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Sunflower: Quirky but lacks focus

“Sunflower” keeps you guessing all the way, all right — but that’s because the show tries to do too many things, diluting the impact of the dark comedy thrills it should have stuck to. It’s starts on a different sort of a high as a murder mystery, showing you the murder (and murderer) right at the start. The screenplay then struggles to weave enough suspense drama to sustain interest through its eight episodes.

Creator Vikas Bahl’s writing tries setting a quirky tone while lacing the plot spins. The fun factor is mostly brought alive by an interesting ensemble cast, for Bahl and co-director Rahul Sengupta have got the casting bang-on. The handpicked set of actors living out the protagonists of the show bring alive even the most insane moments in the story and end up its primary redeeming feature.

At the centre of the plot is the murder of Mr Kapoor (Ashwin Kaushal). He is killed in a rather ingenious manner by his neighbour and bete noire, Mr Ahuja (Mukul Chadda), as the story begins. The cops arrive, with Inspector Digendra (Ranvir Shorey) and Inspector Tambe (Girish Kulkarni) in charge. Everyone in the society plus the support staff is a suspect, but the focus falls on the happy-go-lucky bachelor Sonu Singh (Sunil Grover), who lives a few floors below the victim and gets tangled in the probe in a bizarre manner.

Sunil Grover, towering over all in an author-backed role, proves again he is a talent who just needs to be tapped with the right role. Grover makes Sonu impish and stupid at the same time. He keeps it cool and comical when Sonu is in charge, just as when he is caught with his pants down (literally) and, yes — if you’re a Gutthi fan — he does get to wear the skirt at one point and he pulls it off with vintage aplomb.

Ashish Vidyarthi as the conservative Iyer, Mukul Chadda as Ahuja, Radha Bhatt as his wife, Ranvir Shorey and Girish Kulkarni as the inspectors, and Annapurna Soni as the domestic help are particularly worth mention, adding to the humour and the drama.

“Sunflower” is an okay watch but with some more focus in writing could have had the essential resonance to stick in your mind as an entertainer.

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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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Classic cinema of Satyajit Ray to stream this month

When “Ray”, a four-story anthology based on stories by late Satyajit Ray, drops on OTT later this month, it will be an interesting attempt by a set of new-age artistes and filmmakers at exploring the thought process of an auteur who passed away nearly three decades ago, but who continues to topline any discussion on world cinema if it involves India.

For the record, the anthology has two films directed by Srijit Mukherji, and one each by Abhishek Chaubey and Vasan Bala.

Let us see how the cinema of Satyajit Ray touched upon these ideas in his era.


Ray couldn’t have possibly foreseen what the world is going through currently, as there was no virus outbreak of the proportion of Covid between 1955 and 1992, the time span when he made 29 feature films, five documentaries, and two short films.

Yet, two films resonate the idea, in different ways. His 1973 film “Ashani Sanket” is a fiction based on the Bengal Famine of 1943, when an estimated two to three million died of disease and starvation, even as World War II raged on in the West. While the film’s premise is war-induced famine in British India, the horrors it portrays are not far from newspaper images and news TV vignettes that have dominated over the past year.

The second film is “Ganashatru”, his 1990 release adapted from Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play “An Enemy of the People”. Ray’s Indianised plot is set in a small town, where the major draw is a temple that attracts local devotees and tourists alike. A doctor discovers that the rise in jaundice cases in the town could be linked to the contaminated water being distributed as the ‘charanamrita’ (holy water) that devotees consume.


At a time when many nations are run by right wing governments, and the shadow of dictatorship keeps rearing its ugly head, Ray’s 1980 film “Hirak Rajar Deshe” could make for an interesting watch. Billed primarily as a family entertainer, the sequel to the 1969 release “Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne” actually unfolds a layered narrative about a fictional dystopian world.

This is a world where fascism — portrayed by a mighty king — uses science (symbolised by a scientist who invents a machine that can brainwash people) to bring the masses under his control. Everyone speaks in rhyme, symbolising that thought process is curbed to sound nice and politically correct, except the teacher, who represents education that sets off free will and, hence, free speech.

