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Nicole, Melissa co-star in series ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’

Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy have teamed up for the first time in the new web series “Nine Perfect Strangers” based on The New York Times bestselling book of the same name from Australian author, Liane Moriarty. 

The trailer and first look images of the eight-part drama series dropped last weekend, and the show is scheduled to premiere on August 20 worldwide including India, but not in the US and China.

Filmed on location in Australia, the drama is set at a boutique health-and-wellness resort that promises healing and transformation. The series traces the story of nine stressed-out city dwellers looking for a better way of living. Kidman plays the resort director Masha (Kidman), a woman on a mission to reinvigorate tired minds and bodies. However, the protagonists have no idea what is about to hit them.

The cast includes Luke Evans, Tiffany Boone, Bobby Cannavale, Melvin Gregg, Regina Hall, Manny Jacinto, Asher Keddie, Michael Shannon, Grace Van Patten, and Samara Weaving. Both Kidman and McCarthy are among executive producers of the show along with the novel’s author Liane Moriarty.

“Nine Perfect Strangers” is co-written by David E. Kelley and John Henry Butterworth, with Jonathan Levine directing the series.

The first three episodes stream on Amazon Prime Video on August 20, with subsequent episodes being added over the next five weeks.

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The Family Man 2: Binge therapy in pandemic times

Season two of Raj and DK’s much-hyped spy thriller series starts with a bang and ends with a bang (literally, in both cases), and also creates scope to leave a teaser about season three right in the end. Most of what goes on in between, over nine episodes, is guaranteed to give you bigger and sleeker entertainment than the first time around, though it may not necessarily seem as original.

“The Family Man 2” crafts its fictional action drama referencing subcontinental socio-politics. Mainly centred on the Sri Lankan Tamil rebel movement, the plot incorporates an Indian Prime Minister concerned about China’s need to gain strategic advantage in Indian Ocean and Pakistan’s swing towards ultra-Right as necessary mentions.

As the season opens, Manoj Bajpayee’s Shrikant Tiwari has quit his job as a special agent and taken up a nine-to-five occupation. He is struggling at the workplace more than he did with guns and gore, while dealing with a much-younger manager who is ever ready to unleash pep talk on the importance of not ending up the “minimum guy” in office.

It’s the “new world”, a friend tries explaining the corporate culture, prompting a hapless retort from our middle-aged hero. “New world? Same governments. Same wars. Same terrorists. Pakistan and ISI…” Shrikant trails off wearily.

Series creators Raj and DK have used politics as an undercurrent in the narrative, as the base for taut suspense. The screenplay sets up the portrait of Sri Lanka’s civil war spilling into India, as the country’s premier tells the Indian PM (Seema Biswas) that Subramanium Panivel (Srikrishna Dayal), “a wanted man of our country”, is not only hiding in Chennai but also rallying support for elections. He adds that France and the UK are considering giving official recognition to Lanka’s Tamil ‘government’, which operates in ‘exile’ from London.

For the Lankan head of state, crushing the rebellion is a matter of pride. For the Indian PM, this seems like a good chance to keep Sri Lanka from signing a pact with China that would give the latter a strategic control over Indian Ocean.

Fine acting from the entire cast — notably Bajpayee and Samantha Akkineni as the arch antagonist Raji — is an asset, as a solid technical crew bring alive some well-canned action sequences and suspense.

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‘The Family Man’ season 2 to premiere on June 4

The second season of the popular web series “The Family Man” will premiere on June 4. The trailer of the series has been released on social media.

Manoj Bajpayee returns in the starring role in season two along with Priyamani Raj, Sharib Hashmi, Seema Biswas, Darshan Kumar, Sharad Kelkar, Sunny Hinduja and Shreya Dhanwanthary in pivotal roles. South actress Samantha Akkineni marks her digital debut as antagonist of the show.

The creators of the series Raj and DK said in a joint statement: “As creators, we have been waiting for a pretty long time to share the trailer of the much-awaited new season of The Family Man today. We promised the season will be out by end of this summer, and we are glad that we just about kept that promise. The wait will finally be over on 4 June as Srikant Tiwari will return with a thrilling storyline, and ‘danger really has a new face’ — Samantha Akkineni, who has done a tremendous job, along with the always-fantastic ensemble cast.”

