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UrbanLens Review: A Moving, Mouth-Watering Documentary About Social Entrepreneurship / Grade B
Soufra (A Moving Feast) is a moving tale of social activism and entrepreneurship in the face of calamity. It summarises the efforts of a social entrepreneur working to improve the lives of destitute women and their family living in a Lebanese refugee camp by turning their cooking skills into a profession. The women start a new phase in their life as chefs and creating mouth-watering delicacies that knows no boundaries. Soufra's story is inspiring and it teaches you to live life head-on. A cool watch. Grade B.

(Watched at the 2020 IIHS UrbanLens Film Festival.)


EUFF Review: Captivating, Intense Drama on Xenophobia / Grade B
Working at a corporate concern, Exile was instantly relatable. Of a man (from Kosovo) settled and working in a foreign land (Germany) and enduring torment at workplace possibly because of his origins, the film cuts through systemic, casual xenophobia and identity crisis. How the man struggles to stay sane as he is continuously bullied and made realize that he is a foreign national and not exactly welcome in the country. The onslaught of familial pressure (a wife and three kids) does not help as he spirals into chaos supported by overthinking and self pity. It's wonderful how the camera is often cranked from the perspective of the man; literally shot from behind his ears with a close-up of all the perspiration that he is experiencing while just trying to exist. There's not a single fun moment in Exile even if you see a smiling face or two. And that's the power of Exile: a tense drama both socially relevant and captivating, no matter where you are. Grade B.

(Watched at the 2020 European Union Film Festival of India (EUFF).)

Extra Ordinary

EUFF Review: Stunning, Bold Satire on Black Magic / 6 Stars
In this horror comedy that really gets on towards the end, Will Forte's part meanders a lot. Which is what affected my viewing experience. But Maeve Higgins (in her feature film debut!) and the overall jocular vein that Extra Ordinary follows makes up for it, giving you shoots of LOL comedy (you WILL chuckle at least a dozen times, thanks to the wicked timing of some dialogues) and novel cinematic elements. Some scenes in here are as novel as the way the directors satirize aspects of black magic (Jarvis Cocker's end credits song is perfect), all of which are absolutely stunning. I really enjoyed Extra Ordinary save for the meandering bits that might test your patience a little. Grade B-.

(Watched at the 2020 European Union Film Festival of India (EUFF).)

Khaali Peeli

A Cool Comic Caper for an Afternoon Watch / Grade C
Khaali Peeli (Black and Yellow Taxi; English: For No Reason) is a decent comic caper that works because of the fast-paced storyline, Ishaan Khatter's electric performance, Jaideep Ahlawat's presence, and the flipflop screenplay style that keeps you occupied. It has its fair share of ups and downs (mostly cringeworthy sequences involving Ananya Pandey's antiques) but it passes muster and I was able to satisfactorily finish it. The story is the usual, about runaways with money in the bag, but the Mumbaiya dialogues and the rusty settings makes it appealing and worthwhile. Give it a watch if you have a Zee5 subscription. Grade C.

Un divan à Tunis

EUFF Review: Charming, Beautiful, Funny / Grade A-
Arab Blues (A Couch in Tunis) is an instantly likeable film. Its opening shot - about an old man's description of who Sigmund Freud might be from his looks - is charming and so is the story that succeeds it of a young woman (Golshifteh Farahani) coming back to her homeland, Tunisia, from Paris to start a psychoanalysis practice. She knows she will be looked down for it, a testament that she immediately gets from her uncle. But she is independent, courageous, and gritty, and so the film begins. I absolutely loved all the characters and their performances here, especially Farahani, Feryel Chammari, and Aïsha Ben Miled. Each actor is better than the other and I had a sweet time looking at them, delivering beautiful dialogues and acting like it's real life. The social critique is pregnant here but Arab Blues projects itself as a lively comedy about a woman's struggle in modern-day Tunis, a state still marred by backward beliefs and customs, something that is common everywhere. With a supporting soundtrack, adequate humour, and the ability to keep you engaged, Arab Blues is easily one of the most pleasant comedies you will see this year. Glad I sat down and considered EUFF. Grade A-.

(Watched at the 2020 European Union Film Festival of India (EUFF).)

