Movie in Review: The Accidental Prime Minister

Despite how desperate some news channels and websites have become on muddying the image of the movie and its cast, The Accidental Prime Minister came out as a winner for me. In terms of what it gets (as inputs from the book by Sanjaya Baru) and what it brings to us, it indeed covers events in the timeline they occurred and provides a rather unbiased opinion on the story, with a few exceptions. I’d rate it a 4 on 5.

As always, the detailed review follows…

First things first. This isn’t really a “movie”, but a documentary, a chronicle of what happened—or why. But, for the sake of the review, let us stick to “movie”. This isn’t everybody’s movie. It doesn’t have loud music, filthy dialogues, needless action sequences, exploding cars, or gory blood spurting. It is a classic plot-driven cinema meant for the all-knowing, all-mighty audiences. Do some research before you hit the nearest cinema theatre to watch it.

Like any work of fiction on non-fiction, you see the movie from the point of view of the writer—the author, in this case. The movie starts with how after Congress came into power in 2004, Dr. Manmohan Singh (MMS) was chosen to become the Prime Minister, despite Congress’ common opinion. And, while all the “sacrifice” did have its effect, we know what happened next: National Advisory Council (NAC).

The basic plot of the movie—and I want you to pay attention to this one—is:

  1. We have a protagonist, played by Anupam Kher, who is chosen to lead the country of around a billion people. Based on the short sequence that covers the timeline of MMS, we see that even he never dreamt of it.
  2. He has a daunting challenge before him.
  3. His challenge continues to become complicated as he discovers that first, he isn’t the final decision-making authority, and later, his drafts and decisions will be crosschecked and often overruled by the NAC.
  4. Throughout his first and second terms, he realizes that Congress (termed as the “party”) attributes all the failures to him, while all the success, howsoever little it is, to Rahul Gandhi, who the party sees as the potential successor (heir to the throne).

This is a classic plot for any movie—or book, for that matter. A protagonist. A challenge. A bigger challenge. Helplessness. Despair. Resolution.

Let us look at what I liked:

I liked the fact that both Vijay Ratnakar Gutte (the director) and Sanjaya Baru (the author) have kept their respective work opinions neutral. Nowhere do we see anyone using any false language or even a hint of it.

The cast is spot on. Suzanne Bernert shines as Sonia Gandhi. Her acting has been at par with both Akshaye Khanna (with that salt-and-pepper hair) and Anupam Kher. The supporting cast has proportionately outshined their little share of the silver screen: Vipin Sharma as Ahmed Patel is a treat to watch. Divya Seth Shah as Gursharan Kaur (MMS’ wife) is as wifey as she needs to be—purposeful, powerful, and impactful. Her dialogues and timing have been impeccable.

The makeup team (Shrikant Desai, please take a bow) bears special mention, for it is only because of them—aside from the casting team—that I could recognize the characters they play in the movie. Anish Kuruvilla as TKA Nair, Ramesh Bhatkar as Prithviraj Chavan, Deepak Dadwal as Jaswant Singh, and roughly 150 others have been given the required screen space and looks for them to slip into their characters seamlessly. It is as if we are watching the real person speak. The attention to detail, like the hairy ears of Lalu Prasad Yadav, was achieved through the makeup, but I hardly noticed it. Kudos.

A special mention to the costume designer Abhilasha Shrivastava for designing the wardrobe for Akshaye Khanna. If indeed Sanjaya Baru wears such outfits in real life, I must say that he has a refined taste of fashion. I am sure the costume team will receive the appreciation they deserve from others as well.

I liked the one-liners and punches introduced by the author and director. MMS saying “O teri” as he gasps and gulps, if it did happen, shows MMS did speak efficiently—even though he spoke less. The introductory sequence of Sanjaya Baru is good. I like how MMS asks him to become his “Sanjay” symbolizing Sanjay of Mahabharata, who gave a visual account and live commentary to Dhritarashtra of what occurred on the battlefield.