Goopy the singer and Bagha the drummer represent the power of art, which ultimately joins forces with science and education to bring down fascism.


The first would be Karuna Banerjee as Apu’s mother Sarbojaya in “Pather Panchali” (1955) and its sequel “Aparajito” (1956). She holds her family together against every storm, and is a classic template of the quintessential mother who cares and protects.

Sarbojaya strikes a contrast to Ray’s most unforgettable female protagonist — Madhabi Mukherji as the titular “Charulata” in the filmmaker’s 1964 gem of the same name. Based on a Rabindranath Tagore story titled “Nashtanir”, “Charulata” highlights a traditional housewife of a conservative, upper-class Bengali household in pre-Independent India. The film was ahead of its time, and the poignancy with which Ray sketched Charulata on screen remains unparalleled.

Madhabi Mukherjee also stars as the remarkable Arati in Ray’s 1963 film “Mahanagar”. Widely acknowledged as a celebration of feminism, the film narrates the story of a middle-class Kolkata couple. The film was outstanding in its understanding of a woman’s sense of freedom as an entity that’s equivalent to that of a man’s.

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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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Milestone’: Nuanced cinema for a select few

Ivan Ayr’s second feature film opens to nothingness. A black screen stares at you for nearly 30 seconds, almost preparing you for the immersive experience ahead. It is as if Ayr lets you absorb a bit of the bleakness that would seem to define his protagonist Ghalib’s life over the next 98-odd minutes.

Ghalib is a truck driver, portrayed with understated angst by Punjabi actor Suvinder Vicky (he was Joginder in “Chauthi Koot”, for ready reference, among other impressive roles). As the narrative opens, Ghalib is asked to load goods in his vehicle by the depot supervisor. He tries telling he has a bad back, but doesn’t argue on being ignored.

It is a trait we spot in Ghalib repeatedly, as the plot unfolds. He takes a lot of pasting without arguing — yet that’s only when it comes to himself. For, Ghalib instinctively tends to fight for friends and co-workers, too. In his introverted way, he is ready to stand up for a colleague who gets attacked by the labourers’ union or an aging driver who is sacked by the owners because he can no longer see clearly at night.

The storyline (Ayr and Neel Mani Kant) takes time developing Ghalib as a character, and to let the audience understand the character’s mind. This is important because Ghalib rarely speaks or expresses, and one way this is achieved is by letting Angello Faccini’s camera stay with Ghalib in almost every frame of the film (indeed, you would be hard-pressed to recall a single scene in this film without Ghalib). It is a style reminiscent of Ayr’s treatment in his debut feature film, “Soni”, where he used the cinematic idiom to let us fathom how his protagonist, the lady cop Soni (memorably essayed by Geetika Vidya Ohlyan), is given to bursts of rage while struggling to cope with a sense of emptiness in her life.

In “Milestone” (also known as “Meel Patthar”), Ghalib doesn’t give in to rage. Rather, he seems withdrawn in a shell even when he is in a crowd. It is a shell that Pash (Lakshvir Saran), a new young recruit at the transport company, tries to crack. Pash is almost star-struck by Ghalib, but the latter has no doubt that the youngster has been assigned as his helper because the owners plan to eventually replace him some day. The situation is a silent comment on how the employer is increasingly becoming an expendable asset, no matter the dedication shown.

For Ghalib, his struggle to survive life’s ruthless vagaries is compounded by the fact that he mostly always tries to keep everyone happy by doing the right thing. It is apparent in the way he gives in without much of a debate when he is directed by the ‘mukhia’ of his ‘pind’ to “compensate” his in-laws for the death of his wife. The loss of his wife is the plot point that singularly drives the melancholy about Ghalib’s existence, we will gradually realise as the screenplay moves.

“Milestone” is nuanced cinema. The film demands an amount of participation on the part of the viewer, as layered storytelling draws you into Ghalib’s intricate world of silences. It is your film if you cherish the aesthetics of the moving pictures.