Smuggling Hendrix

EUFF Review: Breezy, Feel-Good Comedy / Grade B
Smuggling Hendrix constantly brought a smile to my face even though it narrates like any other adventure film where ordinary people get together for a common goal. I think it is my first viewing of a film from Cyprus, which would justify why I couldn't gather the whole context of the Cyprus problem (while watching it). And yet, this breezy comedy with peppy music and some really funny dialogue delivery made my day. Sometimes when you are dealing with a problem, see if you can find a solution if you don't consider it a problem at all. That's what Smuggling Hendrix conveys and I love it. Recommended. Grade B.

(Watched at the 2020 European Union Film Festival of India (EUFF).)

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Outrageous, Funny In Parts, On-the-Point Satire / Grade C-
I struggled through Borat Subsequent Moviefilm not because it is as wild and ridiculous as the first part but because there's just too much that Sacha Baron Cohen stuffs into it, which made my viewing experience slightly unpleasant. Sure, there are LOL moments and absurd dialogues that make the film what it is, but after a while, the jokes aren't funny (not in a bad way, though). The critique on the Trump administration is spot-on, so maybe this is more targeted towards Americans. However, I have to admit that this sequel is more adventurous, mischievous, and courageous than the first part, which is all that matters sometimes. Grade C-.


IFFM Review: A Sweet Little, Flawed Kids' Film / Grade C
Habaddi (Kabaddi with an H) is a fine kids' film but one whose plot points I can't agree with. For starters, the title is not really relevant here because the lead kid (with a stutter) never utters the word 'kabaddi' (an Indian sport) nor does he attempt to. So, I don't know if the kid actually utters it as 'habaddi'. Secondly, I cannot sympathise with the kid because he resorts to stealing to make random contraptions and the film tends to celebrate it, which I can never agree with. He does it so that he could go to Mumbai to meet his sweetheart, and ends up joining a kabaddi team. A lot happens before this story arc, but by the time the climax stands up to welcome me, I had lost interest. Nevertheless, there are a few quirky elements in Habaddi (like the legend of the naked ghost, for instance) that kept me hooked, which is why I would tag it as an average film. May not be worth showing it to kids because of its wrong messaging about stealing. I don't find that funny. Grade C.

(Reviewed during its Australian premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IFFM).)

The MisEducation of Bindu

IFFM Review: Missed Opportunity / Grade D
I usually enjoy high-school teen comedies but The MisEducation of Bindu, for me, felt like a sore miss. It has all the ingredients of a teen comedy drama but somewhere something is off. Whether it is the unfitting Indian touch or the poor performances by the leading lady (it felt like she was auditioning for the role while the camera was rolling) or the high level of awkwardness even by teenage standards, I'm not sure. I also don't think I laughed during the 90 minutes because some of the sequences are massively cringeworthy and really not needed in my opinion. All in all, The MisEducation of Bindu tries hard but does not pass muster. Grade D.

(Reviewed during its Australian premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IFFM).)

A Night A Day

IFFM Review: A Novel Take on Honour Killing / Grade C-
Following Oru Rathri Oru Pakal (A Night A Day) can be a struggle but if you give it time, it will open its heart for you. The film captures a tense hour between a runaway couple who are hiding from death at the hands of their relatives (and the proverbial society) because they hail from different castes. It's the usual plot but one which has a novel execution. Instead of taking the usual cat-mouse approach, Oru Rathri Oru Pakal focuses on the tension between the couple as they revisit their decision to elope. It's a fine conversation between the two which takes new turns and finds new meanings even as they try to move away from the society that they are so firmly attached to. Despite all that, I didn't enjoy watching it. Grade C-.

(Reviewed during its Australian premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IFFM).)


IFFM Review: Fantastic Social Critique / Grade B+
Veyilmarangal (Trees Under the Sun) is a haunting take on caste discrimination and persisting unemployment in modern India, and one which is beautifully shot by director Bijukumar Damodaran and late cinematographer M J Radhakrishnan. It tells the story of a vagrant mother-father-son trio who find themselves moving from Kerala to Himachal Pradesh in search of livelihood and yet are followed by their same old problems - discrimination, low wages, apathy at the hands of authority. While the lens sometimes focuses from the son's perspective, it's the plight shared by the members of the trio that is highlighted here, conveying the message that the country is still backwards in its thinking despite the modernish developments. Veyilmarangal makes you think because it's a fantastic critique of our times and one that remains a better Malayalam film of 2020. Grade B+.

