Movie in Review: The Tashkent Files

Here is one movie that couldn’t have had a better time for release. You are talking about a whole generation who has been kept away from the contribution that the second Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri had in making India what it is today. Centrally, the movie revolves around the death of our beloved Prime Minister in 1966, but aside from that one question, there are a lot of others that we delve throughout the movie. For instance, India is the land of Gandhis and Nehrus; “why not Shastriji’s?”

Given the patriotism that underpins the movie, I’d rate it a decent 4.5 out of five stars. Like always, a detailed review follows…

The movie begins with Shweta Basu Prasad, the Makdi fame, playing Ragini Phule, who migrates from Pune to New Delhi in search of making her life in journalism. She is in dire need for a scoop when a mystery caller asks her questions on Indian political leaders. As a reward for her correct answers, he shares a docket with her that contains the information she requires to create a scooping story.

The movie graduates in its proposition organically for both us and for Ragini. She and her scoop gain the required popularity and overnight she becomes a celebrity. A controversy raises over finding the people or political powers behind the death of Shastriji. For this, a committee is set up. She gets added to the committee as a member and, thus, moves the story to its conclusion.

Here’s what I liked:

The movie is an improved version of the 1957 Hollywood classic 12 Angry Men—also adopted into Ek Ruka Hua Faisla (in 1986)—in so much as it is not filmed in only one room. Not for the sake of wordplay, the movie has a lot of “room” with respect to the capability the characters have. You will notice a lot of headshots and close-up portraits that help you grasp the intensity of the actors.

The actors have been carefully chosen and plotted into the movie. Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri, the director, gives everyone enough depth to contribute positively to the movie. The characters they played are metaphors for roles from journalism to the judiciary and from the public to politics. All of them have done a fantastic job. Their acting talent has assisted the lead actor and the director in bringing out their respective best.

I liked the way Ragini’s character is sketched. Her transformation is visible, not just in terms of moving from finding a scoop to finding the truth, but the better person that she becomes toward the end of the movie. We all undergo that transformation with her.

The director has used a lot of real, authentic footage, news headlines, and quotes a few letters, books, articles, and people (Shastriji’s grandson, for instance). This brings some solid authenticity to the movie and to the alleged assassination of Shastriji. A book named The Mitrokhin Archives finds a prominent mention. It plays an integral part in the movie.

The dialogues are a combination of good one-liners and hard-hitting realities. Given the genre of the movie, that’s a must.

I also liked how subtly the music director has changed the background song “Sab chalta hai” to “sach chalta hai” with the progression of the story. The second half of the movie shares some interesting, unknown facts that help form the micro-plots for you to form the complete picture. The ending is also good because it brings another reality of politics to the surface.

I would have liked Vivek Agnihotri to mind these gaps:

For all the while, it is the director, Vivek, who plays the mystery caller. Toward the end, it is Mithun Chakraborty’s character, Shyam Sundar Tripathi, that is shown to be the mystery caller. I’d have liked either Vivek to play that role or would have used Mithun’s voice for the mystery caller.

I really wanted Ragini Phule to handle the manuscript of “The Tashkent Files” more carefully. I mean who carries it out in the open. If V D Bakshi knew that his life was under threat, why did he do so? Also, why would he have written “The Tashkent Files” on the very front cover of the manuscript? It looks fake. Had the manuscript been unnamed, its pages, torn and turned yellow—like it is with a lot of old books—it would have looked authentic.

Vinay Pathak has considerably underplayed his character. I don’t know for what reason.

Here’s my conclusion:

The Tashkent Files conveys the message it was made to convey; it rather conveys the message a little too strongly.

More than the right-wing versus the left-wing politics, the movie is about the dual that we fight every day in our own minds. The movie leaves us with a revelation about ourselves and about the world around us. The movie also leaves us with a lot of questions.

With this effort, Vivek manages to successfully walk the thin tightrope that bridges assumed reality with history and aligns facts with intentions. Even though the movie releases with the General Elections just around the corner, it doesn’t influence people’s votes in any way. We all are empowered enough to connect the dots. I will end this the way Vivek and Mithun end the movie, “welcome to politics.”

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Movie in Review: Shazam

A disclaimer: if you are of my generation, you might end up confusing it with the Shaquille O’Neal’s Kazaam. It’s “obvi” a different movie.