“We are confident we have carved out an exciting season for you all, despite having to work through the pandemic. Hopefully, the new season will be worth the wait. These are extremely difficult times, and we hope and pray for better times. Please stay safe, mask up, and vaccinate as soon as you can,” they said.

“Nothing is more rewarding for us than our characters becoming a household name. The fact that Srikant Tiwari, the quintessential Family Man, received so much love and appreciation validates our belief that good, authentic stories connect and transcend all barriers. The new season of The Family Man is bigger, more complex and dials up the action. We’re confident that the viewers will be enthralled to witness the face-off between Srikant and his nemesis,” said Aparna Purohit, Head of India Originals, Amazon Prime Video, the OTT platform.

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Asif Kapadia’s Indian web series ‘The Last Hour’ arrives this week

Oscar-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia is an executive producer on the supernatural web series “The Last Hour” featuring Sanjay Kapoor, Raima Sen, and Shahana Goswami. The series is written and produced by Amit Kumar and Anupama Minz, and was all set to release on May 14.

Set in a Himalayan town, the series explores the story of a shaman (healer), who joins a newly transferred cop to track down a mysterious killer.

“Amit and I share an interest in the supernatural, and he is particularly fascinated by the concept of playing with time. We wanted to create a series that was original, authentic and riveting. I am so excited to launch ‘The Last Hour’ to audiences across the world,” said Kapadia, who bagged the Academy Award for the Best Documentary (Feature) in 2016, for his film “Amy”.

Added Amit Kumar, who has also creative-produced the film with Kapadia: “Asif Kapadia and I have worked together since our film school days, and when the chance to collaborate on this idea came up, we grabbed it. Together with Anupama Minz, my co-creator and co-writer, we have created a unique supernatural show.”

The series also features Karma Takapa, Shaylee Krishen, Robin Tamang and Mandakini Goswami. “The Last Hour” releases on Amazon Prime Video.

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Farhan postpones release of ‘Toofaan’

Farhan Akhtar wrote on Twitter that Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra-directed film Toofaan would not be released on May 21 on Amazon Prime Video.

Actor-producer Farhan Akhtar said the team of his upcoming sports drama Toofaan has decided to defer the release of the film on Amazon Prime Video amid the surge in the Covid-19 cases in India.

Akhtar took to Twitter and posted a note, informing fans that the Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra-directed movie would no longer release on May 21 on the streaming platform.

The film has been backed by Akhtar and producer Ritesh Sidhwani’s banner Excel Entertainment, along with ROMP Pictures. “The situation in India is truly heartbreaking, and we at Excel Entertainment and ROMP Pictures send our thoughts and prayers to everyone affected by the pandemic.

“In light of the severity of the situation, our focus is completely on the pandemic and on supporting our employees, their families and in helping the wider community. Therefore, we have taken the decision to postpone the release of our film Toofaan until the situation improves,” the statement read.

Akhtar said an update regarding the film’s new release date would be issued in “due course of time”. The 47-year-old actor also urged people to follow all Covid-19 guidelines and get vaccinated.

Billed as an inspirational sports drama of a goon from the streets of Dongri, Toofaan is set against the backdrop of boxing and charts the fall and triumphant comeback of its lead, played by Akhtar.

Also read: Kangana Ranaut’s Twitter account ‘permanently suspended’ after incendiary tweets violating ‘Hateful Conduct’ policy

The film also features Paresh Rawal, Mrunal Thakur, Supriya Pathak Kapur and Hussain Dalal.

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Tandav film: Top Amazon India executive questioned

The police in Uttar Pradesh questioned a top Amazon executive for nearly four hours on Tuesday over allegations that one of its political dramas on Prime Video, Tandav, hurt religious sentiments and caused public anger.

Shows on streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have often faced complaints in India, a key growth market, for obscenity or hurting sentiment, but the latest controversy involving the Amazon show Tandav is among the highest-profile cases.

Tandav, a political drama starring top Bollywood actors, has in several states faced police complaints and court cases alleging the show had depicted Hindu gods and goddesses in a derogatory manner, and hurt religious sentiment.

The drama has also faced criticism from lawmakers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In Uttar Pradesh, police questioned Amazon India’s head of original content for its Prime streaming service Aparna Purohit over similar allegations at a police station.

