Director: SS Rajamouli| Cast: NT Rama Rao Jr, Ram Charan Teja, Ajay Devgn | Telugu
It is 1920s India. Malli is stolen from the Gonds by the brutish wife of the English Governor and their shepherd, KomaramBheem, is coming for them. Elsewhere, a revolt against the arrest of Lala Lajpat Rai sees Alluri Sitarama Raju flying over the barricades to prevent them from being breached. But Raju has an ulterior motive, and the two men will eventually unite to bring down the mighty British governor. Partly based on fact, RRR plays out as a nationalist revolutionary fantasy, Ramayana epic and forest folk tale, all rolled into one. It calls out oppression of all kinds in a way that the world understands. This is subaltern revisionism best suited for Naya Bharat.
PONNIYIN SELVAN PART 1
Director: Mani Ratnam| Cast: Vikram, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Jayam Ravi| Tamil
The men go to war on land and sea, dance and drink like louts when not battling enemies, and think they run the world. The women, beautiful, bejewelled, with words that cut like diamonds, scheme and strategise to keep the peace, whether they are princesses or commoners. Based on Kalki Krishnamurthy’s epic, Ponniyin Selvan, shows the Cholas in their ambition and their expansionism. With an ode to Kaveri, the river; a song by the ocean as the night falls on actors Aishwarya Lekshmi and Karthi in their solitary boat; or Sobhita Dhulipala and Karthi dancing to ‘Ratchasa Maamaney,’ the movie is a true tribute to the land that inspired the grand kingdom of the Cholas.
A princess posing as a commoner and a penniless soldier. Against the backdrop of the 1965 war with Pakistan, love flourishes between the two, taking them from the royal palace of Hyderabad to the snow-capped mountains of Kashmir. She is beautiful with a winning smile, played by Mrunal Thakur. He is ethical, dutiful, and saves her from a fire. He is played by Dulquer Salmaan. Romance hasn’t looked as lovely for a long time.
THE KASHMIR FILES
Director: Vivek Agnihotri| Cast: Mithun Chakraborty, Anupam Kher | Hindi
Vivek Agnihotri recorded the testimonies of 700 Kashmiri Pandits who were exiled from their homes, denied life in the Valley and forced to live in the shadows. He turned those accounts into a powerful tale with his usual suspects cast as enemies, from Muslims of the Valley to the silent media to the domination of left liberals in institutions of learning. The raw, unvarnished visuals pack a powerful punch, with Anupam Kher delivering a pathos-filled performance as the grandfather forgotten by time. The debate around the movie may have generated toxicity but it stands on its own as a gripping tale of a people who lost their homeland.
AN ACTION HERO
Director: Anirudh Iyer | Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Jaideep Ahlawat| Hindi
Do you grow anything? Do you cure anyone? Do you protect anyone? What use are you to society, asks the Haryana policeman of the Director of Photography of the film shoot, which has witnessed an accident. “Humne tumhe banaya hai (We have made you),” says an angry Bhoora (Jaideep Ahlawat) to the action hero, Maanav, played by Ayushmann Khurrana. An angry audience; a film industry stigmatised for being the hub of drugs and dynasties; a media that records every airport/party/gym arrival and departure with obsessive interest. The movie is most contemporary in its themes and takes pot-shots at the new India without its gatekeepers realising it. By far, the sharpest political satire in recent times.
The class divide of Delhi has rarely been captured in such a stark manner. Well-off families living behind high walls, being serviced by those who yearn for their comforts. Superbly appointed homes contrasted with crowded shanties crammed with goods discarded by the wealthy. Criminals, some living on the streets, and others hidden in plain sight in gated communities. If Delhi Crime Season One was about the gender divide, Season Two was about the economic chasm. “I want a good life, just like you. I want to own things. I don’t want to be confined to the kitchen,” says the killer. When you can’t get what you want by asking nicely, some people are forced to snatch. Its empathy for those who are shut out of the display windows of shiny malls, and its depiction of the easy camaraderie of a group of men led by a strong woman, DCP Vartika Chaturvedi (Shefali Shah)’s return was as thought-provoking as it was entertaining.
Director: Abhay Pannu| Cast: Jim Sarbh, Ishwak Singh, Regina Cassandra | SonyLIV)
Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai—two scientists who loved their country. One created the nuclear programme and the other gave wings to India’s space dreams. One was a patrician Parsi, the other heir to a Gujarati industrial empire. One could never articulate his love for the woman in his life, the other was excessively romantic. Both created institutions that bore their names but have outlived them and formed the spine of the Indian science project. Rocket Boys was a labour of love for co-producers Nikkhil Advani and Siddharth Roy Kapur and director Abhay Pannu who collaborated closely with the Sarabhai family to paint a fascinating picture of two friends, two giants, two very humane scientists. As Vikram Sarabhai and Homi Bhabha, Ishwak Singh and Jim Sarbh respectively, were arresting, whether they were talking science or romance.