In a nutshell, I give five and a half star (on a scale of 1 to 10; 10 being the highest). But here’s the detailed review…

This movie has nothing to do with the Marvel Comic’s Captain Marvel. Shazam happens to be the original Captain Marvel. They changed his name because it didn’t sound as exciting as Captain Sparklefinger.

Let us begin with what I liked:

The storytelling; full marks, there. The comedy quotient is pretty much within check. This suits the PG-13 criteria, except for the last dialogue where Santa Claus uses the F-word. The lead actors, including Billy’s foster parents, have done a good job.

The best part is, I went to the movie with zero expectations. I knew that this superhero family of Shazam is a rung below that of the flagship DC, Superman, et al. That helped me keep calm and enjoy the humor that underpins the checkpoints of the movie.

I enjoyed the movie more because of Darla, the cute little big-hugger than because of the marvels of the Shazam. See, that’s why the changed the name—for good. Darla is not only a part of their big adopted family, but she IS the family. She jointly holds the secret about Billy Batson being Shazam with Freddy, who is Billy’s foster brother.

I am in love with Darla—shortened from darling. Faithe Herman has played Darla to perfection. There is such an overload of cuteness that it will make you wish to buy her ice-creams and cupcakes. A big hug for the big-hugger.

A couple of characters who shine at par with the adolescent Billy, played by Asher Don Angel, are of that of Freddy, played by Jack Dylan Grazer, and Eugene Choi, played by Ian Chen. Eugene’s sense of timing is outstanding.

Here are a few things they could have done better:

Mark Strong as first Thad and then the supervillain is too cool to resemble a villain. Well, if you ignore his shining blue eye and the scar over it, the make-up team didn’t have much to do. I felt they borrowed his overcoat straight from Morpheus of the Matrix trilogy. In totality, the supervillain’s Mark wasn’t Strong enough—oh, that wordplay.

The superhero costumes, none of them, were as authentic as that of the Superman. But I blame it on what everyone expects from such movies. The puffed-up muscles of all kid-turned superheroes (spoiler alert!) are too fabricated to be real. Speaking of “fabricated” reminds me of the animation. It was sub-par throughout the movie. At times, the actors’ actions didn’t match the animation. On others, the animation was poor. Especially the sequence where Shazam saves a bus full of passengers from dying.

Here is one DC-verse superhero that was away from both the silver screen and the reality. The movie is for kids aged 10-16, but the comedy matches the audiences of much higher age groups, at least in India. The movie is at least ten years too late. Had it been 2007, I’d have enjoyed watching it.

Here I go… SHAZAM.

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Mind this when Writing a Novel

Just days before I completed penning down the plot for my novel, one of my friends happened to bring this question in our chitchat:

What’s the most important thing that you must keep in mind when writing a novel?

The question was tricky because writing a novel isn’t an easy thing to do. Sure, a lot of people do it. Yet there are only a few whose names you continue to remember and recommend. The answer to the question my friend asked lies in understanding why we happen to recommend only a few names. I could have easily said what I have read in numerous blog posts. But I dissent from the thoughts shared in most of such posts. Here’s why…

Writing—any kind of writing, fiction or nonfiction—is like weaving. You have a lot of threads that you wish to connect into a meaningful, purposed way. If anything, you also need to get the correct color combination and create a pleasant pattern. A novel tells a story that contains a central plot and more than one (interdependent or independent) sub-plots. So long as you connect the colorful sub-plots to the central plot to create a pleasant pattern, you have my commitment despite how long a story you weave (read tell).

Then is it all about the story?

Yes, the story is one of the most important things that you should have to tell or share. But a novel isn’t only about the story. You may have the best story to tell. But if you don’t tell it the way people would like to listen to, then, sorry, you will lose your audience. I read a novel to relive the story I read. Based on the way it is described in the novel, I recreate it in my mind. And, I like to see the perfect picture.

So, it should be about how well you describe things. Right?

No. If it were only about descriptions, then academic and literary essays would tell you well-researched stories way better than novels would. Then, why would anyone even peep into the world of fiction? A description can only get you so far. Here’s another key for you: the description of gargoyles in Far from the Madding Crowd builds the story.

Well, then, it is about the content. After all, content is the king.

Yes, content trumps (pun not intended) everything else. Let me break this to you:

The most important thing to keep in mind when writing a novel is to find your voice.

Remember, it is your story. You choose to share it the way you speak. Be natural. Break this story to me in a way that, first, you intrigue me into a conversation, and then, hold on to my helplessness (in a good way) until you help me conclude it.

