Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Thoughts on Bhavesh Joshi

Making a movie like Bhavesh Joshi in India is extremely tricky. The movie is almost certainly doomed to fail, if it’s anything but awesome. The few people who’re interested in “Super Hero Movies”, have probably seen the extremely well made Marvel and (some) DC Movies, so they go in with a huge experience of watching these movies and are likely to be disappointed by a familiar storyline or character arc. They want new ideas and innovative execution. Those who couldn’t care less about Super Heros aren’t likely to be excited about a movie which is just that. They probably need a star to pull them to the theatres. Bhavesh Joshi had a tough task at its hands, it had to be both extremely entertaining and offer an innovative storyline for a genre which has had a humongous influx of movies in the last decade.

Bhavesh Joshi

The predictable happened. I went to watch the first show of the movie on the day it released, only to head back home because the show had been cancelled. The next show I went to, literally had 4 people in the theatre. And in the week that followed, I’ve heard stories on twitter which mention about even more shows being cancelled. The movie did fail, and pretty badly. But was it any good at all?

The movie starts of briskly with Two Mumbai urbaners and their reporter friend who go around the city painted in the “Anti-Corruption” movement of 2011. The two eventually end up starting a YouTube channel where they dress up as masked vigilantes to take on the petty crimes in the city. It’s fun to watch that. It’s a section of the movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously and provides a bunch of laughs, it also sets up the movie for a much bigger conflict, which would require better skills from the two. While it goes on at its own leisurely pace, Priyanshu Painyuli is able to do much of the heavy lifting and is pleasing to watch.

It’s the second half the riddled with mediocre acting and a messy execution. It’s also when the all too familiar heroes journey kicks in. Written by three people, the movie is gets confused between showing the origins of a home grown superhero, a realistic setup and environment and following the super-hero’s journey. It’s best seen in a scene where Bhavesh Joshi confronts one of the baddies but is barely able to land a kick, fairly realistic for a software engineer turned vigilante. You can’t just start kicking around people by wearing a mask. It’s also the typical superhero confrontation, which is innovatively shot, but when it all comes together on the screen, it’s laughably bad! I’m not sure if I supposed to laugh at it, but the entire setup from Joshi entering the house to him barely making it out of there, was a bit off to start with, and turned into slapstick comedy by the end.

And given how much of the second half follows the hero’s journey, It’s predictable and boring. Some of the sequences just feel like a drag. You know how the sequence is going to end but the directors decide to spend time on it anyway. There’s an extended bike sequence which again is unintentionally hilarious in parts, boring in others. It’s also surprising how little the movie spends time on the villain, we know very little about him and there’s literally no exploration of the reasons as to why he does what he does.

If you’re not asleep by the end of the movie, it’s because of a great performance by Priyanshu Painyuli and Ashish Verma, Painyuli lifts the first half with his timing and Verma saves the day in the later half of the movie, and Vikramaditya Motwane does show some exceptional direction skills in some of the shots. I just wish he got a better script to work with. As for Harshvardhan Kapoor, while its only his second film, the actor really needs to work on his acting a lot, he can certainly look the part of a Mumbai resident in a Computer firm, but needs a lot of work on delivering his dialogues.

The movie isn’t a complete disaster to watch either. There are a lot of interesting ideas floating around here. For example, I really liked the origins of Bhavesh Joshi. It’s approachable, and breaks the norm of having some sort of a divine super power, to be a vigilante. It’s also interesting how the problem that the movie focuses is on, doesn’t involve an apocalyptic scenario or a super-villain. It’s just a corrupt and powerful individual who needs to be tackled and even then he’s someone who merely pulls the strings, and leaves the dirty work to his subordinates. There’s also an interesting track about how media headlines and news shape people’s perception. These are all innovative threads hanging from a story that never quite manages to tie them into a cohesive and engaging movie.

All said though, I’d love to see a sequel to Bhavesh Joshi. Why? Even though this movie was mediocre at best, the entire movie serves as the origin of a much more interesting superhero character, even if the creation process is messy, a second movie would do wonders to further such a character. It is also one of those movies which “need” a sequel. If the movie was supposed to be a one of story, the writers blew it. Without a sequel, it’s just a hero’s journey that takes way too long to kick in. They could have spent so much more time showing the superhero in action as opposed to spending the time on showing how he goes on from being a total dud to being a half decent vigilante. I’d even be happy with a Netflix / Prime spin-off which gives us a mini season for it. But alas, sequels generally only exist for economic successes.

