witty, snarky, and fly fast and smart. And Jim Sarbh and Ishwak Singh turn in a collaboratively beautiful performance. They feed off each other and then add their vial of scintillating energy (Sarbh) and warmth (Singh). If nothing else, the series makes you long for easier days, where it was okay to enjoy a swig (even if you were the head of the state and didn’t have to worry about carefully constructed images and an army of blood-thirsty trolls) and be yourself. It didn’t matter who you loved or what you ate. For these boys, all that mattered was what was eating them. (Streaming on LIV)
With directors So Yong Kim, Maggie Kiley, and Jennifer Morrison, creator Patrick Macmanus pitches you right into the operating act of the horrifyingly true story that played out in the state of Texas. Dr. Christopher Dunstch (Joshua Jackson plays him with a chilling air of narcissism and arrogance) breezes into operating theaters for routine spinal surgeries and maims his patients for life, if not send them to the morgue. As the count rises, two doctors—Robert Henderson and Randall Kirby—sense there’s something not quite right, and the malignant surgeon ought to be stopped before he does more harm. Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater play Henderson and Kirby superbly, the former empathetic and holding his counsel, the latter going hammer and Kerrison Rongeur. The actors share impeccable timing, the dry humor hanging above them like ether in a surgery. The mini-series is a harrowing account of the devastation the rogue surgeon causes and how the legal system is hobbled by dots and crosses painted out by hospital egos and reputations. Aiding the good doctors is assistant DA Michelle Shugart (AnnaSophia Robb in an absorbing, young Jessica Lange-ish performance), while Dominic Burgess, Grace Gummer, and Molly Griggs provide solid support. The editing cuts for flashbacks may feel tiresome after a bit, but when you’re facing a maniac as a surgeon, your life becomes a blur. (Streaming on Lionsgate Play)
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