Month: October 2016

Queen Of Katwe Review Upodcast

This episode of Upodcast we discuss Mira Nair’s uplifting Disney produced story Queen of Katwe, starring Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi who came from the streets of rural Uganda to becoming an international chess champion.

We’re joined by our friend Akin Aworan to talk about how Mira Nair avoids the usual trappings of ” based on real life stories” how it compares to movies like Slumdog Millionaire and Million Dollar Arm, how awesome Lupita Nyong’o is and our usual tangents (a very lengthy Deadpool one).

Queen of Katwe is currently have a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes but only released in limited release.

You can check out more of Akin’s work on his website.

You can download/stream/listen to the episode below.

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Tu Mera Sunday LFF Review

Milind Dhaimade’s Tu Hai Mera Sunday is a charming little surprise of a movie. This story of five amiable friends in Mumbai trying to navigate a little football time for themselves isn’t really attempting to re-invent the wheel – and this allows the film to relax long enough to breathe some life into the characters that inhabit it, such as the rather mysterious figure of the old man suffering from dementia (Shiv Subramaniam, perfect) who becomes the catalyst for most of the events that drive the narrative.

None of these people are strangers to those familiar with the classic Hindi film “Bombay milieu” – there’s Jayesh (Jay Upadhyay, funny), the well-to-do Gujarati who wants to get away from his noisy, religious family that bores him well-nigh to madness; “Bawa” (Nakul Bhalla, affecting), the Parsi who is surrounded by the slowly crumbling ruins of his cultural past as he tries to comprehend his present; Domi (Vishal Malhotra, competent as ever), the Catholic mummy’s boy who could have been a musical success; Arjun (Barun Sobti, charming), the upper class, clean cut, “hero” type whom everybody loves but acknowledges is a slacker. However, this is a movie whose camera chooses to linger just that extra moment to capture the fly in one’s favorite sweetshop, so the last friend is Rashid (Avinash Tiwary, stellar), who wonders whether any of the girls who’re happy to go home with him at the end of a date would be equally happy to accept a proposal of marriage from a Muslim.

Tu Hai Mera Sunday is a movie that carries its liberality lightly and therefore feels more relatable and true in a way that the holier-than-thou lectures unleashed by hypocritical mainstream Bollywood stars are not. When one of the friends argues that the girl he likes is “not like the girls” Rashid takes home with him, he very matter-of-factly points out that there is nothing wrong with the girls he dates either. At another point, a man confesses that he chickened out of confessing his feelings because he wasn’t sure if he could provide the girl he loves with all the luxuries she wants out of life – only to have her retort that she is well able to get those material luxuries for herself and is simply looking for someone who cares for her (Shahana Goswami, total package as always). In fact, for a movie that’s all about five boys in need of a playground, this is a movie that embraces its women – from the happily married upper class woman obsessed with the perfection of her child to the middle class deserted wife striving to raise her deaf boys to the best of her ability to the woman navigating an inter-religious relationship.

Billed as a movie about creating space for oneself in the great urban sprawl that is Mumbai, Tu Hai Mera Sunday is equally a movie about living one’s life in a city where it is easier to live a routine. Dhaimade is a talent to watch.

Tu Hai Mera Sunday (You Are My Sunday) had it’s World Premiere at the  60th BFI London Film Festival, as part of the festival’s Love Gala on 15th- -16th October.

Review by Amrita Rajan. You can find more of her work on her blog or follow her on twitter!

Queen of Katwe LFF Review

Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe tells a traditional tale of the underdog who triumphs against insurmountable odds over the space of three acts but tells it so well and in such fresh context that it must be a hard heart indeed that can withstand its charm.

The true story of Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga, a revelation), a young girl born in Katwe, the slum area of Kampala, Uganda, Queen of Katwe is based on the eponymous biography authored by ESPN writer Tim Crothers. Over the course of her journey, Phiona must battle illiteracy, gender bias, the grind and uncaring cycle of institutionalized poverty, self-doubt, class snobbery, and Mother Nature herself in order to realize her dream of becoming a chess master and lifting her family into prosperity. She does so further burdened by the urgency of her knowledge of her mother’s many sacrifices, the precarious state of her family’s existence, the bleakness of her future in the slum, and the rising expectations that Katwe (and, indeed, all of Uganda) itself begins to repose in her, their unlikely knight.

Supported by a cast of amazing child actors, who are each a delight as they embody the lives of real children who once struggled to understand the unfamiliar, elite world into which chess had thrust them, Queen of Katwe manages to steer clear of the many clichés that could have pulled it under. Nair’s eye doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of Katwe – be it the economic struggle for survival or the appalling living conditions – but it never descends into exoticization or poverty porn. The people in this movie confront their poverty in multiple ways in every frame but they are so well etched that they are not defined by their poverty. They fight and love and worry and struggle in a celebration of their humanity.

In fact, what struck me the most about these people is how good they are. Not in a saintly fashion but in an everyday way. The daughter who runs away from home and unashamedly becomes a prostitute to her mother’s scorn, comes to help her family in their time of need; the coach (David Oyellowo, what a charmer!) who accepts the death of his ambitions because he cannot abandon “his” children has a wife who would not allow him to choose financial safety over his heart’s calling; the illiterate mother (Lupita N’yongo, astonishing) who scraps her way through life will sacrifice her dearest possessions in order for her child to be able to read; the small son with a grievous wound will uncomplainingly face unimaginable pain because he understands this is the best his mother can do.