(Reviewed during its Australian premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IFFM).)

Chote Nawab

IFFM Review: Not at All Kingly / Grade D
Chote Nawab (Little Prince) is more a family drama than a coming-of-age film that the title and the promos would have you think. The prince (from London) has a small, inconsequential role and is overshadowed by the adults who have got together for a wedding in Lucknow. It's a mess really because there's a lot the writer has tried to add here - romance, mystery, familial melodrama - that it becomes tiring to follow. The low production value is evident across which further affects the viewing experience, and I ended up feeling down. Chote Nawab has some moments but if you expect anything more from it, you are bound to end up disappointed. Grade D.

(Reviewed during its Australian premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IFFM).)


Something is Really Off Here / Grade D-
There's something really off about Chhalaang (A leap) but I cannot put a finger on it. Plus it's hard to agree with whatever the sports drama advocates, including this one time where a coach cheats to let a student win a game (and no one bats an eye). That is the exact problem I had with Nitesh Tiwari's Chhichhore (2019) last year (but it was a smaller sin then) which co-incidentally uses the same typeface as this in its posters. Chhalaang aims to be about grit and determination and romance but the lead character's bumptiousness prevents me from taking him and the film seriously. It annoys you a little when the man (Rajkummar), a slacking fitness coach at a small rural school, is forced to pull up his socks at the sight of a nemesis coach assigned by the principal. And yet his traits don't change and I don't see any motivational element in it. Performances are on point but the lead character's tired interests prevented me from enjoying this otherwise well-made film. Grade D-.


Poor Blend But Deserves a Watch / Grade D+
The poor blend of comedy and horror is what costs Laxmii (given name) the most, but it manages to stay afloat with decent cast performances, good sampling of a social issue, and an overall air of thrilling horror despite the usual tropes that may seem tiring at first but are far better than what we see generally. Slapstick plays a big part here, so if you are not a fan, Laxmii will disappoint you. Grade D+.


Massively Entertaining Creature Feature / Grade A-
Tremors is a surprisingly appealing movie and I am not attributing it to the creatures in the film. It starts off giving a westerns vibe and then quickly turns into a survival horror movie with the added novelty of an unknown creature. Being a fan of 'creature features' and having watched most popular films in the genre, Tremors took me aback as it continued to impress me with its casting, plot, and the sheer horror of characters being hunted by a strange-looking mystery. There's just a positive, fun vibe to the film and that works wonders here. Gets all my points for being extremely funny too. Grade A-.

Lake Placid 2

Mediocre Crocodile Film to Watch With Friends / Grade C
Apart from the useless R-rated sequences, I feel they did a fine job with Lake Placid 2. Not the best actors or their best performances here, but it provides the trademark spoof-horror combination with the same dosage as the original. Could have had +1 CGI and and tighter screenplay and this would have been much, much better. Grade C.

Lake Placid

Spoofy Crocodile Adventure Drama / Grade B
It's the humour garnished all over Lake Placid that makes it more than an entertaining watch about crocodile terror. You know it's a spoof but you know there's danger out there too that the characters are going to fall into. Add to that the on-the-point performances and dialogue delivery by Bridget Fonda, Oliver Platt, and Brendan Gleeson and the overall atmosphere of the film, and you have a terrific film to enjoy with friends and family. This is some great popcorn entertainment. Grade B.

Kaali Khuhi

Technical Brilliance But Only Faintly Haunting / Grade D
Another Netflix film that is technically brilliant (other recent one is Bulbbul (2020)) with a better sound design than most Indian films but which lacks substance. It crafts a suspenseful story at the cost of putting its viewers to sleep, to whom the impeccable production value or crescendoing background score is not enough. It is hard to keep track or make sense of things in Kaali Khuhi (The Black Well) and by the time you do, it goes off with a whimper. At the end, it reduces itself as an atmospheric suspense show sampling and combining folktales and social evil and hardly has any effect on the viewers. It's a wasted attempt (including the talent) at best with a confusing plot and several unanswered questions. These may be solved in a second watch but Kaali Khuhi is not confident enough to demand a first. Only for serious horror fans. Grade D. TN.