Rating: ** ½ (Watch at Home, if you must)

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Breathe: Deus Ex Machina Overload

Vidit Bhargava

Breathe, the second Amazon Prime Original out of the 18 that were commissioned back in 2016, was a mixed bag.

It's a show that's full of “deus ex machina” moments conveniently placed to move the story forward. Every time the writers complicate things for themselves the lead characters have these flashes of genius that puts them back on track, and these aren't minor subplots, they're critical points in the story, like Amit Sadh’s character getting on to Madhavan trail. Sadh’s subordinate gets the idea of donating organs and wouldn’t stop badgering Sadh about it, which is when Sadh realises that two random accidents are actually murders targeted towards organ donors. It’s like the (metaphorical) hand of god strikes Sadh and Madhavan at just the right time and is taken away at the right time too, so that both can commit stupid mistakes as well.

Despite being poorly written, Breathe is saved by its cast. Of them, Amit Sadh and Hrishikesh Joshi (plays Sadh’s subordinate) are impressive. Madhavan does a fair job of being the amateur serial killer, but overdoes his part of being the doting father of a seven year old. But nevertheless, it’s a fair ensemble of actors who spew life into underdeveloped characters, and make the show watchable.

Breathe focuses on style over substance with all the back and forth in timelines and slightly pretentious art-references. But what makes Breathe watchable for the duration of it’s 8 episodes is it’s ensemble cast and the fact that there’s seldom a dull moment in this bizarre story.

Rating : ** ½

— P.S. Online streaming isn’t Indian Television where the bar of quality content is so low that you get away with lazy writing. I think Vikramaditya Motwane (the co-director of Netflix’s upcoming show Sacred Games) summed it up pretty well a few months ago, “It’s a space where you’re competing for attention with the likes of House of Cards and Stranger Things and so the quality of content has to be that good”, what Prime is is providing right now is barely watchable content which users would watch just out of the shear excitement of something new, and not because it’s genuinely good quality entertainment.

Moreover with the snail like speed with which these shows are developing, you can barely hope for this being a renaissance for Indian Periodicals, it’s at best a fun exercise for diversifiying the catalog of streaming services.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Movie Recommendation: Mukkabaaz

Anurag Kashyap’s movies have a lot to say in general, and there’s a peculiar way in which he puts them together in a gruesome and dark experience. Mukkabaaz is no different. It’s a story on oppression and caste privilege, diguised as a sports films, disguised as a mainstream romantic drama.

Mukkabaaz’s Multi-layered story, it’s earnest cast and a stellar background score from Rachita Arora are the movie’s biggest assets. It’s when these three come together, that you get the movie’s finest moments. Vineet Kumar Singh’s preparation really pays off here. The fact that he spent months, training as a professional boxer shows in the sport scenes. His speed, agility and physique lend credibility to the character. However it’s Zoya Hussain’s acting that really leaves a mark. The subtlety with which she’s portraiyed the character of a mute woman is commendable. Never once would you notice that her disability is an impediment to her communication, something that’s truly remarkable. Her character also benefits from some good writing. It rises above focusing on the character’s disability.

Amongst the rest of cast, Ravi Kishan does a fine job as Kumar’s coach. He’s calm and delivers a measured performance. However, Jimmy Shergill’s delivers a strictly one dimiensional performance as the movie’s “Villain”, and that’s primarily because his character lacks depth. It’s a character that’s just touched upon instead of being explored. In Shergill’s character, Kashyap fills all the wrong doing you that’s shown in the movie. He is casteist, he’s corrupt, he hinders the growth of younger boxers, he’s got no shame in harming those whom he considers beneath him. But why? Why does he do that? What’s with his red-eye look? These are questions that the movie never bothers to go into. The result is a character whom you’d hate, but also one that’s perplexing.

The movie also benefits from a fine soundtrack. Most of the songs are well placed, and are well written, to match the story’s narrative. But too many songs, hamper the screenplay. It’s especially in the romantic sub plot that the movie falls prey to the cliche of filling it with songs. At one point, we get a “pre-wedding song” (It’s almost insanely uncharacteristic of an Anurag Kashyap movie), I wondered as to whether it was just an invitation to a non-existent mass crowd? Seriously, I’m not sure who that particular song was for. The audience seemed eager to get over with it rather than indulge in the nitty-gritties of a pre-wedding event. It’s this song and a couple of other clich├ęs that are some of the weaker points of the movie.