The touchy sequence of PV Narasimha Rao’s soul not being permitted into the Raj Ghat has been covered rather subtly. The typical artists’ view, this sequence doesn’t conclude as the scene ends. You somehow carry that thought along. The sequence ends when MMS calls upon Sanjaya Baru to tell him that he must resign from the chair of the Prime Minister, to follow party’s thoughts, because he knows that he doesn’t have much time now. This symbolizes how carefully MMS chooses to say that he doesn’t want his end to be like that of the former PM, PV Narasimha Rao.

I didn’t like Arjun Mathur as Rahul Gandhi until the sequence of the epic interview with Arnab Goswami of 2014. Arjun has successfully reproduced the exact cluelessness with utter ease.

Before I close my thoughts, a cautionary note from me: I have seen a lot of hue and cry over this movie being false propaganda to malign the image of Congress. If the movie does anything, it only strengthens the image of MMS. It shares an additional perspective on what he did or wanted to do. It helps us see through what until now was laid undercover. A lot of file footages are inserted (hopefully from the same timeline) to support authenticity. The movie in no way malign anyone’s image, it is an account of what happened. I must say that my review is about the movie, not about the thoughts that drove it. However, if you leave the theatre with an afterthought, blame no one else but yourselves.

It is for the first time I see both an uproar and appreciation for a documentary; perhaps because work of art is shot with both great dedication and caution. The end of the era of MMS brings Narendra Modi on the screen and public opinion on the surface. Every time Rahul Gandhi came on the screen, the audiences began laughing even though his dialogues didn’t demand so. But, applause followed the sequence where MMS gives way to Narendra Modi. No one said a word; a lot was still said.

That’s the verdict.

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Top 3 Tips for Writing Crisp Sentences

My friends often email me seeking help on writing. This post adds to the reply I gave to one of my friends who asked:

What should I look for to construct better sentences?

I assume the question relates more to work-related writing (jotting thoughts down) than speaking. So, I am slightly changing the question to fit it as the topic for the post. 😊

Here are my top 3 suggestions for writing better sentences:

Tip 1: Give Action Points

Whether it is emails, meeting notes, Sprint retrospections, or a web chat with a colleague, clarity in communication is of the utmost importance. Be clear with what you wish to say. Write, then read (and, if required, re-write). Then, send. But, please mind the gap; there is a difference between being straightforward and being offensive.

Tip 2: Use Active Voice

Consider that Ram is preparing meeting minutes. This is what he writes as an action item:

Inputs on project estimation must be given.

See how he skips mentioning the doer in this passive sentence. That’s usually with every passive sentence. Let us rephrase this to introduce active voice (and hence the doer):

Shyam needs to give inputs to the PMO for project estimation.

See how sentences in the active voice clearly define responsibilities? Had Ram circulated an email with a passive sentence, we wouldn’t even know Shyam was supposed to share his inputs.

But, should we always construct sentences in the active voice?

No. In cases when you generalize or do not have any recipient for actions, you may use the passive voice. For example:

The velocity improved for the Sprint.

In this case, because the velocity improved for the entire team, we are sure that each one of the teammates contributed more. You may also use the passive voice for highlighting facts and figures. In the same example:

The velocity improved by over 5% for the Sprint.

Also:

An average of 5% capacity is reserved for holidays.

(Considering reservation of capacity to be a known item for capacity planning.)

Tip 3: Remove Needless Words

There are words that do not add to the meaning or intensity of the words they accompany. For example, “very” and “really”. However, approach this tip with caution.

Consider this example:

This cake takes very good.

We might as well get rid of “very”, and the cake will still taste equally good. But, by no means should you take this as a rule of thumb for deleting all occurrences of “very”. The very purpose of “very” (pun intended) is to intensify something that already exists.

If, however, there is a rule of thumb, it is to seek brevity. Look for opportunities to shorten or, at least, vary the length of your sentences. This means you give the reader more opportunities to flow with the rhythm of the words, take sufficient pauses, and contemplate on what they read.

Bonus Tip: Listen to Your Mental Ears

I really like such sections—another exception to Tip#3. Readers would usually jump over to this section first. If you too did just that, welcome aboard. As I share my top 3 tips for writing better sentences, I see that most of us already know the tips. The problem is they don’t know how to put that knowledge into practice.

