Neerja (2016)

MV5BYzMxM2EwMzctOWUzYy00ZTNkLWE3ZjYtYjI5NWUzZTMwZDAwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTE0MDc0NTM@._V1__SX1217_SY543_It is early in the morning of September 5th, 1986. If you had booked this flight, Pan AM 73, likely you were unhappy about the departure time, but since you’d bought the ticket, you had no choice but to be prepared for the 4:00 AM takeoff from Sahar Internationall Airport which was Bombay’s primary international airport at that time.

The flight was scheduled to stop in Karachi, Pakistan, then Frankfurt, Germany, before heading on to JFK Airport in New York.

The film is called Neerja, and was released just a few months ago in mid-February. Neerja is a reference to Neerja Bhanot who was the head purser on Pan Am Flight 73.

As the film opens, we are going to see, via cross-cuts, two separate and ongoing events occurring in real-time. The first is to introduce us to Neerja, played by Sonam Kapoor.

She is a lively and spirited woman, just 22, with a birthday just a few days away. She’s been working with just some success as a part-time model doing print ads and TV commercials, and she has navigated her way up the ladder for Pan Am. This flight, Pan Am 73 will mark her first flight as Chief Purser.

She was more than that. She had left a horrendous marriage because her husband had verbally and physically abused her as they lived in Doha in Qatar. This was noteworthy as most Indian brides do not return home from a difficult marriage.

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While Neerja’s mother, played by veteran Indian film actress Shabana Azmi, was not thrilled by her daughter’s breaking of tradition, Neerja’s father called her heroic.

Meanwhile, in Karachi, we watch as a small group of terrorists also prepare for Pan AM 73. Their plan was to dress and pass themselves off as Pakistani Airport Security. They intended to board the plane from the tarmac, then in a classic high-jacking, meaning at gun-point, force the pilots to take them to Cyprus where they would barter the lives of the passengers and crew in exchange for the release of their countrymen from a Cyprus prison. Though we didn’t know it at the time when we met them, they would turn out to be Palestinians rather than Pakistanis.

Well, we stay with the concurrent stories. Neerja is loved by her family, and is wonderful with kids. The terrorists strap on their gear. Neerja is driven to the airport by her current boyfriend. The plane is boarded in Bombay. Counting passengers and crew the total is 379 people aboard the flight.

Pan Am 73 departs Bombay on time, and an hour and half later touches down in Karachi. Soon enough, the terrorist are on board brandishing weapons. Eventually, the news reaches India. Azmi, as Neerja’s mother calls her husband to tell him that she has had a ‘sinking feeling’.

The husband and father, Harish Bhanot, played by Yogendra Tikku, gives his wife, the bad news.

The rest is, as they say history.

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Talvar (Guilty) 2015

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Talvar (Guilty) opened last September at the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival). So what is it about?

Per the Storyline at IMDB:

The story revolves around the mysterious murder cases of a 14-year girl, Shruti Tandon and the domestic help, Khempal who worked at her place. The film is based on the real life Noida Double Murder Case of 2008, where the parents were said to be the prime suspects of the murders. The film showcases three perspectives to the case which emerge as the investigation moves forward.

Which squarely places this film into the classification of being Rashomon-like.

The film stars Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi, Jurassic World, Slumdog Millionaire) as a senior homicide inspector working for India’s CDI (a made up acronym for India’s CBI – the equivalent of our own FBI).

When the first responding police were summoned, the cops on the scene paid no attention to forensics, or at minimum keeping the crime scene sealed.

The lead cop called it an open and shut case. The butler did it, he stated with assurance. Of course there was no butler. Instead there was the houseboy, and it came to the cops attention that he had a thing, or what we might call a strong desire for the Tandon daughter, Shruti.

So this theory was hoisted up the flagpole and fluttered in the wind. A search (what we call here in the USA an APB) was set in motion. When Khempal was not found, it was stated that he had absconded and must be the killer. That is until Khempal himself was found dead, and decomposing, on the roof of the very apartment building where the Tandons lived.