Deep Blue Sea 3

Entertaining Sequel With More Vengeful Sharks / 5 Stars
Not as great as the original movie, which is considered the second-best shark movie since Jaws (1975), Deep Blue Sea 3 still manages to keep you entertained with better CGI, a better plot than the second instalment, and an overall active screenplay that is more about 'sharks on a vengeful killing spree' than 'humans making dumb decisions'. Watch it if you are a shark film aficionado like me. (Grade C). TN.

Deep Blue Sea 2

A Weak Shark Film / 3 Stars
One of the weakest shark movies out there. No regard for any plot, characterization, or dialogues - all of which look so bad it works against the whole 'creature feature' experience. Save for a few jumpscares and some chase sequences between man and shark, Deep Blue Sea 2 does not impress. (Grade D). TN.

Open Water 3: Cage Dive

Lacklustre Drama Not Worth Your TIme / 3 Stars
Open Water 3 is low on all departments, and two of the main ones that affect viewing experience are the characters and the number of thrilling sequences. While I loved the attempt to add some drama between the characters and the use of night vision somewhere during the 80-minute running time, I did not enjoy watching it. The characters are repulsive, which gave me an idea that maybe the director did not care enough to make this an entertaining/serious movie about the perils of going near sharks. The weakest in the franchise. (Grade D). TN.

Hum Bhi Akele Tum Bhi Akele

IFFM Review: An Ambitious, Casual Romantic Drama / 6 Stars
I am a fan of Anshuman Jha, so I naturally enjoyed watching Hum Bhi Akele, Tum Bhi Akele (I Am Alone, So Are You), a drama about two homosexuals trying to find love in a world where homosexuality is still taboo. Because he lacks the courage to come out in front of his father, Veer (Jha), runs off to Delhi to find solace in his longtime lover who is married to someone else. There he meets Mansi (Zareen Khan), a lesbian who is getting ready to go and meet her flame in Himachal Pradesh. Off they go together and so forms a strong bond of companionship between them as the drama takes a romantic turn and gives food for thought about genderless relationships and the true meaning of love.

The writing is a bit off in some parts, but Hum Bhi Akele, Tum Bhi Akele manages to take off slowly. At times, you wonder what's so funny that the characters are laughing, and it's mostly the weird dialogues that seem artificial in this low budget setting. I also felt Khan has lost her touch in acting or she was not putting much efforts. And then there is this scene where the duo rush off in their jeep without paying a dhabewala. But despite its flaws, I enjoyed the film, its soundtrack, and overall mood brought out by Jha and Khan. (Grade B-). TN.

(Reviewed during its Australian premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IFFM).)

Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare

Humdrum Drama, Nothing Remarkable / 4 Stars
For me, it was not very clear what Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare (Dolly Kitty and Those Shining Stars) was trying to convey mostly because it is a hot mess about relationships going under. Konkona Sensharma and Bhumi Pednekar star as two sexually frustrated women who try to come in terms with a male-dominated world where female pleasure is taboo. THAT is clear but the commentary seemed half-baked to me and I was confused what director Alankrita Srivastava thinks women empowerment actually is. I am no expert either but at least we both seem to agree with how life turns out for the both the characters at the end. A poor attempt with a humdrum plot and nothing remarkable to take away, including Sensharma's and Pednekar's dull performances. (Grade D+). TN.

Deep Blue Sea

Hugely Entertaining Shark + Water Flooding Movie / 6 Stars
An engaging thriller with a mindless plot, Deep Blue Sea managed to keep me hooked throughout its loud 100-minute running time. A doctor and her team of researchers looking to find a cure for Alzheimer's in sharks in an isolated facility in the middle of an ocean - what more do you need for some sweet chaos while also supported by some unethical practices? Deep Blue Sea is not the most realistic shark film out there but it has a lot of cool action, suspense, the added pleasure of flooding sequences, and a protagonist that you love to hate. Go for it. (Grade B-). TN.

Open Water 2: Adrift

Entertaining Survival Drama / 7 Stars
This is not a shark movie as I had thought nor a related sequel to the equally charming first instalment in the Open Water series, Open Water (2003), but it did get me hooked quickly when a group of friends impulsively decide to take a dive in open waters without lowering the ladder on their yacht. It's crazy how things move from there with basic instincts kicking in and the blame game starting up. It's solid entertainment if you are into survival thrillers. Has a few cliches here and there, but overall Adrift gave me a good 90 minutes of pure thrills. (Grade B). TN.

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