A state police officer told the media that Purohit had told police an apology had been issued and scenes that concerned the public had been edited out after its release in January.

While the show has angered some, the complaints against the drama and Purohit’s questioning by police have also caused grave concerns among India’s vibrant film industry, where many see this as an attack on free speech.

One Bollywood producer criticized police action, saying such incidents were unnerving. “You never know when you will be next in line for a scene that you never thought would be offensive,” said the producer, who declined to be named.

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List steps to be taken on regulating OTT content: SC to govt

The Supreme Court has issued notice to the Center on a PIL filed by advocate Shashank Shekhar Jha for regulating content on OTT platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime by an autonomous body.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde told Additional Solicitor General K.M. Natraj, representing the Center, said that merely saying the government is considering steps or contemplating steps on the issue would not be sufficient. The Chief Justice asked, “What is it you are doing, a legislation or what? File an affidavit on what do you propose to do?”

The Center’s counsel submitted the issue is under deliberation, and no steps have been finalized yet. The Chief Justice replied that the court couldn’t accept mere contemplation, as everybody contemplates. “Notice issued and tag the matter with pending matter,” said the Chief Justice.

In October last year, the top court had sought a response from the Centre on a PIL seeking establishment of a proper institution for the monitoring and management of content on different OTT/streaming and digital media platforms.

None of the OTT/streaming platforms including Netflix, Amazon Prime, Zee5, and Hotstar have signed the self-regulation provided by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting since February 2020, said the PIL.

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‘Unborn’ short film throws light on female feticide

A new hard-hitting short film is highlighting the long prevalent practice of female feticide on the OTT platform.

Titled “Unborn,” the film is written/produced by Indian American actress Rashmi Rustagi, who also stars in the 15-minute film. “Unborn” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime, the media reported.

Directed by Jaswant Dev Shrestha, the film stars Ayushi Chhabra.

“A gynecologist told me that if an Indian patient finds out that the fetus is female, the likelihood of aborting it is very high, even higher if it is her second or third female child,” Rustagi was quoted as saying in India West. 

“Several other gynecologists said that they had similar experiences and that most of the time it is the husband and/or parents-in-law that pressure the woman to have the abortion.”

The reasons given by patients and families for their preference of a male child are the same everywhere: he would continue the family name; he would take care of the family business and his aging parents; and most importantly, a man is not masculine enough if he cannot father a son, she explained.

“As a woman and a mother of daughters, I believe that women should have the power to make decisions about their own bodies and to speak up for themselves,” noted the Los Angeles, Calif.-based filmmaker.

She stressed that she wrote and produced the short film to convey the above-said message to all the women in the world.

“If one woman, one husband, one family, sees this film and a female child is given a chance to survive and ultimately thrive, then this film has done its job!” she said.

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Pandemic led people explore OTT content like never before

Intro: With cinema halls facing closure owing to lockdown, OTT platforms became the primary source of entertainment. While the big screen will not go away, streaming services have sure come of age and redefined for good how we perceive entertainment from now on.

Take a look at top trends that created ripples in the OTT space.

Anthologies

The year started with the spooky anthology Ghost Stories, and the trend of stringing several stories together continued all through the year. Some of the noteworthy anthologies include, Ludo, Unpaused and Paava Kadhaigal.

(File photos)

Direct to service releases

With the cinemas shutting down due to the coronavirus pandemic, movies ditched the traditional release route for the digital world. the Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer Gulabo Sitabo started the trend, which continues to gain steam.

(File photos)

Female-driven stories

Aarya, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, Bulbbul, Bhaag Beanie Bhaag, Guilty, Four More Shots Please!, Hundred, Choked, Raat Akeli Hai — the list only keeps growing. Female-led narratives are the trend all over in the world of entertainment, and the OTT space has been particularly susceptible to the trend.

Docu-dramas

There was a dose of reality in the diverse fiction world of the streaming services, thanks to documentary films and series. The topics were varied — from kabaddi to sneak peek into the lives of Bollywood wives.

(File photos)

Regional films and shows

Amid lockdown, regional content found a new and wide audience on the OTT platforms in India, from Telugu, Tamil, Kannada to Malayalam. Regional cinema from the South, especially saw good response in the digital space.

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