It is that simple; it is that difficult.

Posted in Creative Writing

Mankading: The Case of Ethics vs Laws

Life is a curious case of choices. The choices make us who we are. The choices may or may not be ours, but they do influence us a great deal. But, as we look at it closely, life isn’t any different than the game. And, so aren’t the choices.

Such critical are the choices in the game that it can either make or break records or the name. One such case occurred in the latest game of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2019 when Ashwin’s KXIP defeated Rahane’s RR.

But before we get to the Mankading incident, here’s what the law states, “If the non-striker is out of his/her ground at any time from the moment the ball comes into play until the instant when the bowler would normally have been expected to release the ball, the non-striker is liable to be run out.” The non-striker would be run out “whether or not the ball is subsequently delivered”.

The video footage suggests that though Ashwin did not give any warning to Jos Butler, he was right in saying that it was his “space.” We can see that in the footage, too. Ashwin was about to take the delivery stride when he whipped the bails off.

Here is the link to the video of what happened (Courtesy, ESPNCricInfo):  http://www.espncricinfo.com/core/video/iframe?id=26361862&endcard=false

For those who wish to go by the rules, Ashwin’s efforts meant that Royals lost a wicket and subsequently lost the match. For those who wish to go by the spirit of the game, well, we didn’t lose any hopes to see a good game until the last ball. We did see an exchange of words or two, but was that not a violation of the spirit of the game?

Mankading isn’t unlawful. It is disgraceful of the bowler unless he has given warnings. On the other side, it is just a disgraceful way for a batter to get out. Certainly, it is stupid for him to not be within the crease (read, starting point) as the ball is bowled. I mean, logically, you may stand outside of the crease when a fast bowler is bowling because you’d like to use that extra heads-up to complete a run on a close call. And, here Jos was on the spinner’s end. So, the extra step wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

Ashwin, in my opinion, should not have mankaded Jos. Had this been an international match or the IPL 2019 final match—thereby, being a critical case that demanded a critical solution—things would have been different. This was a league match of IPL. After all, winning important. But, winning still isn’t everything. I would have chosen to preserve the spirit of the game.

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The Writer’s Chronicles – Episode 13

To Work or Not to Work

Episode 13 - To Work or Not to Work

For full resolution, visit: https://Pixton.com/ic:dx71nty8

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Vignettes of Writing

Writing is excitingly funny. Not because I mustered the courage of beginning this article with an equally funny use of an adjective. But because as a writer, you are that superhuman who gets the required attention without requiring to show up. That’s perfectly OK for the claustrophobic and utterly shy introvert within me. Writing is equally funny for the readers, too. Through your writing, they step into the world of someone else’s thoughts without losing the comfort of their chairs. That can also happen if your writing puts them to a sound sleep.

It is funny that writing, the act itself of weaving words together, is not funny at all. The consequential reading might be. But, to write is never funny. It involves a lot of work. Repetitive work. You get stuck to the same desk and same schedule for days, weeks, months, and (god forbid) years. Yet, you continue to dig out the priceless wisdom of doing and redoing the same stories as if your mind were a bottomless mine of never-ending thoughts.

I have been writing ever since I was a kid. In what I remember was my fourth grade, I wrote a small story of three kids who explore something amazing and go on to achieve their awesomeness forever. If only life was that easy! I will put this bluntly: beginning to write your thoughts down is the easiest part. Completing that train of thoughts is hard. Publishing that is even harder. And, writing on how to write is a topic that words wouldn’t do justice to. If only being a writer was that easy!

Yet we have countless writers who make their way through this seemingly endless journey of writing, rewriting, and publishing, to become overnight sensations and swim in money (You wish!), hoping to be someday the icons that give serious goals (and jealousy) to people around them. Quite often, a dull-looking kid, who frequented at the lonely sidewalk, struggling to find congruence of his own thoughts with those of others, eventually transforms into a celebrated writer. The fact is that words bring to us a lot more than mere messages. It is time we learn to weigh and honor our own words. Despite how we look at this world of writing, the writer’s ability to draw us out of ourselves, drown us into their own world, only to help us rediscover ourselves as better, more fulfilling individuals is awe inspiring. We can still safely call this end a happy beginning.

I met the writer in me when I was perched on the milestones in my little story. Who knows you, too, might if and when you choose to contemplate.

Happy writing.

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