How do we identify what and when to change?

I’d say listen to your mental ears. They are never wrong. You can always check for the meanings of words or phrases you are not sure of. Look at your write-ups the next day. Take a print out and read out loud. Project the write-ups on a bigger screen. Let someone else read your write-ups out loud to you. Take a break and re-read your write-ups. There’s a lot that can come in handy. But, nothing beats the joy of rewriting. Before I release my posts, I write and rewrite them in the proportion of 1:4.

Conclusion

Let us revise:

  • Enlist actionable items. I just did that.
  • Use active voice, but don’t be offensive.
  • Remove words that do not affect or contribute to the meaning of your sentences.

Sub-topics like “varying lengths of sentences” demand a post of their own. We can even experiment with including a combination of words that produce lyrical or homophonic composition: “she sells seashells”.

To sum up this post, here’s what I have: it all depends on finding the sweet spot where meet relevance and comprehension.

Happy writing.

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Movie in Review: Simmba

While it is true that the first half of the movie reverberates on the tunes of “Hakuna Matata” (meaning “no worries”), the lead of the movie, Simmba—mind the two Ms, please—isn’t essentially the same Simba from the Disney’s classic, The Lion King; Simmba is the shortened form for Sangram Bhalerao. If you are in rush, here’s the review: 4 stars for the first half and 2, for the second. With an average of 3 stars, the movie remains a one-time watch.

A detailed review follows…

This is a rather exception from the Rohit Shetty Production house where you don’t see a single car blown to ashes. But, there’s still a lot of glass (or compound sugar) shattering away in action sequences. To top it all, spoiler alert everybody, you have Ajay Devgn’s voiceover at the start, and later, his cameo—yes, with the background score from Singham. Still, if I were to hold my thoughts for a moment, I’d say that the movie is made to officially announce the sequels ahead—one each for the Golmaal and Singham threads. But, there’s more: Sooryavanshi is planned for April 2019 and from Akshay Kumar’s introduction in the closing sequence of Simmba, we know he is playing the lead.

Let us look at the things that Rohit Shetty got right. And, the foremost is the cast. The character-cast combination is spot-on in most of the cases. Also, the use of Marathi in the movie is as much as the Marathi cast—Suchita Bandekar, Siddhartha Jadhav, Sulbha Tai, Ashwini Kalsekar, Vijay Patkar, Saurabh Gokhale, Ashok Samartha, and Arun Nalawade (Shwaas fame). Those are only some of the big names.

The locations are majorly Goa and Kolhapur—I know you guessed the first one. The sequences are woven around the Kolhapur temple courtyard. The songs are good, but none beats (pun intended) “Aankh Maarey”. Overall, a satisfactory score. The comedy quotient of this movie takes the cake: there are absolutely no false dialogues. You can watch it with your family without having to melt out of shame. Kudos to the writers! The plot of the movie scores for its theme. Quoting the movie, “the goons should experience the fear that girls or women have on their late-night travel”. For any impact to last, the life lessons and punishments must be hard. This matches the theme.

Now, a couple of things that Rohit could have gotten right. The story has a flow, which is where Rohit got it wrong. Now, stay with me as we go back in time. Remember Singham, in 2011? What song plays as the ringtone of Gotya? “Dhingka-chika” from Ready. Keep that in your memory and come back to 2018. Here you have Simmba (as a child) wishing to be like Singham, who hails from his hometown. Back into that memory lane, we see a 10 or 12-year-old boy. Fast forward to 2018, he has transformed into a money-laundering hulk. Ready, the movie, released in 2011. And, Rohit covered this span of roughly 7 years (from 2011 to 2018) to depict a transformation that could well have taken double the time. Do the math.

Selecting Sonu Sood for Durva Ranade was risky because he could not bring off the Marathi pronunciation. Ashok Samartha, who played Jaikant Shikre’s right-hand man in Singham in 2011 to perfection, would have been a better Durva Ranade. Amongst the brothers of Durva, Saurabh was good, but Amrit Singh was far from Marathi.