Minor blemishes aside, Mukkabaaz is still a powerful story. It’s great in areas that matter the most. Kashyap juggles through the three major themes carefully. Seldom does the plot goes astray. Moreover, I’m happy that we’ve finally got a Hindi movie that manages a complex script without the entire screenplay falling to pieces.

Unlike most of the other sports films, Mukkabaaz is not a rags to riches story, it’s not even a story of hope! It’s a cold portrayal of the pettiness that plagues Indian sports, it’s one where caste and politics are as deeply intertwined with sports, as skill itself. Anurag Kashyap has a lot to say here, and all of it is worth paying attention too.

Rating: *** ½ (Worth watching)

— P.S. Oh! and don’t miss the Nawazuddin special appearance in the movie. He seems to be having a lot of fun in the couple of minutes of visibility he gets. And it’ll also remind you of one of his other special appearances, from an older Anurag Kashyap movie.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Thoughts on The Last Jedi

Vidit Bhargava
The Last Jedi is a great movie, there’s little doubt about that. It’s a spectacle of some really fine acting and brings a lot to the table in terms of how the franchise could go forward, it’s a delight to see that the trilogy won’t just end up being a reboot to the original star wars trilogy. But The Last Jedi, for all that’s good about it, has its fair share of flaws.

The screenplay is a complex mess of multiple twists and turns and subplots that don’t always amount to much but feel more like a digression from the plot, instead of supporting it. While some of the twists are valid and did surprise me, when they occur too frequently it begins to feel as though the writers were unsure where to go with the script, or what to do with their characters. There are just too many course corrections which make parts of the movie almost look unnecessary and dragged. Then there’s this detour to a planet of casinos and filthy rich arms dealers, While it is an extremely well written and rich reflection of the prevailing greed for money, it ultimately only amounts to being a hat-tip to an Empire Strikes Back subplot. At 2h 30m the movie feels a tad too long and could’ve done with fewer twists, in my opinion.


But even though it’s got a screenplay problem, The Last Jedi is also a movie where they’ve put a lot of thought into the mindset of the characters, the message they want to convey through the story, and the theological references to the force and the Jedi. These are what give The Last Jedi its finest moments. Rian Johnson does a fantastic job at capturing the conflict that Rey and Kylo feel. They both have their moments of conflict, confrontation and clarity, all of them are extremely well executed. I also felt that Luke’s role in the movie was very well written, he’s neither Obi Wan or Yoda. He too is vulnerable, even somewhat naive (when compared to Yoda) and yet when the time comes, he’s the formidable Jedi. It’s good to see Luke get enough screen time and depth to justify his place in the modern Star Wars universe. Apart from the characters, The Last Jedi is also visually stunning. and for its many twists and turns, some of them do induce clap worthy moments.

I really enjoyed the Last Jedi, I even found it empowering to an extent, and I’m glad that the movie isn’t a remake or reboot of an older moive, but offers new conflicts and new ideas to take forward the story. But I also found it hard to ignore the messy screenplay, I can’t help but hope for a simpler and clearer movie.

Rating: *** ½ (A great movie but has its flaws)

There’s a reason why I haven’t tagged my thoughts on the movie as a review. I feel it’s hard to recommend or not recommend The Last Jedi. For anyone who has followed the previous movies, it’s reasonable to assume that they’ll want closure, so watching The Last Jedi is sort of a no brainer for those people. For anyone who hasn’t watched the previous Star Wars yet, I don’t think they’d start with Episode 8 or whether it being great or terrible would have any impact in them wanting to watch the series.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Laakhon Mein Ek: Show Recommendation

Laakhon Mein Ek TV Show

Vidit Bhargava

The phrase “Lakhon Mein Ek” usually has positive connotations and is used for someone with unique skills. It is also a phrase that best describes an average Indian high-school science student preparing for engineering entrance examinations, someone who is quite literally just another student amongst the 14.5 lakh students that try to get into something that has much fewer seats than that. Clever choice of words from the makers of this new Amazon Original show, which showcases the tale of one such engineering student.