So it wasn’t as open and shut as was first announced. Theories began to show up in the media, in the press, and in the police HQ. It was an honor killing (the parents being the killer of their own daughter because of the shame she brought on them by ‘taking up’ with Khempal.

Let’s skip ahead for a moment. Then it was called a revenge killing. Then a conspiracy. Eventually as in much later the terms incompetent as well infighting in the hierarchy of the police would come into play

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Fan

The dictionary tells us that a “Fan” is an enthusiastic devotee of either a performing celebrity or a sports star; experience has taught us that one might also be a fan of various activities, like playing a musical instrument, painting, or reading thrilling novels about spies . The dictionary goes on to define ‘fan’ as an ardent admirer.

But circling back to the first definition offered above, in most cases, such fans are happy to watch their idols as a spectator, or from a distance.

But as we know, a fan can become a fanatic, or even worse an obsessed fan who desires to be in contact, as in close contact.

Some times they go so far as to stalk the subject of their fandom. This isn’t good.

Now have a look at the trailer (with English subtitles) of this new film from India which has had a five-week run in select theaters in the USA. The film is called Fan.

This film stars Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) as the both the fan and the huge movie star. That’s right. Through the magic of CGI tweaks and the magical skills of make-up artists, SRK can appear on the screen in two roles at once. You can see that the likenesses are so very similar but quite clearly ‘different’.

The film begins in Delhi, where a young boy, named Gaurav Chandna first becomes aware of this Indian superstar actor named Aryan Khanna.

For Gaurav, Aryan Khanna was the larger than life super star who would soon occupy all of Gaurav’s time and attention.

By the time Gaurav became a young man, for him there was nothing else. He was beyond scrapbooks and photos. He had literally no wall space in his bedroom that wasn’t already covered by Aryan. Gaurav knew all the lines of dialogue from all of his idol’s movies. He knew the gestures, the expressions, and the set of the shoulders, or how and where each of the moving parts of Aryan  would be when he walked and talked.

Gaurav would enter and win contests where people would imitate celebrities. His plan was to go to Mumbai on the occasion of Aryan’s birthday and present Aryan with the latest trophy he had won. He would stay in the same hotel, even the same hotel room where Aryan stayed when he came to Mumbai years ago as a nobody looking to break into the Bollywood film world.

Of course this was easier said than done. Outside of Aryan’s home, on the birthday, were throngs and throngs of people. All avid to catch even a glimpse of Aryan.

But Gaurav had done more than just push his way to get closer. He had done a nasty trick against a young and rising movie idol, one Sid Kapoor, who was now getting the roles that Aryan used to get. When Aryan got wind of this, he had the police arrest Gaurav and lock him up for a couple of days.

Ultimately Gaurav did meet his idol, but it didn’t go as planned. Aryan Khanna had a lecture for this fan, but no time for his biggest fan.

Can’t I have five minutes of your life? asked Gaurav.

It is my life, replied Aryan Khanna. Why must I give you even five seconds?

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Masaan

A young couple decide to defy custom and tradition. They decide to check into a hotel and take their relationship to the next level. We know only that they work at the same company. The check-in goes smoothly.

So they retire to the room upstairs. But they’ve picked the wrong hotel. The desk clerk is in cahoots with the local police constabulary. He notifies the police and within a half hour, the police raid the hotel room. They burst in and charge the couple with ‘indecent behavior’.

Apparently an old law, and only selectively enforced. But maybe the ‘crime’ isn’t just about an unmarried couple occupying a hotel room. Briefly we saw the girl Devi, change her attire from a kameez and salwaar combo to a sari. Possibly the man and the woman come from different communities meaning different faiths. As I said, an old law.

The man is so nervous and upset that he asks the police if he may go to the bathroom. When he hasn’t come out promptly, the police go in looking for him. He’s on the floor, having slashed his wrists. So while the man is taken away in an ambulance, the police take the woman to the police station and now charge her with not only indecent behavior, but also abetting a suicide.

Her father is called to come down to the police station. It is a very uncomfortable situation between father and daughter, and it will get worse on the next day. The boy has died and now the police who videoed the interview in the hotel room with the girl is now threatening to upload the video to YouTube, if an exorbitant amount of cash is not paid to the police.