The second season of the scripted reality show saw fashion designer Masaba returning to the screen with her mother, actor Neena Gupta. Viewers are once again immersed in Masaba’s search for love, her yearning for authenticity in her work, and her relationship with her mother, with its tantrums and tensions, love and laughter. From Neena Gupta having trouble finding someone age appropriate to act as her ex-crush and former co-star to Masaba’s struggles with falling in love with the wrong person, the show is quieter and more thoughtful than Season One, and the episode in Kashmir is an added bonus.
SUZHAL: THE VORTEX
Creators: Pushkar-Gayathri | Cast: Kathir, Aishwarya Rajesh, Sriya Reddy | Prime Video
Pushkar-Gayathri are masters of building fascinating universes. Suzhal is one of them, set in a fictional town during the MayanaKollai festival. The story revolves around a teenage girl who goes missing and her lover is presumed to be the abductor/murderer. The two are off-springs of warring parents, the local woman police officer and the cement factory workers’ union leader. There is a factory fire, a young policeman and the teenage girl’s elder sister too, are all involved in the search for the two youngsters. The reveal at the end is a surprise and a tragedy, and fits the overall melancholic nature of a deeply moving mystery. The acting is terrific but Sriya Reddy, returning to the screen after 2008, and Aishwarya Rajesh as the sister, are particularly stellar.
MODERN LOVE MUMBAI
In Shonali Bose’s Raat Rani in the anthology Modern Love: Mumbai, Lalzari, played by Fatima Sana Shaikh, wants to cross the Mumbai Sea Link on a cycle, though two-wheelers and pedestrians are not allowed. Lots of things are not allowed in the young Kashmiri woman’s life—whether it is attending college, or going out at night, or falling in love, or marrying a man from a lower caste, or finding happiness when he leaves her. Crossing the flyover becomes a metaphor for her on-screen liberation. There are other metaphorical crossings in the anthology, from Danesh Razvis love for the much older Sarika in Alankrita Shrivastava’s My Beautiful Wrinkles to Meiyang Chang’s relationship with Wamiqa Gabbi in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Mumbai Dragon. It is almost as diverse as the city it is based in.
Human (Disney+Hotstar), Darlings (Netflix), Jalsa (Prime Video), Doctor G (Netflix)
She speaks with her eyes, and when they widen with anger, even the strongest of characters quiver. Her eyes can convey wounded horror in Jalsa as she struggles with the news of her daughter’s accident, silent rage when someone questions her in the boardroom in the series Human, and with a broken heart as she wordlessly examines her daughter’s face for bruises in Darlings. After a long and winding road in an industry that infamously writes off women after 35, the 49-year-old has come into her own, fulfilling the early promise of startling performances as the gangster’s wife in Satya (1998) and the sexual abuse survivor in Monsoon Wedding (2001). She dominated 2022 with stunning turns in web series and movies, proving her versatility and agility.
Badhaai Do (Netflix)
When Rajkummar Rao asks him to blow into his closed fist, Gulshan Devaiah, out and proud lawyer Guru Narayan, blows gently into his face. Rao is mesmerised. Lost. In love. And so the affair begins, with everything said through gestures and eyes. Devaiah has a tiny role, a cameo, but with his neon suits and his swinging gait, he makes Guru a dreamboat in Harshavardhan Kulkarni’s Badhaai Do. As the closeted gay police officer, Shardul Thakur, Rao doesn’t stand a chance. It’s a performance of great tact and delicacy from an actor we need to see more of.
Eternally Confused and Eager for Love (Netflix)
Vihaan Samat has the sort of straight face, which can both crack and take a joke. As the New York University graduate who has recently returned home to the over-loving bosom of his slightly kooky parents, played by Rahul Bose and Suchitra Pillai, he is the toast of Rahul Nair’s smartly observed series. Stumbling through life: talking to himself; arguing with his action figure Wiz, voiced by the superb Jim Sarbh; and making inappropriate jokes about death; he is perfect as the south Mumbai man-child who coasts through life on his inheritance.
KGF2 (Prime Video)
Violence, violence, violence. I don’t like it, I avoid it, but violence likes me. Channelling Amitabh Bachchan’s swag from the ’70s— Tum log mujhe dhoondh rahe ho aur main tumhara yahan intezar kar raha hoon (You all are searching for me and I’m here waiting for you)—Yash made his Rocky bhai iconic in KGF2. As the boy who promised his mother he would be a sultan and who goes toe-to-toe with the most powerful woman in the country, he sets the big screen on fire. Nothing about him is ordinary. From his long hair, to his beard, from his stride to his speech, everything is larger than life, tailor-made for an epic.
She looks on, agonised as the scythe moves in towards the accused, her father, a security guard who has been accused of raping a minor girl. As Gargi, a small-town teacher in the eponymous film, Sai Pallavi is fearful, anxious, joyous and finally disgusted as she slowly uncovers the awful truth. Clad in simple, cotton saris, with her hair braided, and her face stripped clean of make-up, Sai Pallavi brings a rare authenticity to the role, marking her as an actor worth watching again and again.