The show begins promisingly. The story of students being forced to pursue engineering is all too familiar, it’s also something most of the viewers can empathise with and are probably waiting for it to be told to a larger audience, and Lakhon Mein Ek does justice to the story for most of the part. It manages to show a mirror to the ridiculous process of preparing for an entrance examination. The hostels which take students’ time for granted, the institutes which are nothing but chambers of hell for anyone with an iota of interest outside that of academics. The weird class system followed by coaching institutes across the country where intelligent students are milked with better teachers, better facilities and more attention (they’re after all the poster boys which these institutes would tout in newspapers after they get selected for great colleges), and the less intelligent folk are left behind in destitute conditions where teachers don’t care to teach and the management doesn’t care what they make of themselves. It’s all a part of the show’s extremely real setup.

The central characters are well written and relatable, we’ve all witnessed them in the classroom at some or the other point in time. The show also benefits from good casting. Ritwik Sahore as Aakash (the focus of the show) is the perfect fit for the role. His acting strength really shows in he’s required to pull off a nuanced and layered performance in the later half of the series. Shiv Kumar Subramanyam as Moorthy (the institute’s head) is dependable in the corrupt but in-power official role, something that he’s accomplished multiple times in his career. Alam Khan and Jay Thakkar get to play the supporting roles and are fairly good at that. Khan’s sponteinity makes for many a-engaging moments in the first few episodes.

Biswa infuses the show with a greatly detailed setup. From the characters attire, to the topics being tought in class, notice how, as the show begins students are studying the concepts of frame of reference, but midway they’re being tought more advanced concepts like Fluid Mechanics. The usual suspects like NCERT Physics books and HC Verma also make an appearance. The hostel conditions and the classroom environment are all true too. All points to the show makers for getting the setting spot on.

There’s also this binge-worthy ness to this twenty-five minute per episode format. The makers manage to end the show at a cliffhanger on all occasions, making it absolutely essential to at least peak at the next in series. I watched five of the six episodes in a sitting (roughly 2 hours)

While the first three episodes of Laakhon Mein Ek are great. The story begins to take some hyperbolic turns as the series moves into the later half. Trivial issues like ‘cheating’ end up forming the genises of much more serious turns that the show takes, and by the end of the show, the writing is all over the place. There’s a sub-plot about a dengue epidemic, a sub plot on drug abuse and student bullying, another one about Aakash’s mental health. There’s just too much in a span of 3 episodes to pay any proper attention to and in the end many of the subplots are left dangling and unfinished. And while most of the characters are well written, the character of Chandrakant is particularly one dimensional. He’s never really given the screen time to look ‘real’. All his character is reduced to is the studious guy who pops in to create trouble.

Minor issues notwithstanding, Laakhon Mein Ek is a great show. Definitely one of the best Indian series I’ve seen in a long time. At just 6 episodes, each of them only 25 minutes, the show doesn’t ask for your atttention any longer than it should. Beautifully edited, written and directed, Biswa Kalyan Rath’s first series as a director is worth watching.

Rating : *** ½

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Type of Dunkirk

Vidit Bhargava
I had the opportunity to watch Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk recently, and it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. I really liked the interplay between the three parallel timelines, the sparing use of dialogue and the haunting cinematography but what I found really intriguing was their consistent use of the Akzidenz-Grotesk type.

akzidenz type

What’s interesting is that Akzidenz-Grotesk is a late 19th century sans-serif typeface from a German foundry. At surface it seems ironical to use Akzidenz in a movie based on World War II with the chief characters as the British.

However, If you put some thought to it, maybe it isn’t so ironic. The primary emotion is pure faceless-terror. The terror is induced by the German forces, of which we don’t see so much as a shadow. The presence of German forces is only validated by dropping bombs, gun-fire or mass destruction Of ships. It’s terror, and there’s not just a minimalist character of violence attached to it.

What’d be the type of faceless terror to the British forces at Dunkirk? Akzidenz isn’t a bad choice for that. It’s got a ‘monoline’ structure, it’s pretty non-descript and it’s undeniably German!

The only other font that comes to mind is a much later released Helvetica, but then it wasn’t released until 1957, long after the Dunkirk evacuation, and was itself based on Akzidenz Grotesk.

However, during the inter-war period, a completely different sans-serif evolution was taking place in Germany, that of geometric typefaces and “Futura” is one of the most popular typefaces from the era. Having said that Futura has a lot more character than Akzidenz and the entire idea may have been to offer a less characteristic typeface, since the enemy doesn’t even appear on screen.

dunkirk font

To me, it’s one of the best Type choices for a movie. The best part is, they remain consistent in its using. It’s the same typeface that is used in the credits and the same type face that’s used for titles.