In one scene, someone incorrectly uses Ranveer’s name as Simmba Bhalerao. Simmba, like I said, is a short form for Sangram Bhalerao. Such oversights could have been avoided.

Rohit could also have used Sara Ali Khan’s name, Shagun, for a better effect. In the movie, she praises her father for his 50 encounters. Rohit could have reduced that to 49. Why? Well because just before the climax, Simmba kills Durva’s two brothers, Sadashiv and Gaurav. If he could add those two to 49, the total would be 51: a shagun for Shagun!

O’, I am so good at this.

Ranveer, as Simmba, has no hesitation on being called corrupt (quoting from Ashutosh Rana’s role of Head Constable Mohile, “waise bhi inhe khane ka bohot shauk hai”). Ranveer’s transformation from a guy with no intentions but to earn money to a guy with a purpose is covered well. The movie scores well also because Rohit has used a lot of headshots and portraits. This has brought the good acting talent of Ranveer (and later, Ajay) to the screen. As always, you will see Ajay’s eyes do the acting for him.

We conclude with a couple of comparisons:

  • In Sholay, there was “Basanti, in kutton ke samne mat nachna”. In Simmba, you have “Mere pass teen kutte hain. Do ko mein Pedigree deta hun. Aur, teesra hai tu.”
  • In past, you had countless movies that involved rape cases. In movies since the last couple of years, you see the victims getting their justice, whether it is Mom or Simmba.

We see a deciding shift in the thought process. One, the use of “kutte” and other similar words has reduced considerably. At least, the use is now softer. Two, we are truly empowering women by telling them that we stand by them. But, this also means that when television channels choose to telecast Simmba, I will watch it again.

Hakuna Matata 😊

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What the Year Brought

As I step into another year, I look back at the top 3 things 2018 brought for me:

Versification

I once said that I don’t often versify. That all changed in 2018. I wrote not one or two, but more than 15 poems this year. My favorite ones are:

Longer Conversation Threads

The year was the most responsive for me, thus far. It was so, also because it triggered conversation threads. My site was received well by the readers—thanks to you, too. I could reach out to more people, more frequently. Although the conversation topics weren’t as verticalized as that of the yesteryears, I could get more people to read my posts. This means, everything in the post, starting from the title and the topic, are adjudged by the readers, who continue only if what I write interests them. This brings me to the next item on the list.

Engagement

I updated the site’s pages to improve navigation, history of updates, a log of posts, and hyperlinks. This improved the reader engagement on the post. You are more likely (than years gone by) to come across links and references. Throughout the year, I worked on the readability of posts.

With this learning, I step into the new year. 😊

Wish you, too, a happy and prosperous year ahead.

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Shades of Yellow

That tiny promise
Of the first gleaming Sun.
From behind everything
Through the horizon.

That rising king to the throne.
Changing hues of Orange
From amber to blonde
From bumblebee to corn.

That Tuscany artwork
Of embroidered ochre borders
And finely knitted mustard
Seeking my attention.

That shining glory,
Golden—a burning fury.
Showering its might
Dare I fight.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bc0B9SmlkqPwamd8BtJ2x2CUicqBSyR419F-540/

PC: Shambhavi’s camera roll, Instagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That crimson ball
Through the Spring and the Fall.
Quietly appearing from behind the vine,
Breathtakingly simple for one and all.

The ages of the Sun
From honey to medallion
Of joyful colors and tone
Are, after all, second to none.
©Suyog Ketkar

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Movie in Review: Kedarnath

Any debut that lends expressions, insights, and promises alike, is a dream debut. More in my case, because this is my first movie review. Nevertheless, it has been a promising debut from the lead actor (female) of Kedarnath, Sara Ali Khan, who plays Mandakini (cutely shortened to Mukku). That’s it. I’m done.

Wait, here are the details:

We will start with the surprisingly underplaying Sushant Singh Rajput as the sober-looking Mansoor Khan—Believe me, this has nothing to do with Sara’s grandfather, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi. So, Mansoor is from the “other” religion. He follows the footsteps of his father of helping pilgrims climb up to the Kedarnath temple. He is a genuine guy who charges a genuine fee for his efforts. He even clicks a groupfie with pilgrims after their darshan. And, manages to look fresh despite the tiring climb of 7 kilometers up the hill. Basically, he is everything that a girl looks for in a “relationship”—minus the possibly conflicting part of religion. But, we are diverting.