The policeman demands payment in three installments. The amount is considerable. The father has no choice. It is a matter of public dishonor or paying up.

The time is the present. The place is Varanasi (Benares) in Uttar Pradesh, India. The film is called Masaan. and what I have described above is the opening of the film, but only one of the interwoven stories.

The second story is about another couple. He is a college student studying engineering. She is an arts student with a major in poetry. She is an upper caste woman. He is of a low-caste, in fact, he’s a member of the caste whose work is to operate the burning ghats where the dead are burned on the banks of the Ganges.

Masaan means ‘cremation’, and as he (Deepak) describes it – it is has been his father’s whole life, managing a small number of burning ghats, and his father’s father before him.

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Classic and Not So Classic Heist Films

I’ve always loved films about major heists, capers. or to be dull – robberies. Whether the swag was diamonds and jewelry, art treasures, money, or even gold bars – whether the perps escaped in trains, planes, or automobiles – films like these have attracted me as well as millions of viewers. We can label them classic heist films or movies about The Art of the Steal if you prefer. So let’s have a look at some. There’s likely a huge list to choose from, but for brevity’s sake, let’s narrow the list down to a manageable number.

I’ll display the film posters and write a thumbnail sketch or some notes about the films,  to refresh everyone’s memory of course, assuming you might need some refreshing.

In 1955 the French film Rififi thrilled audiences not quite all over the world. Some countries banned the film as it was called a ‘master class in breaking and entering’. The story involved a huge jewel heist on Paris’s famed Rue de Rivoli. The film was directed by Jules Dassin. The film became famous and is notable for how the robbery itself was filmed. The robbery lasted about 30 minutes in film time, and was filmed without music or dialogue. Dassin himself acted in the film, portraying the safe-cracker. One might say that Rififi represented the terms low-budget production to the fullest.

In 1960, Frank Sinatra starred as Danny Ocean. Ocean gathered a group of his WWII compatriots, and they headed to Las Vegas. Their goal was to rob five casinos in one night. That film was called Ocean’s 11. Off screen, the film’s stars: Sinatra and his buddies Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop were part of a group called Sinatra’s Rat Pack. These guys not only hung out together – they also worked together.

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Transindia – A Documentary by Meera Darji

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From the USA Today newspaper:

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Monday issued two directives moving the Pentagon closer to allowing transgender men and women to serve openly in the military.

First, Carter ordered the creation of a Pentagon working group “to study over the next six months the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly,” Carter said in a statement released Monday afternoon.

Earlier this year, it was announced that TV and Film actor Taye Diggs, who can currently be seen playing a San Francisco PD Homicide detective in the TNT television series Murder in the First, has agreed to perform in the live theatrical production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. This production won the 2014 Tony for Best Musical Revival. Mr. Diggs will take over the role of Hedwig on July 22nd at the Belasco Theater on West 44th Street – the epicenter of New York’s theatrical zone known as Broadway.

Then there’s the near constant coverage of Caitlyn Jenner in the supermarket tabloids and the gossip press and media.

We are all aware of the success of the TV series Orange is the New Black, as well as the award-winning TV series Transparent.

All of the above are references to transgenders in the news and in the media, as well as in the arts. But what about the transgenders who you don’t read about. The ones that are living their lives not only here in the States, or in the European Union, but in other places in the world.

UK filmmaker Meera Darji has recently completed her Documentary Short called Transindia. It is a moving documentary that explores the Transgender community (Hijras) in Ahmedabad, India. The Hijras, long ago, in the days of the Mughal Empire, were accepted in society, where they earned a good sense of respect.

The days of the Mughal Empire were followed by the era of the British Raj, when Britain had colonized India. During this period, in 1871, a law was passed. Section 26 of the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 – basically classified all Hijras as criminals. The nuts and bolts of the act basically allowed that any Hijra, appearing in public places or streets, either dressed or ornamented as a woman, who plays music, dances, or performs any public exhibition, could be arrested without warrant, and would face either 2 years of imprisonment, or fines, or both.