For a typeface of faceless terror for the four hundred thousand soldiers stranded at Dunkirk, Akzidenz is a great choice.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Restaurant from the future: Eatsa

Vidit Bhargava
The world’s first automat, a restaurant where food and drink were served by vending machines was first introduced in Berlin in 1985. The concept of getting food from a vending machine enjoyed a good 80 years or so, until it was eclipsed by fast food chains, like Subway, which had a greater flexibility of food selection and payment options.

Eatsa Store at Berkeley

However, as if in a revenge plot of sorts, an automat has surfaced in the United States, which aims to disrupt the Fast-food market by combining the flexibility of a counter-preparation model and modern day automation technologies to deliver food faster and cheaper. The experience is as though you were being served food by robots.

iPad Kiosks

As you walk into an Eatsa, you’ll find yourself in a room with an array of iPads lined up to take your order And a grid of cubby-holes which‘ll host the food you order. It’s a futuristic experience, in the sense that there’s minimal human interaction involved. You’re expected to interact with the iPad, place your order and get your meal, all in a couple of minutes. You’re aren’t even supposed to know that there are humans preparing the food behind the cubby holes. Much like how Elves prepared the great feast in the kitchen below the large dining tables of the great hall in the Harry Potter series, and you wouldn’t know they were the ones toiling away in the dungeons unless you were Hermione. It’s the quickness of the service and the ease of placing an order that really transforms Eatsa’s experience and Eatsa’s proprietary automation tech is to be credited for it.

The Experience of Ordering food

Food ordering was a relatively simple process. You just need to sign up for Eatsa, pickup your nearest restaurant and begin preparing your meal, either either by selecting a preset food or by “Starting from scratch” and selecting your own ingredients.

The Eatsa App

I really liked the customisation options here. You can select whatever base you want, and while quinoa is pretty much the central attraction, you can even pick stuff like “Channa Masala” or “Pinto Beans” and then of course there’s an assortment of sauces and crunchies to pick from.

Eatsa’s offerings are vegetarian (with the exception of eggs, which appear to have a vegetarian status in US) and in general focus on a healthy diet and given that Eatsa’s target audience is primarily office-goers or students in need of a quick lunch, these options seem specially lucrative. Moreover, Eatsa’s app is intelligent enough to inform about potential allergens and offers filters to remove items which may contain them. This is especially handy for some one like me, who’d otherwise have to check with the staff and rely on their word for such information.

I also liked the attention to detail and the polished user interface of the app. The interactions were fluid, information clearly presented and the experience reliable, whether you’re using a kiosk or an app on your iPhone. It feels like a premium experience, at a cost that’s even cheaper than your local McDonald’s or Subway.

Once the order is placed from the app, and the food ready, your name appears to on one of the cubby-holes, which you can then double tap to unlock and get your food. While the food is still being made by humans, there’s a good deal of automation going in the background to get the food ready in a very short span of time. Usually the waiting time for something like this would be 5-6 minutes. But Eatsa’s service is a lot quicker than that. If you were placing your order at home / office and going to a store for pickup, you wouldn’t really have to wait for it to get ready. You can just walk-over to your cubby hole, pickup your food and get working.

cubby hole pickup

That’s why I feel the experience is futuristic, it eliminates a lot of traditional concepts that’ll be in such a restaurant, and ultimately offers food at a very affordable cost. The experience is friction less, extremely convenient and even somewhat /delightful if you are watching this happen for the first time, these factors should really help Eatsa get a foothold in the Fast-food space quickly.

Food Quality

food prepared The food being served is no gourmet fine-dining replacement. It’s just a quick and healthy bowl filled with items you’d like to have. It’s more in the range of a chipotle or subway than your local fine-dining eatery, and for that it’s pretty tasty. It certainly feels like a very wholesome meal.

I especially liked the texture of the roasted potatoes and tofu. They were all well cooked and blended well with the rest of the ingredients.

If I were to eliminate the fact that I was visiting a restaurant that felt straight out of a Jetsons episode, I’d still want to visit the place again, since it provided a pretty delicious lunch.

food bowl

But here’s the thing, Eatsa doesn’t have a lot of outlets right now. There are a couple of them in San Francisco, one near UC Berkeley, and a couple of them in New York and Washington DC. Eatsa’s only two years old right now, but it’ll need to be in a lot more places very soon to be able truly unleash the second coming of Automats.