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‘Money Heist’ to end in 2 instalments of 5 episodes each this year

The globally popular Spanish web series “Money Heist” is all set to come to an end in two instalments of five episodes each. Volume 1 of the finale will release on September 3 while Volume 2 drops on December 3 this year, according to an announcement.

So far, there have been four Parts to the show. While Parts 1 and 2 released in 2017, Parts 3 and 4 dropped in 2019-2020.

“When we began to write Part 5 in the midst of the pandemic, we felt we had to change what was expected from the 10-episode season and used every tool we could, to create the sensation of a season finale or series finale in the first volume itself. We decided to work in an extremely aggressive genre, putting The Gang on the ropes,” said creator of the series, Alex Pina.

“In Volume 2, we focus more on the emotional situation of the characters. It is a journey across their sentimental map that connects us directly to their departure,” he added.

Originally titled “La Casa de Papel” (The House Of Paper), the Netflix series stars UIrsula Corbero, Alvaro Morte, Itziar Ituno, Pedro Alonso, Paco Tous, Alba Flores, Miguel Herran, Jaime Lorente, Esther Acebo, Enrique Arce, Maria Pedraza, Darko Peric and Kiti Manver among others.

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‘Friends: The Reunion’ to stream in India along with US

The much-awaited “Friends: The Reunion” will stream simultaneously in India with the United States and the world this week.

The reunion special brings the star cast of Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer. The unscripted show will also feature special appearances by David Beckham, Justin Bieber, BTS, James Corden, Cindy Crawford, Cara Delevingne, Lady Gaga, Elliott Gould, Kit Harington, Larry Hankin, Mindy Kaling, Thomas Lennon, Christina Pickles, Tom Selleck, James Michael Tyler, Maggie Wheeler, Reese Witherspoon and Malala Yousafzai.

“We received an overwhelming response from the audience after recently announcing that ‘Friends: The Reunion’ special would stream exclusively on Zee5 in India. We are proud to share that we will bring this event to India along with the world on May 27 at 12.32 pm,” said Manish Kalra, Chief Business Officer, Zee5 India.

Ben Winston has directed the unscripted special and also executive produced along with Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane.

“We expect high demand from users and would urge them to avail ‘Friends: The Reunion Special’ unlimited viewing offer at least 12 hours in advance before the launch for a seamless experience,” Kalra added.

The original series ran from 1994 to 2004 and continues to draw big ratings in reruns. Over a decade, Aniston played Rachel Green, Courteney Cox was Monica Geller, Lisa Kudrow played Phoebie Buffay, Matt LeBlanc essayed Joey Tribbiani, Matthew Perry was Chandler Bing and David Schwimmer played Ross Geller.

The series streams in the US on May 27 to mark the one-year anniversary of HBO Max’s launch in the US.

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Sardar Ka Grandson: Boredom on the house

The problem with “Sardar Ka Grandson” is not that it loses the plot on an absolutely wonky idea. The problem is the film and its makers fail to capitalise on the one asset they truly had. Kaashvie Nair’s debut directorial casts Neena Gupta as the titular Sardar. Unlike Gupta’s last project “Badhaai Ho”, however, Nair’s film fails to utilise the artist’s potential. Instead, the budding filmmaker trains focus and footage on the Grandson (Arjun Kapoor) in a dramedy that starts seeming less dramatic and even less comedic as the minutes roll.

Gupta as Sardar Rupinder Kaur is the matriarchal head of a joint family in Amritsar and the grandson Amreek Singh lives in ‘Amreeka’. Ailing Sardar is hospitalised, Grandson rushes back to be at her side, and the doctors say she won’t survive for long. That’s when Sardar declares her big final wish — she wants to see her home in pre-Partition Pakistan one last time. Grandson Amreek vows to fulfil grandma’s wish, except there’s a tiny hitch. Apart from the fact that she is in no shape to make the trip, Rupinder is actually barred from entering Pakistan owing to a bizarre reason that you may or may not find funny. It’s up to Amreek now, to figure out a way to keep his vow.

