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Screen Time: Twisty Shows for a Chilly Month

By Baisakhi Roy Email By Baisakhi Roy
February 2023
Screen Time: Twisty Shows for a Chilly Month

A discussion about films turns gory, a loner loses his sense of reality, a mother battles relentlessly for justice, and a salacious video threatens a marriage. Twisty content and bravura performances make February an exciting month for viewers.


Trial by Fire (Hindi)

Netflix

Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy’s lives changed forever on June 13, 1997. Their teenage kids Unnati (17) and Ujjwal (13), along with 59 others, perished in a horrific fire that broke out in Delhi’s Uphaar cinema theater. They were watching J. P. Dutta's war epic, Border. Trial by Fire is a seven-part series about their fight against the Ansal brothers (owners of Uphaar), whom they accused of negligence, the police who delayed filing an FIR, incompetent lawyers, and hired goons who intimidated the families of victims. Rajshri Deshpande delivers a searing performance as Neelam. Her portrayal of grief and resolve will tear you apart and resurrect you. She is ably supported by Abhay Deol, who plays her husband Shekhar, and cast members Rajesh Tailang, Anupam Kher, Ratna Pathak Shah, Shardul Shrivastav, Ashish Vidyarthi, and others who play characters affected by the fire. The last episode, depicting the events on the day of the fire, is hard to watch. I watched Border with my dad in a similar, decrepit single-screen theater in Mumbai—and this series made me squirm. But more than anything, it’s a must-watch because of how boldly it tells the story of common folks who are put through the wringer by a judicial system that seems to favor the rich and powerful.

 


Gali Guleiyan (Hindi)

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Amazon Prime

It’s been a long wait for Manoj Bajpayee fans but this gem of a movie is finally out on OTT. In 2018, this psychological thriller directed by Dipesh Jain was released in Indian theaters, having already garnered accolades at various film festivals around the world. In an interview, Bajpayee, expressing delight that his film found a streaming platform after four long years, said his role almost broke him. And you’ll know why when you watch his brilliant turn as a loner named Khuddoos, a compulsive voyeur who surveys his neighborhood and the people around him all day through closed circuit cameras. Gradually, he begins to question what’s real and what’s not. Bajpayee’s haunting eyes and tortured physicality, the Old Delhi milieu that houses not-so-happy families—and the stellar star cast that includes the luminous Shahana Goswami along with Ranvir Sheorey and Neeraj Kabi—make it a compelling watch. There’s another stunning Bajpayee performance that you shouldn’t miss—Bhonsle (SonyLIV), directed by Devashish Makhija.


 

Ariyippu (Malayalam)

Netflix

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Director Mahesh Narayanan (Malik, C U Soon) is back with a gripping human drama about a Malayali couple who are slumming it out in Noida and hoping to go abroad for better prospects. At the glove factory where they both work, Hareesh (Kunchacko Boban) records his wife (Divya Prabha) for a skill video that a prospective employer needs. They are in for a rude shock when a video depicting a woman engaging in a sexual act on the company premises goes viral. Is that Reshmi in the video or has her skill video been spliced with one involving another female employee in the factory? As Hareesh oscillates between suspicion and concern for his wife, a distressed yet determined Reshmi decides to dig deeper. Gripping and poignant till the last frame, the film is one of the best to come out of India. This film belongs to Divya Prabha. With the pandemic as the backdrop, Prabha emotes with her gait and her anguished eyes, though the face is obscured by a mask. Her steely voice is steadfast. I watched and rewatched her scenes specifically to savor her performance. Reshmi will stay with you for a long time.

 


 

Attention Please (Malayalam)

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Netflix

Hari (Vishnu Govind), a struggling screenwriter, is constantly told by his roommates that he’s no good at what he does. Saying that they are done with taking care of his expenses, they urge him to find a proper job. Then one evening Hari sits them down for a storytelling session over a couple of drinks. What could possibly go wrong? Apparently everything. During the course of the evening, as he is chided repeatedly for his looks, his lack of talent, and the social strata he belongs to, Hari loses it and things spiral out of control. Director Jithin Isaac Thomas keeps the narrative tight. The back and forth between the characters in a limited space—the action takes place in an apartment room and on the terrace—and the background music, not to mention the sharp commentary on caste and merit, make it a gripping drama till the end. Watch it for Govind, who alternates between funny and terrifying. A performance for the ages.


 

Story of Things (Tamil)

SonyLIV

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Next time you start your car or check yourself in the mirror, think twice. George K. Antoney directs a quirky five-story anthology where objects used in daily lives are not exactly what they seem. In the opening story, the protagonist finds that every time he gets on a weighing scale, his weight increases. A cell phone and a mirror become portals to another realm. When a film director buys an air-conditioner with stolen money, the machine reacts menacingly. Guilt, remorse, unresolved issues, greed, and loneliness are the underlying themes in the series, which has some sharp storytelling and solid performances by a stellar star cast that includes the lovely Gautami. In the most striking story in the anthology, Cellular, she plays a mother who cares about her daughter (Aditi Balan), but also ends up stifling her.

 


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: baisakhi.roy@gmail.com
 

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