Screen Time: Revisiting History in New Shows
For those craving a bit of nostalgia, two shows—a fictional account of the Hindi film industry’s early years, and a celebration of two enigmatic men of science—offer a wonderful opportunity. We also have a tender coming-of-age story, a dream-like journey into oneself, and an action-packed cop drama.
Rocket Boys Season 2 (Hindi)
If you missed season one of this engaging tale of two of the most brilliant scientific minds to come out of India—Homi Bhabha, the father of India’s nuclear program, and Vikram Sarabhai, who pioneered India’s space research program—it’s time for a quick catchup. In season two, taking off from the events of the previous season, Bhabha is determined to create the country’s first atomic bomb, while the staunchly anti-conflict Sarabhai is more invested in a peaceful approach to take the newly independent nation forward. The drama is top notch. There’s the intrigue surrounding Bhabha’s death (was the CIA involved, as rumored?); the sheer audacity with which the Smiling Buddha project (India's first successful nuclear bomb test) was carried out on May 18, 1974; and the Sarabhais’ contentious marriage. All these storylines, along with the background music composed by Achint Thakkar (Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story and Monica, O My Darling) and Abhay Pannu’s steady direction, makes this a must-watch.
Where to begin with this brilliant series conceived by director extraordinaire Vikramaditya Motwane (Udaan, Lootera, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero and Trapped) and Soumik Sen? The story is set in the 1940s-1950s era of the Hindi film industry as it was taking root in Bombay. Theater actor Jamshed Khan is looking to make it big in the movies but ends up falling for the wife (Aditi Rao Hydari) of the studio head (a brilliant Prosenjit Chatterjee). Binod Das (an impressive Aparshakti Khurana), who works in the studio’s projection room but dreams of playing the leading man, kills Jamshed and becomes a star, rechristened as Madan Kumar by Roy. Then there’s the charming Jay Khanna (Sidhant Gupta—watch out for this natural talent), a friend of Jamshed who aspires to be a director but is forced to leave his country to end up in a refugee colony during India’s partition. He is in love with Niloufer (the beguiling Wamiqa Gabbi), who aspires to be a star herself. How all their lives intersect and get entangled in a web of betrayal and ambition is at the core of Jubilee’s plot. Amit Trivedi’s music recreates the melody of a bygone era while sounding fresh and contemporary. I was almost reluctant to watch the last episode because I wanted to stay in their world for a little longer. Don’t forget this one!
It was only because of Ajay Devgn’s 2023 dud, Bholaa, that I decided to give the original a go. And I don’t regret my decision one bit. A thrill-a-minute entertainer, this Lokesh Kanagaraj directorial is what you call a paisa vasool film. From the get-go, I was intrigued by the plot: an ex-convict, Dilli (Karthi, my new heartthrob post-Ponniyin Selvan) is on his way to meet his young daughter for the first time in ten years. While he is being transported to freedom, he is ordered to take a truckload of policemen who have been poisoned to a hospital. But first he has to battle with a deadly gang of criminals who are out to get five of the policemen in the truck. Almost every sequence in the film is a mini set piece replete with drama and stunning cinematography. Shot entirely at night, it’s a cinematic marvel. Karthi brings both soul and strength to his role of a father who is single-minded in his devotion to his daughter, whom he has never met. Watch out for the character of Napoleon who plays a constable. On his first day on the job, he has to defend the police station with the help of a bunch of young students. Bholaa was all flash and histrionics and maybe that’s why it just didn’t connect. Kaithi is all heart, with a few punches thrown in.
Nitham Oru Vaanam (Tamil)
Not one for too much drama or action? This feel-good, simple tale is just what you need. Arjun (Ashok Selvan) is a dreamer with an active imagination who also has OCD. He immerses himself deeply into the characters of the stories he reads. But he’s cut off from the real world and the people around him are constantly hurt by his indifference. When he falls into a depressive state after the woman he’s about to marry leaves him for her ex-fiancé, he’s urged by his therapist to read her book, which has stories about two couples, Veera and Meenakshi (Shivatmika Rajashekhar), and Mathivathani (Aparna Balamurali) and Prabhakaran. As he reads about and “experiences” the couples’ travails with love and loss, Arjun undergoes a transformation. The sound performances are believable and spontaneous. Ra. Karthik in his directorial debut delivers a touching message of finding your innermost joy in the most trying of circumstances. And we all need a dose of that, don’t we?
Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam (Malayalam/Tamil)
Another gem from the mind of Lijo Jose Pellissery (Angamaly Diaries and Jallikattu). In his latest, his protagonist James (Mammootty) is traveling in a bus with a group of Malayali tourists after visiting the holy city of Velankanni in Tamil Nadu. The bus makes a stop in a rural area in Tamil Nadu and, while the others nap, James gets down and enters the village. So far so good. Except that James is now behaving like someone else—a villager called Sundaram who disappeared a while back. He starts speaking the language and adopts all of Sundaram’s mannerisms. His friends and family try to take him back to his village in Kerala to get him professional help, but then James “wakes up” and he’s himself again. Or is he? Was this all a dream? Mammootty plays both James and Sundaram, two very distinct characters, effortlessly. To watch the megastar embodying these characters and getting into their psyche is a thing of beauty.
Baisakhi Roy is a culture writer and journalist based in Ontario, Canada. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, Chatelaine, Broadview and CBC. Formerly a reporter with The Indian Express in India, Roy is an avid Bollywood fan and co-hosts the Hindi language podcast KhabardaarPodcast.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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