Nair and her co-writers (Anuja Chauhan and Amitosh Nagpal) build up the story fairly well up to that point, sprinkling passable humour with melodrama. The story starts going downhill once Amreek figures out a plan to fulfil his grandmother’s wish — which is an irony, because that’s where the film should actually have turned enjoyable.

Without giving away spoilers, Amreek’s plan is as audacious as it is ambitious, which should actually have made the film interesting. Instead, the narrative in the second half is done in by a couple of basic flaws. First, the storytelling in this portion needed to be far more engaging than it is. Secondly, despite the sheer magnitude of his plan, the film makes Amreek’s execution of the idea look all too easy and absurd.

In a script that is wholly manufactured to suit Grandson rather than Sardar, Arjun is strictly adequate, balancing humour with the minimal intensity he is required to portray. Neena Gupta as Sardar Rupinder is reduced to one of the many props that have been set up around Amreek, including Kumud Mishra as the plotting Pakistani mayor who goes all out trying to thwart Amreek’s plan.

Every cast member, including Rakul Preet Singh as Amreek’s now-on-now-off love interest Radha, who helps him in his final plan of action, gets a half-baked role. The casting of John Abraham and Aditi Rao Hydari in special cameos goes waste owing to inept writing.

“Sardar Ka Grandson” is one of those films you’d be struggling to find a reason to recommend.

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Radhe: Salman Khan’s chaos of set pieces

Smart villain is on a rampant spree hawking drugs, smarter cop hammers the hell out of his existence. That’s it, that’s the story.

You couldn’t care less, of course if you are a Salman fan, you weren’t logging in for the sake of story. You’re in it to watch all that goes on in between, when the ‘story’ isn’t interfering with what Salman Khan needs to do on screen to reaffirm his Bollywood superstardom.

This is Salman’s third film with Prabhudeva as director, after “Wanted” (2009) and “Dabangg 3” (2019). Those two films marked epochal moments in the actor’s career. “Wanted” was the Eid release that would catapult him to the stature of Bollywood’s top Khan of the 2010s, a year before the more-hyped “Dabangg” would establish him in that position. “Dabangg 3”, a decade later, was the warning knell that even the hardcore Salman Khan fans were no longer in the mood to blindly applaud the trademark Salman Khan package.

Yet, the superstar and his chosen director have fallen back on the same bag of tricks in “Radhe”, in a bid to garner instant ‘seeti maar’ reaction. Perhaps it would have worked if the film had a wide theatrical release.

The trouble is Salman has ended up serving a big movie that won’t appear that big when watched on mobile and laptop screens. Robbed of his primary big-screen fan base, the superstar starts out at a point of disadvantage with “Radhe”, trying to peddle larger-than-life masala to an audience that is more accustomed to content-driven fare and that often dismisses the “Radhe” brand of ‘entertainment’ as ludicrous.

The fact is of no help that AC Mugil and Vijay Maurya’s writing makes it seem like the script lay in cold storage from around the time “Wanted” was emerging as a blockbuster. Salman has by and large avoided mentioning “Wanted” while promoting “Radhe”, though he should have — it might have garnered some traction. Despite riding a lower budget and far less hype, his 2009 release was definitely higher on the entertainment quotient.

“Radhe” and its eponymous lead star appear worn-out in comparison from the word go. For the record, the film is officially inspired by the 2017 Korean film “The Outlaws” in content and execution. Director Prabhudeva wholly misses out on the edge and thriller quotient of that film in trying to set up a Salman Khan showcase.

Technically speaking, “Radhe” is as lavish as Bollywood gets, which is a waste considering the initial impact of the big screen viewers’ reaction will mostly be lost out in foreign cinemas. Ironically, though, despite snazzy camerawork, sound engineering and CGI effects, the overall package appears like you have seen it a zillion times before.

“Radhe” is among Salman Khan’s weakest films ever. Thankfully for his fans, it’s also his shortest film in a long time.

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