This movie doesn’t do justice to Sushant’s acting talent. Just that his underplaying has helped his co-star. His frequently used non-verbal dialogues (read eyes) convey thoughts more than sufficiently, while Sara’s eyes convey Mukku’s intentions equally well. Whether it is Mukku throwing away her share of tea or her sister confronting and warning Mansoor to stay away from Mukku, the actors have portrayed emotions rather well. Kedarnath is a Hindi-heavy movie, so Sara’s efforts on improving her spoken Hindi have well-paid off. It is kind of cute to watch her call her own father “Panditji”. That adds a hint of situational humor, too.

As is the case with most star kid’s debut, all actors have performed well except for the kids themselves. Coming to the acting and the cast, the patriarch pandit is played by Nitish Bharadwaj, who is as composed as ever. Pooja Gor, the stern elder sister of Sara, has acted to the point and deserves a special mention. As the mothers of Mukku and Mansoor, respectively, Sonali Sachdev and Alka Amin have brilliantly timed their tears of both joy and fear. Arun Bali, playing the chief priest of the Kedarnath temple, brings the usual sense of stability to his role. Kullu, who is the villain and the fiancé of Mukku, has been well portrayed by Nishant Dahiya. Overall, full marks for the casting.

This brings us to the story and direction. To cover the weak plot, the director has used the backdrop of the May 2013 catastrophe; yes, just like most of KJo’s melodramatic movies that hide weak plots under the carefully woven “dying with Cancer” sympathies. In Kedarnath, it is the torrential rains, landslides, and loss of life that find an immediate connection with the Indian audiences. To top it all, the protagonist doesn’t make it to the rescue helicopter—you can figure out the remaining part. Not to point out the director’s fault, a couple of things could have well been changed. For instance, the meditating Himalaya Tyagi could have lived through the sluicing downpour and subsequent floods.

Basically, there isn’t much of a “story”: a plot that’s tried and tested for just about a million times. A poor boy and a rich girl. Wait. Let me rephrase: A poor Muslim boy and a rich Hindu girl. There you go. The plot or its absence thereof lends enough space for Sara to showcase her acting, dialogue delivery, and dancing skills. I will give bonus marks to the director for weaving in micro-plots that help the movie steer along smoothly to the conclusion. We all know what happened in those floods back in May 2013. So much was lost. The good thing is, the director has covered most of the real-life encounters. The VFX work is commendable.

While the movie is banned in Uttarakhand, and certain sections of the audience believe that the movie projects politically sensitive topics, it is the acting, or the promise of it, that comes out as the winner. A fair comparison that almost everyone will draw is between Sara and Dhadak’s female lead debutante, Jhanvi Kapoor. The funny thing is, both to-be stars do playacting (overacting, as we call it). I found Sara to be relatively better at acting. Just that in Sara’s absence, any other actor could do her role, unlike in the case of some established actors like Kangna Ranaut—particularly, in the case of Tanu Weds Manu and Queen. But, that’s asking for too much a little too early.

After watching Sara’s maiden performance in Kedarnath, I can safely say that she is one of the better actors to debut in 2018. Unlike Saif Ali Khan whose debut in Parampara didn’t earn him the required momentum, Sara’s debut looks to match more to her mother’s immensely successful debut in Betaab.

Long story short, success is a team’s effort. And, so is Kedarnath, a story inspired by real-life events. Kedarnath is an account of those few occasions that make us realize how tiny and powerless we are in comparison to the might of nature. Not all is lost, though: amidst the sludge full of dirt, debris, and dead bodies, it is the memories, faith, and Kedarnath temple that continue to stay tall—both in the movie and for real.

In the end, we have two love-struck souls departed by the never-bridging gap of life and death. Speaking of debuting in Bollywood, you can’t get more Bollywood-ishly typical than this!

My rating? 2.95/5.

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