“A challenge is not a curse,” it says on the back of the beat-up minivan that takes the children to their chess tournaments, and it is that spirit that these people try to embody.

Queen of Katwe opens in the UK on the 21st October 2016.

Review by Amrita Rajan. You can find more of her work on her blog or follow her on twitter!

Mirzya Review Upodcast

Our best episodes are the ones where we see things completely differently. Rakesh Omprakash Mehra’s adaptation of the Mirza Sahiban folktale is one such movie. Mirzya stars Harshvardhan Kapoor, Saiyami Kher (Check out our interview with her by clicking here), Art Malik and Om Puri and hits theaters today after it’s European premier at the London Film Festival.

We’re joined by the talented and always charming Shai Hussain to break down how this adaptation translates to the big screen, how both debutante actors perform  and if the overall world created is matches the legends of the folk tale.

Mirzya hits theaters this weekend and is having it’s European Premier at the London Film Festival.

You can listen/download/stream our episode below.

Or subscribe to iTunes and never miss a show!

Saiyami Kher Mirzya Interview Upodcast

“This experience has been life changing…”

We speak to Saiyami Kher who is making her big screen debut this Friday in Rakesh Omprakash Mehra’s Mirzya, a re-imagining of Mirza Sahibaan’s legendary folk tale.

We talk about her preparation for her role, her background as a marathon runner and how the experience was for an outsider to the industry to collaborate with the Harshvardhan Kapoor, son of living legend Anil Kapoor.

Mirzya hits theatres this weekend and is having it’s European Premier at the London Film Festival.

You can listen/download/stream our episode below.

Or subscribe to iTunes and never miss a show!


M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story Review

The big question going into Neeraj Pandey’s M.S. Dhoni: An Untold Story was – why? Why does it exist? Given the sheer number of articles, think pieces and news reports that come out annually on the Indian cricket captain, who found his feet just as India became a nation addicted to social media shenanigans and hysterical yellow journalism, what exactly had its creators found that compelled them to make this movie?

The movie opened on a hopeful note for this reviewer as Pandey brought in several threads from Dhoni’s life – not all of them untold, but perhaps not previously narrated in a cohesive whole. There was the tension of being an Indian child with unconventional tastes (he’d rather play football than cricket!); the burden of meeting parental expectations, particularly that of the strict but loving, hardworking, lower-middle class father who carries the unspecified weight of the world on his shoulders; that now-famous rewriting of conventional wisdom that allowed Indian cricket to shift focus to the untapped talent languishing in “B-tier towns”; the tragicomedy of dealing with Indian bureaucracy; falling in love at inconvenient times and dealing with loss; the politicking that comes with power and position, etc. Every item on a checklist had been ticked off.

In fact, there were so many possible narrative threads set up in the first half of the movie, it was quite a puzzle how they would all come together in the second. And the sad answer was that all this rich texture simply existed to bring our attention to different parts of Dhoni’s flawless character. He is benevolent to the bureaucrats who nearly destroyed his career! He remembers his old friends even though he has learned better grooming and improved his English! He even has a friend whose possible alcoholism only exists to underline the fact that Dhoni himself would never touch terrible, soul-destroying things like beer because his body is a temple dedicated to sport. The much-touted story of the woman he loved and lost fades into a larger theme of his being a man beholden to second chances from life.

Part of the problem lies in the performance turned in by Sushant Singh Rajput in the eponymous role. Singh is a fine actor whom we have seen perform to better advantage elsewhere – here, he plays Dhoni as next to catatonic when trying to portray him as a reserved man with a rich interior life and terrifying focus. Most of the blame, however, rests on the shoulders of Pandey as the man who wrote and directed this movie, for trying to shoehorn a living, breathing man into a template more familiar to him.

For M.S. Dhoni: An Untold Story ends up telling you a lot more about the man who made it than the man it seeks to portray. Pandey is clearly a man who wants to write thrillers that incorporate the tiny details of everyday life in the less shiny bits of India. The problem with this movie, however, is that it is a thriller in search of a thrill. It can’t be found in the first half of the movie where Dhoni casually bats his way to the top until a mincing/swaggering Yuvraj Singh introduces a bit of tension by outclassing not just him but his entire team of rustics while armed with a pair of headphones. The movie keeps telling the viewer that this is an unconventionally cerebral man who has felt the pain of struggle and loss, but from the very first frame where an intensely focused Dhoni walks out to the gladiator’s ring that Indians like to call a cricket field, there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that this man is going to excel. His friends believe so strongly in him, they don’t think twice about bugging acquaintances to sponsor him; amazing opportunities continuously come his way without his ever having applied for them; when he’s stuck at a dead-end job, his boss encourages him to play truant and concentrate on his game. How is one supposed to feel sorry for this guy?

As for the emotional loss of his girlfriend, by trying to check that off the list, all Pandey manages to do is to turn her death into a teachable moment for Dhoni, shadowing his relationship with his future wife Sakshi. Both women exist without much context or personality, unlike the rest of Pandey’s dependable troupe of character actors who show up in this film to enact various roles such as cricket commentators and early mentors without making the kind of impact they did in earlier Pandey movies.

Finally, however, one does receive an answer as to why this movie was made – so that Indians may celebrate their 2011 World Cup once again. If you’re in the mood for a hagiography of India’s arguably most successful cricket captain, this movie is definitely for you. If you are looking for a competently made movie from a director whose movies have dependably entertained you in the past, like yours truly, you may walk out disappointed.

M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story is in theaters now!

Review by Amrita Rajan. You can find more of her work on her blog or follow her on twitter!