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Baby

Quite a few films have ‘Baby” in the title. Far too many to mention here and now beyond a few. But rest assured that this film is not about children, or a cute pig (Babe), or the spawn of the devil (Rosemary’s Baby), and it has no reference in the world of sweethearts as in romantic comedies, or sexy clothing on nubile young things (Baby Doll), or even screwball comedies (Bringing Up Baby).

What we have here is a first-rate action thriller. Baby is actually a reference within the Intelligence and Operations arm of the Indian government – specifically in the Anti-terrorism branch. It is simply a small outfit that handles black ops and will be disavowed by the government in worst case scenarios.

They are headed up in New Delhi by a civilian officer (Feroz Ali Khan) played by Danny Denzongpa, who has enough juice to be able to get in and see the country’s Prime Minster on extremely short notice. The chief field operative is Ajay played by the film’s lead Akshay Kumar.

The film opens in Istanbul, Turkey. Ajay is tracking down a former associate in Baby (the nickname for this Anti-terrorism group) who has now gone rogue. The group is so new that they’re on what is called a five-year trial basis, so new that no one knows the specifics about them (to ensure plausible deniability), so secret that Ajay cannot even tell his wife about what he does for a living, and they work the absolutely most dangerous of missions with full knowledge that the Indian government will not protect them.

They are simply super patriots if they succeed on their missions, or sacrificed if they don’t.

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Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain

Eva Gascon: Your factory is choking this town…
Warren Anderson: But this factory feeds this town

She was a life-style photo journalist from Paris Match magazine. He was the Chairman of the multinational Union Carbide. They met in Bhopal in the Indian state Madya Pradesh. Anderson was there in the fall of 1984 to rally the troops (the staff at the Union Carbide factory) and to have a look at how the factory was doing. Eva was there to take fashion and lifestyle photos.

At the time when the above conversation took place, in the back of a motorized 3 wheeled rickshaw, aka a tuktuk, neither knew what the future would hold.

The film is called: Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain.

Anderson knew that profits were down. Down because of an excessively long drought. Without rain water, crops could not grow. If crops were not growing, then farmers were not buying the pesticides that Union Carbide was manufacturing right there in Bhopal. Sales were in a steep decline.

In short, all the ingredients were in place.

A Town Desperate For Work

As Sheen’s character Warren Anderson would describe it, India was open for business, and he wanted Carbide at the heart of India’s green revolution. AS he put it, We’re going to build a better farmer.The parent company, Union Carbide, set up a subsidiary called Union Carbide India Ltd. This did two things

1) Union Carbide: Would build the factory then reap the profits (when and if), and
2) The subsidiary: Would carry out the manufacture of the pesticides, the maintenance, the safety, and also bear the legal responsibility.

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Walt Disney Pictures Present Khoobsurat (2014)

Take one rich dude, an actual Prince. Add in a beautiful, headstrong, willful, outspoken and outrageous girl who happens to be a Doctor, a physiotherapist to be exact. Garnish with two proud mothers. One who demands absolute obediance and loyalty from her children as well as her paralyzed husband. The other who is proud as can be of her Doctor daughter to the extent that she has but one worry – that this daughter has yet to find a husband. Set them up in a palace. Have an outfit like Walt Disney Pictures produce this rom-com, and you should have a hit on your hands.

Well the Disney Company did sign on as a co-producer for the film , and the movie’s tag line goes something like this: The Royal Family Meets the Royal Misfit.

Yes, the question is do opposites attract and can they overcome their distinct lack of a common ground between them. The film is called Khoobsurat and it opened world wide on September 19th, 2014. The films stars Sonam Kapoor, whose Dad, Anil Kapoor partnered with Disney to make the film. Her co-star is Fawad Khan.

Here is a bit more of the set up – we meet Doctor Milli at a top level sporting event – a cricket match. She’s working on the legs of a top flight cricketeer. But he seems to be in great pain. Milli gets an idea and what do you know – it works. She simply changed from a repetitive bending of the legs to a solid tug – and in seconds the pain has vanished.

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